Star Trek canon keeps stealing the best thing from Dune
In "Choose to Live," the fiercest Romulan warriors have new layers.
The deadliest verbal threat in Star Trek canon just became much clearer. Thanks to the third episode of Star Trek: Discovery’s fourth season, one phrase that originated with Star Trek: Picard just got a deeper meaning. Like the swords of the Romulan warrior nuns — the Qowat Milat — the battle cry “choose to live” has more than one edge. Here’s how Star Trek continues to double-down on their version of the Bene Gesserit from Dune, the way Discovery just fleshed out the Qowat Milat, and why “choose to live” might not mean what we think. Spoilers ahead.
At the beginning of the new Discovery episode, “Choose to Live,” we see a Qowat Milat renegade named J'Vini (Ayesha Mansur Gonsalves) say the title words to a Starfleet officer before stabbing him. This pseudo-threat originates with the Picard Season 1 episode “Absolute Candor,” in which we learn that members of the Qowat Milat give their opponents a warning before killing them. It was badass in Picard, but in Discovery it hits different.
In the new episode, Qowat Milat member Gabrielle Burnham (Sonja Sohn) tells Tilly (Mary Wiseman) that the concept is more complex than most people realize. Here’s what she says:
“When we say ‘choose to live,’ it's an abbreviated form of a longer thing... the path you are on has come to an end; choose to live. If you find yourself at the end of a Qowat Milat sword, it’s pretty easy to see that particular path is over for you. You either move on to a new path and live, or you stay and die.”
Tilly then asks if the ending of paths can be metaphorical. Gabrielle replies:
“In everyday life, the end of a path can be harder to recognize. You must be willing to look inside yourself with absolute candor.”
Within the episode, this longer description of the credos means that Gabrielle, Michael, and Tilly were able to bring J'Vini to justice without killing her. Before J’Vini surrendered, Gabrielle told her “this path is over.” But it didn’t mean that death was one choice and life was another. Choosing to live was less clear-cut than just getting stabbed or not.
This shift in the Qowat Milat honor code might not seem huge, but it reveals that even strict warrior nuns have some wiggle room. And this revelation may reveal something else.
Although only introduced in 2020 within Star Trek: Picard, the Qowat Milat have now returned twice in Star Trek: Discovery. They played a prominent role in Season 3, and in Season 4’s “Choose to Live” their mythology continues to be fleshed out. Created by Michael Chabon and Kirsten Beyer for Picard, the Qowat Milat are quickly becoming the Bene Gesserit of Star Trek. In Dune, the Bene Gesserit are nuns with superpowers that include telepathy and precognition. They can also kick serious ass.
Because most Qowat Milat in the 32nd century are (probably) either Vulcans or Romulans, it’s a good bet that many also have some telepathic skills. But as we’ve seen now in Picard and Discovery, the Qowat Milat can also fight like hell. This latest Discovery episode makes it seems like we’ve not seen the last of the Qowat Milat, especially when you consider that protagonist Michael Burnham’s mom is a member.
But what about the broader Trek canon? Picard made it clear that Qowat Milat have been around for a long time, perhaps even centuries. Because of their prominence in two Trek shows, the Qowat Milat might become the biggest new aspect of Star Trek canon going forward. For example, in the timeframe of the upcoming spin-off Strange New Worlds, Starfleet shouldn’t know much about the Romulans yet. But that could only make it more surprising before its crew members from the classic Enterprise cross swords with these deadly space nuns and hear the chilling words “Choose to live.”
Star Trek: Discovery airs new episodes on Thursdays on Paramount+