Note: Kennedy’s taking this week off, so I’m here taking the reins. It’s just like old times….
After losing her job at first officer, Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) is finally starting to realize how much she’s changed in her year alone, and questioning if she still has a place on Discovery and in Starfleet. In bed, Book (David Ajala) asks her, “So when are we getting out of here?” He’s been living on his ship, parked in the shuttle bay, and he’s ready to bolt. Michael actually entertains the idea – something we certainly would not have expected from her last season – but again brings up that she needs to continue investigating The Burn, which Book calls “the biggest, most dangerous cosmic puzzle of all time” and then calls Michael on her messianic complex.
In uniform, Burnham goes to see Tilly (Mary Wiseman), who has also changed – she’s very direct about the difficult situation that Michael left her in when she left on her unauthorized mission. Michael apologizes, and then admits to her bestie that she doesn’t know how she fits in anymore. Avoiding awkwardness, Tilly jumps to science, and tells Michael that she was right: The black boxes she found from the Yelchin and the Gav’Nor reveal that the ships were 1000 lightyears apart at the time of the The Burn, and the Gav’Nor lost contact one one-millionth of a microsecond after the Yelchin. The computer is still working on the black box Book retrieved from the Giacconi, but with three data points, Michael suggests they would be able to triangulate the point of origin. Tilly reminds her that it’s a little bit different in three-dimensional space. They’ll need more data.
Good thing that Michael had plenty of time to sift through Federation databases over the last year. She flagged an experiment, called SB-19, which had sensors all over subspace at the time of The Burn, but reported no findings. No public ones, anyway. But the Admiral might have access to them. As Michael quips that Admiral Vance is not her biggest fan right now, Tilly lets herself be vulnerable, asking Michael, “What if you hadn’t made it back? What would I do?” And the computer interrupts because the analysis of the last black box is done: The Giacconi lost contact seven one-millionths of a microsecond after the Yelchin.
Cut to Michael and Saru (Doug Jones) bringing Vance (Oded Fehr) up to speed on their findings. Michael asks about SB-19, and Vance’s demeanor immediately changes – He knows about it, but they can’t access it. “It’s Ni’Var,” or as we and the crew of Disco knew it, the planet Vulcan, which is now home to both Vulcans and Romulans. Vance drops some exposition, explaining that the Vulcans and Romulans are related and it was, in fact, Spock who began the process of reunification, and eventually succeeded, though centuries after his death. Unfortunately, Ni’Var left the Federation nearly a century ago.
Vance explains that even before The Burn, the Federation was running out of dilithium, and all of the member worlds had their best and brightest working on solutions. Ni’Var’s contribution was SB-19, which could transport ships anywhere in an instant, very similar to the spore drive. But although the scientists working on the project thought it was too dangerous, the Federation found it to be the most promising alternative to dilithium and ordered them to proceed. Ni’Var’s scientists felt that the Federation forced them to cause The Burn, left the Federation, and took their data with them. If there’s now proof that The Burn was not caused by SB-19, maybe this can be the foot in the door to reopen a diplomatic relationship. Vance wants to send Spock’s Sister, Michael Burnham, as their representative. Michael freely admits that she doesn’t think she’d do the best job right now, but Vance DGAF. (Also, wasn’t she erased from all records?) She’s going and the Diplomatic Corps is going with her.
Michael returns to her quarters, thinking on her relationship with Spock, and pulls up records – from the personal files of Admiral Jean-Luc Picard – of his work on Vulcan and Romulan reunification. Together, we watch Leonard Nimoy’s Spock speak on the importance of his mission. Michael admits to Book that this is the first time she’s looked him up, and he calls them both “chronic overachievers.”
Tilly has been summoned to Saru’s ready room, where he formally informs her of Michael’s demotion and asks her to serve as Acting First Officer until he can find a permanent replacement. (Take that, Harry Kim.) Tilly reminds him that she’s an ensign, and that she’d suddenly be responsible for the lives of the crew, and that she never even completed the Command Training Program… But Saru counters that her experiences exceed the parameters of the CTP, and that he’s watched her rise to meet every challenge since their arrival. And oh yeah, she’ll put Starfleet first. With Michael’s latest misstep on her mind, Tilly wants to know if she’s actually qualified, or just complaint. Avoiding a direct answer, Saru tells her that he thinks this is in the best interest of their ship and tells her to take a day to think about it.
Time to jump to Ni’Var, and Stamets (Anthony Rapp) gets to use his new, gooey navigational interface. Disco is greeted by Ni’Var President T’Rina (Tara Rosling), who gets right down to business – they’re not going to turn over the SB-19 data. It’s a sensitive subject on Ni’Var, and as the people are still struggling with reunification, President T’Rina is not interested in opening this particular can of worms, despite Michael’s pleas. And if she doesn’t stop asking, they’ll be asked to leave. Not one to let things drop, Michael invokes the T’Kal-in-ket. The President says she’ll convene a quorum and then cuts off her transmission.
Michael explains to the very confused bridge crew that the T’Kal-in-ket dates back to the time of Surak. It’s a “philosophical process designed to unearth deep truths,” which she has the right to invoke as a graduate of the Vulcan Science Academy. She will have to “rigorously defend [her] hypothesis” before this quorum…
Which has just beamed aboard with the President, and consists of a Vulcan, a Romulans, and a Romulo-Vulcan – all wearing an insignia that appears to be a combination of an IDIC and the emblem of the Romulan Star Empire. Saru offers to give President T’Rina a tour of Discovery, but she’s not interested in diplomatic niceties – one of his officers has backed her into a corner and she’s not thrilled about it. She informs Michael that her shalankhkai, or Advocate, will be arriving shortly. Michael is unfamiliar with the term – it’s a Romulan one. Since reunification, these advocates must be members of the Qowat Milat (Picard shout-out alert!). Because of their dedication to absolute candor, they were essential in helping the Romulans and Vulcans trust one another in the early days of reunification and are essential to “healthy discourse” today.
Michael starts to apologize for any disrespect, but T’Rina assures her that she was within her rights but warns her that a classic tactic during these proceedings is to attempt to discredit the challenger, and if she is proven not to be credible, that will not only reflect poorly on her, but on Spock’s legacy. So, no pressure. Saru and T’Rina leave the transporter room and Michael’s advocate beams aboard. It’s her mom.
Despite her earlier dismissal, Saru does seem to be giving T’Rina a tour of the ship. Since she is one of the few to know the truth of Disco‘s story, she asks what Saru thinks of the future. He is, of course, troubled by the Federation’s small numbers, but feels those remaining are holding fast to its values. T’Rina isn’t so sure of that. SB-19 wasn’t the singular reason Ni’Var left the Federation, it was just the last straw. The Federation had grown to large, stretching resources and neglecting its members. But Saru suggests that the Federation has learned it’s lesson.
Michael and Gabrielle (Sonja Sohn) catch up, and mom can see right through her daughter – she knows that Michael is lost. Michael admits it, and that it scared her, but she is certain of her theory on The Burn, and she needs help to get the SB-19 data. But, as we know, the sisters of the Qowot Milat bind themselves to lost causes. This panel will not be the Vulcans that Michael is used to. It’s made up of representatives of factions that each have their own truths, facts, and logic and Michael, having jumped 930 years, lacks true understanding of the changes in this culture.
Michael enters the T’Kal-in-ket chamber and begins to address the quorum, who want to dismiss her immediately. Her hypothesis of an origin for The Burn is not new, her data sample size is too small, and turning over the SB-19 data is too risky. But that’s when the in-fighting begins, and Michael seems taken aback by the different agendas of these three leaders, despite her mother’s warning. After just a few moments, Gabrielle adjourns the session.
In engineering, Tilly pulls Stamets aside, and drops her bomb. She wants his take on whether she should accept Saru’s offer. Stamets, though, can’t get past the weirdness before he’s interrupted and has to get back to work on recalibrating the spore drive before the next jump.
Outside the T’Kal-in-ket chamber, Gabrielle reminds Michael that each member of this quorum is worried about protecting their planet in the best way they know how. Sharing the SB-19 information brings them closer to the Federation than they have been in a century, and that’s a position they consider dangerous. So, Michael needs to be honest about her own current relationship with the Federation.
Michael reenters the chamber and the proceedings resume. She gathers herself and admits that she believes her data proves that The Burn did not originate with SB-19. N’Raj (Oliver Becker), a Romulan elder seeking greater self-governance, believes that they should take an opportunity to prove that The Burn was not their fault. V’Kir (Emmanel Kabongo), young leader of a sect of Vulcan purists, flatly states that the data proves otherwise and wants to dismiss. And Shira (Stephanie Belding), a Romulo-Vulcan – the centrist, points out that in asking that the data be turned over to the Federation, Michael is also asking that the citizens of Ni’Var trust that the Federation will be responsible with that data and not resume tests.
Michael insists that the Federation only has everyone’s best interests at heart. And then the call comes from inside the house. Gabrielle starts questioning Burnham, citing incidents of insubordination as far back as her mutiny on the Shenzhou. So, if she is the best the Federation has to offer, and she’s not even sure she wants to be a part of it anymore, why should Ni’Var trust them?
Gabrielle then addresses the quorum, explaining that Michael’s unique upbringing as a human on Vulcan, leaving an emotional void, which left her open to manipulation by the Federation. Manipulation that she cannot even recognize. And she thought that, because her mother was her advocate, she’d go easy on her. Michael pushes back – The Federation gave her a purpose and a family, that family saved all sentient life in the universe, they now have a mission to solve some of the galaxy’s biggest problems, and despite their flaws they have lived up to the Federation’s ideals. Gabrielle confirms all of these things as truthful. But if Michael is fighting for the greater good, why is she struggling with where she belongs? The question hits her like a ton of bricks, and she admits to the fear of losing everyone she’s sacrificed for. And that’s the truth the quorum needed to hear.
But they’re still just fighting with one another, until the Romulan representative says “If the Vulcans won’t share the data, then the Romulans will.” The room is about to erupt when Michael ends it with a simple statement – this is not what Spock would have wanted. Reunification is about being part of something bigger than oneself – and so is the Federation. And impassioned speech later, Michael withdraws her request. This data is not worth tearing their world apart. She’ll keep searching, and she’ll send any data she finds to the Ni’Var Science Institute. She won’t ask for their trust, but will give them hers, “as a member of Starfleet.”
In a private moment in her quarters, Michael and Gabrielle have another heart to heart about reconciling duty and joy. And Gabrielle has some good news. Michael’s honesty and vulnerability convinced President T’Rina, watching from the audience, to trust her. Gabrielle hands over the Death Star plans SB-19 data. Gabrielle will be staying on Ni’Var, but finally, Michael will know where to find her.
Tilly walks into engineering (or the spore navigation room? what did we decide to call this room?), apparently responding to a summons from Stamets, to find it filled with her friends. She’s embarrassed at first that he clearly told them about Saru’s offer, but they’re all there to encourage to take the job… and present a list of demands and grievances, of course. Michael’s late to the party, but she has the SB-19 data with her, so all is forgiven. Plus, Michael assures her that she’ll be around “for the duration” and is looking for leadership from her BFF. Through tears, Tilly orders her to the science lab to begin analysis.
In her final moments on board, President T’Rina tells Saru that Discovery‘s visit was not was she was expecting – but in a good way. He takes one last shot at asking her to reconsider diplomatic relations with the Federation again. She may just need some time, but is more open to the idea.
On Book’s ship, in the shuttle bay, with Grudge in all her glory, Michael tells book that she got the data… and that she now knows she belongs on Discovery. That leaves him to decide what he’ll do, as Discovery breaks orbit.