This piece was originally published on November 12, 2020.
Ever since Discovery Season 2, one crew member has served as a confluence between multiple generations of Star Trek. And although nearly everyone from Michael Burnham to Paul Stamets has connections to other aspects of the franchise, it’s actually Commander Nhan’s journey that connects the 23rd Century to Discovery’s far future, but, also, The Next Generation era, too. In Discovery Season 3, Episode 5, “Die Trying,” Nhan faces a pivotal choice, and what she does informs the history of her planet and people — the Barzan — only referenced one other time in The Next Generation’s third season. Here’s how Nhan’s journey creates new connective tissue between Discovery and TNG, and what her brave actions in “Die Trying” tells us about the story of her planet.
Spoilers ahead for Discovery Season 3, Episode 5 “Die Trying.”
Played by Rachael Ancheril since the Discovery Season 2 premiere, “Brother,” Nhan first appeared in a classic TOS-style uniform, rocking the red-color from that era that denotes security or engineering. Luckily, Nhan’s fate wasn’t that of a TOS “redshirt,” and not only survived the entirety of Discovery Season 2 but was also, the only member of the Enterprise crew to permanently transfer over to Discovery. Nhan’s job on the Enterprise was, presumably, head of security, a position she took over on Discovery, effectively replacing Ash Tyler.
But now, the security chief position on Discovery will be vacant once again. In “Die Trying,” Nhan opts to leave her post on the USS Discovery, and instead, help watch over a Federation “seed ship,” which keeps track of all possible plant seed samples in the galaxy. And the reason she does this is because the person watching over it before she arrived, was, like her, a member of the Barzan race.
Other than Nhan’s episodes of Discovery thus far, “Die Trying” is only the second appearance of anyone else who is Barzan. This alien species made their debut in The Next Generation episode “The Price.” There, Barzan II is negotiating with several governments for jurisdiction over what they believe is a stable wormhole to the Gamma Quadrant. In the end, Geordi and Data figure out that the wormhole is not stable, and that what the Barzan people are offering is — through no fault of their own — pretty much worthless. In “The Price,” we also learned that the plight of the Barzan was pretty extreme: They had no useful space travel of their own, and according to premiere Bhavani, the planet relied almost exclusively on outsiders for resources. This issue was compounded by the fact that the Barzan’s atmosphere was toxic to many other humanoid species, which is why all Barzan outside of their environment wear the breathing apparatuses that they do.
Basically, the Barzan were a neglected planet cut off from resources and overly reliant on trade with other planets just to stay alive. And because they weren’t part of the Federation in the 23rd or 24th centuries, these logistical and environmental problems were only made worse. In “Die Trying,” Nhan notes that “My species is known for two things; diligence and poverty. What little we get we invest in our children.”
Nhan also reveals to Culber that her family was “devastated” when she joined Starfleet. Based on what we know of the Barzan people from The Next Generation, it’s pretty easy to infer why. Nhan’s family was likely reliant on outside spacefaring governments for their basic needs. The fact that Nhan joined Starfleet probably felt like she’d abandoned her family. Throughout the Star Trek canon, there are parallel examples, including Ro Laren joining Starfleet despite the fact that Bajor was not a part of the Federation. Similarly, another Starfleet security officer — Tasha Yar — made it off of her homeplanet Turkana IV, also to escape crime and poverty. For all of these characters, the journey out of hardship and into a life in Starfleet has dual outcomes. On the one hand, Nhan built a better life for herself, on the other hand, Barzan II remained a world beset by ecological and economic problems for centuries.
But, like Saru learning the Kaminar eventually joined the Federation, in “Die Trying” we also learn that the Barzan people became Federation members in the 25th Century; some time after the events of The Next Generation and Star Trek: Picard. For Nhan, this gives her a glimmer of hope, and serves as a bridge between her guilt about her family, but also, her conflicted feelings about her entire species. Which leads directly into her final decision in the episode.
When we learn that the resident Barzan family has died, and the doctor running the seed ship will be alone, Nhan tells Burnham that she will stay behind and help guard the seeds for the Federation. This decision echoes Nhan’s decision to stay with Discovery after the death of Airiam in the Discovery episode “Project Daedalus,” but now, the stakes are even higher. Nhan has become more than a random redshirt who happened to survive serving on the U.S.S. Enterprise and the U.S.S. Discovery. In “Die Trying,” she becomes, as she notes, the “real me.” Instead of being an alien outsider onboard a Federation starship lost in the future, Nhan rejoins with the memory of her own people. Analogously, this would be a little like if Worf had left the Enterprise to help Klingons out on a small colony planet. It’s not only bittersweet, but also cleverly woven into the larger fabric of Star Trek canon. In The Next Generation, we weren’t really encouraged to think much about Barzan II after Picard and the Enterprise left. But, Nhan’s journey on Discovery has brought us back to that point, and see those struggles from a more realistic point of view.
Nhan’s eye color changes when she’s no longer forced to use her breathing device. At this moment, Discovery is letting us see the 31st Century galaxy through different eyes, too. The Next Generation may have been awhile ago, but now we know it wasn’t the last generation.
Ryan Britt's (he/him) essays and journalism have appeared in Tor.com, Inverse, Den of Geek!, SyFy Wire, and elsewhere. He is the author of the 2015 essay collection Luke Skywalker Can't Read. He lives in Portland, Maine, with his wife and daughter.
Star Trek: Discovery streams on Paramount+ in the United States, airs on Bell Media’s CTV Sci-Fi Channel and streams on Crave in Canada, and on Netflix in 190 countries.