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RECAP | Star Trek: Discovery 501 - 'Red Directive'

There's never a dull moment for the U.S.S. Discovery!

SPOILER WARNING: This article contains story details and plot points for Star Trek: Discovery.

Graphic illustration of Captain Michael Burnham riding a racer vehicle in 'Red Directive'

The fifth and final season of Star Trek: Discovery opens with "Red Directive," where Captain Burnham and the crew of the U.S.S. Discovery are sent to retrieve a mysterious artifact hidden inside a 800-year-old Romulan vessel – but find that they’re not the only ones on the hunt. Meanwhile, Saru is offered the position of a lifetime.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 5 Section Banner - Personnel

  • Michael Burnham
  • Saru
  • Adira Tal
  • Hugh Culber
  • Paul Stamets
  • Sylvia Tilly
  • Ross
  • Laira Rillak
  • T’Rina
  • Charles Vance
  • Dr. Kovich
  • Christopher
  • Linus
  • Joann Owosekun
  • Naya
  • Gen Rhys
  • Keyla Detmer
  • Moll
  • L'ak
  • Rayner
  • Gallo
  • Cleveland "Book" Booker
  • Jax
  • Fred
  • Zora
  • Dr. Vellek
Star Trek: Discovery Season 5 Section Banner - Locations

  • Federation Headquarters
  • U.S.S. Discovery-A
  • U.S.S. Antares
  • Q'Mau
Star Trek: Discovery Season 5 Section Banner - Event Log

As a vessel traverses the stars at high warp, Captain Michael Burnham experiences exhilaration as she clings to its hull in her environmental suit. The captain quips that there’s "never a dull moment" and proceeds to use her phaser in a bid to knock out the starship's engines. Burnham notes that they need to retrieve an item taken from a vault over the comm channel. As her suit advises her that warp bubble stability is declining rapidly, the captain remarks that this is not what she expected to happen when the night started…

'Red Directive'

"Red Directive"

Four hours earlier, Burnham joyfully converses with Ensign Adira Tal, Lt. Sylvia Tilly, Commander Paul Stamets, and Dr. Hugh Culber at Federation Headquarters, where Cadet Ross introduces them to Tonic 2161 — the official cocktail of the millennium celebration. Though the Federation was founded in 2161, the Burn prevented any widespread festivities when the holiday actually occurred decades before in 3161. Paired with a blue liquid, the beverage’s "floaty bits" — which taste like Bajoran jumja sticks — honor the Federation flag and its starry features.

The captain offers a smile, stating that it’s good to see that the Federation is back and at peace. Stamets nevertheless comes off as melancholic, and Culber discloses that the astromycologist just found out that Starfleet is shuttering the spore drive program. Paul expresses trepidation over his new title of "Scientific Luminary," adding that the Federation’s new Pathway Drive "won out" as the propulsion system of the future. Adira chimes in, remarking that this means the U.S.S. Discovery-A will always be one-of-a-kind, but Stamets replies with skepticism, believing his legacy was destroyed along with Cleveland "Book" Booker’s ship.

Certain he would have figured out the spore drive's navigator problem one day, the scientist emphasizes the potential for rolling out the technology to the whole fleet. His friends exchange concerned glances, but Captain Burnham then assures him that they will all find a new purpose and raises a glass in a toast to change. An aide informs Burnham that her presence has been requested by Federation President Laira Rillak, leaving Stamets to chastise himself for mentioning Book as the captain departs. While Tilly assures him that Burnham has not even talked about Book in months, Culber applies his psychiatric expertise and highlights the significant difference between locking something away and moving on. Tilly notices a fellow officer and goes to visit him, and the rest of the group disperses to "mingle."

On the dance floor, Captain Saru chats softly with Ni'Var's President T'Rina, who recognizes that the Kelpien has news and playfully wonders if she'll be "forced" to mind meld with him in order to learn what has transpired. President Rillak would like Saru to serve as a Federation Ambassador to a coalition of smaller worlds, ensuring that their needs are addressed as the Federation continues to expand. T'Rina appreciates the government’s effort to avoid repeating its past mistakes and observes that the planets’ locations could leave them open to influences from the Tholian Republic or the Breen Imperium.

Saru cites the Federation's need to remain unified, but the post would require that he resign his Starfleet commission. However, as an ambassador, he would be based at Federation HQ, in close proximity to T'Rina and her own duties. Ni'Var's president interrupts her dance partner, stating that — despite their deep love for one another — it is only logical that their relationship not factor into Saru's decision, an observation which seems to unsettle the Kelpien.

'Red Directive'

"Red Directive"

Across the room, Admiral Charles Vance approaches Captain Burnham and hands her an infinity-shaped device. The two retreat to a secure location — a featureless, all-white area known as the Infinity Room — and rendezvous with Dr. Kovich, who acknowledges the facility’s over-the-top theatricality. Turning to Burnham, Vance explains that an 800-year old science vessel was just found at the edge of the Beta Quadrant. Discovery needs to jump there immediately, but Kovich will only say that the ship contains "something vital to the security of the Federation." Burnham begins to object, but Kovich silences any disagreement when he reveals that the mission is a Red Directive.

Saru beams into Discovery's Bridge and receives status reports from Lt. Christopher, Lt. Linus, Lt. Commander Joann Owosekun, Lt. Naya, Lt. Commander Gen Rhys, and Lt. Commander Keyla Detmer. Burnham and Kovich transport aboard and share that the crew will be going on a Red Directive classified mission. Their target? A 24th Century Romulan science vessel that will most certainly attract the attention of scavengers and other nefarious characters. A second Starfleet ship is already en route, but Discovery will arrive first — or so they believe…

'Red Directive'

"Red Directive"

Across the quadrant, two helmeted figures pillage the derelict Romulan starship, ultimately removing their protective gear and taking in the ship’s breathable atmosphere. The female — Moll — comments that the U.S.S. Antares is on its way, and her male cohort L’ak sees a second Starfleet ship on their scanners. L’ak believes this means that the Romulan cargo must be "extra shiny," but he suggests they call it a day and enjoy a holodeck for two. Moll asks if L’ak wants "the pebbles or the mountain," convincing her partner to stay the course.

Discovery enters scanning range, and Owosekun detects two lifeforms on the Romulan ship — at least until their lifesigns suddenly vanish. Burnham gathers Owosekun and Rhys for the away team, but Kovich offers some disturbing insight — setting weapons to stun might not be enough, so they are authorized to use lethal force. Shock covers Burnham's face, and Kovich orders her to successfully complete the mission by any means necessary.

The three Starfleet officers beam over to the Romulan vessel's darkened corridors with phasers drawn and begin searching for the trespassers. Aerosolized water droplets notify them that the intruders had not been gone long, and Burnham advises Rhys and Owosekun to keep their phasers on stun. The trio continue on and locate an 800-year old Romulan corpse and an uncloaked — and empty — vault. Realizing the scavengers must be close, the Starfleet officers spin around and open fire. Moll and L'ak materialize in front of them, managing to capture Rhys and Owosekun in containment fields and making their escape.

'Red Directive'

"Red Directive"

Captain Burnham pursues, converting her weapon into a phaser rifle and exchanging volleys with her opponents. Moll and L'ak step forward, holding the prize they acquired from the vault and tossing an explosive charge toward the captain. As the intruders beam away, Burnham is tossed through an opening and into space. Fortunately, her programmable matter EV suit automatically activates, and the captain jets toward the outline of Moll and L'ak's ship. Burnham magnetizes her suit as the craft enters warp.

As Burnham works to sabotage the engines, the U.S.S. Antares follows and grabs the ship with a tractor beam. Captain Rayner signals Burnham, who notices the warp bubble has started to collapse and urges the U.S.S. Antares to release its hold on the fleeing vessel. Operating on Burn-era tech and lacking a state-of-the-art Pathway Drive, Rayner knows the Antares can’t pull the enemy craft out of warp. Having previously encountered Moll and L'ak, Rayner is hesitant to let them elude him

Checking in from Discovery's center seat, Saru informs Burnham — who doesn’t want to miss her upcoming saxophone lesson — that Owosekun and Rhys are being treated in Sickbay. Detmer pilots the Crossfield-class vessel into position and Lt. Gallo prepares to transport the captain to safety. The ride is bumpy, but Kovich resolves to remain on the Bridge until the mission is completed. Burnham repeats her warning to Rayner, advising that the breakup of Moll's ship would also destroy the Antares. Believing that every mission is personal, Rayner pushes back on Burnham's own record, but he eventually concedes.

'Red Directive'

"Red Directive"

The three starships, as well as Captain Burnham, drop out of warp. The intruders' vessel spouts numerous probes, and they all leap to warp on different courses. Burnham is beamed right to Discovery's Bridge, barely able to catch her breath before Rayner's hologram appears to discuss what he describes as the "cherry that they just dropped on our shit sundae." Appearing with a stern face and pointed ears, Rayner states that the probes left behind 20 warp signatures, meaning it will take days to determine which course Moll and L'ak actually took. Kovich voices his displeasure, but Burnham admits she knows someone who can help them find the thieves.

Discovery jumps to a ringed planet, and its captain nervously strolls into the shuttlebay to greet Cleveland "Book" Booker, who beams in and requests permission to come aboard. The somewhat awkward reunion shifts into Discovery's corridors, where Burnham announces her suspicion that Moll and L'ak used to be couriers. The Federation is expanding and most of the old networks are closed, but Burnham hopes Book's experience, expertise, and insight can assist them in determining the correct warp signature. The two acknowledge that it has been a while since they spoke, and Burnham commends him for the work he has done with the refugees who were affected by the Dark Matter Anomaly. Book is eager to "make things right" in the wake of stealing the experimental spore drive for his own ship.

Burnham and Book confer with Saru, Kovich, Vance, and Rayner in the Ready Room, where the Antares' captain briefs them on what is known about Moll — a human — and L'ak, a member of an unknown species. The duo, who showed up in the sector approximately two years ago, procured a tan zhekran — a traditional Romulan puzzle box — from the science ship. Kovich claims he is not at liberty to share details about the item and shifts the conversation to Book's detective skills. Factoring in the need to avoid Federation territory and the few fencers who would have interest in a 24th Century haul, Book determines that Moll and L'ak are headed to meet with a broker named Fred — just "Fred" — on Q’Mau. Vance orders Burnham and Rayner to investigate, insisting that they try working together.

'Red Directive'

"Red Directive"

The officers begin to walk out, but Saru stays behind to speak with Captain Burnham in private. Noting that a tan zhekran can contain almost anything, including a weapon or a pathogen, the captain is concerned that Kovich won't even tell her the name of the Romulan scientist who owned it. Saru slyly suggests that someone outside of Discovery's chain of command with access to different databases might be able to assist. Burnham responds with a joyous smile, her expression turning serious as she remembers Saru could soon be leaving for another post.

Back at Federation HQ, Lt. Tilly enters her quarters in the midst of an energetic chat with Lt. Jax. Lamenting over a cadet who refuses to leave the lab during the Academy's Simulation Week, Tilly outlines collaboration's importance to Starfleet's future and — very briefly — ponders whether she could crash every cadet onto an ice moon in order to teach them that lesson. Tilly attributes her talkativeness to the champagne served at the after party, and the two officers exchange flirtatious gazes.

Tilly and Jax — who both love walking and talking — share a clumsy goodbye that nevertheless elicits a smirk from the Academy instructor. Now alone, Tilly orders up a coffee from the replicator. The respite is short-lived, as an incoming communication from Captain Burnham provides another boost to Tilly's energy reserves. Theorizing that Tilly must have had some Andorian champagne, Burnham adopts her "serious voice" and asks Tilly for her help. Always available for her friends, Tilly gleefully responds, "Whatever it is, I’m in."

'Red Directive'

"Red Directive"

Discovery arrives at Q’Mau, where Burnham and Book beam down to a small settlement that is surrounded by a desert landscape and rocky outcroppings. Book remarks that it feels like their old courier days, and Burnham asks about Grudge — the Queen is great, she says, "Hi." They disagree about who should have made more of an effort to contact the other, but Rayner's arrival disperses the mounting tension.

Elsewhere in the marketplace, Moll and L'ak are scanned and welcomed into Fred's establishment. Fred, who has the distinctive appearance of a synthetic lifeform, maintains a friendly demeanor, though his guards supply the room with an air of hostility. Fred notices Moll and L'ak's "togetherness," spiritedly contrasting the bilabial nasal of "Moll" with the voiceless velar plosive of "L'ak." The thieves present Fred with their recent finds — isolinear coprocessors, vintage PADDS and tricorders, self-sealing stem bolts, and the mysterious puzzle box.

Intrigued, Fred mentions that he hasn’t encountered such an item in 622.7 years. He unlocks the box by shifting its features into a new configuration, revealing a handwritten diary. The android skims the text, happily offering Moll and L'ak three bars of latinum for the entire lot. The duo replies with a laugh, unsatisfied with the price. Fred refuses to return their items, prompting the pair to burst into hand-to-hand combat with his guards. Moll is struck by an energy blast from the synth’s weapon, and — though her wound is not fatal — L'ak launches into a violent frenzy that results in Fred’s demise.

Book, Burnham, and Rayner locate Fred's lair soon after and confiscate the synth's body so that Discovery can scan his memory. Rayner hurriedly sets off on his own, but Book and Burnham remain to plot their next move. As they realize that Moll and L'ak must have cloaked their ship outside the settlement, Dr. Culber observes Fred's corpse in Sickbay. The android is an old model — dozens of generations before the tech used for Gray’s body — marked with the serial number "AS0572Y." Stamets deduces that the "AS" was intended to honor Altan Soong*, marveling at the 24th Century scientist’s legacy. The astromycologist needs wires to interface with Fred's memory drive, quipping that — luckily — Culber had married a packrat.

'Red Directive'

"Red Directive"

Down on the planet's surface, Moll and L'ak speed by Rayner on sand runners — swift transports used by locals to navigate the terrain. Thanks to their patience and foresight, Burnham and Book had anticipated the chase and already rented three of the vehicles. Rayner isn't impressed by Burnham's "strategic advantages," leaving Discovery's captain to tell Book that she hasn’t disliked someone this much in 930 years.

Meanwhile, at Federation HQ, two security officers burst into Tilly's quarters as the lieutenant prepares to break the shifting fractal encryption which safeguards a secure Federation database. Vance marches in and intervenes, who astonishingly agrees that Captain Burnham deserves to know why her crew is risking their lives for an 800-year old Romulan ship. The admiral says that it is a "shame" he didn't get to stop Tilly in time and allows her to unlock the file. A shaky holo-recording manifests, depicting Doctor Vellek* — the Romulan whose body they had found. The Romulan scientist warns that his knowledge of an ancient technology beyond all comprehension — hidden in the "shadow of twin moons" — must not be lost or fall into the wrong hands.

On Q’Mau, the Starfleet officers close in on Moll and L'ak, but Rayner ventures ahead once again. Book teases Burnham by claiming that Rayner reminds him of another captain he knows, but the situation intensifies once the thieves reach their starship. Moll and L'ak set course for a nearby mountain's tunnel system so as to avoid detection by Discovery and Antares, and sensors detect an explosive charge in one of the tunnel's entrances. Aware that their foes planned ahead to distract their pursuers with an avalanche. According to Saru, Zora estimates there to be a 30% chance that the disaster would decimate the settlement.

'Red Directive'

"Red Directive"

Captain Rayner proposes an unorthodox plan — detonate the charge themselves and block Moll and L'ak's escape route. Burnham disagrees, yet her counterpart insists that she is letting stats get in the way of strategy — though possible, an avalanche is unlikely. As Rayner orders Antares to lock phasers on target, Burnham contends that they are on a non-Federation planet and undertaking a classified mission, but Rayner follows through with his plan. Phaser beams strike down from orbit and seal the tunnel, yet Saru confirms that scans show the mountainside remains stable… at least until Moll and L'ak launch a photon torpedo that sends the rattled cliff into a freefall.

Burnham, Book, and Rayner flee from the rising debris cloud on their sand runners, but Zora announces that the avalanche is reaching speeds of 200 kilometers per hour — there is not enough time to evacuate the local encampment. In Engineering, Stamets and Adira run through several solutions, ultimately landing on the idea of combining Discovery and Antares' shields to serve as a "brake" for the avalanche. Will it work? Stamets thinks — no, hopes — it will work, finally deciding, "Let’s go with 'hope.'"

Captain Saru starts to organize the maneuver, but Rayner does not want Antares to leave orbit and lose track of Moll and L'ak. Burnham emphasizes that the safety of the civilians in the avalanche's path is now their primary mission, and Rayner relents. Discovery and Antares burst through the atmosphere in a tight formation, fusing their shields together and burying their forward saucers into the planet's desert. The avalanche ripples against the energy barrier, but the starships triumphantly hold the line and inspire cheers from the settlement. The relief is lost on Rayner, who watches as Moll and L'ak escape to warp.

'Red Directive'

"Red Directive"

Rayner beams back to the Antares, giving Burnham and Book a moment to enjoy each other's company and confess that they both should have called one another. Still bruised from the ordeal, Burnham takes her admission a step further and reveals that she's not sure how to be around him anymore. Book considers the statement, countering that some things are hard to move past. The heart-to-heart is interrupted by a transmission from Tilly, who tells the captain that she has "wild" answers to her pressing questions.

The Discovery-A employs its spore drive to return to Federation Headquarters, where Captain Saru resolves to have his own private conversation with his partner. T'Rina expresses concern over rumors of Saru's eventful mission. The Kelpien reflects on the danger the civilians had faced and recalls something Tilly had once told him — "life is just a blink." Saru struggles to elaborate, aware that fear had constrained him from embracing love while dealing with the cullings of his youth.***

Had he been endangered by the avalanche, Saru would only have been able to think of T'Rina, therefore their relationship must be factored in as he considers his future. T'Rina is his home, his family, and so much more, and he intends to accept the ambassadorship to be alongside her — always. T’Rina welcomes the news, pleasantly surprising Saru when she proposes they "codify" their bond through marriage.

On Discovery, Captain Burnham enters Sickbay to get an update on Fred from Culber and Stamets. They downloaded the last 15 teraquads of data from his ocular processing unit, giving them an extended look at the pages of Vellek's diary. A handwritten diagram depicting the Vileen system's "twin moons" catches the captain's attention, sending her on a mission to meet Kovich on a holographic representation of a barren planetary surface. Kovich admires her tenacity but claims this Red Directive has been classified for centuries. His threat to pass the assignment to another team doesn't phase Burnham, who knows she holds the key to their target's location.

On the surface of Vilmor II, a Progenitor disrupts an argument between the Enterprise away team, the Cardassians, Klingon, and Romulans in 'The Chase'

"The Chase"

Kovich lets out a sheepish grin, aware that Tilly and Vance played key parts in briefing the captain. He discontinues the holo, and — as the two stand in his office — he recounts the details. As one of the greatest scientists of his day, Dr. Vellek, was present when a Starfleet captain — Jean-Luc Picard — found a message left by a race of ancient beings — referred to as the "Progenitors" — who created every humanoid species in the galaxy.** Vellek discovered the technology that the Progenitors used to design life itself, but its location was lost when he disappeared 800 years ago.

Now, either Moll and L'ak know where this powerful find is or the diary is the first piece of the puzzle. Starfleet must track down this technology to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. Burnham divulges that Lyrek, a planet situated in an outer sector of the Beta Quadrant within the Vileen system, has three moons — two of which move in perfect sync. Pleased, Kovich proclaims that the greatest treasure in the known galaxy is out there, lightheartedly asking the captain what she’s waiting for. Burnham flashes a smile and replies, "Let’s fly."

Star Trek: Discovery Season 5 Section Banner - Canon Connections

* "Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1" — The dealer in Q'Mau, Fred, is a Soong-inspired synthetic possessed a memory drive that had a serial number with an attribution to Altan Soong. The self-described "mad scientist" is the son of Noonien Soong, the creator of Soong-type androids. Altan Soong would continue his work despite the Federation's ban on synths. His work (and Dr. Maddox's research), known as the Soong Method, on transferring sentience into an artificial golem body was what helped create Gray Tal's new synthetic body's design in "Anomaly."

** "The Chase" — This Star Trek: The Next Generation adventure was where Captain Jean-Luc Picard found himself in a race with the Cardassians, Klingons, and Romulans to solve a four billion year old genetic puzzle. The Romulan Dr. Vellek, one of the greatest scientists of his day, was among those present when Picard discovered a message left by a race of ancient beings known as Progenitors, who created life as we know it — every humanoid species in the galaxy.

*** "An Obol for Charon" — Following Saru's survival of Vahar'ai, he discovered that the maturation process didn't signal death. It was in fact a biological event in the Kelpien's evolution that removed their suppression of fear. Concerned with their own survival, the Ba'ul who lived on Kaminar with Kelpiens exploited their binary nature to oppress the later group.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 5 Section Banner - Log Credits

  • Written by Michelle Paradise
  • Directed by Olatunde Osunsanmi
Star Trek: Discovery Season 5 Section Banner - Notes

"Red Directive" features a dedication:

For JP, with love.