Discovery‘s “Choose to Live” in Review
Following what was effectively a two-part opener to the season, the third episode has a fairly standalone main plotline, and B and C plots with some closure and some changes of direction.
The main plot involves the theft of dilithium from another Federation ship which is on a mission to give it away. The anomaly that Stamets is trying to understand, with the aid of snooty Ni’Vari scientists (who do their best work while asleep/meditating according to who you believe), now has a new name: the DMA (Dark Matter Anomaly), which not only does Stamets admit be wrong and have to change, but is only missing the opening M from MDMA. That seems appropriate, as you can certainly interpret this one as either made or viewed under the influence if you’re enough of a geek. Seriously!
The show opens with a Starfleet Commander being murdered by a group of Kylo Ren clones led by Luminara Unduli, forcing Starfleet to assign the Burnham bounty-hunting mother and daughter team to go bring her in. In the process, they soon discover that a huge population of aliens are in cryo-stasis in Yonada’s sister ship – arrayed just like the frozen army of Daleks on Spiridon… Meanwhile, Adira worries about Gray’s conversion into a Terminator body, and Booker discovers that he can remember sights he didn’t actually see.
If you’re not as familiar with those Star Wars and Doctor Who elements, you probably still get the idea: after last week’s MST-able episode, this one is swarming with familiar vibes: references, homages, touches, some more subtle than others. And if you’re thinking “Wow, it sounds like a rip-off!” or “Why are you slamming the show this way?!” then you haven’t seen it yet, because these things are pitched just right, handled impressively, give a good balance of elements, and overall make the episode an improvement on last week’s. Yes, you’ll find yourself instinctively muttering, “That’s no moon…” but there’s also the good fight sequences, the stunning visuals, the developments from Picard’s first season…
More seriously, the A-plot reunites Michael with her mother Gabrielle, the always-welcome Sonja Sohn, to track down J’Vini, a rogue Qowat Milat nun, who has killed to steal dilithium. Tilly goes with them, as part of an attempt to adjust to finding a new normal in the 32nd century. Meanwhile, Stamets has a theory about the anomaly, now called the DMA, and is accompanied to Ni’Var by Book, who wants to help. Aboard Discovery, Adira and Hugh welcome the Trill Guardian Xi from last season to attempt to install Gray’s consciousness in a new ynth body.
If anything, there’s almost too much going on here, but the script is wise in neither trying to resolve everything nor leave everything ongoing. In the case of the DMA, things are still left hanging, though there’s a good moment of minor closure for Book, with David Ajala again stealing the scenes – though we need to see Grudge again soon – and he and Stamets making an interesting pair to team up, which is something that hopefully will continue. As promised, Gray is now incarnated, so one path for him is ended, and a new, changed one about to begin, as surely he will have a lot of adaptations to deal with in the future. That, of course, is a large part of the theme of the episode; it’s true of Book as well, and Tilly was already looking for what happened to her path. As if we’re in any doubt, Gabrielle states the meaning of the path too.
Gabrielle brings us back to the main plot, where it was interesting to see more about the Qowat Milat from Picard, and this storyline is nicely self-contained, with a good mixture of action and discover, and… Trek-ishness. There’s new technology, a new species to save (with very Doctor Who-ish references included, from the concept of their cryonics not having woken them up, to the visual of shots replicating the shots of an army of frozen Daleks in 1973’s Planet of the Daleks). Of course, it’s not just those, or the Sith costumes, that wink at the audience; longtime Trek fans will surely remember Yonada, the hollow worldship escaping a doomed sun in the original series.
This standalone plot also gives us the Star Trek trope – one of its best and favourites – of turning on the understanding of things not being what they appear. It works well, and it’s a great, fast-paced bit of storytelling.
Every episode has a downside, and this one’s is probably the constraints of having to squeeze three plots into forty-eight minutes or so, leaving the audience wanting more. For the most part, wanting more is good: how will Gray adjust, and what role will he have on the ship? What is the DMA? All good mysteries to keep us tuning in, but it would have been nice to at least have a line or two about whether or not the frozen Abronian species might be hostile, before waking them up. Are they going to be foreshadowing, or just aliens of the week? Oh, and a thing that does happen in the show generally: scenes with Michael and Book tend to converse in low whispers which the sound mix still doesn’t handle well, forcing the viewer to increase the volume and then risk blowing a speaker when there’s music or sound effects.
In-universe, President Rillak already seems to be drifting into Palpatine territory as well. The ending is a little odd, when Michael complains about J’Vini being returned to the Ni’Varan not being “justice.” How does she define justice here? Death? Decades of hard labour? She’s a fine one to talk, having started the Klingon war…
Other cool things this week included the creepy concept of a species with latinum in their flesh being a target for grave robbers even though they’re not dead, and the ship’s awesome bar/lounge with lovely fireplaces. All the actors are on top form, and there are some great chuckle-worthy lines too, most of them courtesy of Saru – the line about it being difficult to ride two beasts with one buttock alone gets the episode a full point. And on the subject of ongoing mysteries, just what does happen if you touch the swamp kelp when it’s in bloom?
Overall, the season seems to have found its feet, balancing the different types of story – the A, B, and C – as well as the standalone and the arc, while keeping the quality in visuals, acting, music, and easter eggs and references. Great stuff!
David A McIntee is a writer and historian who has written for properties such as Doctor Who, Star Wars, Final Destination, and Stargate, as well as having written several adventures in the Star Trek franchise for Pocket Books. He has contributed many pieces to the magazines Star Trek Explorer (née Star Trek Magazine) and Star Trek Communicator, as well as having written nonfiction books about Star Trek: Voyager.