It may be a new year but it’s the same old problems for Star Trek Discovery S3E12 – There Is A Tide… Review
“There Is A Tide…” brings “Star Trek” back to Shakespeare country, with a title borrowed from a passage in “Julius Caesar” – one which has been raided for titles before, not least of all by Agatha Christie.
It’s actually a good thematic basis for this episode which deals with some surprising turns of events and looks at two rival empires who find themselves at very different ends of the tides of history. The Federation, having experienced its high tide now finds itself bound in shallows and in miseries and so, of course, along comes the Emerald Chain to use the current when it serves.
Having captured the USS Discovery, Osyraa stages a pursuit to convince Starfleet to lower their shield wall and allow the ship to escape. Once inside, Osyraa reveals her masterplan: negotiation. Meanwhile, Burnham and Book (who managed to crash into the Discovery shuttle bay before it entered Starfleet HQ) work to help the crew retake the ship.
Perhaps it’s fitting for these morally moribund times that “Star Trek: Discovery” is doubling down on the idea that there are no villains, only different perspectives. For me it still feels like a gross corruption to take the idea of Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations and distort it through a lens of there being ‘very fine people on both sides’. Plus, there’s an added level of discomfiture for UK viewers when Osyraa presents her ‘oven-ready’ deal to the Federation and expects Vance to simply agree to all her demands.
Onboard Discovery, Osyraa’s chief scientist is trying to persuade Stamets to help him unlock and replicate the spore drive technology while Burnham is going the full “Starship Mine” and homaging “Die Hard” right down to the bare feet. Not that Bruce Willis’ seminal 1989 action classic is the only movie this episode has its eye on referencing. After last week’s references to “The Motion Picture” and “The Wrath of Khan”, “There Is A Tide…” thematically echoes “The Undiscovered Country” and also borrows from “The Final Frontier” and “The Search For Spock” as they use Sulu’s ‘Plan-B’ shuttle landing protocol and Burnham decides she’s had enough of one of the Emerald Chain Regulators.
The high point of the whole episode is Burnham forcibly getting Stamets off the ship to prevent the Spore Drive falling into enemy hands. Stamets protests, of course, because he’s focussed on getting back to the nebula to rescue Culber and Adira but, for once, Burnham actually chooses logic and puts the needs of the many over the emotional needs of the one. Could this be character growth? And if it is, what are the odds it won’t be reversed or contradicted in the next episode – if it survives this one intact?
While the episode would prefer you to concentrate on the action which, thanks to the expert direction of series veteran Jonathan Frakes is never less than decent and makes this more rewatchable than its predecessor, most of this real incident of this middle chapter of a season-closing trilogy takes place in the quieter, dialogue-driven scene. There’s an unwelcome return for throwaway thug Zareh (Jake Weber) from “Far From Home”, whose reappearance once again undermines the series’ overarching principle that the galaxy has become fragmented and isolated following the scarcity of dilithium-powered warp drive technology.
It’s a conceit that, at this stage, is looking decidedly shaky given Osyraa (and Book’s) ability to be wherever they fancy at a moment’s notice. Even Book and Burnham’s successful attempt to catch up with Discovery suggests the existence of navigable subspace conduits which take only a few moments less than instantaneous spore drive jumps. There’s a token reference to the conduits being littered with dangerous debris but that just raises the unlikely scenario that there was no effort to clean up and restore these conduits to operational order. What the hell has Starfleet (or the Emerald Chain’s never-before-mentioned scientific, exploratory and humanitarian operations) been playing at all this time?
There’s a point in “There Is A Tide…” where Chief Emerald Chain Scientist Aurellio pleads Osyraa’s case to Stamets, stating, “You may not like her methods but she’s more than you’re making her out to be.” Well, that’s not our fault, buddy – that’s on the writers because we can only work with what we’ve been given and what we’ve been given. And time and again, what we’ve been given is two-dimensional schoolyard snark from an outer-space Karen.
At least, this time, she’s been allowed to speak to the manager and is granted an audience with Admiral Vance in the ironically unprepared ‘Ready Room’. All those theories that Vance would turn out to be another in the long line of surprise twist evil Starfleet Admirals can probably be laid to rest now. Vance isn’t a bad admiral. But’s he’s not a very good one either. Perhaps there’s not much call for diplomatic skills at the head a reduced circumstances Starfleet but telling your opposite number to literally ‘eat shit’ during peace negotiations seems unnecessarily stupid and aggressive.
Aside from falling for that age-old TV trope which erroneously conflates commerce with capitalism, the ‘negotiations’ are underpowered and under dramatic and not even Frakes seems to be able to convince Janet Kidder to move any part of her face that’s higher than her upper lip. With two such restrained performances, the scenes relay on the dialogue itself which isn’t strong. Whether or not The Emerald Chain’s offer of wholesale emancipation and peace is genuine, Vance’s determination that Osyraa be personally prosecuted for her actions sticks in the throat after he – and everyone else – turned a blind eye to former Emperor Georgiou’s crimes which surely equal if not dwarf Osyraa’s own.
It’s this clumsiness in writing and worldbuilding that continues to blight “Discovery” and while the whole package is elevated by Frakes’ presence, this script is awash with the usual stupidity and laziness which has come to typify the writing and storytelling of “Star Trek: Discovery” writing. Burnham using a life-sign dampener but being located because she was still wearing her comm badge is peak “Discovery”. Stamets proclaiming himself to be Adira’s parent (the very episode after Adria shared her anger at anyone, even Grey, deciding what’s best for her) is peak “Discovery”.
It may be great to see actor Kenneth Mitchell back as Emerald Chain scientist Aurellio (and it is, a role he plays with greater dignity than the script deserves) but the idea of a noble and principled scientist who is only now realising how ruthless and corrupt his overtly ruthless and corrupt leader is, is such a lazy cliché that it barely merits an eyeroll. It’s every bit as lazy a writing trope as Tilly’s too-little-too-late and entirely unearned sudden turn to competency which wraps up the – again – abrupt stopping point of this continuing story.
Tilly’s last-minute encounter with repair bots inhabited by the sphere data (nice touch with the eyes being red, gold and blue) promises that at least some of the multitude of storylines next week will be wrapped up with another literal deus ex machina, while Burnham’s mayday call to her mother will probably result in concurrent mater ex machina reinforcements arriving at the last minute too, something which is itself becoming a real “Star Trek: Discovery” trope.