So, that's season three, rounding things off with the last part of a multi-part adventure that, for confusion's sake, advertises itself as the second part of the opening episode of the season. I guess there's something thematic going on here, probably to do with connection. That's been the theme running through the season and this episode in particular, getting hammered home by Burnham at the close just in case it went over your head.
It works, though. This was a busy, action-packed episode that still had plenty of heart, tied up most of the loose ends of the season and set up the next. Still, there was something just a little dissatisfying about the way some of the previous episode's threads were handled. Osyraa, having been knocked back by Vance, loses all the complexity she'd shown in the last episode and reverting to a straightforward, moustache-twirling villain. Not there's no room for moustache-twirling villains in Star Trek, but she was becoming something more. It also seems unlikely that the Emerald Chain is really done for without Osyraa if it's as entrenched and expansive as she decribed it last week. Sure, killing off its leader will have massive repurcussions, but an alliance that large isn't just going to disappear overnight (even the Star Wars sequel trilogy worked that one out). Then again, maybe the Chain isn't as powerful and sophisticated as Osyraa made out. More disappointing was the lack of Aurellio, who made one moral stand and then got knocked out for the remainder. He looks like he could be a recurring character next year, but we shall see.
It's a bit of a shame to see Tilly hand over command to Burnham so quickly, but then, while she acquitted herself well, it was unfair of Saru to put her in that position in the first place. In the meantime, though, we got some pretty awesome action heroine stuff from Michael and some lower decks leadership skills from Tilly. The DOTs didn't make as much of a difference as I'd expected, but at least Owo got to do something this week, saving the goddamn ship by holding her breath like a boss and climbing through the nacelles under low-oxygen conditions. (Let's gloss over just how and when these nacelles are attached to the ship, since they seem to be free-floating except when someone needs to get to them.)
The final fight between Burnham and Osyraa was a treat, as good as anything we've come to expect from Chris Pine in the Abrams/Lin movies. The space battle, on the other hand, was a let down. I know I've moaned before about the battles in Discovery being too busy to follow, but this was the opposite extreme. Starfleet, led by Voyager for maximum fan credentials, joining forces with the Ni'Var fleet (predicted that one easily enough), take on the Viridian/Discovery and we scarcely see it.
Back on the Khi'eth, Saru helps Su'Kal work through his problems, with both Doug Jones and Bill Irwin giving beautiful performances. The heavy work had been done two episodes earlier, and this was more about moving events to their conclusion in an emotionally satisfying way. Meanwhile, Adira and Gray get their own moment of holo-cosplay, with the human becoming Xahean and the Trill becoming Vulcan. There's still not much actual point to this (or logic), but it's fun to see the regulars as different aliens. The most significant part of this, though, is Gray's becoming visible to the others, and his heartbreaking acceptance that he will become a ghost again if he leaves. In the absence of Daddy Stamets, Hugh takes Adira and Gray under his wing, and it's all very touching. There's a beautiful message here about Gray being "seen," a wonderful nod to the series' newfound commitment to trans issues. It doesn't matter what the transphobic naysayers come out with, Discovery is saying to its trans actors and viewers, "you are seen." It's a lot subtler than the connection theme, celebrating Ian Alexander's identity without ever coming out and saying his character is trans (although he may well be and is according to publicity), supporting the NB Adira/Blu del Barrio at the same time.
On the ship, things are rather more brutal, with Book getting tortured and various people getting blasted. There's still plenty of time to fuel the connection theme, though, with Book recovering remarkably quickly (adrenaline or not) and becoming the new link with the spore drive. Now we don't have to rely on Stamets to jump, because Book can use his empathic powers to connect to any organism and travel the mushroom highway. Well, it makes about as much sense as the spore drive ever did, abd it brings Book into the fold more solidly than ever. He's clearly here to stay, and I'm glad.
In the end, everything is looking rosy. The Disconauts' work over the last few months is paying off, the Federation is getting back on its feet and even helping its allies across space. Burnham's promotion to captain is about the least surprising development possible, but it comes at the right time. For all this series was initially pushed as being different for not following a captain (and it's rotating COs have reflected this, as well as lending some credibility to the setting, since transfers are part and parcel of military service), this was clearly always Michael's path. I'm relieved to learn this won't see Saru leave the series (he's still a captain after all – will he get a new ship?) and while Burnham's habit of demotion-and-promotion makes Kelvin universe Kirk look stable, it's a fitting development. I'm assuming Tilly is still First Officer, although surely she'll need to be promoted at least to lieutenant for that?
In spite of some story threads losing their tension, the finale works, and leaves the season on a hopeful note for a change. Each season of Discovery has been better than the last, and I'm looking forward to see just how much further season four will take us. A few strange new worlds, I hope.
In changing to the new uniforms, Burnham has switched department colours: the old Discovery uniforms has gold for command and red for ops, as is standard in 22nd and 23rd century series, while the 32nd century uniforms are the other way round, in line with 24th century style. They're a rather boring shade of grey otherwise, though.
It's announced that Trill has rejoined the Federation in the closing scenes of the episode, confirming once and for all that they were definitely members previously. There's a hint that Ni'Var will follow, but no mention of United Earth.
Adira's "disguise" as a Xahean reminds us the aliens who were created for Short Treks and Discovery season two, but it's surprising we haven't heard anything about them this season. Given how rich Xahea is in dilithium, you'd expect we'd hear something about the planet in the 32nd.
Detmer/Owo shippers are out of luck - even after almost certain death they only hug.
Things I predicted completely wrong: Su'Kal is exactly as he appears, and not an elderly and mutated creature. I'd even wondered if the kelp monster was his real form. Nope, he's just fine. Although if he's adapted to the radiation levels in the nebula, you've got to wonder if he can survive outside of it.
Things I predicted completely wrong: Lt. Willa has been almost completely forgotten, and is not the new recurring character she looked like she'd be in "Die Trying." She gets a few moments here though.
Things I happily predicted correctly: Vance is not a villain, in spite of everyone insisting he must be because he's an admiral and they're always dodgy (and Oded Fehr plays a lot of villains).
There are plenty of questions and ongoing mysteries still left to answer in season four or even later. Not least of which is the tie to the Short Treks episode "Calypso." Zora's evolution is clearly a continuing theme for the next season and at some point the Discovery has to be abandoned, leaving the AI alone and integrated with her systems. Which now seems odd considering that here the nascent AI was able to be downloaded into a series of drones. Another major anomaly is that the Discovery seen in "Calypso" is still in its original configuration, but it's since been refit to 32nd century standards. Plus the ship is apparently abandoned for a thousand years, so either it goes back in time or the term V'Draysh is still in use in the 42nd century.
Who is the original Cleveland Booker? Book's mentor is clearly going to turn out to be someone significant, either by the role they play or a link to an existing character. It's bound to be explored in season four.
I can't imagine the Jah-Sepp are going to be pleased when Starfleet start playing in the mushroom kingdom again/ Have the Discovery crew forgotten that they were killing the other dimension's native inhabitants by using the spore drive? Or do they just think they'll be extinct by now anyway so they can get away with it?