Star Trek Discovery (DIS) Season 4

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Kobayashi Maru


The year 3190: Captain Burnham and Booker are on the Alshain homeworld with dilithium as a gift. But the representatives of the "butterfly people" are mistrustful. When they don't understand that Book holds a cat as a pet, they attack the away team. Burnham notices that the Alshain have trouble pursuing them. She enlists help from Discovery, whose crew finds out that the magnetic pole shifted 300 years ago, for which to compensate the Alshain put up a satellite network, which is inactive since the Burn. Using drones, Stamets resupplies the satellites with dilithium. The Discovery then proceeds to the Federation Headquarters where Starfleet Academy is reopened after 125 years and the new President Laira Rillak is inaugurated. The celebration is interrupted by a distress call from Deep Space Repair 6. The Discovery is sent to assist, and Rillak insists to join the mission against Burnham's wishes. On Kwejian, Book attends the Ikhu Zhen ceremony of his nephew Leto. When the birds begin to behave strangely, he takes his ship to investigate. On Kaminar, Su'Kal encourages Saru to return to Starfleet. The Discovery arrives at Deep Space Repair 6. Adira and Tilly beam over to assist the station's crew with repairs. The situation worsens when chunks of frozen methane hit, requiring the ship to extend the shields around the station. Finally, there is no other option but to evacuate, however, the launch path of the escape vessel is blocked. Moreover, it would have to return to save everyone. Burnham takes a workbee to remove the debris. When the workbee is destroyed, she manages to free the escape shuttle manually. Back on the Discovery, Rillak urges Burnham to leave Tilly, Adira and station commander Nalas behind because the shields could break down any time. But the captain decides that everyone has to be saved. Rillak reveals that she was going to assess Burnham because there is an open position for the command of USS Voyager, a ship to be equipped with an experimental drive technology. The president rules that Burnham is not ready, upon which Burnham says she wouldn't have wanted to leave the Discovery anyway. Sensors pick up Book's vessel on autopilot, but his planet is gone. Kwejian is located hundreds of thousands of kilometers away from the position is should be, destroyed by a gravitational anomaly.


After getting rid of the original series premise that turned out unworkable, the producers and writers were free to come up with new stories in a new century in season 3. The USS Discovery began to explore the strange new worlds of the far future. It was the first time that Discovery temporarily got me hooked. But the season also suffered from the dragged out story of the Burn and its underwhelming resolution, from unimpressive antagonists, from a forgettable detour to the Mirror Universe and from a barely watchable finale.

The availability of new dilithium after a long time and the idea that the worlds of the Federation could come together again sets the theme for the season 4 opener "Kobayashi Maru". Now is the time to roam the galaxy again and contact alien civilizations, much as in classic Trek. Then again, it's not really the same. The cold open with Burnham and Booker running away from the "butterfly people" looks and feels rather like the adrenalin-fueled beginning of "Star Trek Into Darkness". I'm fine with some more action than I was used to and I definitely appreciate the possibilities to visualize vast planetscapes instead of always being confined by soundstage walls. I admit I enjoyed it, but it comes across as gratuitous in hindsight.

One fun fact is that every single DIS season premiere shows Michael Burnham on a spacewalk. In "The Vulcan Hello" I still praised the sense of fear in an environment that is not made for humans to survive in. In "Brother", in contrast, Burnham navigated through space debris with the certitude of a superhero, which put me off. In "That Hope Is You, Part 1" she had superhuman powers too, but here thanks to an omnipotent technology. I appreciate that, unlike in "Brother", Burnham can't avert the destruction of her pod in "Kobayashi Maru" and is only saved by the emergency spacesuit. Still, I would have preferred if someone else but Burnham had rescued everyone. I would have preferred a story without a contrived chain of complications that eventually requires her to do her thing because that's what she does in at least every second episode.

In the first two seasons of the series, I often noticed and sometimes complained about stilted lines with lots of allegories that felt out of place. This fad made way for more natural language in the course of season 3 but I think it is back in "Kobayashi Maru". Especially the dialogue between Burnham and Rillak towards the end is overblown, with the elaborate analogy of Burnham being a pendulum or a wrecking ball being only the most obvious example. I like this analogy, but it would have had more of an impact, had it not been embedded in a dialogue that was already full of quotations from Trek and real life and that didn't sound like Burnham and Rillak could have phrased their lines on the spot.

Speaking of language, Discovery is very fond of the buzzword "connect" (or synonyms) since season 3. Picard or Sisko wouldn't speak of "connecting" to other civilizations, but Burnham and other characters of Discovery do it repeatedly (five times in this episode, which I think is still less than in "That Hope Is You, Part 2").

I generally appreciate the return of banter, which, after a grim start, has gradually brought a sense of humor to the show since the second season. But banter should be applied with caution, as I would like to illustrate with three examples from this episode. The first is Book's and Burnham's lines as they are being chased by the Alshain. It may not appear to be the best time to kid around, but here the gallows humor works for me, especially in consideration of their close bond. The second instance of banter is when Burnham, while clinging to the escape pod, opens a comm channel to Rillak, only to ask whether the President lied to Nalas about having visited his planet (because, well, politicians love to lie, I get it). This is not only cheeky but a downright preposterous thing to do during a dramatic rescue mission. The third example is when Nalas, Adira and Tilly attempt to cheer up each other while they are waiting to be rescued. In Discovery as it used to be, the three (or at least Tilly and Adira) would have reaffirmed how much they mean to each other. But here, they just say what they are looking forward to after their return, which is both more realistic and more likable in their situation than something emotionally overcharged. Summarizing, Discovery writers appear to have learned a thing in this regard, but could do still better.

Although she unnecessarily conjures up a conflict with Rillak by calling out her lie to Nalas, I can see why Burnham is defiant towards the president. Seriously, why would the President of the Federation want to select a captain for a starship, rather than Vance? Why would she insist on being present during a mission that only a Starfleet officer would be qualified to assess? Given Burnham's own famous tendency to feel responsible for each and everything in the galaxy, also in this very episode as I already mentioned, it may be curious that I defend her. But having Rillak around would irk me just as much if I were in her place. And I also feel it is neither the right time nor is Rillak the right person to reprimand Burnham.

Furthermore, I can understand Burnham's attitude that she does not want to leave anyone behind, even if the odds for the majority of the crew diminish. Many Trek characters have acted like that in the past, or as Kirk would have put it, "I don't believe in no-win scenarios". The discussion that ensues over this question is interesting (and justifies the episode title), but too verbose and too full of quotes and analogies, as I already addressed. Also, once again I don't think that it should be Rillak's job to assess Burnham and to decide about the criteria that are taken into consideration in the first place.

The elephant in the room regarding the events of this episode and probably the theme of the season is that there is a threat to the whole galaxy yet again in this series. And a whole planet is destroyed yet again, an overdramatic plot element that runs like a thread through modern Star Trek since 2009. While I would have hoped for something more original and it left me a bit disappointed right after the episode, it doesn't have to be a bad premise for the season as a whole.

All in all, "Kobayashi Maru" comes with a lot of action, with no-nonsense discussions but also with calm scenes, especially on Kwejian. The dialogues are not quite convincing. I would have liked Burnham's savior complex to take a break, also for her to prove Rillak wrong. Still, I think it is the best episode since "Die Trying".


Rating: 6




Book mourns the loss of his homeworld and his family. In this situation, Burnham is delighted that Saru returns from Kaminar, ready to serve as her first officer. After a briefing at Starfleet Headquarters, the Discovery departs to investigate the anomaly that destroyed Kwejian. As the rest of the crew prepares the mission, Culber presents Gray's new body to Adira (and to Gray who is in their mind). While the ship has to remain at a safe distance, the only way to record data from within the phenomenon is to send Book's ship. Book insists on piloting himself, but a remote-controlled hologram of Stamets is to accompany him, to collect the data and to watch over him. During the mission, gravitational waves begin to hit the Discovery, causing a temporary loss of artificial gravity. Adira identifies the pattern, so the occurrences can be predicted. Since Stamets needs more data and the Discovery is taking heavy damage, the tether that connects the ships is released. However, as the engines of Book's ship are losing power, he can't return on his own. Moreover, he is plagued by hallucinations of his dead nephew Leto. Bryce comes up with the idea that he could surf one of the gravitational waves. Book escapes from the anomaly, and brings loads of data that Stamets considers very valuable. There is disturbing news about the anomaly, however: It has unpredictably changed its course.


It is adequate how "Anomaly" begins with Book mourning what he has lost, and how this process continues in this and the following episodes. Since last season, we can notice how the series takes the due time to stay with the characters, instead of using characters as story elements. I would have wished for Book to take a break from action and I personally would not have allowed him to go on that mission, but in the end I'm fine with that particular decision. I'm not content at all with how it was turned into a story, however.

First of all, I have a problem with the pairing of Stamets and Book. I am aware the two never had much business together, as Stamets usually stayed down in engineering with his treasured spore drive, while Book was having more or less fun on his ship. I would have expected our engineer to be a bit awkward. But it's not just a bit. He holographically comes aboard Book's ship, saying "We're not friends." What is that even supposed to mean? Does everyone on the ship have to be everyone else's friend? How can Stamets be so unprofessional? But his awkwardness is only on the surface. It turns out that he actually holds a grudge against Book (unintentional pun!). Stamets was condemned to passiveness in "That Hope Is You, Part 2", and it fell on Book to operate the spore drive, which was the only way to save the away team on the dilithium planet. Stamets makes it a big deal that he wasn't there for his family (Hugh and Adira). But instead of being grateful to the man who contributed greatly to the rescue, Stamets avoids him and almost sees something like a nemesis in Book. And although Stamets always advocated a backup for himself, he also seems a bit jealous that someone shares his unique abilities. On top of that, he gives a man an unnecessarily hard time, who has just lost everything!

I don't want to turn this into a rant about Stamets. I think it is still in character how he reacts to Book's presence, although my impression is that the engineer is extra awkward right from the start in this one episode, even before encountering him. Book is not exactly welcoming either, and perhaps rather because he dislikes the idea of a watchdog (that he absolutely needs!) on board his tough little ship than because he is devastated. In the end, the two have managed to talk out their problems (the way it customarily happens on dangerous away missions), and Stamets finally thanks Book, who has just lost his family, for saving his family. Unnecessary mission accomplished.

Although I think it's totally appropriate to show how Book mourns the loss of his planet and his family, I would have preferred it to be visualized differently and less obtrusively. Characters having hallucinations about the dead, which invoke a feeling of guilt and which are so strong that they become paralyzing, have a long tradition, not only in science fiction. And since Book is an alien, who always felt a strong connection with his family and with nature in general, this seems to make sense. But maybe exactly Book's being different should have been a reason not to use the old melodramatic cliché and to come up with a new idea how to illustrate Book's mourning, no matter whether his visions have a further significance or not.

Regarding the mission to explore the interior of the anomaly, in addition to the inconsistencies that I address only in the annotations below I think the idea to use Book's ship to enter a hazardous environment with rocks flying around everywhere is extremely lame. I mean, it is what already happened in the last three episodes of season 2, not to mention the many occasions where a ship or a shuttle navigated through debris in the first two seasons. Only the anomaly is a different one. The episode may well have used stock footage of space rubble to that end because it always looks much the same anyway. The action makes some sense in the storyline, but is primarily a generic stage for Book's hallucinations of Leto and an opportunity for Stamets to talk out his issues with Book.

Stamets could and should have taken over and piloted the ship out of the anomaly, paying back his debt. I don't get why it has to be Book who has to "feel" his way out, after a tear-jerking address by Michael Burnham. The only good aspect about the rescue is how Bryce, as a "minor" character, comes up with the solution ("Surfin' DMA"), although it involves another one of those gratuitous analogies through the fourth wall.

Overall, this episode is dissatisfying. I like how it continues with the story arc and how it keeps Book in the focus, although I think his repeated paralyzing hallucinations are becoming tedious. There is a lot of action, but of a kind we have seen too often lately. It is also too talkative, especially since other than Saru's return and Culber presenting Gray's new body, nothing of note happens. Overall, although it was probably made with higher ambitions, this feels like a filler episode.


Rating: 3


Choose to Live


A Qovat Milat team raids the USS Credence, stealing a supply of dilithium and killing an officer. The responsible person is identified as J'Vini and can be located thanks to a tracker in the dilithium. Gabrielle Burnham insists on this being an internal Qovat Milat affair. As she is in negotiations with Ni'Var, President Rillak agrees to a joint mission of Starfleet and Qovat Milat. In sickbay, Dr. Culber, with support from Guardian Xi from Trill, transfers the consciousness of Gray to a synthetic host body. Gray is now gone from Adira's mind but the new host has not yet regained consciousness. As the team consisting of Michael Burnham, Tilly, Gabrielle Burnham and another Qovat Milat sister approaches the coordinates of the tracker, Gabrielle reveals to her daughter that J'Vini is the one who saved her when she arrived in the 32nd century, and that she owes her everything. Upon arrival, they are immediately attacked, and warned by J'vini not to interfere. A cavity inside a moon turns out to be a kind of mausoleum. Further investigation reveals that the whole moon is actually a starship. In order to lure J'Vini out of her hiding place, Tilly deactivates the engines that are powered with the stolen dilithium. J'Vini appears and puts her sword on Gabrielle Burnham's throat. Michael has begun to understand that the corpses inside the mausoleum are actually bodies in cryostasis, and that the moon was going to transport them to the very planet the moon is orbiting now. J'Vini says she received a telepathic message from the moon, encountered grave robbers and vowed to keep further harm away from the civilization, the Abronians. Michael argues that something must have gone wrong and that the cryosleep should have ended by now. While Tilly works on powering up the ship again, Michael repairs the system controlling the chambers. J'Vini acknowledges that her mission has been completed and agrees to be arrested. The Abronians wake up from their sleep and begin to colonize their new homeworld. Back at Federation Headquarters, the decision is to extradite J'Vini to Ni'Var for diplomatic reasons, with a good chance that her crimes will remain unpunished, much to Burnham's chagrin. In the meantime, Stamets and Book have traveled to Ni'Var to verify the theory that the phenomenon now nicknamed dark matter anomaly (DMA) is a primordial wormhole, which would require tachyons to be present. The scientists of Ni'Var don't find any evidence of tachyons in Stamets's data, however. T'Rina suggests a mind meld with Book, the only eyewitness of the catastrophe. The mind meld does not reveal Cherenkov radiation in Book's memory either, which would occur in the presence of tachyons. But the return to the moment when he last saw Leto helps Book cope with the loss. On the Discovery, Gray finally wakes up in his new host body.


It was my impression in the two preceding episodes that the peace in the galaxy was deceptive and that even if the Federation gave away dilithium for free, it would not prevent insatiable or impatient factions from taking it by force. And just so it happens in "Choose to Live". Although the circumstances turn out different than it seems at first and don't give rise to a new conflict (except perhaps on a merely diplomatic stage), I feel that it is a realistic setback.

It is contrived that Michael Burnham's mother gets involved yet again on a diplomatic level and it is a huge coincidence that the nun they pursue is the very same person who once saved her. I also think that Gabrielle Burnham makes big mistakes by not discussing out what her goal of their common mission is and by not revealing her relationship to J'Vini until immediately before meeting her. But I think the suspenseful story about the Abronians and the meaningful character interaction that unfolds retroactively justifies these plot devices.

Like Michael Burnham and unlike Saru, I wouldn't have recommended Sylvia Tilly for the mission. I can understand Saru's idea that she would be up to it even less if I recall their conversation in the mess hall, in which everything Tilly says to him is incoherent. Mac and cheese and her comfort zone?! What the heck is the matter with her since last week? This is different than her usual awkwardness and reminds me a lot of the time when she was possessed by "May" at the beginning of season 2. Realistically, Saru should have sent the lieutenant to sickbay (or perhaps to engineering, like last time), and not to an away mission that might involve combat and that actually does involve combat right at the beginning! Fortunately for Tilly and everyone else, she manages to focus her mind again during the mission, but that was not really to be expected. I understand that after the slight insinuations in the preceding two episodes, this all is to foreshadow Tilly's decision to change something about her life, which will happen next week and will hopefully return her to normal.

Perhaps more on a side note on Tilly's admiration of the "absolute candor" principle. I think Tilly is actually very big on candor herself, even though in her case it more often than not reveals her confusion, rather than determination.

I am surprised to state that, but I'm with Michael Burnham in everything she says and does in this episode. She exhibits a very good combination of instinct and reason. Also, this time she doesn't let sentimentality get in the way of her duty, or the other way round. It seems that her time of escapades is over, now that the responsibility of a captain helps to keep herself in check, which I only find realistic.

Regarding J'Vini, the concept of the "lost cause" as mentioned in PIC: "Absolute Candor" is supposed to explain her motive and actions. Realistically, however, it is only a hypothetical possibility that the anomaly would have hit the moon (unless she had all the data and was able to project a course), and it is just as hypothetical that she could have moved the ancient generation ship out of harm's way. Logically, she ought have asked Starfleet for help, rather than taking all the other risks. I mean, would she really rather trust in her mercenaries than in an organization that is bound by a code of conduct, much like the Qovat Milat?

The episode title has a clear double meaning, and refers to the Qovat Milat idiom just as well to Gray Tal's new host body. It was predictable that Gray would be gone from Adira but that it would take time for Gray to re-emerge in the new body, with a certain chance that he would be gone forever. And it was crystal clear that the procedure would be successful in the end. But the story uses the time of uncertainty to illustrate how much it means to Adira to be with Gray, one way or another. I was skeptical about the whole Adira/Gray thing because of the many layers of abstraction, with trans and non-binary actors playing trans and non-binary characters, who are both joined to a Trill, and of whom one only exists in the other one's mind. In a way, the transfer of Gray to the host body eases the situation a bit. But even when Gray was still in Adira's mind, it worked for me, although it was and will remain puzzling on the scientific side.

Everything in the plot with Adira, Gray and Culber is genuinely heartwarming. Likewise, T'Rina's mind meld with Book resonates with me, although it was primarily supposed to find evidence of the DMA in his memories. Discovery often shoehorns sentimentality or philanthropic messages into an action plot, and raises them with a bad timing, just as it happened in "Anomaly". "Choose to Live" demonstrates how to do better in this regard, with the two aforementioned examples. On the other hand, this episode again repeatedly uses the emotionally charged buzzwords "connect" and "family", which in the case of the telepathic message that J'Vini received from the Abronians comes across as very contrived.

The efforts to uncover the nature of the DMA so far remind me a bit of those to solve the mystery of the Red Angel in season 2, and very much of those to find the origin of the Burn in season 3. As already hinted at in the review of "Kobayashi Maru", the lack of originality in the basic premise of the season does not have to be a major problem. But dragging out the resolution already turned out to be a counterproductive narrative technique, both in season 2 and season 3. I would hope for the DMA story to make some real progress soon, instead of facts being revealed bit by bit in side plots.

Despite the many reservations I mentioned, "Choose to Live" is one of the better Discovery episodes. It most notably comes with a classic sci-fi story, and although some circumstances do not make much sense I am increasingly pleased with this plot thread as it progresses. I also like the two side plots about Gray Tal's new body and Book's mind meld on Vulcan, which resonate with me and provide welcome breaks from the action, although once again it is my impression that more could have happened, especially regarding the DMA.


Rating: 6


All Is Possible


Stardate 865661.2: Burnham and Saru are to represent Starfleet during the final negotiations for Ni'Var's readmission to the Federation, as Admiral Vance is reportedly ill. Tilly, whose desire is to leave her comfort zone, follows Dr. Culber's advice and leads a Starfleet Academy training mission, together with Adira Tal. Their shuttle is hit by a gamma ray burst and crashes on the ice moon Kokytos, killing Lt. Callum. Tilly and Tal are now stranded with three cadets, the human Val Sasha, the Orion Harral and the Tellarite Taahz Gorev, who are reluctant to work together. On Ni'Var, President T'Rina demands an exit clause for her planet, which President Rillak declines. The two are about to break off the negotiations, but Burnham and Saru feel that there is more to the issue and that they may be of assistance. On the ice moon, the shuttle gets attacked by an indigenous lifeform, the Tuscadian pyrosome. Tilly orders everyone to follow her to a nearby ridge, from where they can be located by the USS Armstrong and beamed up in six hours. However, Adira's feet get trapped in ice, and they can only be freed with a common effort. Tilly gets the cadets to talk out their differences. In order to keep the negotiations running, Saru speaks with T'Rina and Burnham with Rillak. It turns out that they are both expected to stick to the promises they made beforehand, and that suggesting a compromise would weaken their position. So Burnham proposes a Starfleet committee to find a solution. On the top of the ridge on Kokytos, Adira volunteers to distract the Tuscadian pyrosomes as the Armstrong has not yet arrived, but Tilly insists on doing it herself. All the survivors are rescued. Back at Starfleet Headquarters, Kovich offers the lieutenant a teaching position at Starfleet Academy. Ni'Var rejoins the Federation. On the Discovery, Book further works on coping with his grief in counseling sessions with Culber, while Gray Tal is looking forward to meeting crew members who he knows but who have never seen him in person. Tilly eventually decides to accept the job offer and leaves for Starfleet Academy.


"All Is Possible", like only few other episodes of the series, begins with a log entry. I usually don't miss this old-fashioned form of an exposition in Discovery, but I think it is nice for a change.

After the increasingly obtrusive foreshadowing in the previous three episodes, Tilly finally makes up her mind, leaves her comfort zone and accepts a job offer at Starfleet Academy. But all this happens in a cookie cutter plot that fails to thrill me. The shuttle crash on a routine mission, the death of the expendable character (like on Tilly's last mission), the young officer who is suddenly in command, the monster attacks, the desire to tell anecdotes or talk out conflicts in a situation of extreme danger - it all comes straight from the story replicator. And all this doesn't even make sense as the challenge that leads her to the decision to leave the Discovery, as I will discuss in the following paragraph.

Despite all her quirks, Tilly masters the challenges of getting the cadets rescued and of teambuilding. But I would have expected that from her because, provided that she resists her propensity to babble, she is knowledgeable and experienced enough. And even though she may be socially awkward at times, she has already shown that she can lead people. Her team consists of Adira, who wouldn't question her authority anyway, and of three cadets, who are grateful for any kind of guidance, although they are initially defiant. There is nothing she really has to prove to anyone or to herself. We may argue that Tilly, although she has been in fights or other critical situations many times before, still lacks that decisive bit of self-assurance to lead a team in a situation of life and death. After all, even Spock found that difficult in TOS: "The Galileo Seven". But she succeeds, and there is nothing to suggest that she has doubts she could do it again when she talks to Kovich and later to Burnham. Ensuring the survival of her away team on an ice moon with monsters is a challenge she would likely face again if she stayed on the Discovery, and not normally in Starfleet Academy. The other way round, had Tilly failed or had she recognized that, despite her knowledge and experience, she is unable to make decisions for her crew, that would sort of disqualify her for a front line career but may be a motivation to train cadets who may have or may acquire that determination. In the end, she only quits to get out of her comfort zone that she is talking of since last week and not because of anything that she did or did not accomplish on the ice moon. For me, this makes the shuttle crash plot sort of pointless.

I also have a problem with the cadets, who are very stereotypical in the way they wouldn't cooperate or only talk to each other. I am aware that their negative attitudes are supposed to reflect the state of the disconnected post-Burn world, in strong contrast to the enthusiastic and open-minded ensigns of Lower Decks. Yet, I would expect at least a basic sense of team spirit from young people who were not drafted but who have made a conscious decision to join Starfleet. As their back stories are concerned, it is too convenient that the Orion's father was an activist against slavery, which soothes the Tellarite, who has suffered a great deal under the rule of the Emerald Chain. Usually in Star Trek, we would expect the two to lay down their conflict and to respect each other despite their past histories. The fact that they are essentially on the same side anyway and just haven't talked about it yet is manufactured harmony, although it fits the theme of this season that talking with each other is the key to cooperation and peace. Still, ultimately Tilly's teambuilding only succeeds because she has found out that the cadets have more in common than they know of. I wonder what would have happened, had Harral's father turned out to be a slaveholder...

I just notice that a major part of my review is about the Tilly shuttle crash plot, although or just because I don't like it. On a final note, I didn't want to criticize the character in the first place, but the plot that was constructed around her. Tilly may be a fine choice for Starfleet Academy where cadets can profit from her experience and from her ability to motivate, despite my impression that she could have stayed on the ship just as well.

The more successful part of this episode deals with the negotiations about Ni'Var's readmission to the UFP. The political ramifications appear contrived, but it is great how Saru and Burnham involve themselves, each of them talking to the politician whose trust they have gained. I genuinely enjoy plots with diplomatic issues anyway, and I am pleased to see Burnham and Saru in Picard's footsteps.

The common theme of all plot threads of this episode is that characters need to make their peace with the past to be able to embrace the future. While I like the commonality that the plots have on a more abstract level, they unfortunately also share an overkill of anecdotes and of rituals, in an attempt to come across as more relevant. But less would have been more!

Overall, "All Is Possible" is just average because the good plot about the negotiations cannot make up for the many weaknesses of the shuttle crash scenario, which is neither really suspenseful nor really contributes to Tilly's decision.


Rating: 4


The Examples


As starships are investigating the DMA, the phenomenon suddenly disappears and re-emerges 1000 light-years away. It now threatens to destroy an Akaali colony on an asteroid belt in the Radvek system, which used to be under the control of the Emerald Chain. As nearby ships have already arrived to evacuate the 1206 residents, the Discovery too jumps to the coordinates. The magistrate of the colony is not willing to release six prisoners, who are held as the "Examples", although most of them committed only minor offenses. Burnham and Booker decide to beam down and break into the prison. After disabling land mines in the shape of huge beetles, they enter the prison building. But as there is still a chance that the anomaly might not hit, the "Examples" do not want to be rescued until Burnham finds a Federation law that would allow them to receive asylum. Then, however, the doors of the prison close, leaving Burnham, Book and the prisoners trapped. Burnham reactivates the land mines to blow the door open. After the five other prisoners have been beamed up, a man named Felix says he wants to stay behind. He killed a man, who left behind a daugter, and stole the family's lalogi orb. Felix hands the device to Burnham before she and Book are beamed up. The DMA obliterates the colony, killing Felix. In the meantime on the Discovery, a Risian scientist named Ruon Tarka has arrived and has set up an experiment to reconstruct the DMA at a smaller scale. When the experiment has just begun to provide the desired results, Saru, however, decides to end it because it would endanger the ship. Culber is exhausted after many counseling sessions, and he asks for the "brutal honesty" of Kovich, who tells him that he has developed a savior complex after being dead, and that he needs a break. Burnham finds Patri Doxica, the woman who rightfully owns the lalogi orb, which turns out to be a portable family tree. When Tarka joins Book for a drink, he reveals that the energy required to maintain the DMA would be equivalent to a hypergiant star.


I mentioned in a previous review that the efforts to uncover the mystery of the DMA remind me very much of the search for the origin of the Burn in season 3. But after watching "The Examples", I think it has got many commonalities with season 2 as well. Most notably, the Discovery follows the trail of the DMA in a hide-and-seek/try-and-error game just as with the signals of the Red Angel.

My personal impression at this time is that the jumps of the anomaly are not just controlled by some alien force but also designed to be more than random. It doesn't seem to be a coincidence that the DMA reappears a few hours away from a colony whose population is small enough to be saved with a couple of ships in a matter of hours. Could it all be a big test? I am a bit afraid at this point that the revelation of the creator(s) of the anomaly may not only be disappointing but that they may be directly connected to a character yet again.

Fortunately the writers are still able to give the story about the anomaly a new spin every week. In "The Examples", a scientist named Ruon Tarka enters the stage and stirs up things, both on the scientific and on the emotional side. Tarka is very much in the tradition of unconventional scientists in Star Trek, who do not react well to objections, doubt and hesitation when it comes to their brilliant ideas. He may well have been a guest character on TNG. Yet, I don't even think he is an annoying antithesis to Stamets, the way it would have been on a classic Trek show, but only refreshingly different - although at least his sudden screaming is just gross. As Stamets himself has to admit to Culber in the end, Tarka is much like he himself, only overall both more extroverted and more relaxed. Well, and too relaxed when it comes to pushing his experiments beyond previously defined safety limits. I would have pressed the kill switch just like Saru.

Aside from the storyline about Stamets, Tarka and their experiment, "The Examples" starts off as a typical Discovery episode that is all about an action-loaded rescue operation, a bit like already in "Kobayashi Maru". Then, however, this plot thread takes a turn and is suddenly less about action and more about ethical issues as Burnham's Starfleet spirit clashes with odd alien ideas of justice. The Akaali magistrate doesn't mind that prisoners are left behind as the colony faces its destruction. And although they were incarcerated for minor offenses as "Examples" when the Emerald Chain was still in charge, he apparently never thought of releasing them. Michael Burnham and Cleveland Booker decide to care about the needs of the few, as it is a good tradition in Starfleet. And they also make sure that the prisoners would not just be saved but also receive asylum if necessary. This is classic Trek, and I just love it! Yet, while I can understand the focus on Book and Burnham, it is a definite omission to show absolutely nothing of how the other 1200 colonists are saved.

Besides the renowned but arrogant scientist and the stubborn magistrate, the episode features one more character that could well have appeared in a classic Trek episode: Felix, the tragic hero, the man who killed someone and is plagued by remorse so much that he thinks he can find atonement only in his death. Although his death is in vain and although I agree with Book that he should have been saved, it has quite an emotional impact, which does not come out of the blue as on many other occasions on this show. When Burnham returns the lalogi orb to the rightful owner, the young woman whose father Felix killed, a story comes full circle. Of course, this is another part of the all-pervading theme of the season of "being connected", but one that doesn't feel too contrived.

In a side plot, Hugh Culber, the ship's counselor, needs a counseling session himself. Well, superficially that is not what he wants because otherwise he wouldn't have called Kovich, a man who is known for his brutal honesty. I am two minds about this plot because on one hand it doesn't seem to make sense for Culber to call Kovich of all people, who doesn't really know him and who is not aboard the ship to get an impression of what is going on. And the strange old guy from Starfleet, whatever his actual position may be, is not exactly known for his cordiality. On the other hand, against my expectation, Kovich is well-informed and turns out to be rather empathic. What he tells Culber makes a lot of sense, and touches me more than the usual tearful affirmations of how much everyone means to everyone else.

Something that I generally dislike about the characters' emotional states is that by now we have three people with much the same diagnosis: savior complex, reluctance to leave anyone behind, unwillingness to delegate, survivor guilt. One is Culber as per Kovich's assessment, the other two are obviously Book and Burnham. Addendum: Zora, the ship's computer, will join them next week, and Stamets may fall in the same category although his diagnosis is not addressed so explicitly (at least not yet in this season). I think this is lazy because once the writers decide to put so much emphasis on the emotional level, they ought to make sure that they don't always repeat themselves. Just as with the continual affirmations of how important it is to connect, this is too much of the same theme.

Despite some issues I have with the storyline and the themes of the season on the whole, "The Examples" is among the best episodes of the series so far and at least on par with "Choose to Live". The two have in common that they bring us a plot that would be worthy of classic Trek, as well as no-nonsense characters. More of this, please!


Rating: 7


Stormy Weather


In order to collect more data on the DMA, the Discovery enters a subspace rift that was left behind by the phenomenon. Inside the rift, external sensors register absolutely nothing. A DOT that is sent to investigate disintegrates after a travel of a few thousand kilometers. As the border of the rift is closing, Burnham decides to abort the mission. With no reference points available, the only means of escape is the spore drive. While Stamets is monitoring the systems, Book is supposed to perform the jump, but he is hit by an energy surge and experiences a hallucination of his father. Talking to Gray, Zora, the ship's sentient computer, reveals that she is overwhelmed by the internal sensory input. Gray suggests a Trill game for Zora to gain focus again. Zora then detects an impending hull breach on deck 17, but it is too late and a crew member dies in the decompression. In sickbay, Culber and Stamets find particles in Book's brain that are otherwise only found in the Galactic Barrier, which leads them to conclude that the DMA was constructed outside of our galaxy. With the knowledge of the resonance frequency of those particles, the sonar principle is used to pinpoint their highest concentration, which has to be the point from where the surge came and which may be a possible exit. Burnham talks to Zora and convinces her that she has to guide the ship out while the crew remains in the pattern buffer of the transporter because they wouldn't survive the plasma field around the rift. Burnham herself stays on the bridge in a spacesuit. When she wakes up in sickbay, she is relieved to hear that the ship is out of danger and everyone has survived. The Discovery is getting repaired, which will not take long, because of the use of programmable matter. Book muses that the appearance of his father may mean that everyone on Kwejian is still alive in some fashion.


Book's emotional state (and perhaps mental state) has been a topic in every single episode since his homeworld was destroyed. In "Anomaly", he was devastated and plagued by hallucinations of his nephew Leto to such a degree that he was barely capable of still controlling his ship. In "Choose to Live", the mind meld with T'Rina brought back his last memory of Leto and temporarily helped him cope with his pain. In "All Is Possible", he had to admit in his counseling sessions with Culber that he would still have a long way to go to overcome his pain and his anger. In "The Examples", he became increasingly dissatisfied with the progress to investigate the DMA, but Burnham could convince him that saving just a few lives would be better than nothing at all. The sentiment of not doing enough continues at the beginning of "Stormy Weather". Book's mood swings so far may be attributed to something like the stages of grief, although the order is somewhat different.

Now Book hallucinates again. Culber thankfully explains the previous visions Book had of Leto as a "grief-made manifest", letting the hackneyed idea appear less mystical in retrospect. And he thinks that Book's father appears in his mind as "a physiological response to the energy surge". So far, so good. But the father is not only a passing image. Book talks with him much like if he were a real person, like Adira used to speak with Gray. Book is not a Trill, but he creates the impression that his father and everyone on Kwejian could still be alive in some fashion. Perhaps they will all get synth bodies and live happily ever after? Sorry for the sarcasm, but at some point Discovery should be consequential and everyone on Kwejian should remain dead. Either that, or the ship travels back in time to save them. But I don't like the alternative either, that Book continues to be plagued by a shoulder angel in the form of his father, who represents his repressed anger.

The story about Zora's becoming sentient and feeling guilt about the killed crew member doesn't sit well with me either. First of all, I don't get why Zora should be "overwhelmed by sensor input". The system was designed to handle all this data, and if the evolutionary process impairs those fundamental functions, it is time to reconsider whether the ship is still fit for service (since we already know it can't be destroyed or reprogrammed). It is nice to involve Gray as someone who recognizes what is wrong with Zora, but playing a Trill game to help an artificial intelligence focus its thoughts is more like fantasy than science fiction. Later, the plot about Zora becomes downright absurd when the computer feels guilt about the death of a crew member and requires a counseling session with Burnham. As already addressed in my review of last week's "The Examples", it is a lame idea that Zora now has the same kind of problems as Culber, Book and Burnham herself. Also, Burnham already helped Book in much the same fashion in "Anomaly", which is not even curious but yet another repetition of a theme.

Owosekun's clash with Saru and her later apology is only a minor issue in the story, but it exemplifies how the writing goes overboard pertaining to the characters' emotions and motives. She wants to reinforce the forcefields in engineering and she still insists on going down after Saru has already denied the request, thereby challenging the authority of a superior officer. This may not have warranted disciplinary measures. Perhaps Saru would have called Owosekun to his office after the crisis, telling her that he does not tolerate that his orders are being questioned and that he wants her word that it won't happen again. The case could be closed. It honors Owosekun that she comes up with an apology beforehand. Only her timing is very inept, considering that they are about to go into the pattern buffer, and any distraction or delay may increase the risk for everyone. What irks me still more is that, as the reason for her misconduct, she cites a trauma from her youth (in a Luddite community), that she couldn't help a friend who got sick and died. She essentially admits that something she experienced in her younger years impairs her ability to obey orders! And she believes that her old feelings of remorse exonerate her. To me, this sounds more like a justification than like an apology, and I would not accept it if I were in Saru's place. In her situation, something like "Sorry, I made a mistake. It won't happen again." would have been the only adequate reaction, not an anecdote from the past.

I generally rejoice when the writing involves minor characters such as Bryce with his "kite surfing" idea in "Anomaly" and with the "sonar" concept in this episode. But I have a bad feeling about how they essentially contribute nothing beyond anecdotes that somehow seem to make up their lives, just as with Owosekun here, with Rhys in "The Examples" or with the cadets in "All Is Possible".

Overall, Discovery is way too fond of elaborating on the characters' past histories anyway. In the cases of Burnham telling Zora about her parents getting killed or Saru mentioning the culling on his homeworld to Book it is not quite as contrived (because we already knew of it) but is given too much room. Also, in both cases I wonder what kind of relevance someone else's tragic history can have for the respective addressee. Zora, unlike Burnham, never had parents. Book's homeworld, unlike Kaminar, was peaceful until it was blown to pieces. Concerning Burnham, I like the scenes with the family tree at the very beginning and end of the episode (except for her addition of Emperor Georgiou), and I would have appreciated if the story had not expanded on it.

This is the first episode to involve Gray in his new synthetic body he received in "Choose to Live". While Gray does have an active role for the first time, it is a letdown that the storyline forgoes the opportunity to show how Gray gets accustomed to his physical existence and begins to socialize with the crew, with people who he is already familiar with but who have never seen or talked to him before. It remains to be seen if and which issues there are still with Gray's new life. I somehow doubt that everything is fine with him now. But perhaps it was a good idea to postpone whatever probably plagues him to a later episode. There are currently just too many other crew members who have issues.

Even the destruction of the DOT that gets destroyed at the edge of the subspace rift is emotionalized in this episode. The robot gets "eaten" and "screams" because subspace is "toxic" now. Perhaps for the next investigation of an anomaly, Discovery, like every other Trek series, should use probes that don't have a face and don't squeak? Just a suggestion.

Overall, "Stormy Weather" is the most emotionally overburdened Discovery episode since season 2. Curiously, it is also one of the most tech-heavy installments of the whole series. Many different anomalies are involved that somehow interact with each other: the Galactic Barrier, the mycelial network, the subspace rift, finally the DMA (or the unknown force controlling the DMA) that sent the power surge through the first and the second to the third realm. Considering how incredibly complex the working mechanisms are, which also include Book's brain, it is amazing how much sense it all makes. I didn't spot any gross inconsistencies, at least not after watching this episode with its abundance of facts just once.

I think that one reason why the science and technology of this episode works comparably well is that the writing poses the right questions at the right time, and thereby anticipates possible objections by more critical viewers like me. For instance, I had wondered whether it wouldn't be a much better idea to abort the mission when Burnham unexpectedly ordered just that. I also mused how it would be possible to navigate at all, with no point of reference, which then turned out an actual issue in the story. I would also like to commend the writers on the clever use of the pattern buffer. But that is about all I like about the episode.

"Stormy Weather" fails to captivate me, not because it is so different than the rest but because it emphasizes the aspects that I dislike about the series. The story comes with almost obnoxious emotionality and with worrying developments about Book and Zora that I don't really want to continue. Gray recommends Zora a Trill game to gain focus. Maybe the creative staff of Discovery should have played that game too...


Rating: 2


...But to Connect


As the repairs of the USS Discovery are underway, Zora analyzes all available data from the Sphere and on the DMA. She manages to determine the location of the hypothetical Species 10-C that created the anomaly. But Zora doesn't reveal the coordinates because it could mean harm to the crew to go there. Delegates from the 60 Federation members and many nonaligned worlds follow an invitation of Starfleet, to decide on how to proceed regarding the DMA. While Booker and Burnham join the conference, Kovich arrives on the ship to assess Zora's evolution to a sentient AI. He argues that he could decide to extract the AI from the ship and transfer her to a new form, but only as a last resort. While Culber, Adira and Gray vehemently defend Zora's development, Stamets is mistrustful because he remembers what Control did in the 23rd century. Zora then creates a failsafe, a device that would erase the AI in case the crew felt threatened by her. The delegates on the conference are divided on whether they should try to contact the creators of the DMA, or rather continue their so far futile efforts to try to destroy it. Tarka steps forward and proposes to collapse the DMA with a cascading subspace burst, essentially using an isolytic weapon of the type that is outlawed since the Khitomer Accords. He secretly reveals to Book that he intends to salvage the power source of the anomaly to travel to another quantum universe where the Burn never happened. When President Rillak calls for the final pleas, Book speaks in favor of Tarka's plan, whereas Burnham advocates a peaceful first contact. The vote is in favor of the latter. On the Discovery, Stamets asks for Zora's trust in her crew, and she finally reveals the coordinates. He then proposes that Zora is acknowledged as a crew member, which Kovich approves of, and destroys the failsafe device. Gray decides to leave the ship to spend time on Trill. Tarka and Book prepare Book's ship to pursue their plan and install a "next-generation spore drive". Burnham discovers that Book left behind Grudge in her quarters, but it is already too late...


Unlike we would have expected from a mid-season finale, "...But to Connect" is the first Discovery episode in quite some time without any action. I think this is good for a change. Everything revolves around two ethical questions. Should Zora, the evolved AI, be allowed to remain in control of the ship, or rather extracted? Should the galactic community try to establish a peaceful first contact with the creators of the DMA, or rather continue their efforts to destroy it?

The debate about Zora is the more interesting plot thread. Kovich comes aboard the Discovery to assess the status of the AI, apparently with the authorization to extract it from the ship if required. He appears to be open-minded and impartial. He tries not to make the option to remove Zora sound like a threat. Yet, my impression is that he is determined to proceed with it, should he deem it necessary. It is a weakness of the story that it seems like Kovich is authorized to make his decision on the spot, without the option of a legal remedy. Also, while it is plausible that Saru may have informed Kovich that Stamets and Culber would join them, it is totally inappropriate how Stamets barges in, plays music and wants everyone to be silent so Zora couldn't hear them. Moreover, Gray and Adira enter unannounced because they "want to help". What happened to protocols on this ship? In any other Star Trek series, either Saru or Kovich would have shown them the door. However, in Discovery, feelings supersede the chain of command. An ensign and a civilian are asked about their opinions on a matter of command while the various lieutenant commanders on the bridge are not.

Fortunately, the plot thread about Zora consolidates after this bumpy start. Although it is far from being a match for TNG: "The Measure of a Man", the discussion that ensues about the rights of the AI is both civilized and insightful. Stamets is the one who is skeptical about Zora and who doesn't want her to exert total control over the ship. He is very passionate about the issue, which leads Zora to replicate a failsafe device that would allow him to terminate her. I can't really tell whether this show of trust pacifies Stamets, or whether he is gambling when he poses as the advocatus diaboli because he wants to obtain the coordinates of the creators of the DMA from Zora. In any case, Stamets then seems to convince himself to be more open-minded, and argues along the lines that since she has the support of the crew (well, actually of the four people who happened to bump in), Zora too should trust in their judgment and show the coordinates. As I wrote, I can't tell for sure whether this was his plan from the start, to obtain the information. The fact that everything he says or does is very stagy, even by his own standards, would support that notion. But wouldn't Zora have noticed his pretense? Anyway, whatever his true motivation was, I am glad that he dismantles the failsafe, not only because it is not Trek-like but also because its mere existence may conjure up a situation where it is considered an option. I would also like to mention that I think Anthony Rapp delivers one of the best acting performances not just of the episode but of the whole season.

On a note about Control, Stamets has a reason to be afraid of an AI becoming sentient. But he somehow has a false memory of what actually happened in season 2. Unlike he says, Control did not "nearly destroy life as we know it." Control had killed quite a few Starfleet and Section 31 officers, had taken control of Leland and of the Section 31 fleet. All this was a far cry from the extinction of all sentient life that Spock had a vision of. It was a theoretically possible future that for some reason everyone took at face value. The more I think about it, the more I call the whole validity of the premise of season 2 into question, and of the ultimate decision to travel to the 32nd century.

At the conference, the discussion is about the question whether to continue the efforts to collapse the anomaly or whether to proceed to the coordinates (that Zora is yet to reveal) and to try to establish first contact with whoever may be responsible. This debate too is very moderate, considering how much is at stake. Even when Tarka appears as a game-changer, there is nothing of the turmoil that I would have expected, which I think is unrealistic. The further course of the conference is rather predictable. It was clear that Booker would support the cause of his new buddy Tarka, especially since his father, who fortunately doesn't appear again, lamented his lack of vengefulness last week. It was also clear that Michael Burnham would speak in favor of a peaceful solution, and that she would feel bad about it, with tears in her eyes while she is speaking.

I don't mind that Michael Burnham frequently cries. Her tears may be genuine because she is desperate about her clash with Book, but it is just not the right time. Billions of people are watching her, and her crying is a display of emotion that looks like a ploy to catch everyone's attention, to boost her argument and somehow prove that her cause is the right one. Once again, I have no problem with Michael Burnham in a matter that is only human. I only think someone who can't control their emotions in such a moment is not fit for the job as a high-ranking Starfleet officer, diplomat or politician. I wonder anyway what happened to her Vulcan education.

One more issue I have with Michael Burnham is that she saved the day with a heroic deed or speech at least once in every single episode of the season so far. She really needs to take a break from taking responsibility for each and everything. Also, what happened to the conflict between Rillak and her in "Kobayashi Maru"? Rillak argued Burnham would not be fit for the command of a prototype ship because she needed to lose her savior complex first. If anything, Burnham kept affirming in the episodes that followed that she would not change at all. Still, she is sent on crucial missions over and over again and becomes Rillak's closest ally and de-facto head of Starfleet with voting rights in transgalactic matters. I don't call into question that Burnham deserves all that, based the many merits that the writers have bestowed upon her. I just think it is a lame story concept to build a superhuman hero, overwhelm her with honors and let the only tiny conflict she faces fizzle out all too quickly.

My impression of the fourth season so far was that everyone played nice anyway. With the exception of occasional generic troublemakers such as the magistrate of the Akaali colony, there were only minor disagreements among the crew, among Starfleet and among the Federation members, and they usually lasted only one scene. This complies with Roddenberry's "no conflicts" tenet and may have been supposed to let Discovery appear more like classic Trek. In many ways, crew members rather struggled with themselves, like most notably Booker. Yet, conflicts on various levels were always considered the spice of Discovery. I personally didn't miss them in the last couple of episodes but perhaps it is good that they are back for now and that Book and Burnham have a major falling out. I really hope that the tearful reunion will be deferred. Still, my apprehension is that it will take place as soon as in the very next episode, after Burnham has saved Book's ass yet again.

It would have been disappointing if Book had spontaneously decided to calm down again, and it would have been plain obnoxious for him to continue his struggle with his father as a shoulder angel. I still think the mystical dimension of Book's connection will resurface, but it's good for the story that the wavering is over and that something happens. As for Tarka's intentions, well, let's just wait and see whether the writers deem an excursion to a different universe necessary yet again. I don't think the idea that he wants to travel to a better place is necessarily bad. Tarka reminds me of Soran in this regard.

On a final note about Burnham's speech, as a possible analogy for the DMA she mentions species that devour other species by the millions and argues that no one would ascribe malice to them because it is the course of nature. Picard used the same argument as a possible justification for the actions of the Crystalline Entity in TNG: "Silicon Avatar". This didn't sit well with me at all because, in his very words, it would equate the anomaly with a sperm whale and human beings with cuttlefish. Aside from not agreeing with the analogy, I don't even think it applies in the first place in Burnham's case. We already know that the DMA is not "natural" but was constructed and is controlled by a highly advanced civilization. Whoever destroyed Kwejian either wanted to accomplish exactly that, or must have been aware that the planet was populated by sentient beings, taking their deaths into consideration as collateral damage. There is no reason to assume that whoever is on the other side needs to kill billions of people to survive, and even if they would have to, there would be no reason not to fight them with all quantum torpedoes available - if no other solution is possible.

Both questions, the one about Zora and the one about the DMA, may have a little bit in common, especially regarding the fear of the unknown and the ability to overcome it with a leap of faith. But I don't know if it was a good idea to switch between Stamets' plea on the Discovery and Burnham's at the conference in quick succession, in order to stress this rather weak connection. It lightens up the two speeches but feels otherwise contrived. The frequent mentions of this season's overstressed theme of "connecting" and "togetherness" in both plot threads adds to that impression.

"...But to Connect" is extremely verbose. In a positive sense, this brings us two interesting ethical debates. However, too many lines seem to come from an activist's dictionary and speak to us through the fourth wall. Ndoye calls the unification of Earth and Titan (that is said to have been inspired by Burnham no less...) "a more inclusive approach". Zora wants to "be seen". I mean, hardly anyone in real life talks like that and no one did in previous Trek shows. On the more successful side as real-world references are concerned, the delegates that are either present or remote aptly represent how conferences take place in the age of corona.

I already mentioned my disappointment about not showing how Gray meets (or "connects to"?) the crew in my review of last week's episode. Now Gray leaves the ship without having said or done anything worth mentioning. On the other hand, I somehow doubt that Ian Alexander would have been convincing in a more dramatic role anyway. Whenever I picture the character, I see him with the same overdone smile...

On the more joyful side, are Saru and T'Rina in love?

Summarizing, this episode has a classic Trek vibe in some regards and provides a welcome break from the action. But in the absence of the usual spectacle it exhibits a couple of general weaknesses of the series all the more clearly, more than already last week's "Stormy Weather". A good premise was made into a mediocre episode because it was built with the Discovery tool kit, and not with the one of classic Trek. Including fewer buzzwords, less emotionality and more professionalism of the characters would be a start to fix Discovery. But the show has to work on the storyline and character traits as well and leave the beaten path especially as Burnham is concerned. She needs someone who really challenges her, she needs to fail once in a while, or she will just remain a super-emo-hero.


Rating: 4


All In


Booker and Tarka have escaped with the spore drive prototype and are out of scanning range, but for their isolytic weapon to work they still need isolynium. The region of space where Species 10-C is located is unknown. But the warp-capable Stilph, 30 light-years away and just inside the Galactic Barrier, may have star charts. Since the Federation has never been in contact with them, Burnham proposes to visit a broker on Porathia she knows from her time as a courier, to acquire the data. This broker, Haz Mazaro, also happens to be the person that Book and Tarka want to purchase isolynium from. Mazaro demands more latinum than the two have, but they offer him to expose cheaters in his casino. In the meantime, Burnham and Owosekun have arrived too. They get the star map, but Mazaro sees an opportunity to raise the price for the rare substance yet again. He rejects Burnham's proposal to have more latinum delivered because he dislikes Starfleet. Owosekun suggests to earn the missing latinum in the fighting arena. She loses her first two matches, but encourages Burnham to go all in on the third attempt. Owosekun wins. As they are collecting their winnings, they are attacked by the loser, upon which Book comes to help them. In turn, Burnham assists Book and Tarka in apprehending a cheater, who turns out to be a shapeshifter and whom Tarka finally confines in a forcefield. Both parties now demand the isolynium from Mazaro. But Mazaro presents two Emerald Chain holdouts who would also like to buy the substance. He arranges a game of Leonian poker to decide. The two Emerald Chain members drop out, leaving only Burnham and Book. Burnham tries to persuade Book one last time to return with him, upon which he goes all in, and she follows. Book wins, and he and Tarka take the isolynium. But Burnham planted a tracker on the isolynium container, which gives away the position of Tarka and Book as they are still assembling the weapon. On the Discovery, Stamets has analyzed the star chart. It turns out that Species 10-C inhabits a region that is impervious to scans, surrounded by a shield that would require a huge amount of energy to uphold. The lack of boronite, an element that is usually found in very low concentrations in space, gives away that the DMA, rather than being a weapon, actually harvests this element, which can be used for power generation.


I expected an action-loaded episode full of conflicts after the cliffhanger at the end of the quite talkative mid-season finale "...But to Connect". After all, Tarka and Book were on the run with a weapon that, once deployed, was feared to entail a retaliation beyond imagination. However, while Tarka somehow did manage to steal a spore drive prototype that somehow was compatible with Book's ship and that somehow could be integrated by just dropping it into the command console, we learn only now that they are still a rather long way from actually building the weapon. Starfleet has no leads, but the two renegades don't really have a plan either and need a good deal of luck to be able to proceed. These new constraints take the steam out of "All In" right at its beginning.

It is an additional letdown that, when it comes to tracking down Species 10-C, Burnham doesn't bother to make first contact with the Stilph, a species near the Galactic Barrier. Instead, she simply goes to a place she knows well to purchase a map. And to find Book, because the galaxy is a village. We don't quite see the tearful reunion that I anticipated last week, but it is symptomatic of Discovery that everyone meets everyone else all the time.

At the end of "All In", the storyline has reached the point of urgency again where it should have been already at the beginning, with a revelation that doesn't really convince, much less alarm me. Even if we buy into the theory that the DMA is part of a power source and that Species 10-C would be more likely to strike back if its power generation was attacked than if its superweapon was the target, the new data on Species 10-C does not more than corroborate the existing threat scenario a little bit in the customary "tell, don't show" fashion. Overall, the lack of progress in the storyline has become just as dissatisfying by now as in seasons 2 and 3.

It is a recurring pattern in Star Trek: Discovery that for everything that goes wrong there is one person who is convinced of being responsible. And this is usually not the very person we would expect to feel sorry about it. In "All In", Culber has a bad conscience for not anticipating that Book would go and take revenge. This is odd because the last and only time we saw Culber talk with Book in private was in "All Is Possible", a few episodes and a few mood swings ago. We may imagine that they had more counseling sessions and that Book provided clues that Culber may have missed. But the way it is shown in the series, his guilt comes much out of the blue. And no matter how much Culber actually took care of his patient, Stamets is quite right that Book is responsible for his own decisions.

Burnham, in stark contrast to Culber and to my expectations, takes Book's betrayal very lightly (and playfully in a literal sense). We may want to note in her favor that she doesn't cry this time. But does that mean she has to go to the other extreme? If we didn't know the circumstances, we could assume she paid Mazaro a visit to have fun just like in the good old times. I admit I somewhat enjoyed her chuckling and giggling at the poker game, although or just because I myself am not into gambling at all. However, I simply don't think it is the right time for amusement, as her lover is running away with an isolytic weapon and she has a responsibility and explicit orders (at least from Vance) to do everything to stop him. I don't think Burnham's lack of authority on Porathia and of weapons really excuse her. She does not even attempt anything to apprehend Book. She also doesn't bother to apprise Starfleet in time that she has found Tarka and Book. Seriously, if a mad scientist planned to ignite an atomic bomb and the USAF was at DEFCON 2, would they respect the borders of a tiny rogue country?

President Rillak makes it very clear that both Vance and Burnham let her down. But the admiral too does not take the issue as seriously as he should, although he still needs to answer for how Tarka could use his code to authorize the removal of the spore drive prototype. At least, this seems to be the reason why Vance, in Rillak's presence, is initially rather concerned about the spore drive than about the isolytic weapon. And since he is in the same boat as Burnham, it is also understandable that he would defy Rillak's orders and allow Burnham to go after Book when the two talk in private.

When Owosekun joins Burnham on the mission to Porathia, she mentions her dispute with Saru from "Stormy Weather" to the captain. As I pointed out in the review of that episode, the timing and the way she apologized did not sit well with me at all. While I usually appreciate inter-episode continuity, it would have been a wise choice to bury this whole issue with Owosekun, also because characters shouldn't be defined by a setback or trauma from the past. I just don't think that an experienced lieutenant commander of Starfleet would need an "empowerment" thing to prove her worthiness. And that this would have to involve beating up a man twice as strong as her and kicking his private parts. At least, Oyin Oladejo gives a really convincing performance, both in the action part as "Oh Wow" and in the interaction with Burnham and later with Tarka.

I think it was meant as a red herring that Owosekun suggests something "crazy" to earn latinum in an episode that is set in a casino and is named "All In", but enters a boxing ring in the following scene. Fortunately, those who were waiting like me for some "Casino Royale" feel are not disappointed in the further course of the story. I like poker games in TV series or movies. Yet, as much as it is shown as a peaceful and stylish way to settle a conflict, the trope usually comes with a general problem when characters go all in, in situations that would realistically be resolved with guns or fists. When the stakes are so high, people who are determined wouldn't play cards. The fact that Burnham only pretended to try to win as part of her plan makes her conduct more plausible in retrospect. But as already mentioned, it would have been appropriate to try everything to get her hands on the isolynium and/or Book.

I like the design of the casino, the many aliens gambling there, the character of Haz Mazaro and his colorful language. I don't care at all for the two Emerald Chain holdouts that appear out of the blue, never say or do anything and then vanish without a whimper. These two are somehow symptomatic of the whole episode.

"All In" accomplishes almost nothing and unnecessarily protracts the storyline. While I like Haz Mazaro's Karma Barge, I think the setting puts an inappropriate spin on the story and the characters. Book and Burnham go by the motto "When in Rome" and do not seem to take the current crisis really seriously. I will have to wait until next week whether anything established here pays out after all, but right now it feels like a filler episode that could be removed from the series altogether without consequences.


Rating: 3




Admiral Vance sends the Discovery to stop Tarka and Book because it is the only ship fast enough to catch up with them. But he assigns another officer to the mission, who is authorized to carry out his orders in case Captain Burnham's judgment was compromised. This officer turns out to be Commander Nhan. Tarka and Book are hiding inside a rogue planet to assemble the isolytic weapon. They don't notice that a cloaked shuttle with Rhys, Bryce, Saru and Culber is approaching until a new autonomous defense system that Tarka has installed sounds an alarm and encases the shuttle in programmable matter that begins to break it apart. Owosekun manages to beam the crew out in the nick of time. Tarka and Booker find the tracker that gave away their position, disable it and jump away. Burnham orders to follow them, assuming they are heading for the DMA. Nhan reveals that, in case the attempt to apprehend Book and Tarka should fail, her orders are to target a weak spot on Book's ship that would lead to a chain reaction in the spore drive. Burnham, however, argues that there has to be a middle ground, and they agree that it is only a final resort. Tarka finishes the weapon, whereas Owosekun finds the subspace rift inside the DMA where the controller is located. The two ships keep jumping around the device and exchange warning shots until Tarka fires a full torpedo spread on the Discovery. Burnham is expected to give the order to destroy the other vessel when Stamets reports that it will still take 154 hours until the boronite in this sector is depleted, meaning that there is still time left until inhabited worlds are threatened again. Burnham takes a shuttle to convince Book to stand down. He agrees, but Tarka beams the isolytic weapon directly into the controller and detonates it. Both ships jump away to escape from the blast. The DMA collapses. Tarka desperately searches for the energy source of the DMA, but it has to be out of reach, at the far end of the wormhole. Not much later, a new DMA appears in the place of the old one.


First off, "Rubicon" is the episode that I would have expected to see last week. I don't mean to say that "All In" was all bad, but as I wrote in my review, it came at the wrong time. And just as I predicted, "All In" has zero relevance for the storyline in retrospect besides getting the isolynium, a complication that could have very easily been omitted altogether.

There still seems to be a chance for the theory that the DMA is a particle harvester for 10-C's power generation and not a weapon to become a game changer in the storyline. But right now, it too remains irrelevant. Right at the beginning of "Rubicon", Burnham thinks she could have changed Book's mind by telling him his planet was not the target but just collateral damage. But how did she expect him to react? With sympathy? "Oh, that's a consolation. My people died for a cause. Perhaps for the operation of an indoor ski hall."

As Tarka is finishing the isolytic bomb and searching for the controller to blow up, a cat-and-mouse game ensues. This is entertaining but it is also marked by a similar playfulness as in "All In", especially when it comes to Book's tactical maneuvers that Burnham anticipates with visible pleasure, and vice versa. She almost gives the impression that shooting is fun while negotiating is painful. It almost seems that if it had not been for Tarka to break their rules, they would have loved to carry on with their game.

Nhan's return to the Discovery is contrived. I think the significance of her character in Discovery so far is overrated. And the explanation that Vance gives for Nhan joining the security forces, that Barzans tend to put "Duty above all", is downright racist. Despite these circumstances, I appreciate Vance's judgment, as he recognizes that Burnham needs some kind of watchdog but wisely chooses someone she would easily accept. It is interesting to note that her task is to remind Burnham of the importance of the mission irrespective of her feelings and to take over if necessary, much like Tarka is ultimately more determined to carry out the bombing than his partner Book. Still, there is a huge difference between these two constellations, and probably because the writers are prisoners of their woke gender stereotypes. The two women decide to cooperate and to find a middle ground even as Tarka fires more than warning shots, and they are willing to share the responsibility even as they fail. The two men, on the other hand, only work together as long as it serves their individual selfish goals, and they act without coordination.

Yet, as much as the contrast between the "female" and the "male" approach to cooperation is worked out in the favor of the women in this episode, they both fail miserably. No one achieves their goal. Considering how enormous the failure is that the DMA was destroyed without accomplishing anything useful, it is odd that everybody still plays nice in the end. Book may be shocked and disappointed, but he is not really mad at Tarka. Nhan and Burnham have not fulfilled their mission and may have even disobeyed their orders, but there is no dressing down from Vance whatsoever. For Burnham, it is the second failure in a row that gets handwaved. What's more, in the wake of the disaster they did not prevent, Nhan even says she is grateful to have learned from Burnham to see more than black and white. She tells an anecdote to that end, about her hesitating to get in get in touch with her relatives on Barzan. I had to rewatch this part two or three times because I didn't understand what she meant to say, but I still fail to see the relevance that the anecdote has in the context. Like already in "Die Trying", Nhan venerates Burnham for a quickly made up vague reason.

The chief reason for the catastrophic failure in my view is that Burnham, but also Nhan and pretty much everyone else on the Discovery is so focused on persuading Book to turn around that they forget about Tarka, as if he were not there. This turns out to be a mistake in the episode when Tarka fires the full spread of torpedoes against Book's will and to everyone's surprise. Fool me once... But Burnham doesn't learn a thing. When she negotiates with Book through the shuttle window, she completely ignores Tarka instead of offering him an option as well. And so the blindingly obvious happens and the irked Tarka detonates the bomb. Fool me twice...

The unexpected reappearance of the DMA is a clear demonstration of how powerful Species 10-C really is. Yet, it doesn't work as the dramatic cliffhanger that it probably was supposed to be. 10-C may not even have noticed that the nozzle of their vacuum cleaner was actively destroyed by some flies. It's more like "Oh, here it is again", like so many times before in this season. It realistically changes nothing about the situation, neither for the worse nor for the better.

In some of my previous season 4 reviews I disapproved of the trend to define minor characters by having them tell anecdotes from the past. But it is just as poor a choice to have them get into arguments at the worst possible moment, like previously the cadets in "All Is Possible" and more notably Owosekun in "Stormy Weather" (and yes, I may let go of it some day). This time, it is Rhys and Bryce who clash over the right course of action instead of focusing on their mission, as they are only a few moments away from boarding Book's ship! How can two experienced officers be so incredibly unprofessional? Without having the excuse that it's a new situation they haven't already been briefed about?

The side plot on Saru's awkwardness about his feelings for T'Rina provides a few welcome breaks in the plot, which is otherwise marked by action and conflict. I think it is totally in character that he is like a teenager in love.

I like "Rubicon" for coming up with some exciting action and with overall credible characters that are struggling and ultimately all fail to find the right course of action in the conflict. The stakes are high this time, but not everything is handled well. Everything I don't like about the episode is symptomatic of Discovery, rather than being a specific problem of "Rubicon", such as the tendency to gloss over failings and major disagreements of characters. There seems to be some progress regarding the investigation of the DMA - except that there isn't. This ultimately renders the episode just as pointless as "All In".


Rating: 3


The Galactic Barrier


In order to establish first contact with Species 10-C and to stop the DMA, the USS Discovery jumps to the Galactic Barrier, with a diplomatic delegation led by President Rillak on board. To Saru's surprise, President T'Rina too has joined the mission, saying that the delegate from Ni'Var didn't arrive in time. Book intends to drop Tarka off his ship, but the scientist says he knows of a supply of programmable antimatter that could shield the ship and allow them to cross the Galactic Barrier. The Discovery has been so equipped as well, but the shielding is not sufficient to withstand the energy barrier long enough. Stamets suggests to use bubbles of protected space to pass through the anomaly. In search for the programmable antimatter, Book and Tarka arrive at an abandoned Emerald Chain camp, actually the place where Tarka and his friend Oros were being held. He finally tells Book the whole story of their captivity. The Emerald Chain forced them to work on a new dilithium-free warp core, but Oros came up with the idea to use the energy to power an interdimensional transporter that could take him to another, better universe. Tarka joined the effort. When they activated the device, the power turned out insufficient. The guards were alerted. Tarka felt guilty because he had agreed to spy on Oros's work. He killed the guard that beat up Oros and destroyed the tracking devices in their necks. Sadly, Oros was too weak and had to stay behind. Tarka managed to escape and later found the camp deserted. But Oros had left behind a mark that gave Tarka hope to see him again. Book and Tarka take the antimatter supply to their ship and head for the Galactic Barrier. In the meantime, the Discovery has reached the other side the anomaly. But President Rillak has unsettling news that she finally reveals to the crew: The DMA has changed direction, and Ni'Var and Earth are now on its projected path within 71 hours.


After two episodes in which nothing with real consequences happened, "The Galactic Barrier" gives us a little bit of progress. The Discovery crosses the eponymous phenomenon and begins to explore a completely unknown region of space - or rather, will begin to explore next week. The way through the Galactic Barrier comes with some solid action. Still, it is never really exciting because we have seen the ship navigating an anomaly so many times before, and especially in this very season. The dramaturgy is always much the same, and the obstacles are interchangeable, whether they are rocks, energy surges or space bubbles.

Action clearly should not be an end in itself. But what "The Galactic Barrier" shows in terms of drama, at least on the Discovery, isn't rewarding either. I don't think my perception is askew that most of the dialogues on the ship are about everyone telling everyone else how much they mean to each other. With buzzwords such as "connection" being dropped repeatedly. Do we really need such ostentatious affirmations of trust or loyalty to understand the characters? I miss the old Star Trek that still showed how the crew was of one mind, and didn't frequently feel the need to tell us. It also doesn't help that Anthony Rapp as Stamets does wacky faces, perhaps to spice up his mostly banal lines. He's one of the best of the cast, but his facial gymnastics is often overdone.

Also in this vein, the departure of Bryce is made a big deal here, although he has been temporarily absent before and, as sad as it is, we rarely noticed when he was present. Bryce made two useful suggestions in the course of this season, which I appreciated, but that's it. His emotional goodbye scene is longer than anything we could see of him so far and thereby disproportionate.

I like the discussion about the proper way to communicate with Species 10-C right at the beginning of the episode. The remark about confirmation bias (that impairs our ability and even our willingness to understand the unknown) is another instance of breaking the fourth wall, but among the more successful ones in my view. I needed a moment to recognize that the universal translator (several old models of which were placed on the table), as much as the device manages to establish interspecies communication, may have limits and may be even an obstacle when it comes to talking to a species that doesn't talk. On the other hand, the very first time the universal translator appeared, in TOS: "Metamorphosis", it was already used to communicate non-verbally with the Companion. This somehow raises the bar, or at least raises the expectations for how alien Species 10-C will be.

The only other part of the episode that touches me is the well-acted flashback to Tarka's past, although it comes at the wrong time and although its circumstances are fabricated, both of which is symptomatic of Discovery. Anyway, I like how the seemingly selfish and callous Tarka can be soft on the inside. He is still a sociopath, but there used to be at least one person he cared for, so much that he would return every year to the place where he lost his trace. And maybe being incarcerated for much of his life exonerates Tarka regarding his mistrust of people and his big goal to cross over to another universe, which for some reason he expects to be a paradise. This is also interesting regarding Book, who so far was not more than an accomplice.

As already in the past two episodes, there are several plot complications that appear out of the blue, that feel heavy-handed and that don't make a lot of sense, as I explain in the annotations. I hope that at least the course change of the DMA to Ni'Var and Earth will pay off in the final episodes because it doesn't really have an impact in "The Galactic Barrier". Well, yes, we see the shocked faces of the crew members as they learn of the immediate threat, but they were already highly motivated anyway, and it doesn't change a lot about their mission except that they have to hurry up. In any case, if this (not totally unexpected) twist finally leads to a faster pace in the storyline, I'm fine with it.

With only three episodes to go, the time is overdue to draw up an interim balance of Discovery's season 4. It is clearly the most watchable season of the series so far. It is largely free of anti-canon facts, absurd twists and annoying characters. Many other mistakes that plague Discovery from the beginning are still very present though, such as the preference of misplaced emotions over reason or the sometimes uneven character development. But most notably, the big threat of the DMA is not the driving force it would have to be in a heavily serialized show. As the finale approaches, the storyline is dragged out, even more than at the same time in seasons 2 or 3. "The Galactic Barrier", like already the two previous episodes, shies away from showing any real progress and comes up with new complications that are neither very interesting nor plausible.


Rating: 3




Stardate: 865783.7: With only 29 hours left until the DMA is in range of Ni'Var and Earth, the Discovery proceeds to a former gas giant, whose atmosphere was blown away by asteroid impacts some 1000 years ago. This was at about the same time the hyperfield of Species 10-C was constructed. There are also Dyson rings around the central star of that system about two light-years away from the hyperfield. Burnham surmises this is the homeworld of 10-C. She takes Saru, Culber and Detmer on a shuttle mission to investigate the ruins on the surface. It turns out that some of the debris actually consists of huge bones of low density. The lightweight species must have lived in the gas layers of the planet. Saru begins to experience fear, and so does Culber when he tries to help. Finally Burnham succumbs to the effect as well. Only Detmer remains unaffected. They find out that the hydrocarbons on the ground chemically induce emotions, even through the protective suit. Detmer modifies the filters so the away team is safe again. When they arrive at something they identify as a nursery, Burnham deactivates the filter on purpose and experiences love and peace. She concludes that the substances on the surface may be like a Stone of Rosetta and may help communicate with 10-C. In the meantime, Tarka and Book have secretly beamed aboard the Discovery to create a blind spot for Zora's sensors that would allow to attach Book's ship and thereby penetrate the hyperfield of 10-C, with the goal to deactivate the power source. Book allies himself with General Ndoye, who is skeptical about the diplomatic efforts and wants to have a backup plan to save Earth. As he is working on the necessary modifications in engineering, Tarka tries in vain to hide from Jett Reno. But he somehow manages to overwhelm her. When Book returns to his ship, which is attached to the Discovery now, he is unpleasantly surprised that Tarka has a hostage.


After three episodes in a row that protracted the story arc, "Rosetta" finally brings us real progress regarding the nature of Species 10-C and the origin of the DMA. It is also the first episode in a while with some genuine exploration, a theme that was unfortunately largely absent from the season so far, although there would have been many opportunities to show the crew on an away mission instead of standing in front of a transparent display.

But this wouldn't be Discovery if the story were not all about feelings, rather than facts. This mentality finds expression in "Rosetta" as blatantly as rarely before. Burnham and the away team acquire no useful data on Species 10-C on the planet. But the experience of the love that was somehow left behind by whoever lived there makes them believe they have found the clue to understanding Species 10-C. The analogy to the Stone of Rosetta attempts to link this to scientific principles, but the assumption that 10-C communicates with feelings is far-fetched and the optimism unwarranted. What the crew actually finds is random emotions without a context, and nothing remotely comparable to a translation matrix. Furthermore, in Star Trek as it used to be, emotions were often deceptive and were sometimes induced with evil intentions, so frequently that it has become a stereotype, the latest example being Jurati who murdered Maddox after the mind-meld with Oh. Discovery goes to the other extreme and more or less postulates that feelings are necessarily true.

Even if Species 10-C understands emotions, Saru's objection that perhaps they wouldn't bother to listen is important. It is remarkable that the series addresses only now what must have been an obvious assumption all along, that 10-C may have been aware they are killing people and simply didn't care.

"Rosetta" also wouldn't be Discovery if not once again the past history of a crew member were in the focus at a time when it is both irrelevant and inappropriate. Discovery began to involve the secondary characters to a greater extent in the second season, which I appreciate. But this often happens in a contrived fashion. We may not even excuse Detmer's mention of her hard childhood, during a vital mission, by the influence of the "emotion sand" because when she first alludes to it, she is not yet affected. I also don't get why, in the same episode, Adira is suddenly an admirer of Detmer. This comes totally out of blue, especially since they never had any business together that I could remember and, as I can't stress enough, the timing is absurd with Earth's or Ni'Var's destruction being merely a day away. Considering Blu del Barrio's limited ability to get across what Adira feels (they seem like a teenager in love to me), I am glad that Tig Notaro as Jett Reno is there to ease the cringe with some wonderful wry remarks.

As discontent I am with how Detmer's childhood trauma is suddenly a big thing, I am grateful that her history with PTSD is not ignored and is mentioned even twice, once by herself when she says the therapy goes well and once by Reno when she tells Adira that Detmer has not always been that cool. I also like the scene in which Adira joins Detmer at her table in the bar, which allows Blu del Barrio to make up for their unconvincing performance in the scenes with Reno.

After Tarka opened up himself to Book last week, they get along better and seem to trust each other. We can also notice that Tarka overall tries to be more empathic, as he addresses multiple times how much Book cares for Burnham. It was somehow clear that this unanimity wouldn't last for long, and we can only guess how Book reacts to Tarka taking a hostage.

In a small side plot, President Rillak tells the linguist Hirai to work on his bedside manners, after his inappropriate (and cringey) "don't screw up" address directed at the away team. I have no idea if and where this little conflict may be going. I also somehow doubt that Hirai, who so far hardly said anything and nothing useful, will still be needed at all - now that emotion, rather than language, is the key to communicating with 10-C. It seems his purpose in the story is to remain silent, and only to speak up to snub someone.

On a note about Culber, I think it is only realistic that he still suffers from exhaustion. His openness towards Burnham is laudable. However, just like so many crew members who begin to talk about their emotions, he couldn't have picked a worse time to tell her, with only a couple of hours left until the catastrophe.

What is left to say is that, not only regarding the emotions that the away team experiences on the planet, many characters are driven by far-fetched conjecture, as I further explain in the annotations. No one but Saru considers that instinctive assumptions may be wrong, and no one but Ndoye recognizes the importance of a Plan B. But most obviously, Book's and Tarka's plan and their actions on the Discovery defy common sense like hardly anything in the season before. They essentially don't want to be discovered, but to accomplish that, they beam over to the Discovery where they take every chance to be discovered!

There are only two episodes left in the season, and there is a chance that Species 10-C won't be a disappointment. At least, we can expect them to be a completely new species, as by the affirmations of the producers and as more or less evidenced by the big bones. I really hope that the writers have something really exciting up their sleeve, and that Species 10-C is not simply pacified by Michael Burnham tearfully begging them to move the dustbuster to another region of the galaxy. As spiteful as it sounds, a conclusion like this is more or less foreshadowed if emotions are 10-C's means of communication.


Rating: 4


Species Ten-C


As the ship approaches the hypersphere of Species 10-C, the Discovery receives no response to any hails. Linguist Hirai suggests to compose a message from replicated hydrocarbons as they were sampled on 10-C's former homeworld. DOTs are deployed to deliver that message directly to the surface of the hypersphere. The DOTs and then Discovery itself become encased into an orb and pulled into the hypersphere. Book's ship is still attached to the Discovery, with Reno as a prisoner. Tarka locates the power source of the DMA and devises a plan to break out of the orb, using warp plasma from the Discovery that General Ndoye is meant to release. Reno, however, recognizes that Tarka's plan would cause the hyperfield implode and leave a subspace rift near Earth that may be just as deadly as the DMA. On the Discovery, a team has assembled in the shuttlebay because 10-C is showing light signals. But just sending the same signals back does not result in any progress, as 10-C apparently expects an answer. With the help of Detmer, Nilsson and Christopher, the experts find out that the light patterns serve to decode the structure of the molecules, which contain mathematical equations. Hirai concludes that the equations are an auxiliary language to establish communication. They compile and send a meaningful answer. A smaller orb with a breathable atmosphere appears in the shuttlebay. Rillak, Burnham, Saru and T'Rina decide to enter, whereas Ndoye prefers to stay behind because she secretly pursues her backup plan. On a replica of the Discovery bridge that was probably created by 10-C so they would feel comfortable, the away team has just succeeded to convey the message that the DMA means terror to them. But when Ndoye contacts Book, Tarka has already disabled him and signals her to release the plasma. Book's ship breaks free, leaving the Discovery behind in the orb and causing 10-C to end the negotiations. It is discovered only now that Reno has not been on the ship for hours because Tarka managed to deceive Zora's sensors. Using an improvised communicator, Reno contacts the ship, saying that Tarka is going for the power source, which will end up in a disaster...


"Species Ten-C" is the episode that finally rewards us for the long wait. We still don't yet see anyone of Species 10-C in person, but everything pertaining to their way of communicating and their technology is very outlandish as promised. It is indeed something we have never see before on Star Trek. I especially like how the crew figures out with a holographic reconstruction that the light signals are like a map to the molecules, and how the latter, once decoded, contain mathematical equations. Irrespective of how realistic such a form of communication actually is and how reminiscent the scenario is of the movie "Arrival", this is the kind of visionary concepts that I love about Trek and that has been rare in Discovery so far.

It is also noteworthy that this time almost everyone on the Discovery is focused on their work, and not on their feelings. The only two exceptions are Burnham and Saru. Don't they have anything else to do on their first short break during the investigation than to talk about Saru's feelings for T'Rina? Just a few minutes later, after the alien vessel has arrived, they speak in private again, now to affirm each other of their trust, although they seem to do that in about every second episode and although they could use the scarce time a lot better by preparing themselves for the communication with Species 10-C. I also don't think that it is a good idea for Saru to exercise the screaming technique, which he learned from Tarka in "The Examples". There is one more scene that is all about emotions as well, but that doesn't seem out of place. Here, Jett Reno talks to Book and tells him that he should ask himself whether what he is doing really makes sense, or whether he is blinded by the pain he experiences. This meaningful example illustrates how hollow or superfluous it usually is when Discovery crew members suddenly need to talk about their feelings.

I appreciate that Hirai finally gets something to do, although it is odd that most of the time no one of the science and engineering staff of the Discovery is present to support him. It is also odd that, rather than Stamets or other scientists, Burnham would ask bridge officers Detmer, Nilsson and Christopher to join the brainstorming on the purpose of the light flashes. This is supposed to illustrate how useful it can be to involve someone new who might think out of the box. But it seems a bit like Burnham primarily called them because of a feeling they could need stronger involvement.

The plot overall makes sense. I only don't quite understand General Ndoye, whose statements are sometimes in conflict with her hidden agenda. When Burnham orders the ship to move closer to the hyperfield, it is Ndoye who advises against it because of the danger, although that would be the sole way for her Plan B to work. Furthermore, when the first attempts of communication with 10-C fail, Ndoye demands Burnham to act, although the captain has no backup plan and although it would be easier for her to pursue Plan B if everyone else was focused on Plan A. In any case, Ndoye is not really comfortable with sabotaging the mission, which perhaps explains why she falters.

Regarding Tarka, it is disappointing that he is a mad scientist all over again, just as everyone would have expected. The stakes in the negotiations with Species 10-C are so extremely high anyway that I don't think it would have needed the further complication of the plot, especially since everything related to the power source and to how Tarka always has a perfect plan without knowing anything about the technology never made sense. Well, unless he is a member of Species 10-C in disguise, on a mission to test the primitive species of the galaxy.

This episode has comparably small problems and leaves me overall satisfied but not more. It really looks like Discovery keeps the promise and presents a solution to the puzzle of the DMA that is both intellectually strong and somewhat exciting. Let's hope that next week's season finale will continue in the same vein and will outperform "Species Ten-C".


Rating: 5


Coming Home


As the crew of the Discovery is still struggling to find a way out of the orb that contains the ship, Tarka approaches the power source, with Book and Reno as prisoners. Meanwhile, the evacuation of Ni'Var and Earth has begun, with Federation Headquarters staying in Earth's orbit to deflect debris and buy the fleet more time for the evacuation. Yet, Vance estimates that only some 450,000 inhabitants of each planet can be saved. On the Discovery, General Ndoye admits that she released the plasma to allow Book and Tarka to escape. She is confined to her quarters. T'Rina tries to send a telepathic message to 10-C that the two are acting on their own, but she is overwhelmed by the connection with what seems to be a collective mind. Stamets comes up with an idea to break out of the orb with the spore drive, but it would burn out the system and couldn't be repaired, upon which the ship would need decades to get home. Burnham agrees with the plan. Book manages to escape from confinement by opening a cat door in the forcefield and knocks down the surprised Tarka. He is not in control of the ship again, however, as the procedure to rip off the power source can't be stopped and communications are down. Reno manages to beam over to the Discovery, and tells Burnham that Book wants her to do whatever is necessary to avert the disaster. Detmer volunteers for a suicide mission on a shuttle, but Ndoye says it is her duty. When her shuttle collides with Book's ship, Ndoye can be beamed out in time. Tarka transfers all available power so at least Book can beam out. However, the ship explodes before he materializes on the Discovery. At Federation Headquarters, only Vance and Tilly still hold out as rocks are impacting the shields, making further evacuation efforts futile. Another orb approaches the Discovery, and in order to demonstrate their connection, several of the crew enter and are transferred to the homeworld of Species 10-C. Rillak and Burnham successfully communicate that 10-C did great harm, upon which the species promises they would move the DMA to uninhabited regions of space. When they notice Burnham's sadness, they release Book, whose transporter beam they intercepted. Book speaks out, and he says that just moving the DMA is not enough. He proposes that 10-C should shut down the DMA for good and give up the hyperfield. They agree. The hyperfield dissipates and the wormhole, which was used to create the DMA, opens to allow the Discovery to travel home. The damage on Earth and Ni'Var was limited. Earth rejoins the Federation, and several more planets are in talks. Book is sent on a mission to aid people who were displaced by the DMA.


Season 4 of Discovery had an intriguing start but then neglected its central theme of the investigation of the DMA the same way as already season 3 did with the search for the cause of the Burn. "...But to Connect" was presented much like a promise for more focus on the mission to find the origin and stop the DMA. However, the episodes that followed after the mid-season break just plodded along. Everything notable that happens with regard to Species 10-C is condensed to "Species 10-C" and "Coming Home". It looks like the whole season could have easily been shortened by three or four episodes without losing anything of relevance. I also wonder whether it was a good idea to have Kwejian destroyed as soon as in "Kobayashi Maru". The middle part of the season was notoriously devoid of impactful events and could have needed such a boost.

As I already mentioned in an earlier review, season 4 plays nice. There are no conflicts among the crew the way it used to be in previous seasons. As much as I like the return to Roddenberry's philosophy of trust and loyalty, this leaves sort of a void that could have been filled with, well, something. There are no political challenges either, as the Federation is one big happy family again. The basic setting of the show seems to be like in the good old time of TNG again. Yet, TNG came up with a new, more or less thought-provoking story every single week, whereas Discovery's season 4 had just the Species 10-C arc on a comparable level, plus two intelligent standalone plots in "Choose to Live" and in "The Examples". Everything else felt a bit as if the writers still needed some bits for the characters to say, to do or to feel.

It is pleasing that Discovery's writers have learned how to work with their characters, after initially just throwing them into a plot, where their statements and actions were often haphazard. However, while I appreciate that the characterizations are generally more consequential now, something else bugs me. The thread that runs through the season is "being connected". Still, as often as this is expressed verbally, my impression is that the characters are mostly busy with themselves. They frequently feel compelled to talk about their feelings, be it a resurfacing childhood trauma, the loss of a beloved person or the affection or trust they have for someone else. Sure, all this should and must have a place in Star Trek, but in Discovery it almost customarily happens with a bad timing, an unfitting context or an uninvolved addressee. And although there are moments of genuine compassion, I have the impression characters repeatedly use their emotions to plead their case, such as Owosekun in "Stormy Weather" (sorry, I can't let it go), so they feel better about something.

The increasing frequency of talking about feelings, of course, sort of foreshadows how the communication with 10-C is based entirely on emotions. But I don't see the reason why it should be in the focus before the actual revelation. On the contrary, the encounter with 10-C could have been an opportunity to show how everyone rediscovers their willingness or ability to express feelings. The big theme of "getting connected" too would have had more of an impact, had it been developed in the course of the season, instead of being mentioned as a buzzword a couple of times in every single episode. The importance of the idea could have been gradually worked out in the final couple of episodes, as the first contact team was working on communicating with 10-C. Unfortunately the people making Discovery are too keen on getting messages across the fourth wall, at the expense of them having an impact or only making sense in-universe.

Overall, season 4 is the best one of Discovery so far, although or just because it is largely devoid of conflicts, and although or just because it comes without surprising discoveries. Compared to season 2 of Picard with its crazy plot, I would even call it down-to-earth, which is quite the opposite to the original claim that Kurtzman used to distinguish the two series.

Anyway, here is the season finale "Coming Home", which continues along these lines and fulfills our expectations on most accounts. It keeps the promise to show an appropriately alien species of a kind we have never seen before. It demonstrates how a deal with Species 10-C is achieved by talking instead of shooting, and is very Trek-like as such. It aptly shows how Tarka realizes he was wrong and saves Book in an act of self-sacrifice. I also would like to mention how much I am pleased that this time there is no reveal that the big threat is somehow linked to a regular character of the show. And I am just glad that no esoteric concept is involved that would revive the inhabitants of Kwejian the way it was alluded to in "Stormy Weather". "Coming Home" fulfills my expectations, but not much more.

I appreciate that 10-C is a completely new species and not one with a previous history with the Federation that is out for revenge or something. But I would have hoped for more of a reveal as to why 10-C went into isolation. The complete story of the first contact, after stripping it of the parts that are only about feelings, boils down to "Hey, you know you're killing us?" - "Oh well, sorry. We'll do better." As I already mentioned, there could have been more to it, more insight into what motivates 10-C and also something to learn from them. Perhaps the first contact could have been moved to an earlier episode for that purpose?

It is also a disappointment that we hardly see and that we learn nothing more about Tarka's plan to steal the power source and about the technology to cross over to the other universe. Considering how much this was in the focus of the past couple of episodes and how increasingly unlikely the idea was becoming, I would have expected at least some explanations or some new spin on the topic. But it ultimately was just a disposable plot device that was not supposed to have any further consequences and that we are not meant to think further about.

Well, Tarka's character is used up anyway by the time of "Coming Home", and it was obvious that he would die. On the other hand, I didn't believe for a second that Book was actually dead. I was only wrong about the time of his return, as I expected him to be in the orb that took Burnham and the other crew members to the surface. Discovery continues to be the least consequential series when it comes to characters who would realistically die. And it's not only Book. Ndoye too should be dead, considering that it was not deemed possible to beam her out in time before the collision. For some reason the chance to survive a suicide mission is very high in this series. On another note about Ndoye and another Discovery cliché, in this episode the questionable honor of giving the most cringey and badly timed speech about their feelings falls to her.

Although I used to have my problems with the character in the past, I like that Tilly appears for more than just a cameo in the season finale. I think it is a good idea anyway that the story switches to Starfleet's efforts to evacuate Earth. I only would have wished that crowds of desperate people had been shown to illustrate this, and if only for a second or so. I find it curious that this side of the story comes across as very technical, as opposed to everything that happens on 10-C's homeworld. In an even more drastic view, it could be called cynical that thousands or even millions may die in asteroid impacts on Earth, but (as far as it is shown) everybody only cares for Book.

The scenes in the last couple of minutes of the episode, as the Discovery has returned, everyone is celebrating and Earth rejoins the Federation, are a no-brainer. But I wouldn't want to miss this part because this is the ultimate reward for the viewer, perhaps even rather than the fruitful communication with 10-C. One thing that I would have done differently is Burnham's monologue at the end of "Coming Home", which sounds very much like the one from "That Hope Is You, Part 2" and doesn't give me the impression that much has changed since then.

On a note about the visuals, this is the arguably first time we can see good shots of several of the starship designs of the 32nd century. I never liked the Federation Headquarters when it was enclosed by the forcefield anyway, because starships should be in space and because "natural" illumination in orbit of a planet is so much more clearer and more appealing, even with lens flares. The design of the surface of 10-C's homeworld deserves praise as well, whereas the scenes with the orbs in space are forgettable.

At the end of a season that did not take many risks, "Coming Home" is a pleasant episode that fulfills my expectations. For the first time in the series, the writing manages to tie up most loose ends and to bring the storyline to a satisfactory conclusion, but not really more.


Rating: 5


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