The Breen Mile — Star Trek: Discovery’s “Erigah”


The Breen have never been interesting.

There, I said it.

First mentioned as a throwaway “other nasty empire” in a few TNG episodes here and there, we finally saw one in DS9’s “Indiscretion,” where they were pretty much just generic bad guys who looked like Leia’s disguise in Return of the Jedi. Later, DS9 had the Breen enter the Dominion War on the side of the Dominion, but even there, they were just a plot device—something to make it clear that the Cardassians were just one of many species subsumed to the Dominion and that the Gamma Quadrant empire would do whatever was necessary to win and expand.

But we’ve never once gotten any sense of what the Breen are, or who they are. Supposedly, that was the point, that they were mysterious, wearing their encounter suits all the time and such. To me, though, it just felt like they were a plot device—and a cheap one, at that, because the fact that they don’t have comprehensible dialogue means you can just hire extras to play them and not pay them as much. (Given that pretty much every episode of the last two years of DS9 had guest-star lists longer than one’s proverbial arm, you can see why they wanted to cut corners, but still.)

Both “Mirrors” two weeks ago and “Erigah” this week make an attempt to finally change that, to give us some genuine insight into the Breen.

And, well, they’re still not interesting.

L'ak in a scene from Star Trek: Discovery
Credit: CBS / Paramount+

Folks in the comments of “Mirrors” pointed out that having the Breen be just another set of Forehead Aliens is disappointing, having expressed hope that they might be more complicated than that. As an example, author David Mack—who, full disclosure, is a close friend of your humble reviewer—established in the Typhon Pact novel Zero Sum Game that there are multiple species in the Breen Confederacy, and that “Breen” is a culture, not a species. Dave did this by way of explaining the contradictory facts that had been established about the Breen. (Indeed, Dave’s notion is still compatible with what’s been revealed on Discovery so far, since L’ak and L’ak’s uncle remain the only Breen we’ve seen without the encounter suit.)

But the Breen culture we get is one of factions all vying for power, and didn’t we already do this with the Klingons in season one? And L’ak is important because he’s a scion of the royal family, so we get yet another alien species that has futuristic technology alongside medieval notions like primogeniture and the political importance of genetics and bloodlines over more relevant criteria, and bleah. It’s been done before and nothing interesting is done with it here.

On top of that, we get some other tired clichés here, including one of my least favorite: Incompetent Starfleet Security. Moll moves to escape sickbay after L’ak distracts everyone by overdosing on tricordrazine. (How the super-duper 32nd-century technology can allow a patient to possibly overdose themselves is left as an exercise for the viewer. Especialy since it winds up killing him.) The two nameless security guards are taken out in nothing flat, and then Culber tries to stop her and he actually does better than the trained security personnel, mostly because he’s an opening-credits regular and therefore a bigger badass than the trained security personnel. Sigh.

I do like that Moll isn’t really able to get anywhere on the ship because even she’s not that good. And it’s good to see Rachael Ancheril back as Nhan in charge of the security detail holding Moll and L’ak.

Commander Nhan in a scene from Star Trek: Discovery "Eirgah"
Credit: CBS / Paramount+

Okay, I’ve spent almost 600 words dissing the Breen and this episode, so I should probably at this point mention that I generally actually liked this one. In particular, I enjoyed the negotiating done by T’Rina, aided by Vance, Burnham, and Rayner. T’Rina is the one doing it because Rillak is elsewhere and so she delegates it to Ni’Var’s president. By the way, this makes absolutely no sense. It was established back in “The Galactic Barrier” that Rillak has a vice president who would be in charge in her absence. But I’m willing to accept it because Tara Rosling just kills it in this episode, and her steel and her logic and her resolve are all magnificent.

Anyhow, we get some more background on Rayner, as we find out that one of the Breen factions subjugated the Kellerun people a while back, and Rayner was under their power. But it also means he knows a lot about how that faction works, and they’re able to use his knowledge to convince the Breen standing in front of them that they’ve negotiated with another faction to turn L’ak over.

In the end, Moll convinces the Breen that she’s L’ak’s wife—and they have the tattoos to prove it!—and is therefore part of the royal family now, plus she has information about the Progenitor technology. The Federation agrees to let the Breen have Moll in exchange for the Breen’s incredibly big ship not opening fire. (Burnham and Rayner saw a possible future with Federation HQ destroyed by the Breen in “Face the Strange,” and so everyone’s priority is, understandably, to avoid letting the shooting start.)

Now it’s a race. Moll doesn’t have any of the physical evidence or clues, but she has knowledge, and now a big-ass Breen ship. Starfleet has the Romulan notebook, most of the puzzle pieces, and a ship with a spore drive.

The B-plot is more of what Discovery does best, which is figure shit out. Tilly and Adira discover that the piece of metal that they found last week is, basically, a library call slip. Back in the 23rd century, Reno was part of a gaggle of rare-book enthusiasts who kept things in a traveling library. It’s still around nine centuries later, and Reno doesn’t know anyone connected to it now, obviously, but it’s enough to get them moving in the right direction.

Tilly and Adira in a scene from Star Trek: Discovery "Eirgah"
Credit: CBS / Paramount+

Something Discovery has continued to excel at is intense discussions, negotiations, debates, whether it’s Osyraa and Vance in “There is a Tide…” or the grand debate about how to approach Species 10C in “…But to Connect” or the T’Kal-in-ket in “Unification III.” T’Rina’s negotiations with the Breen live up to that standard, and it’s beautifully done, making the climax of the episode far more intense than a shooting war would be. (And if you desperately need action, there’s Moll’s escape.)

Next week, it looks like we’re back to the chase for the Progenitors’ tech. Cha cha cha. icon-paragraph-end



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