When Michael Burnham leapt into an apparently unforgiving 32nd century, Cleveland “Book” Booker became her first contact with this unfamiliar future. Our initial glimpse of Book occurred as the courier attempted to plot an escape route with stolen cargo in the Nautilus’s hold, just moments before a chance encounter with Burnham sent the pair plummeting to the surface of the planet Hima. Fueled by a skeptical disposition, Book targeted Burnham’s affinity for a Federation vision with verbal jabs that characterized the pilot-for-hire as just another casualty of The Burn’s brutal aftermath. However, as “That Hope Is You, Part 1” unfolded, Book’s actual ideology revealed itself to be much more in line with Burnham’s views than those of his Orion and Andorian employers. Let’s dive into the third season premiere and examine the threads that connect these two true believers.
When Michael Burnham beamed aboard the U.S.S. Shenzhou with Sarek, the future science officer displayed a frosty Vulcan demeanor to parry Captain Georgiou’s friendly welcome. Equipped with a logical point-of-view and an analytical mind, Burnham strove to live up to her adopted father’s expectations in a society defined by its suppression of all emotion. Throughout Star Trek: Discovery’s first season, we learned that Michael’s stoic persona veiled the deep emotional trauma caused by the loss of her parents. Burnham’s seven-year tour on the Shenzhou allowed her to establish her own identity, a vibrant human-Vulcan approach that flourished even further after she started to feel at ease among the U.S.S. Discovery’s crew.
First impressions continued to deceive almost one thousand years later, as Book’s decision to steal a mysterious item pointed to a less-than-ideal sense of morality. A jaded, hotshot pilot who operates his own vessel and lives a lonely life on the edge? The description sounds more like Star Trek: Picard’s Cristóbal Rios than Michael Burnham. Booker distanced himself from Burnham by categorizing the Starfleet officer’s belief system as antiquated. Of course, we quickly learned that Book had fortified himself with this roguish veneer to cover his actual motivations. With underlying family issues of his own, Book found a fulfilling mission in his plight to save endangered species from extinction. Much like Burnham, the courier derived satisfaction from discovering a worthwhile purpose in life.
In addition to their short bout of fisticuffs, Book and Burnham’s earliest interactions were defined by the 32nd century native’s reluctance to become acquainted with Michael on a personal level. The courier took aim at the science officer’s resistance to the reality of life in the future, her devotion to the fallen Federation, and her trusting attitude. Despite his unwillingness to permit Burnham to introduce herself, Book repeatedly asked her questions that he quickly reversed course on by refusing to hear the responses. Yet the courier continued to inquire and, by the end of the episode, audiences recognized that Book observed his own ethics in his new acquaintance.
By protecting endangered life forms, it was Booker himself who proved to be an outlier who went against his own society’s norms. The pilot upheld the Endangered Species Act that had formerly been enforced by the Federation and stressed the dangers posed by “ripping holes in space” after witnessing the artificial anomaly that Burnham had used to arrive. The antagonism Book expressed regarding the wormhole originated from his disdain for the destruction that the Gorn had caused to a region of subspace, again underlining his eye toward environmentalism.
Michael’s desperate pleas for an ally were soon echoed by Booker, who urged the Orion broker Hadley to access her “higher self” and provide him with dilithium so he could complete his good deeds. Although they had only just met, the courier soon exhibited a degree of faith in Michael by supplying her with an opportunity to try and make contact with Discovery, showing her the sanctuary, and introducing her to a Federation liaison. Perhaps Book’s hesitation to form a connection with Burnham stemmed from the insecurity he felt over his own actions. The science officer reflected traits that Booker felt self-conscious about, leading to a rocky introduction.
Bound by Betrayal
Facing off with the Klingon Ship of the Dead, Burnham elected to commit mutiny and countermanded Captain Georgiou’s commands in order to prevent the conflict from breaking out. Loyalty, friendship, and duty were integral elements of Burnham’s character, yet she proved capable of setting those values aside when she believed it to be the only route to saving the lives of her friends. The decision haunted the Shenzhou’s first officer long after the Federation-Klingon War’s opening salvo ended, particularly in light of Georgiou’s death and the losses incurred by Starfleet at the hands of their foes.
In a poetic parallel, Book’s plan to deceive Michael, steal her equipment, and acquire the dilithium necessary to transport the trance worm to a sanctuary demonstrated that the courier saw giving up the virtuous high ground as a necessary price to pay in order to achieve a greater good. Booker placed the creature’s livelihood above any need to adhere to his moral compass, yet he also showcased compassion for Burnham when he procured a balm for her wound during their escape. While Book did not seem to regret his actions at the mercantile, his change of heart about assisting Michael might have represented an eagerness to rectify his earlier betrayal.
A Sanctuary of Life
Burnham’s trip to the 32nd century revolved around the need to prevent Control from acquiring the Sphere data, achieving consciousness, and wiping out all sentient life in the galaxy. Michael chose to leave her adopted family behind to vanquish Control’s efforts and safeguard what she hoped would be a bright future. Tearful goodbyes to Sarek, Amanda, Spock, and Ash Tyler marked the end of the science officer’s tenure in the Starfleet she knew, a selfless sacrifice that resulted in Control’s defeat and Discovery’s journey to the future.
Book’s personal quest to rescue endangered life forms mirrored Michael’s struggle with Control, albeit on a much smaller scale. Describing his family as poachers, Booker indicated that his desire to preserve natural habitats resulted in him being cast out from his home. The excommunication clearly weighed heavily on the courier’s mind, but he also expressed the feeling that he was at peace with his role in the galaxy, accepted the burden he had selected to shoulder, and found happiness in his ability to secure a safe haven for the trance worms. Book also appeared to have formed a kinship with the other humanoid residents at the sanctuary, just as Michael came to see Saru and her Discovery shipmates as her only remaining family members.
The correlation between Booker and Burnham's paths was perhaps best exemplified by two moments that bookended (no pun intended) the season premiere. Finally away from Control, Michael opted to scan for lifesigns as soon as she gathered her bearings after her painful fall onto Hima. Upon learning that the plan to save the galaxy had succeeded, Burnham released a cry of exuberance at the news that life continued to exist. This pure joy was portrayed once again near the episode's conclusion, when Book stood at the sanctuary and cheered at the sight of the trance worms basking in the glow of freedom.
Highlighting the connections between Book and Burnham is by no means an attempt to imply that they are mere facsimiles or that significant disparities will not be uncovered in future episodes. Booker's ability to communicate with wildlife, his reverence for Grudge, and the many facets of his history that have yet to be explored will surely continue to reveal that a unique and special character has been added to Star Trek lore. The parallels we have ventured to uncover simply explain the reason that Book and Burnham are immediately drawn to one another. Discovery's third season is sure to be packed with intrigue, excitement, and unexpected twists.
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 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.