Discovery settles into a groove with another episode that exists solely to service the ongoing storyline. Quite a lot happens this week, though, so there's no chance to be bored. Every main and recurring character at least gets a moment, and most get some actual exploration and development. There's plenty of action too.
The crux of the episode is Book's being called home, leading to a formal request by Burnham to ferry him there on Discovery. Normally, we'd expect her to chloroform Saru, lie to Stamets, steal the ship and mushroom her way there against orders, but it seems she's finally learned her lesson and decided she's going to do things the Starfleet way. She and Saru speak to Admiral Vance, putting their case forward, and he agrees, with condition that they will merely be observers and get out there at the first sign of trouble (like that's ever going to happen).
Understandably, Vance is concerned about pissing off Osyraa and the Emerald Chain, who are basically holding Book's planet Kweyjian to ransom. It's sad to see Starfleet so in the shadow of a more powerful organisation though. Not even United Earth Starfleet back in Archer's day would let another power push them around like that. Of course, for all Osyraa's power, it looks like the Chain's influence is largely down to bluster. They're desperate – the revelation at the end that they're nearly out of dilithium is no surprise.
It's good to meet Osyraa at last, every bit the big green bully we expected, although as yet, I'm not super impressed by Janet Kidder. After all the build-up, she just doesn't have that much presence, even if she does do the classic evil villain thing of feeding her lackie/son figure to a monster when he fouls up. I can't help but feel that she must answer to someone or something else.
The biggest part of the episode is the look into Book's backstory. We learn his name isn't Cleveland Booker at all, but Tareckx, because we like hard to pronounce names on Star Trek. He's gone home at the request of his estranged brother (not by blood, you understand) Kyheem (a strong performance by Ache Hernandez), who, like him, is an empath capable of manipulating animals. There are more questions raised about Book's people than answered. Are they all empathic like this? Are they human (or part-human) as they appear to be? The implication of this episode is that they were pre-warp until fairly recently, which is itself intriguing if they're a human-related people. (Could Kwejian actually be Terralysium? Surely Burnham would have noticed.)
The planet is being assailed by sea locusts (actually blue bug-type things), who have come inland, and only the Chain can repel them, in exchange for tranceworms for slaughter. Thankfully, Discovery uses its magical tech to amplify the brothers' psychic powers the same way they did with the Kelpiens last season, and explicitly solve a problem that has been troubling the planet for over a century. Because they'e Starfleet and that's just what they do.
Before this top-notch bit of Trekking, which now has even the most cynical on the Starfleet bandwagon, it's interesting just how hated Starfleet and the Federation is, by both the Chain and the Kwejian people. It certainly sounds like everyone blames them for the Burn, but it's more than that. Starfleet must have got up to something shady in the past for everyone to have such a problem with them.
Back on the ship, Saru tries to perfect his captain catchphrase (just like Freeman on Lower Decks). Personally, I think he should go with "Engage." It's a timeless classic. Tilly shows that she makes a very fine captain's assistant – sorry, First Officer – but she does come up with some slightly rum ideas. It's her idea to send Detmer as a "rogue agent" to attack Osyraa's ship, reasoning that it gives Starfleet plausible deniability. That sort of thing might work with legality-minded cultures like the Sheliak, but I can't see the Chain given two hoots about that kind of nonsense. Osyraa leaves the episode pissed off, and there's going to be some serious repurcussions from this. Vance is going to be livid.
It does, however, give us some excellent Detmer time. She and Ryn take Book's snazzy assymetrical ship for a spin, in a very Star Wars-y bit of flyby space-shooting. It's a visal triumph and the most entertaining part of the episode, and it looks like some old-fashioned manual piloting has cured Detmer's blues (please don't let her be magically over her PTSD like that). Ryn proves to be an entertaining character, genuinely funny in places, and he gets a nice moment with Tilly (well, you can't have a husband-wife team on the cast without giving their characters a moment, can you?)
The most intriguing part of the episode is Georgiou's story. We get to see Culber's hard side, which is his usual fluffy side but without compromise, as he practically forces her to undergo an atomic scan to find out what the hell is wrong with her. Georgiou spends her time retaliating with venomous barbs and threats, but it's plain to see she's absolutely terrified. She's dying, and something altogether weird is happening to her. Whether this is due to Cronenberg directly, or is the result of the Mirror Universe being now disconnected, remains to be seen, but it looks like she's falling apart both literally and figuratively.
Lovely Adira finally comes out as non-binary to Stamets, who naturally takes it in his stride. It's a brief but heartwarming moment, and it's all the more affecting knowing that Adira's coming out reflected actor Blu del Barrio's. Adira and Stamets make for a very lovely team, and they remove his hard edges better than even Culber does, but the resident pseudo-Trill is struggling with their new existence, especially as Gray's stopped popping up for ghost chats. The team manage to make some headway on the Burn mystery though, finally working out it originated in a specific nebula, from which that mysterious music is emanating. Very intriguing.
That was a very bullet-pointy review, but it was a very bullet-pointy episode, checking off each bit of character and plot work to incrementally move the series forward. The mystery of the Burn is moving forward, as is the Emerald Chain plotline. It still feels like there's a lot to cover in the five remaining episodes, assuming of course that everything is set to be resolved this season. Entertaining as it is, there's something a little dissatisfying about this instalment. Since the beginning, Discovery has been caught between two stools: trying to be both weekly episodic television and a bingeable Netflix series where each episode is merely a chapter to spur you onto the next. Episodes like "The Sanctuary" will no doubt play better when rewatching the season in one go.
This episode very nearly shares its title with an episode of DS9 (season two's "Sanctuary," where millions of refugees from the Gamma Quadrant wanted to settle on Bajor). After nearly eight hundred episodes, this sort of thing happens.
They could have called it "Pulling the Chain." Much funnier.
The Emerald Chain has been flagrantly violating the Prime Directive, making dodgy deals with pre-warp cultures. To be honest, it doesn't look like anyone but Starfleet cares about the Prime Directive anyway, and given that warp drive looks to be on the way out, surely a new metric of a civilisation's development should be thought up?
Book's ship has transwarp... but it only has a 50% chance of making a successful, survivable trip. I imagine it uses a ton of dilithium as well.
"They're just wearing dressing gowns."
"Do you reckon they (the Kwejians) are related to the Betazoids?"
"See, he (Stamets with Adira) gets it! Because it's the future and people aren't dickheads!"
"I like the wooden western-y guns."
"It's got a bit Firefly."
"Say 'Punch it!'"