Scavengers Assemble! Star Trek Discovery S3E06 has a whole lot of junk in the trunk. Review
For a series which brought us “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not For The Lamb’s Cry“, “Scavengers” feels somewhat perfunctory in terms of an episode title; a placeholder that got overlooked, not least of all because it doesn’t really fit with the story it tells. With the Discovery receiving a top-of-the-line upgrade, our intrepid crew certainly aren’t scavenging any more and while Booker is a scavenger, he’s more the MacGuffin than the focus of this episode. That focus is, once again, Michael Burnham but this time, it’s not just the viewers who seem to be losing patience with her reckless and self-centred rule-breaking.
It’s a set-up which has already become cliché in “Star Trek: Discovery” as a distress call from Book indicates he may have found some relevant data to the mystery of The Burn only to have been captured by an Orion Syndicate slaver, the Discovery is expressly forbidden from mounting a rescue, Saru pleads with Burnham not to take matters into her own hands and Burnham promises she won’t only to immediately bunk off with Georgiou in Book’s ship to mount a rescue. It’s somewhat forced as set-ups go because Saru doesn’t even consider the old chestnut of granting Burnham some ‘leave’ – as Picard used to do every couple of weeks when Worf needed to go off on some damn fool Klingon crusade – but it’s done in such a deliberate way that you feel this must be feeding into some overarching series plan: a Scavengers Endgame if you will.
That being said there are, at least, consequences this time around and those who have been most forgiving of Burnham’s insubordination – Tilly and Saru – are the ones who are first to realise she’s finally run out of rope. But before we get there, there’s still plenty of action and fun to be had, so let’s start with the Discovery ‘redesign’. Had “Scavengers” referred to the need to find replacement or compatible parts to keep the eponymous antique starship in good working order, it might have been an interesting new avenue for Trek to explore but instead the writers shut down one of the series’ biggest mysteries straight away by eliminating it from the story. So the USS Discovery is equipped with all the bells and whistles 900 years of technological development has to offer: Combi-Comm badges which serve as PADDs, Tricorders and personal transporters, a shiny new paint job, nanotech responsive control panels and, for some reason, detached nacelles (the latter of which fall very much into the ‘looks cool but why?’ territory.
It still strikes me as not quite right – although entirely in keeping with the series embracing but not quite understanding established canon – that the ship now bears the suffixed registry NCC-1031-A, because the suffix has never signified a ship undergoing a refit – no matter how major – but that it replaces the vessel which previously held that name and registry. Unless we’re meant to believe they scrapped and then constructed an entirely new but very similar looking ship, it should still very much be the NCC-1031. And while they go to all the effort of upgrading the tech, the comm badges and even repainting the ship, they still – as expected – don’t provide the crew with current Starfleet uniforms. What’s up with that? (Real-world production economics impinging on in-story logic is what’s up with that).
The bridge crew of the Discovery react to these new toys with their customary professionalism, seeming more like kids unwrapping the latest iPhone on Christmas morning than seasoned service personnel endeavouring to familiarise themselves with new equipment. There’s a recurring gag with Linus not quite getting the hang of his personal transporter that’s barely funny once, let alone the three times it’s used and I’m starting to lose hope that Linus is ever going to be used for anything other than comic relief.
While Saru and Tilly clutch their (no doubt nanotech-enhanced) pearls about Burnham’s latest bout of insubordination, there are some quieter moments for Stamets (underused this season), Culber and Adira Tal which reinforces the absurdity of selecting Burnham as the individual best placed to counsel and mentor Adira back in “Forget Me Not“. It’s a wonderful character moment for both as Stamets reframes Adira’s concerns about seeing and interacting with her deceased boyfriend Grey in light of his experience of losing and then regaining Culber.
The bulk of “Scavengers”, though, belongs to Burnham and Georgiou who undeniably make for a fun double act. Georgiou still seems to be plagued by flashbacks and traumatic cutaways after whatever voodoo Kovich pulled on her but this sudden vulnerability enhances rather than compromises her character by removing the increasingly tiresome Teflon invulnerability the character had accrued. Their mission to rescue Book and recover a black box recorded which may yield important data on The Burn scavenges its basic plot from the first act of “The Running Man” but not before it drops in some quickfire fan service for eagle-eyed fans. From the namechecking of perennial “Deep Space Nine” MacGuffin ‘self-sealing stem bolts’ to the blink-and-you’ll-miss-’em appearances of 24th-century tech like a TNG phaser or a bowl of assorted Federation (and Klingon – whither the Empire?) comm badges, there’s very much a feeling of “Star Trek Discovery” making a real effort to integrate itself into the Trek Lore now that it doesn’t have to worry about tripping over canon anymore and I am here for it.
By the end of “Scavengers”, Burnham has achieved what she set out to do but at a cost. It’s a very Kirk arc, albeit the stakes are larger and less personal. As we enter the middle act of the series, it seems quite apparent that we’re on course to explore a little more of how Burnham’s accidental gap year affected her and her all-too-tenuous grasp of Starfleet protocols. Saru may have rightly busted her down a rank or two to Science Officer but do we really expect that to make a difference in terms of her propensity to offer an (often dissenting) opinion on whatever the matter at hand is? Of course not. Nor will it quell her tendency to disobey orders which don’t align to her solipsistic view of the greater good.
“Scavengers” emphasises the growing distance between Burnham and her shipmates so perhaps their destinies are going in quite dissimilar ways. Whether Burnham will meet her Waterloo, though, only time will tell. It seems clear the best path for the character lies away from the ship and outside of Starfleet. Perhaps she’ll take Georgiou – a character now coming to terms with her past deeds in a way which recalls Angel from “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” – with her?
In a way, it almost feels like “Star Trek Discovery” is now two TV shows attempting to coexist – but which is the host and which is the parasite (or should that be symbiote)? However it shakes out, I’m looking forward to finding out.