Happy Halloween, or Discovery (NCC-1031) Day! Michael Burnham’s been reunited with the rest of the crew, and now able to reach Earth, thanks to the ship’s spore drive. Unfortunately, the beacon message by Starfleet admiral Senna Tal turns out to painfully outdated, as Earth is no longer part of the Federation, and has fortified itself against raiders to protect their remaining dilithium.
“People of Earth”
Written by Bo Yeon Kim and Erika Lippoldt
Directed by Jonathan Frakes
1. Emotion and Exposition
The cold open does a great job of balancing Burnham’s touching reunion with her crew with establishing what she’s been up to in the year since the season premiere, and more of the state of the galaxy in the 32nd century. Michael’s taken up courier jobs with Booker to travel the galaxy, and uncover the reason behind the Burn, without success — but we do learn dilithium was already becoming scarce before the Burn, which we see a very brief, impressionistic depiction of, where every ship apparently stopped in front of each other before exploding. Turns out, Burnham was alerted to Discovery‘s arrival when her communicator began pinging that the ship nearby. During the reunion, we see how much her year away from Starfleet has changed her, as she’s almost overwhelmed with joy to the point of tears; as Tilly comments, she seems “lighter.”
2. Commander or Courier?
Burnham’s conflict in this episode is whether she wants to return to Starfleet or not; while the rest of the crew want to make her captain by acclamation, she points out Saru led them through the wormhole, and that he deserves the command chair instead. It’s a wonderful moment — Saru’s been acting captain so many times he’s certainly earned it — but he can sense something’s off. In the ready room, he and Burnham talk about how she now finds it difficult to dedicate herself to something that no longer (de facto) exists; likewise, many of the crew are wary of whether they can trust Booker or not. By the end, Burnham accepts Saru’s offer to be his first officer, but as her long hair combined with her old uniform shows, she now has an independent streak that’s simply not going to fade away.
Burnham’s time as courier means she’s learned a thing or two about how to be wily; the Discovery needs to approach Earth without causing too much suspicion, so she and Booker hide most of the ship’s dilithium on his cloaked vessel. (He and Georgiou also have to wear Starfleet uniforms, something he complains gives him a rash.) When Saru makes contact with the United Earth Defense Force, he claims they’re a Federation ship that’s been away in deep space for generations (they’re the descendants of the original crew, he says), and it’s strange he keeps up the charade even when the dilithium raiders they sought to avoid show up — honesty always ought to be the best option, especially if your ship is going to be the one trying to uphold the Federation’s ideals when a fight breaks out.
4. You’re Always Your Own Worst Enemy
Booker and Burnham go off-book, and use the dilithium to draw out and capture the raiders’ leader, Wen (Christopher Heyerdahl), breaking the rules, but forcing him and the UEDF’s Captain Ndoye (Phumzile Sitole) to put down their weapons and have a mature discussion. Georgiou — in characteristically brusque fashion — unmasks Wen, revealing him not to be an alien invader as was believed, but a human colonist from the moon of Titan. Wen reveals disaster had befallen the colonies on Titan, but every attempt to reach Earth was met with violence — basically, Earth became so cut off from the rest of the galaxy that they were firing on their own indigenous people: it’s an important reminder that when we close ourselves to others, we also hurt ourselves, because we are all ultimately part of the same family.
5. Teenage Admiral
The episode introduces UEDF inspector Adira, who is played by non-binary actor Blu del Barrio. What’s curious is that Tilly and Stamets consistently refer to the character as “she” and “her,” indicating Barrio isn’t playing a non-binary character too: this feels strange, given how CBS trumpeted their casting, and if they are playing one, then Tilly and Stamets ought to know better than to assume their gender (they’re from the 23rd century, not the 21st).Continued below
What is confirmed about Adira is that they are Senna Tal: well, sort of, it turns out they’re a Trill like Dax in Deep Space Nine, and that they inherited the symbiont that was bonded to Tal after he died. However, Adira is human, not Trill, and is having trouble accessing his memories. At the end, Adira also decides to join up with Discovery, and I can tell from their banter with Stamets that they’re going to be another wonderful addition to the engineering crew.
– Adira is reminiscent of Wesley Crusher and the Kelvin Pavel Chekov, being teenage whizkids proficient with engineering. (Tilly and Stamets could be assuming they’re only 16, since people might just age even more slowly in the 32nd century, but I doubt this is meant as a red herring.)
– Considering how angry she was at Michael at the start of the first season, it means a lot to see Detmer hug her during the cold open.
– There’s a lot of foreshadowing that Burnham and Booker will become an item, from Georgiou teasing Book about them, to her having become familiar enough to mock him for calling his cat “a queen.” However, she still doesn’t know what species he is, so they have a long way to go yet.
– It’s odd Commander Nhan doesn’t appear in this episode, especially when Lieutenant Nilsson (Sara Mitich, who previously played Airiam) is seen much more prominently on the bridge — and elsewhere — here.
– It’s amusing that Tilly and Burnham joke that they can still expect cake on Earth in the 32nd century (say it with me again, “Cake is eternal”), but the episode ends with the bridge crew being enraptured by the sight of a tree they all recognize from their time at Starfleet Academy. Trees — now they’re eternal.
– Whereas classic (22nd to 24th century) starships look like saucers and rockets attached to a secondary hull, 32nd century designs veer towards organic shapes, with the Defense Force ships almost resembling giant floating elephant heads.
– The title may be a reference to Wyatt Cenac’s delightful sci-fi comedy People of Earth, which was sadly canceled by TBS after only two seasons.
This was overall a great episode, with a topical message like all the best Star Trek episodes, and as much humor and excitement as the season opener. See you all next week for “Forget Me Not.”