Three episodes into this season, Discovery needed to hit the pause button. The crew traveled 930 years into the future to save all life in the universe, leaving their friends and loved ones behind. In the time it took them to navigate the wormhole, everything they knew and loved was gone. They emerged on the other side in a strange new world, where there was a galaxy-wide natural (maybe) disaster, the Federation had fallen, and the galaxy was now a scattered, fragmented, Wild West sort of place. Needless to say, there were a lot of feelings about this among the crew, and they needed to be dealt with.
This is the episode that does that.
There is some plot movement here, but this episode mostly dwells on the characters. The strength of this ensemble cast is on full display, and nearly everyone has moments to shine. There is plenty of conflict, and there are fights and flaring tempers, and they all make their way through it and out the other side, where if they're not yet healed, the process has begun.
So far, it's the best episode of the season.
There are two storylines here. In the first, we deal with new character Adira, who has just been revealed to be hosting the Trill symbiont that used to belong to Admiral Senna Tal, whose twelve-year-old message Michael Burnham intercepted. A human hosting a Trill is unprecedented, and Dr. Culber suggests that she travel to Trill to see what they can do for her. Adira agrees--she states she can't live this way, not having her memories (as she says, she can suddenly speak seven languages, which must be a bit unnerving). She wants to go to Trill, and Saru agrees. Originally, Culber was supposed to accompany her, but he visits Burnham and asks her to take his place. (In one of many fine small touches in this episode, Burnham's new quarters display little trinkets, presumably acquired during her year in the future before Discovery arrived, proclaiming this space as her home.) Culber calls Burnham a "responsibility hoarder," and truer words have never been spoken, at least as far as this character is concerned. (This is also a very nice scene with Culber and Burnham.) Burnham goes to Adira to propose that she accompany her, and Adira agrees.
(I'm also impressed with Blu del Barrio's performance in this episode. I think I read somewhere that it is their first major acting job? That seems incredible.)
Burnham and Adira take Discovery's shuttle down to the Trill homeworld, where they're met by several high-ranking Trill eager to see them--until they realize the host is a human. One of them, Xi, asks her to "state your names"--a ritual whereby the previous hosts are revealed. Of course, Adira can't do that. The Trill are scandalized that a human has a symbiont (despite the fact that with the demise of warp travel, the Trill are scattered across the galaxy and there aren't enough of them left on the home planet to host the symbionts), calling Adira an abomination, and Burnham and Adira are ordered to leave the planet. One of the Trill who angrily proposed forcibly separating Adira and her symbiont ambush them on the way back to the shuttle, and Burnham has to fight the ambushers off. Xi, the Trill who was most sympathetic to Adira's plight (he'd stated that "she is our future" and urged his colleagues to let her go to the Trill's sacred pools), takes them to the Trill caves underground, where the unhosted symbionts live. There, he explains what Adira has to do--wade into one of the pools and be put into a trance, where hopefully she can connect with her symbiont and unlock its memories.
Adira wades into the pool and begins the process, only to start thrashing in the water. Abruptly, she sinks. At the same time, the other Trill who rejected her come storming into the cave. Burnham, demanding that someone get Adira before she drowns, is put into the same trance (which is more than a little handwavey, but never mind), and she pops into the shared mindspace where Adira is wandering--a wide, empty space populated by hundreds of rainbow-colored threads. When Adira and Burnham meet, she says the threads keep reaching for her, and Michael figures out it is the symbiont, attempting to connect with her. She persuades Adira to stand still and let the connection take place, and the story of what happened to her is gradually revealed.
So we come to find out that Adira was never meant to host the symbiont. Instead, it was her lover, Gray, who was together with Adira aboard a generation ship trying to find Starfleet headquarters, who originally received it. (I'm not quite sure how Starfleet Admiral Senna Tal happened to run across, or be aboard, this generation ship? That was never explained, other then I remember someone saying "he died in an accident two years ago.") Adira and Gray's entire love story was told in only a few scenes in this episode. After receiving the symbiont, Gray begins playing the cello; he and Adira discuss what it means to have several different identities take up residence in your mind; and Adira gives him a "memory quilt" she stitched with squares telling the story of their relationship. Then a space rock smashes into the hull of the generation ship, causing a breach and skewering Gray with a fragment. The symbiont is okay, but Gray is dying--and Adira volunteers to host it. (Which, with all their near-millennium advances in medical technology, they couldn't save him? That grated on me a bit.)
Once Adira remembers and accepts what happened, all of Tal's previous hosts appear in their shared mindspace, revealing themselves to her and accepting her. Burnham and Adira return to the real world and climb out of the pool, and Xi repeats the ritual once again: "State your names." This time Adira is able to do so, naming all of them and ending with herself: "Adira Tal." Faced with this evidence of a successful joining, the Trill finally accept her. They offer her a chance to stay on the planet, but she refuses, saying she believes she is supposed to go with Discovery. Back on board the ship, she gives Burnham the coordinates to where Starfleet Headquarters is now. Burnham leaves, and Adira picks up a (presumably replicated) cello and starts playing it. A voice says, "Your bowing needs work," and we see Gray, aboard Discovery with her. It's still unclear how she can see and hear him or exactly what's going on, but there he is.
The second storyline involves the newly-minted Captain Saru knowing his crew needs help, and recruiting Doctor Culber to give him a report on the crew's mental state. Which, unsurprisingly, is not good: their stress levels are "off the charts." In fact, the very good opening scene of the episode is Culber visiting all the crew one by one and evaluating their physical and mental health: "they feel lost and disconnected," he reports in the voiceover. (Detmer, in particular, refuses to talk to him. In another scene, Saru goes to see Stamets and Tilly in engineering, trying to impress upon Stamets the need for a backup, since currently he is the only person who can hook into Discovery's spore drive. Stamets is a nasty little prick in this scene, lashing out at Tilly when she suggests using a dark matter interface.) He relays all this to Saru, who then consults Discovery's computer, trying to figure out what steps to take. (Here, also, we see the first indication that the sphere data is merging with Discovery's computer, a process which was shown to result in a fully sentient AI in the Short Treks episode "Calypso.") The computer suggests a shared meal with the bridge crew.
Saru sets this up and invites the bridge crew to his quarters (and Philippa Georgiou for some reason, but hey, more Michelle Yeoh is always welcome). At first the meal goes well, with Saru praising the crew for the choice they made to come to the future, but soon the tensions rise to the surface. Georgiou starts a silly round-robin haiku, and when it gets to Detmer her PTSD takes hold and everything spills out. She rages at Stamets for not recognizing that she was the one who piloted Discovery through the wormhole, they fight, Tilly tries to smooth things over, and Detmer storms off. One by one, the rest of the bridge crew follow, ending with Georgiou who of course has to have the last word: "At least the wine was good."
Saru sits in his quarters for a while, lamenting his ruined dinner, and Tilly returns to talk to him. "Captain Pike made connecting with the crew seem so effortless," he says. Tilly reminds him "we made a decision together, and are living with it together," and she praises his effort. (Tilly and Saru are developing quite a nice relationship.) Then Stamets comes back and apologizes to Tilly (which he really needed to do). In the medbay, Detmer seeks out Culber and says she'll take him up on his offer to talk.
Then an announcement comes over the comm for all available crew to report to the shuttle bay "for a surprise." There, following the suggestion of Discovery's computer, Saru is showing an old Buster Keaton movie. (Which--what? An alien sphere picked up ancient Earth television broadcasts? Never underestimate the power of films in the public domain.) This is the sort of silly pratfall comedy that I've never liked, but the Discovery crew is laughing uproariously over it. Hell, even Georgiou accepts a huge tub of popcorn. At the back of the room, Saru and Culber discuss what is essentially a theraputical release, and Culber says, "We all had to stop pretending we were fine first."
This was a wonderful and necessary episode: everyone had to stop and process what had happened and figure out a way forward. The character moments are excellent, and the performances are sparkling. At the end, we get the sense that yes, there have been and will be some bumps along the way, but the crew is pulling together. It's nice to see, and shows once again that the showrunners' decison to take Discovery into the future is the best one they could have made.