We open on Discovery in space dock, receiving repairs after last week’s venture into the void. Cmmdr. Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and Ensign Tal (Blu del Barrio) work with Zora to narrow down coordinates for the elusive Species 10-C. The two of them discuss the upcoming assembly to discuss the next course of action regarding the DMA’s destructive potential as Zora completes her calculations. Meanwhile Capt. Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) tries to play with Grudge as she and Book (David Ajala) wait for the coordinates in her quarters. Stamets calls the captain to engineering, only for her to find that while Zora has determined the last known location of Species 10-C, the suddenly-sentient computer refuses to share the coordinates.
After the titles, Capt. Burnham has understandably called in the big guns, Dr. Kovich (David Cronenberg) to discuss how to handle Zora’s newfound defiance. Burnham assures him that she’ll be able to convince Zora to comply, but Kovich reminds her of his expertise in cognitive science and insists that she follow orders and attend the assembly while he works with the crew.
Burnham arrives with Book at Federation HQ for the galactic assembly, and joins President Rillak (Chelah Horsdal) and now-General Ndoye (Phumzile Sitole). The general updates Burnham on the newer, more inclusive policies of Earth, but is quick to remind Rillak that joining the Federation is still a work in progress. Rillak confides in Burnham that she would love to see Earth join Ni’Var in once again being members of the Federation, and quickly mentions DISCO’s computer problem to Burnham before addressing the assembly.
On a lower level, Dr. Tarka (Shawn Doyle) joins Book to watch the delegation. When Book questions his presence there, Tarka coyly insinuates that the assemble politicians could serve as a means to an end, despite his feelings about their capabilities. President Rillak goes on to give a compassionate, but politically-worded speech regarding the necessity of galactic unity as they decide what to do about the dark matter anomaly (DMA) and the species that created it. Discourse among the delegates ensues, and it becomes clear that President T’Rina (Tara Rosling) and General Ndoye are polarized in their opinions. Burnham tries to mediate diplomatically, and the assembly continues to deliberate on their next steps.
Back on Discovery, Dr. Kovich meets with Capt. Saru (Doug Jones) to discuss what to do about Zora’s insubordination. Stamets and Dr. Culber (Wilson Cruz) rush in, and Stamets tries to huddle everyone up to prevent Zora overhearing his concerns about her sentience. Kovich reminds them that transparency is key to his evaluation. Together, they learn that Zora’s consciousness occurred around the time that Control merged with the Sphere data back in Season 2. Kovich goes on to reveal that if he deems Zora to be in violation of Starfleet’s protocol regarding AI ship integration, he’ll authorize her extraction to be placed in another form, even one of her own choice. Adira and Gray (Ian Alexander) rush in to advocate for Zora, and she presents them with a failsafe device that would terminate her should she step out of line.
At the assembly, the deliberation continues as the group weighs their options between mounting an attack and attempting a peaceful first contact. Quickly instructing Book to be ready, Dr. Tarka joins Burnham and Rillak, and speaks to the delegates. He proposes the use of a device he developed after his time on Discovery, a weapon capable of destroying the device at the center of the DMA. He goes on, proposing that Discovery could deliver the device and jump to a safe distance before detonation. Capt. Burnham asks for clarification since Tarka’s weapon sounds a lot like an isolitic weapon, technology that was banned during the Khitomer accords. Tarka explains that subspace damage is the point of the weapon, since it’s the only thing effective enough to destroy it. When Burnham reminds Tarka and the assembly that such an act could harm the species that created the DMA, Book joins them and intercedes, making an argument for Tarka’s device. They go back and forth a bit, and Rillak calls for a recess before a vote on what to do.
Back on DISCO, Adira and Gray make a strong case not to keep the failsafe, insisting that they work towards acceptance of Zora. Stamets makes good points to keep it, using his concerns regarding the inability to predict or control Zora. Kovich points out that a termination device goes against Zora’s core programming, and she blows everyone’s mind by saying that she changed her primary function is to care for the crew.
At Federation HQ, Burnham and Book talk further, establishing that they are firmly seated on opposite ends of the table. When he walks off, President Rillak approaches Burnham and empathizes with the tough spot Burnham is in. Burnham then asks Rillak to vote for diplomacy but the president declines, insisting that she must appear to remain impartial for the sake of the non-Federation delegates’ peace of mind. Instead, she encourages Burnham to speak in her place before they take a vote. Book finds Tarka and pleads with him to try and convince the assembly to use the weapon. He then points out Tarka’s scar on the back of his neck, left over from his enslavement under the Emerald Chain. Tarka insists that Book be the one to convince the assembly to use his weapon. When Book asks why Tarka cares so much, he reveals that the device controlling the DMA could get him home. Book points out that Tarka is from Risa, and the scientist reveals that his new home is in another universe. He explains that he and a friend, a fellow scientist that had been enslaved alongside him, had agreed to meet there should they get separated. Tarka insists that Book be the one to convince the assembly to develop the weapon, so that he may use the controlling device inside to get home. As the assembly begins to convene for a vote, Book makes one final argument for the construction of the weapon. His plea lands heavily on the delegates, and none of them seem willing to try diplomacy after he finishes. President Rillak asks if anyone has a counter argument, casting imploring looks at Capt. Burnham, who reluctantly offers to speak.
Meanwhile, Adira and Stamets work to locate the programing that led Zora to develop such a high level of sentience in the ready room. They isolate some anomalous coding, and Zora consents to a further examination. Adira uncovers what is essentially Zora’s subconscious, and the group watches as Zora’s “dreams” – the memories of their journey and the connections they made along the way – play before them. Together they determine that Zora has evolved into an entirely new lifeform, capable of making emotional bonds with the crew.
Stamets battles with his stance on Zora’s sentience while Burnham implores the assembly not to react out of fear. Zora takes a moment to consider Stamets’ concerns, and after coming to the conclusion that trust is, in fact, reciprocal, displays the coordinates after assessing the crew’s probability of making the right decision.
President Rillak puts the decision to vote, and as the votes for a diplomatic first contact are cast, Burnham drives the point home with her own vote, earning a disdainful glare from Book. Rillak declares her hopes that the delegates who voted against diplomacy continue to work alongside the others as they formulate a plan. Burnham goes to console Book, but is quickly intercepted by Presidents Rillak and T’Rina.
Saru waits as Kovich busies himself with his analysis. Stamets joins them, asking if a decision has been made. When Kovich positions that he’s leaning towards extracting Zora, Stamets poses a solution. He explains to Zora that his fears of her sentience stem not from a disregard for her existence, but more from the idea that she exists outside the chain of command. Kovich officially declares Zora a new lifeform, rendering Starfleet’s policy regarding ship-bound AIs to be inapplicable. Stamets proposes that Zora join the ‘fleet as a specialist, and when Zora agrees, he makes quick work at dismantling the failsafe. He then asks Kovich if he really would have extracted Zora if he hadn’t changed his mind. Kovich reveals that if he hadn’t, Kovich would have had him reassigned to another ship out of respect for Zora’s right to exist.
Meanwhile in the lounge, Gray joins Adira to tell them of his plans to return to Trill with the delegates. Adira saw his desire to leave coming, and confesses that they’d already requested leave to help him get settled.
In the wake of the assembly, Saru joins T’Rina and awkwardly gifts her with a succulent in gratitude, bringing a smile to her face. Culber and Stamets say their goodbyes to Adira and Gray as they prepare for the journey to Trill.
Everything seems smooth until we see Book put Grudge in her carrier just in time for Tarka to show up with a stolen next-generation spore drive. As Tarka installs it, Book makes one last trip to Discovery, dropping off Grudge in Burnham’s quarters. Burnham figures out what’s happening a moment too late, and beams to the shuttle bay just in time to see Book and Tarka jump away.
With Tarka dropping the hint that adjacent universes are more accessible than we’ve been lead to believe, the scale of the Star Trek universe has grown exponentially. It’s comforting to see certain relationships develop with deepened bonds, but Book leaving Grudge with Michael implies that he won’t be back for a very long time, if at all. Will Zora have to attend Starfleet Academy? Are Saru and T’Rina finally going to get started on those VulKelpien niblings we all want? Will Book and Burnham’s relationship survive the mid-season break?