The disorienting future Michael Burnham finds herself launched into at the beginning of Discovery’s season 3 is sketched very much along the lines of 2015-era Tastefulness Anxiety, full of design touches that all seem to have been preselected from online-only companies that only sell three versions of a single product, like an expensive toothbrush or dinner in a box: Beds that melt into sand, and sand that un-melts into a floating desk (sand-colored, natch), a bird alarm clock that’s an actual bird with a little digital face hovering over its body, comms screens that look like an executive’s toy pin art, etc.
I want the melting bed and the bird alarm clock very badly.
It’s an interesting problem: How does one present the future to the future; how does one induce a sense of anachronism in someone from 2250? Burnham has been launched roughly 900 years into the future to the year 3188. The Discovery may be several minutes behind Burnham, or it may be a thousand years behind, which is fine because Sonequa Martin-Green is one of the finest reactors of her generation, a talent this first hour recognizes full well and puts to excellent use. She crash-lands for a solid five minutes, is dosed with truth serum, goes a few rounds of slap-slap-no-you-answer-MY-question-first with a man named Cleveland “Book” Booker, and is generally given the run of the room to stare in terror and in awe, to bug out, to flirt, to skulk, to mug, to wink, and cartwheel through all available remaining facial expressions. It’s a great deal of fun.
Also, the Gorn have recently destroyed two full light-years of subspace, Book tells us, although what we’re meant to do with that information just yet, I haven’t the faintest. He also has a cat named Grudge, and can either speak to animals, or pray to them (“I can talk to animals! Well, not talk to animals. I can take orders from them”), and has access to a sort of Nice-Jurassic-Park planet where various endangered species cavort peacefully in lakes.
Time travel has been outlawed ever since the Temporal Wars, Book informs Burnham – stands to reason it would be – and he does his best for the rest of the episode not to find out just how much of a time traveler she is, because she is quite obviously a time traveler. “You’re not from around these parts,” he tells her.
But, for the most part, the episode dispenses with that frustrating, time-wasting habit of time-traveled protagonists to refuse to accept the fact that they’ve traveled through time and now have to adapt, which comes as quite a relief; aside from a shocked moue at the idea of Andorians and Orions working together, Burnham does her best to keep up, even if she is ultimately determined to bring as much of 2257 to the year 3188 as she possibly can, before “The Burn” (the day all of the dilithium exploded).
Luckily for her, non-commissioned Starfleet officer Aditya Sahil (of the melting-sand bed and the bird alarm clock whose daily routine we followed at the start of the episode) has been performing his own little Remains of the Day routine at a mostly-defunct Federation outpost his father and grandfather used to run, presumably in the hopes that someday the Federation would send him a time-traveler, or spontaneously revive itself if he put on the same uniform every day and said things like “All channels open” often enough. Burnham calls him a “true believer” and commissions him, which is charmingly depressing, and they all stare hopefully at a Federation Flag. Best of luck to them, and more next week.
Daniel Lavery (he/him) is the author of Something That May Shock and Discredit You and the Shatner Chatner newsletter.
Star Trek: Discovery streams on CBS All Access 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.