The third episode of season 3 of Star Trek: Discovery “People of Earth” gives us reunions of all sorts but they are not what they appear to be and introduces a new cast member to keep an eye on, as she plays a big role in this new era, Adira (played brilliantly by non-binary actor Blu del Barrio).
The crew take Discovery to earth using the spore drive to track down Admiral Tal, the one who sent the message 12 years earlier that Michael intercepted during the year she operated as a courier before Discovery arrived.
She and Tilly exchange one of the most heartfelt moments when Tilly realizes and Michael can’t deny that she’s changed. She had to, she had no idea that she would ever see anyone she knew or loved again, including her mother since Michael tells Saru that she reached out to Terralysium and they had never heard of Gabriel Burnham.
Tilly saddened like much of the crew with the weight of what they have lost journeying a millennia into the future: birthdays, funerals, their families are not only dead, but have been gone for centuries, will there be anything on earth that is recognizable? Familiar? The Pyramids at Giza? The St. Louis Archway? Hummingbird cake?
“Cake,” Michael says, as both women cry and laugh, “is eternal.”
Earth is of course not what they expect. United Earth is an isolationist, aggressive, and xenophobic government. The Federation and Starfleet have not been headquartered there in over a century.
“Earth is no longer part of the Federation?” Saru asks.
“Why should we be? We don’t need them,” the captain of United Earth Defense Force responds.
Games Radar says of the episode, “Political allegory has always been as big a part of the Star Trek formula as exploring strange new worlds and seeking out new life and new civilisations. From the civil rights movement of the ’60s to the end of the Cold War and beyond, Trek has frequently used its futuristic, outer-space setting to point a microscope on society – but rarely as blatantly as it does here.”
In fact, “People of Earth” features so many allusions to Brexit and Trump-style isolationism that it could easily be retitled “Make Earth Great Again”. As the Discovery takes a detour to 32nd century Earth we’re introduced to a planet that’s completely reinvented itself since being the centre of the Federation. These days humanity has gone it alone, with the United Earth Defense Force seeing no reason to form alliances with other worlds when “We can look after ourselves”. The force-field that protects the planet from outside visitors is essentially a sci-fi-tinged allusion to a border wall.
Perhaps the biggest surprises come from Michael herself, as when she acquiesces command and the title of captain to Saru. She will proudly serve as his Number One but she has changed and we get the sense she may have done more than break a few Starfleet regulations during her lost year adventures.
She has to become a Starfleet officer again.
Again, Games Radar, “The new-look Burnham offers hope that [Trek won’t devolve into its former incarnations’ predictability], however. Her year working as a courier in the 32nd century has changed her, softening some of her colder, Vulcan-esque edges and making her a more rounded, potentially unpredictable character. “In another world I might have said Michael was somewhere being earnest and doing the right thing,” Georgiou tells Book. “In this one, I’m not so sure.” Freed from the strait-jacket of a Starfleet uniform, she’s learned that there are other ways to live, that going by the book is not always the best course of action – even when it means embarking on rogue missions, without warning her captain first.”
Adira is initially introduced as one of the United Earth Defense Force’s science officers, and one who is particularly interested in the ship’s spore drive. The 16-year-old eventually confesses to Stamets that she joined the Defense Force in the hopes that she would encounter a federation ship and would like to accompany them.
That Admiral Tal they came looking for, who sent the message 12 years ago? Well it turns out she’s him, sort of. Adira is the first human to host a Trill symbiote, and Admiral Tal is part of her, but she cannot access the Trill or its past hosts the way she should, perhaps in part because she is not Trill.
The show ends with most of the bridge crew beaming down to the the former grounds of Starfleet Academy in San Francisco [noticeably absent: Burnham, who remains on the bridge to watch down with Saru, and who by not joining the rest of the Terran born crew, suggests that she is no longer one with them].
When they see the great tree that Boothby once tended to, there’s an outburst of pure joy. There’s a spectacular moment when Tilly and the rest of them hug the tree, which is the first comforting constant that has endured the 931 years they have traversed.
Perhaps there is a chance to rebuild after all.
New episodes of Star Trek: Discovery air every Thursday on CBS All Access.