Again, it’s an effective but inelegant plot point. Not only is it hard to believe that no one else has ever stood up to The Emerald Chain, but it’s even harder to believe that Osyraa didn’t simply kill Ryn years ago. Once Discovery has earned Ryn’s respect for standing up to Osyraa, we discover that Ryn’s value lies in knowledge: he knows that The Emerald Chain is running out of dilithium. It’s a weird secret, honestly; resources, even for crime syndicates, involve supply chains and supply chains are made up of people. It seems unlikely that Ryn would be the only person who knows this deep, dark secret. But, like most plot elements in this episode, I am willing to go with it—one, because Discovery has earned itself a great deal of narrative goodwill this season and, two, because it sets up an interesting parallel between The Emerald Chain and the pre-Burn Federation.
This season has hinted multiple times that the mystery of what caused The Burn is probably related to the Federation’s desperation to either find new sources of dilithium or to find an alternate way of getting around. As we learned in “Unification III,” the Ni’Var had been convinced for more than a century that their own experimental alternate transport project led to the tragedy. While that theory has been discredited by Michael and the rest of the Discovery crew, it’s not hard to imagine that the Federation’s desperation to solve their dilithium problem didn’t lead to The Burn in some way. After all, The Burn happened because most dilithium in the galaxy went mysteriously inert, causing the detonation of every active warp core.
The Burn may have been a tragedy of epic proportions, but it was what followed that truly sent the universe into disarray. Without the Federation to keep the peace and stability of the universe, a power vacuum formed that allowed a force like The Emerald Chain to grow up in its place. In “The Sanctuary,” we finally get our first proper look at what seems to be the Season 3 Big Bad, and they’re just as power-hungry and ruthless as we’ve been told. Heck, Osyraa is introduced in a scene that sees her feeding her own nephew to a trance worm for being bad at his job. I’ve written before about how much I’ve enjoyed this slow-burn approach to introducing the Season 3 villain. Rather than giving us scenes of Osyraa being a jerk, the cruel dominance of The Emerald Chain has been built into the all-important worldbuilding of the season in subtle and consistent ways. Because of this, the actual introduction of Osyraa is a bit underwhelming. But it intrigues me that, in their first encounter with the Big Bad, the Discovery is so victorious. It makes me think things are going to get worse for them before they get better. This was all a little too easy.
Presumably, Osyraa will take retributory action against the Federation for the Discovery’s actions at Kwejian, which will make the easy choice Saru made here more complicated. In this moment, Saru understandably stepped up to protect the vulnerable people and creatures of Book’s homeworld, but will other vulnerable planets and populations be made to suffer because of it? Either way, I think Saru made the right choice here, but, narratively, I would like to see Osyraa strike back in some other way. Otherwise, The Emerald Chain is going to lose some serious cred as the season’s Big Bad, effectively lowering the stakes of the entire Season 3 plot, which has been so gloriously built thus far.
For now, the Discovery is safe and happy. Michael isn’t the rogue officer this time. Saru made the executive decision to disobey Vance’s direct orders, though you can tell he’s hoping to get away with it on a technicality. With five episodes left in the season, I hope the Discovery crew is enjoying this calm before what it sure to be a season-ending storm.