“A beginning is a very delicate time,” Princess Irulan once said.
Wait, why is “Dune” being invoked in a “Star Trek: Discovery” review? Because “Trek” has often struggled with the exact opposite: it’s at its most delicate whenever it comes to an ending. Some of its season finales are all-time-great episodes of television — “The Best of Both Worlds,” “Call to Arms,” “Tears of the Prophets,” “Scorpion” — and others are far, far from greatness. (Just see the “Star Trek: Picard” Season 1 finale.)
The Season 3 finale of “Star Trek: Discovery” is somewhere in between: there’s a lot of frenetic action throughout that could make one element go off the rails “Picard”-style, but it brings it home ultimately by returning to its characters and their emotional journey. “That Hope Is You Part II” — the first time in franchise history that the title of a season’s premiere episode is echoed in its finale — is about as overstuffed as it gets. Yet it mostly holds together. Director Olatunde Osunsanmi knows how to juggle a lot and do so with epic sweep. At the start of Season 3 we said Osunsanmi is a “Trek” MVP, and being able to deliver as satisfying a finale as he did from so many disparate parts reaffirms that.
But a blow-by-blow plot recap seems almost impossible here, so let’s consider this review a tricorder scan of “That Hope Is You Part II,” pulling out the best, worst, and most puzzling moments to parse:
- Everything with Su’Kal on the holodeck — That the Burn was never caused by some sinister faction but by a grief-stricken young boy letting out a howl of pain that roared across the galaxy is so perfectly “Trek.” And Doug Jones delivered his best performance yet bonding with this wounded soul, now a supercentenarian but still coming across like a middle-aged adult, who’s spent more than a century on a holodeck letting this childish computer program infantalize him rather than face “The Outside.” Man, it’s hard not to think a lot of people would end up like Su’Kal if holodecks were real.
- The holodeck made Gray “real”! — Proving that Ian Alexander’s character isn’t just a “memory” in Adira’s ahead, the holodeck gave this non-corporeal being physical form. And damn, if Wilson Cruz doesn’t bring the sincerity: “You do have kind eyes,” he says to Adira’s boyfriend.
- A lot of character grace notes — Who couldn’t love that aside from Owo about how she could hold her breath for 10 minutes as a teenage abalone diver back in the day? That’s the kind of quirky character-building detail the “Trek” of the ’90s specialized in so perfectly. And then it set up that, as Osyraa shut off the life support on the ship to try to stall Tilly & Co.’s revolt, Owo was best-suited to enact the plan to force Discovery out of warp by blowing up one of the nacelles. She could last the longest without life support!
- That Vance believes Burnham — The Federation is going to destroy Discovery to prevent the spore drive from getting into Osyraa’s hands. But a breathless hail from Burnham convinces Vance to pull back, even though he’d have every reason to think that she’s saying this with a gun to her head. Trusting good people to get the job done is sometimes more than half the battle even when things look very bleak.
- Book — It had been disappointing how little Book had really done on the show lately other than staring off into space as he flies his ship. But he was the one to finally off Zareh, after the evil courier had insulted his cat. “She’s a queen!” Book shouted before kicking him off a ledge to his doom. Total Kirk move, that. And count us excited to learn the full story of the “Cleveland Booker” from whom he took his name.
- That not everything was okay between Stamets and Burnham — it seems like it’s going to take a long time to repair this relationship, if it ever can be.
- Burnham being made captain — I mean, she’s proven herself over and over as the smartest, bravest, most outside-the-box thinker Starfleet has. Of course she had to be Discovery’s new captain! But it was especially meaningful that it came because Saru decided to resign, realizing that returning to his home planet with Su’Kal to try to “raise” him and introduce him to life outside a holodeck was the greatest purpose he could find. He had said to Su’Kal that he related to him because he knew what it was like to leave the only world he had ever known. Now to help Su’Kal, he was returning to that very homeworld.
- A lot of the action — Most of the shootouts and showdowns didn’t work, as they were frantically choreographed. The worst example was the turbolift fight. Where did that even take place? There have been times when “Discovery” has suggested the ship has an elaborate, industrial-style turbolift network that accounts for a lot of mostly empty space within. Are all Federation starships like this? This seems like a bizarre design choice to add 50+ years into “Trek.” Unless we’re completely misunderstanding where that fight took place: Was that turbolift fight not on Discovery but on Osyraa’s ship that had swallowed them up? But would there have been perfect atmosphere on Osyraa’s ship?
- Not being able to feast our eyes on the Federation ships — I don’t know why NuTrek refuses to let us gaze longingly and lovingly on its starships. I’m not saying I want a five-minute “approaching the Enterprise” sequence like in “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” but give us CGI models of these ships that are at least as good as what we got on “Deep Space Nine” and “Voyager” in the ’90s. Why are none of the space battles on these new shows as good as those? Because they didn’t want to engage in some shame “realism” by having a lot of shaky cam and lens flares in those ’90s battles? Who doesn’t want to get a look at this USS Voyager that Admiral Vance keeps talking about! You’re really going to keep talking about Voyager, but, other than a brief glimpse in Episode 5, never show it to us? One of these starships is of the Eisenberg class, named after the late Aron Eisenberg (Nog on “Deep Space Nine”). Show us that! Let us appreciate its majesty. Does the 32nd Century have such a terrible design sense that we aren’t even allowed to gaze on its ships?
- Osyraa’s demise — One supposes that gel-like computer interface Burnham was pressed into was a cool effect, but what was it exactly and why have we never seen it before? Basically, everything about Osyraa had to be underwhelming when all was said and done, even her death.
- That the Discovery crew is abandoning their signature uniforms for these personality-free 32nd century outfits — the worst uniforms since “Star Trek: The Motion Picture”!
- Why can’t Adira just go on any 32nd Century holodeck at Starfleet Headquarters and make Gray appear to everyone that way? It surely didn’t just have to be that one holodeck where he could appear?
- Where was Nilsson? Suddenly there was some other lieutenant there, helping to take back the ship. But then Nilsson returned when Burnham was named captain at the end.
- “Let’s fly” is on awesome catchphrase for Burnham… or will it really be a catchphrase? Will it be her “Engage” or “Make it so,” something we’ll hear in every episode going forward? Or was that more of a “Out there… thattaway!” or “Second star to the right and straight on ’til morning” moment, cool lines that you really can only use once. Saru trying out different catchphrases at one point during the season makes you think it will be more of a recurring catchphrase… but it’s easy to imagine situations where “Let’s fly” may not be the most appropriate thing to say.
But “Let’s fly” does capture this: “Star Trek: Discovery” is offering journeys ahead that we’re still excited to be part of.