Twenty of the best Star Trek episodes!

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the Star Trek franchise, including all episodes on this list. Spoilers are present for the following: Discovery Season 4, Picard Season 3, Prodigy Season 1, Strange New Worlds Season 1, and more.

So, I did a thing. A few days ago, I published a tongue-in-cheek list of what I consider to be some of the worst episodes in the Star Trek franchise. Since it went up, it’s been racking up clicks – almost immediately becoming the most-viewed piece on the website over the past few days. To balance out that list – and to claw back some of my standing as a Trekkie – I thought I shouldn’t wait any longer before writing the counterpoint!

As I said last time, I’m a huge Star Trek fan. Heck, I run a Star Trek-themed website – so obviously I like the franchise! But I’m not one of those fans who says that “everything Star Trek has ever done is perfect,” nor am I someone who wants to whitewash Star Trek and never mention the bad parts. Paramount has a marketing team to do that.

It’s the Enterprise-E!

So today, as a counterpoint to my last list, I’m going to pick twenty of my absolute favourite episodes. It should go without saying that this list is also entirely subjective, so if I exclude your favourite episode or you hate all of my picks… that’s okay! We’re all entitled to our preferences about which Star Trek stories we prefer, and there should be enough room within the Star Trek fan community for polite discussion and disagreement.

So without any further ado, let’s dive into the list!

Episode #1:
The Doomsday Machine
The Original Series Season 2

The wreck of the USS Constellation.

The Doomsday Machine is, in some respects, The Original Series in microcosm. It has everything that fans loved about the show: an exciting sci-fi premise, an incredible guest star, and a hard-hitting real-world comparison. It’s always stood out to me as one of The Original Series’ finest outings, masterfully building up tension as the unmanned weapon mindlessly carries out its directive.

The character of Commodore Decker, who was created for The Doomsday Machine, is one of the show’s most brilliant and tragic characters. His story has always been an absolutely riveting one for me – and the performance by guest star William Windom is phenomenal. The Doomsday Machine had a point to make about nuclear weapons out here in the real world, too – and coming at the height of the Cold War, less than six years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, it could hardly be more timely.

Episode #2:
Coming Home
Discovery Season 4

Captain Burnham on the bridge of the USS Discovery.

Discovery’s fourth season – like its predecessors – took a meandering and occasionally frustrating route to reach its final episode… but it was more than worth the wait! Coming Home is fantastic, and encapsulates everything that Star Trek is and always has been. There were incredibly tense and exciting moments as the Federation leapt to the defence of Earth, which was in serious danger, but those moments were coupled with the discovery of a very new and different alien race.

Seeking out new life has been at the heart of Star Trek since its inception. But, as many have pointed out over the years, Star Trek’s “new life” could often look and act very, well, human. Species 10-C, which we finally got to meet in this episode after a season-long buildup, have to be one of the most strikingly different aliens ever created for the franchise. Above all, though, Coming Home excels for its sense of optimism and hope. I’d challenge even the most ardent Discovery-avoider to give it a try.

Episode #3:
The Siege of AR-558
Deep Space Nine Season 7

Quark and Nog.

Few Star Trek episodes truly manage to capture the feel of being at war quite so dramatically and spectacularly as The Siege of AR-558. Director Winrich Kolbe drew on his own experiences in the Vietnam War to create a claustrophobic, frightening scenario in which Federation soldiers were fighting for their lives over a nameless lump of rock. The futility of war is on display in The Siege of AR-558 in a way that Star Trek has seldom touched upon.

Nog’s character arc is one of Deep Space Nine’s best, and this episode shows why. Nog went from petty thief to Starfleet hero over the course of seven seasons, and the life-changing injury he suffered in the battle on the planetoid AR-558 would be a defining moment for him. The Siege of AR-558 is an episode that challenges many of our assumptions and beliefs about the Federation, Starfleet, and the Dominion War – and it’s an absolutely incredible watch.

Episode #4:
First First Contact
Lower Decks Season 2

Shaxs in First First Contact.

First First Contact is Lower Decks at its very best. It’s a Star Trek story through-and-through, with a challenge befalling the crew of the Cerritos that’s of a scientific and engineering nature. It’s also the perfect example of how Star Trek can tell tense and exciting stories without the need for evil villains and big set-piece battles.

Lower Decks often operates with a two-story or even three-story structure, pairing up characters and setting them off on their own adventures. But First First Contact is a comparatively rare example of the entire crew working together and taking part in the same storyline – and it works incredibly well. There are moments of high drama, tension, and emotion as the Cerritos races to save a stricken Federation starship and an uncontacted planet – and a moment of engineering genius that would rival anything Scotty or Geordi could’ve come up with!

Episode #5:
Disaster
The Next Generation Season 5

A plasma fire!

I consider Season 5 to probably be The Next Generation’s strongest overall outing, so Disaster really is the cream of the crop! This is an episode in which every main character gets to play a role in one large, connected story – but it’s a story that throws everyone far outside of their comfort zones and usual roles! The situations the characters find themselves in are tense, dramatic, and occasionally comical, because Disaster really is an episode that has it all!

The basic premise of the episode sees the Enterprise-D damaged, without power, and adrift. Troi is the senior officer on the bridge, being advised by Ro and O’Brien. Data and Riker rush to engineering to try to bring power back to the ship. Picard is stuck in a turbolift with three frightened children (his own personal hell). Worf must take care of civilians in Ten-Forward. And Dr Crusher and Geordi are trapped in a cargo bay. Everyone gets their moment in the spotlight, making Disaster a genuine ensemble piece.

Episode #6:
Vanishing Point
Enterprise Season 2

Hoshi on the transporter pad.

Although Vanishing Point’s ending is pretty cheap and uninspired, the episode itself is a truly interesting exploration of one of Star Trek’s best-known pieces of technology: the transporter. We’ve seen characters like Dr McCoy being averse to the transporter, and more transporter accidents than I can call to mind! But Vanishing Point steps back in time to when the technology was new and untested, and places Hoshi Sato at the centre of its story.

Ensign Sato was such a great point-of-view character, as her nervousness and anxiety at being out in space had already been well-established. Vanishing Point also took Hoshi outside of her usual role as communications officer, allowing her to take centre-stage in a different kind of story. Although the ending drags it down somewhat, Vanishing Point is nevertheless a ton of fun!

Episode #7:
A Quality of Mercy
Strange New Worlds Season 1

Christopher Pike as we’ve never seen him before!

Season 1 of Strange New Worlds is fantastic across the board, without so much as a single bad episode! It was difficult to pick just one for this list, but I’ve decided to go with A Quality of Mercy. This episode gets time travel just right, with Captain Pike dealing with himself from an alternate future timeline in which he avoided his devastating accident and disability. Time travel can be tricky to pull off, but A Quality of Mercy manages it.

The episode also returns to the classic story Balance of Terror, showing us an alternate outcome to the battle between Kirk and the Romulan Commander. This gives it the feel of a story “made for fans,” and Trekkies who’ve followed the franchise for a long time will surely find a lot to love here. At the core of it all is Captain Pike, a character who I find incredibly relatable. Knowing that one’s health is in decline and seeking to make a “deal with the devil” to find a solution… I’ve been there. And Anson Mount plays the whole thing – and the roles of two different Pikes – incredibly well.

Episode #8:
Equinox Parts I and II
Voyager Season 5-6

Captain Ransom.

Voyager’s fifth season ended in stunning fashion with the first part of Equinox. I was hanging on for months waiting for Part II, which brought the story to an explosive conclusion. After years lost in the Delta Quadrant, Captain Janeway and the crew finally encounter another Federation vessel – and another crew who understand what they’ve gone through. But all is not what it seems, as it turns out that the aliens attacking the small USS Equinox are actually in the right.

Equinox is a challenging episode, condemning Captain Ransom’s actions while also presenting him and (most of) his crew in a relatively sympathetic light. It’s an episode that hammers home how lucky Janeway and the crew of Voyager have been – comparatively speaking – and shows the extremes that people can be willing to go to in order to survive.

Episode #9:
The Star Gazer
Picard Season 2

Who’s this?

I debated for a long time whether I wanted to include The Star Gazer on this list. The story that it so brilliantly set up went off the rails pretty quickly in subsequent episodes, and Picard’s second season is, overall, a disappointment. But on its own, The Star Gazer is actually a pretty great episode, one that re-introduces one of Star Trek’s classic villains in a new and terrifying manner.

If the rest of Picard Season 2 had been anywhere near as good as The Star Gazer, it would be one of the best in the entire franchise! As it is, this episode almost feels like an alternate timeline, showing us what might have been! Regardless, though, it sets up a tantalising mystery, teases us with some serious development for some of the show’s supporting characters, and contains one of the best and most frightening clashes between Starfleet and the Borg that the Star Trek franchise has ever created.

Episode #10:
Homefront and Paradise Lost
Deep Space Nine Season 4

Benjamin and Jake Sisko.

Deep Space Nine had done things differently from its very first episode, and some fans weren’t wild about its darker tone. This shift away from the Federation and Starfleet being presented as an incorruptible and enlightened paradise was on full display in this pair of episodes. In between the discovery of the Dominion and the official outbreak of war, the Federation was terrified of changeling infiltrators. Feeling that politicians and bureaucrats weren’t up to the task, a renegade “badmiral” plots a coup.

Some early Star Trek stories could present the Federation as almost too perfect, and this continued into The Next Generation era. What Captain Sisko and Odo had to confront here was the idea that Starfleet officers could themselves fall prey to paranoia, corruption, and ego – and this very human reaction to the threat of infiltration felt quite relatable. Although we’re firmly on Sisko’s side, Homefront and Paradise Lost throw some moral ambiguity into the mix thanks to some complex writing and several outstanding guest stars.

Episode #11:
The Royale
The Next Generation Season 2

The away team gambling.

I confess that I have a soft spot for The Royale for one principal reason: it’s the earliest episode of Star Trek that I can remember watching! Although I’m sure I’d seen at least parts of other episodes prior to The Royale’s broadcast on terrestrial TV here in the UK in 1991, this is the first one I have rock-solid memories of, and it’s always carried special significance as a result. So that’s my own bias stated up front!

Bias aside, though, I think there’s a lot to enjoy in this episode. It’s the kind of story that no other sci-fi franchise would attempt, and it has an unusual and somewhat eerie feel. Imagine having to spend the rest of your life trapped in an alien recreation of a three-star hotel! That seems like a very specific kind of hell, putting a dark spin on what could’ve been a purely comical story. The idea of roaming to the farthest, unexplored reaches of space only to find an Earth hotel and a mystery is part of what made Star Trek stand out to me, and seeing Riker and the away team solve the puzzle is still an engaging watch more than three decades later!

Episode #12:
Through the Valley of Shadows
Discovery Season 2

The Klingon monastery on Boreth.

Through the Valley of Shadows reframes Captain Pike and the accident that left him disabled. The Menagerie, from the first season of The Original Series, showed us the aftermath of what happened to Pike, as well as introduced us to the character and his time in the captain’s chair. Through the Valley of Shadows took that idea to a completely new and different thematic place: Captain Pike had to choose this future for himself, making an unimaginable sacrifice in order to complete his mission and save untold numbers of lives.

We looked at one consequence of that above with the Strange New Worlds episode A Quality of Mercy. These two episodes make a fascinating pair, and the tragedy of Captain Pike takes on a whole new dimension in light of what we learn here. Pike has always been a character I find incredibly relatable, and Through the Valley of Shadows puts a distinctly “Star Trek” spin on the idea of seeing one’s own future – and knowing that illness, disability, and worsening health lie ahead.

Episode #13:
Court Martial
The Original Series Season 1

Captain Kirk with his lawyer.

Court Martial is Star Trek’s first foray into courtroom drama – a genre that the franchise would return to on multiple occasions! Captain Kirk is accused of murdering an officer under his command and attempting to cover it up, and the stakes are high! We know he couldn’t possibly be guilty, of course… but the evidence against him appears to be compelling.

Samuel T. Cogley – Kirk’s advocate – is a character I’d absolutely love modern Star Trek to revisit! Based on the “old country lawyer” character archetype, Cogley led Kirk’s defence in unorthodox fashion, and is one of the best parts of Court Martial. Along with The Conscience of the King and Charlie X, which also delve into Kirk’s backstory, Court Martial puts flesh on the bones of someone who was still a new character. Kirk’s integrity and honour are on display – and on trial.

Episode #14:
Dragon’s Teeth
Voyager Season 6

The USS Voyager prepares to land.

Dragon’s Teeth is an interesting episode, and one that tells us a little about the history of the Star Trek galaxy. It’s also a story that looks at the potential consequences of war and conquest, as well as how different reality can be from societal memory. The crew of Voyager re-awaken a group of aliens who have been in stasis since the 1400s, following a devastating war that culminated in the bombardment of their planet.

The Vaadwaur proved to be untrustworthy allies, however, and attempted to capture Voyager. The “underspace corridors” that were present in this episode weren’t revisited, even though they potentially offered a quicker way to traverse this region of space. The concept was fun, though, and reviving a long-dormant race was likewise an interesting and well-executed idea.

Episode #15:
The Andorian Incident
Enterprise Season 1

Andorians!

I have to hold up my hands and confess that I wasn’t a big supporter of Enterprise during its original run. I was disappointed in its choice of setting, believing that Star Trek should move forwards instead of looking back at its own fictional history. But episodes like The Andorian Incident show just how wrong I was to feel that way! The episode showcases the conflict between Andoria and Vulcan in the years prior to the founding of the Federation – and begins to set the stage for humanity to bridge the divide and bring them together.

At a Vulcan holy site on the planet P’Jem, a monastery has been attacked by Andorians. The Andorian leader claims the monastery is a front for a listening post. Jeffrey Combs returns to Star Trek after his roles in Deep Space Nine to play Andorian leader Shran, and the interplay between Shran and Captain Archer would be one of Enterprise’s best. All in all, a fascinating outing.

Episode #16:
Where Pleasant Fountains Lie
Lower Decks Season 2

Andy Billups, chief engineer of the USS Cerritos.

I adore Where Pleasant Fountains Lie. I think it has a potentially-interesting explanation for the abundance of human-looking aliens in the Star Trek galaxy (they’re all Earth colonies), but moreover it touches on a subject close to home for me: asexuality. I’m asexual, and while the Cerritos’ chief engineer Andy Billups isn’t explicitly stated to be asexual in the story, Where Pleasant Fountains Lie focuses in large part on his discomfort with having sex and desire to avoid it.

Star Trek has always used its sci-fi setting to shine a new light on the real world, and for me, this episode absolutely nailed it. When people ask me about asexuality, I now have a relatable story that I can point to, one that touches on many of the same feelings and experiences that I’ve personally had as an asexual individual. I wrote a longer piece about this episode’s asexuality analogy, and you can find it by clicking or tapping here if you’re interested to read more.

Episode #17:
Let Sleeping Borg Lie
Prodigy Season 1

What have the crew of the Protostar got themselves into this time?

Prodigy had a strong first season – though it’s been disappointingly let down by a lack of support from Paramount, especially in the merchandising department. There are several contenders for episodes to include on this list, but I’ve decided to go with Let Sleeping Borg Lie from the second half of the season.

The episode focuses on a derelict Borg vessel – tying into the story recently seen in Picard’s third season – and gives all of the main youngsters something to do. The episode moves key storylines along, as Prodigy is a surprisingly serialised affair, but it also takes the crew to a different environment. One of the advantages of animation over live-action is the ability to visit different ships and planets every week relatively inexpensively! There are strong themes of sacrifice and friendship that form the emotional core of the story, too.

Episode #18:
Birthright, Parts I & II
The Next Generation Season 6

The Enterprise-D at DS9.

This story is a fun crossover between The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, which wasn’t yet ten episodes into its first season. The main story focuses on Worf as he tracks down a hitherto unknown group of survivors of the Khitomer massacre – the event in which his birth parents were killed. The second part of the story in particular focuses on the Klingons and Klingon culture.

I adore a good crossover, and it’s a ton of fun to see Picard and Dr Crusher aboard DS9, as well as Data and Dr Bashir working together. This episode was designed to give Deep Space Nine a jump-start as its first season got underway, but it’s more than that. It’s a fantastic combination of characters and settings that expands Star Trek beyond a single series into a connected franchise.

Episode #19:
State of Flux
Voyager Season 1

Janeway, Chakotay, and Tuvok discuss the situation.

Voyager never managed to make good on its “one ship, two crews” idea, and State of Flux, coming midway through the first season, was one of the few episodes to really explore that concept. When the crew of Voyager come to suspect that someone is passing secret information to the Kazon, a trap is laid – and a member of Chakotay’s Maquis sect is the prime suspect.

This episode set up a recurring story that would come back in Season 2 and at the beginning of Season 3, giving Voyager at least some consistent themes across the first part of the crew’s journey home. It’s also an engaging mystery on its own merit, and a strong episode for Chakotay – a character who could feel under-used, especially toward the latter part of the show’s run.

Episode #20:
Civil Defense
Deep Space Nine Season 3

Kell, the former commanding officer of Terok Nor, appears on a screen.

Despite a station-threatening premise, Civil Defense is a remarkably fun episode! It takes the premise of occupying an alien space station to a completely different place than almost any other story in the series, as O’Brien accidentally triggers a computer programme designed to put down a rebellion by the Cardassian station’s former Bajoran workforce.

Civil Defense gives most of the show’s main characters – including Jake Sisko – something to do, putting together groups or pairs of characters who always work well together and provide a ton of entertainment. Quark and Odo help to keep things light – and so does Dukat, to an extent, when he arrives to offer his “assistance!” All in all, an exciting and surprisingly fun outing.

So that’s it!

The USS Enterprise in The Wrath of Khan.

We’ve taken a look at twenty fantastic Star Trek episodes from across the franchise, getting a great mix of modern and older episodes. Hopefully this will help me regain some of my lost standing as a Trekkie after my list a few days ago!

All jokes aside, though, there’s a ton of fun to be had with Star Trek. Put all twenty of these episodes together in a playlist and you’ve got a hugely entertaining Star Trek marathon that will take you from the very beginnings of the franchise in 1966 right the way through to the most recent seasons that have only just been broadcast. It was a blast to go back and revisit all of these wonderful episodes.

The Star Trek franchise – including all series, films, and episodes mentioned above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

End-of-Year Awards 2022

Spoiler Warning: Minor spoilers may be present for some of these titles.

As we enter the final hours of 2022, it’s time to look back at the entertainment experiences that we’ve enjoyed – as well as a few that we didn’t enjoy all that much! I’ve cobbled together a few categories from the world of television, film, and video games, and today I’m going to hand out some highly-coveted Trekking with Dennis Awards to some of my favourites!

You’ll find a couple of titles from the tail end of 2021 on this list; I reckon anything released in December is fair game as those titles often get the short end of the stick when it comes to lists like these. Some outlets put together their “best of” lists way back at the start of December, which is far too early in my opinion! But we’re drifting off-topic already!

It’s time to hand out my End-of-Year Awards!

There are plenty of titles that, for one reason or another, I didn’t get around to this year – so for reasons that I hope are obvious they can’t be included. I’m only one person and I don’t have every minute of the day to devote to these pursuits, so the exclusion from this list of certain big titles shouldn’t be interpreted as any kind of deliberate snub!

And as always, a caveat before we begin: all of this is the subjective opinion of one person. I may give an award to a production you vehemently hate, or talk negatively about something you enjoyed, but at the end of the day this is supposed to be a bit of fun. Feel free to disagree with any or all of my picks – but there’s no need to take any of it too seriously!

With all of that out of the way, let’s get started!

Best Television Miniseries/Limited Series:

πŸ₯ˆβ€ŠRunner-UpπŸ₯ˆβ€Š
Five Days At Memorial

Five Days At Memorial had the challenging task of dramatising a real-world event – and a gruelling one at that. I remember the harrowing news reports in 2005 showing the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and I could absolutely understand why some folks might feel it’s too soon to make a programme like this. But for my money, Five Days At Memorial did a good job at adapting the events at Memorial Hospital as delicately as possible, staying true to what happened while still making the story engrossing and understandable for viewers.

The fact that Five Days At Memorial shows what happened at Memorial Hospital from two very different angles felt a bit strange at first, but by doing so the series lends the events the challenging ambiguity that they continue to have. By refusing to come down on one side or another – to condemn as guilty or exonerate Dr Pou – Five Days At Memorial strikes the right balance. There was some choppy editing in some sequences that meant the miniseries didn’t feel as smooth as it could’ve, but other than that it was a very interesting look at a very difficult moment in the recent past.

πŸ† Winner πŸ†
1899

Netflix original 1899 is taking the crown in this category this year. The show goes on a wild and unpredictable ride, blending themes of mental health that resonated strongly with me with mystery and psychological horror. The multilingual series is, in my view, best enjoyed without being dubbed, as the different characters and the language barriers between them are key elements in the story at several crucial junctures.

I was first attracted to 1899 because of its setting – both in time, at the end of the 19th Century, and on a boat making a transatlantic voyage. But what I found when I got started was one of the most unique and different television productions that I’ve seen in a long time. 1899 may not be to everyone’s taste, but I found it absolutely riveting all the way through.

Worst Television Series:

πŸ† “Winner” πŸ†
Obi-Wan Kenobi

After I’d enjoyed what The Book of Boba Fett brought to the table, I felt a pang of hope that Obi-Wan Kenobi might at least be passable. But it wasn’t to be, and the series was a horrible slog through the absolute worst kind of tacked-on story that used increasingly desperate nostalgia plays to try to recreate some of the magic that, frankly, Star Wars hasn’t had since the ’80s.

Say it with me, folks: it’s time for Star Wars to move on! The vast sandbox that is the Star Wars galaxy has trillions of inhabitants, millions of star systems, thousands of planets, and hundreds of factions and organisations – and tens of thousands of years of history that could explore any of them. For more than forty years, Star Wars has been laser-focused on the same handful of characters and the same tiny sliver of this wonderful setting, but it’s over. If Star Wars is to survive, something’s gotta change. Obi-Wan Kenobi proved that.

Best Television Series:

πŸ₯ˆβ€ŠRunner-UpπŸ₯ˆβ€Š
Halo

Halo wasn’t spectacular, but as the first real attempt to bring the long-running video game franchise into a new medium, it got a lot right. The story it told was a riff on the familiar story that fans will remember from the games, but there were important differences which not only kept the mystery going, but also gave genuine characterisation to the Master Chief.

In terms of cinematography, I liked the way that Halo incorporated some first-person sequences into its action-heavy moments. This could have easily felt like a gimmick, but the way it was done – and crucially, not overdone – made it feel like a throwback to the series’ source material while also mixing things up in the television space. Halo used a fairly standard format that would be familiar to anyone who’s seen a made-for-streaming television show in the past few years, with a slowly unfolding mystery, multiple storylines, and characters who grow and change over the course of the series. It wasn’t anything groundbreaking, and I certainly get the argument that it wasn’t as action-packed as some fans might’ve wanted. But it was, all in all, a decent bit of sci-fi.

πŸ† Winner πŸ†
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

The Rings of Power had a lot of work to do to impress me. It had to live up to the legacy of the trilogy of films from a few years ago. It had to show that it could go toe-to-toe with the likes of Game of Thrones, The Witcher, and other big-budget productions in the fantasy space. And, to be blunt, it had to justify its billion-dollar price tag.

Whether The Rings of Power managed to accomplish all of those goals in its first season is still arguably an open question. But it certainly laid the groundwork for what should be a television spectacular, and it was, on balance, probably the best show I’ve seen this year. When I was at a low ebb in the autumn and didn’t have the energy or headspace for watching many new things, The Rings of Power was the one show that I made time for. Sure, there were big battles and other CGI spectaculars, but there were also some genuinely wonderful performances that brought to life some incredible character-focused storytelling. I can’t wait for Season 2!

Best Web Series:

πŸ₯ˆβ€ŠRunner-UpπŸ₯ˆβ€Š
How To Cake It

After a hiatus of more than a year, YouTube show How To Cake It made a welcome return this year. This time, there’s less of a focus on the kind of attention-grabbing, visually spectacular cakes that look like rocket ships or Princess Elsa or a completely different food, and I think that’s actually been a positive thing! Host Yolanda Gampp has branched out, doing much more of a variety when it comes to baking. Some highlights include flavoured cookies, baklava, and even popcorn.

As often happens when a web series takes an extended break, recent episodes of How To Cake It haven’t been doing the same numbers as the series used to get. But I hope that, as time goes by, it will pick up some of those wayward viewers – and perhaps bring on board a whole host of new ones, too. This new version of How To Cake It seems to be making more down-to-earth recipes that you or I might feel brave enough to attempt, rather than showing off impressive designs that only a master baker could create. For me at least, that’s a great thing, and I hope to see much more from Yolanda and the team in the new year.

πŸ† Winner πŸ†
Anti-Chef

If How To Cake It shows a master at work, Anti-Chef – as the name suggests – is the complete opposite! The show is a lot of fun, and Jamie, the host, isn’t shy about sharing his failures in the kitchen as he works his way through some very complicated recipes. Though he’s not a total newbie any more, many of the techniques in the recipes he challenges himself to try are very advanced, and the personal, relatable style makes me feel like I’m right there in the kitchen.

I love a good cooking show, and as much fun as it can be to see an experienced chef at work, it can be even more entertaining to see an inexperienced home cook tackling some of these recipes. Anti-Chef has given me a lot of laughs this year – but also some cooking tips and inspiration, too.

The Worst of Star Trek:

πŸ† “Winner” πŸ†
Most of Picard Season 2

I thought long and hard about whether I wanted to call out Picard Season 2, but I think it’s earned a place on this list. The first episode of Season 2 was absolutely fantastic, and if the rest of the season had been anywhere close to that level, we’d be talking about Picard as the best show of the year. But unfortunately things took a pretty sharp nose-dive after the second episode of the season, with Picard and his crew wandering aimlessly for much of the season in a present-day setting that didn’t feel inspiring or enjoyable in the least.

By the time the action returned to the 25th Century in the second half of the season finale, the damage had been done, and despite Farewell pulling out a decent ending, this disconnected, disjointed, overly-long story has to go down as one of Star Trek’s big misses – perhaps even one of the biggest missteps in the franchise’s history. There were individual elements in most episodes that I can honestly say that I enjoyed… but Picard Season 2 overall feels like a massive disappointment.

Star Trek’s Biggest Surprises:

πŸ₯ˆβ€ŠRunner-UpπŸ₯ˆβ€Š
Kobayashi
Star Trek: Prodigy

We ought to talk more about Prodigy here on the website – and I hope we will next year! But for now, the episode Kobayashi came out of nowhere in January to be one of the biggest surprises in the show’s first season. The Kobayashi Maru training programme famously tests would-be captains in a “no-win scenario,” and you wouldn’t think that premise would lead to such a genuinely heartwarming and wholesome episode – but as a longstanding fan, I really appreciated what Kobayashi brought to the table.

Without giving too much away, the Kobayashi Maru scenario plays out on the holodeck, and a cast of fan-favourite Star Trek characters all join in on the action. It’s a nostalgic treat – but it doesn’t overplay its hand, keeping a tight focus on the new characters introduced in Prodigy.

πŸ† Winner πŸ†
All Those Who Wander
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds

Strange New Worlds had an incredible first season, showing off a varied, episodic approach in which it wasn’t shy about trying out many different genres. All Those Who Wander draws inspiration from the likes of The Thing and Alien to create a tense, claustrophobic sense of horror aboard a crashed starship.

It’s hard to say too much more without getting into spoiler territory – and of all the episodes in Season 1, All Those Who Wander has to be the most important to go into un-spoiled! Suffice to say that the episode takes the horror angle right up to the edge of my personal comfort zone, but never crosses that line. It’s an intense experience, and one that shows just how incredible Star Trek can be when it throws itself into another genre.

The Best of Star Trek:

πŸ₯ˆβ€ŠRunner-UpπŸ₯ˆβ€Š
Coming Home
Star Trek: Discovery

Discovery’s fourth season plodded along, in places, and definitely teased us with mysterious factions and characters that ultimately turned out to be brand-new. But by the time the season finale rolled around, most of that was already settled. What we got was an incredibly emotional episode that saw Captain Burnham and the crew racing against time to reach an unknown, uncontacted alien race.

There were resolutions to disagreements between characters, several incredibly dramatic moments, and a storyline involving Admiral Vance at Federation HQ that showed off Starfleet and the Federation at their very best. Coming Home is, without a doubt, one of Discovery’s very best episodes.

πŸ† Winner πŸ†
A Quality of Mercy
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds

Captain Pike gets a visit from “the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come” in A Quality of Mercy – and the episode is incredible. In Discovery Season 2, when it became apparent that Captain Pike knew in advance that he was going to suffer a debilitating accident, an obvious question would be “why didn’t he try to prevent it?” And A Quality of Mercy takes that idea and runs with it.

In addition to a very emotional story involving Captain Pike – one that I, as a disabled person, found incredibly relatable – there’s also a wonderful callback to an episode of The Original Series, and moments for all of the main characters to get a chance to shine. Ethan Peck puts in a spectacular performance as Spock, and there was even time at the very end of the episode for one final twist as the curtain fell on one of the best seasons of Star Trek ever put to screen.

Best Animated Film:

πŸ₯ˆβ€ŠRunner-UpπŸ₯ˆβ€Š
Minions: The Rise of Gru

The Despicable Me franchise is usually good for some fun escapism, and so it proved again with The Rise of Gru. There isn’t anything completely groundbreaking here; you know how the titular Minions behave by now. But stepping back in time to a ’70s setting allowed for some fun jokes, and the over-the-top villains that Gru encountered were a ton of fun.

There was still heart and emotion in The Rise of Gru thanks to Gru’s relationship with the villainous Wild Knuckles, and that did enough to ground what was otherwise a pretty wacky adventure. There were plenty of references and callbacks to other franchises for nerds like us to enjoy, and on the whole, I had a good time with the film. I’m not in a desperate rush to re-watch it, but it was good fun for what it was.

πŸ† Winner πŸ†
Encanto

After several years in which Disney has focused on live-action adaptations and sequels, Encanto came along like a breath of fresh air! It’s one of the best Disney films of the current era without a doubt, with a deeply engrossing and frequently emotional story that has an uplifting message. And thanks to a wonderful soundtrack by the phenomenally talented Lin-Manuel Miranda, there are some incredible songs too!

A setting inspired by Colombia was also something different for a major Disney production, and the company has done well at diversifying the peoples and places it depicts in its major releases. But that would have been meaningless had Encanto not been such a wonderful, well-told story – and I’m so very pleased that it was.

Best Live-Action Film:

πŸ₯ˆβ€ŠRunner-UpπŸ₯ˆβ€Š
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

With the caveat that I didn’t see that many films this year, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is definitely up there as one of the better ones! I genuinely couldn’t believe that this film existed when I first heard of its premise – Nicolas Cage playing a fictionalised version of himself and going on a wacky adventure. But you know what? I’m very glad that it does!

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent could have ended up as a bargain-bin B-movie – or worse, it could’ve tried to take itself far too seriously. But instead it leans into a kind of self-deprecating humour as well as tropes of the action genre, coming across as light-hearted and just plain fun. Nicolas Cage is a good sport for taking part, and The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is definitely worth a watch if you haven’t seen it already.

πŸ† Winner πŸ†
All Quiet on the Western Front

Netflix’s reimagining of this classic German war film is absolutely brutal. If any film has ever come close to accurately depicting the true horrors of the First World War, this is it. The story follows a young conscript from Germany as he joins the army and is dispatched to the front line, and then jumps ahead to the closing days of the war.

Every version of All Quiet on the Western Front – and there have now been three adaptations of the original novel – have shown just how senseless and meaningless war can be, taking a very individualist, human look at warfare. This version hammers that home, and can be uncomfortable viewing. But it’s an incredibly powerful film – one that absolutely deserves to be in contention for some of the top awards.

The “I-didn’t-play-this-game-but-you-probably-should” Award:

πŸ† Winner πŸ†
Elden Ring

I wish I could say I was interested in Elden Ring… but I’m just not. The “difficult for the sake of it” style of gameplay that has come to be known as the “Souls-like” genre just isn’t my cup of tea, but by all accounts Elden Ring is one of the best examples of this type of game, and one of the best games of the year – if not the generation.

Taking the Dark Souls format into an expansive open-world setting, Elden Ring has won almost universal acclaim from critics and players alike, becoming one of the most talked-about releases of the year. For a single-player title in a gaming landscape increasingly dominated by the online multiplayer scene, I think that’s a fantastic thing, and even though Elden Ring isn’t for me, I still think it’s worth noting it as one of the most important releases of the year.

Best Browser Game:

πŸ† Winner πŸ†
Wordle

I wouldn’t usually dedicate much time to browser games on a list like this, but since I first played Wordle back in February or March, I don’t think I’ve missed a single day. The format is fun, with a single word each day to guess and only six chances to get it right. Wordle was snapped up by the New York Times and has since spawned dozens or perhaps even hundreds of clones – including variants that have multiple words to guess, and variants based on specific topics or franchises. There’s even a Star Trek-themed one!

Wordle blew up to become an internet phenomenon in 2022, and for a while it seemed like you couldn’t move for people showing off their Wordle results on social media. It’s become part of my daily routine – and my current streak is 77 wins in a row, going all the way back to the middle of October!

The “buggy piece of crap” Award:

πŸ† “Winner” πŸ†
Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves Collection (PC version)

The PC port of Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves Collection is the worst I’ve come across in recent years. I’d thought that the days of amateurish PC ports were finally over, but PlayStation Studios, Naughty Dog, and Iron Galaxy Studios showed me that I was wrong about that. In short, Uncharted is incredibly poorly-optimised for PC, with a piss-poor frame rate and weird visual and texture bugs that were incredibly offputting. The screenshot above shows off one such glitch.

It’s such a shame because the Uncharted series has always been a blast. The Indiana Jones-inspired games still feel like something different in the action-adventure space, even with the likes of Tomb Raider being reimagined for a new generation. The stories present here are great – but if I have to spend as much time battling bugs as I do enemies, I’m going to have a bad time. Other PlayStation titles – like Spider-Man and God of War – don’t have these issues, so I don’t understand how Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves Collection managed to launch on PC in such a bad state.

Best Expansion Pack/DLC:

πŸ† Winner πŸ†
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe – Booster Course Pass

The Booster Course Pass has given Mario Kart 8 Deluxe a new lease on life – even if it’s not as transformative as a new entry in the series would’ve been. I was disappointed as the year went by and it became clear that there would be no Mario Kart 9, but the Booster Course Pass has definitely convinced me to dust off my Nintendo Switch and pick up Mario Kart 8 Deluxe again.

The “wave” approach to the DLC has been fun, too, keeping the game feeling fresher for longer when compared to dumping all 48 new racetracks at once. Don’t get me wrong, the longevity of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is still an issue, and I now have the additional concern that there will be fewer racetracks left to adapt whenever Mario Kart 9 eventually comes along. But in the short-term, the Booster Course Pass is proving to be great fun.

Game of the Year:

πŸ₯ˆβ€ŠRunner-UpπŸ₯ˆβ€Š
Stray

Stray is absolutely adorable: a game in which you get to play as a kitty cat! I was sold on that premise alone, but what I found when I got stuck in was a genuinely enjoyable, well-paced, well-structured indie title. Stray has great graphics, with the movement of the main cat character in particular being incredibly realistic. There’s some wonderful art design in both the environments and the robotic non-player characters, too.

Stray is further proof that there’s plenty of life in the narrative, linear, single-player space, and that not every game needs to be forced into the open-world mould. But at the same time, it’s something very different. Not only is the idea of playing as an animal unique, but the game’s slow pace and focus on peaceful interaction with the environment instead of combat and quick-time events all make for a relaxing, yet deeply engrossing experience.

πŸ† Winner πŸ†
Disney Dreamlight Valley

If you’d told me a few months ago that my favourite game of 2022 would be an early access Disney title, I wouldn’t have believed it! But I’ve sunk well over 150 hours into Disney Dreamlight Valley since its launch at the end of August, and I’ve been having an incredible time. The game basically took all of my criticisms of Animal Crossing: New Horizons and fixed them, then threw in dozens of new features I didn’t even know I wanted – and some fun Disney-centric stories with a diverse cast of characters for good measure.

Disney Dreamlight Valley is so much fun and has so much to offer, even in this early access form, that it’s hard to know where to begin. There’s an interesting main quest, dozens of character-focused missions, the kind of home-building and design gameplay that players loved about titles like The Sims, and all of the fun of living another life in a fantasy land as you’d expect from an Animal Crossing game. There’s so much to love about Disney Dreamlight Valley, and I’m happy to crown it my favourite game of the year.

So that’s it!

At the first Academy Awards in 1929, Joseph Farnham receives his award from Douglas Fairbanks.
Image Credit: oscars.org

We’ve dished out awards to some of my favourite entertainment experiences of the year. The countdown is on to 2023 – there are just hours left until the sun will rise on a whole new year! Stay tuned in the days ahead because I plan to take a look at some of the things I’m most looking forward to between now and Christmas. Is that the earliest you’ve seen someone mention Christmas 2023?

I hope that this was a bit of fun. There were plenty of enjoyable films, television shows, and video games this year – despite the delays that still hang over the entertainment industry. Though I wouldn’t say that 2022 is likely to go down in history as one of the best-ever years for entertainment, I think we still got a wide variety of experiences, many of which were enjoyable.

So I suppose all that’s left to say is this: Happy New Year! Whatever you plan to do, I hope you have a wonderful time!

See you next year!

All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective owner, company, studio, broadcaster, developer, distributor, publisher, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.


Check out reviews or articles featuring some of the films, games, and TV shows mentioned on this list by clicking or tapping the links below:

The Halo TV Series

Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

Strange New Worlds Season 1

Star Trek: Discovery 4×13: Coming Home

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe – Booster Course Pass

Disney Dreamlight Valley

Star Trek: Discovery review – Season 4, Episode 13: Coming Home

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

I cried a lot while watching Coming Home. It was an incredibly emotional episode, one that hit all of the notes that it was aiming for and brought the season to a close in style. We can say definitively that Season 4 ended on a high, having saved the best for last. In fact, Coming Home might just be the best episode of the entire season!

From almost the first minute, the emotional punches started coming – and they didn’t let up until the epilogue. Captain Burnham and the entire crew went on a rollercoaster ride as they battled to stop Tarka, to get Unknown Species 10-C to listen, and to save Earth and Ni’Var from destruction. The episode was well-paced, with plenty of energy to keep things exciting but without ever feeling rushed. And there were some wonderful visual effects and animation work as we finally got an unobscured look at Unknown Species 10-C.

A group of Unknown Species 10-C.

I had a wonderful time with Coming Home, and thinking about Season 4 as a whole, the finale is one of the strongest offerings. That contrasts with Season 3, where the end of the Burn’s story felt like a non-sequitur, if not an outright letdown. In that respect, it’s nice to see that Discovery has grown, adapted, and perhaps even taken on board some of the feedback received about the Burn and Season 3 in general. The creative team can be pleased, I think, that they did a better job this time around.

All that being said, there are some issues that are raised by Coming Home. The episode itself was great, and even some of the storylines that I’d been less invested in were paid off in emotional style. But thinking about the episode as the concluding chapter of a thirteen-episode season, I do have some complaints about absences, about characters who weren’t well-used, and about specific storylines that didn’t get the kind of payoff I’d been hoping for. While these points don’t detract from a wonderful and emotional episode in Coming Home, they do count against Season 4 as a whole.

Dr Hirai was a character with potential who felt sadly underused this season.

In the weeks ahead I’d like to do a retrospective of the season, and when I do I’ll go into more detail about some of these complaints. But with Coming Home being the season finale, I’d be remiss not to mention them here. This was the last chance for Discovery to do something significant with some of these narrative points – especially when considering that Season 5 will almost certainly go in a different direction.

Ruon Tarka’s abrupt turnaround from an understandable and even sympathetic character to a bold-faced villain was not handled particularly well, and while Coming Home went some way toward reversing that and bringing back some of the nuance that had made him such an interesting character in the first place, it came too late. Tarka’s story – much like Tarka himself in his final moments – ran out of road, and ended in an unspectacular and unsatisfying fashion, with no real payoff to his quest to reach Oros and Kayalise.

Tarka met his end in an unsatisfying way.

The scenes between Tarka and Book were beautifully constructed, and the raw emotion that both David Ajala and Shawn Doyle brought to screen is undeniable. The performances were fantastic, and Coming Home found enough time to show off these moments despite having plenty of other narrative beats to get through.

Despite that, however, the damage to Tarka’s characterisation had already been done. The complex and nuanced character that we met in The Examples, half a season ago, had been developed slowly over several episodes. His desire to use the power source at the heart of the DMA was explained through a series of flashbacks that introduced us to his long-lost friend Oros… and it feels like none of that really went anywhere. There were the ongoing themes of grief and loss that have been running since Season 3, and I guess we could argue that Tarka represents a different kind of reaction to those things than other characters. But even then, this side of the story doesn’t feel particularly strong.

Tarka with the interdimensional transporter shortly before his death.

It was nice to see that, in his final moments, Tarka seemed to come around to Book’s way of thinking. As he stood on the wrecked bridge of Book’s ship, awaiting the inevitable, he’d taken several steps back toward being the complex character that we believed him to be in his earlier appearances, and I do appreciate that. It wasn’t that there wasn’t time to pay off Tarka’s well-established story. It’s just that Discovery chose not to.

This was a story that, at the end of the day, didn’t need Tarka. It didn’t need a villain to be outsmarted and killed in the final act; all the pieces were in place for a story of first contact with Unknown Species 10-C that was tense, interesting, and engaging without him. There was more than enough drama and excitement in that premise to make Tarka’s addition unnecessary; fluff to pad out a season-long story that I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling had been padded out far more than it should’ve been.

Tarka was ultimately the villain of the season… but he didn’t need to be.

Season 4 could have been structured differently, with the Tarka and Unknown Species 10-C stories going in different directions. If one story had concluded around the time of the mid-season break, the second half of the season could’ve followed another related but separate story… and when both sides of the story were overstretched by running for as many episodes as they did, perhaps that would’ve been preferable.

But that’s less about Coming Home than it is about the structure of the season as a whole! Despite my waning interest in the Book and Tarka story, Coming Home pulled out a complex and emotional ending for both characters. It wasn’t the way I would’ve necessarily hoped for nor chosen, but once the decision had been made to kill off Tarka in this way and to have the fake-out over Book’s death, Discovery executed it about as well as possible.

Tarka and Book caught in an explosion.

Going into the finale there were genuine concerns for Book and Reno’s survival. While a fifth season has been confirmed, neither character was guaranteed to appear in it, and there was a real possibility that one or both could’ve died as Tarka tried to execute an increasingly desperate (and, sadly, an increasingly nonsensical) plan. When it came to the moment of Book’s apparent death, it thus felt like he was really gone; there was no part of me saying “this is all just a fake-out.” And again, this was one of many emotional punches that Coming Home set up and delivered perfectly.

Book’s survival was also kept hidden by the story – we weren’t immediately shown him alive with Unknown Species 10-C – which kept things going as other storylines played out. As a fake-out, I think it worked pretty well. It made Book’s return in a pillar of light feel genuinely wonderful, and took Captain Burnham on a rollercoaster that allowed Sonequa Martin-Green to really show off her emotional range. Both as a story point and on the technical side of things, it worked well for Coming Home.

Book was saved by Unknown Species 10-C.

But, as I’ve found myself saying numerous times as the season has worn on, it means that Discovery has yet again given all of its characters some pretty serious plot armour. In an individual episode we can forgive that a near-death situation resulted in survival, or that an apparently-dead character like Book was safe all along. But when we consider the season overall, no one aside from Tarka was actually killed. Despite the incredibly dangerous situations that the crew found themselves in, and despite the overwhelming odds stacked against them by Unknown Species 10-C, the DMA, Tarka, and everything else they went through, they all survived.

Television storytelling has moved on since Star Trek’s early days – something that the very nature of Discovery is itself testament to. To run an entire season this way – with another “galaxy-ending” calamity for the crew to deal with, which they all survive – risks diminishing the threat felt in future stories. If we as the audience can feel confident that everyone will be fine, no matter what else is happening or how badly the ship seems to be blowing up, that robs the show of a significant portion of the excitement, tension, and drama that its storylines have done an otherwise good job at creating. Book’s fake-out “death” isn’t the problem in and of itself; it’s a symptom of a much bigger issue – the obvious lack of willingness on the part of Discovery’s writers to allow even the most minor of tertiary characters to be killed off. In 2022 that’s out-of-date, and it’s a storytelling mistake that will have to be addressed in future.

Book survived… and so did everyone else.

The whole “Earth is in danger” angle is a trope that I wish hadn’t been brought into the story this season. It’s such a played-out clichΓ©, and it’s one which, as I noted a couple of episodes ago when it was introduced, risks making the end of the story feel formulaic. It was obvious two episodes back that Discovery wasn’t going to allow the destruction of Earth and Ni’Var in the final act of Season 4, so unfortunately I went into Coming Home with that expectation firmly embedded in my mind.

That doesn’t mean that the route to saving Earth was easy, and on the Federation HQ side of the story with Tilly and Admiral Vance there were some absolutely wonderful moments. The swooping arrival of the USS Mitchell – named for Discovery actor Kenneth Mitchell – hit all of the right notes for me, echoing moments like the Enterprise-E’s dramatic entrance during the Battle of Sector 001 in First Contact. In fact, all of the evacuation sequences worked well, and after her departure earlier in the season it was nice to welcome back Tilly – however briefly.

The USS Mitchell arrived to save the day!

I’d have liked to have seen something earlier in the season to perhaps set up some kind of dynamic between Vance and Tilly, and that would really be my only criticism. The two didn’t feel like they had natural chemistry; I was acutely aware of the difference in status between the head of Starfleet and a character who, until a few episodes ago, was a lowly ensign. The two performers did well to sell it, but had we seen Tilly offered her role at Starfleet Academy by Vance, not Kovich, back in All Is Possible, I think we would’ve had some kind of baseline for their relationship. This would’ve let us see how far they’d come to be able to sit together and share a drink as they awaited what seemed to be the inevitable.

That said, I liked the evacuation sequences. In fact, this part of Coming Home might actually be my favourite – surpassing the meeting with Unknown Species 10-C, and definitely beating out the conclusion to Tarka’s story. There’s something about a doomed, heroic “last stand” that always gets me no matter how it’s played, and for Vance and Tilly, they knew that they didn’t have any control over the DMA situation. They had to do their jobs knowing there was nothing they could do to prevent what was happening – they were relying entirely on Captain Burnham and the USS Discovery.

Admiral Vance led the evacuation efforts.

That setup led to a real unexpected highlight. I maintain it would still have worked were it not Earth in the firing line, but setting aside that particular narrative gripe, the scenes at Federation Headquarters were pitch-perfect. Seeing Federation HQ warp in to offer to help, even though Earth was not a member of the Federation, really epitomises what the Federation is all about. That is the spirit of Star Trek, in many ways: offering to help while asking nothing in return. The DMA placed Earth in danger, and Starfleet rode in to help without even having to think twice.

Admiral Vance and Tilly both came to embody that Federation spirit in these sequences, and they gave it their all to get as many people to safety as they possibly could. Choosing to remain behind to cover the escape of the final ships was just the perfect end for both of them – and something I could absolutely see both of them being willing to do. As they sat down, knowing they’d given their all, and shared a drink, I was absolutely blown away by this unexpected and wonderful addition to Coming Home.

Tilly and Admiral Vance sharing a drink.

We also got to spend a little more time with some of Tilly’s cadets from All Is Possible. After those characters fell somewhat flat in that story, it seems like at least some of them have grown into their roles as Starfleet cadets, which was nice to see. It wasn’t a huge part of this side of the story, but it was a neat way to include something that had been established earlier in the season.

There was, unfortunately, a gaping hole on this side of the story. It wasn’t really apparent until Coming Home was drawing to a close, and it didn’t detract from the way any of these incredibly emotional moments felt as they unfolded. But in retrospect I have to ask: where was Dr Kovich? Is he just a gag character now, someone whose lines tease stories that sound interesting but go nowhere? Because that’s what it feels like. After Dr Kovich’s line in The Galactic Barrier that he had “more important things” to do than make first contact with the species who built the DMA, I was hoping that Discovery would pay that off somehow… but it didn’t happen.

What happened to Dr Kovich?

We’ll deal more with the Dr Kovich situation when I take a look back at the season as a whole, but suffice to say that his absence from this part of the story was noticeable, and several threads that seemed to tease that he was working on something interesting with Lieutenant Commander Bryce ultimately just went nowhere. This isn’t a situation like the Picard Season 1 finale, either, where the meandering story of the season ran out of road and didn’t have enough time to pay off its stories… this was a conscious choice on the part of Discovery’s writers. They teased us with Dr Kovich all season long, feeding us little crumbs of information that seemed to set up something about his character… and then just dropped it, perhaps with a snide laugh behind their hands, in the finale.

As the episode wrapped up, it seemed as though Discovery had one last surprise up its sleeve. As the President of United Earth was about to arrive, I wondered if we might be about to see Dr Kovich when the doors wooshed open – if not, perhaps a character from a past iteration of the series. When it was revealed to be a new character I wasn’t disappointed; it seemed as if the point the series was making with the buildup to her reveal was that the President of the Federation, the President of United Earth, and the Captain of Discovery are all women, which I thought was a neat way to go.

I had no idea who this was at first!

But there was more to it that, as a non-American, I missed at first! The President of United Earth was played by Stacey Abrams, an American politician and writer who’s been quite politically active on the left wing of US politics. This casting choice is interesting – and perhaps a little provocative! There will be people on the conservative side of things who will feel upset, and Discovery knew this well in advance of casting this character. Doing so was a way for the series to really emphasise its progressive principles, which have been front-and-centre just as they’ve always been in Star Trek.

Star Trek is no stranger to cameos and stunt castings, before anyone jumps in to say that this one is somehow different because of who it is. The King of Jordan had a cameo in Voyager once upon a time, and there have been real-life astronauts, scientists, and other celebrities who’ve all joined in for guest-starring roles. Considering that Stacey Abrams is, as far as I’m aware anyway, a newbie to acting, I think she did a wonderful job!

The President and the President shake hands.

I adored this scene with the President of United Earth. Set aside the casting for a moment, because the content of the scene made a huge impact on me. Coming Home had already been a hugely emotional story, so seeing Earth rejoin the Federation after two seasons outside it was pitch-perfect. Stacey Abrams and Sonequa Martin-Green excelled in their moments together, and what resulted was an optimistic and emotional high to bring the episode – and the season – to a conclusion.

There are some interesting real-world parallels that the casting of someone like Stacey Abrams arguably hammers home. After the United States had pursued a nativist, isolationist policy for four years, the country is stepping away from that. United Earth rejoining the Federation could be viewed as symbolic of America’s return to the world stage. From a British perspective, it could be seen as a hope for the UK one day rejoining the European Union after the Brexit referendum. Star Trek has always used its sci-fi setting to look at real-world issues, and those are just a couple of possible ways we can interpret this emotional and uplifting end to the season.

Captain Burnham and the President of United Earth.

We’ve come all this way but we still haven’t talked about Unknown Species 10-C! The visual effects used to create one of the most “alien” races ever seen on screen in Star Trek were excellent, though I would caveat that by saying that the meeting place being a carbon copy of the ruin visited in Rosetta detracted a little from the way things looked. Recycling sets has been something that the Star Trek franchise has always done, but this moment was the crux of a season-long story, and I think more could’ve been done to give Unknown Species 10-C’s new home a new look, even if it was just in a minor way through changes and tweaks. It’s been a millennium since they lived on the planet seen in Rosetta, so if for no other reason than the passage of time we might’ve expected it to look slightly different.

That being said, I liked Unknown Species 10-C both in appearance and in concept. Star Trek has a long history of showing us alien races that look only slightly different to humans – and in some cases are completely identical! That’s never been a problem for me; I think it’s part of the suspension of disbelief that one has to have when stepping into the Star Trek galaxy. However, the rise of modern CGI and animation, combined with new technologies like Discovery’s AR wall, mean that some very different aliens can be created and can be blended with real actors. This blend was seamless in Coming Home – as it has been, with only a few exceptions, all season long.

A member of Unknown Species 10-C.

The story of bridging a communication divide is honestly one that I could’ve spent longer on. Much of the legwork had been done in Species Ten-C last week, so we got less of the minutiae that a “learning to understand one another” story can provide. But what we did get was interesting, and we got to see how Unknown Species 10-C didn’t mean to do anything wrong – their scans didn’t indicate that there were sentient life-forms in the areas that the DMA hit.

In that sense, we have a comparable situation to the Burn in Season 3. Unknown Species 10-C weren’t some horrible invading alien for Starfleet to heroically defeat; what happened was a genuine accident, one that they regret. That may not be enough for someone like Book, who lost his home, his family, and his entire race… but it’s a different ending, one that many other sci-fi franchises wouldn’t have even considered. Discovery pulled it off, and while the story leading up to it was imperfect and padded, it worked.

A representative of Unknown Species 10-C conveys their regret to the assembled crew and delegates.

However, Discovery has now run four seasons with some variation of the “major galactic threat” storyline, and I think that framework needs a break. Not every story has to be about the entire galaxy, Earth, and the whole Federation being in danger – there can be just as much drama, tension, excitement, and emotion from stories that are smaller in scale. Just because a story doesn’t threaten life as we know it doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter, and how we as the audience respond to a story begins with the way the characters we’re invested in respond to it. So consider this a plea to all of Discovery’s writers and producers: try something different in Season 5!

I enjoyed the performance from Chelah Horsdal as President Rillak. For practically the whole season I couldn’t tell if we were going to get a “bad Admiral” type of character turn; President Rillak certainly seemed to have a Machiavellian edge that could have made for a wonderfully complex antagonist. In Coming Home, though, we got to see the culmination of her diplomatic efforts and her leadership of the Federation, both through the way the DMA threat came to an end and through Earth rejoining the organisation – something that had been one of her major objectives.

President Rillak speaking with Unknown Species 10-C.

For what feels like the first time this season, Stamets had more than just a couple of lines. It was a shame that he couldn’t be present at the meeting with Unknown Species 10-C; I’d have rather seen him there with Dr Culber and Adira to stand alongside Captain Burnham than some of the secondary bridge characters, really. But it was still nice to see Stamets and his family coming together at the climax of the story, and how Dr Culber forfeited his own chance to go on the away mission to be with them.

Stamets and Culber formed Discovery’s emotional core in the first season and the third, with a disappointing foray into a relationship squabble in the second. But aside from a few smaller scenes, neither character really seemed to have all that much to do in Season 4. With Gray’s story brought to a conclusion early on, in the episode Choose To Live, the family dynamic changed, but Stamets missed practically all of that. In fact, his only scene with Gray all season that I can recall was when Gray left to return to Trill. In short, I was glad to welcome back Stamets in Coming Home, and thrilled to see him bonding again with Culber and Adira… but the reason why it felt so great is because I’m aware of how absent moments like that had been all season long.

Adira, Dr Culber, and Stamets.

I was not a big fan of the Burnham-versus-Book relationship drama angle that began in But To Connect earlier in the season. It didn’t work for me, and I felt that the focus on Burnham and Book’s emotions, particularly in episodes like All In and Rubicon, came at the expense of other characters and other story developments. It was cathartic, then, to see the two finally reconcile in Coming Home, and I’m glad that the season didn’t end with their relationship left in question.

Because of the timing of Book’s fake-out “death,” it could have ended there and still felt satisfactory; Captain Burnham would’ve known that Book loved her, and his actions in his final moments would’ve been trying to stop Tarka and prevent an escalation of the damage he’d already done. That could’ve worked – but I’m glad that Book lives to fight another day and that they got to have a proper sit-down together and a proper reunion on Unknown Species 10-C’s planet. After a storyline that shook things up too much for my taste, a proper resolution that has hopefully set the stage for a rock-solid relationship between them in Season 5 was the least bad outcome.

Captain Burnham and Book embrace.

I enjoyed the speeches both Captain Burnham and Book gave to Unknown Species 10-C, and it was great that they were able to find a way to connect with a species that could have been “too different” to bridge the divide. Book’s speech after his resurrection was remarkable, and the emotion packed into each and every word resonated. David Ajala has done a great job all season long conveying Book’s grief and sense of loss, and he brought everything to bear in this scene as he came face-to-face with the race who killed his family and destroyed his home. It was heart-wrenching to watch.

Captain Burnham’s speech was likewise packed with emotion, particularly as she was still reeling from the shock of Book’s apparent death. This was definitely one of Sonequa Martin-Green’s best moments of the season, as Captain Burnham finally made contact with the enigmatic race. She had to convince them that they needed to stand down – and with just moments remaining, she was able to do so.

Captain Burnham spoke to Unknown Species 10-C.

General Ndoye, who had been responsible for Tarka’s escape during the events of the previous episode, stepped up and admitted what she had done. She presented a strength of character that I wasn’t expecting given how she’d been roped into Tarka and Book’s conspiracy. The idea that the first contact mission was progressing but was sabotaged by people who were unwilling to wait was an angle that was potentially interesting – but it didn’t need to go to such extremes, perhaps.

Still, I liked General Ndoye. Phumzile Sitole played the character with a kind of hard-nosed pragmatism, and although General Ndoye was in the wrong from Captain Burnham’s point of view, it’s only because we as the audience could see what was happening that we realised that. Ndoye acted in what she believed to be Earth’s best interests based on the information she had available – she was never a villain nor an antagonist, and she remained in that complex space even while Tarka was being transformed into an out-and-out villain last week.

General Ndoye.

A few scattered thoughts before we wrap things up:

  • Coming Home contained the first mention of the Borg in Discovery… could that be setting up something to come in Season 5, or perhaps some kind of tie-in with Picard? I can’t help but wonder! Seeing Captain Burnham go toe-to-toe with the Borg would be delicious!
  • Dr Hirai felt sidelined once again, contributing relatively little to the story. This character feels like a waste of potential – someone interesting whose role on the mission made sense, but who was underused and who underwhelmed in the few appearances he made.
  • The destruction of Book’s ship feels like it could be symbolic… but I’m struggling to find the intended symbolism considering that Discovery will presumably bring him back in Season 5, and the show didn’t exactly go through a soft reboot at the end of the season.
  • Unknown Species 10-C definitely gave me a “sea monster” vibe.
  • It was so sweet that Saru and T’Rina finally got together!
A happy ending for T’Rina and Saru!
  • Shutting down the hyperfield, which Unknown Species 10-C had been running for a millennium, seemed a bit quick right at the end.
  • It would’ve been interesting to see Captain Burnham having to lead Discovery on a Voyager-esque mission back to Earth… but Unknown Species 10-C’s wormhole tech meant it never felt like a realistic prospect.
  • I will always love seeing Admiral Vance with his family!
  • The use of Grudge’s collar to escape the forcefield was a clever inclusion that felt like classic Star Trek technobabble.
  • I hope we’ll see Unknown Species 10-C again and they won’t just be forgotten about in future 32nd Century stories.
  • Will Federation HQ now remain permanently in orbit of Earth? Or will other planets want to have Federation facilities, given that Earth has been absent for more than a century? It could be interesting to explore such a conflict in Season 5.
Federation HQ in orbit over Earth.

There’s a lot more to say, quite honestly… but I feel this is already running long. It’s taken me a long time – longer than usual – to get my thoughts in order, and I find that a lot of what I want to say in a more critical way is more about the story or structure of the season as a whole rather than about Coming Home specifically. It was a great episode in its own right, it capped off the season in a beautiful, emotional way, and left me with a real sense of optimism as Discovery prepares for a fifth season. But despite a solid ending, Season 4 as a whole is much more of a mixed bag, and I’d like to talk about that more on another occasion.

Coming Home was the emotional high point of an occasionally frustrating season, but it’s an episode that means we can say that things ended on a positive note. I’m genuinely excited for Season 5 and to see where the show goes next… but I hope it’s not going to be another “the galaxy is in danger” storyline! After the Klingon war, Control, the Burn, and the DMA, we’ve had enough of those.

It took me a while to get this review together, partly because of how much of an emotional experience Coming Home was… and partly because I’m feeling a little burnt out after three weeks of two Star Trek episodes meaning I was writing two big reviews! I really wish Paramount Global would sort out its scheduling…

Star Trek: DiscoveryΒ Season 4 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, Scandinavia, Latin America, and Australia. 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 – includingΒ DiscoveryΒ and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.