Discovery comes back from its mid-season break with a slice of good, solid fun. As with much of the preceding few episodes, the overarching plot doesn't move forward much, although we do have a fairly significant revelation towards the end. However, this week's adventure is full of colour, incident and fisticuffs, enough to keep the attention from wandering.
Chasing Book beyond the bounds of the Federation's influence, Burnham leads her crew into the kind of rough-and-tumble adventure that she and her runaway beau used to enjoy before Discovery caught up with them. It has to be said, Michael is a lot more fun in this environment, trolling and trash-talking her way into and out of trouble, without the Starfleet stuffed shirt to constrain her. I feel we should have spent more time with her and Book during the gap year before responsibility caught up with them. Still, at least we get a glimpse of it now, with the pair of them separately trying their luck at getting ahold of some isolynium, a powerful substance required for the building of isolytic weapons.
The result is an old-fashioned romp seeing two double-acts scheme and swagger their way through a distinctly Star Wars-esque den of iniquity. Yes, every galaxy has its dodgy alien bars and casinos, and this one is run by a colourful character by the name of Haz Mazaro. He's from a species we haven't seen before, but his character is easily recognisable: overly friendly, untrustworthy, larger than life and puts profits over pals. It's a fun turn by Daniel Kash, displaying a fun rapport with both Book and Michael. It's a much stronger rapport than Book is managing with Tarka, whose ego is not endearing him to anyone (except me, I think he's hilarious). I don't think we can trust anything he says, or at the least we're only getting fragments of the truth from him. Still, his talk about terrible loss has the ring of sincerity.
For her part, Burnham picks a much more suitable partner in crime. Oyin Oladejo shines as “Ow Wow” Owosekun, getting more character development and, well, character in one episode than she's received in the whole series so far. And it turns out that this officer can really handle herself. This is the sort of rough-and-tumble we could easily see Kirk and McCoy getting themselves involved in; although Bones would no doubt be trying to talk Kirk out of wagering their mission on a pit fight, not bigging him up to the crowd.
Burnham and Owo are so obviously hustling, it's amazing the assembled aliens fall for it. It's almost as obvious as Burnham and Book's outrageous cheating as they play a pair of Emerald Chain non-entities at galactic poker for the isolynium. For all their chemistry and cleverness working together though, the two ex-couriers find themselves at irreconcilable odds. It doesn't look like Book is coming back to his ex anytime soon.
Back on Discovery, there's a reasonable B-plot that sees Stamets console his husband for his apparent failure to help Book through his trauma, or at least predict he was about to go off the rails. These quieter moments work nicely in this episode in contrast to the more gung-ho stuff at the casino. In the final moments, we find out that Burnham's been cleverer than Book after all, pinning a tracker on him. Not only that, but Mazaro, who can apparently get his hands on anything, also picked up some handy star charts for her, which helps them narrow down Species 10-C's location. It turns out whoever they are hidden by a truly gigantic energy field in an extragalactic star system. It also turns out that the DMA isn't a weapon at all; it's a dredge, dragging up a rare element that may be very significant. Whoever the 10-C are, they either don't know or don't care about the millions of lives they're destroying.
Alien life forms: Among the many familiar faces on Haz Mazaro's Karma Barge we find a Changeling running a gambling scam. Quite what led this character to be living a life of crime far from the Gamma Quadrant we may never know.
Stellar cartography: The Barge operates from the Porathia system, previously where the Discovery appeared in the Mirror Universe.
Particle physics: The alleged rare element boronite, used by the 10-C to create its miraculous energy source, was previously noted in VOY: “The Omega Directive” as a substance that could be used to synthesis Omega particles, suggesting the aliens are using the dangerous particles as their power source.
Nitpicking: Why do Burnham and Owo go to the casino wearing their very bright and obvious uniforms, knowing that Starfleet isn't welcome there?