BoLS logo Tabletop, RPGs & Pop Culture

‘Discovery’ Goes Back to the Past (and Future) in “Face the Strange”

5 Minute Read
Apr 18 2024

Discovery is ahead of Moll and L’ak — but not for long. A time trap pits the crew against their greatest enemy: their own past.

Star Trek loves time travel. In fact, the franchise loves time travel so much it’s hard to imagine writers coming up with a new permutation. Thankfully, Star Trek: Discovery (mostly) beats the odds with “Face the Strange”. It’s worst sin as far as going back to the well is that it shares some DNA with the Star Trek: The Next Generation series finale

This is a bottle episode. And what that means for our purposes is that there’s not a lot to discuss in the way of plot. Moll snuck a time bug on board Discovery through Adira last episode. The time bug causes the ship to waffle across different time periods. The only people unaffected are Burnham, Rayner, and Stamets. Can they save the day? Of course, they can! Duh. It’s Star Trek.

What makes “Face the Strange” interesting is the details—and specifically what the time travel teaches our heroes about themselves and each other.

Courtesy of Paramount Plus

Discovery Influences Rayner

Last week we watched as Commander Rayner vaguely attempted to get to know the crew. He biffs it and, in many ways, he biffs it intentionally. Burnham wants Rayner to connect, to be simpatico with the crew and Rayner is not down. Rayner, a lot like Captain Picard before him, believes there needs to be a line of respect between commander and crew.

In “Face the Strange” that goes one step further when Rayner belittles Rhys on the bridge for daring to voice an idea about where Moll and L’ak may be. Burnham pulls Rayner aside and tells him that’s not how Discovery works, and that’s when the time bug business begins.

From there, Rayner learns in real time why Discovery’s tight-knit family dynamic works out. Reno bails Rayner out in the Emerald Chain timeline even though she doesn’t know him. The entire crew helps Burnham out during the time when she’s still a mutineer. And it’s only through relating with Stamets that he and Rayner successfully destroy the time bug in the end.

Courtesy of Paramount Plus

Surly Stamets

The funniest parts of the episode involve Paul Stamets. Unlike Rayner and Burnham who are completely unstuck from the shifting timelines, Stamets has to adapt in real time to the timeline he’s in. He has to bluff as though there’s nothing wrong. And the best part is that it reminds both Paul and us how much he has changed over the years.

When Stamets easily dispatches his entire staff with one outburst it surprises Rayner. Stamets shrugs and says “I used to be a lot surlier”. And that is both true and very funny. Watching Anthony Rapp slip back into those old shoes is a reminder of just how far both he and Star Trek: Discovery have come over the course of five seasons.


This has the added benefit of showing Rayner the path that can be taken. In a way, Rayner is not unlike the man Stamets was way back in season one: uncompromising and lonely even in the best of times. Now, Stamets is the father figure of a chosen queer family. He’s a shelter for those people as much as they are for him. That’s something Rayner has never had before. He didn’t even think to want it until he could see Stamets’ journey mapped before him all at once.

And then there’s the biggest journey of all.

Courtesy of Paramount Plus

Burnham vs Burnham

One of the biggest journeys in Star Trek history belongs to Michael Burnham. She’s a former mutineer responsible for her former captain’s death who somehow becomes the captain of the very ship she, as a criminal, is indentured to. And with “Face the Strange” she literally comes face to face with that past.

There’s so much to love here. Much like Picard does in “All Good Things…” Burnham convinces a crew who only knows her as a monster that she will one day be their captain and their friend. And she is able to do that because she knows so much about every single member of the bridge crew. She even tells Airiam about the terrible sacrifice she will one day make. It’s such a powerful scene because it shows that the love was always there, but it’s so much more potent now.

However, the best of all is Burnham fighting her own past self. Past Burnham doesn’t believe she can ever rise from where she is: the only mutineer in Starfleet. The thing about dark times of the soul is that they trick us into believing things can get better. Worse, they convince us it’s too scary to hope.


Every one of us knows what it feels like to be that version of Burnham. And we all know that if our future selves told us things would get better, we wouldn’t dare believe it. But we have to believe. Belief is the self-actualizer. It is what allows us to move forward.

Also, Burnham still loves Book, which… I mean, duh. But it’s nice to see her acknowledge it.

Courtesy of Paramount Plus

Moll and L’ak Outside Discovery

The only part of “Face the Strange” that rings a little sour is the stuff with Moll and L’ak. Their only real scene in the episode involves them brutally murdering someone and then making out as their victim literally disintegrates underfoot. We’re supposed to sympathize with these folks, right? Well, this week I am struggling!

That being said, Moll and L’ak exist outside of Discovery. What Rayner learns to trust is something that neither of them has ever known. And like past Burnham, they struggle to trust they will ever be safe, to ever be anything more than criminals on the run. This episode doesn’t teach them to believe they can have more so it makes sense that they are so heartless. The bigger question is: can they change like Burnham, Rayner, and Stamets have?

And on an “Easter eggs in plain sight” note: this is the fourth time this season the Breen have come up. According to Zora, if Moll and L’ak aren’t stopped, the Breen will get the progenitor weapon and use it to wipe out the Federation. Which begs the question: what’s up with the Breen in this time period? They are often villains, but what’s their endgame now? Gosh, I wonder if we’ll find out more very, very soon? Guess we’ll see!

In the meantime, “Face the Strange” is a wonderful character study full of throwbacks to Discovery’s past and jokes over how far this cast and this show have come.

4.5/5 stars


Lina Morgan
Author: Lina Morgan
  • 'The Beekeeper' Review - One of Us