As the U.S.S. Discovery’s crew continues to mourn Emperor Georgiou’s departure, Gray reappears, apologizes to Adira, and explains that he is attempting to work through his non-corporeal existence. The computer interrupts the festivities, informing Stamets that a lifeform has been detected on the Khi’eth, the Kelpien research vessel that crashed near the presumed origin of The Burn. How is this possible? Saru explains that the mottled skin which Dr. Issa exhibited in her distress call indicated she was pregnant, so her child must be the lone survivor.
Discovery sets course for the Verubin Nebula, but storms and ionizing radiation prevent the Federation starship from reaching the planet inside. Cleveland “Book” Booker risks his life to venture out on the Nautilus, whose morphing capabilities allow him to get close enough to pinpoint the life sign and locate a safe pocket of space for Discovery to target in a jump. While Book and Grudge recover in sickbay, Tilly analyzes his scans and determines that dilithium deposits are dispersed throughout the entire planet. Considering that Ni’Var’s SB-19 data pointed them to this nebula, Burnham believes that the dilithium planet must be the source of The Burn.
Saru reports the findings to Admiral Vance, detailing a plan to beam down and rescue the Kelpien that will leave Ensign Tilly in command of Discovery. Vance discloses that the Emerald Chain deployed forces near Kaminar, leaving Burnham to hypothesize that it is an attempt to lure Saru and Discovery into a trap. Vance assures Saru that the Federation will protect Kaminar, but Burnham privately questions the captain’s impartiality in a discussion with Book. As Deanna Troi realized in TNG’s “Thine Own Self,” Michael concludes that making a tough decision which costs you personally is key to being a Starfleet captain.
Culber and a worried Stamets fervently debate the merits of the doctor’s inclusion on the mission, and Burnham sets aside time to give Tilly a confidence boost for the ensign’s first experience in the center seat. Discovery jumps to the planet, and Lieutenant Ina (portrayed by Avaah Blackwell, working as a human bridge officer sans her usual Osnullus make-up) provides the beam down coordinates to Saru, Burnham, and Culber. Discovery will exit the nebula to make repairs before returning and, despite taking precautionary radiation meds, the away team must return to sickbay within four hours.
The landing party unexpectedly arrives in a dark forest, with Burnham as a Trill, Culber as a Bajoran, and Saru as a human (everyone say hello to Doug Jones!). After noticing that their phasers, tricorders, and radiation boosters have vanished, the group recognizes that they are in an advanced holosimulation aboard the Khi’eth. Afflicted by 125 years worth of radiation, the holographic characters the team encounters show signs of deterioration, yet the Starfleet officers nonetheless manage to find the Kelpien. Though an adult, isolation has left the survivor with a child-like mentality, and the Kelpien runs off when he fears the visitors have awakened “the monster.”
On Discovery, a signal from a Federation starship on long-range sensors turns out to be subterfuge, as Osyraa and the Viridian warp in with hopes of capturing the spore drive. Rather than jump away, Tilly orders the crew to stay put and protect the away team. In a surprising move, the ensign buys time by ordering Discovery to cloak (thanks again, 32nd century refit!). On the planet, Burnham connects with the Kelpien by posing as a holocharacter, while Saru and Culber meet the holo of a Kelpien elder and learn that the child is named Su’Kal. The wise elder reveals “the monster” to be a test, with Su’Kal needing to confront his greatest fear in order to truly become free.
In space, Tilly holds her own in a verbal sparring match with Osyraa, but the tables turn when Su’Kal becomes frightened by the holographic monster back on the planet. An energy wave erupts from the Kelpien, destabilizing Discovery’s dilithium and nearly causing another Burn. Discovery and the Viridian decloak, prompting Tilly to command Stamets to jump away. Unfortunately, Osyraa’s regulators beam in prior to the spore drive’s activation. Mechanical tentacles reach out from the Viridian to ensnare the Starfleet ship.
Saru soothes Su’Kal with a Kelpien song, with Book showing up on the Nautilus to warn the landing party about a second Burn. The team speculates that Su’Kal acclimated to the dilithium and radiation-rich environment while in Dr. Issa’s womb, thus he must have caused the first Burn when something triggered his panic. Fighting radiation sickness, Saru and Culber opt to stay behind to look after Su’Kal. Having stowed away on Book’s ship, Adira transports down with extra medication just before Burnham beams up.
Osyraa gains control of Discovery’s bridge, regulators equip Stamets with a mind-control device, and both Burnham and Book look on in horror as Discovery (with the Viridian attached) jumps away to Federation Headquarters. “Su’Kal” perfectly blends startling revelations about the Burn with well-paced character development. The season’s ongoing story arc appears to be speeding toward an epic conclusion. On a less urgent note, we also observe that Discovery's holographic displays turn green when the ship is cloaked (Emerald Alert?). With Saru, Culber, and Adira on an irradiated world and their vessel in Osyraa’s clutches, the future seems bleak for Discovery’s crew. Stay tuned as we continue to boldly go…
Jay Stobie (he/him) is a freelance writer who has contributed 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.