Before picking up where the previous episode left off, “People of Earth” provides insight as to Michael Burnham’s 32nd century journey to locate the U.S.S. Discovery. Taking the form of a personal log (it’s Stardate 865211.3, by the way), Burnham’s chronicle reveals that dilithium reserves dried up 700 years after Discovery’s departure, the galaxy failed to develop an alternative warp-capable propulsion system, and The Burn ultimately brought the Federation to its knees when it caused all ships with active warp cores to detonate. Starship enthusiasts such as myself get to enjoy the brief sight of advanced Starfleet vessels gathered together… before the small fleet “feels The Burn” and explodes.
Working as a courier while attempting to investigate The Burn’s cause, Burnham indicates she has experienced a great deal of personal growth in the time leading up to Discovery’s arrival in the future. Penned by Bo Yeon Kim and Erika Lippoldt, the Jonathan Frakes-directed episode supplies us with a joyously tearful reunion between Burnham and her crew-turned-family (Georgiou’s stern glance at Michael is sublime). Burnham briefs everyone on The Burn and the millions who died, divulging that she located a transmission sent by an Admiral Senna Tal which invites those who still believe in the Federation to visit Earth.
In a long-awaited moment, Burnham selflessly expresses her support for Saru to officially take over as Discovery’s new captain. The way Michael casually turns the center seat toward Saru in a welcoming fashion strikes the perfect note, and Saru takes the chair with grace and authority. In a private moment with Burnham, Tilly mourns the personnel that Discovery lost and ponders the lives her family pursued once she was gone. The best friends manage to establish a new universal constant (“Cake is eternal”) as they reconnect and reminisce.
Georgiou “welcomes” Booker aboard with the demeanor of a parent scrutinizing their child’s new partner, and Burnham convinces the courier to join Discovery on its spore jump to Earth. Saru voices doubts about trusting Book, yet he shows faith in his friend by agreeing to let the Nautilus to dock in Discovery’s main hangar so that it can cloak the Starfleet vessel’s valuable dilithium supply. The move pays off, as Captain Ndoye of the United Earth Defense Force greets the crew with suspicion once they arrive home.
Concealing Discovery’s true origins, Saru reacts with surprise when Ndoye beams an inspection team over to ensure that the ship is not a threat. Burnham reflects on her past adventures with Book and Grudge while she works to disguise the courier as a Starfleet lieutenant (Book’s incorrect use of the phrase “Aye, aye” harkens back to a similar mistake made by Sam Lavelle in The Next Generation episode “Lower Decks”). Always the astute observer, Georgiou recognizes that Michael’s time in the 32nd century has changed the science officer more than her colleagues realize.
Ndoye informs Saru that dilithium raiders plague local space before disclosing a painful truth: Earth is no longer a part of the Federation. The notion that Earth, one of the organization’s founding members and Starfleet’s longtime headquarters, no longer counts itself among the coalition that Captain Jonathan Archer helped to forge in the 22nd century is staggering. Meanwhile, Stamets and Tilly deal with Ndoye’s inspectors and are introduced to Adira, a brilliant 16-year-old with an inquisitive mind.
Red alert! Wen, a raider whose appearance resembles a mechanical insect, demands that Discovery hand over its dilithium. Ndoye readies for combat, but Saru stresses diplomacy. Burnham recruits Book for an unauthorized mission that reminds them of a previous scrape on Donatu VII (perhaps in the same system as Donatu V, the location of the notorious battle against the Klingons?). The pair meet up with Grudge and depart on Book’s ship to offer Wen their dilithium. Discovery intercepts the torpedoes that the United Earth Defence Force fire at Burnham, who ends up diffusing the situation by capturing Wen.
Saru and Burnham bring Ndoye and Wen together, where we learn that the helmeted raider is actually a human from a research colony on Titan that split from Earth a hundred years before. Saru brokers a truce between the two parties, evoking memories of Archer’s efforts to unite Vulcans, Andorians, and Tellarites in the 2150s. The surprises continue when Stamets learns that Adira hopes to join Discovery. The astromycologist gains the inspector’s trust by telling the teenager all about the spore drive and the ship’s expedition through time. Despite being human, Adira is Senna Tal, having been joined with the admiral’s Trill symbiont.
Saru decks out his ready room with Captain Georgiou’s telescope and Burnham formally accepts the Kelpien’s offer for her to be his Number One (quite fitting, given that this episode is directed by Jonathan Frakes!). Tilly and the bridge crew pay a heartfelt visit to a tree on the former grounds of Starfleet Academy, a scene that is perhaps intended to leave us wondering if this is Boothby’s prized elm that Jean-Luc Picard once carved his lover’s initials into?
“People of Earth” furnishes us with the chance to check in on the human homeworld while also advancing the third season narrative that focuses on the genesis of The Burn and the fate of the Federation. The story offers glimpses at information (Terralysium holds no records about Burnham’s mother, Saru consults season two’s sphere data to learn about Trill symbionts, Adira can not properly access Tal’s memories) that could become vital moving forward. Discovery’s ongoing mission to seek out the elusive Federation will surely be a thrilling venture. Stay tuned as we continue to boldly go...
Jay Stobie (he/him) is a freelance writer who contributes articles to the official Star Trek website and Star Trek Magazine, as well as to Star Wars Insider and the official Star Wars website. Jay also serves as a part-time assistant and consultant advising many actors and creatives who work on his favorite sci-fi shows and films. He can be found on Twitter and Instagram at @StobiesGalaxy.
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.