There’s no easing back into everyday life after one’s planet has been destroyed. This week’s episode opens on a still-grieving Cleveland Booker (David Ajala) as he morbidly – and obsessively – re-watches the final images of Kwejian on his view screen. Capt. Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) enters to console him, but gets pulled back to her office to greet the waiting Saru (Doug Jones).
There, Saru provides counsel and comfort to Burnham, reminding her not to obsess over the lives lost in the previous episode’s station rescue. She congratulates Saru on his progress on Kaminar, and on his offer to command the USS Sojourner. He graciously informs her of his decision not to take the chair, requesting to serve as her First Officer instead. Burnham gratefully accepts, but is clearly measuring the impact of such a decision.
At Starfleet HQ, a collection of high-ranking officers discuss the gravitational anomaly and its tragic aftermath. As Cmmdr. Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and Lt. Tilly (Mary Wiseman) brief the group, Booker enters, pulling the discussion to an abrupt halt. He insists that they continue, and together they agree that more data is required to formulate evacuation plans for systems in its path. President T’Rina (Tara Rosling) offers the brainpower of Ni’Var once the data is found. She and Saru share a silent tender moment before President Rillak (Chelah Horsdal) extends gratitude, taking a moment to stress the importance of a united relief effort.
Back on Discovery, Tilly and Saru head towards the bridge, reconnecting through reflection on the past few months. As Tilly remarks on the brevity of life, Saru offers his condolences and encourages her to take comfort in living a fulfilling life. As they reach the bridge, Saru is met with a warm response, and Burnham addresses the ship, rallying them towards the task ahead. When they jump to the anomaly’s last known coordinates, the crew is visibly daunted by the sheer scale of the danger before them.
Then we see the title sequence. Sheesh!
After completing a few preliminary scans, the crew discovers an accretion cloud surrounding the anomaly, but realize they would need to get a closer look to gather more data. After running down the list of viable vessels to make the trip, they determine that Booker’s frigate is the only ship capable of piercing the cloud and navigation the debris within it. Capt. Burnham initially assigns Cmmdrs. Detmer (Emily Coutts) and Stamets to gather more data, but Booker asks to speak with Burnham in private. In her office, he insists that he pilot instead. Burnham resists, pointing out the obvious fact that he is still (justifiably) emotionally compromised over the loss of his planet. But Book is relentless, reminding her that he technically doesn’t need her permission to go.
Meanwhile in sickbay, Grey (Ian Alexander) observes a holo-representation of his new body. He muses about the possibilities, and mentions plans for resuming his guardian training on Trill. Ensign Adira Tal (Blu del Barrio), shows support but when Grey expresses guilt for being happy about the future, Dr. Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz) chimes in with concern. He goes on to explain the history of the new body, citing the ending of Picard‘s first season (spoiler alert?) for a touch of continuity. Culber puts their collective fears at ease, and honors one final, superficial request.
Next we find Capt. Burnham deliberating over her next steps as she looks out over the arid, holo-landscape of Ni’Var. Saru enters and remarks upon the surroundings, leading Burnham to explain that she would come to that vantage point as a child. She ends the program, addressing the computer as Zora, a name the computer chose on its own. They sit together, and Burnham asks for guidance surrounding her conundrum on who should pilot Book’s ship.
Deciding on Book, Burnham brings the new info to Stamets in engineering, who is aghast at Burnham’s decision to send the only two people who can navigate the spore drive on such a dangerous mission. She clarifies, stating that they’ll send an interactive holo of Stamets in his place, complete with safety tether in case of emergency. Stamets begrudgingly agrees, but confides his insecurities regarding Book to Culber. Being the excellent ship’s counselor that he is, Culber reassures Stamets before initiating the link.
Stamets appears abruptly on Book’s ship, and attempts to make small talk as Book prepares for the mission. After securing Grudge (a queen), they saddle up, and head straight for the anomaly. As Book and Stamets pierce the outer layer, Discovery gets hit by a gravitational wave, suspending them in mid-air as ship’s artificial gravity is rendered useless. They fall abruptly, and set about determining how something so impossible was able to happen.
As the damage reports pour in, Burnham sends an injured Tilly to find Adira so they can figure out the cause of the gravity wave. Culber follows, continuing to wave a light over her. Booker and Stamets encounter some heavy turbulence, causing them to lose navigation control before they can acquire all the data. Tilly and Adira set about deciphering the fluctuations. As tempers flare, Culber advises Tilly to take it easy on Adira, since they only want to impress her. Together, they figure out the next sequence of fluctuations, albeit a moment too late as the ship gets slammed again. This time, the injuries are more severe after the fall, and Burnham is left with one decision: cut Book loose. After doing so, she tasks the bridge with figuring out a way to get him back.
On the frigate, Book and Stamets frantically try to keep the ship in one piece as the data compiles. Amidst the chaos, Stamets ultimately confesses his insecurities surrounding his inability to save his family from the dilithium planet at the end of season two. As the ship continues to take on damage, the data compiles and Book insists that Stamets returns to DISCO to analyze it. Stamets reveals that the interference has prevented him from sending any of the data back, and that it all lives on the ship, establishing that self-sacrifice is out of the question.
Back on Discovery, Tilly and Adira present a solution to Burnham. Together, they suggest that Book essentially ride the fluctuations like waves out of the anomaly back to safety. Saru reminds them that Book’s engines are down, but here comes Lt. Bryce (Ronnie Rowe, Jr.) with some random and suddenly applicable kite surfing experience to explain precisely how Book could do it. Burnham has Tilly program the wave patterns into programmable matter so that she can manually guide Book out. He initially doubts her, and the first attempt fails. Stamets consoles him, reasoning that Book has one more chance to try again.
Book slips into hallucinations of his nephew running through the halls, causing Burnham to open a private channel to talk him back. He laments about the loss of his world, blaming himself for not being able to save his family. Together they try again, and Book catches the next wave to safety. Stamets thanks him for saving Culber and Adira, and vows to figure out what happened in his honor.
In the aftermath, Tilly catches up with Culber in the halls. She thanks him for his advice with Adira, and musters up the courage to ask that they meet again to talk. He congratulates her for showing the courage to request therapy, and sends her on her way.
Meanwhile, Adira retreats to their quarters, still rattled by the whole ordeal. Grey appears, startling them, and congratulates them on being such a flippin’ genius. Adira confesses that they to have been stricken by the finite nature of mortality, but didn’t want to ruin Grey’s joy in seeing his new body. Grey is understanding and nurturing, and together they look forward to what the future holds for both of them.
On the frigate, Book sits on his bed, brooding about everything he’s been through. Burnham joins him and comforts him as he finally opens up to her, confessing that she was right to doubt his ability to carry out the mission.
But back on the bridge, Tilly presents Saru with a disturbing discovery: the gravitational anomaly has changed course. While there was still a huge amount of data to sift through, she admits to being baffled, stating that nothing in her understanding of astrophysics could explain how it was able to exist, let alone change direction.
The stakes have most certainly been raised here. While The Burn was a devastating event, it was ancient history when DISCO and her crew reached the 32nd century. The very idea of planet-gobbling gravitational anomaly that can change direction without notice is horrifying in any circumstance, but as the fragile Federation tries to heal post-Burn, the timing of such a space beastie such as this is dismal at best. Has this unstoppable crew met its match?