A bit of Die Hard Jefferies Tube action is surprisingly not the main focus of this fun episode. Like the initial episode of the three part finale, there is a lot going on but the balance of the plot is much better.
Osyraa has stolen Discovery and used it to gain access to Federation HQ. Everything is set up for a big spaceship fight as we all assume she is there to cause wanton destruction. Instead, Osyraa’s big plan is much bigger and at a wholly different scale: she wants to go legit. She may be a supervillain but she is a pragmatic supervillain and the way forward for the Emerald Chain is a deal with the Federation where the two groups work together for the greater good of the galaxy.
The episode spends time with Admiral Vance and Osyraa laying out the potential deal and…it actually makes sense. The Federation does not need to compromise much and maybe (maybe) it could actually all be for the best. It is, of course, a trap but it is a trap that is wide open and honest about what it is: the Federation selling out to a criminal enterprise that uses murder, slavery and extortion of whole planets to get what it wants. I like the thought put into this as there have certainly been Star Fleet officials in the past who would have bought into proposed Emerald Chain/Federation joint venture. It’s close enough of a compromise to create real tension because it is close enough that you can’t be sure if the writers actually think it might be a good idea (remember, they just spent two episodes rehabilitating an even more fundamentally evil space despot). Vance’s counter-offer is also very nicely tuned, showing a willingness to listen, compromise and offering an ethical way forward that also cuts to the heart of Osyraa’s duplicity.
Meanwhile, Adira, Hugh, Saru and Barney McGrew are parked off-screen while everybody else struggles for control of Discovery. With Michael infiltrating and Tilly rising to the occasion of captaincy under difficult circumstances, the story gives the emotional heart to neither of them but rather to Stamets. Anthony Rapp does fine work as his character is put through the wringer. Firstly his forced calm as he attempts to turn the psychological tables on Osyraa’s pet scientist is very nicely done. Only to be followed by a pragmatic betrayal by Michael as she forces him off the ship rather than helping him return Discovery to the planet where Hugh is trapped (and facing certain death).
The broader society within the control of the Emerald Chain is not something Discovery has shown us but the episode does a quick sketch of something more than just commercial exchanges and labour camps. It’s thin but just about sufficient, which reveals the luxury past Star Trek has had with fleshing out what the non-Federation societies are like over multiple episodes and series with the Klingons and Romulans (and even Vulcans) being one note societies for long periods, only picking up nuance overtime.
Unfortunately for those same writers, next week there are multiple plot lines that need resolving and (probably) Michael’s mum is going to turn up (maybe to save her from a very angry Stamets).