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Star Trek: Discovery Season 5 premiere “Red Directive” Review: In Pursuit of Legacies

Star Trek: Discovery Season 5 premiere "Red Directive" Review: In Pursuit of Legacies
Credit: Paramount+

Star Trek: Discovery Season 5 Episode 1 “Red Directive” Review

Believe it or not, two years have passed since Captain Burnham and the Discovery crew thwarted the galactic threat posed by the DMA. Despite the abundance of Star Trek content since March 2022, we’ve sorely missed Discovery. Season four delivered an enthralling mystery, unique visual storytelling, a compelling guest star, and rich character development for our friends in the 31st century. Now, season five promises another captivating season-long mystery, and “Red Directive” kicks off this journey with stunning visuals and a surprising link to a classic Star Trek episode.

Captain Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) is having quite the ride when the episode begins, as she is pursuing on foot a ship traveling through warp. Well, walking on the hull of the ship, anyway, as some thieves seem to have stolen a valuable artifact – although that’s all the information we get before director Olatunde Osunsanmi and writer Michelle Paradise pull the ole’ flashback on us to help inform some context for the explosive opening.

Doug Jones as Saru in Star Trek: Discovery, episode 1, season 5, streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Credit: Michael Gibson/Paramount+

It’s been a few months since the end of season four, and members of Discovery’s crew are celebrating the legacy of the Federation, which is now getting its wheels spinning again after the destructive events of the Burn. It’s the 1000th anniversary of the organization’s founding, and it’s a mostly joyous occasion save for Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) being upset about Starfleet shuttering the spore drive program – indeed, his legacy – as the new Pathway Drive (introduced in season four) has replaced the ancient transportation method.

This is not the last time legacy plays a role in shaping this episode’s story, but more on that to come. Soon enough, Captain Burnham is given important new orders – retrieve the precious cargo of a recently discovered 800-year-old Romulan ship. It’s a mission of utmost importance – a “Red Directive” mission, as Doctor Kovich (David Cronenberg) explains.

“What’s on board?”

“Something vital to the security of the Federation.”

“That doesn’t answer my question.”

“I’m aware.”

– Burnham and Kovich as Burnham is briefed about the Romulan vessel.

Discovery isn’t the only one heading to the Romulan ship, as two characters of unknown affiliation, Moll (Eve Harlow) and L’ak (Elias Toufexis) arrive at the ship first and grab the cargo before Burnham, Gen Rhys (Patrick Kwok-Choon) and Joann Owosekun (Oyin Oladejo) arrive. After finding a long-dead Romulan body near the puzzle box, Burnham pursues the escaping thieves by landing on the hull of their ship just before it jumps to warp.

L-R Elias Toufexis as L’ak and Eve Harlow as Moll in Star Trek: Discovery, episode 1, season 5, streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Credit: Marni Grossman/Paramount+

Thus continues just one of this episode’s striking visual set pieces. Seeing Burnham cling to the hull of a ship at warp is not something we’ve seen in live-action Star Trek, and the sense of speed and intensity is at the forefront of this sequence thanks to Osunsanmi’s signature dexterous camera work. Complicating Burnham’s retrieval of the artifact is the arrival of Captain Rayner (Callum Keith Rennie) on the U.S.S. Antares, the other Federation ship assigned to this mission. Rayner is immediately at odds with Burnham on how to capture the fleeing ship. Rayner asserts he has run into Moll and L’ak before and knows they can’t get away, lest the pair escape their pursuers for good. Burnham’s approach is different, in that she thinks the stress of the Antares’ tractor beam on Moll and L’ak’s ship is too much for her ride to handle – and she’s the one on the hull, after all.

Ultimately, Rayner concedes to Burnham’s plan to let Moll and L’ak get away for now, which means the pair have a chance to pop off some warp-enabled decoys, complicating any future pursuit. Luckily, Burnham knows someone who can help track them: Cleveland Booker (David Ajala), apparently the one person in the galaxy who is skilled enough to track the thieves. The man without a homeworld has been doing community service in the wake of his crimes in season four, and he and Burnham, his former lover haven’t talked to each other in the intervening months. Bringing Book into the picture does help Burnham and Rayner track Moll and L’ak to the desert planet Q’mau, where the thieves have decided to sell the Romulan puzzle box.

In a neat twist, the buyer for this artifact turns out to be a synth of the Soong variety. Fred (J. Adam Brown), a dealer who “loves the old stuff,” according to Book, shares a similar appearance to our good friend Data, complete with yellow eyes, pale skin, sharply styled hair, and, interestingly, some capacity for emotions. He makes a memorable impression with his verbose vocabulary and analytical skills before Moll and L’ak eliminate him and his cronies for threatening to take the Romulan artifact away.

Star Trek: Discovery, episode 1, season 5, streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Credit: Marni Grossman/Paramount+

Burnham and Book find Fred’s body soon after, and sending the synth up to Discovery confirms our assumption: Fred is an android created by someone heavily influenced by Altan Soong, the Soong family member seen in Star Trek: Picard. Stamets, who has legacies on his mind following the spore drive being decommissioned, can’t help but marvel at the legacy the Soong family has passed along all these centuries.

With Moll and L’ak on the run from Burnham, Book, and Rayner again, it’s time for this episode’s longest, visually intense set piece: A desert chase that witnesses Burnham and Rayner’s further disagreement on how to proceed with the mission. There isn’t much time to discuss the matter, though, as Moll and L’ak are about to get away, so Rayner orders his ship to fire on the thieves’ escape route even though it risks causing an avalanche that would endanger thousands of people. While Rayner’s call pays off and an avalanche is avoided, Moll and L’ak cause one anyway, so the crews of the Federation ships must get creative if they want to save an entire settlement.

To stop the impending wave of destructive rock, sand, and debris, we get another awesome sight: Discovery and Antares heading down to the planet and shoving their saucers into the avalanche’s path. The two ships’ shield coverage is enough to stop the destruction; the whole sequence is a sight to behold. We wouldn’t be surprised if the next couple of episodes takes it easy on the action set pieces, as “Red Directive” looks like quite an expensive production.

“Did he just take off again?”

“Yeah, kind of reminds me of someone. Trying to put my finger on who.”


“I’m holding a phaser, you know that, right?”

– Burnham and Book about Rayner.

With the inhabitants of Q’mau saved, Book and Burnham have a hot second to address the awkwardness that has developed between them in between seasons four and five. The pair agree, dishearteningly, that they no longer know how to be around each other, a somber admission for the former lovers. This emotional moment doesn’t hang around too long, though, as Burnham receives word that her crew has determined what was in the Romulan puzzle box, information which is soon confirmed by the ever-mysterious Kovich.

Callum Keith Rennie as Rayner in Star Trek: Discovery, episode 1, season 5, streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Credit: Marni Grossman/Paramount+

Here’s a great twist for long-time Star Trek fans: The puzzle box’s contents link back to the classic The Next Generation episode “The Chase.” This is the one that saw Captain Picard chase Romulans, Klingons, and Cardassians to the creators of all life in the galaxy, a mysterious humanoid race that is soon termed the Progenitors. Within the puzzle box from the ancient Romulan ship are notes about the Progenitors life-creating methods, written by one of the Romulans who were there at that encounter in “The Chase,” Dr. Vellek (Michael Copeman).

The doctor apparently found the Progenitors’ technology – what they used to design life itself. Vellek was marveled at what such a discovery meant, and what the cost was if it fell into the wrong hands. If you had a background character from The Next Generation launching a season-long mystery in 2024 on your bingo card, go play some dom-jot.

So, Burnham is left with a dilemma: Moll and L’ak are after the Progenitors tech, and they have a headstart on Discovery and Antares. The major lingering question we have from this episode is what are Moll and L’ak’s motivations? Who are they working for, and what could be done with the Progenitors’ technology if it falls into the wrong hands? We also wonder if Moll and L’ak’s previous encounters with Rayner will be expanded on in this season, or if that’ll be saved for tie-in media.

There are a couple of other aspects to this episode worth noting. First, Saru (Doug Jones) is dealing with matters of the heart, an unusual situation for the Kelpien. It’s also an unusual situation for his love interest, T’Rina (Tara Rosling), whom he started a romance with last season. Some serious feelings have developed between the pair, as Saru is weighing an offer to become a Federation ambassador against staying in Starfleet and on Discovery.

L-R Elias Toufexis as L’ak and Eve Harlow as Moll in Star Trek: Discovery, episode 1, season 5, streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Credit: Marni Grossman /Paramount+

Thanks to the life-threatening events on Q’mau, Saru’s perspective on romance shifts enough for him to take the Federation gig, since it means he can stay in a relationship with T’Rina. To solidify the arrangement, the Ni’Var ambassador asks Saru to marry her. It’s a big deal, for sure, and a development we didn’t expect after the merely flirtatious romance the two aliens started in season four.

Finally, Tilly is training a group of cadets at Starfleet Command, which makes sense considering her leaving Discovery last season to instruct at Starfleet Academy. However, major awkwardness ensues when it’s hinted Tilly has a bit of a crush on one of her fellow instructors. This particular story thread is just starting to get explored in “Red Directive,” and we are curious where it leads – although we do think it’s the least interesting part of an otherwise gripping episode.

We are quite encouraged about Discovery’s final season thanks to “Red Directive.” The episode is an action-packed romp that sets up the season to explore how legacies endure, a suitable theme for the final season of the Kurtzman era’s first Star Trek show. Moreover, having the Discovery crew pursue the origin of life itself is as fitting a story for this series – which is named after seeking knowledge – as can be. We’re excited to see where it leads.

Stray Thoughts:

  • There are quite a few shots in this episode that awed us, including:

    • The opening shot of Moll and L’ak’s ship traveling through warp against the vastness of space. Burnham almost crashing into Discovery before being beamed aboard and immediately taking the captain’s chair. Quite the badass moment for her!The view from the cargo bay as Discovery acrobatically jumps to pick up Book.The tracking shot where Rayner, Book, and Burnham narrowly avoid weapon fire from Moll and L’ak’s ship in the desert. Discovery and Antares crashing into the planet to stop the avalanche.


    • The dust floats free of Discovery as the ship arrives at Starfleet Command.
  • T’Rina’s dialogue with Saru indicates the Breen and Tholians are still notable threats in the 31st-century Milky Way.

  • The Romulan vessel in this episode appears to be a Romulan scout ship, like the kind seen in The Next Generation.

  • Does the already-miraculous instant-transporter technology used in the 31st century also arrest momentum? Burnham was traveling quickly before being beamed onto the bridge, yet she’s able to go from essentially high-speed falling to walking barely without trouble.

  • Discovery appears to have at least one tribble roaming its corridors. Hopefully, it is neutered.
  • Fred only having a first name matches the naming style we’ve seen from other androids, like Data and Lore.

  • Romulan puzzle boxes, called tan zhekran, were seen before in Star Trek: Picard’s “The Impossible Box.”

  • This episode, the first of the last season, shares a similar locale – a desert planet – as the first-ever episode of Discovery.

  • We have to wonder what was in the puzzle box Fred encountered 622.7 years ago.

  • Why did Moll and L’ak wait so long to warp away from the planet after starting the avalanche?

  • Elias Toufexis, who plays L’ak, is no stranger to the Star Trek universe, as he voiced Galvan and Hadri in the video game Star Trek: Resurgence (which, by the way, is coming to Steam soon).

New episodes of Star Trek: Discovery stream Thursdays on Paramount+, this season stars Sonequa Martin-Green (Captain Michael Burnham), Doug Jones (Saru), Anthony Rapp (Paul Stamets), Mary Wiseman (Sylvia Tilly), Wilson Cruz (Dr. Hugh Culber), David Ajala (Cleveland “Book” Booker), Blu del Barrio (Adira) and Callum Keith Rennie (Rayner). Season five also features recurring guest stars Elias Toufexis (L’ak) and Eve Harlow (Moll).


Stay tuned to TrekNews.net for all the latest news on Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Prodigy, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Star Trek: Picard, Star Trek: Lower Decks, and more.

Written By

Kyle Hadyniak has been a lifelong Star Trek fan, and isn't ashamed to admit that Star Trek V: The Final Frontier and Star Trek: Nemesis are his favorite Star Trek movies. You can follow Kyle on Twitter @khady93.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Luca Mauri

    April 8, 2024 at 5:54 am

    Please note the Romulan ship is a https://memory-alpha.fandom.com/wiki/Romulan_science_ship, not the Scout as written in the “Stray Thoughts”

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