A mere week after seeing her mother, Capt. Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) muses over the state of her crew as they scramble to figure out the DMA. She’s ordered the crew to factor in some down time, but she can still sense the stress that comes with this level of uncertainty.
In the ready room, Mr. Saru (Doug Jones) informs Capt. Burnham that President Rillak (Chelah Horsdal) has “requested” their presence as Ni’Var officially rejoins the Federation. Burnham regretfully declines initially, until Saru informs her that the request is more of a requirement.
Meanwhile, Lt. Tilly (Mary Wiseman) shares more of her journey during a therapy session with Dr. Culber (Wilson Cruz). She laments about feeling lost despite her mission with the Qowat Milat, and Culber suggests a training mission at Starfleet Academy. When Tilly agrees, Culber asks that she bring young Ensign Adira Tal (Blu del Barrio) along for the experience.
In their quarters, Adira fusses about being sent on a cadet mission. Gray (Ian Alexander) patiently listens and supports Tilly’s decision to take them, encouraging them to meet new people. Adira begrudgingly agrees.
Together, Tilly and Adira head to Starfleet Academy. They are welcomed by Dr. Kovich (David Cronenberg), who informs Tilly that Adira’s issues with working with others is a common problem seen throughout the new class of cadets. He elaborates that while they’re each the cream of their respective planets’ crop, none of them have the teambuilding skills necessary to make great officers.
So they set off, Tilly with her band of brilliant misfits, on a seemingly benign 6 hour survey mission to an M-class moon. Tilly’s trying her best, serving the children Ms. Frizzle in Space, but her enthusiasm falls on deaf ears. As they near their destination, Tilly begins to assign tasks to the cadets, and Adira is shocked to learn that the cadet training involves them, too. Before Tilly can set the record straight, the shuttle is hit by a rogue burst of gamma radiation, sending them plummeting to the surface of an entirely different moon.
After the titles, we find that everyone except the pilot has survived the crash (RIP, Gold Shirt!). As the cadets begin to freak out, Tilly gathers her wits, and orders them to introduce themselves as they try and boot the shuttle’s systems. Adira goes first, and we meet Cadets Sasha (Amanda Arcuri), Gorev (Adrian Walters), and Hiral (Seamus Patterson). The tension between Gorev, a Tellarite, and Hiral, an Orion, is palpable, and Tilly realizes that her work may be cut out for her.
There’s an air of subtle pomp and a whiff of circumstance as Ni’Var moves to rejoin Federation. At the final talks, delegates from Ni’Var and the Federation are about to seal the deal, when President T’Rina (Tara Rosling) hits Rillak with a curveball, asking that the new charter include an unprecedented exit clause. When neither side can agree to compromise, Capt. Burnham offers a few words of encouragement. President Rillak suggests a recess to prevent any hasty decisions. As they break, Burnham checks in with Saru, trying to find the reason behind Ni’Var’s sudden stubbornness. Before they can talk, Rillak pulls Burnham aside.
Back on Discovery, Dr. Culber hosts Cleveland “Book” Booker (David Ajala) in therapy. Book is clearly resistant, swearing that his mind meld with T’Rina helped. In an unconventional attempt to get Book to open up, Culber shares a personal anecdote about grief. It works a bit, but Book is still reluctant to share. Culber offers something different in their remaining time.
During recess on Ni’Var, Saru thanks T’Rina for the tea she sent him. He shares his disappointment that the talks are suddenly going south, and while the president agrees, T’Rina stands by the wishes of her people, and casually lets slide that it’s the Federation that will need to come to a compromise. Meanwhile, Rillak and Burnham have a similar conversation. Burnham and Saru convene, and determine that they must be the ones who figure out the solution to the stalemate.
Back in the shuttle, Adira and the cadets manage to get most of the ship’s systems back online. Just as they realize they’ve got a snowball’s chance of Starfleet locating their emergency beacon, Adira discovers some new lifeforms who are conveniently attracted to the shuttle’s energy signature. Tilly decides to take Adira and the cadets to a high point in the distance in hopes that their rendezvous ship, the USS Armstrong, will be able to catch their personal comm signals. As the cadets bicker, Tilly puts her foot down, insisting that they do everything from there on out as a team.
In Dr. Culber’s office, Book attempts to complete a Kwejian healing ritual but is outwardly frustrated. He goes on about how the Kwejian heal through deep, spiritual communication with their planet, and that the doctor’s attempt is a waste of time. Culber empathizes with gentle, yet brutal honesty, agreeing that nothing will be able to replace the bond Book had with his planet or its customs.
On Ni’Var, Saru visits T’Rina in her chambers as she meditates. She confides in him that the DMA has sparked musings of isolation throughout her coalition, and that she must adhere to their wishes. They share a tender moment of shared meditation, and it almost feels like they might be boo-loving, if even just a little bit. Meanwhile, Capt. Burnham has calls President Rillak in her ready room, and proposes a third option to the polarized positions Ni’Var and the Federation are in.
Back on that moon, Tilly, Adira, and the cadets move slowly towards their goal, weary of the incoming spider lightening on their heels. As they bicker, Adira resolves to move on ahead when nearby lightning strikes the ice beneath their feet, freezing them in place. The team rallies to save them, and as Tilly tries to keep them motivated, we learn the tragic backstories of Gorev and Hiral. Having trauma bonded, the team moves on.
On Ni’Var, Capt. Burnham and Saru manage to convince the delegates to agree to the formation of a third party committee to review any concerns held by member worlds. Capt. Burnham volunteers herself to sit on the committee; as a child of Ni’Var and a Starfleet captain, she holds a unique perspective that could help the committee remain objective. With both sides satisfied with Capt. Burnham’s proposal, Ni’Var moves to rejoin the Federation.
Meanwhile, Tilly, Adira, and the cadets rush the hill as the lifeform gains on them. Adira volunteers to draw focus away from the group while they attempt to contact the Armstrong, but Tilly insists that she draws fire instead. It works, but not without the added danger of a second lifeform converging on Adira and the cadets. Just when things are looking grim, the Armstrong picks up their signal, and beams everyone out just in the nick of time.
Safely back at FHQ, Adira bonds with their new friends as Tilly looks on. Kovich inquires about the mission, offering his condolences about the fallen pilot. He goes on to offer her a teaching position at the academy. Adira joins her, and when they express shock at their ability to connect with others, Tilly pours on a wholesome dollop of encouragement on them before walking off.
Following the flag ceremony on Ni’Var, T’Rina and Saru are OBVIOUSLY crushing on each other. When Rillak admits that she needed the captain’s assistance but wasn’t initially sure she would be the best choice, Burnham implores the president to be more transparent with her in the future.
Back in Culber’s office, Book keeps chipping away at his sand sculpture. As he finishes, he realizes what the doctor has been attempting to do for him, and extends the same. Culber is appreciative, but chooses to focus on Book’s recovery instead.
In her quarters, Tilly is mulling over the decision we’ve seen coming. Capt. Burnham joins her, and together they reminisce about their time as roommates. Then Tilly drops the news that she’ll be taking Kovich up on his offer to teach at the academy.
While it’s comforting that Ni’Var is once again part of the Federation, how feasible is it for Capt. Burnham to take on diplomatic responsibilities during a crisis like the DMA? Are Adira and The Cadets going to drop an album soon? Will Saru and T’Rina stop all this foolishness and just make out already? He’s been doing a lot of heavy emotional lifting lately, so we have to ask: is Culber okay?