Picking up a matter of hours after episode seven, Starfleet HQ is a-buzz with commotion as the officers scramble to locate the stolen spore drive prototype. Zadmiral Vance (Oded Fehr) leans into an officer for details just as President Rillak (Chelah Horsdal) calls him into his office. There, she grills both the admiral and Capt. Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) for insight into how a theft of this magnitude could happen at the worst possible time. Both Vance and Burnham are apologetic, and Burnham offers the Discovery to help track down the stolen drive by locating sources of isolinium, a critical element to an isoliniear weapon. Rillak declines, insisting that Burnham is too personally involved to operate objectively, and assigns DISCO and her crew to reconnaissance on the mysterious Species 10-C instead.
Meanwhile, Cleveland “Book” Booker (David Ajala) and Dr. Ruon Tarka (Shawn Doyle) are on the lam. Tarka presses Book for feedback on the new drive, but Book’s focus is on finding the enough isolinium for Tarka’s weapon.
On Discovery, Capt. Burnham frets in her ready room until she’s joined by Admiral Vance. The admiral is clearly stressed about the situation, revealing his guilt about bringing Dr. Tarka on the spore drive development project. He goes on to express fear about having to send his family away again after reuniting with them. Vance then orders Burnham to find Booker and Tarka before the Federation does, by any means necessary. When Burnham states that the presidents orders to the contrary were quite clear, Vance insists that while he must keep up appearances publicly, that he’d be doing a disservice to Burnham’s unique skills by not employing her knowledge about Book and the black market remnants of the Emerald Chain.
After the titles, Burnham checks in with Mr. Saru (Doug Jones) and Cmdr. Stamets (Anthony Rapp) as they attempt to locate the coordinates of Species 10-C. Before briefing her, Saru offers emotional support during this harrowing time on behalf of the crew. Burnham graciously accepts before getting back on task. Stamets explains that there’s still not much available information about space near the Great Barrier, but Zora (Annabelle Wallis) suggests a nearby civilization that might posses star charts accurate enough to allow DISCO more insight. Burnham suggests contacting a broker friend from her courier days while Stamets continues his calculations, but Zora volunteers to do the more tedious number crunching instead.
Burnham and Saru walk the corridors as she shares her plans, stating that she intends to bring Lt. Cmdr. Owosekun (Oyin Oladejo) with her to Borathia to verify the stellar survey data. Saru questions the history between Burnham and this broker, and empathizes with the difficult position Booker has put her in.
Booker and Tarka arrive at a gambling barge on Borathia. They track down the broker Haas Mazarro (Daniel Kash), who despite not parting on the best of terms, is still pleased to see Book. Neither his nor Tarka’s latinum is enough to secure the isolinium, however, and Haas dismisses them, stating that they’ll need more to get their hands on the element. Booker offers his services to locate players that may be cheating, and Haas accepts.
En route to Borathia are Capt. Burnham and Lt. Cmdr. Owosekun. The captain briefs her ops officer about the nature of their destination, and Owosekun asks why she was chosen to accompany the captain on this mission. Burnham explains that she chose Owosekun because of her tenacity and refusal to stand down in the subspace rift, empathizing with the frustration of wanting to do something – anything – to help. Together they reach the cleverly concealed Karma Barge, and set out to look for Haas.
The two of them enter in uniform, drawing disgusted glares from everyone around them. One oaf actually goes out of his way to roughly nudge Owosekun as he walks by. Haas rushes out to meet them, shocked that Burnham, aka ‘Right Hook’, is now a Starfleet captain. Burnham asks about the star charts and she and Owosekun are ushered into Haas’ office. She pays in latinum and jewelry, but when she inquires about isolinium, Haas explains that the price goes up with every interested bidder. Haas encourages them to try and earn more latinum at his card tables while he retrieves the star charts. Owosekun takes the captain aside, wondering if the other bidder was Book. Burnham tries not to dwell on that, and instead tries to find a way for them to come up with more latinum. Meanwhile, Booker and Tarka get a lead on a possible cheater, but as Tarka moves to shadow their target, Burnham intercepts Booker and pulls him aside to talk. Burnham tries to reason with him, but is operating under the impression that Tarka coerced his cooperation. When Booker informs her that he is more than complicit, a disagreement ensues, and a line gets drawn in the sand.
Burnham attempts to convince Haas to sell her the isolinium directly, but he sets the price so high she’d have to call for more, and refuses her request to contact Starfleet to settle the fee. The captain and Owosekun set their sights on the betting floor, and Owosekun has an idea involving the large man from earlier and the fighting ring before them.
Back on DISCO, Dr. Culber (Wilson Cruz) is feverishly stress cleaning his quarters as Cmdr. Stamets enters. When the good doctor snaps on the cleaning droid, Stamets sits his partner down and gets to the real root of the problem. Taking Booker’s betrayal as his own professional failure, Culber is frustrated with his performance as ship’s counselor. Stamets gently reminds him that one cannot pour from an empty vessel, and suggests a leisurely couple’s stroll through some flowers in a new holodeck program to help relieve the stress.
On the Karma Barge, Owosekun preps to fight and Burnham attempts to hype the crowd. Seemingly outmatched, Owo loses the first fight but insists on a rematch. Booker informs Tarka of Burnham’s presence as they work to uncover the network of cheating players. Following a suspect through the crowd, they discover that it’s just one person: a Changeling. Tarka tasks Book with keeping an eye on their new friend as he works on a way to prevent the cheating Changeling from escaping. After suffering another loss, Burnham tries to pull Owosekun from the match, but she refuses, insisting that she can beat this man who is clearly twice her size. Another rematch is called and just as Burnham bets all their latinum, Owo proceeds to whoop this man’s ass in front of everyone, winning enough money to buy the isolinium. Butt-hurt from the loss, the man’s trainer tries to take their winnings, claiming that they’d been hustled. In the tussle that follows, Book appears to assist, leading the way for Burnham to return the favor when the Changeling tries to make a break for it. Tarka’s device restrains the Changeling, and with the cheater caught and funds secured, Burnham and Book finish in a draw.
Burnham and Booker bicker over who should get the isolinium, and Haas reveals that he’s invited two other associates to bid on the element. To settle things, Haas proposes a game of Leonian poker, using the latinum they’ve already offered as the buy-in fee. Burnham stalls by asking to see the isolinium before the game begins, and Haas complies, allowing each player to verify the element. On her turn to inspect the goods, Haas offers Burnham his support for whatever she and Book are going through.
During the game, Burnham tries to distract the other players, seemingly working with and against Book simultaneously. Book wins the first hand, and the game moves on, eliminating the first player. As they continue, Tarka and Owosekun become acquainted, discussing the motivation behind Book and Tarka’s betrayal. Owosekun begins to figure out why Tarka would risk so much, and he quickly shuts down the conversation despite her compassionate effort to understand his choice. Before we can dive deeper, a disruption at the table disqualifies the other player, leaving Burnham and Booker to play alone. Burnham tries one last time to appeal to Book’s better judgement, but when he refuses to fold (no pun intended), they both place their bets and reveal that final hand. Booker wins the game and the isolinium fair and square, but the magnitude of what he’s lost clearly weighs heavily on both of them.
While Tarka attempts to console Booker back on the frigate, Burnham debriefs President Rillak and Zadmiral Vance at Starfleet HQ. Just as Rillak goes to lay into Vance and Burnham for not following orders, Burnham reveals that she’s placed a tracking device on the isolinium. Just as the captain provides the coordinates to Booker’s frigate and reiterates her commitment to the Federation’s plan for first contact, Saru interrupts with urgent news about the coordinates.
In engineering, Stamets and Saru explain the details of what they’ve discovered, stating that the massive void at the coordinates can only be a manufactured structure. As Burnham speculates on the energy required to power such a device, she asks Zora to isolate any trace elements missing from the path of the DMA. When Zora reveals that boromite was missing, Burnham determines that the DMA is not a weapon at all, but a mining dredge, harvesting materials to fuel the massive structure.
So now that we know that the DMA was designed to gather boromite and not to intentionally destroy entire worlds, will Book and Tarka get to the Great Barrier first? How will Burnham and her crew hope to apprehend two people so desperate for resolution that they’ll stop at nothing to get their revenge? Is this the end of Burnham and Booker’s relationship? Will we get to see Owo kick the tar out of someone else before the season is out? And just who is Species 10-C, and why are they so dang reckless with their tech?