Star Trek: Discovery S3E6 “Scavengers” continues the themes of connection and found family that have been at the heart of the season so far. Unfortunately, “Scavengers” has some serious issues that don’t allow it to live up to the best episodes of Season 3. There was a lot of setup which hopefully will pay off later—there are serious lingering concerns particularly with Detmer and Georgiou that are desperate for more explanation—but the plot points that did happen were less than stellar. Particularly the main focus on Commander Burnham once again ignoring a direct order.
“Scavengers” is a Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) centric episode and it is her characterization that is at the heart of my issues. From the very beginning of the series we have seen that Burnham will disobey orders, even to the point of mutiny, in the service of what she thinks is right. I have no issue with this being an essential aspect of the character, and it has served the series well over the course of multiple season long storylines in the past. And yet, it doesn’t really work in this instance. Burnham certainly has an incredible connection to Book (David Ajala) and it makes sense for her to go to great lengths to save him. But that is what she does, basically without a second thought, to the potential great detriment of the rest of her Discovery crewmates.
As Burnham has grown to actually care about the crew and move up the ranks, continuing to have her immediately run off to do whatever she wants seriously undermines the growth of the character. Much of the past two and a half seasons has been about Burnham growing emotionally and establishing a connection with the crew. With the yearlong gap between her arrival and the ship’s, this connection has certainly been strained and tested.
But even if this mission is justified and in character, and it probably is on both counts, it would have been more interesting and fulfilling if the show allowed Burnham the time to grapple with the decision. Martin-Green could have easily shown the conflict and intense sadness that going against Captain Saru’s (Doug Jones) direct order would have caused her. At the end of the episode as she is tearfully accepting the consequences of her actions, Martin-Green lets down Burnham’s walls a little bit and it becomes interesting, but it is too little, too late.
The lack of time spent on Burnham actually serving as Number One means that the demotion does not hit as hard as it should. She only got that promotion back in “People of Earth” and we have not seen her actually acting in the role in any meaningful manner. Since she simply dismisses the orders Saru gives her, certainly in the service of a justified mission but we will get to that in a minute. It really seems that she never had any interest or intention of being an actual part of Saru’s inner circle.
The “First Officer” is a vital position in Star Trek storytelling (and in real life naval command) and one of the most essential aspects is that the person in the position subverts their own needs for the needs of the captain. This doesn’t mean that they don’t disagree, and that sometimes for the sake of the story they disobey and do their own thing anyway, but it means that there has to be a real and vital connection between the characters and that those conflicts are not the only interaction they have had. Burnham’s service of Saru fails all of that. Which makes it satisfying that she actually got demoted but mystifying as to why she was even in the position at all.
The mission that Burnham risks everything for is only interesting in that it brings Grudge back to the show and it allows Georgiou to have extended screen time. Apparently the entire factory escape plotline is an extended homage to The Running Man that is so close that some reviewers feel it was problematic. I don’t have that issue, I’ve never seen that movie and I learned the details of its plot today, but I do think this plotline was boring and predictable. They visit the factory, meet up with Book, get the prisoners out but Book’s friend is shot, and run away having saved the day. The only remotely interesting parts are that Book’s Andorian friend doesn’t actually die (I definitely had him pegged as a goner from the first time his blue shorn antennae mug popped up on screen), and the mystery of what’s up with Georgiou.
As for Georgiou, this episode was another showcase for Michele Yeoh. The early scene where Burnham goes to Georgiou to enlist Georgiou’s help in her mission to save Book is really fun. Yeoh plays both the harshness and hilarity of the character with equal aplomb. Georgiou’s one liners and delivery are always high points of any episode and she has several throughout “Scavengers.” Obviously, with her Terran background she slips into the role of a dominating scrap trading merchant really easily, and the joy she gets at ordering Burnham around during their role-playing is palpable. She also gets to show off her fighting skills once again, taking down the Orion leader of the factory, Tolo (Noah Averback-Katz) and his guards with ease. Well, with ease once she comes back to consciousness after a flashback laden blackout.
Georgiou has been having these odd moments since her encounter with the mysterious character played by David Cronenberg in “Die Trying”. They are obviously becoming more and more intense and problematic but, as she notes to Burnham, Georgiou has no interest in going to see a doctor about something she doesn’t understand. These breadcrumbs are interesting, and are laying a lot of groundwork for Georgiou going forward, but obviously the show wants to draw out the experience for quite awhile.
In S3E6 we finally got enough of the flashes she is seeing to make out a little of them. They seem to involve the Mirror Universe and the “death” of Season 1 big bad, Captain Lorca (Jason Issacs). The big hope I have is that when they return to this plot it actually gets the time it needs to be fully explained and explored both because Georgiou is one of the most interesting characters on the show and because I’m a bit tired of how Discovery has a tendency to abandon plot points with secondary characters for large periods of time.
Currently in addition to whatever is happening with Georgiou there are still major outstanding issues related to Detmer, Stamets and Culber, and Adira that need to be addressed in some way. For Lt. Detmer (Emily Coutts) it is possible that the mental health and PTSD storylines back in “Forget Me Not” are the answer and her issues are being resolved in the background, but it didn’t seem that this was all that was going on in the moment and either way it would be nice to have some more meaningful resolution.
With Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and Culber (Wilson Cruz) their relationship and various near (and actual) death experiences are long term plotlines, so, as long as they get some scenes together, their story is progressing along fine. And they did get a wonderful little scene in “Scavengers” near the end where Stamets opened up to Culber about his growing connection to Adira. Rapp and Cruz have a very long history together going back (at least) to their days in the cast of RENT and their chemistry and connection to each other always serves to deepen the scenes they share. These men have a history and an openness with each other that doesn’t extend to others often or easily but when they are alone (and alive) they can actually be who they are without reservation. And it is obvious that Adira (Blu Del Barrio) needs someone like that in their life as well.
Hopefully Stamets will be able to play that role. As he tells Culber, Stamets and Adira have a unique connection in that they both have partners who are alive but also, at least at some point, were not alive. Through this Stamets and Adira connected at the mess hall table, and the mental Gray (Ian Alexander) that Adira is seeing gave them the push to open up to each other. Is this version of Gray part of the Trill symbiote’s memory, a ghost, a hallucination? We obviously don’t know, and neither do Adira or Stamets but it is another circumstance that is ripe to be explored if the show is willing to give it time and energy.
I am also hopeful that this connection with Stamets will give Adira the opportunity to come out as non-binary, as Blu Del Barrio has mentioned the character will at some point. I like that the characters and actors involved in these storylines are all so committed to LGBTQIA+ identity and openness, and that they identify as a part of the community themselves, and I feel that the more Discovery pushes to tell those stories explicitly the better the show will be for it.
So, while S3E6 was easily my least favorite of the season so far, I’m still very excited about this season of Discovery and the amazing stories and journeys that the show has set up to take us through over the second half of the season. OK, I did have one other favorite part of the episode: Tilly (Mary Wiseman) “bonding” with Grudge. I could watch that hilarity all day.