Star Trek: Discovery 503 “Jinaal” Review: One step forward, two steps back

Photo credit: Paramount+

Star Trek: Discovery Season 5 stumbles with “Jinaal”

Discovery’s voyage to the ultimate treasure brings Captain Michael Burnham and her crew to Trill, where a centuries-old symbiote holds the next clue in the journey to find the origin of life itself.

After being led to Trill via Dr. Vellik’s poem on Lyrek, Captain Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), Cleveland Booker (David Ajala), Adira Tal (Blu del Barrio) and Doctor Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz) arrive to find the next clue to the Progenitors life-creating technology is indeed on the planet, but is actually a person. Markings on Villek’s cryptex key perfectly match the spots on a certain Trill, one who has survived the centuries thanks to a long-lasting symbiote. But as Burnham finds out, it’ll take a bit of effort to get the Trill to spill the beans.

The person who knows the clue’s location is Jinaal Bix, one of the scientists who, along with the Romulan Dr. Villek, investigated the Progenitors technology after it was discovered 800 years ago. Jinaal’s symbiote is currently in Kalzara Bix (Clare Coulter), an elderly woman who has been waiting a lifetime for someone to seek the clue on Trill.

Wilson Cruz as Culber in Star Trek: Discovery, episode 3, season 5, streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Credit: Marni Grossman /Paramount+

Jinaal insists on inhabiting a new body to lead our heroes to the clue, so Doctor Culber, the person with a self-admittedly high tolerance for emotional baggage, offers himself as a host. As anyone who has seen the ole’ body-swap plot device on Star Trek can attest, such an action allows actors a rare opportunity to spotlight their abilities outside their normal character. That’s what we get from Cruz here. Jinaal, complete with a gruff voice and appreciation for life – undoubtedly born from centuries of living within a symbiote – is someone who deeply cares about his part in covering up the path to the Progenitors’ tech. He requires Burnham and Book to unwittingly pass a test to see if they are worthy of the next piece of the puzzle.

Jinaal explains how he and his fellow scientists were so taken by the enormity of their discovery that they purposefully hid the technology at the end of a galaxy-spanning puzzle, one only someone who deserves to find the tech can solve. The test Jinaal demands of Burnham and Book is one of compassion, as Jinaal leads the pair to a nesting ground for a local carnivore, which certainly presents a challenge to our heroes. It’s only when Burnham opts to retreat from the creatures’ home and find another way to access Jinaal’s clue that the Trill finds the captain a compassionate, worthy creature of the next step in discovering the secret of life.

It’s a touching sentiment, sure, that Burnham is such a pacifist that she opts to not infringe on the creatures’ nest, and even chooses to show respect to them, even if that means delaying her discovery of the next clue in the trail to the Progenitors bounty. But let’s examine this scene.

Book and Burnham think Jinaal’s clue – a clue that would bring them closer to the secret of life itself – lies in a sacred spot for these predators and opts not to disturb them more than they already did. But pragmatically, wouldn’t disturbing the nesting ground of two animals be understandable, when the result is getting one step closer to the ultimate treasure? Book and Burnham surely didn’t have to harm the creatures or their eggs in any way; there were surely quite a few solutions to this problem Burnham could have employed with all the resources at her disposal. For example, couldn’t Book have asserted to the creatures that humans mean no harm? If it weren’t for the all-too-convenient disabling of the transporter by *checks notes* rock minerals, Burnham could have beamed the creatures away temporarily and then returned them to their nest later.

L-R Callum Keith Rennie as Rayner and Mary Wiseman as Tilly in Star Trek: Discovery, episode 3, season 5, streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Credit: Marni Grossman /Paramount+

In any case, everything works out for Burnham and Book, as Jinaal is impressed with the pair’s behavior and opts to share the clue with them, along with his best wishes in completing the rest of the puzzle. Jinaal’s clue points Discovery to the ____ system, so we have that to look forward to next week.

We’re on Trill, so that means we get to revisit the relationship between Adira and Gray Tal (Ian Alexander). We last saw Gray last season as he went to Trill to train as a Guardian, and that’s indeed what he is becoming when Adira visits him. But as with most long-distance relationships, this one isn’t working out, and both Adira and Gray know it. It’s the kind of heartbreak many of us could sympathize with, and ultimately the pair decide to call it quits so Adira can pursue their career in Starfleet and Gray can continue training to be a Trill Guardian.

Gray and Adira’s isn’t the only relationship that gets tested this week, as back at Starfleet Headquarters, Saru (Doug Jones) and T’Rina (Tara Rosling) hit a bit of a snag in their path toward marriage. The pair are engaged in diplomatic talks with various species, as ambassadors usually are, and their partnership presents a political dilemma. Is T’Rina swayed by the political actions of her fiancé, or vice versa?

Tara Rosling as President T’Rina in Star Trek: Discovery, episode 3, season 5, streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Credit: Marni Grossman /Paramount+

Such is the issue as the pair aim to formally announce their engagement, but ultimately they opt to proceed with their engagement anyway, political consequences be damned. This decision concerns Duvin (Victor Andres Trelles Turgeon), one of T’Rina’s aides. Duvin thinks T’Rina is too enamored with Saru to be a competent political operator.

We’re curious if Duvin causes a fuss in a future episode about his boss’ love life, especially as it relates to T’Rina’s political maneuvering around the Vulcan purists, a faction back on Ni’Var that was seen in the last season. Duvin seems to think the purists might be aggravated by T’Rina’s recent voting record, and he thinks Saru may be a negative influencing factor. Who knew Vulcans could be so political? This subplot does make us wonder if the Vulcan purists, whom we hear so much about in this episode, will make an appearance this season.

The Gray-Adira and Saru-T’Rina B-stories this week illustrate an issue Discovery has set up for itself. With such a grandiose, galaxy-impacting treasure at the end of this galactic Indiana Jones-esque adventure, how invested are we supposed to be if Saru and T’Rina do or don’t send out their engagement announcement, or if Adira and Gray mutually break up to pursue their own careers?

We suppose it comes down to your penchant for interpersonal drama, of which Discovery has never had a shortage. But when one part of an episode of Star Trek feels like a soap opera, and the other part involves one of the most intriguing overarching plots in the series’ history, we can’t help but want to get back to the main quest as soon as possible.

“I think we can agree connection is not exactly where my skillset lies.”

“Connection isn’t a skill, it’s a choice.”

– Burnham and Rayner.

We’re a bit critical of “Jinaal,” but let’s talk about the most effective part of this week’s episode: seeing Commander Rayner (Callum Keith Rennie) try to acclimate to Discovery’s personnel. The commander is all too comfortable with a stark delineation between leadership and friendship, and in fact, borders on indifference when trying to learn about the Discovery’s crew. Rayner’s approach is immediately at odds with his subordinates, particularly Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman), who is on Discovery again taking a leave from her Starfleet Academy duties.

Burnham instructs Rayner to get to know the crew, and the commander thinks he can accomplish this and continue the hunt for Moll and L’ak by giving crew members a mere twenty words with which to introduce themselves. The following montage of Discovery’s personnel snapshotting themselves is one of the most memorable parts of the episode. Ultimately, Tilly has enough of Rayner’s abrasive leadership and calls him on it. While we don’t see Rayner change his ways after Tilly’s dressing down, it’s clear Tilly has given him something to think about.

Taken together, “Jinaal” is not Discovery’s best episode, as the show seems to be sabotaging the stakes it has set up for itself in its final season. But for what it’s worth, what this episode does well is illustrate a recurring theme of this series: the benefit of connection. Every plot line in “Jinaal” ultimately finds the value of reaching out and bonding with someone.

  • Gray and Adira talk out their problems and decide to live their own lives, which is the best decision for the pair

  • Burnham and Book’s decision to show respect to other beings ultimately leads them to the next clue in the Progenitor puzzle

  • Saru and T’Rina talk out their relatively minor quarrel and get on with their engagement

  • Rayner realizes connecting with his subordinates might just be the best way to command, at least when it comes to Burnham’s crew.

“Jinaal” takes a step forward in emphasizing the importance of connection amidst this season’s galactic quest, yet also stumbles backward in maintaining the weight of its overarching narrative. While the episode presents poignant moments of interpersonal growth, it struggles to sustain the gravity of its central mission. As our heroes navigate the complexities of love, diplomacy, and leadership, they underscore the significance of genuine human connection. However, amidst these personal revelations, the episode somewhat dilutes the urgency and magnitude of the Progenitor mystery. Nevertheless, “Jinaal” serves as a reminder that even in the vast expanse of space, it is the bonds we forge with one another that propel us forward, offering hope and purpose in the face of uncertainty.

Stray Thoughts:

  • So, where were Lieutenants Keyla Detmer and Joann Owosekun? They are notably absent from the bridge during Rayner’s introduction, but no explanation is given why.

  • The process through which a former Trill host can inhabit a new body is called zhian’tara, and was seen before in Deep Space Nine’s “Facets.”

  • Jinaal cryptically refuses to tell Book and Burnham the names of the other scientists working with him and Dr. Villek on the Progenitors’ tech. Might these scientists be revealed later as some people we know?

  • Jinaal exposits to Book and Burnham that one of his colleagues tried to activate the Progenitors’ tech, only to suffer a tragic, horrifying death – a scene that caused the other scientists to cover up their discovery. Keeping with this season’s Indiana Jones-esque adventure, this sounds like some real Ark of the Covenant-type horror.

  • “Something about the curves of a 23rd-century Constitution class just gets me.” Same, Gen Rhys, same.

  • This episode alludes to the (neutered) tribble we saw in the season premiere belonging to Lt. Christopher (Orville Cummings), who received the animal from Lt. Nilsson before she left to serve on Voyager.

  • Jinaal asserts they created the clue trail so that only someone worthy can find the treasure, but also so that the Progenitors’ tech is found during a time of peace. How could the scientists know which year a worthy seeker would follow the trail, and if that year would witness a peaceful galaxy?

  • It was mighty lucky the red-herring icon Jinaal carved into the rock was still there after 800 years.

  • Continuing Paul Stamet’s (Anthony Rapp) focus from the season premiere about legacies – and specifically, the one he would leave after his spore drive was rendered obsolete – it’s sensible he’s enthralled by what the Progenitors’ tech could reveal about creating, reanimating, and augmenting life. Might he play a role in revealing that tech to the universe?

  • Jinaal seems to have hidden his clue in an easily accessible place within a small rock pile. Was that where he thought it would be safe for hundreds of years, or did he find the clue first before Burnham and Book showed up?

  • The end of the episode sees Moll (Eve Harlow) plant a device of some sort on Adira, and we would love to know how the criminal infiltrated the Trill ceremony without Trill security or Discovery detecting her or her ship.

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 for all the latest news on Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Prodigy, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Star Trek: Lower Decks, and more.

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