Movie Reviews

Star Trek: Discovery Season 5 Updates TNGs Riker Maneuver

star trek discovery riker burnham

WARNING: Contains SPOILERS for Star Trek: Discovery season 5, episode 8, “Labyrinths”.

In Star Trek: Discovery season 5, episode 8, “Labyrinths”, Captain Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) evades the Breen Imperium by updating the Riker Maneuver from the Star Trek: The Next Generation movies. By the end of Discovery season 5, episode 8, the crew of the USS Discovery take a battering from Primarch Ruhn (Tony Nappo) and his Breen Dreadnought. Protecting the Eternal Gallery and Archive from destruction at the hands of the Breen, Burnham has to do some quick thinking to save the Archivists, their collection, and protect the Progenitors’ treasure from falling into the wrong hands.

There’s a long history of captain maneuvers in Star Trek, and Burnham may have secured herself a place alongside Captains Pike (Anson Mount) and Picard (Patrick Stewart) in Star Trek: Discovery season 5, episode 8. Burnham’s use of the unique atmosphere of the Badlands, the powerful Breen weaponry, and Discovery’s spore drive makes for a unique maneuver that few Star Trek captains could replicate. However, the foundation of Burnham’s maneuver in “Labyrinths” was established by Commander William T. Riker in Star Trek: Insurrection.

In the climactic scenes of Star Trek: Insurrection, Commander William T. Riker commands the USS Enterprise-E against two Son’a battle cruisers. Navigating through the Briar Patch, a gas cloud rich in volatile Metreon gas. To defeat the Son’a, Riker used the Enterprise’s ramscoops to fill the storage cells with the volatile gas. Once completed, Riker manually steered the Enterprise-E between the two Son-a battle cruisers, venting the Metreon gas as he did so. When the Son’a fired on the Enterprise, they instead ignited the cloud, causing a huge explosion that destroyed one ship and disabled the other.

Although the USS Discovery doesn’t have a manual steering column like the USS Enterprise-E, it does have Starfleet’s only spore drive. This played a vital role in Captain Burnham’s 32nd century update of the Riker Maneuver. Rather than Metreon gas, Burnham vented plasma into the already plasma-rich environment of Star Trek‘s Badlands, creating a combustible atmosphere. Taking fire from the Breen until the last possible moment, Burnham ordered Discovery to jump at the exact moment the Breen ignited the plasma cloud. The resultant explosion left the Breen with the impression that they had destroyed the USS Discovery.

Captain Burnham’s unique twist on the Riker Maneuver subtly sets up the return of Jonathan Frakes as director of Star Trek: Discovery season 5, episode 9, “Lagrange Point”. However, it also likely places her in the Starfleet history books. Discovery‘s controversial spore drive has often meant a lack of stakes when it comes to Burnham and her crew escaping danger. The ability to jump in and out of danger removes any urgency from big space battles. However, Discovery season 5, episode 8, does something fascinating because Burnham knows the Breen won’t give up chasing them if they merely jump away.

This forces Captain Burnham to deploy the spore drive in a creative way, to basically fake the deaths of the entire crew of the USS Discovery. The risk, timing, and potential reward from Burnham’s ruse surely makes it deserving of a place in the Starfleet manuals under the heading of The Burnham Maneuver. As Star Trek: Discovery comes to a close, it’s fitting that Burnham’s tricksy maneuver to evade the Breen and protect the Progenitors’ treasure could place her alongside Starfleet greats like Pike, Kirk, Picard, and Riker.

Star Trek: Discovery season 5 continues Thursdays on Paramount+.