This review contains minor spoilers for the Star Trek Discovery episode ‘People of Earth.’
Trees. They’re pretty underrated. Not in a “actually, I like ‘Spock’s Brain'” way, but in a “they give us oxygen which we use to breathe, yet we continue to chop them down” sort of way.
For much of the time, trees are just there. They exist. Our experiences of trees are piqued by wanderings in parks and woods where we appreciate their true beauty. Otherwise, we don’t really reflect on how astonishing they are. Rightly so – if we were constantly amazed by amazing things, we wouldn’t get much done. But sometimes, TV takes us to one side and says, “foliage is really important.”
Doctor Who did this a few years ago, but ‘In the Forest of the Night’ wasn’t greeted as a huge success. It nonetheless presented some interesting notions and, at its core, was Frank Cottrell-Boyce’s supposition that trees are time capsules: cut one in half (no, don’t do that!) and you’ll see rings, sections of bygone years frozen in bark.
And this week’s episode of Star Trek Discovery – ‘People of Earth’ – similarly mulled over trees as a way of catapulting someone between times, and is symbolic of its larger plot: that is, the Discovery crew’s need to find familiarities between the universe they knew and loved and this new, uncertain 32nd Century. They do so by returning to Earth. For many of them, coming home. Or attempting to, anyway.
Earth was the foundation of Starfleet, and Discovery seemingly its last vestige. It’s especially distressing, then, that their reception is far from warm in ‘People of Earth’: in fact, they’re forcibly boarded, threatened, and barred from the planet by an unknown security system. Once more, this future proves hostile. Though not everything is how it seems.
A good example of this is Michael Burnham’s reaction to the crew. Yes, she’s warmly welcomed and there’s a lot of hugging, as you’d expect, but things aren’t quite right. She’s not entirely a different person, but she’s undoubtedly altered. She’s grown accustomed to living with Book – and his cat – and finding a new place in this universe. Michael strives to get the Federation back in its rightful place, but she’s had to diversify and become a trader.
It’s important to remember that she never knew whether she’d see her friends again. What leeway did that give her? Has she grown a personal life away from the ship? Her friendship with Book is indicative of her growing away from her teammates. Nonetheless, it’s a joy to see her with Tilly once more and fascinating to see the reverence she has for Saru.
(It’s wonderful that Saru is finally, officially, definitely Captain. The whole iconic scene in ‘People of Earth’ is handled beautifully, and I love that everyone fully embraces this era for their ship. It’s his rightful place.)
It still feels a wasted opportunity that Michael joins up with the Discovery again after just a year. Maybe she’s not fully present though.
The subplot also introduces us to a new crewmember – Adira (Blu del Barrio) – who has good chemistry with Stamets and Tilly, but so far doesn’t come across as much more than a clever scamp. Still, Adira’s backstory should be very interesting…
Otherwise, the narrative of ‘People of Earth’ again revolves around another dilithium hunter. The season changes tack soon, and that’s a good move: so far, we’ve experienced this trade thoroughly, from inside the main market, moving outwards, examining the repercussions on other planets and – with ‘People of Earth’ – into space. The twist in this episode keeps things interesting at least, and is underscored by Star Trek‘s ultimately hopeful philosophy.
Director Jonathan Frakes gives us an intimate yet expansive final scene which feels genuinely classic and, framed around the importance of a tree, demonstrates that the franchise’s chief beliefs will remain, forever.
Oh, alongside cake. Cake is eternal.
But what did you think of ‘People of Earth’? Let us know in the comments below.
Star Trek Discovery beanie hat – available now from Lovarzi!