Thanks to the combined efforts of her crew, the USS Discovery has finally reached the last known coordinates of Starfleet and the Federation. According to Capt. Saru’s (Doug Jones) wholesome captain’s log, they are eager to see just how far Starfleet and the Federation have come since their departure 930 years ago. Thanks to Senna Tal’s coordinates and calculations by Adira Tal (Blu del Barrio), DISCO is able to locate Starfleet headquarters. Along with his newly-minted first officer Cmmdr. Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), Saru joins the bridge crew just as they approach the distortion field. Together, they cross the threshold of the field and discover exactly how much the Federation has advanced since their 1,000 year-long trip.
As DISCO pierces the veil, they are dazzled by the sheer magnitude of technical advancement within the scene before them. The bridge crew takes turns geeking out about the gathered ships, and for good measure. As DISCO approaches the egg-like structure at the center of the field, we see the newest ships, including the Constitution-class model, ships with hovering nacelles and organic hulls, scout vessels, even a rainforest ship. Arguably, the largest reveal of these new ships is the USS Voyager NCC-74656-J, implying that Voyager’s intrepid-class design has seen eleven regenerations. The crew clamors at windows throughout DISCO to see the newest vessels as they approach the center of the field. Starfleet scans the ship, and requests the captain, first officer, and Tal prepare to beam over. It certainly seems like the perfect homecoming, but are DISCO and her crew out of the woods yet?
Saru, Michael and Adira (Blu del Barrio) are understandably gobsmacked by the glamor of their surroundings, taking in the new tech as well as the new uniforms. Their appearance earns a few curious stares from passersby before they are met with the Starfleet Commander in Chief, Admiral Charles Vance (Oded Fehr) and his Chief Security Officer, Lt. Willa (Vanessa Jackson). Saru and Michael are overly eager to prove themselves to Admiral Vance, who remains unimpressed and even a bit suspicious of their appearance. Vance does mention that it’s been a while since he’s seen a Kelpien, revealing that Kaminar joined the Federation a few years back, but has remained out of communications range like many Federation planets.
An ensign informs the admiral of activity in the Emerald Chain – the Orion/Andorian syndicate that we saw at the beginning of the season. Turning his attention to Adira, we learn that Vance and Senna Tal had some sort of relationship, though the nature of it remains a mystery as Vance is quick to establish that that relationship was with Senna, not Adira. He sends her to medical for an exam as a medical officer informs the admiral of the worsening condition of a group of Kili refugees. Eavesdropping, Michael quickly offers solutions for the apparent problem, but Vance is even quicker in coolly and professionally shutting her down. Saru intercedes, insisting that DISCO is merely eager to help however they can. Vance is appreciative of that, but reminds them that they, along with the rest of the crew, must be debriefed before anything else can happen.
In Vance’s office, Saru and Michael lay out the details of their mission while being eyeballed by the medical hologram, Dr. Eli (Brendan Beiser). While he’s clearly examining their physical and mental health, he’s also violating their personal space, distracting them as they try to relay the details of their adventure to the admiral. After their examination, Saru and Michael pose their own questions about the state of Starfleet and the Federation.
Vance reveals that out of a peak of 350 worlds, the Federation now consists of 38 planets, spread out across the quadrant and out of range due to their lack of subspace communications. Michael tries to inquire about the burn, but Vance once again shuts her down. He explains that there are no records of DISCO or her spore drive, and without evidence of the Red Angel suit or Control, he is unable to corroborate their story. Instead, he offers a “quick history lesson,” explaining that the Federation has spent the better part of the 30th Century at war, fighting to uphold the Temporal Accords. This interstellar treaty was developed to regulate time travel, preventing anyone from traveling to the past or the future to change history, signifying the criminal nature of their appearance. Saru and Michael insist that everything they’ve done has been to ensure the future, but Vance remains firm, asserting that the crew would be debriefed and reassigned, and the ship be retrofitted.
Back on DISCO, Michael takes the news harder than Saru does. As captain, he understands that the nature of their mission has changed now that they’ve reached the future. Michael, however, begins scheming, and plans to obtain the Kili roster to determine where they could have gone to contract their disease so that they could jump there, find a cure, and impress Vance all at the same time. Saru quickly checks her renegade behavior, reminding her that their first act back should be to follow orders, not pirate Starfleet records without permission. It’s here that we see glimpses of the notion that Michael, despite everything she’s been through, has not learned her lesson about following orders that don’t suit her. Together they break the news to the crew, and it is not well-received at all.
The debriefing scenes that follow provide a bit of levity during the direness of their situation. Dr. Culber (Wilson Cruz) reveals the details about his death and resurrection, being sure to note that he harbors no ill will towards his murderer. Lt. Reno (Tig Notaro) recounts how she joined DISCO from the wreckage of the Hiawatha and denies any knowledge of the Emerald Chain, and Lt. Stamets (Anthony Rapp) gets miffed when asked if he’s considered essential personnel. Ensign Tilly (Mary Wiseman) explains that neither her enthusiasm towards Starfleet nor its handbook prepared her for their unprecedented adventures, and Lt. Nhan (Rachael Ancheril) refuses to cooperate.
Michael and Saru catch up with Lt. Willa, following up on their request to see the Kili’s travel roster. Michael tries to convince her to cooperate, but Willa remains tight-lipped, agreeing to keep them posted, if she’s able to.
It’s the debriefing of Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) that shifts the tone of the whole experience. She ignores the holo-officers and their questions, watching the interrogation officer (David Cronenberg) as he watches her. After they reveal that scans showed her to be Terran almost instantly, she neutralizes the holograms by blinking rapidly at them, disrupting their harmonic field. The nameless interrogation officer is fascinated by her wickedness, and Georgiou is clearly fascinated by him, too.
Meanwhile, the collective condition of the Kili is getting worse. Saru, Michael, Vance, Willa, and Dr. Eli are gathered on a landing to watch the medical crew work. After learning that the Kili stopped on a radiated planet, Dr. Eli suggests that they’d need a sample of organic matter from the indigenous ecosystem to develop a cure. Michael remembers the USS Tikhov, a seed vault ship that would have samples pre-dating the radiation of the ecosystem, suggesting that go to the Tikhov to find whatever they’d need to find a cure. Vance informs them that they are 5 months out, to which Michael suggests DISCO jumps there with the spore drive. After a bit of back-and-forth, the admiral agrees to let them go, assigning Willa and a small security detail to accompany them. Vance is clear that he’s not here for Michael’s sh*t, and makes sure to warn her against any treachery, holding Saru responsible should the mission fail.
Back on DISCO, the crew leaps at the opportunity to prove themselves to this new century, springing to action to prepare for the jump. Willa makes the mistake of calling the ship a fossil, and the bridge crew all but laughs at her for it. Michael casually flexes on Willa, suggesting that she hold onto something before they jump. Together, they appear at the edge of an ion storm near the Tikhov’s last known location, and the crew goes to work. Lts. Rhys (Patrick Kwok-Choon) and Detmer (Emily Coutts) work together to get a tractor beam on the Tikhov, while Lt. Owosekun (Oyin Oladejo) provides Detmer the reassurance she’s grown to need.
After discovering the last family to watch over the seed vault was Barzan, Michael builds her away team to include Dr. Culber and Lt. Nhan. They beam over and find that the ship and its contents are intact, but her crew is in dire straits. They quickly learn that the family assigned to the vessel has died, and the scientist in charge of the vault is phasing in and out of time. Tilly, Stamets, and Reno are already hard at work, and discover that a recent anomaly pushed the scientist out of sync as he was beaming into the vault, presumably to find a cure for his family.
Back at HQ, the interrogation of Georgiou continues. They banter back and forth, and the interrogation officer surmises that the only reason she joined DISCO is because she must care for someone in the crew.
After beaming him back into phase, Culber finds that Dr. Attis (Jake Epstein) is suffering from radiation poisoning and will die if he doesn’t receive treatment soon. Addis refuses to leave his family, and it takes convincing from both Nhan and Michael before he agrees to open the vault. Nhan volunteers to stay aboard the Tikhov to safeguard the vault in the family’s wake, looking forward to reconnecting with her homeworld after nearly a century away.
After returning with the seed samples, Michael joins Saru and Vance to debrief the mission. The admiral has clearly relaxed a bit, and Saru reminds him of the European renaissance period, proposing that DISCO can provide Starfleet and the Federation with depth and clarity as a point of reference on their overall mission. Michael reminds the Admiral that DISCO and her crew operate as one, and want nothing more than to be useful. Vance seems to soften a bit, but reminds them that he’ll have the final say on where they go and why.
Tying things up, Michael and Willa discuss the fact that the melody the Barzan family was humming matches the lullaby Adira played on the cello, despite being lightyears apart in origin. Willa shrugs it off as coincidence, but Michael isn’t satisfied. She goes to confer with Georgiou about the matter, but finds the emperor deep in thought, dissociating as she silently reviews all she had been told about the fall of the Terran Empire nearly 500 years prior. Georgiou shrugs it off, of course, and Michael makes a note of it before joining her captain. Reconvening, Saru gently chastises Michael for her tone towards Admiral Vance, and together. They then reflect on their homecoming experience, still hopeful about their contributions to an organization, its surviving ideals, and its people.