Star Trek Discovery (DIS) Season 4
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".
- There is no explanation why the Discovery crew, and apparently only the Discovery crew, has colorful new uniforms. The style briefly seen at the end of "This Hope Is You, Part 2" now holds an unsurpassable record, for the shortest-lived uniform ever.
- This is the second (unnecessary) mention of the language "Federation Standard" in canon Star Trek after "New Eden". But this time it makes a bit of sense, considering that over 900 years have passed.
- There is a fat (and hopefully neutered) Tribble in the corridor of the Discovery.
- We finally get to see how the Ba'ul and Kelpiens peacefully live together on Kaminar. The Ba'ul seem to float outside the underwater dome. They were not established as a marine species in "The Sound of Thunder", although we could see their compound emerge from the sea.
- Commander Nalas belongs to the same species as the alien girl in "Children of Mars". They are called Akoszonam.
- So after the transporter of the Discovery has been knocked out, there is no other way to rescue the personnel on the station but to use the escape shuttle. This means that personal transporters are not operational either, although the impression was they don't require the ship. Either that, or they are too unreliable for that purpose. But what happened to Discovery's shuttles? Even if they can't dock to the station, wouldn't they have independent transporters?
- It is odd that Rillak, as the President of the Federation, would assign captains to starships. Since Starfleet and the Federation are contiguous in the 32nd century, we may accept that, but I don't think it would be desirable.
- Remarkable dialogue: "Why don't you just have a hologram goldfish?" - "I had one. Grudge ate it." (Burnham and Book)
- Remarkable quotes:
- "Why is there always a cliff?" (Burnham)
- "One of my engineers called it a 'shit-show.' Which is Earth for 'bad.'" (Nalas)
- "Your acts of bravery are irrefutable. They are also huge swings of the pendulum. And in a time of rebuilding, there is a very fine line between a pendulum and a wrecking ball." (Rillak)
- Remarkable character: It is not explicitly stated in the episode, but Rillak is said to have a human, Cardassian and Bajoran ancestors.
- Remarkable technology: The pathway drive is going to be installed on USS Voyager. We don't know yet what this technology is about.
- Remarkable facts:
- In one year, the Federation has grown from 38 to 59 member worlds.
- Starfleet Academy reopens after 125 years.
- Remarkable music: When the Archer Spacedock is unveiled, Archer's Theme from Enterprise plays as background music. This is unnecessary fan service, but I liked it.
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.
- It is interesting how formally Captain Burnham refers to bridge crew members with their ranks and names. In particular, she says "Commander Owosekun" instead of the familiar "Owo".
- Culber states that he applies the technology developed by (Altan Inigo) Soong, and even mentions the new body built for Picard. He cites the small chance of success as a reason why it has not become common.
- The Ferengi in the Starfleet meeting was redesigned and has only a passing resemblance to the members of his species in classic Trek. The shape of the ears and the forehead structure are different, and most clearly there is no bridge between the nose and the ears any longer. This is either another uncalled-for redesign (albeit not as gross as the one of the Klingons), or it will still be explained that this Starfleet officer is actually a hybrid.
- The computer has started to refer to itself as Zora, foreshadowing what would happen in "Calypso" (but not explaining why the ship would be reverted to how it previously looked).
- The gravitational anomaly is yet another example of a huge galactic phenomenon that has a razor-sharp border. It is said to be as much 5 light years across, yet it is deemed possible to stay "outside" the accretion disk with the Discovery, while Book's ship is "inside" and both are connected with a tether. A mechanical tether doesn't make sense if it is more than a couple of kilometers long. If we are generous, a length of perhaps a hundred kilometers would be possible with ultralight and ultrastrong programmable matter, and it clearly wasn't supposed to be any longer going by the visuals in the episode. So this is the distance between a region with strong forces that would tear the Discovery apart and with debris flying around everywhere on one hand, and a presumably safe region on the other hand!
- Also, considering the debris, I wonder how it should have been possible to pull back Book's ship with the tether anyway. When he finally "surfs the wave", we can still argue that the rocks would be hurled in the same direction, and a collision is less likely to occur.
- How is it possible that the anomaly that destroyed Kwejian would be a threat to any other planetary system? It unquestionably travels at sublight speed in "Kobayashi Maru" and still in "Anomaly" (because when the Discovery holds the relative position, the ship is not at warp, much less could Book's ship be). While it is not the first problem of this kind in Trek (thinking of the Nexus and the "Star Trek (2009)" supernova), it should have been addressed as soon as in this episode that it is most likely not a natural phenomenon. Either that, or it should not have been rated as an immediate danger to inhabited systems.
- Remarkable quotes:
- "We won't let their deaths be in vain. And we are going to make damn sure nothing like this happens again. Not on our watch. Not on our watch." (Burnham)
- "It's... bizarre. And that is a scientific observation." (Stamets)
- "May we all cultivate such life-saving hobbies." (Saru, to Bryce, referring to his "kite surfing" idea)
- Remarkable scene: the impressive zoom-out at the end, showing the whole extent of the anomaly
- Remarkable facts:
- The three Starfleet crew losses from last week's episode are: Lieutenant Aloka, Ensign Nevis, Commander Nalas.
- Saru was offered the command of the USS Sojourner.
- The emblem on Saru's uniform is a Kelpien "Symbol of Community and Service". It signifies his status as a council member of his village, which he keeps even when he is away from the planet.
- The Cliffs of Surak and Lake Yuron are sights on Vulcan/Ni'Var that Burnham likes to visit, at least holographically.
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.
- Continuity: In my review of "Forget Me Not", I already addressed the issue that meeting former hosts as independent individuals in a virtual environment, like in that very DIS episode, is still more realistic than isolating individual host identities and transferring them to new host bodies (which may not even have to be Trill), the way it happened in the zhian'tara ritual in DS9: "Facets". Considering that we have the precedent in canon Trek and that it is what might help Gray, it is only logical that the narrative explicitly refers to it, even if it was and still is like magic.
- I think it would be wise to bring a gun to a sword fight if you're not proficient with a sword, irrespective of some alien code of honor. Tilly only survives with a great deal of luck.
- I did not ask this question before because I expected it would be addressed. But now that Gray has been transferred to a synthetic host body, this very likely won't happen any more. So I have to answer for myself: What was Gray before he was moved to the new body? He popped up like a ghost in "Forget Me Not", with only Adira being able to perceive him. I take it for granted that Adira couldn't see Gray standing beside them, and that this visualization was only an artistic choice. My best guess is that Gray was some sort of manifestation of a former host as it would be created in the zhian'tara ceremony. But the two made it sound as if Gray, as a separate entity, was present in Adira Tal's mind even before a procedure comparable to the zhian'tara was performed on Trill in "Forget Me Not". At least, Adira was not surprised when he suddenly appeared. I was never sure whether the zhian'tara as in DS9: "Facets" would really imply that the very consciousnesses of former hosts could be separated from the current host's body, or only their memories and personality structures. But the story of "Choose to Live" (where the transfer is a CTRL-X/CTRL-V operation) absolutely necessitates Gray to be the very consciousness of the dead Gray host. Perhaps a bit like Spock's katra, only without appearing as a multiple personality disorder. However, it is and will remain a mystery how Gray's identity could spontaneously detach itself from the Tal symbiont.
- The zhian'tara is used to transfer the consciousness of a former host into a living different host. The Soong method that Culber mentioned last week is used to transfer a (dying) consciousness into a "raw" host body. This doesn't sound to me like it could be compatible.
- How much Tal is still in the new Gray? We have to keep in mind that Gray leaves the symbiont behind the Adira's body. It should be addressed at some point that Gray may have inherited some things from Tal, but that he is now a synthetic unjoined Trill. I hesitate to call him "Gray Tal".
- Here is a note about the blue Cherenkov radiation that would have revealed the presence of tachyons in Book's memory when Kwejian was destroyed. The visualization of the mind meld does show something blue, but T'Rina says there is nothing like that. Is it just a lens flare (in other words, artistic license we have ignore), or is she lying? If there was something blue for real, wouldn't Book have seen it as well? We will know for sure as the story progresses. But here is a case of visual effects standing in the way of proper storytelling.
- Remarkable quotes:
- "My mom and I didn't really get along very well. She didn't really like children, um, touching her or, like, needing things from her or actually generally being around her. Um, but if she was here right now, I would just... I would give her the biggest hug." (Tilly)
- "This isn't a moon. It's a ship." (Obi-Wan Burnham)
- "Um, uh, could we discuss the schedule for the day? Science first, nap later?" (Stamets, as the Vulcan scientists begin to meditate)
- "It is difficult to ride two valebeasts with only one set of buttocks." (Saru, old Kelpien adage)
- "That was a lot of analogy." (Burnham nails it, after Vance has explained to her how an orchestra works. This is great self-irony considering the abundance of analogies in the teleplays!)
- Remarkable scenery: The interior of the moon looks impressive much like the Terracotta Army, I guess hence the idea that it is likely a mausoleum.
- Remarkable ritual: The Vulcan arie'mnu is about the ability to suppress emotions, and takes a lifetime to master, according to T'Rina. The term first appeared in the novel The Wounded Sky by Diana Duane.
- Remarkable facts:
- The planet Kaminar voted to return to the stars and to retrofit the planet's spaceport for that matter.
- Abronian bodies contain latinum, which attracted grave robbers.
- The current course of the anomaly doesn't threaten inhabited systems.
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.
- Continuity: Taahz Gorev looks like other Discovery Tellarites, only with smaller tusks because of his young age. His appearance is still much closer to the classic Tellarites than that of Jankom Pog from Prodigy, which defies the explanation that Pog looks different because he is a teenage boy.
- Who is Kovich? He appeared to be the head of Starfleet Intelligence in "Die Trying". Many mused he could be the President of the Federation that was never seen in season 3. Now it looks like he heads Starfleet Academy.
- The designation "Theta Helios" is a very odd. It is definitely meant to be a planet and mentioned to have 46 moons, one of which is Kokytos. Yet, the naming follows the (fake) Bayer pattern as it is customary for stars or solar systems. Well, with Theta Helios being a planet, the system may be called Helios, introducing an unprecedented (in Star Trek) Greek letter system for planets in a system. But Helios (=sun) doesn't make sense at all as a name. Curiously, the moons around the nonsensically named planet have meaningful names (and not just numbers). Kokytos is named after a river leading to the Hades (like Lethe), Geryon (the original destination) for a giant in Greek mythology.
- Remarkable quote: "Remain silent and look official." (Saru, citing his orders for the conference)
- Remarkable facts:
- Admiral Vance allegedly suffered from a Malindian stomach worm.
- Tuscadian pyrosomes are a carnivorous colony species on Kokytos. They prey on bioluminiscent crustaceans, and mistake the shuttle's light emissions for such a sign of their prey.
- Though it does not qualify as an ultimate confirmation, Burnham's mention of peace between Cardassians, humans and Bajorans, looking in Rillak's direction, is solid evidence of her ancestry.
- J'Vini is sentenced to be transferred to Pijar, a monastic world in the Pella system. There she will devote herself to deep rehabilitative meditation under Gabrielle Burnham's guidance.
- Remarkable personal histories:
- On her first training day as a cadet, Tilly dropped her utility kit down a methane gas vent.
- The family of the young Tellarite Taahz Gorev was stranded in Emerald Chain territory after the Burn. "We weren't treated very well." His grandmother starved to death after their food replicator had been commandeered.
- Being an Orion, Harral thinks he has to "work twice as hard to be taken seriously." His father was Bashorat Harral, an activist who drafted the Emancipation Bill for the enslaved, which was part of the armistice that the Emerald Chain eventually proposed to the Federation.
- Val Sasha grew up in a colony on Titan and learned to pilot when she was twelve. At the Academy she met non-humans for the first time.
- Remarkable rituals or procedures:
- Thresh-tor kashek is a Vulcan meditation that translates as "shared mind" and that T'Rina shows to Saru.
- Kwei'tholum'Kwei is a Kwejian healing ritual. The planet itself is needed for it. According to Book, "you need sand from the bed of the Mameckx'sha River. You need to ask the Tulí Forests for their blessings. You need the Great Storms of Naillem'kwai to make..."
- When Hugh Culber's tío died, there was a standing funeral, el muerto parado. The uncle was placed at a poker table. But when he and his cousins tried to put a card in his hand, they broke of his thumb. After sewing on the thumb, he lost the index finger.
- Burnham initiates a Starfleet committee that is supposed to find the best compromise for the readmission of Ni'Var, based on facts.
- Remarkable homage: Captain Imahara of the USS Armstrong is obviously named for Grant Imahara (1970-2020) of Mythbusters and Star Trek Continues.
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!
- Vance considers the Metrons, the Nacene and the Iconian survivors as possible creators of the DMA.
- The Akaali are the species whose home planet Enterprise NX-01 visited in ENT: "Civilization".
- Tarka mentions that he has worked with Aurellio, but we don't see him.
- The hologram of the planetary systems and the DMA has about the correct scale as interstellar distances and the diameter of the DMA of 5 light-years are concerned. When the DMA changes its position, however, it appears in roughly the same neighborhood, rather 20 than 1000 light-years away.
- Why would the DMA, which has evidently changed its direction before and which evidently must have gone to warp (otherwise it wouldn't threaten any other inhabited planetary systems after Kwejian), still be rated as a natural phenomenon and only the sudden disappearance would be deemed a clear sign it is artificial?
- Vance doesn't think the Q Continuum is responsible for the DMA because they have not been heard of in 600 years, and because it would be unlike anything they did before. The latter is odd in consideration of the anomalous anomaly Q created in TNG: "All Good Things".
- Tarka and Stamets carry out the experiment to reconstruct the DMA in a rush, without the possibility to use all available power and with a lot of improvisation. Couldn't they wait just four more hours to launch it, and use the time for a more careful setup?
- The colony is sometimes referred to as being on "Radvek V" and sometimes in the "Radvek asteroid belt". This doesn't have to be a problem if asteroid belts are numbered just like planets.
- Remarkable dialogues:
- "Chitin. The polysaccharides in arthropod exoskeletons. It creates a distinctive clicking." - "Whatever. It creeps me out." - "Says the man who finds beauty in Tranceworms." (Burnham and Booker)
- "He is so single-minded about his work, he cares about literally nothing else." - "Hmm. Actually feels a little familiar." (Stamets and Culber)
- "Maybe they're gods." - "Whoever they are, they're not gods. And they're sure as hell aren't immortal." - "So much anger, no place to put it." - "You don't know me." - "No, but I know anger. It's a wonderfully productive emotion. Nice to meet you, Mr. Booker." (Tarka and Booker)
- Remarkable quotes:
- "I can just picture Tilly's face when she finds out that we got sucked into a wormhole three days after she left." (Reno)
- "I was never understood on Risa. The 'pleasure planet'. I was surrounded by idiots. Felt like your Gaily Leo at the Inquisition." (Tarka)
- Remarkable fun scene: The visualization of the star systems and the movement of the DMA is one of the few really good applications of semi-transparent holograms. This, plus Reno's dry remark "And it's back." makes it the perhaps best scene of the episode.
- Remarkable cringe scene: Tarka challenges Saru to a screaming competition.
- Remarkable facts:
- The USS Janeway and NSS T'Pau. More namedropping but okay with me.
- Starfleet gave the code name "Unknown Species 10-C" to the creators of the DMA.
- Rhys was saved by Starfleet at the age of five, when a hurricane hit his home town.
- Narisa beetles are indigenous to the Akaali homeworld. The Emerald Chain is known for building weapons disguised as native life.
- Quanarium alloy is one of the strongest metals, and also an excellent heat conductor with k=494.
- Zora says that she is able to feel emotions, as a recent development.
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...
- Continuity: The mention of long-term survival in the pattern buffer refers to Scotty in TNG: "Relics", of course. I am glad this was included without namedropping.
- At the beginning of the episode, Book says, "Whoever created the DMA is someone the Federation's never encountered." When he learns that the creators were most likely extragalactic, he reacts with the statement, "All this time, I thought it'd be an enemy that we'd know.", which is the exact opposite of what he said before!
- If I understand it correctly, the longer a person spends in the pattern buffer, the more likely the pattern will decay. But it looks like Burnham and Book waste precious time while the rest of the crew is already in the pattern buffer for several minutes.
- Remarkable facts:
- This week's namedropping: USS Voyager (already known since "Die Trying") and USS Enterprise!
- The actual name of Cleveland Booker is Tareckx.
- The wall panels on Book's ship imitate the structure of the tuli tree.
- Zora chose her named based on references from Earth, Ba'ku and Ni'Var where Zora means "dawn" or "new day".
- Remarkable song: Zora sings "Stormy Weather", a song performed by Lena Horne in the 1943 film of the same name.
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.
- The subspace damage caused by isolytic weapons and their ban in the Second Khitomer Accords was established in "Star Trek: Insurrection".
- The idea of the innumerable quantum universes is taken from TNG: "Parallels".
- Zora says that the coordinates are really those of the species that created the DMA. But Zora's data from the Sphere is 1000 years old. Why would she assume the anomaly was controlled from their homeworld, and not from a newly erected outpost? And who says that a whole race is responsible, and not a single person or a renegade faction like so often in Trek's history? Maybe the reliability of the statement will become evident in one of the next episodes.
- Who has a saying about what happens with Zora? Kovich and Saru? Kovich, Saru, Stamets and Culber? Or everybody who successfully finds their way to the ready room, such as Adira and Gray?
- Uhm. The "next-generation spore drive" is just a box that installs a new control interface? What about power? A supply of spores? And modifications that make the ship interact with the mycelial network?
- Tarka has no idea how exactly the power source for the DMA works, how big it is, how he could salvage it and how he could tap it to travel to another dimension, and all this while the entire Starfleet is on his heels. Sounds like a very ill-considered plan to me.
- Remarkable quote: "Politicians are like Gorathian sulfur slugs. Small-brained meat sacks filled with hot gas, but they can provide a means to an end, can't they?" (Tarka)
- Remarkable facts:
- General Ndoye (previously seen in "People of Earth") is present as the delegate of Earth (and Titan).
- 1600 quantum torpedoes were fired into the DMA in attempts to destroy it.
- Melai'Zhi means "speaker of the dead" on Kwejian.
- Starfleet has regulations prohibiting fully sentient integrated units. But Kovich rules that Zora is a new lifeform, rather than an AI.
- The core programming of Zora was changed in a way that the main purpose became to protect the crew of the Discovery. A part of the program appeared spontaneously, and includes something that could be interpreted as an ability to dream.
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.
- After the one at Federation Headquarters, we see another Ferengi with new make-up in Haz Mazaro's Karma Barge. So this is apparently how all Ferengi look now...
- The humanoid appearance with the smooth facial features in which the shapeshifter is caught gives away that this is a Changeling, a member of Odo's species, the first one we see since DS9.
- The use of boronite could point to the energy source being the infamous Omega Molecule.
- While it is plausible that Burnham would anticipate where Book would likely purchase the isolynium, it is an incredible coincidence that this very person would also have a map of a specific extragalactic region.
- How exactly did the Changeling cheat the game? Prior to knowing they were dealing with a shapeshifter, Tarka and Book suspected he would signal someone else by blinking. But then this second person turns out to be the very same Changeling.
- We will (hopefully) still learn what exactly the "blob" is that Species 10-C uses to shield a radius of 228 million kilometers. But is it possible that it doesn't radiate at all? If it expends energy, it would emit something in the infrared range. If, on the other hand, it somehow recuperates just everything that is inside, it would need no energy source at all!
- Wouldn't it be a reasonable assumption that the "blob" is some sort of Dyson sphere, and that there is a star inside? Wouldn't a star be a much better candidate for a power source anyway, rather than deploying a galactic dustbuster that verifiably expends incredible amounts of energy (that of a hypergiant, according to Tarka in "The Examples"!), for the little benefit that it collects extremely scarce particles from huge regions of space?
- Does the theory (not fact) that the DMA is part of Species 10-C's power generation, rather than a weapon, really increase the probability that whoever created it would want to retaliate? And even if it is actually not a weapon, it was willfully moved across Kwejian after all.
- Remarkable quote: "But I can take a page out of her own book and encourage you, as one of the most creative and adept officers in my service, to do everything you can to stop them, within the parameters of the mission you were given. You find a way, Captain Burnham. That's also an order." (Admiral Vance)
- Remarkable fun scene: After Owosekun has won her match, the waitress grudgingly says her standard line "Everyone's a winner on Haz Mazaro's Karma Barge." and then adds "Do you want a bag? Because there's more."
- Remarkable fact: Isolytic weapons are based on the element isolynium. Pure isolynium is needed for this purpose, it shouldn't be cut with sammonium.
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".
- There is no real explanation why the new breathing apparatus would change Nhan's eye color from blue to the apparently natural dark. In TNG: "The Price", the Barzan prime minister didn't have bright eyes either while using an old-fashioned device.
- Doesn't the Discovery have weapons that could disable Book's ship? Why build big starships if these don't have a tactical advantage?
- So Tarka built a completely autonomous defense system that can't be switched off? That's a pretty dumb design and a solely plot-driven complication.
- There is conveniently nothing anomalous inside the anomaly where everything looks beautiful and where there are no forces that would tear the ship apart, quite unlike all previous season 4 episodes would have made us expect. Also, the subspace rift in "Rubicon" is nothing like the one in "Stormy Weather".
- So the power source of the DMA controller is in a null space and would survive a blast that otherwise destroys everything in a range of half a parsec? How can Tarka even know it's in a null space? Or did he somehow intend to create it himself, without knowing where exactly? The possibility to salvage the power source made no sense in "...But to Connect" and is not explained in "Rubicon" either.
- After igniting the bomb, how can Tarka tell that the power source is on the other side of the wormhole? Wouldn't it be a reasonable assumption that it was destroyed together with the controller?
- And while I'm at it, with absolutely no knowledge about 10-C's technology, how could he anticipate the controller or its power source would fit into the cargo bay of Book's small ship, rather than being the size of a Borg cube?
- Remarkable quote: "With respect, sir, in my professional opinion, you're being an idiot." (Dr. Culber, as Saru hesitates to accept T'Rina's invitation)
- Remarkable technology: Nhan has a more compact breathing apparatus now, probably a 32nd century model.
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.
- According to Kovich, Vulcan surveyed Earth for almost a century before making first contact. This is actually over a century, as Vulcans were present when Sputnik was in orbit in 1957 (ENT: "Carbon Creek") and Cochrane's warp flight was in 2063 ("Star Trek: First Contact").
- The Discovery is said to be the first ship to leave the galaxy, although the Enterprise already crossed the barrier in TOS: "Where No Man Has Gone Before" and once more in TOS: "By Any Other Name". The Enterprise-D even arrived in the galaxy M-33 in TNG: "Where No One Has Gone Before". The statement may refer to the Discovery being the only ship to do so in everyone's lifetime.
- What is Tarka's plan now? Without isolynium? Does he suddenly know how to simply remove the power source from the controller without blowing up half a quadrant?
- Although it never belonged to the original plan (because Tarka couldn't know of the extragalactic origin of the DMA), he incidentally has a stash of programmable antimatter as it is specifically needed to cross the Galactic Barrier.
- How can Tarka know of the hyperfield of Species 10-C? He says that he "got the coordinates from Haz Mazaro" but would the trader give it away for free? To someone he just met for the first time? It also sounds like Haz Mazaro anticipated Tarka would need that specific piece of information at a later time, whereas he gave Burnham a map that Zora had to analyze to find what they were looking for.
- So vacuum-state fluctuations are macroscopic in the Galactic Barrier? If this is true, Heisenberg probably spins in his grave.
- Remarkable quote: "I never had a real friend before." (Tarka)
- Remarkable technology: Programmable antimatter repels negative energy.
- Remarkable facts:
- The family of Rillak's mother is on Earth. Her partner just started a new research project on Earth's Moon.
- In Oros's culture, Kayalise is "a place beyond suffering".
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.
- Continuity: The Dyson rings around the sun of the abandoned system are a less complete Dyson sphere as it was already encountered in TNG: "Relics".
- Isn't the whole point of spacesuits or of protective suits for use on potentially hazardous planets that they are air-tight (and sand-tight)? What is the sense of a filter in such a suit if it is merely made for known substances? Which can be adjusted, but only after an unknown agent has already penetrated it?
- Why does Burnham assume Species 10-C evolved on the gas giant, without the slightest idea how and where they could have lived? Only as the away team has found the low-density bones on the surface, she develops the theory that they inhabited the gas layers. Until then, it would have been a better assumption that they came from somewhere else and used the gas giant as a dumping ground, for instance.
- It is a daring assumption that someone could still be alive on the planet, whose atmosphere was destroyed as long as 1000 years ago.
- Well, yes, Saru's tricorder does not register any lifesigns at all, including the ones of the away team, so theoretically there could be someone else. But he simply accepts that, without bothering to check why the tricorder doesn't work the way it should.
- Why does no one suggest to investigate the Dyson rings? Even if they were destroyed too (which was not mentioned or implied in any fashion), the chance to find settlements, technology or documents would have been a lot bigger than on the devastated planet.
- Tarka's plan is to attach Book's ship to the Discovery in order to penetrate the hyperfield. But Burnham evidently does not have an idea how to accomplish that. Why do Book and Tarka assume she has a plan, which is the only reason for them to take the extremely high risk to board the Discovery?
- Just like he conveniently had a stash of programmable antimatter last week, Tarka now pulls a device from his sleeve that would make them invisible to Zora's internal sensors.
- Tarka and Book plan to deactivate (and steal) the power source, saying that this would stop 10-C. This is an idiotic assumption because who says they have no spare or backup system? And considering that the new DMA is much bigger, so would have to be the power source. As already in "Rubicon", they still or again have no idea whether it fits into the trunk or whether it's the size of a Borg cube.
- Remarkable Reno quotes:
- "I think it's pretty safe to assume that everyone, no matter what calm veneer they present,is kind of a mess." (Reno, to Adira)
- "Please tell me I just spoiled a surprise party." (Reno to Tarka, as she spots him under a desk)
- "Nothing like coming home to an unexpected hostage. Am I right?" (Reno, to Book)
- Remarkable fact: The Kowolian nightsprey was an animal on Kwejian that nested on the back of a jajtspat.
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".
- Exactly as Tarka was able to predict against all reason, there is conveniently just one power source, it is conveniently easy to find in the huge volume of the hypersphere, it is conveniently unprotected and easy to steal, and it is conveniently small enough to fit into Book's ship.
- I doubt that it wouldn't be possible to use some form of video or holographic simulation to illustrate to Species 10-C what harm the DMA does to inhabited planets.
- Remarkable dialogue: "I've had two real friends in my life, and you were one of them." - "You have a funny way of showing it." (Tarka, to Book, and Reno)
- Remarkable facts:
- Cleveland Booker inherited his name and his clients from his mentor, and he is the fifth courier of this name.
- Jett Reno joined the Hiawatha after losing her wife. She tried everything to keep a young ensign alive after the crash. He begged her to let him go and died after eleven days. Reno then became aware that he had the exact same eye color as her late wife, and she thinks that this was the reason for her inability to let him die.
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.
- Why didn't T'Rina attempt a telepathic connection to 10-C earlier? Why aren't more telepathic species on board for that matter?
- Very conveniently, the highly advanced orbs of Species 10-C don't manage intercept to intercept Book's ship, and they are not capable of coming close to the plasma stream either.
- Huge rocks have been impacting for quite some time already, the evacuation of Earth has stopped because of that and it looks like Federation Headquarters could be obliterated any time. But Tilly says they still have two hours left based on the course and speed of the DMA.
- After previously just communicating very simple concepts like being together or apart, Rillak suddenly addresses Species 10-C with a very complex message, and from this very point the communication is fluent.
- How can Species 10-C feel Burnham's sadness? The first contact team managed to establish only a surrogate for verbal communication, and T'Rina's attempt at telepathy was fruitless. So how can they know Burnham is sad without being told?
- Remarkable quotes:
- "I programmed the DOTs to reinforce the deflector arrays and rerouted all power to the shields, so toilets might not flush anymore, but we might buy Earth a little bit more time." (Tilly)
- "Hiding behind a wall may calm your fears, but it won't keep you safe. The void will eventually reach you. We all live in the same space. This is all there is." (Book)
- Remarkable appearance: The President of United Earth is played by American politician Stacey Abrams.
- Remarkable facts:
- The Federation Headquarters is warp-capable. In addition, single decks can detach and serve as lifeboats.
- Ni'Var only has 86 warp-capable ships.
- General Ndoye's first name is Diatta.
- Dedication: The episode ends with the message "For April, with Love", commemorating Discovery producer April Nocifora, who died of cancer in December 2021.