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Star Trek Discovery: Die Trying

"You might want to hold on to something."

By nature I love brevity: This is getting good. 'Die Trying' succeeds with a healthy dose of classic Trek feel, some well-executed canon connections, and a compelling narrative.

Programming Note: Two things happened around the time this episode aired. First, the season, and more broadly, the show, took a turn towards greatness. Second, I became extremely busy and had much less time to write about it. Sorry about that last one. I became much more excited about the show and wanted to write about it more, and became less and less able to write about it. It was frustrating. So I will be getting some help covering the rest of the season, and we will be finishing it up soon. Thanks for sticking with us!

Now, about the episode. I really, really liked 'Die Trying.' It pushed all the right buttons, and more than that, it gave me much more faith in the direction this series was being taken than I'd previously had. Here we get our first glimpse of the Federation in this new future, and I have to say, I was dreading this moment. I'm so tired of evil Admirals and vast conspiracies, and that was exactly what I anticipated here. I was waiting for the other shoe to drop, and for Admiral Vance to be revealed as a scheming supervillain with an evil agenda. I was expecting that the rest of the season would end up being Discovery vs. the new, evil Federation.

And then none of that happened. Admiral Vance, though he's not perfect by any means, is a man doing his best in a new galactic landscape that's nearly impossible to navigate. He does clash with the crew of the Discovery, but it's for completely understandable reasons. You can see why his position makes sense from where he stands, even as the crew (and this audience member) disagrees with him. The Federation has had their dark patches in the century following the Burn, and it has been difficult. But like Captain Janeway and the U.S.S. Voyager, they have stuck to their ideals and principles as much as possible. They are determined to get to the other side as the same organization, at their core, as they once were.

And so Admiral Vance, faced with a starship and a crew with an impossible story, from a time long gone, keeps these newcomers at arm's length. He has no reason to believe them on the face of it, and Starfleet's records were scrubbed of all evidence of the Discovery's mission to the future. Even when he's been convinced that the crew is not lying, he determines to integrate the Discovery crew into the broader Starfleet force. He wants to spread out his resources, and sees no reason to keep the crew together. This is against everything the crew was hoping for, but he's not wrong to do it. He's just reasonably cautious, and a prudent leader. He's also willing to listen to reason, and when the crew proves their point, he relents. I know I've now spent three paragraphs making this point, but it's difficult to understate how surprising and refreshing it was to see my fears stilled.

The crew of the Discovery needs a mission to prove themselves, though, and as luck would have it, one presents itself. Burnham takes charge of Discovery, while Saru stays behind to work on building trust with the Federation. This development is this week's Thing for Cranky Trekkies to Get Angry About, because it means the main character of the series gets to take center stage. I don't mind it at all; it's a decision that makes a lot of sense in the context of the show, and Burnham commands the mission very well.

The task is to find a healthy sample of an extinct plant, which only exists on a Federation vessel five months away by sublight speeds. The Discovery, however, arrives instantly, and the crew quickly sets to work. Burnham beams over with Dr. Culber and Cmdr. Nhan, and this is where the story really ramps up. The caretakers of the vessel are Barzan, members of Nhan's species. We soon learn that the father is the only member of the family still alive; the rest of them are lost to the radiation. Nhan's insights into Barzan culture are invaluable.

Ultimately, it's Nhan's ability to help her fellow Barzan deal with his grief that saves the day. It's very well done, and played excellently by Rachael Ancheril and Jake Epstein. From a writing standpoint, this is a good decision for Nhan's character. She has never been interesting enough to keep as a regular, and the last thing this show needs is more recurring characters that are on the ship but never get any development and only sometimes appear.

Maja Vrvilo is quickly becoming one of my favorite modern Trek directors; she has a great sense of pace and hits the emotional beats very well, and she avoids the overly flashy tricks that Olatunde Osunsamni and Akiva Goldsman tend to fall back on. The writing here is much, much richer and more surprising than I've come to dread from Discovery, and the turn the show has now taken is in my opinion for the better. We'll see what's to come, but for now, color me pleased.

Strange New Worlds:

Federation headquarters in 3189 is not on a planet at all, but in a shielded area of space with a station at its center. All the Federation starships gather in the area, and it is cloaked from outside detection.

New Life and New Civilizations:

This episode, we briefly meet the Kili. These Kili are refugees, and not much else is learned about them. We also pick up a bit of Barzan culture.


-Burnham notes that the hologram of the Barzan mother is humming the same lullaby that Adira played on her cello. When she asks one of the Starfleet officers about it, she says that many of the officers she knows also recognize the melody.

-There's a little bit of Georgiou here, in a few interrogation scenes featuring a new character played by David Cronenberg. Cronenberg's character tells her that the Terran Empire fell long ago, and that nobody has crossed to the Mirror universe in a long time. This brings her to a moment of weakness at the end of the episode that is long past due. Finally, she gets a moment to be treated like a real character.

-Among the vessels in the Federation's spaceport are the U.S.S. Voyager-J, a great decision in my opinion that allows for ships not named Enterprise to be given new versions, and the U.S.S. Nog, a touching tribute to the late Aron Eisenberg.

-The Federation currently consists of 38 member worlds. At its height, it had 350, and in First Contact, there were 150.

5 out of 6 non-irradiated plants.

CoramDeo is dragging, definitely not rushing.

1 comment:

  1. CoramDeo, a lovely review of an excellent episode. I really liked this one and the previous one. I completely agree with all of your points about Admiral Vance, and I like the actor. I thought the opener with the arrival at Starfleet Command was joyous and special, and I want to spend all of my time with Tilly, Stamets and Reno. :)


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