The grand finale of Discovery's third season continues with "There is a Tide," which has the unenviable position of being part two of a three-part adventure. Nonetheless, this episode worked really well for me, tying up a lot of the ongoing plot of the season and setting up what looks to be a strong finale.
In itself, the episode works strongly. On the one hand we have the commandeered Discovery and the grand retaking of the ship from Osyraa's forces. Burnham gets to do Die Hard, right down to direct references like the shoes and the baddie falling to their doom. It's just a shame that this didn't come a week earlier, because it would have been on Christmas Day (or Eve in the States). This is adrenaline-fuelled stuff, which makes for a strong contrast for the more talky elements elsewhere in the episode.
Some of my favourite scenes are those between Anthony Rapp's Stamets and Kenneth Mitchell's Aurellio. There's a real meeting of minds as two very similar characters from opposite sides interact, and it's clear that Aurellio is beginning to question his loyalty to Osyraa, but at the same time, he's not wrong: she and the Chain have done some real good out there while Starfleet have been isolated. Mitchell is excellent - I didn't even realise that this was the same guy who'd played a bunch of Klingons in the first two seasons (Kol and his father Kol-Sha, and Voq and L'Rell's son Tenavik). OK, the heavy make-up is part of that, but they're also remarkably distinct performances. I'd also missed that Mitchell is suffering from ALS (motor neurone disease to us Brits) and is now confined to a wheelchair, and it's excellent that he has a new role that incorporates that. Rapp is also truly excellent in this episode, not only against Aurellio but against Burnham. He's absolutely right, as well. Burnham has had everyone following her whims whether it was to save the galaxy or just Book, and now she's spouting off about sacrificing people for the greater good. No wonder Stamets is furious with her.
The scenes between Vance and Osyraa are remarkably strong considering they amount to nothing but sitting around chatting for a long time (a good old Star Trek meeting). Oded Fehr really impresses here as Admiral Vance, clearly someone who wants to do the right thing but held back by his, perfectly natural, suspicions, and, once feels, just a bit out of his depth. Janet Kidder is so much better in the revised role of Osyraa. Even though she's hampered by some weird prosthetics (couldn't they just have painted her green and been done with it?), she gives a strong performance as a more complex character than we originally met. Osyraa was such a two-dimensional villain when she first showed up, but this version is far more interesting. Osyraa genuinely seems to want to make an alliance between the Federation and the Emerald Chain work, making some very good arguments for why it's necessary for the galaxy to move forward. Equally, she has been responsible for some terrible things so it's understandable why Vance, even as he begins to accept her proposals, demands she stand trial for her crimes as part of the armistice. I mean, it's definitely not something you should throw down on the negotiating table right there and then (wait for some back-up on both sides, for crying out loud), but it does make sense.
I like that there are no easy answers here. Osyraa has done good and bad, but so, I imagine, has Starfleet. Vance is insistent on sticking to Federation principles, but that just makes me wonder if Starfleet didn't do some shady shit beforehand that they're trying to make up for. They certainly have just as poor a reputation on the frontier as the Chain does. I loved that Osyraa referred to Vance as having a chain of planets, and herself having a Federation, which is sounding more and more like the actual state of affairs. At the same time, she's holding a ship and crew hostage, which is not the right way to start peace talks.
Not everything works well. Jake Weber is still a weak link as Zareh, and the character has no reason to be there. He's been bumped up from local crook in the middle of nowhere to a major part of the Chain's heirarchy with no link in-between, and he's not a strong enough character to bother bringing back anyway. Also, why does he have gnarly frostbite? It's the 32nd century, they can get that fixed. It's just for showing off. There's some strong material with Tilly and the Disconauts in captivity, but there's so much focus on Michael that the rest of the characters are pretty swamped. And it's a brave decision to leave Saru, Adira and Culber in the nebula and never once switch back to them. It makes their absence more keenly felt, but also makes this episode a little disjointed from the last.
The sneaky (but obvious) trick of the Sphere data/proto-Zora hiding as some old footage and then downloading into the DOT robots is a nice touch, and leaving the reveal for the end of the episode sets up some fun potential for the final episode. Altogether, really good stuff.
So, I was pretty much spot-on with regards to the courier transwarp network. It's absolutely full of bits of debris and looks absolutely deadly. Did the Federation build this at some point between the 24th and 31st centuries, only for it to fall into disuse after the Burn? Or is it a natural network, like the Underspace seen in VOY: "Dragon's Teeth?" Or is it even a remnant of the Borg transwarp network?
The Chain soldier who goes after Burnham in the Jefferies tubes (and gets very nastily killed for her trouble) is of the same species as Kima, the young girl seen in the Picard prequel "Children of Mars" that aired as the last (for now) Short Treks episode.
There's an extended bit about how the Federation replicates food from shit, which is a nice moment for Vance to make Osyraa wince, but it's really perfectly sensible. Real space crews rework waste products to remove the water for reuse, and in Enterprise's time poop was used as raw material to be resequenced. And frankly, if you're using a replicator and breaking everything down to its component atoms it really makes no difference where it came from; it just needs to be organic so you have the right selection of elements.
Deep Space 253 has been running without Starfleet oversight for almost a century and trading with the Chain. Aside from the wonderfully high number (it's a long time since DS9), it shows that the Federation really is only tenuously holding together.
The USS Song is another Eisenberg-class vessel, like the USS Nog.
Picked up from the more eagle-eyed commenters: the stardate on Osyraa's armistice document is a whopping 29141429.1, which probably suggests it's about time to come up with a new dating system.
Burnham sends a message to her mum, so odds-on the Vulcan/Romulan force from Ni'Var will come to the rescue when the replicater raw material hits the fan in the final episode. Perhaps a hint at Ni'Var rejoining the UFP?
This is the 800th episode of Star Trek altogether, if you include all the films and shorts.