Star Trek Discovery S4E3 Recap and Review: “Choose to Live”

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - AUGUST 03: A "Star Trek: Discovery" banner is displayed during the 18th annual Official Star Trek Convention at the Rio Hotel & Casino on August 03, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - AUGUST 03: A "Star Trek: Discovery" banner is displayed during the 18th annual Official Star Trek Convention at the Rio Hotel & Casino on August 03, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Images) /

The Qowat Milat return in “Choose to Live.”

“Choose to Live,” the latest new episode of Star Trek Discovery, brings back one of the most intriguing and exciting elements of Star Trek Picard for a story that begins with a Heart of Darkness atmosphere but ends as an uplifting meditation on boldly finding and pursuing one’s own way.

J’Vini—the Ni’Var citizen and Qowat Milat nun who helped Burnham’s mother Dr. Gabrielle Burnham adapt to the 32nd century—has committed a string of dilithium thefts. During her most recent, she killed a Starfleet officer.

Dr. Burnham believes J’Vini is acting as a “qalankhkai,” sworn champion for a lost cause. She wants the Qowat Milat to deal with J’Vini. Trying to balance the Federation’s still fragile relationship to Ni’Var with Starfleet’s interest in bringing J’Vini to justice, President Rillak suggests a joint mission to apprehend her.

A four-person crew borrows Book’s ship: Captain Burnham and Lieutenant Tilly for Starfleet, Dr. Burnham and her tactical officer for the Qowat Milat. The team follows a tracker hidden in the stolen dilithium to a planet and what seems its lifeless moon. Two of J’Vini’s mercenaries invade the ship. In the swordfight (in deference to the Qowat Milat, the team isn’t using phasers), Dr. Burnham’s tactical assistant is slain.

The survivors beam to a cavern beneath the moon’s surface and find unknown aliens in centuries-old cocoon-like structures. A sudden matter-antimatter reaction makes them realize the moon is actually a spaceship. Tilly sabotages the ship’s warp drive, luring J’Vini out.

J’Vini explains she is protecting the aliens in the pods—Abronians, the last of their kind, in cryostasis as they travel to a new planet aboard this sleeper ship. Thieves attacked the hibernating Abronians for the latinum in their bodies. J’Vini sensed and answered their telepathic distress call and pledged to protect them. To ensure their journey’s safety from the galaxy-threatening gravitational anomaly, J’Vini stole dilithium to move the ship to safety. She couldn’t ask for it because Starfleet doesn’t give dilithium to individuals, and she couldn’t reveal the Abronians’ existence.

Surmising the Abronians’ stasis system malfunctioned, Burnham repairs it. The Abronians awaken and emigrate to the planet. J’Vini’s oath fulfilled, she surrenders to Dr. Burnham. At President Rillak’s behest, Admiral Vance remands J’Vini to Ni’Var’s custody.

Qowat Milat action and standout performances make “Choose to Live” a winner

The Bene Gesserit of Frank Herbert’s Dune universe have gotten a lot of attention recently. But when it comes to religious sisterhoods in sci-fi, I’ll take the Qowat Milat anytime. They have just as regal a bearing and compelling a mystique, but their goal is service, not manipulation. They defend “lost causes”—not just any lost causes, but righteous ones. And they do it with kick-butt swordplay that looks fantastic on screen, too boot.

Ayesha Mansur Gonsalves turns in a relatively brief but powerful performance as J’Vini. The script’s penultimate act asks her to deliver a daunting amount of exposition, but she imbues it a compelling moal ferocity. Viewers may not agree with all of J’Vini’s actions or explanations—after several viewings, it still seems unlikely to me, for instance, that Starfleet wouldn’t have agreed to both help and protect the Abronians—but they will pay attention.

Returning to Star Trek Discovery, Sonja Sohn delivers her finest performance yet as Dr. Gabrielle Burnham. If the powers that be at Paramount+ aren’t already considering a Qowat Milat spinoff with Sohn front and center, they ought to be. She even manages to make what is a somewhat clunkily written “heart to heart” with Tilly near the episode’s end pleasant to watch.

As she is so often, Mary Wiseman is this episode’s scene-stealer. She makes it so easy to identify with Tilly’s struggle to get out of her “comfort zone,” and she is the master of the character’s “adorkable” moments—swinging the Qowat Milat sword for the first time, or explaining that she “really did a number” on the sleeper ship’s warp drive.

Space fails me to talk too much about the episode’s two very strong subplots. In one, the Stamets and Book friendship begun last week continues as the two travel to Ni’Var, where Stamets presents his hypothesis about the nature of the anomaly. While Stamets’ ignorant impatience at the Ni’Var scientists’ meditative trance falls flat, T’Rina’s mind meld with Book is beautifully visualized and deeply moving, allowing Book to make some progress, however momentary it may prove, toward healing from the trauma of Kweijan’s destruction.

In the other, Gray is joined to his new, synthetic body. This subplot lifts quite a bit from the fal-tor-pan storyline in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, right down to grave warnings of danger about the process (which, for the time being at least, go unrealized), to a lovely acne in which Adira sits with the unconscious Gray much as McCoy sat with the unconscious Spock.

As Saru explicitly notes, Culber continues his dual role as ship’s doctor and ship’s counselor. Wilson Cruz’s earnest and completely authentic performance is quickly making Culber my favorite doctor in the franchise.

All in all, “Choose to Live” is a beautiful episode that asks us to consider, with “absolute candor,” which causes and people are worth committing ourselves to, and what lengths we can and should go to as we discern our path in life.

Next. Star Trek Discovery S4E2 Recap and Review: “Anomaly”. dark