L'ak (Elias Toufexis) and Mol (Eve Harlow) in Star Trek: Discovery "Face the Strange"

Here We Go ’Round Again — Star Trek: Discovery’s “Face the Strange”

In its seventh and final season, Star Trek: Voyager did an episode entitled “Shattered.” The episode, with its title reminiscent of a Rolling Stones song, had Voyager split into different timeframes, where each section of the ship was in a different time, and only the present-day Chakotay and a past iteration of Janeway were able to move freely among the different time zones. It was little more than an excuse to visit bits of the show’s past (and one possible future), and even be reunited with a crew member who died (Martha Hackett’s Seska). Scientifically, the show made nothing like sense.

It its fifth and final season, Star Trek: Discovery has done something remarkably similar to “Shattered.” In this latest episode, with its title that is borrowed from a David Bowie song, only instead Burnham and Rayner are bouncing around to Discovery in different times and places, also visiting bits of the show’s past (and one possible future), and being reunited with a crew member who died. However, the science in this one actually takes a stab at plausibility (as plausible as time travel can possibly be). It even takes into account that Discovery is in totally different places in each time that Burnham and Rayner visit!

Okay, before we start, I have to mention something that I somehow completely missed last week at the very end of “Jinaal.” I managed to completely not notice that Moll (disguised as a Trill Guardian) slipped some kind of bug onto Adira.

However, I did notice it in the “previously on Star Trek: Discovery” re-showing of that scene at the top of “Face the Strange.” My initial thought was that it was a listening/homing device, but it was much more than that: it freezes Discovery in time, which apparently has effects throughout time and space.

(We see Moll and L’ak acquiring the bug from a dealer who tries to cheat them, but they anticipated that and poisoned the latinum they gave him and he dies. It shows that our bad guys are definitely very bad guys, but doesn’t really do anything to make our Bonnie-and-Clyde-in-space pair interesting, something that needs to happen soon.)

Discovery has two advantages, one inherent, one due to fortuitous timing. The latter is that Burnham and Rayner were trying to transport to the bridge right when the bug activated. Yes, after being reminded last week that, even in the thirty-second century, a “buncha rocks always beats centuries of technological progress,” this week we’re reminded that the transporter can seriously fuck shit up.

The inherent advantage, however, is a benefit, as Stamets, thanks to having tardigrade DNA, has a much more peculiar relationship with time and space than everyone else. This has already saved the crew’s asses on another occasion when they went on a wacky time-travel adventure, to wit, the Harry Mudd-induced time loops in “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad.” What’s more, Burnham knows this, and so she and Rayner seek out Stamets. Unlike Burnham and Rayner, Stamets is actually inhabiting his own body in each time jump, and going through whatever he happened to be going through at the time—including one occasion when he was really badly injured and about to go into a coma.

L'ak (Elias Toufexis) and Mol (Eve Harlow) in Star Trek: Discovery "Face the Strange"
Credit: CBS / Paramount+

And when they go several decades into the future, everyone’s dead, because the Progenitors’ technology has been unleashed on the galaxy, and Burnham and Rayner show up to an empty Discovery, a slightly crazy Zora, and a destroyed Federation HQ.

This was the first of several minor disappointments I had with the episode. When Burnham and Rayner went to a future version of Discovery, I was really really really hoping that it would cross over with the Short Trek “Calypso,” maybe even with an Aldis Hodge appearance! But, alas, it was the “possible future” where Discovery doesn’t save the day and everyone dies. Which was another disappointment, because one of the things I liked about the quest for the Progenitors was that it wasn’t a Big! Major! Thing! That could destroy! Everything!

Except now it is. We got a hint of this when Jinaal told Burnham and Book last week that the tech killed one of his fellow scientists, and this week we get confirmation that if L’ak and Moll get the tech, it will destroy the heart of the Federation. It’s not quite the major threat that Control or the DMA were, but it’s still too fucking big a threat. It’s just tiresome, is all…

This episode’s reason for existing is mainly to get Burnham and Rayner to have their buddy movie, and for Rayner to come around to understanding how things work on Discovery and what kind of captain Burnham is. Because Rayner is an experienced captain in his own right, it’s a difficult transition for him. And it’s understandable. It’s incredibly hard to go back to being second-in-command after you’ve been the person in charge for so long. Plus, Rayner’s also adjusting to post-Burn life. The Federation was a different place during most of Rayner’s lifetime.

And, like “Shattered,” it’s also here to revisit some past storylines. We get them going back to the third season, when Burnham and Book are still a happy couple, and Burnham has to fake being someone who is still smitten with Book before she found herself forced into a place where she couldn’t trust him. And she’s reminded of the good times and that she loves him (and that David Ajala looks very good with his shirt off). We get them arriving when the Emerald Chain has taken over the ship, giving both Burnham and Rayner a chance to beat up some of Osyraa’s thugs. (One gets the impression that this is far from the first time Rayner has beaten up some Chain cannon fodder.)

During that bit, Rayner encounters Reno (Burnham hides at the sight of her). Rayner bluffs that he’s a temporary crew member, and Reno gives him a pep talk and makes him promise to buy her a drink at Red’s. Another minor disappointment: the episode didn’t end with Rayner buying Reno that drink.

The heart of the episode, though, is when they wind up on Discovery very shortly after Burnham came on board. She’s still a prisoner, trying to work off her mutiny conviction by helping Lorca. This is the longest they’ll be in one time zone, and it’s their best chance to destroy the bug (which is protected by a temporal force field, because of course it is).

Between them, Stamets and Burnham come up with a technobabble solution that requires Discovery to go to maximum warp and break through the warp bubble and then Rayner has to deactivate it as they break out of the bubble. It has to do with relativity and temporarily losing the protection against relativity that the warp bubble provides so that they can get through the temporal force field.

The problem is they have to convince the bridge crew to do it. Lorca, Saru, and Landry are off on a mission (because that would require getting Jason Isaacs and Rekha Sharma back, plus apparently this was an episode Doug Jones got off from having to be made up, as Saru only appears vocally over an intercom), so Airiam is in charge of the bridge.

Before Burnham can get to the bridge to convince the crew—including the one she saw die—to do her batshit plan, she bumps into herself.

Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) faces her past self in Star Trek: Discovery "Face the Strange"
Credit: CBS / Paramount+

Which leads to another disappointment, as Prisoner Michael Burnham sees Captain Michael Burnham and assumes she’s a shapechanger or some other kind of violent life form, and fisticuffs ensue. And ensue, and ensue. It’s bad enough that the episode is riffing on the stupidest scene in Superman III, but it just goes on for-bloody-ever…

It’s fun seeing folks in the old uniforms, and in some cases in their old hairstyles—Burnham, Owosekun, and Tilly all get their first-season hair back for some scenes. And it’s especially nice to see Hannah Cheesman return as Airiam, and also Ronnie Rowe Jr. as Bryce. And you can tell that we’re back on Lorca’s Discovery (and they’re in the middle of a war), because everyone is angry and trigger-happy. When Burnham explains that in her future Airiam is dead, Bryce whips out a phaser and points it angrily at Burnham, refusing to believe that nonsense.

But Burnham is able to convince Airiam herself, which is what matters. They do the thing, the day is saved, and the timelines all reset thanks to plot-convenient-itis! That same plot-convenient-itis is how Burnham and Rayner manage to wander iterations of Discovery they don’t belong on with impunity and without being detected. At least they’re able to have privacy with Stamets mostly by Stamets declaring a “spore breach” and needing to clear engineering. Though early-first-season Stamets can just clear the room by being a grouch, as he was a lot snottier then…

Besides giving Burnham, and the viewer, a chance to indulge in some nostalgia, the episode also gives Burnham and Rayner a chance to do their little buddy movie, and Rayner starts to get the hang of the crew. In particular, he appreciates Burnham’s more free-spirited bridge more by the episode’s end. (My favorite is when he uses his knowledge of Rhys’ nerdity over starships in general and the twenty-third Constitution-class in particular, gained during his twenty-word meeting last week.)

My final disappointment with this episode is that we were told last week that they’d be going to Tzenkethi space, and I hoped that meant we would actually see the Tzenkethi for the first time onscreen. Alas, it was not to be.

Still, minor disappointments notwithstanding, this was a fun episode that didn’t exactly move things forward in terms of plot, but did fantastic work in doing it for character. icon-paragraph-end

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