Star Trek: Discovery review – Season 4, Episode 4: All Is Possible

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4.

Last week we saw Captain Burnham and the crew largely leave the gravitational anomaly behind as Discovery told three distinct stories. The main thrust of the season still involves the DMA – as the anomaly is now being called – so it was interesting to see that All Is Possible once again shelved that story to take us on another pair of side-missions.

Unfortunately Discovery’s fourth season is still unavailable to large numbers of Trekkies. Fans from Puerto Rico to Tokyo still have no (official) way to enjoy the series, and this self-defeating corporate nonsense is something I’m going to continue to call out at every opportunity. The rollout of Paramount+ internationally next year means nothing to millions of fans in Asia, Africa, and other regions when ViacomCBS believes they don’t exist.

The USS Discovery at the beginning of the episode.

Though there were secondary and tertiary plotlines in All Is Possible, there’s one massive thing that we have to talk about first and foremost: the departure of Lieutenant Tilly. I have to be honest: I did not see this coming – at least, not this early in the season. We’re four episodes into a thirteen-episode season, and Tilly’s arc has already seemingly concluded. Though I had begun to make predictions last week about Tilly’s fate after she’d been seeming so out of sorts, I figured her departure – if indeed that’s what her arc was building towards – wouldn’t have happened until nearer the end of the season.

When All Is Possible kicked off and it became apparent that we were getting a Tilly-focused story, particularly another “Tilly tries something new” story, I was worried that the episode was going to feel a bit samey after she’d played such a big role last week. And although it now makes sense in light of her departure, I’m still left wondering if it was the right decision to schedule these two stories one after the other. We had some stirrings and indications from Tilly in episodes 1 and 2 that she was feeling this way, but because that story has now effectively run its course it feels if not rushed then at least unnecessarily condensed and perhaps poorly scheduled.

This was a huge episode for Tilly – and for Discovery.

The big question, of course, is whether Tilly’s exit will be permanent. It certainly felt permanent in All Is Possible; she even got the send-off from the crew that I argued Saru had missed at the end of Season 3. I don’t usually comment on cast interviews or The Ready Room (Discovery’s social media after-show) in these reviews, but when Mary Wiseman was interviewed this week after All Is Possible had aired she said that we’d see Tilly again before the end of the season. Good news on that front, at least!

That doesn’t mean that Tilly will remain a series regular, though, and her new role at Starfleet Academy has removed her from the ship and thus presumably the bulk of the season’s remaining episodes and storylines. And if the show is renewed for a fifth season – something which is surprisingly still unconfirmed – presumably Tilly won’t be back in a starring role. I think that’s a shame in a way; she was a fun character and after three seasons was beginning to grow in confidence and settle into her role. Or so it felt.

Mary Wiseman spoke with Wil Wheaton on The Ready Room after All Is Possible aired.

On the production side of things, it’s my suspicion that the show’s writers and producers didn’t really know what to do with Tilly or where to take the character. The addition of Adira to the regular cast was a double-edged sword for Tilly because they occupy a very similar role. In Seasons 1 and 2 in particular, we’d see Tilly working in the engineering bay with Stamets. Now Adira fills that role – and because of their deeper connection with Stamets, arguably fills it better. In Seasons 1 and 2, Tilly was the “baby” of the crew; young, fresh-faced, eager to please, worried about making mistakes, and keen to do her part. Adira once again has taken over that character space.

Tilly’s growth across Seasons 1, 2, and 3 was wonderful to see, and when we compare her to characters like Harry Kim – who essentially remained in a similar space for all of Voyager’s seven-year run – we can see the advantages of serialised storytelling. But Tilly’s growth as a character appears to have come at the expense of her roles on the ship, and the addition of Adira may well be the proverbial last straw. We can kind of see the snowglobe scene through this lens – Tilly was passing the metaphorical torch to Adira in that moment.

Tilly gave her snowglobe to Adira.

We can’t ignore the rumours of a Starfleet Academy series when discussing Tilly’s fate and future. Alex Kurtzman, who’s in charge of the overall Star Trek franchise for ViacomCBS, hinted that such a series is in the early stages of being worked on, and in more ways than one the Tilly side of All Is Possible feels almost like a backdoor pilot for such a show. We got to see Tilly both as a teacher and a leader across these sequences, laying the groundwork not simply for her departure from Discovery, but setting up her new role as well. Could all of that mean that the potential Starfleet Academy series would feature Tilly in some capacity?

I thought Mary Wiseman’s comment in The Ready Room that Tilly’s confidence had been knocked by the events of Season 3 was particularly interesting, too. Tilly had seen herself as being on a pathway that led her from the Academy to the captain’s chair, but when she got a taste of what being in command was like, she found herself out of her depth as she lost the ship to the Emerald Chain. I think a lot of us can relate to feeling overwhelmed by a difficult situation, or feeling the weight of responsibility and struggling with it. Perhaps, as Wiseman suggests, Tilly came to believe that command was not right for her.

Tilly came to believe that she was on the wrong path.

If that’s true, whose fault is it? There was a lot of talk during Season 3 that Saru’s decision to appoint Tilly as acting first officer was the wrong one, and while I defended that story point at the time, when seen through this new lens perhaps we could argue that Saru pushed Tilly to take on that role too quickly. He’s been a good friend to her, and has advocated for her when others might overlook her – as we saw last week, for instance – but might his friendship with Tilly have blinded him, at least somewhat, to her inexperience and limitations? Perhaps.

Tilly held her own when the Emerald Chain captured the ship, and ultimately played a huge role in retaking Discovery and defeating the villainous faction once and for all. But of course it makes sense that those events would completely bowl her over. She was in command of Discovery for a few hours at most, then lost the ship to the Emerald Chain with relative ease. As someone who’d hoped to one day have her own command, those events are going to take a toll, and it’s natural that she’d question her career path in light of what happened. We can empathise with Tilly, putting ourselves in a comparable situation.

Tilly had hoped to one day command her own ship.

It was sweet to see Tilly reunite with Captain Burnham, albeit briefly, before confirming her decision and departing the ship, and the choice of Tilly’s cabin for this conversation harkened back to the early part of Season 1 where we saw them together in that room on multiple occasions. Tilly had already made her decision, it seemed, before Burnham even sat down. Yet it was still nice to see her talking it out with her captain – and friend – before finally confirming that this is what she was going to do. The moments between Mary Wiseman and Sonequa Martin-Green added a lot to this story.

One person who was missing from Tilly’s story, though, was Stamets. Not only had Tilly and Stamets worked together since the beginning of the series, but earlier in the episode Tilly had expressed concern about “abandoning” him to go on the Academy mission – yet by the end of the episode she was content to leave him all alone with the problem of the DMA while she took on a new role. I think we could still have arrived at this point; I’m not saying Tilly needed to stay behind for Stamets’ sake or anything. But just as it was sweet to see her with Burnham talking things out, I think we could have also enjoyed a quiet scene between Tilly and Stamets in which she at least said her goodbyes. As it is, we saw Stamets incredibly briefly as Tilly left the ship, but that was it.

Stamets was noticeably absent from Tilly’s story.

This is the second story in a row from which Stamets has been absent after he missed Gray’s incorporation last week. I confess I’m not exactly sure what’s going on there – whether it’s simply a case of writing/editing (Stamets actor Anthony Rapp confirmed on social media that at least one of his scenes this week had been cut) or whether there’s some other reason for the lack of Stamets in some of these stories. He has a deep connection with Adira, which made his absence from that story last week feel very odd, but he also has a friendship with Tilly – so again, his absence from her story aside from one mention right at the beginning makes it feel like there was something missing; someone else she needed to talk to before departing.

One thing that wasn’t made clear is this: what exactly is Tilly going to teach? I presume it must be something scientific; she can’t be lecturing on subjects like command, surely? Starfleet Academy has usually been presented as something akin to both a military officers’ training college and a civilian university – with different teachers for different subjects. Tilly has a scientific background, so presumably she’d teach something in that department. Or maybe Federation history… since she’s 1,000 years older than all of the cadets! Perhaps this is something we’ll see more of either later in the season or in that potential Starfleet Academy show.

Will we soon see Tilly back on our screens in another Star Trek series?

We haven’t even talked about Tilly’s mission! She and Adira led a small group of cadets on what was supposed to be a training mission – but in true Star Trek style, things didn’t go to plan. I confess at first that I felt sure the whole thing was either a setup or a simulation, especially because of the involvement of the mysterious Kovich. However, it doesn’t seem like that was the case; Tilly’s shuttle really did crash-land on an icy moon, and the monsters she and the cadets had to escape from were real.

It wasn’t clear how much time had passed since the season premiere, when we were first told that there would be a new intake of cadets, so we don’t really know how long these cadets have been together. However, I felt that some of the tension between them was a little forced. The whole point of Starfleet Academy, especially in a post-Burn galaxy, is to work together and pull in the same direction, yet we had exaggerated moments of drama and tension between the cadets that just didn’t feel natural even in that context.

Adira and Tilly with the trio of cadets.

Even if many people in the galaxy harbour prejudices or preconceptions about other races and people from beyond their homeworlds, why would anyone who felt that way apply to join Starfleet? Surely we should be seeing if not “the best of the best” then at least folks who are superficially willing to work together; it kind of felt like the cadets were from some semi-scripted reality TV show, the kind that deliberately chooses the most belligerent contestants with clashing personalities. In that sense, I didn’t really like any of the cadets.

They had to start from a place that would allow them to come together, and in particular that would allow Tilly to be the catalyst for their coming together, and I get that. But it just felt like Discovery, not for the first time, had taken things to an unnecessary extreme in order to accomodate this storyline, putting up one-dimensional characters who behave unnaturally solely for the sake of presenting Tilly with an obstacle and a point of contrast. The young actors who played the cadets did very well with the material they had, but their characters were written rather poorly, in my view, and none came across as feeling either like a natural character nor someone we’d expect to find at Starfleet Academy.

Cadets Harral (left) and Gorev didn’t get along at first.

The puzzle that lay before Tilly and her crew felt like it came right out of The Next Generation’s era, and I’m absolutely there for that kind of story! After the shuttle crash the group was unable to stay aboard, instead needing to climb out of the crash site to use their communicators – but were unable to use their technology. This angle definitely added a lot to the story, forcing Tilly and everyone else to think outside the box rather than being able to fall back on phasers, tricorders, and the like. Again, this feels like a story that could’ve come from any of the 24th Century Star Trek shows and was a great throwback to the franchise’s past.

On a personal note, I have to confess that I’m sad to see Tilly go. If the move is permanent, as it seems to be at this stage, her absence from Discovery will be noticeable going forward, even if Adira steps up to fill the void she leaves behind. I liked Tilly as a character so much that one of my cats is named Tilly (if you want to see a couple of photos of her, follow me on Twitter!). Tilly didn’t just fill that “young and eager” role that characters like Harry Kim, Nog, Hoshi Sato, and Wesley Crusher had in past iterations of the franchise. She was always more than just a character archetype. Tilly was strong in her own way, brilliant in her own way, and funny to boot.

Tilly’s departure is a bittersweet moment.

Across the show’s first three seasons we saw Tilly as a scientist and engineer, working with Stamets on the Spore Drive. We saw her as a friend to Michael Burnham and Saru in particular. We saw her passionate about helping the jahSepp in the mycelial network, and how she came to the aid of Po in the Short Treks episode Runaway. She grew and developed from an anxious cadet into a true Starfleet officer – and while she will undoubtedly make an excellent teacher to a new generation of cadets, her departure is a sad one. She may yet have a role to play either this season or in Star Trek’s future, and I look forward to that. But for now, it seems as though Discovery is moving on without her. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels a stab of sadness as a result.

Just like Discovery plans to do we’ll leave Tilly behind and move on to take a look at the rest of the episode. There was a secondary storyline that involved Captain Burnham, Saru, President Rillak, and Ni’Var’s leader T’Rina. We talked last week about contrivances and forced drama, and in this story I’m afraid we did get some of that for the second week in a row. At what was supposed to be the final moment of negotiations to bring Ni’Var back into the Federation, the Ni’Var delegation dropped a diplomatic bombshell that appeared to sabotage the entire thing.

The negotiations on Ni’Var.

Both the timing of this and the way it was pretty easily resolved feel rather contrived – and it begins to stretch credulity to think that neither the Federation nor Ni’Var negotiators could’ve come up with Captain Burnham’s “independent committee” solution on their own. It seems like the perfect compromise, allowing Ni’Var the backdoor they needed without compromising the Federation’s unity. Captain Burnham wasn’t the only person capable of proposing such a solution, and while her status as a citizen of Ni’Var and the Federation makes her well-qualified to serve, I have to ask if she’s the only citizen of Ni’Var who’s also in Starfleet at this point. It seems quite plausible that there are others, and thus her claim to be “uniquely” capable of coming up with this solution might be stretching the truth somewhat.

All that being said, these negotiations reminded me very much of the negotiations that my country, the UK, has been taking part in for much of the past five years. I don’t know whether this story was intentionally written as an allegory for Brexit, but it certainly felt like it had elements of that, and to my surprise it was handled in what felt like a mature way. Brexit, much like certain American political issues, divides opinion sharply, and it would be very easy for a story like this one to come down firmly on one side of the fence, presenting one side as morally right and the other as morally wrong. All Is Possible didn’t do that, and instead tried to find a way to cut through the political machinations of both sides before ultimately settling on a compromise.

Captain Burnham’s compromise can be read as a metaphor for our current divided political climate.

If we ever needed Star Trek to shine a light on contemporary issues through its sci-fi lens, we need it at the moment! There are so many divisive political topics, including Brexit, all across the world. What we’ve seen over the past decade or more are moves away from the political centre ground toward the extremes of left-wing and right-wing politics. The art of the political compromise has been lost in too many cases, and that’s a driving force for further division. Finding ways to compromise and to maturely understand that it isn’t always possible to have everything your own way is something politicians of all ideologies – and their supporters – need to understand, and Discovery delivered this message in a simple yet meaningful way.

It wasn’t the perfect story, as I’ve tried to explain. It had its contrivances that definitely felt forced. But at the same time, any British or European person can tell you that, having watched years of Brexit negotiations, such things aren’t as unrealistic as they might seem. Diplomats for both sides have, at times, seemed to be negotiating in bad faith, waiting to spring the next trap or throw in a new uncompromising proposal at the last minute. It’s a wonder that the Brexit negotiations got as far as they did, all things considered!

President T’Rina was happy with the proposed compromise.

So perhaps calling this story “contrived” was too harsh in light of what we’ve seen in the real world! Though I maintain it’s a story with some imperfections, it was an interesting one nevertheless. Star Trek has tackled many political issues in its long history, from nuclear proliferation to the teaching of religion in schools, but this is one of the first stories to really feature politicians and diplomacy as a key part of the narrative, with nakedly political considerations having to be taken into account by our heroes. That alone makes it a very interesting story.

It was wonderful to welcome Ni’Var back into the Federation after seeing how many worlds had quit the organisation last season. It definitely feels as though the Federation is now making significant strides in reforming; Ni’Var is the first of the “original” member worlds to rejoin as far as we know. Perhaps we’ll see Earth do the same one day soon? It would be a shame if Discovery left that particular storyline unresolved, especially after we saw how isolationist Earth had become in Season 3.

Ni’Var has rejoined the Federation!

President Rillak once again showed her almost Machiavellian political style; her willingness to lie and use truly underhanded tactics to get her way without revealing the extent of her meddling. By sidelining Admiral Vance and bringing in Captain Burnham and Saru, she was able to execute a hidden plan to bring Ni’Var back into the fold and negate their last-second demand. It was, all things considered, a brilliant tactical move on her part – and re-emphasises her uncompromising nature and willingness to bend or even break the rules to advance the Federation’s best interests.

Despite what appeared to be a détente between Captain Burnham and President Rillak toward the end of the episode, I hope Discovery’s captain keeps her wits about her. If we’ve learned anything about President Rillak over these four episodes, it’s that she sees everything and everyone around her as means to an end. Working with Captain Burnham was, in this instance, advantageous to her – but Rillak will throw Burnham into the fire, and Discovery along with her, if she believes it will help her cause or advance what she considers to be the best interests of the Federation.

Captain Burnham would be well-advised to beware of President Rillak… no matter how superficially friendly she’s currently being.

We haven’t seen President Rillak do anything completely immoral or “evil” just yet. And Discovery may choose to keep this nuanced presentation going all season long. I kind of hope that’s the case, because right now I’m loving President Rillak’s “ends justify the means” approach to governing. Chelah Horsdal plays the character expertly. But Rillak is the kind of character with whom a major confrontation feels increasingly inevitable – her moral ambiguity and Captain Burnham’s moral certainty feel like they’re on a collision course.

There was a third storyline this week that involved Book and Dr Culber. As with Stamets, Book found a new but fun pairing with Culber and I hope they revisit this character pairing in future; it would be great to see them socialising or doing something else outside of a therapy setting. There seemed to be a hint that Dr Culber might need help processing his own trauma – perhaps from his time trapped in the mycelial network – in future, and if so maybe Book could have a role to play there.

Dr Culber may need some help of his own one day.

The programmable matter that Dr Culber and Book turned into sand reminded me a lot of the sequence from Lower Decks Season 1 where a character is in the process of “ascending.” Maybe that was unintentional, and tonally these sequences could not be further apart! But it was interesting to see nevertheless – or perhaps I’m grasping at straws as I desperately hope for the producers of Star Trek to do more to bind the franchise together!

Grief and loss have been themes that Discovery hasn’t shied away from, but they’ve come to the fore this season. Book and Tilly’s stories both connect to this theme as they’re both experiencing different kinds of loss. In a sense, everyone aboard Discovery is in Book’s shoes – they’ve all lost everyone they ever knew apart from each other, albeit in very different ways. And we’ve seen different ways of coping with that loss. Book seems to have made a small breakthrough this week, and I hope we see that process continue.

Book spent this week’s episode in counselling.

Captain Burnham, in Season 3, seemed to rebel against the confines of Starfleet for a time. At first I called this a character regression, as I felt it risked dragging her back to her early Season 1 portrayal. But thinking about it again, through this lens of loss and grief, I think we can see that Burnham is processing the loss of her friends, her family, and the world she had to leave behind. She did so at first by seeking freedom, then later by reconnecting with her mother and reaffirming her relationship with Starfleet. In Tilly’s case, she couldn’t make that renewed commitment and has chosen to walk a new path. Book’s destination is still unknown as he’s still processing his own loss and grief – and I’m glad. What Book has gone through is almost unfathomable, and it wouldn’t feel right if this element of his story and characterisation were resolved too soon.

So that was All Is Possible. Tilly’s departure is by far the biggest thing to come out of the episode, and while there were some minor gripes with the way both Tilly and Burnham’s stories unfolded, ultimately they end up feeling like little more than nitpicks in what was a solid, thoroughly enjoyable episode. I’m glad to see Discovery sidestepping the main serialised story and being bold enough to give us these semi-standalone episodes. I have no doubt that some elements will come back into play later in the season, but for the most part what we got is a self-contained story – albeit one with huge implications for the series going forward.

Onward to new adventures.

Unlike when Nhan and Georgiou left last season, I’m not scrambling around wondering who will replace Tilly. That question has already been answered: Adira. However, her departure does potentially open up another space for a new crew member – and with noteworthy absences in departments like security and tactical, perhaps we could be set for someone new to be promoted. Gray is perhaps the most readily apparent choice, but there are great cases to be made for Detmer or Owosekun to get bigger roles on the bridge, as well as for the return of Nhan, or even for a new character to be introduced.

A few scattered final thoughts: is Kovich the head of Starfleet Academy now? Has he always been in that position? I don’t recall him being referred to as “doctor” last season, but he could be some kind of professor holding a PhD. That’s an interesting take on the character! At first I wondered if he was responsible for the shuttle going off-course… it seems like something he might do! Beginning the episode with a traditional captain’s log was awesome, and another great callback to past iterations of the franchise. I believe this was the first time we heard a 32nd Century stardate, too.

Kovich made his first appearance of the season.

It was neat to see the Season 3-style uniforms being used for some secondary characters. Season 3 of The Next Generation and the film Generations both showed that there’s a kind of transition period when uniforms are being changed over where not everyone has the new variants, and that seems to still be true in the 32nd Century. I was a little worried when Admiral Vance seemed to have been shuffled out of the story in favour of President Rillak – but it makes perfect sense. Vance isn’t a politician and wouldn’t be capable of doing the kind of things we saw Rillak doing this week. Nor would I want to see Vance go down that road. Finally, is there a blossoming romance between T’Rina and Saru? I certainly felt the show was hinting at something to come!

Although it was bittersweet to say goodbye to Tilly, All Is Possible was a good episode all around. It didn’t feel overcrowded, which episodes with multiple competing storylines sometimes can, it had some well-made visual effects particularly on Tilly’s away mission, and though the politicking was somewhat contrived in one respect it was still genuinely interesting to see Star Trek trying something different. I think for me, All Is Possible is the high point of Season 4 so far.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, Scandinavia, Latin America, and Australia. The show is on Pluto TV in the UK, France, Germany, Italy, and other parts of Western Europe at 9pm on Fridays and Saturdays. Individual episodes or the full season can be purchased on iTunes, Amazon Video, Google Play, and possibly other platforms in the UK, parts of Europe, and select other countries. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.