While not the most thrilling episode of the series, Star Trek: Discovery‘s first season finale managed to earn most its resolutions. And that sense that the characters are where they need to be makes it a decent end of the Federation-Klingon War; even if that war was largely unseen.
And that’s probably the chief issue with the fifteenth episode of the series: it’s sort of anti-climatic. To be fair, the climax was back in episode 13 with Lorca (Jason Isaacs) revealed as a Terran and the end of his attempt to usurp the Terran throne. Besides that episode’s use of explosive special effects, it also payed off many of the ideas set up all the way back in the first episode of the series. The finale, meanwhile, is more of a denouement as Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) announces on the bridge that her heart is intertwined with the ideals of Starfleet. Perhaps even more significant than Burnham’s understanding of those ideals is the fact that she is now a person who inspires a sense of loyalty among the crew. All of the bridge staff stand up, say “I am Starfleet” and reject Admiral Cornwell’s (Jayne Brook) choice to allow Emperor Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) to devastate Qo’noS by setting off a charge in the planet’s volcanic system. Though more low key than watching Burnham and Georgiou fight on the Charon a few weeks back, this moment is really what Discovery has been building up to.
When we first met Burnham, the disconnect between her Vulcan upbringing and human heart made her a fairly unpleasant person. The crew accepted her in a command position, but they were not loyal to her. This, ultimately, is why her pragmatic solution to the Binary Star situation was rejected: no one, not even Captain Georgiou, was really on her side then. And now, roughly a year later, her heart and her mind are in sync. So is the bridge crew of Discovery. To make it crystal clear to the viewer, Saru (Doug Jones), her harshest critic aboard the Shenzhou, stands at her side first; quickly followed by Lt. Detmer (Emily Coutts), a person with a permanent scar thanks to Burnham’s actions at the Binary Stars.
The display is enough to get Cornwell to stand down and rescind the hit on Qo’noS. The subsequent scene with Georgiou may also seem anticlimactic despite fulfilling another running theme with Burnham. She gets Georgiou to give her the detonator in exchange for a guarantee of freedom from Federation prosecution. While the nature of the show thus far — and modern genre television — has trained us to expect a fight, Burnham chooses to offer mercy instead. And while Georgiou will no doubt appear again to cause trouble, the meaning of the sequence is to reveal how far Burnham has come. The first officer of the Shenzhou would’ve taken the Emperor down and used the detonator to dictate terms to the Klingon Empire. But the Burnham we’ve come to know over the last few months uses the detonator to, instead, help the Empire find its own way out of the madness. Though T’Kuvma was anti-Federation through and through, Burnham sees in L’Rell (Mary Cheiffo) a person of honor who can reunify the noble houses under one established order.
The history of Star Trek suggests this would be the High Council of the original film series and Star Trek: The Next Generation. But the show has a little bit of wiggle room there as the Original Series never really established the Klingon government; only the US-Soviet Cold War detente analogy. Since L’Rell and Tyler (Shazad Latif) will continue to appear in the series, it’s a safe bet that establishing the Klingon status quo of the older programs will be part of their story. Or, at least, how their actions contribute to the Klingon state of play in the 2260s and beyond. Maybe they’ll even work out a reason for Klingon’s to go through the same transformation Voq did to give us the Original Series Klingon aesthetic. Or maybe that’s just too damn nerdy a request to make of the show.
But that nerdy attention to the details is the interesting thing about Star Trek: Discovery as a whole. Many criticized the way it changed up key assumptions about Star Trek while its narrative this year was about people coming to really understand those founding principles. Way back in the first episode, I pointed out that Burnham committed the same insubordination Kirk and Spock did on the regular, but was the only character ever punished for it. Now, we finally know why: she only accepted Federation ideals in a superficial way aboard the Shenzhou. Now she lives them.
Presumably, the second season will test those assumptions if there really is a new captain waiting for them on Vulcan. I still think Saru is ready for the center seat, myself, but maybe this new captain will instantly explain why promotion is not in the cards for him yet. But then again, their run-in with the Enterprise may prove he has the mettle.
Also, that final shot is wild for all the possibilities it opens up narrative. First: there is Captain Pike’s distress call to consider. Second: there’s the family connection with Spock already aboard that ship. Third: There’s all the places the two ships meeting can take the show. Are we about to dive more into Star Trek past or find a thrilling new sector of the Alpha Quadrant? Will it be a dark story or something more playful? We know Discovery is capable of hitting either note. Which makes it all the tougher that we have to wait until next fall — at the earliest — to see where it goes.
Star Trek: Discovery is available on CBS All Access.