Opening on the cusp of the Dark Matter Anomaly (DMA), the USS Janeway and NSS T’Pau (OMGWHUT) watch the DMA blink. Cmdr. Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and Cmmdr. Reno (Tig Notaro) are outwardly alarmed at the lack of sense such an occurrence makes. Together with Booker (David Ajala), Mr. Saru (Doug Jones), and Capt. Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), they determine the DMA is constructed and not a natural phenomenon at all. Burnham, Saru, and Stamets present the info to Dadmiral Vance (Oded Fehr). explaining that the DMA is in the path of the Radvek V asteroid belt, a leftover Emerald Chain colony full of people called the Okali. Vance explains that Starfleet is compiling data in hopes of determining who is capable of developing such devastating technology and rattles of a veritable who’s-who of Federation enemies. He even goes so far as to rule out the Q Continuum, as no one’s heard from them in 600 years. Classifying the responsible species as “Unknown Species 10-C”, Vance assigns DISCO to lead the rescue effort. He adds that a leading Risian scientist, Ruaan Tarka (Shawn Doyle) will be assisting Stamets with unlocking the mystery of the DMA. Burnham calms an agitated Book down as he insists to help with the evacuation. On the bridge, Capt. Burnham addresses the crew before going to work.
Burnham and the bridge crew asses the logistics of the evacuation. After conversing with an unforgiving magistrate, Burnham resolves to rescue a small group imprisoned people with Book, despite the ever-shrinking window of opportunity for a successful extraction.
Stamets runs to his quarters to change into a fresh uniform (giving us an excellent tutorial on how the new jackets work), and runs into Dr. Culber (Wilson Cruz), who is clearly running on fumes. Stamets is irked about the lack of communication from Tarka, and tries to get Culber to open up about what’s clearly bothering him. Culber resists as he’s on his way to help with the evacuation, and shrugs off Stamets’ suggestion to take a break.
Meanwhile, Ruaan Tarka joins the bridge, and like everyone else from the 32nd century, has something smart to say about the antiquity of the ship. As Saru leads both scientists to the lab, Tarka is rude enough to comment on Saru’s feet and Stamets throws the shade we’re all feeling.
Burnham and Book check in with Lt. Cmdr. Rhys (Patrick Kwok-Choon) as he leads the evacuation. He explains that his family survived a hurricane because of Starfleet’s timely rescue. Burnham and Book then survey the prison’s exterior shields and encounter roving mines disguised as native beetles.
As Stamets briefs Saru and Tarka on the most recent data regarding the DMA, Tarka wanders around the lab. He rudely interrupts with his own theory, using a plate of food to demonstrate a device at the center of the DMA capable of controlling it. He reveals schematics to build a working model of the DMA controller, and when Stamets is on board, Saru approves the project.
Back on the asteroid, Burnham and Book fend off the mine-beetles within an inch of their lives. Citing some adventure they’d shared, Burnham figures out a way past the defenses and inside the compound. There, they find a small group of people imprisoned in their own tiny cells. They complain about Starfleet not caring about them while the colony imprisoned them for life for minor crimes. Burnham explains that not only was that Emerald Chain past-tense nonsense, but that time is presently running out. The prisoners agree to evacuate, and Burnham and Book get to work disabling their containment fields.
On DISCO, Dr. Culber rushes into his office to find a waiting call from Dr. Kovich (David Cronenberg). Culber tries to reschedule, stating that the evacuations are more important. Kovich insists that he take a few minutes, as Culber requested the meeting. Opening up, Culber admits feelings of failure as ships counselor now that we know the DMA is a construct and not an act of nature. Kovich hits him with the brutal reminder that Culber died, and has developed a savior complex to rationalize the fact that he gets a second chance at life when literally no one else does. Feeling thoroughly dragged, Culber asks for a suggestion on how to cope. Kovich unceremoniously reminds him that despite his unique circumstances, Culber was still a human being that experienced fear and required rest. Kovich peaces abruptly out, leaving Culber to process his existence. Sheesh.
Back on the asteroid, Burnham and Book disable the shields, freeing the Examples from their cells. They start to make a break for it, but Burnham bars their paths. Felix (Michael Greyeyes) demands that she guarantee their freedom after the rescue, putting Burnham in a diplomatic pinch as well as a time crunch.
In the lab, Stamets, Tarka, and Reno work together to construct a containment field strong enough to house a mini black hole. When Reno gives as much power as possible and it still isn’t enough, Stamets and Tarka attempt to convince Saru to permit Reno to draw power from the phasers. Saru reluctantly agrees, on the condition that he pull the plug if things get dangerous.
Burnham scrambles to find Federation asylum protocol to guarantee their safety. Felix insists on grabbing an artifact that he’d stolen. He shares the story of how he acquired it and confesses to a murder that earns his stay in prison. As they begin to leave, a prisoner triggers the shielding. Book and Burnham decide to bring the mine-beetles to them to help blow open the door, shutting them down in just enough time to get out of dodge.
Saru checks in with Rhys for the status of the evacuation, as Stamets and Tarka work with Reno to power the model controller. They wrestle over how much power to give this volatile little black hole as they try to collect enough data to figure out who could build such a thing. Saru pulls the plug before they manage to kill everyone on board, and leaves in a huff.
Burnham and Book manage to get the Examples outside and past the communications dampener, but Felix stays behind, insisting on serving penance. They try to reason with him, trying desperately to convince Felix to come. He stands firm, but gives Burnham what he stole, asking that she return it to its owner. She respects his agency despite Booker’s protest, leaving her comm badge with him so she could convey the trajectory of the DMA. Once they’re back on board, Book leaves the bridge with a look of disgust. Lt. Nilsson (Sara Mitich) confirms the DMA’s accretion path will take the colony after all, and Felix confesses his grim crimes. DISCO jumps away, and the magistrate enters the bridge, demanding that the prisoners be held in the brig. Burnham reminds him that he and the other colonists are under protection of Federation law while onboard, and that they’ll be refugees where ever they end up.
Culber and Stamets get ready for bed and go over each other’s day. Culber briefly mentions the evacuation while Stamets shares his conflicting feelings about Tarka. Culber reluctantly confesses the conversation he had with Kovich, and Stamets agrees that he needs a break. Sharing a tender moment, the couple basks in the complexity of their respective predicaments while they can.
Meanwhile, Burham searches for the owner of the artifact Felix stole. Zora locates the owner, and offers condolences for the captain’s sorrow. Burnham remarks upon this newfound capacity for emotion, and Zora admits that the ability is relatively new. Clearly alarmed, Burnham meets the owner of the artifact and returns her family’s history to her.
Booker sits perched in the lounge, attempting to drown his emotions in synthale. Tarka joins him and introduces himself. Seeing straight through the preamble, Book asks if Tarka knows who created the DMA. He admits he doesn’t know yet, but surmises that whoever is responsible is infinitely more powerful than known science. Book insists that whoever made it isn’t immortal, and Tarka antagonizes him a bit more before leaving him alone with his thoughts.
Culber needs a vacation and some therapy! A provocative Risian scientist who’s clearly hiding something? Zora’s capability to develop consciousness gets less cute and more terrifying every week. And finally: who is murderous enough to want to build something as devastating as the DMA? Is this the work of the Undine (aka Species 8472), or some non-corporeal species that enjoys wiping out entire civilizations? At least the Burn was a century-old problem that society adjusted around. But this? We’ll see if the stakes can get any higher as the midseason tension continues to build.