At first, Vance plans to separate the crew of the Discovery, which is a horrific idea from the viewpoint of the Discovery and us viewers. As Michael points out, it’s not simply that the ship and its various crew members will not be as effective apart, it’s that members of the crew might never recover from that separation. They have already lost everything they have ever known. To tear away the little piece of home they have left would damage everyone’s already fragile mental states even further. This wouldn’t be good for the Discovery crew and, frankly, it wouldn’t be good for the Federation. “Die Trying” is about the crew of Discovery working to prove to Admiral Vance that they are a much better asset together than apart not by pulling a Kirk and stealing the ship to make a point (as Burnham basically suggests), but by playing by Saru’s rules for now and going through the proper channels… because, you know, the proper channels still exist and, in a quasi-lawless future, that’s not nothing.
This test takes the form of a last-ditch effort to cure a group of alien refugees suffering from prion disease. Their only hope of survival lies in a Federation seed vault ship located too far away for any ship without a spore drive to make it there and back in time. Listen, it’s a MacGuffin crisis with a MacGuffin mission, but it does give our gang a chance to show the Federation what they’re made of—and a chance for us to get to know Commander Nhan a little bit better, before she leaves the ship for the foreseeable future.
While “Die Trying” cleverly uses the mission as an excuse to explore Nhan’s Barzan culture, there really isn’t enough time to do the narrative ambition justice. In the story of a Barzan father desperate to save his already-deceased family, kept in stasis on the seed fault ship, we learn that Barzans have a different cultural understanding of death than we do. While this is a thematically rich idea to explore, the episode never really explains what that means, instead leaning into a story about Nhan’s own regrets about having left her homeworld behind. While that’s also an interesting angle to explore, there are several moments during which it seems like “Die Trying” is trying to place the various Barzan characters’ decisions in the context of their culture, but never actually figures out how.
Then again, this episode was already clocking in at the 55-minute mark, much longer than your average length of network TV and the longest episode of the season so far. In just this episode, we get the Discovery’s arrival at the Federation’s new headquarters, a debrief sequence, the Discovery’s quest to a Federation seed vault ship, the solving of the seed vault’s familial mystery, a mini-character study of Nhan, and a compromise within the Federation hierarchy. It’s a lot, and the episode can’t quite pull it all together thematically, making for this strong season’s sloppiest episode so far. That being said, “Die Trying” gets its most important job done: transitioning Season 3 from a story about a lone Starfleet ship in a future without the Federation to a story about the Discovery starting the long process of building a new home within the Federation.
Because “Die Trying” makes clear that’s what the crew has really been looking for: a home. That is what Starfleet has been for all of them in the past: a place of belonging and purpose where nobody gets left behind. This isn’t the Federation they left behind almost a millennia ago and it’s going to take some time and some work before those feelings of belonging sink into their bones. For now, they’re going to have to settle for a sense of purpose and have it be enough. In Star Trek: Discovery Season 3, finding the Federation doesn’t solve everything, but it’s a start and, in a world and pop culture that skews so damn dark right now, I’ll gladly and unexpectedly take that hopeful beginning.