"People of Earth" is an effective mix of emotions and well-paced starship-standoff action, and provides our first glimpse at what a familiar Federation locale — specifically Earth — looks like in the post-Federation 32nd century. It's our first real attempt at world building within this third season. This is a step up from the first two outings, which felt like generic space westerns in terms of their storytelling. (Although, as space westerns go, they had nothing on this past weekend's season premiere of The Mandalorian.)
This series wears its emotions on its sleeve, and Burnham's reunion with the Discovery crew is milked for all the feels, and pretty effectively. Tilly reflects in a pretty good scene that having traveled forward in time means everyone they knew is now long dead; it's good to see the story slow down to acknowledge what it means to be displaced permanently from your time. New Braided Chillax Burnham seems all about letting the past go, and indeed it at first seems questionable whether she will even rejoin the crew. She has a nice reunion with Saru, where kind words are exchanged and she relinquishes any ambitions she ever had to be captain. Like I said last week, Martin-Green's performance is notably lighter with Burnham having now spent a year in this century as a courier. Even Tilly mentions the new air.
With dilithium being a precious rarity, Burnham has been unable to make the long journey to Earth, where she might find answers about a Starfleet admiral who sent a transmission 12 years ago. But Discovery has the spore drive to quickly get us around that issue, and with Booker aboard with his ship parked in the shuttle bay, the crew prepares to make their first contact with 32nd-century Earth.
When they arrive (under the guise of a generational ship that has been in deep space for centuries), they discover the planet protected by a force-field. They're immediately greeted by a hostile defense force commanded by Ndoye (Phumzile Sitole), who reveals human society as isolationists who left the Federation out of self-preservation in the wake of the Burn.
Discovery quickly finds itself in the middle of a conflict between Earth's planetary defense force and a raider named Wen (Christopher Heyerdahl), a regular thorn in Ndoye's side who has made repeated attempts to steal dilithium supplies from his victims. (Wen's alien design is hokey enough, with its overly large head, that it comes as little surprise when the head is eventually ripped off and revealed as a helmet concealing a human underneath.)
This episode is a good mix of information and excitement and it breezes along, assuredly directed by Jonathan Frakes. The central conflict feels like a modern take on TOS sensibilities, with Discovery using Federation values to try to get two opposing factions (the humans and the raiders) to resolve their dispute rather than escalating the violence, with Discovery caught in the middle. There's some plot here involving Burnham and Book
stealing borrowing Discovery's dilithium as a diversionary tactic to capture Wen, and when we learn Wen is actually from a human colony on Titan that's starved of dilithium because Earth hordes it, that hammers home the truth of how trapped everyone is in their immediate locality given the collapse of warp travel. A colony as close as Titan has essentially become foreign.
As world building goes, this is reasonable, but not outstanding. Because the episode is so preoccupied with the traditional-Trek starship-based plot, we barely get any time to see much of Earth (nor do the characters, who get to visit San Francisco only to be told to beam back to the ship after enjoying five more minutes of sunshine). But there's something reassuring to know that even if Earth is no longer a part of the Federation, humanity has managed to continue to thrive even in its isolation. The world lives on, like the tree that still stands 930 years after our characters last saw it. They marvel at its size and reflect upon what it's seen in the time since they left their century and arrived in this one. Some things endure.
Some other thoughts:
- One of Nyota's officers is a young woman named Adira (Blu del Barrio), who turns out to be a human joined with a Trill symbiont. As it turns out, Adira's former Trill host was the very admiral who sent the message Burnham was trying to track down.
- Burnham and Book have not hooked up during this whole year. My wife calls BS. At the end of the episode, they part ways (until next time), and Burnham agrees to serve as Saru's first officer.
- There doesn't appear to be any follow-up to Detmer's mysterious disorientation this week. Maybe later, unless it was a red herring?