Maybe I'm getting to that point in the season where my enthusiasm starts to taper off, but "The Sanctuary" really didn't do much for me. It's ... meh. Although there are some good things spread across the ensemble here, the core of it is the epitome of mediocrity. Even though it fell short, last week's "Unification III" at least tried to be an ambitious Star Trek episode with compelling dialogue. This week's episode doesn't seem to be trying to do anything at all, except recycle generic action sci-fi scenes.
Let's start with the main plot. While I appreciate the attempt to do some world-building in this century outside the immediate orbit of Starfleet Headquarters, the concept of the Emerald Chain, the evil Orion crime syndicate, is an off-the-shelf bore led by an off-the-shelf boring villain. After his labor camp was liberated in "Scavengers," Tolor (Ian Lake) has fallen into ill standing with his syndicate boss/aunt, Osyraa (Janet Kidder), who promptly feeds him to a large creature — because if you want your villain to read as Real Bad, make sure they kill one of their own for failure. Yawn.
Discovery enters this plot to travel to Book's homeworld, Kwejian, which is under the thumb of Osyraa's unit of the Emerald Chain because she supplies a repellent that keeps at bay a swarm of glowing, flying jellyfish that would otherwise eat all the crops. Without the Emerald Chain, the crops would be ruined and they would starve. We're supposed to be amazed by the beauty of Kwejian, but I was unimpressed; it mostly looks like a basic forest processed through a lot of color correction.
There are various standoffs between Discovery and Osyraa's ship, and even some Plot Thickening, where it turns out Book's brother Kyheem (Ache Hernandez) is actually reluctantly allying with Osyraa to betray Book and Burnham, such that his village (or continent, or planet, or however widespread this would-be famine would be) survives. (What does Osyraa get out of this? I don't remember, or honestly care. Something having to do with commerce control or whatever — because crime syndicate.)
The standoff eventually leads to a firefight in orbit, and various fight scenes and bombings on the ground, with predictably routine results. Discovery is disallowed from directly engaging Osyraa, which means Book's ship has to be the one to attack. But it needs a pilot, which leads us to How Keyla Got Her Groove Back. Detmer's problems since arriving in the 32nd century have been bubbling for a while, maybe even forever, and here they're (apparently, and I hope finally) solved with her getting back in touch with her inner hotshot with some Millennium Falcon-style pilot action. This is fine and good and pays off a long-simmering subplot, and is probably about on par with How B'Elanna Got Her Groove Back via banana pancakes and saving the day in "Extreme Risk."
Other ongoing plot threads start to wear out their welcome and feel like they're dragging themselves out needlessly. Culber tries to get to the bottom of what's wrong with Georgiou (in addition to mental issues, there are physiological ones as well), and he's good at standing up to her endless verbal assaults. But despite the cleverness of some of Georgiou's cutting one-liners, the one-note nature of this character who does nothing but insult everyone trying to help her is really starting to wear thin. Michelle Yeoh appears to be having fun, but this character's inability to grow or adapt is becoming a waste of everyone's time. Meanwhile, the question of what's actually wrong with Georgiou continues into next week.
As character threads go, probably the best was Stamets continuing to take Adira under his wing, something that continues to find the right notes of friendship. Anthony Rapp makes a good nice guy, and Adira's struggle to become balanced as a joined Trill continues to be worth exploring. What's disappointing, then, is the heavy-handed way the show addresses Adira's pronouns, when Adira corrects Stamets and asks to be called "they" rather than "she."
Apparently, it's been something Adira felt even before being joined, and the only person they'd admitted it to in the past was Gray — prior to being joined. That the writers don't use Adira's multiple Trill hosts to frame their statement within a sci-fi story feels like a missed opportunity. Isn't this an extremely 21st-century interpretation of what's supposed to be a 32nd-century character? Is being non-binary still stigmatized on Earth after 1,100 years? We don't know, but the implication seems to be there. At least when Sisko was troubled by the sanitization of racism in Vic's holosuite program in "Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang," it was framed in terms of his discomfort with revisionist history. Here, not only do the writers miss the obvious sci-fi opportunity, they play the whole idea as far too contemporary.
"The Sanctuary" isn't terrible, and the episode does a decent job of spreading things around and making it an ensemble piece, but the generic action and fights really kind of grind things to a halt. And it's hard to get too worked up about Osyraa, the Emerald Chain, the potential famine on Kwejian, or a bunch of CGI jellyfish. This is just too boilerplate.
As pioneered in The Matrix, bullet time:
- Saru and Tilly testing out Saru's potential make-it-so catchphrases was fun. Saru settles on "Execute."
- Ryn the Andorian plays into the plot (mostly as potential bargaining chip since he escaped from Osyraa's nephew's prison camp) but it's so much on the periphery that it barely registers. If you're going to have all these guest characters, it'd be nice to find something memorable to do with them.
- One thing that's going to get tiring really fast is the variant on the opening scene where Saru has to convince Admiral Vance that they can go on a mission since the spore drive is too important to be sending around willy-nilly.
- The Federation's civilian seat also resides at this same starbase. When will we get to see that?
- I've wrongly believed until now Book was a human with special abilities. My bad.
- The same music that different people hear appears to be connected to the Burn, and provides us with another location lead — to a nebula filled with weird sci-fi properties. I wonder if the song is a 32nd-century version of "All Along the Watchtower."
- Within some of this episode's dialogue there seems to be an interesting question: What does it mean to be a part of today's Federation? People scoff at the name and hold it in low regard, and yet it feels like Discovery's actions here amount to something of an image rehab. I'd like to know more about what this means. Also, it seems likely the Emerald Chain is going to have a major beef with the Federation after what happens here.
Previous episode: Unification III