Star Trek: Discovery review: Season 5 Episode 1, "Red Directive"

Star Trek: Discovery promised us a more action-packed story for its final season, and boy does it deliver in this premiere!
L-R David Ajala as Book, Mary Wiseman as Tilly, Doug Jones as Saru, Sonequa Martin-Green as Burnham, Wilson Cruz as Culber, Blu Del Barrio as Adira and Callum Keith Rennie as Raynor in season 5 of the Paramount+ original series STAR TREK: DISCOVERY. Photo Credit: James Dimmock/Paramount+
L-R David Ajala as Book, Mary Wiseman as Tilly, Doug Jones as Saru, Sonequa Martin-Green as Burnham, Wilson Cruz as Culber, Blu Del Barrio as Adira and Callum Keith Rennie as Raynor in season 5 of the Paramount+ original series STAR TREK: DISCOVERY. Photo Credit: James Dimmock/Paramount+ /

Upon my second or third viewing of the Star Trek: Discovery season 5 trailer, I made a startling uh... discovery. It was not scored with Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song." The stonking anthem was all in my head. I'd imagined it playing because the trailer featured the kind of frenetic action that's almost always accompanied by that song in trailers.

We were promised a 180-degree reversal from Discovery's usual solemnity, and we get it in the first few seconds of Discovery season 5: Captain Burnham is in a space suit riding atop a Romulan ship traveling at warp speed, woo-hooing and spouting Die Hard-esque one-liners as she phasers her way through the hull. This is something Discovery never would've given us before; season 5 wants us to know right off the bat what to expect. This scene would've felt cheap if it weren't for Sonequa Martin-Green clearly having a lot of fun with it. This is a side of her and a side of Discovery we've rarely seen before.

I've always seen the good in Discovery, but it was never what you'd call a fun show. Until now.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 5
WOO-HOO! Photo Credit: Marni Grossman/Paramount+ / Photo Credit: Marni Grossman/Paramount+

A few hours before Burnham's hyper-liminal joyride, we're at a fancy but staid celebration for the one thousandth anniversary of the founding of the Federation.* We get an exposition dump and a bunch of Star Trek references. Discovery always wanted to be its own show; it sometimes felt like it was vaguely ashamed of being Star Trek, so mentions of "jumja sticks" and the Tellarite language are another welcome course correction.

That's where we learn that Stamets is all depressed because they're cancelling the spore drive program, meaning the Discovery will be the only ship in Starfleet that can teleport to anywhere in the galaxy using an inter-dimensional mushroom network. Saru is considering leaving Starfleet to be unspeakably adorable with his Vulcan girlfriend T'Rina**, and Burnham hasn't spoken to her boyfriend or his cat since he was sentenced to community service for trying to start a war against a non-humanoid species from another galaxy.

Got all that? Good. Because we're quickly dispatched on a secret mission by the impenetrably taciturn Federation official Dr. Kovich; a Romulan ship that disappeared 800 years ago (roughly when Star Trek: The Next Generation happened... but I'm sure that's unrelated) has been located, and our heroes must get to it and retrieve a mysterious McGuffin before a couple of bandits straight out of Natural Born Killers do.

We were promised an action-packed chase story, and we got us an action-packed chase story.

But our spacefaring Mickey and Mallory have beaten the Discovery gang to the punch. They have a gun that can generate a portal that Burnam falls through, sending her tumbling through space. Somehow a space helmet emerges from her suit and she's able to get back to the ship, magnetise her boots, and go for the joyride that began the show.

A second Federation ship, the Antares, has Mickey and Mallory's ship in its tractor beam, but they have to let go as the warp field is about to collapse and destroy both ships. This sends Burnham hurtling through space again. In a heart-stopping sequence, she's beamed aboard the Discovery at the very last second before she splats against the ship's windshield. These action sequences are the sort of thing fans hated the J.J. Abrams reboot movies for, but man do they get the blood pumping!

Mickey and Mallory are "couriers," the same profession as Burnham's boyfriend Booker, so she contacts him to help her track them down. Booker surmises that they've gone to a desert planet to fence the McGuffin to a Data-like android cryptically named Fred. Whoever plays Fred has Brent Spiner's unique ability to chew scenery even when playing an emotionless android. I really hope we see more of him, even though he's almost immediately killed for trying to short change Mickey and Mallory. Death is never final for Androids, or characters possessed of this much charisma.

Burnham, Booker, and the Antares' obnoxious leader Captain Rayner arrive in time to chase Mickey and Mallory across the desert on futuristic motorbikes while trading flirty action movie barbs and trying to pretend Rayner's not there. As the bandits prepare to escape into a cave, the Antares phasers the cave's entrance from space on Rayner's orders. In retaliation, Mickey and Mallory fire a photon torpedo into a nearby mountain, causing a rock slide that will destroy a nearby village; the Discovery and Antares need to combine their shields and fly down to the surface to shield it. Mickey and Mallory escape again, leaving Burnham and Booker to have a heart-to-heart about how they miss each other while Rayner understandably nopes out.

Meanwhile, Discovery's greatest character, and the greatest representation of autism in all of pop culture, Lieutenant Sylvia Tilly, has been sprung from the teaching job she took at Starfleet Academy last season to hack into Starfleet's computers and try to determine what exactly that McGuffin is. Not only is it a relief to have Tilly back onboard Discovery, but it's also a relief to remove her from the Academy posting, as when we first see her at the Academy in this episode, it's like an unfunny episode of The Office where Jim and Pam have so little chemistry they physically repel each other. The "silly" background music is exactly the kind that they used for TNG's comic relief scenes, but none of those were as painful as this (which is really saying something.)

Between Tilly's hacking and Stamets and Dr. Culber downloading Fred's brain, we learn that the McGuffin is technology belonging to the "progenitors," the ancient aliens who seeded the galaxy millennia ago, creating all humanoid life forms. This is the big honking TNG reference we've been waiting years for, as the progenitors were revealed in one of TNG's most beloved episodes, "The Chase." After years of Discovery assiduously avoiding Star Trek canon, it's wedging itself in with a story that could bring the entire Star Trek universe full-circle!

It would be churlish to complain about the season 5 premiere being action movie formulaic when a bit of action movie formula is exactly what Discovery needed at this point. I just hope season 5 can fulfil the skyhigh promise made of this premiere.

Next. star trek discovery episode 502. Star Trek: Discovery review: Season 5 Episode 2, "Under The Twin Moons". dark

*Except the Federation was founded in 2161, and this is around 3191. We're 30 years late. This is handwaved away by saying celebrations were delayed by The galactic cataclysm known as The Burn. Except The Burn happened in 3069 and lasted until 3188. Why would a 119-year crisis cause a 30-year delay?

*"T'Rina is the president of Ni'Var. "Ni'Var" is a Vulcan word meaning a harmonious unity between two things, and Ni'Var is the combined Vulcan and Romulan culture that Spock advocated for. The Word "Ni'Var" first appeared in the legendary fanzine Spockanalia. in 1967.

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