In which this isn’t a summary because we’ve just returned to a grand precedent of naming episodes with reckless pretension and I love it.
So Lorca is trying to use space-mushrooms to tap into a galactic transit network, but unforseen side effects aboard the USS Glenn made the whole crew explode into gruesome spirals, and brought back some horrifying giant cockraoch which is now hanging out on the Discovery. Our warm open is therefore some terrifying lightning-anomaly which, zoomed out, is actually the submolecular construction process for Burnham’s new uniform as temporary crew. No rank or insignia. I would, however, like to know the reason that this ship was eqiupped with holographic mirrors. Is it a wartime thing and you don’t want shards of glass floating around?
Tilly has brought Burnham a suitcase full of Captain Phillipa Georgiou’s last will and testament. The suitcase has a biometric lock and announcement on it, so she stows it away under her bed until she can deal with it properly, then off to her job, by way of the bridge and awkward conversation with Saru. Saru has memorized the crew assignment manifest, except for her, and his species has involuntary responses to stress that can be used to infer the Captain’s willingness to not consult his staff on certain matters.
The doors open onto a bridge in combat mode, as the Discovery engages a couple of Klingon birds-of-prey. It’s a simulation and they have not acquitted themselves well. The drill is for making sure Discovery is battle-ready to materialize in hostile territory without backup, and she is not. Saru is tasked with running the drills again while Lorca acquaints Burnham with some of his darker-side projects. His trophy room includes bat’leth, alien disruptors, other deadly weapons, all of which Lorca is ‘studying’ to try to learn from. That’s why he kept the rhinoceroach – to study its claws and hide to make better weapons and armor.
Incidentally, now the schematics in the opening are starting to come into context, particularly the focus on weapons, Klingon blades, and alien plants and geometries.
The Klingons are recovering from the loss of T’Kuvma the Unforgettable, with the Torchbearer tracing debris to try to find the parts to repair the Light of Kahless but refusing to use the wreck of the Shenzhou to do it. Using the tech from the ship would be blasphemy, but apparently not eating the crew. He discusses with one of his followers, a woman with heritage from House Mokai, known for being liars or at least having a trickster as a culture hero, about where the line lies between honor and survival to fulfil a sworn oath. She has a story about compromise creating strength, as a parable to tell the Torchbearer to go get the parts. Of course, that spirit of integration is exactly what T’Kuvma was against.
Burnham is studying the rhinoceroach when Commander Ellen Landry walks in. She’s been ordered to help with the tactical side of things. Landry immediately names it Ripper and explains it as a grizzly-sized tardigrade offshoot. I’m loving how this is an immediate recollection of how we started this episode on a microscopic scale. In fact, the Glenn has a record of the captain reporting a stowaway, without a hull breach. That sounds an awful lot like one of the steps in spore-drive travel involves micro-sizing the ship, and this tardigrade somehow got upsized with it at the other end. Other than its murderous rampage, though, there’s nothing about the creature’s biology that suggests it’s a murderous killer. There’s apparently a Vulcan proverb that a thing can only be what it is, not what you want it to be. But if molecular upsizing can create quantum effects that allow a tardigrade to be invulnerable to phaser fire and shear through hull plating, that’d be useful even if the creature itself is minimally so.
Lorca gets a dispatch from Admiral Cornwall to go save a mining colony on Covran II, which produces almost half of the Federation’s dilithium. The Discovery is the only ship capable of making the jump, only she isn’t. At this stage, although they can theoretically prevent the event that twisted everyone into knots on the Glenn, they still haven’t solved a fundamental problem of uncertainty on exit. The longer the jump, the less precise the targeting. They have the tech that the Glenn used, but they seem to be missing a part from an apparatus that it had jury-rigged. Lorca tells Stamets the Spore Drive Guy to do whatever he needs to do.
The Torcbearer has received Kol, who was the guy who left before the war started last time. He’s back to make amends, and to ask that they use the cloaking device in the war. Klingon unification seems to be well underway.
We don’t know what Stamets did, but the Spore Drive is ready and they’re spinning it up. They’re also initiating silent-running so that wen they show up they’ll do so with the least possible splash. Also, black alert. Spores are loaded in and the saucer… spins up. It looks like a lot of the ship still remains stationary, including the bridge and a good section of the saucer, via bearings and gimbals, but I guess part of Black Alert means ‘stay out of doorways.’ Water Grizzly doesn’t like spinning up much, either. In a blink, the Discovery reappears in the gravity well of a star, but they’re not damaged beyond a few bumps and bruises.
Burnham noted Ripper’s reaction and postulates a reaction to the Spore Drive, but Landry’s there to keep Burnham on-track. Stamets almost had his brain punctured by his nose, but Lorca’s so bad at pep talks that he heals right up. To make sure Stamets gets back to work, Lorca just plays the Corvan distress call shipwide. This prompts Landry to try to sedate and attack Ripper with the least safety controls in place possible. Particularly since we’ve seen older-model ships are equipped with force fields that can be opened with selective aperture. Landry gets ripped to near-shreds in the attempt, and even an emergency transport doesn’t get her to sick bay in time.
The Klingon exo-suits have that nifty Stargate-era retractable articulation where you’re never quite sure where all the mass of it goes. Their salvage operation is delicate but not so much so that Torchbearer can’t quiz his subordinate on why she’s letting him lead. Even Klingons can be adorkably awkward.
Burnham has called for Saru, in order to apologize ostensibly, but also to take advantage of his threat-response danger sense. Since Saru’s people have a ‘sixth sense for death’ and his spidey sense isn’t tingling, Burnham is making the judgement that Ripper isn’t a predator. Saru’s pissed at how much like Lorca Burnham is turning out to be, and to udnerscore this ruthlessness, she gets Tilly to steal some spores for her, to see how Ripper reacts. It reacts like she just offered it a treat, and Burnham has a puppy now.
This gives Burnham the clues to piece everything together. The engineering doors were blown outward, for example. Everything points to the tardigrade coming from inside, and since the Glenn wasn’t growing their own mushrooms but using stored ones, her hypothesis is that the tardigrade zhwooped into the Glenn via mushroom drive to feed on the spores. And if the tardigrade can decide where to go, that makes it sound an awful lot like a missing component from a guidance system. It’s convincing enough to beam Ripper into the mushroom forest and observe the interaction.
The new arrival to the Light of Kahless has bribed Torchbearer’s crew away from him with food. Even his trusted right hand has betrayed him… maybe. There seems to be significant-glance-don’t-kill-him-maroon-him like you’d expect from a fake betrayal.
The Discovery spins up again, and the Glenn tech seems to be doing its job to chart a course. Ripper isn’t too pleased about it, nor is Burnham sanguine about this use, but there are lives to save and ethical implications to work through later. We can all hope that Ripper can be negotiated with down the line in exchange for mushroom Melange. For now, the drills seem to have helped, and Discovery jumps out tactically, leaving some bombs behind them to take out the rest of the Klingon ships.
Torchbearer Voq is left on the corpse of the Shenzhou, and is not too happy with his underling when she shows up to keep him company. It was, of course, a false betrayal. Kol won that battle, but she’s got a ship that will get Voq to his next stop on this Hero’s Journey.
Burnham brings some spores to apologize to Ripper, who isn’t in the mood to hear it. Speaking of ‘in the mood to hear it’ Burnham is pointedly ignoring Georgiou’s will, which keeps pinging and will probably not let her or Tilly sleep until they open it. Tilly has a better way of telling Burnham to open it than that, though. Of course, the message was recorded before her betrayal, so it hurts a bit.