Star Trek: Discovery Season 3, Episode 11 recap: Sci-fi meets fantasy and horror

Sonequa Martin-Green as Commander Burnham and David Ajala as Book on Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 Episode 11
Sonequa Martin-Green as Commander Burnham and David Ajala as Book on Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 Episode 11 /

In Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 Episode 11, Discovery investigates the Verubin Nebula and are faced with making some difficult decisions.

The crux of Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 has been to discover the origins of the Burn, which Michael Burnham hopes will reunite the universe and recreate the Federation in its old image. The closest they’ve got in their investigation is the Verubin Nebula. In Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 Episode 11 their search brings them to the Nebula.

When a scan shows the existence of a life sign in the Nebula, Saru insists on jumping to the rescue. The life sign belongs to the child of the scientist who left the distress call that Discovery has been chasing. The concern is that the child has been alone for over 100 years.

What will Discovery find when they reach the Nebula? Trekkies are in for a spectacular ride in one of the boldest departures in Star Trek history.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 Episode 11 – The Nebula

Getting inside the Nebula is treacherous. Storm clouds deplete Discovery’s shield, allowing radiation into the ship. Book offers to take his ship in, instead. His ship morphs (programmable matter is awesome!) and its minute size makes him more maneuverable.

Book is able to locate a dilithium-rich planet in the depths of the Nebula, and it’s right alongside the ship with the life sign. Book is affected by radiation, but his ship’s autopilot gets him out in time. He and Grudge recoup thanks to Dr. Pollard’s ministrations.

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Book also discovered a pocket of Nebula for Discovery to safely jump to without the immediate threat of radiation poisoning.

Saru is excited to get going and agrees to lead the away mission. Admiral Vance is concerned about this decision. Starfleet captains aren’t encouraged to abandon their post for away missions (Kirk never abided by that rule, but Riker tried hard to keep Captain Picard in his seat. The big exception is Captain Janeway, who would often lead away missions because her team was in an unknown quadrant of the universe).

Vance’s concerns are two-fold—Acting First Officer Sylvia Tilly is young and inexperienced, which is worrying. But Osyraa’s fleet is on its way to Kaminar, Saru’s homeworld. Osyraa had used a similar tactic to flush out and attempt to destroy Book. She’s now set her sights on Discovery’s captain after her defeat.

But Saru is adamant that he must help the Kelpian life sign in the Nebula, and that Tilly can more than handle herself protecting Discovery and her spore drive. Vance promises to send Federation ships to protect Kaminar and sanctions the mission.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 Episode 11 – Holo-world

Doug Jones as Saru on Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 Episode 11
Doug Jones as Saru on Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 Episode 11 /

There’s one thing that’s become an intrinsic part of Star Trek, that’s been absent on Star Trek: Discovery—Holodecks.

Introduced in Star Trek: The Next Generation, Holodecks have been the source of much mirth and fantasy across shows in the franchise. However, since Discovery is set centuries before TNG, the show has never had use for Holodecks.

That changes in Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 Episode 11. Michael joins Saru on the away mission because he can’t see straight when it comes to reuniting with his long-lost people. Book is admittedly concerned about her, but she can’t renege on her duty.

Culber is also joining the away team. One would suspect that he would be an obvious choice, given he’s a doctor, but Culber has other motives too. He was lost and alone in the mycelial plane, and he wants to offer whatever help he can to the life sign. That, and the jump to the future has given Culber a new perspective on life, so he’s diving headfirst into his work.

A tearful goodbye to Stamets later, the three crew members beam to the life sign’s location.

But it’s not as simple as they expected. They beam aboard the Kelpian ship and straight into a Holodeck program. Michael is Trill, Culber is Bajoran and Saru is human (nice way to give Doug Jones an opportunity to star in the show sans makeup and prosthetics for once). All their gear is missing.

The entire ship is one large holodeck with different programs running to provide education and care to the child. But the programs have been running for so long they’re malfunctioning or corrupt.

And, worse, the programs seem to be connected to the life sign. When the away team finds him, he doesn’t understand Saru’s claims that they’re ‘from outside’. Their presence triggers the appearance of the life sign’s deepest fears.

Saru realizes later that the fear comes from old Kelpian fairytales read to the child by a hologram of a Kelpian elder.

Michael splits from the others to investigate the ghostly visage and finds herself face to face with the life sign. She plays along with him pretending to be a social program that will help him connect with people from outside, but the more she probes, the faster he runs away.

Saru, in the mean time uncovers the name of the life sign—he’s named Su’Kal, which roughly translates as the ‘gift’. He was obviously very loved by his mother, but she knew that time was short. So Su’Kal’s mother gave him the gift of this holodeck program, to keep him safe and busy till he was rescued.

Except, the rescue party has only just arrived and they’re short on time. Culber had packed medication to stave off radiation poisoning, but those items weren’t beamed alongside them onto Su’Kal’s ship. They only have four hours before they are supposed to return to Discovery.

The longer they stay, the more the radiation is affecting them.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 Episode 11 – Trouble is brewing

Before Michael leaves for the away mission, she gives Tilly a pep talk about taking the Captain’s chair. Tilly is suited to the gig, and she has the support of all the Bridge staff.

After the away team beams out, Stamets and the engineering team try and get the shields back up while Discovery hovers outside the Nebula.

To their surprise, they suddenly get a signal that a Federation ship is rendezvousing with them. But why? Tilly soon realizes that it’s not a friendly—Osyraa disguised her ship and she’s on the way. Somehow, she’s tracked Discovery’s jumps and the attack on Kaminar was a decoy.

Discovery is a sitting duck. They can’t jump away with the away team in the Nebula and attacking Osyraa isn’t feasible either given that Discovery’s shields are minimal.

Tilly fends off Osyraa’s jibes about her suitability to the captaincy and cloaks the ship. While they’re waiting out their stand-off, trouble brews in the Nebula.

Su’Kal’s world exists in the vacuum of the Holodeck programs he’s lived with. That balance has been upset by the away team. Now, the scary myth monster is chasing him, and he fights it off with a wave of energy.

It seems that Su’Kal’s genes adapted to the radiation that he was effectively born in. His energy blast destabilizes both ships outside the Nebula, almost igniting the dilithium in the warp core.

With the away team’s lives in danger, Book offers to take his ship in again and rescue them. Tilly orders Stamets to jump them to safety. Unfortunately, Osyraa starts transporting her crew to Discovery, holding the crew hostage, and first in line is Stamets.

Adira sneaks aboard Book’s ship because they have a plan to help the away team.

So, the mystery is solved—Su’Kal caused the Burn with his powers. He was only a child then, what triggered such a reaction from him?

Another hit like that is going to cause another Burn. Though Saru pleads with Michael to stay and help the Kelpian so that he can return to his duties, Michael knows that Saru is the only one who can get through to Su’Kal.

Saru had sung a lullaby that the holographic elder sang to him, and that seemed to calm Su’Kal. Culber decides to stay with Saru because no one should be alone like he had been. Michael promises to return to them, but Culber warns that if she doesn’t return in a day, Discovery can presume Culber and Saru are dead.

Michael transports to Book’s ship, but Adira transports off it. Book flies his ship to Discovery’s coordinates moments before Stamets is put under mind control and forced to jump the ship away, abandoning the away team with a ticking time bomb in the form of Su’Kal.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 Episode 11 – Final Thoughts

I know that some people may not care for Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 Episode 11. It’s a huge change from the usual aesthetic and structure of Star Trek episodes. The holodeck programs look like many fantasy films we’ve seen before, with the eerie atmosphere of a horror film.

But it’s this kind of departure that makes Discovery a refreshing watch every week. The writing on this show continues to make leaps and bounds. Not only is the storytelling compelling, but we see characters grow in new ways in every scene.

I’m glad to see that Gray has returned to Adira. It makes sense that he’s struggling with his existential crisis. Adira is alive and interacting with people, Gray only has them to interact with. He obviously wants to be corporeal again. Admittedly, we viewers want him to be alive again too.

Tilly’s trepidation about taking the big chair is also understandable. But it was Michael’s pep talk that really drew me in. Giving her that little tip about Georgiou’s stress-buster and how it helped Michael in the past, was a great bonding moment.

Michael herself is such a fantastic character. She is written as being smart, compassionate, and empathetic. And none of these traits negate the others. Michael uses her wits to connect with Su’Kal and Sonequa Martin-Green does such a fabulous job of channeling Michael’s confusion with the situation while pretending to be a holographic program.

Also, more Culber is always a good thing. Please keep this up!

I am astounded with each episode and I can’t wait to see how this season ends.

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What were your thoughts on Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 Episode 11? Let us know in the comments.

New episodes of Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 are available every Thursday on CBS All Access.