I don't think this episode was quite as good as the first two, but it's still a solid entry in Discovery's brave new world. It opens with a brief montage covering Michael's year in the future before her crewmates arrive, telling how she worked as a courier with Book and recounting her efforts to track down the cause of the Burn. The passage of time is illustrated by the clever method of showing her growing hair: she goes from a medium-short afro to long and extremely cool cornrows. After a combat simulator session on Book's still-unnamed ship, the two (who display an easy-going and thus far platonic relationship) are interrupted by Michael's antique communicator chirping with the news of Discovery's arrival (presumably from the Federation relay station, shown in the first episode).
We jump to a group hug reunion on Discovery (with the exception of Philippa the Merciless, who stands back, nods at Michael, and exits the room). Michael brings everyone up to speed on her search for what happened--she says two hundred years ago, the dilithium supplies dried up, and the Burn happened when all the dilithium went inert and ships at warp exploded, killing millions and wiping the Federation out overnight--and says she found a Starfleet transmission from twelve years ago from an Admiral Senna Tal. As Stamets asks permission to prepare the spore drive for travel, he looks from Saru to Burnham, obviously wondering who is supposed to give the order. Taking the opportunity, Michael tells Saru that of course he is the captain now (which we all saw last week, but she's been gone for a year, and anyway Sonequa Martin-Green still has first billing so I suppose they had to include this passing of the torch), and she twirls the captain's chair so Saru can sit in it. This is a lovely scene, nicely framed by director Jonathan Frakes.
The theme of the episode soon becomes evident: dealing with the loss and displacement of a 930-year time jump. Two scenes illustrate this: the first between Michael and Tilly, with the latter lamenting her friends and mother, now centuries dead. Tilly recognizes that what for Burnham has been a year apart has changed her. The second scene shows the still snarky/prickly relationship between Burnham and Georgiou, with the Emperor pointing out that Michael has stepped away from the Starfleet bonds that formerly defined her life and she does not yet know what she has become, an observation Michael does not deny. (She also asks what Philippa is still doing on board Discovery, which shows Michael has still not reconciled the greater as well as the smaller time dispacement: it's only been a day or two for Discovery, after all, so Georgiou hasn't had a chance to "go" anywhere. Although that will have to happen sooner or later, if the proposed Section 31 show is still on. But I suppose Philippa the Merciless could re-found Section 31 in the future, after all. She'd love that.)
But Burnham remains on Discovery for the jump to Earth, and Book also comes aboard--leading to another delightful scene with Michelle Yeoh, as Georgiou, in her own inimitable snarky way, grills him about his intentions towards her "daughter" (Burnham). Michael talks Saru into storing Discovery's dilithium aboard Book's cloaked ship. He questions her judgment at first, and she admits that during their year apart, she "let go" of certain parts of herself that belonged to Starfleet. This will be her character arc this year, I gather? At any rate, using the magic mushrooms, Discovery jumps to Earth, only to run into a planet-wide defense grid and a Captain Ndoye of the United Earth Defense Force demanding to know what Discovery is doing there and to come aboard to "inspect" it. She questions the ship's existence, and Saru spins a somewhat unconvincing tale about Discovery being a classified scientific research vessel that was stranded by the Burn and has been limping back to Earth ever since (shades of ST: Voyager, I guess?).
More revelations about Discovery's new world follow: Earth has gone isolationist, drawing in on itself after the Burn, and the remnants of Starfleet are no longer there and haven't been there for a hundred years. Admiral Tal, whose transmission Michael found, has been dead for two years. Ndoye tells Saru and Michael this after she and her inspectors have abruptly popped aboard (man, those personal transporter thingies have a heck of a range, but I'd be damned if I'd go beaming out of Earth's atmosphere without so much as a space suit just in case I didn't arrive at my destination and found myself floating in vacuum right outside Discovery's hull. And Dr. McCoy was paranoid about the old transporters?). Several of them slam into engineering and begin poking their noses (and their little buzzing information-gathering bees) into every nook and cranny, causing Stamets to jump up and vociferously object. One of said inspectors is a young "tween" (per Stamets, but they're actually sixteen) genius, the new character named Adira.
(Said new character is supposed to be non-binary, but they're referred to as "she" in the dialogue. Presumably this will change down the line? The actor, Blu de Barrio, did a good job in their scenes, but I'm not at all sure the show needs any new characters, even as much as I like Book and Grudge. I still think I'd rather flesh out the bridge crew.)
While Saru and Ndoye are arguing about whether Discovery will be allowed past the planetary defense grid, the raiders show up, led by a being with an ugly and rather fake-looking insectoid helmet, demanding Discovery's dilithium. A standoff follows, with Ndoye wanting to fire on them and Saru refusing, and in the middle of all this Michael and Book sneak off in Book's ship (with Discovery's dilithium) to pull off a ruse. Michael doesn't tell Saru what she's doing, trusting him to have faith in her. He does, but it's a close thing, as he puts Discovery between the Earth Defense Forces and Book's ship, taking a hit that shreds their shields in one pulse. But the raider's ship powers down long enough for Michael and Book to beam aboard, grab the captain, and beam back to Discovery (in a scene that really should have been shown, I think).
Once aboard, Saru insists that Ndoye and Wen talk. They don't want to, but Georgiou forces the issue: she kicks Wen's feet out from under him and yanks the helmet off, exposing a tired-looking middle-aged human (and Georgiou gets the last word of "Diplomacy is so slow" as she smirks and stalks off). Come to find out, Wen was part of the Titan research colony, stranded by the Burn. Their communications were knocked out, so they sent a ship to ask for help, which Earth shot out of the sky. They've been raiding Earth ever since. Stunned by this revelation, Ndoye says she's willing to discuss terms, and Wen agrees.
Meanwhile, Stamets hunts down Adira and finds them in the Jeffries tube, telling them he knows what they've done (they had planted a device in engineering to disrupt the inspection team beaming back to Earth so they could have more time to look at the Starfleet ship). Stamets--rather surprisingly, I thought--tells Adira about the spore drive, and even admits Discovery is from 2258 (and I thought, really? why is he babbling about this to this future person he doesn't know?). Adira says they want to stay on Discovery. This is another very nice scene, well played by both Anthony Rapp and Blu de Barrio.
At the end, Ndoye beams back to Earth, having given Adira permission to stay. At this point, Adira drops what it looks like they've been hiding all along: they have within them the Trill symbiont that used to be Admiral Tar, but because they're human and not Trill, they can't access all its memories yet. (And before you say, "butbutbut the Original Series crew didn't know the Trill existed," apparently Discovery's now-integrated sphere data [from season 2] does.) Saru and Michael have it out about her not telling him what she was doing with Book's ship. Michael says it will take time for her to find her way back to her Starfleet ideals, if she even can, and Saru says, "I will trust you to grow through change, as you trusted me." Then Michael accepts his offer to be Discovery's first officer.
Michael sees Book off with his dilithium (but I don't think we've seen the last of him) and the last scene shows the bridge crew beaming down to what used to be the grounds of Starfleet Academy, to see--and in Tilly's case, hug--the grand old tree she used to sit under to study. (Said tree is obviously CGI and enormous. Really. And as the camera pulls back, we see the Golden Gate Bridge is still standing, which stretches belief more than a little, but it's a nice capper to the episode.)
This episode was a little quieter, but it was still solid. I'm gratified to see Saru get the captain's chair. Now, presumably, Discovery will head out to hunt down the remnants of the Federation, with Adira's help. (Although I wonder when they're going to get around to mentioning the Klingons/Romulans/Cardassians et al?) So far, I'm very satisfied with what I'm seeing. If the writers follow through, this season will be a huge step forward for the show.