Star Trek: Discovery review – Season 4, Episode 7: …But to Connect

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

Sorry for being a few days late with this review! I had several other things going on this week, including my big end-of-year article, a piece looking ahead to 2022’s entertainment experiences, and finally a review of The Matrix Resurrections that I worked very hard on. I also hoped to get around to a review of the new Disney film Encanto, but that ended up taking a back seat along with this review of Discovery’s mid-season finale.

As I said last week, I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the way the mid-season break was announced. Doing so on such short notice adds to a growing sense that ViacomCBS and Paramount+ are being very poorly-managed, and while I don’t begrudge the creative team taking additional time to work on or rework episodes in the second half of the season if that work needs to be done, it raises some serious questions about the handling of the Star Trek franchise and the Paramount+ streaming service on the corporate side of things. If ViacomCBS truly aims to compete with the biggest names in streaming, nonsense like this has to stop. In addition, there are still many Trekkies and would-be viewers all around the world who can’t watch Discovery due to corporate bullshit, something else that ViacomCBS needs to fix as quickly as possible.

The opening shot of the episode.

But To Connect worked well as a mid-season finale. It was tense and had moments of high drama that demonstrated beyond any doubt that science fiction doesn’t need to drown in space battles and high-octane action to be exciting. It was also an episode that, unfortunately, made some of its moments of drama feel incredibly contrived.

After everything Michael Burnham went through in her rollercoaster relationship with Ash Tyler in Seasons 1 and 2, giving her the chance to settle down with someone like Book was an incredibly welcome change. Forcing them to go against each other – especially for a central reason that felt contrived in the extreme – would not have been my choice for the direction of their relationship. Discovery has, over the course of its three-and-a-half seasons thus far, felt a need to inject extra drama and extra conflict where none was needed, upping the character stakes to near-soap opera levels at times. Forcing Book and Burnham to work against each other is the latest example of this trend – and it’s a disappointing thing to see.

The last thing Discovery needs is more Burnham relationship drama. Let her settle down, for goodness’ sake.

Book fell under the influence of Ruon Tarka, someone who we’ll have to deal with in more detail in a moment. For now, suffice to say that Tarka pounced on Book’s emotionally compromised state, seemingly manipulating him to advocate for attacking and destroying the DMA instead of pursuing peaceful first contact with whomever created it. Tarka has his reasons for doing this – claiming he wants to preserve the DMA’s power source so he can use it for his own purposes.

Book was clearly not thinking logically – and given his grief and the external prodding by Tarka, that makes sense. But the idea that Burnham couldn’t help him push through that, especially given that the DMA is explicitly stated to not be an immediate threat to anyone, is the point that begins to stretch credulity and make this whole situation feel contrived and forced.

The DMA was not posing an active, imminent threat to anyone.

Here’s the central point: the DMA, despite its potential danger and raw power, hasn’t actually done that much damage. If we assume that Discovery Season 4 has taken place over at least a couple of months of in-universe time, which seems reasonable given how long some of the scientists seem to have been working on these problems, it’s destroyed precisely two places in that time – a rate of one per month. And aside from Kwejian, the only other place we know it’s hit was an asteroid colony with a population of a couple of thousand. The Federation and the rest of the galactic races present at the meeting clearly have time on their side: the DMA’s path doesn’t seem to be taking it near to any inhabited systems in the immediate term, and while its unpredictable nature could see it disappear and reappear somewhere more dangerous, that doesn’t seem to be its primary mission.

If the DMA were a weapon being actively controlled, it would have targeted more places by now, so the Federation’s plan to attempt to contact its creators makes far more sense than attacking it. Even if Book couldn’t understand that at first, being blinded by his grief or desire for revenge, surely of all people Burnham would have been able to convince him to see the logic behind this slower, calmer approach. If the DMA had been actively threatening a planet – especially a named world that we as the audience might be familiar with, such as Betazed or Sigma Draconis III – things would be different. But without that desperate and immediate need to stop another disaster, the rational approach is to try to contact Unknown Species 10-C.

Book fell under the sway of Ruon Tarka – someone who clearly has his own agenda.

Earlier in the season, we saw Burnham advocate a compromise position, and But To Connect should have offered another opportunity to do so: building the weapon capable of destroying the DMA before attempting first contact. If the DMA then changes course and presents an active threat, it can be destroyed. And in addition, having the weapon in reserve while making first contact would be a valuable asset. If Unknown Species 10-C won’t see reason, the weapon could be a threat. If there’s no one there to negotiate with, the DMA could be destroyed. In short, the answer to the pretty basic problem that the episode posed isn’t “do one or the other,” it should have been “do both.” Build the weapon as a back-up while preparing for first contact.

If Discovery hadn’t insisted on themes of compromise across its last two seasons, I guess I’d give it a pass on this false choice. But in context, it seems to run counter to much of what the show has been trying to say for at least the last two years: that there are always solutions to or ways around these kinds of conflicts. The question of how to approach the DMA did not need to be a zero-sum game, and someone like Captain Burnham should have realised that – even if Book couldn’t.

This didn’t need to be a “black or white” choice. Compromise should have been possible; this is a major theme that the show has tried to present all season long.

Not for the first time, I’m left with a sense that Discovery’s writers and producers have a definite goal in mind; an endgame for the story and characters. But they haven’t figured out how to reach that finishing point in a clear and consistent manner, leaving this side of But To Connect feeling contrived.

On the flip side, the speeches that both Book and Burnham gave were very emotional, and I can’t fault the performances of either Sonequa Martin-Green or David Ajala. Both came across as two people trying to do what they genuinely believed was the right thing; conflicted because of what it would mean for their relationship, but determined to press ahead regardless. Although this wouldn’t be the way I would have chosen to handle either character, there can be no denying that the performances were exquisite.

Both actors played their roles exceptionally well.

Also on this side of the story we had a muted role for President Rillak. Though she was on Burnham’s side – wanting to advocate for an attempt at peaceful contact – she chose to recuse herself from the debate, serving as a moderator only. I still get the sense that she has schemes in play – bringing Burnham along as an ally being one of the ways she tried to manipulate proceedings to get her way without being openly involved – but it was interesting to see her in a more centrist, unaffiliated role.

Among her ambitions from the diplomatic summit were showing the Federation as taking the lead in the fight against the DMA, but also opening initial channels to United Earth with a view to bringing the isolationist world back into the fold. We’ve seen a slight softening of Earth’s leadership since Burnham helped reunite Earth and Titan in Season 3, and it was nice to welcome back Phumzile Sitole as the newly-promoted General Ndoye. As a Trekkie, I want more than anything to see Earth rejoin the Federation – but only if it feels right. Earth shouldn’t be manipulated into coming back into the organisation, so this story beat will have to be handled delicately.

General Ndoye represented Earth and Titan at the diplomatic summit.

Ruon Tarka was perhaps the most surprising character in But To Connect. His self-assured cockiness was still there from his role in The Examples, but we got an idea of what could be driving him forward, and where his interest in the DMA may have come from. Stating that he wants to cross over into a parallel universe was certainly not something I expected – but at the same time it felt very familiar, and very Star Trek.

Tarka comes across as somewhat similar to Tolian Soran, the villain from Star Trek: Generations. Soran wanted to return to the Nexus – a paradise-like realm contained inside of an energy ribbon that periodically transited the galaxy. Tarka’s desire to enter the DMA and use its powerful controller to “punch through” to a parallel universe where he expected life to be better is at least somewhat comparable – and his willingness to break the rules and work against Starfleet shows the same kind of single-mindedness that Soran demonstrated.

Tarka is determined to use the DMA controller for his own ends.

We’ll save for my theory post a full discussion of Tarka, his possible motivations, and potential destinations. But suffice to say this character turn has piqued my curiosity. There’s the potential to get a more complex presentation of a “mad scientist” character trope, one which gives him an understandable or even sympathetic motive for his actions. I don’t think we’re at that point yet, but I see potential in this storyline.

Shawn Doyle was wonderful in The Examples, making Tarka stand out as a different take on a character archetype that has appeared on a number of prior occasions in Star Trek. This amazing performance continued in But To Connect, and Doyle deserves a lot of credit for the way he brought the character to screen with complexity – especially given the relatively small amount of screen time that Tarka has had in the season so far.

Tarka and Book formed an unlikely alliance.

As has happened several times already this season, though, Discovery quickly glossed over much of the actual work on the problems and puzzles posed by the DMA in order to get to the dramatic stand-off between Book and Burnham. Tarka’s weapon seemed to come out of nowhere, and although he’s clearly spent weeks or months of off-screen time working on it, in the episode itself it seemed to be a bolt from the blue; almost a deus ex machina solution to the threat posed by the DMA. As I’ve said on several occasions this season, the end result isn’t the problem – it’s that we as the audience really needed to see at least some of the process to get there, even if just by way of something like a montage.

In exactly the same way on the other side of the story, Zora’s discovery of the coordinates of the DMA’s origin was completely blitzed through in order to get to the story that the episode really wanted to tell. When it comes to the DMA, which is the season’s “big bad” at least thus far, Discovery has dedicated precious little time to actually dealing with it head-on, with much of the investigation happening off-screen. As the audience, we’ve been parachuted in just in time to see key moments: Stamets’ proto-wormhole theory, the DMA being an artificial construct, the DMA coming from outside of the galaxy, and now finally the discovery of its origin point. All of these points, so incredibly vital to the story of the DMA, feel like they’re scarcely even footnotes in a story which on the surface should be making more of them.

Captain Burnham, Stamets, and Adira listen to Zora as she refuses to share what she’s learned.

Before anyone jumps in to tell me off for missing the point: I get it. Discovery has other stories to tell, and wants to use this season in particular to look at issues surrounding trauma and grief. Practically all of the main characters seem to embody different responses to trauma: Stamets getting lost in his work, Culber desperately trying to help others even if doing so is at his own expense, Book’s journey through the stages of grief, and Tilly’s career switch all come from that same thematic place. And these individual, character-centric stories are absolutely worth telling. However, in a sci-fi series that also has the DMA as a major plotline, it feels that the first half of Season 4 has prioritised these character moments at the expense of this other major narrative. It should’ve been possible to balance the season’s story to give both appropriate weight and screen time – but Discovery has yet to find that balance.

So let’s tackle Zora next. The USS Discovery’s computer-AI-Sphere data hybrid has been developing slowly since Season 3, and until the very end of The Examples a couple of weeks ago felt like a relatively minor part of the season. Her transformation into basically an additional main character has been an interesting one, and this week was by far Zora’s biggest moment centre-stage. I got echoes of a number of past Star Trek stories – from The Ultimate Computer and The Measure of a Man through to Picard Season 1’s dealings with the synths and Data – in the way Zora was analysed and discussed by Dr Kovich, Dr Culber, Stamets, Adira, and Gray. It was an incredibly honest and frank discussion, one which absolutely embodied the spirit of Star Trek.

Zora’s status and rights were discussed in But To Connect.

Through this side of the story, But To Connect gave us by far the best and most sympathetic presentation of Dr Kovich. I maintain that, based on his earlier appearances, some kind of Section 31 or spy role was a possibility – and maybe that was the original intention for the character when he was created in Season 3. In But To Connect, however, we saw Dr Kovich as a firm believer in the values and ideals of Starfleet and the Federation: determined to seek out new life, and to ensure that very different forms of life have the same rights as everyone else.

Stamets also shone on this side of the story, and the writing here showed off a complexity that the relatively short half-episode runtime could have hampered. Stamets’ attitude toward Zora’s newly developed sentience could have come across badly, making him out to be some kind of “AI-phobe,” in the vein of something like Picard Season 1’s Zhat Vash. However, the way Stamets was handled – aided greatly by a wonderful performance from Anthony Rapp – ensured that we could understand his reservations and concerns without seeing him as some kind of futuristic bigot.

Anthony Rapp gave his best performance of the season so far.

As in All Is Possible, Discovery succeeded at taking a complex argument and ensuring that the views on both sides were sensible and understandable, allowing true understanding and trust to be reached. Likewise this week, Stamets didn’t simply try to put his foot down and declare that the existence of Zora was some kind of horrible, insurmountable problem, and nor did Zora attack Stamets or try to shut down his concerns.

In an increasingly polarised political climate here in the west, where politicians and activists on all sides are increasingly dogmatic and unwilling to listen to opposing points of view, Discovery once again showed us how debate and discussion should be handled: calmly, maturely, and with mutual respect. This is one of the lessons from this season of the show: that we can’t simply write off points of view we disagree with, nor should we try to shut down or dismiss them. Listening is the first step toward understanding.

Despite the stakes and the complexity of the arguments, But To Connect showed us how these kinds of conversations can and should be handled.

From my perspective as someone who’s non-binary, I felt there could be echoes of the real-world conversation surrounding transgender and non-binary folks in the way Zora’s movement toward acceptance was handled. There are many people who are dismissive of trans and non-binary people – something I sadly experienced firsthand recently in a conversation with someone I considered a friend. An unwillingness to listen and a desire to be dismissive of something we personally don’t understand is always going to be a temptation – but Stamets found that, by having a frank and honest conversation, his fears and concerns could be allayed.

There’s been a lot of debate around transgender and non-binary rights in recent years, and the issues of sex, gender, and gender identity have become highly politicised. Zora was struggling to find acceptance in But To Connect, and I felt that the show was perhaps drawing on the trans inclusion discussion for inspiration in this particular storyline. Speaking from a personal perspective, it isn’t easy to figure oneself out. To then present oneself to one’s friends only to be rejected is a horrible feeling – and I’m glad that Zora’s friends were able to remain on her side, even if they had questions about her at first.

It felt like the conversation with Zora may have had a real-world inspiration.

The Zora conversation also tackled the real-world issue of artificial intelligence and the growing impact of machine learning, algorithms, and AI on our daily lives. Star Trek has depicted “evil” AIs on several occasions, including in Season 2 of Discovery, so to take a break from that negative portrayal and to find a way to show AI in a positive light was a welcome change. I’m no longer convinced, for example, that we’ll see Zora go rogue or act against the crew’s wishes later in the season or in future stories; her status as a bona fide member of the crew feels settled.

Stamets was part of that, and voiced his concerns with eloquence before coming around to accepting Zora’s place in the crew. Dr Culber played a role too, as did Gray and Adira. It was very cathartic, after Stamets missed the entirety of Gray’s incorporation a few episodes ago, to see the two characters having the chance to interact. Gray’s future on the show is now uncertain following his departure with Guardian Xi bound for Trill, so it was even more important to give him and Stamets some small crumbs of screen time together.

It was great to finally see Stamets interacting with Gray and Adira.

In a very real sense, But To Connect felt like two distinct episodes haphazardly bolted together. In a longer season, both the conflict at the diplomatic summit and Zora’s moves toward sentience could have been explored while also giving more time to the likes of Tarka and his efforts to untangle the mysteries posed by the DMA. But because Discovery wanted to make a point – not a bad point, I concede – about Starfleet seeking out new life, we got both stories squashed down into the runtime of a single episode. Neither of these stories were bad, nor was the link between them, but the conflict at the summit in particular would have benefitted from additional development, and the incredibly minor side-story about Tarka and the DMA could have been fleshed out a lot more – as could Stamets, Adira, and Zora’s work to find the coordinates.

The similarities between the stories of Zora and the DMA would’ve still worked had they been longer or spread across two episodes, and I guess my big criticism of But To Connect isn’t that I hated or even disliked either, it’s that I would’ve liked to have seen a longer, perhaps slower-paced, version of them. Cutting the conflict between Book and Burnham – or finding a way to resolve it – would also have been a preference.

T’Rina and Tarka view a holo-model of the DMA.

But To Connect told two stories about seeking out new life: the very core of Starfleet’s mission. Zora’s story was the better of the two; it had more nuance, better characterisation, and a truly sympathetic presentation of both sides of the discussion. It dealt with incredibly deep and complex themes in an understandable way, giving rise to a conclusion that felt natural, but most importantly that felt earned.

The diplomatic summit, meanwhile, took what could have been a similar setup but presented it as a false “either-or” choice – a choice that, I would argue, felt unnecessary and thus contrived. Its conclusion, instead of being one that promoted understanding and dialogue, ended with one side claiming total victory and the other suffering defeat. This laid the groundwork for Book and Tarka’s rebellion – stealing a spore drive prototype and flying away to attack the DMA. That ending may have been a natural or inescapable one given the setup, but it didn’t need to be – and it seems to run counter to some very timely and important allegories that Discovery has tried to include this season.

Burnham casting her vote.

A few scattered final thoughts: Discovery seems to be going down the route of some of the ’80s Star Trek films by depicting interesting-looking background aliens… then giving them nothing to do nor even naming them. It would be nice to learn more about some of the galaxy’s races, but just dropping them in the background doesn’t feel like a particularly good way to handle things. The music in But To Connect was probably the best of the season so far, and the score used during the voting scenes in particular was incredibly tense – perfectly complimenting what was happening on screen.

Why does Burnham get a vote? I can understand why each Federation member world might get an individual vote, but giving everyone present the chance to vote could disproportionately favour one side. It feels like it was there for another moment of drama rather than because it makes sense in context.

We saw a full-blooded Cardassian, a Ferengi, and several other familiar races – including one who may be a Xindi. Missing from the summit, however, were races like the Klingons and factions like the Dominion. It’s possible that there have been major structural changes to those governments, or that diplomatic relations with the Federation are poor. Discovery may also be avoiding their use with a view to bringing them back in a future story – or to give room for the likes of Picard or Strange New Worlds to include these factions.

This character was a callback to the events of Kobayashi Maru.

Stamets flipping the issue of trust onto Zora was a clever one, and a great rhetorical way to begin to bring that argument to a close. Dr Kovich’s line that Stamets could have been reassigned if he couldn’t work with Zora was clever – but then who would have operated the Spore Drive? Saru and T’Rina make an adorable couple, and although I wouldn’t consider either Doug Jones or Tara Rosling to be “old,” it was still sweet to see Discovery giving screen time to a burgeoning romance between two people who aren’t 25 any more!

So I think that’s about all I have to say for now. Stay tuned, because later in the week I’ll be writing up my theories for the second half of the season. It’s only six weeks, but I really can’t wait to find out what happens next! The DMA and Unknown Species 10-C still present wonderful mysteries, and although my head says what we’ll ultimately get will be something brand-new to the franchise, my heart is still hopeful that there’ll be some kind of big connection or callback to a past iteration of Star Trek!

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, 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.

Star Trek: Discovery review – Season 4, Episode 6: Stormy Weather

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

Last week we learned that the DMA – the anomaly at the heart of Season 4’s story – is an artificial construct. Following up that big revelation was the challenge that befell Stormy Weather and director Jonathan Frakes, and I’m happy to report that Discovery rose to the occasion. Stormy Weather was a tense, dramatic, and incredibly exciting episode, one that has set a high bar for the rest of the season to reach.

Unfortunately, due to inexcusable corporate nonsense from ViacomCBS, Star Trek: Discovery is unavailable to many fans around the world. This short-sighted, self-defeating decision has been rightly condemned by Star Trek fans, but we need to keep the pressure on and continue to call out this misbehaviour at every opportunity. Star Trek is not the sole preserve of any one group of fans – it’s something all of us should be able to enjoy together. Denying that opportunity to even one Trekkie would be unacceptable; to deny it to millions in dozens of countries and territories around the world is just offensive.

Captain Burnham with her family tree.

So let’s take a look at Stormy Weather – an episode named for a song from 1933. There have been some connections between Discovery and sister show Star Trek: Picard, but one of the most unexpected thematic connections came in the form of this song. Picard Season 1 prominently featured the song Blue Skies, written in 1926, and to hear another older, slow-tempo jazz song in Discovery was an unexpected but interesting way to bridge the gap between these two very different parts of the Star Trek franchise.

Stormy Weather featured Captain Burnham prominently, and we’ll look at her contributions in a moment. But where the episode did remarkably well, in my view, was through a series of smaller moments that showed off several members of Discovery’s secondary cast – many of whom have had less to do so far this season than in Season 3 last year.

Several members of the secondary cast (Nilsson pictured) got things to do this week.

Commander Owosekun had a big centre-stage moment, objecting on the bridge in front of her colleagues and leading to a sweet moment later on between her, Detmer, and Saru. Dr Pollard, making her first major appearance of the season, got two significant moments in the spotlight, including one incredibly dramatic moment as a crewman was blown out into space through a hull breach.

Ian Alexander, who plays Gray, and Annabelle Wallis, who voices Zora, were Stormy Weather’s breakout stars for me. Gray had already given us one of the season’s emotional highs when he completed his transfer into a new synthetic body, but there was definitely a question mark surrounding his next steps. Adira was a commissioned ensign, but Gray didn’t really have a role aboard the ship – something that Discovery acknowledged this week when Gray found himself alone in the lounge as the crew scrambled to their posts.

Gray and Zora played Trill chess together.

There’s always something very relatable about this kind of storyline. Anyone who’s ever dealt with feelings of helplessness or loneliness should be able to empathise with Gray in this moment, and it’s certainly something I’ve been through before on more occasions than I perhaps care to admit! As everyone on the ship attended to their duties, Gray was left alone – and this led to a really touching sequence between he and Zora that ended up playing a major role in the story.

Zora was a background presence for much of Season 3, and it was only really last week when the revelation that she can feel emotions came out that she emerged as a major player. Zora’s interactions with Gray this week have done more to humanise her and lay the groundwork for future character development than any episode has since Calypso – and if Discovery chooses to, the show could now make Zora a major presence on the ship going forward.

Gray and Zora played significant roles this week.

I can’t be the only one noticing an homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey, right? Zora’s line to Captain Burnham when she refused to follow an order felt like it had come straight from HAL 9000! Of course, Zora went in a different – and thankfully far friendlier – direction shortly thereafter, but the reference was appreciated nevertheless.

The development of Zora’s emotions brings the character one step closer to her portrayal in the Short Treks episode Calypso, but at this point I’m still not sure how – or even if – the stories will line up. As we’ve discussed previously, for every step made toward Calypso since Season 2 we’ve seen at least one step away – and with Discovery in the far future already, the further development of Zora still leaves the show with significant hurdles to overcome if a full connection to Calypso is on the cards. But I guess that’s a conversation for another time!

“I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

Gray and Zora were able to share a connection as two passengers on the ship who felt out of place and unsettled. There was a subtle continuation of the transgender theme present in Gray’s earlier incorporation story, as Gray made reference to choosing his own name; something Zora could relate to. Despite Gray’s incorporation feeling somewhat rushed at the beginning of the season, it’s been great to see him as a character in his own right, able to interact with others aboard the ship. Pairing him up with Zora was unexpected but an absolute delight.

Discovery has continued Star Trek’s use of storytelling by metaphor and analogy, and we see that again with Gray. His struggle to become visible, his comments about getting used to his new body, and again this week through his conversations with Zora all had serious things to say about the difficulty of transitioning, coming out as transgender, finding acceptance, and other trans issues. But they were told through a science fiction lens in the very best tradition of Star Trek. It’s hard to think of a more understandable and relatable depiction of a trans individual in all of entertainment, and the writers deserve a lot of credit – as does Ian Alexander, who stepped up this week and put in his best performance of the season so far.

Stormy Weather was a great episode for Ian Alexander and Gray.

Discovery as a whole is a series with a cinematic feel to it. That isn’t something unique among television shows any more, as we can see many other high-budget productions pushing hard for similar visuals and effects. But Stormy Weather definitely veered hard into the cinematic, with all manner of special effects thrown into the episode’s forty-five minutes. We had silent slow-motion sequences, stunning CGI visual effects – including a striking shot of the USS Discovery itself inside the void, tightly-focused shots of characters in motion, close-ups of faces, and a whole lot of fire and flame to name but a few. Such a varied mix of visuals, coupled with Jonathan Frakes’ clever cinematography, gave Stormy Weather a sense of weight, of gravitas, far beyond what the franchise usually manages outside of its feature films.

Let’s talk about the storyline itself. This week, everything was tied together. There were secondary plotlines with Gray and Zora and with Book, Stamets, and the doctors, but they all came together and connected with the main story in significant ways as Captain Burnham led the USS Discovery inside a subspace rupture that the DMA had left behind.

The USS Discovery approaches the void.

We learned something major about the DMA: that it’s of extragalactic origin, or has, at the very least, passed through the galactic barrier. This would seem to narrow down Unknown Species 10-C to a handful of suspects, assuming that the galactic barrier depicted in past iterations of Star Trek remains generally impermeable to residents of the Milky Way. There were comments from Book and Stamets that this evidence all points to Unknown Species 10-C being someone that “the Federation has never encountered,” but I don’t think we can be certain of that just yet. The Burn seemed to be connected to Ni’Var’s SB-19 project in Season 3… until it wasn’t! We’re barely halfway through the season, so there’s plenty of time for hypotheses to be debunked! In this week’s theory post I’ll go into more detail about what this revelation could mean for Unknown Species 10-C, so stay tuned for that!

Venturing inside a rift in subspace was a dangerous assignment, but one that was certainly necessary for understanding more about the DMA. There really isn’t much to nitpick on this side of the story, and Captain Burnham handled it about as well as any other captain could have. Captains Kirk, Picard, Sisko, Janeway, or Archer would all have made similar choices under the circumstances, and we can point to many moments in past Star Trek shows where similarly dangerous scientific missions have gone awry despite the best efforts of the various captains.

Captain Burnham did everything she could to get her crew home.

Discovery has some very expansive sets when compared to past iterations of Star Trek, with the bridge in particular being larger and wider than basically any other to date. But despite that, this week I felt a real sense of claustrophobia in the style of old war films set aboard submarines. Stormy Weather was basically a bottle show – an episode set almost exclusively aboard the ship making use of existing characters. Rather than that being a limitation, as it sometimes has been in past iterations of Star Trek, the episode leaned into this in the best way possible, drawing on the inherent strengths of that style of story to create a genuinely dark and unsettling atmosphere aboard the ship.

This began with Gray and Zora alone in the lounge and culminated in Captain Burnham staying behind on the bridge, with only Zora for company, as the desperate last-ditch attempt to escape the void came to a head. Discovery has made interesting use of fire this season, and I’ve seen some criticism of the way the pyrotechnics come across on screen. But here, the combination of CGI plasma and jets of real fire worked exceptionally well, building up a sense of genuine danger that Captain Burnham, and indeed the whole crew, were in.

A combination of CGI and pyrotechnics made for a thrilling and dramatic presentation at the episode’s climax.

At this point, after more than three seasons of Discovery, we know that the show has a tendency to blitz through some of the technobabble and sciencey stuff to get to the drama and action, and so it proved again in Stormy Weather. As happened last week, when the DMA’s artificial origin was confirmed in a short scene with a few lines of dialogue, its extragalactic origin was likewise only included in a pretty short sequence. I liked the concept behind it – that the energy surge that hit Book left behind trace particles that could be used to uncover another piece of the puzzle. That setup was interesting. But the conclusion was once again very quick, almost rushed, and I feel more could’ve been made of both of these points.

Another point of criticism I had concerns Dr Pollard’s sequence in the hallway. I said before the season began that killing off a known character can be a great way for a show like Discovery to communicate the stakes involved. And as Dr Pollard raced to the hull breach, there was for a brief moment a feeling that she might’ve been running to her demise. In the end, though, it was a redshirt who ended up being killed – and the death was far less impactful as a result.

More could have been made of this moment.

Now I’m not on some anti-Pollard crusade wishing death upon the character! But hers is the latest example of how Discovery wants to have its cake and eat it too: the writers want all of the emotional impact of a character death but without being willing to commit to making it someone significant. We saw this in Season 2 with Airiam, and again in Season 3 when practically everyone survived despite the dangerous situations the crew found themselves in. The danger in flirting with character deaths but failing to follow through is that the show is slowly building up a sense of plot armour; there’s a developing feeling that basically no one who gets so much as a speaking line in an episode will be in any real danger. And that will have an effect as the season progresses – potentially making similar moments feel less impactful or tense in future episodes.

To be fair, past iterations of Star Trek had this problem too – but television storytelling has evolved since then. In a world where shows like Lost, Game of Thrones, and The Walking Dead pioneered a concept that I call the “disposable cast,” where even major characters can be killed off at the drop of a hat, Star Trek has to take note. Audience expectations are shifting in some respects, and if Discovery wants all of the trappings of modern television storytelling, it has to be willing to boldly swing the proverbial axe on occasion.

This could have been a good moment to kill off a named character instead of a redshirt.

Last week, the addition of wonderful guest star Shawn Doyle as mad scientist Ruon Tarka meant that I didn’t really feel Tilly’s absence. Stormy Weather was different, though, and I think we’re seeing the first real effects of her departure. Tilly suffered with anxiety, and doubtless would have found the void a difficult situation to deal with. But even at her most nervous, she had a way of lightening the mood and ever so slightly lowering the tension. Perhaps a story like Stormy Weather needed her absence to function as intended – and I concede that argument. But at the same time, I look back on the episode and wonder what Tilly might’ve said, how she might’ve found a way to break through some of the more tense moments with Captain Burnham, Stamets, Book, Zora, and everyone else. Adira fills Tilly’s shoes in several key ways – but no one can truly replace the lighthearted energy that she brought to Discovery.

In a fast-paced sequence at the beginning of Kobayashi Maru, we got to see the crew working under Captain Burnham’s command as one well-oiled machine. After that, though, Discovery took the captain on several smaller adventures off to the side, and it wasn’t until Stormy Weather that we saw her in such a tense situation, having to really feel the burden and weight of command. Like Star Trek captains past, she stepped up. I was reminded of the scene in the episode Booby Trap where Captain Picard takes the helm and pilots the Enterprise-D as Captain Burnham arrived on the bridge, alone, to sit in the captain’s chair and guide her ship and crew to safety.

Captain Burnham in her EV suit.

Speaking of The Next Generation, it was neat to see an oblique reference to the episode Relics. In that episode, Scotty was found alive in a transporter pattern buffer, and it was this method that the crew of Discovery were able to use to survive the dangerous journey out of the void. Discovery hasn’t been shy when it comes to harkening back to past iterations of the franchise this season, which has been fun to see. Shooting so far forward in time has expanded the number of callbacks and references that the show is able to do, and the writers – who are clearly big Trekkies themselves – have taken full advantage.

Along with Ian Alexander, we also have to praise Sonequa Martin-Green for her performance this week. Captain Burnham had a complex role this time, one that required her to put any thoughts of failure to one side and to focus on getting her ship and crew to safety. But she also had to find time for empathy, to share her feelings with Zora to help the AI deal with her own newfound emotions. On both sides Sonequa Martin-Green really nailed it, and Stormy Weather is one of the absolute best Captain Burnham episodes as a result.

Stormy Weather really showed off Captain Burnham at her level-headed best.

The themes of trauma, empathy, and unexpected connections were all present in Stormy Weather as they have been all season. This time it was Zora who needed the most help, in a manner somewhat reminiscent of Data in Generations. Developing emotions for the first time led to Zora’s first experience with fear, just as installing his emotion chip did for Data, and both found themselves overwhelmed and struggling to cope. Just as Data’s friends rallied around him, so too Zora found help from both an old friend in Captain Burnham and a new friend in Gray.

It fell to Captain Burnham and, to a lesser but still significant degree, Saru, to remain level-headed as the situation deteriorated. Captain Burnham had to find a way to connect with Zora in order to convince the AI to go through with the plan to escape. Likewise, Saru had to calm Commander Owosekun when tensions on the bridge threatened to boil over. We’re seeing again the very different ways that people respond to trauma: in this case, Zora almost completely shut down, feeling overwhelmed and unable to do anything, whereas Owosekun wanted so badly to do something that she became angry. These themes are almost certainly going to run through the rest of the season, and will go a long way to keeping Discovery grounded in its characters rather than being lost in sci-fi wonders.

Owosekun, Saru, and Detmer on the bridge.

One scene in particular hit close to home for me. After Book had been hit by the energy surge and was recovering in sickbay, he had a moment with Doctors Pollard and Culber where he tried to ask if he was losing his mind, going crazy, and if the hallucinations he was experiencing would last. Having been in a similar position in hospital, struggling and not knowing where my mental health issues began and ended, I found David Ajala’s performance very emotional in that moment.

Book’s hallucination of his father stemmed from the fact that it was his father’s birthday – and we know that mental health issues can absolutely manifest from things someone is already thinking about or dealing with. His line to his father that he hoped he was real, because it would mean his spirit still exists and thus Leto, Kyheem, and others might still exist somehow too, was another deeply emotional line. Though the episode didn’t focus on Book, this presentation took him to completely different emotional places, and I found it resonated with me in a very personal way.

I found Book to be very relatable in this moment.

So I think that’s it for this week. Stormy Weather really has set a high bar for the rest of the season to reach! It would have been easy for an episode like this one to come across as feeling like mind-numbing action, but Discovery’s tight focus on characters and emotions elevated it to being so much more than that. Little moments with the show’s secondary cast were greatly appreciated, and almost everyone got a line or two of dialogue this week. It felt like the plans to escape the void were a real team effort – and not just another “Burnham saves the day” story that we might’ve seen in Seasons 1 or 2.

There was some disappointing news yesterday, though. At the last minute, it’s been announced that Discovery is taking a mid-season break after next week’s episode, going off the air for around six weeks before resuming in February. ViacomCBS and Paramount+ need to do better at communicating with fans, because this is the latest in a long line of unnecessary blunders. Fixing Star Trek’s scheduling conflicts has to be a priority, too – Prodigy only aired four episodes before taking a break, now Discovery gets half a season before it too has to take a break. It’s possible that there are behind-the-scenes delays, perhaps with post-production work on Picard or Strange New Worlds – but it’s not a good look for a company trying to market a big franchise and an expanding streaming platform. Fixing these problems needs to be a priority for Star Trek’s corporate overlords.

Next week looks to bring back Ruon Tarka, which should be a lot of fun! Stay tuned in the days ahead for my updated theory list – including several ideas about the DMA and its possible creators. And if you celebrate, I wish you a very Merry Christmas Eve! I hope your holidays are successful and fun!

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, 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.

Star Trek: Discovery review – Season 4, Episode 5: The Examples

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4, Star Trek: Picard Season 1, and for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.

The Examples was a stunningly good episode. When the season draws to a close, no matter how key storylines are ultimately paid off, we’ll look back and say this was one of the highlights. This week we got three stories rolled into one, all connected to the DMA in different ways, and we also got the introduction of a wonderfully complex new scientist character played by Shawn Doyle.

Before we go any further, I want to continue to call out the corporate nonsense from ViacomCBS that has prevented Star Trek fans from outside of Europe and North America from being able to watch Star Trek: Discovery. ViacomCBS seems to have no interest in Africa, Asia, or even countries and territories like Ireland or Puerto Rico, and the rollout of Paramount+, which continues at what we might generously call a snail’s pace, means nothing to millions of Trekkies all over the world. Discovery has become one of the most-pirated shows in recent weeks – something that’s entirely the fault of ViacomCBS and their decision to pull the show from Netflix.

The USS Discovery’s main viewscreen as the DMA approaches.

Let’s set that aside for now and talk about The Examples. We’ll begin with the smaller storyline present in the episode: that of Dr Culber and his emotional struggles. For me, these sequences with Dr Culber – and especially his conversations with Stamets – formed the episode’s real emotional heart. There was a moment toward the end between Captain Burnham and a prisoner named Felix that was also emotional, but we’ve known Dr Culber and followed his story for more than three seasons, so I think it’s natural to feel that this was the one that brought the most emotional weight.

I’m increasingly convinced that Discovery’s main characters each embody a different response to grief and trauma. In Tilly’s case, which we saw come to a head last week, she chose to leave the past behind and strike out on her own. In the case of Stamets we see the workaholic, someone willing to set aside much of his personal life and family commitments and throw himself into his work. The same kind of applies to Captain Burnham, though she also embodies the “protective partner” through her relationship with Book. Book, of course, has shown us the depths of depression and grief. And with Dr Culber we have someone who’s dedicated himself to helping others – even if that comes at his own expense.

Dr Culber and Stamets in their quarters.

The scenes between Stamets and Culber were a complete inversion of what I’d been expecting – and I loved every second of it. After Stamets missed Gray’s incorporation and wasn’t there for Adira in Choose To Live, I’d been expecting Dr Culber to be the one to call him out for overworking himself, telling him he missed something important with his family – and with his friend, as he wasn’t really there for Tilly before she left the ship. But instead we got the reverse of that: it was Stamets who had to tell Dr Culber that he’s been the one overworking himself for the sake of the crew.

This moment was absolutely perfect, and I felt it really drove home just how these two came to fall in love in the first place. Stamets and Culber have been Discovery’s emotional core since the show’s first season, but this was the first time we got this level of insight into what brought them together – and what has kept them together even through all the sci-fi adventures they’ve been on.

Stamets and Culber gave the episode heart and emotion.

Kovich – or should that be Doctor Kovich? – continues to confound me. Who is this mysterious man? We’ve seen him seemingly working for Starfleet Intelligence in some capacity, working alongside Admiral Vance at or near the top of the organisation, playing a leading role in Starfleet Academy – including being able to appoint teachers simply on his say-so – and now, in The Examples, he appeared to be acting as a counsellor, therapist, and even psychologist for Dr Culber. I wonder if Discovery plans to nail down Kovich at some point in the future – or if he’ll continue to be used in a variety of roles like this, allowing the lack of a clear explanation or background to provide him with an air of mystery and gravitas. It’s hard to deny that it’s working!

Kovich certainly laid some harsh truths on Dr Culber during their very short session together. And I liked that it came back to what happened to him in Season 2; Dr Culber went through an almost unimaginable experience, one that’s bound to leave emotional wounds. Past iterations of Star Trek were pretty bad at following up with characters who went through what should’ve been traumatic events, so it’s cathartic in a sense to see that the franchise is using its serialised format to right that old wrong.

Kovich offered Dr Culber counselling… of a sort.

Some of the goings-on at the prison felt a little rushed and a little forced. After discovering the existence of the prisoners and finding out that they weren’t scheduled to be rescued, Captain Burnham and the crew seem to have made no efforts to follow that up. Could they, for example, have located the prison guards who were said to have fled? Or sought out someone else capable of opening the prison? I know it’s a bit nit-picky, but going there in person feels like it should’ve been a last resort.

There was definitely an interesting element to the prison stand-off, though, once we got into the meat of this side of the story. I said last week that Captain Burnham has a “moral certainty” to her; she knows what is the right thing to do. This time she came upon two challenges to that morality – and I think in the way she responded to those challenges, we can see how much she’s grown as a character over the past three-plus seasons.

Captain Burnham faced a very difficult choice this week.

Captain Burnham wanted to rescue all of the prisoners. She wanted to do so not only for Book’s sake, as he’d been suffering ever since the destruction of his homeworld, but also because she truly believed in her heart that it was the objectively moral thing to do. The prisoners immediately challenged that, with several of them expressing the desire to be left to die rather than return to confinement. There was a bit of a cliché as we were told that one of the prisoners had “stolen food to feed his family,” but other than that this side of the story felt complex and nuanced.

We also got a glimpse at the kind of clashing of cultures that happens out here in the real world. The Akaali – a race that first appeared in Enterprise – have a very different culture to the Federation, perhaps influenced in part by the Emerald Chain. In this case, their ideas of justice, punishment, and imprisonment seem draconian by Federation standards – and Captain Burnham had to deal with that culture shock.

The Akaali magistrate.

Felix was the most complex of the prisoners, a man who’d killed someone decades earlier and had lived with that regret ever since. Guest star Michael Greyeyes put in a stellar performance as someone not merely resigned to their fate, but actively choosing to embrace it. Felix seemed to truly believe that his punishment or penance for his crime required his own death, and had he survived if the DMA had taken a different path, I believe he would have sought out the Akaali authorities and turned himself in all over again.

His choice was difficult for Book and Burnham, though, who had endeavoured to save all six prisoners. Book appeared to be ready to intervene, saving Felix’s life even if it went against his wishes, but Captain Burnham eventually understood that this was something she had to do. After all the talk earlier in the season about the Kobayashi Maru test and no-win scenarios, here we got to see Captain Burnham confronted with her own small-scale version of that very challenge. She rose to meet it in a way that she would have struggled to in earlier stories.

Leaving Felix behind was a kind of Kobayashi Maru moment for Captain Burnham.

There are many different ways we could read Felix’s story in The Examples. There’s definitely an allegory for imprisonment itself; that prison can have value as a rehabilitative institution. But we can also read Felix’s final choice through a more metaphorical and philosophical lens: it’s a tale about the value of freedom, and the freedom to choose one’s own path and ultimate fate. It’s a story about agency and the right to determine the outcome of one’s own life. Felix could have been “saved,” but doing so would have cost him his freedom in a different way.

This story took what could have been a fairly simple and uninspired plot about rescuing prisoners in a different and unexpected direction, providing some much-needed complexity to Captain Burnham’s side of the episode. It also gave both her and Book an emotional moment toward the end of the episode, with Book in particular believing the decision to leave Felix behind was wrong. And as the audience, we can see both sides of this argument and acknowledge that there’s no objectively right answer. On the one hand, if Felix had been saved he could have found other ways to have meaning in his life or to complete his penance and rehabilitate himself. Giving him that chance, even if it was against his will in that moment, could have paid dividends later. On the other hand, though, Felix was a grown adult of seemingly sound mind, and if this was the choice he freely made, knowing the consequences, does anyone have the right to interfere? It’s a complex story with no easy answer – and this could be a whole essay in itself drawing comparisons with things like the right-to-die movement, suicide, and many more.

Felix made his own decision.

Sonequa Martin-Green played Captain Burnham with real complexity this week, and her performance nailed Burnham’s real struggle with this decision. As recently as the season premiere, Burnham had said to President Rillak that she wasn’t ever willing to leave anyone behind or make this kind of choice; a variation on Captain Kirk’s famous “I don’t believe in no-win scenarios” stance. But something’s changed for Burnham – perhaps the existence of the DMA, or simply the realities of command. This evolution allows her to remain true to herself – she still wants to do the right thing. She just seems willing to consider different perspectives on what is “right,” including those that fall outside of her own interpretation.

So let’s take a look at the biggest revelation in The Examples: the DMA is an artificial creation. This is something I’d been theorising about in one form or another since we first learned of the existence of the anomaly in the first Season 4 teaser trailer earlier in the year, and I don’t think many fans or viewers will have been terribly shocked. A natural disaster angle could’ve worked well for the DMA, presenting Captain Burnham and the crew with a scientific challenge to untangle rather than a villainous adversary to defeat. But that ship has sailed – and really, this is the way I think we all expected Discovery to go with the DMA.

Tarka and Stamets created a scale model of the DMA.

Though this story was great overall, there was one part at the beginning that felt very rushed. After Stamets noticed the DMA disappearing and reappearing, Captain Burnham asked Zora (the ship’s AI) if the DMA could be a natural ocurrence. Zora replied that it couldn’t be, and based seemingly on these two lines alone, the rest of the plot was left to unfold. It just feels far too quick and easy to have gotten a one-line answer from Zora about the nature of the DMA, and I feel it would’ve been nicer to see at least some of the workings that led to that conclusion – perhaps Stamets could’ve said he’d come up with an artificial DMA as a new theory after weeks of work; same result, same short scene, but perhaps a better overall feeling that this wasn’t all based on one very brief analysis.

This second point is really more of a nitpick, but here we go anyway: how did everyone in the galaxy find out that the DMA isn’t a natural phenomenon? If Stamets is leading the charge on this investigation, and he only figured it out with the help of Zora… how did that news get out? Starfleet might’ve wanted to keep a lid on something so explosive, and I can absolutely see someone like President Rillak wanting to keep that news on a need-to-know basis to prevent panic and possible political consequences for the very tenuously-united Federation. Maybe we can excuse it by saying the DMA’s disappearance and reappearance led others to figure it out independently, but again this all happened very quickly at the beginning of the episode. It’s a nitpick, though.

Kaminar – and other worlds – already know that the DMA is artificial.

There were references to past iterations of Star Trek – as well as the video game Star Trek Online – on this side of The Examples. Admiral Vance listed the Metrons, who first appeared in The Original Series episode Arena, the Nacene, who constructed the Caretaker’s Array that pulled the USS Voyager into the Delta Quadrant, and the Iconian Empire, who were believed to be extinct during the events of The Next Generation but ultimately appeared in the aforementioned Star Trek Online.

However, at the end of the episode, Ruon Tarka explicitly ruled out all three of these races as being the culprit. So who is Species 10-C? And perhaps a bigger question is this: will the DMA connect back to a past iteration of Star Trek, or will the storyline follow a similar route to the Burn in Season 3 and ultimately turn out to be something altogether new? Part of me wants to say that we wouldn’t have had all of these teases if there wasn’t going to be some big connection and a big reveal that would be meaningful for us as the audience – the Borg, the super-synths from Picard, or something of that nature. But another big part of me is saying “remember the Burn!” and feels certain that we’re going to encounter someone entirely new.

Admiral Vance has a list of possible culprits… but Ruon Tarka dismissed them.

We’ll save the theorising for later, though, because this side of the episode had far more going on than just that! Shawn Doyle arrived as Ruon Tarka, and he played the arrogant scientist exceptionally well. Tarka is a strangely relatable character – I think a lot of us have known someone who’s so incredibly self-assured and who comes across as very rude and even selfish. Tarka, to my surprise I must admit, backed up his arrogance with genuine skill, and by the end of the episode even Stamets seemed to have warmed up to him!

There’s always going to be the temptation to have a character introduced in this fashion ultimately be proven wrong and get some kind of comeuppance, but what makes Tarka such an interesting and nuanced character is that he really did have the scientific skill and know-how to back up what he was saying; all the trash-talking with Stamets actually led somewhere. We can dislike Tarka for his abrasiveness and the way he was rude with Stamets and Saru, but at the end of the day I’m still left with a strong sense that, arrogant or not, he’s someone I want on my side – especially given the nature of the DMA. Pulling off that balance with a brand-new character isn’t going to be easy to get right, yet Discovery pulled it off thanks to a wonderful guest star.

Ruon Tarka made for a wonderfully complex character.

It was very sweet to get multiple mentions of Aurellio this week. Kenneth Mitchell played the character in Season 3, and even though he wasn’t able to appear in person on this occasion, the fact that Discovery went out of its way to reference the character more than once was incredibly sweet. It’s nice to know that Aurellio still exists in the 32nd Century, and that he’s teamed up with the Federation to help solve the mystery of the DMA. Again, I feel better knowing Aurellio is working on this problem too!

The idea that Stamets and Tarka came up with, to create essentially a scaled-down version of the DMA, was a good one, and it worked well on this side of the story. We got to see the two scientists truly working on the problem, tweaking their theories as they went along. This is the scientific method – having a crazy idea and testing it out! Other sci-fi shows would’ve skipped this step and just brought us the conclusion so we could get into more space battles and laser fights, but one thing I’ve always liked about Star Trek is seeing the characters slow down and take their time working on a problem. Neither Stamets nor Tarka could figure out the DMA instantly – and we’ve seen Stamets working on this problem across several episodes now. They seemed to be close to a breakthrough before the experiment had to be shut down – so perhaps a future episode will pick up that dangling story thread.

Stamets, Tarka, and Saru examine their model of the DMA.

Though she didn’t have many lines, it was great to welcome back Tig Notaro as Reno during this story. Her dry wit cut through what was a very heavy scientific story, and provided some moments of levity that were definitely appreciated. Due to the difficulties of travelling and filming during the pandemic, I already know we aren’t going to get as many Reno appearances as we might want – so it was great to see her on this occasion, and I will definitely savour those light-hearted moments that she brought.

Saru played a guiding role here, ultimately shutting the experiment down as it got too close to the danger zone. But he brought a sense of calmness to the proceedings, something necessary given the hot-headedness of Tarka and Stamets. Seeing him “roar” was definitely something a bit weird… but it was neat nevertheless! Saru was very much back in his element as the senior officer on this side of the story, taking command of the situation but deferring to the scientists as much as possible. Since he underwent the vahar’ai transformation in Season 2, we’ve seen this calmer presentation of Saru. I’ve said this before no doubt, especially during his tenure as captain in Season 3, but he makes for an excellent commander – someone kind of in the mould of Picard as a considerate, level-headed leader.

Saru and Tarka having a stand-off!

So that was The Examples. We’re one step closer to figuring out the DMA thanks to Tarka and Stamets’ dangerous experiment – and I hope to see further progress on that storyline soon! The suspense, not knowing who’s responsible for the DMA or what their goal might be is really pulling me in right now – I desperately want the answers to those huge questions!

Some scattered final thoughts: the USS Janeway was a neat callback to Voyager. We’ve had several references to both Enterprise and Voyager so far this season – could either of those be a tease or indication of the direction of the story? The DMA makes an interesting climate change analogy – something ever-present that our heroes all have to work together to overcome. The episode opened by reminding us that Tilly has gone, and Mary Wiseman is no longer credited in the opening credits – so I think her departure from the series is permanent. I had a horrible feeling that something was going to happen to Rhys as he took a leading role in the evacuation… but luckily he lives to fight another day!

I had a fantastic time with The Examples. It advanced the season’s main story in a huge and very significant way, introduced us to a new scientist character who was a ton of fun, and gave us some cathartic emotional moments with Captain Burnham, Book, Dr Culber, and Stamets. All in all, a truly outstanding episode. I’m tearing my hair out trying to figure out who Species 10-C might be – so stay tuned for my next batch of theories for more on that!

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, 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.

Star Trek: Discovery review – Season 4, Episode 3: Choose To Live

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4. Spoilers are also present for Star Trek: Picard Season 1.

When we saw the first few episode titles for Discovery Season 4 a few weeks ago, I completely missed something huge. “Choose to live” is a Qowat Milat saying, a phrase used by Elnor in Star Trek: Picard Season 1 last year. That was an oversight on my part, and meant that my original analysis of the episode before the season premiered was way off-base. Oops!

Although Discovery Season 4 is now available on Paramount+ in Australia, Latin America, and Scandinavia, and in western Europe and a few other regions via Pluto TV, or to purchase via iTunes, Google, and Amazon, there are still too many Star Trek fans unable to watch the new season of the show. Fans in countries and regions that ViacomCBS believes don’t exist still have no (official) way to access the season, and with the painfully slow rollout of Paramount+ also skipping over large swathes of Africa, Asia, and other parts of the world, that’s very disappointing. In my own small way, I’ll continue to point this out and call on ViacomCBS to do more to fix this problem and bring Star Trek to every fan around the world.

Captain Burnham at the beginning of the episode.

Choose To Live feels like a mid-season episode. It advanced the season’s main gravitational anomaly storyline in a pretty minor way, but in its place gave several different characters episode-long storylines that may or may not connect to the season’s ongoing themes. There are some nitpicks that we’ll get into, particularly surrounding one of the main story elements, but overall Choose To Live was a solid episode with some deeply emotional moments and throwbacks to past iterations of Star Trek. With its three concurrent storylines, I even felt it was structurally similar to episodes of Lower Decks!

As someone who’s spent decades struggling with my own gender identity, it’s really only in recent times that I’ve felt comfortable to be open and “out” as non-binary. Thus it was Gray’s story that perhaps intrigued me the most on a personal, character-scale level as Season 4 approached. We were promised that Dr Culber, Stamets, and Adira wouldn’t forget about Gray, and that his quest to be “seen” would succeed.

Gray watches his new synthetic body being constructed.

I’m absolutely thrilled to see Gray in a corporeal body for the first time. The scene with Gray customising his synthetic body in last week’s episode was absolutely the episode’s emotional high point, leaving me in tears, and I was hoping to see Choose To Live continue that trend. But something about Gray’s story this time felt… rushed. And although it was supported by amazingly emotional performances by Wilson Cruz, Ian Alexander, and in particular Blu del Barrio – who put in their best performance in Discovery so far – I actually felt that something was missing.

It was only when Adira beamed aboard the KSF Khi’eth in the Season 3 finale that Gray was able to be seen by anyone other than Adira. The end of that episode kicked off Gray’s quest to become corporeal again, fully confirming that Gray is indeed “real” and not a figment of Adira’s imagination. The first episode of Season 4 didn’t really feature any part of Gray’s quest, and we got one scene last week; a wonderful scene, but a single scene. And then this time, across several deeply emotional sequences, but in an episode that was packed with other storylines running at the same time, Gray’s quest has already come to an end.

Gray’s quest to be seen has concluded.

Gray’s invisibility had been an analogy for how many transgender people – and I would posit from my own experience, many non-binary people too – feel invisible, either ignored by the world or having to hide our true selves from it. Overcoming that, and finally feeling free to openly live one’s life is not a fast or easy process, and as much as I respect Discovery for putting together a story like this, the way it concluded so early in the season has left me feeling a little hollow.

Firstly, Stamets had no involvement at all – despite being a big part of Adira and Gray’s family. Stamets has had precisely one scene with Adira so far this season, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment in the premiere. It was great this week to see Stamets away from Discovery’s engineering lab for once; his being on Ni’Var was fun to see and another emotional story. But it was also noteworthy that he was absent not only from the scenes featuring Adira, Gray, and Dr Culber, but from their story as well.

Stamets was entirely absent from this story – even though it’s a huge moment for his family.

Here’s what I mean by that: Dr Culber didn’t mention Stamets. Adira didn’t mention Stamets. Gray didn’t mention Stamets. And Stamets didn’t mention any of them – not even a throwaway line about how he was nervous for Gray or upset to be missing such a big moment. He didn’t hesitate about going on the mission; his only moment of pause before going to Ni’Var was thinking about Book and how to spare him from reliving the trauma of Kwejian’s destruction.

Maybe all of this will play into some other storyline as the season runs along. I could foresee, for example, Dr Culber delivering a gentle rebuke to Stamets for getting so lost in his work that he didn’t even check in to see how things were going with Gray and Adira. But I could also see Discovery rushing right past all of this, setting the various characters on different paths and dropping them into different stories as the season rolls on.

Adira and Dr Culber waiting to see if the procedure will succeed.

I don’t want the show to turn something beautiful – Gray’s incorporation – into some kind of Stamets-Culber relationship drama. We had too much of that in Season 2 – and frankly, it did not work. But the show should try to acknowledge, somehow, what’s going on. Think about it this way: if you sat down to watch Choose To Live knowing nothing about Discovery, you wouldn’t know Stamets and Culber even knew one another, let alone are married. You wouldn’t realise that the connection between Adira and Stamets developed first; that Stamets had to tell Adira that he and Culber come as a “package deal.”

For a story about someone becoming whole again… an important person, part of their family, was missing. And combined with the fact that this storyline didn’t run as long or as deep as I might’ve expected it to, I’m left feeling a little empty at its conclusion. I’m absolutely thrilled by the prospect of Gray finally being able to interact with the rest of the crew, and to perhaps offer his services during future missions or playing a role in different stories. And when you pull Gray’s story back to his appearances in Season 3, we did get quite a lot of his invisibility. But I can’t shake the feeling that the entire thing has been shuffled out of the way a little too quickly so that Discovery can race ahead to other stories that it wants to tell.

Stamets’ absence from this story was noticeable.

In a similar way, we talked last week about how much of the work that Captain Burnham and the crew of Discovery had been doing to restore the Federation seems to have happened off-screen. We caught a glimpse of it at the beginning of the season premiere, but then the anomaly story took over. Likewise with Gray – much of the actual work involved to get to this point seems to have taken place off-screen, in the months between the Season 3 finale and the Season 4 premiere. I tried to argue last time that seeing the Federation being restored at a slower pace would have been absolutely worthwhile – and so it is with Gray. We saw the culmination of a longer process, but it would have been nice to see more of the process itself, partly because it’s interesting sci-fi and partly because it’s an analogy for something significant here in the real world.

Before we wrap up the Gray storyline, I want to again point out how outstanding Blu del Barrio was in Choose To Live. I’d enjoyed what del Barrio brought to Discovery in Season 3, but Choose To Live gave them an opportunity to show off a fantastic emotional range, and they absolutely nailed it in every single scene. I went on a rollercoaster with Adira – the anxiety and nervousness as the procedure began, fear and regret when Gray seemed lost, then relief and joy when Gray finally awoke. Blu del Barrio put in the best performance of the season so far, showed off their range as an actor, and made these sequences feel incredibly emotional. Despite my criticism of the somewhat rushed feel to the Gray storyline overall, Blu del Barrio’s performance elevated it and made it so much better than it otherwise would’ve been.

Blu del Barrio put in an outstanding performance this week.

Star Trek as a franchise is full of plot contrivances; story moments that don’t feel genuine because of some inconsistency or other. Some contrivances are bigger than others, though, and on Captain Burnham’s side of Choose To Live we ran into a whopper. I can believe, for the sake of the story, that J’Vini was unable to trust the Federation. After all, in the post-Burn galaxy, trust seems to have been difficult to come by, and Ni’Var isn’t a Federation member. But what feels so incredibly contrived in this storyline is that J’Vini was so unwilling to trust other members of the Qowat Milat that she was prepared to kill one of her own sisters.

If J’Vini was leading some rogue Qowat Milat splinter group, I guess we could argue that perhaps there’d been some kind of split within the order or something. But it was made crystal clear that J’Vini had hired mercenaries as part of her quest to defend the Abronians and their cryo-ship. It simply doesn’t make sense that J’Vini – a proud member of this ancient order – would trust mercenaries when she was unwilling to trust her own sisters, especially considering the stakes, and I find this particular aspect of the story to be incredibly contrived.

J’Vini’s story felt rather contrived.

The contrivance didn’t ruin this storyline, but it certainly detracted from it in retrospect. Looking past all of that, however, we got a genuinely fun adventure romp, one which took Captain Burnham away from the anomaly for a side-mission that, as things stand at least, feels disconnected from the overarching story of the season. In that sense, this part of Choose To Live feels a lot more like the episodic Star Trek stories of The Next Generation’s era. If you removed the Qowat Milat and Captain Burnham from this story, I could easily see it being one for Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D to have tackled!

It was great to welcome back Sonja Sohn as Dr Gabrielle Burnham. I stand by what I said in Season 3, though: the choice to make Dr Burnham a Qowat Milat nun still feels odd! The connection between J’Vini and Dr Burnham was perhaps less developed than it could’ve been; aside from a couple of lines of dialogue, we didn’t really get to see much evidence of their supposed closeness. J’Vini was, according to Dr Burnham, the Qowat Milat nun who nursed her back to health after her arrival in the 32nd Century… but I didn’t really feel that connection; the story seemed to rush past it.

Dr Gabrielle Burnham returned for a Qowat Milat story.

Dr Burnham’s line about how context matters when considering J’Vini’s actions was an interesting one – and it’s a notion that Discovery has tackled before. Context is for Kings was the title of the third episode of Season 1, and that episode began the slow process of rehabilitating Michael Burnham as a character after her failed mutiny attempt. Dr Burnham compares her support for J’Vini to Michael’s support for Spock in Season 2 – and Michael really doesn’t have a leg to stand on in arguing the point!

Tilly was a welcome addition to this side of the story, too. She got a great moment with Saru, sharing her feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and homesickness that she briefly talked about with Captain Burnham in the premiere and with Dr Culber last week. She got more of a chance to talk with Saru, and he tried to help both by giving her access to his plants, but most significantly by recommending her for the mission.

Tilly and Saru make for a great character duo.

Saru and Tilly make a wonderful pair – something Discovery’s writers found out at the beginning of Season 3. Because they’re such contrasting characters in terms of age, temperament, and even appearance, they don’t necessarily seem like a natural pairing. That may be why Seasons 1 and 2 didn’t feature a great deal of Saru and Tilly together. But their differences complement each other.

Saru has a great deal of faith in Tilly’s abilities – something he made clear in Season 3 when he named her as his temporary first officer. This confidence from someone senior, and someone she clearly respects, gives Tilly a boost of her own, and we saw that play out again this week. I think we can all relate to wanting to step out of our comfort zones – as Tilly does on the away mission – so her inclusion in this story was a great idea.

Tilly stepped far outside her comfort zone this week.

Tilly and Burnham also make for a great duo, and we got to see some of that on the away mission too. Ever since they came together early in Season 1, they’ve established a firm friendship and an intuitive way of working together. Tilly trusted Burnham even when she was told she’ll be “bait,” and I think that’s something significant. Tilly had often been seen as a kind of fearful or anxious character – so to put her faith in her commanding officer in such dangerous circumstances and execute a complicated plan was positive and uplifting to see.

We’ll have to cover this in more detail in this week’s theory post, but I think there’s more going on with the Tilly situation than meets the eye. Since the beginning of the season – and arguably toward the end of Season 3 as well – she’s had this unsettled, almost restless feeling that many people who’ve experienced anxiety can probably relate to. But whether that can be resolved through counselling and talking with friends like Saru is an open question at present. Saru gave Tilly the opportunity to get out of her comfort zone this week – but will she seek to permanently get outside of her comfort zone? And if so, what form might that take?

Tilly and Captain Burnham watch the Abronians colonise their new homeworld.

Captain Burnham took the initiative on this side of the story, figuring out what had happened to the Abronians and how to help them. As mentioned, I liked this story as it definitely had a Next Generation flair to it. The design of the Abronians as a non-humanoid race was also exceptionally neat, and I kind of wish we could’ve seen more of them – but perhaps we will! This is another point I’ll pick up in this week’s theory post, but I suspect that the Abronians have some kind of connection with the gravitational anomaly.

Did anyone else feel that Dr Burnham’s “this isn’t a moon” line had the faintest echo of Star Wars? I surely did! The revelation that the moon base was actually a giant starship was pretty neat, and its stone engines, carvings, and computer interfaces were well-designed and contributed to the feeling that Burnham and co. were inside a tomb or other ancient structure.

The Abronians’ moon-ship made great use of stone to feel ancient and otherworldly.

While we’re talking about designs, the beginning of the episode showed off a brand-new starship: the USS Credence. The Credence has a fantastic design, incorporating elements from several prior Starfleet vessels. I felt I could see callbacks to the Oberth-class and Constellation-class in particular through the alignment of the ship’s body and nacelles. It felt like a 24th or 25th Century ship in some ways – it wouldn’t have looked terribly out-of-place in the Dominion War or in the armada seen in the Picard Season 1 finale!

The ship’s internal design, however, is another matter. I freely admit that this feels like a nitpick, but when I sat down to watch Choose To Live, my sense of immersion was immediately knocked off-course by the fact that the USS Credence’s interior was a barely-disguised USS Discovery. Discovery has, on a couple of occasions, shown us some pretty poor set redresses. The Ba’ul prison cell in Season 2 was so obviously the transporter room set that it was painful – and here, in Choose To Live, we get a sequence supposedly taking place aboard the USS Credence that was clearly just the USS Discovery hallway set. I can’t even charitably call it a “redress” of the set, because basically nothing had changed. Would it have been difficult or expensive to create something at least slightly different to represent the dilithium chamber or cargo bay of the USS Credence? Doing so would have made this sequence so much more enjoyable.

The USS Credence.

Back on topic, and it was another somewhat contrived situation that J’Vini’s whole plan for stealing dilithium and murdering people was basically for the sake of stockpiling it “just in case.” That’s a somewhat timely message, perhaps, given the panic-buying and stockpiling we’ve seen during the pandemic! But it felt a little forced considering that her plan was basically to just sit aboard this cryo-ship and wait for the Abronians to awaken. Did she bother to investigate their computer system at all? It took Captain Burnham barely five minutes to figure out that the Abronians should’ve woken up already! Simply using logic and analysing the situation – even assuming J’Vini had zero computer skills – should have told her that they’d arrived at their destination and could be safely woken up.

However, setting the contrivances of the story aside, it was neat to see Captain Burnham and Tilly working so well together to solve the puzzle and help the Abronians awaken. Seeing them depart their moon-ship to colonise a new world was a powerful moment, and everyone involved – J’Vini, Dr Burnham, Captain Burnham, and Tilly – all played roles in ensuring it could happen. Saving an entire race from what could’ve been extinction is a huge victory, and Choose To Live played it well – even though it was taking place in the context of a smaller, character-focused story.

Captain Burnham helped save an entire race from the brink of extinction.

The way this story concluded was interesting, and I think it shows a pragmatic side to President Rillak that may come into play later in the season. She was willing to turn over J’Vini to the Ni’Var authorities because she believed that doing so was a gesture of friendship that may help sway Ni’Var into rejoining the Federation. Putting the big picture first – or the “needs of the many,” to use a Star Trek quote – was something Captain Burnham didn’t like to see in this instance, but it’s another example of President Rillak being on a different course from Burnham.

It seems clear that Ni’Var will indeed rejoin the Federation at some point this season, which will be great to see. So President Rillak’s politicking will probably pay off – but as Captain Burnham reminded her, it doesn’t come free, and the price in this instance was Federation justice being applied in J’Vini’s case. The hard-nosed political pragmatism of President Rillak makes her a very interesting character – not always playing fully on Burnham’s side, but thus far never as a direct antagonist either. She has her reasons for doing what she does, and she doesn’t care too much if Admiral Vance or Captain Burnham disagree with her. She’s confident in her authority and her decision-making – and I can’t wait to see how that plays out as the season progresses.

President Rillak is a fantastic, well-written character with genuine depth.

That brings us to Stamets and Book’s away mission to Ni’Var. As mentioned, it was great to see Stamets away from Discovery’s engineering bay; it seems like he spent most of Season 3 down there! And after last week, pairing up Book and Stamets again was a good idea. Discovery seems to have found a character pairing it likes in Book and Stamets!

What we saw with this Ni’Var story is the scientific method playing out. Stamets had a theory: that the anomaly is a “primordial wormhole.” He presented his theory to the Ni’Var scientists, who analysed it using their technology and meditative method. But it turned out to be wrong – something Stamets seemed to be fighting against, but arguably must’ve felt was a possibility. We’re still no closer to understanding the anomaly, but it’s another theory that Stamets can cross off his list.

The Ni’Var Science Institute debunked another of Stamets’ anomaly theories.

The interaction between Book and T’Rina was neat to see. Both Kwejian natives and Vulcans are, as T’Rina pointed out, emotional, empathic races. But they take completely opposite approaches to emotion: Kwejian natives draw on it, Vulcans try to suppress it. Book couldn’t learn Vulcan discipline as a way to overcome his grief, but by reliving his last moments on Kwejian he got a kind of cathartic emotional release.

It was painful to relive those memories with Book, and David Ajala put in a wonderfully complex performance. Book is feeling almost unimaginable grief – not just for his family, but for his whole race. Losing one’s home and family would be difficult and painful enough, but to be left as one of the few survivors of his people is something difficult to fathom. David Ajala brought those feelings to screen in an understandable way, and keeping the focus primarily on Book’s family – and his nephew in particular – gave focus to this deeply emotional story.

By reliving his memories, Book found some measure of peace.

Book is moving through the grieving process, and helped by his time on Ni’Var has now moved on, ever so slightly, from where we saw him last week. As Captain Burnham remarked at the end of the episode, he was able to do something – watch a holographic recording of Kwejian – that would’ve been too painful a few days earlier.

So that was Choose To Live. The main thrust of the season’s story was sidelined for the most part as Stamets saw another theory fall down. However, Captain Burnham got her own mission, one which felt like a throwback to past iterations of Star Trek in the best way possible. The return of Dr Burnham and the Qowat Milat was fun, and we got some great character moments with Saru, Tilly, the Burnhams, Book, Stamets, Gray, Dr Culber, and Adira.

Gray and Adira at the episode’s climax.

My only real criticism of Gray’s storyline is that I had expected Discovery to make more of it. The outcome was pitch-perfect, and what I think we had all hoped to eventually see. But there’s a feeling I can’t shake that this story concluded too early in the season – too soon after the events of That Hope Is You, Part 2 had kicked it off. Much of the legwork of figuring out how to help Gray – and his own agency over helping himself – seems to have happened off-screen in between Seasons 3 and 4, just like the dilithium deliveries and Federation rebuilding work. That might be fine… but it depends what happens next, and whether the stories yet to come in Season 4 can compensate for not seeing those things play out.

In Season 3, what I loved most about Adira’s story was that their coming out moment to Stamets was so low-key. Being non-binary in the 32nd Century shouldn’t be a big deal, and that moment captured the kind of optimistic tone of Star Trek’s future absolutely perfectly. Gray’s incorporation was always going to be more complex because of the technobabble side of things, but that gave it the potential to perhaps take into account the false starts and complex emotions that transitioning and coming out can elicit. Some of that was present in Choose To Live, and the payoff to that story was deeply emotional. But I can’t shake the feeling that it happened very quickly, and at a very early stage in the season. Perhaps Gray will go on to play a significant role now he can interact with everyone else – and that will be fantastic to see. I’m optimistic about future storylines… but also a little underwhelmed that the story I’d been most excited for has already concluded after a mere three episodes.

Next week we’ll be watching All Is Possible – and I have no idea what it could be about! Perhaps a return to a story all about the anomaly is on the cards after it took a back seat this week. In any case, I hope you’ll stay tuned for my updated theory list between now and Thursday and another review after I’ve seen All Is Possible next week.

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.

Star Trek: Discovery review – Season 4, Episodes 1-2

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4. Spoilers are also present for Star Trek: Picard Season 1 and Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Ahhh… it feels so good to write these words! Star Trek: Discovery is finally available in Latin America, Western Europe, Australia, and a few other countries and territories via a patchwork of different streaming services, television channels, and other digital distribution methods. Significant numbers of Trekkies in Africa, Asia, and elsewhere still can’t access Discovery Season 4 (by conventional methods, at least) but it feels like a victory for fan activism nevertheless. It’s my sincere hope that ViacomCBS will continue to try to bring Discovery Season 4 – and the rest of Star Trek – to regions and territories where it isn’t yet available, and I’ll keep bringing up the issue at every opportunity.

Following the positive news the other day that Discovery is going to be available to watch, I have taken the decision to resume my reviews and theories for the duration of the season. I felt it was necessary to criticise ViacomCBS, Paramount+, and the rest of the corporate side of Star Trek following their poor decision to withdraw the show, but equally I feel it’s important for all of us to support Star Trek if it is available. That means watching it on Pluto TV, purchasing episodes on platforms like iTunes/Amazon, or watching on Paramount+.

Pluto TV is the current home of Star Trek: Discovery here in the UK – and in much of the rest of western Europe.

This isn’t a one-way street, and when corporations make positive decisions – especially following a significant fan campaign – I think we need to go out of our way to support the franchises we love and show companies like ViacomCBS that listening to fan feedback pays off. It’s not good enough to criticise the company for their nonsense, but fail to acknowledge and respond positively when they reverse course or take good decisions.

The “victory” is bittersweet because I know that there are fans in other parts of the world who can’t watch Discovery. If I still lived in South Africa, for example, I’d be continuing my one-person Discovery review blackout! But because the show is now available here in the UK, I will be resuming my reviews. That doesn’t mean I don’t support fans in other parts of the world, and I will continue to do what I can in my own small way here on the website to call on ViacomCBS to make Discovery and the rest of Star Trek available.

Having dedicated close to 10,000 words and a week of my time to Discovery Season 4 and the international distribution situation, I think that’s more than enough on that for now! So let’s get back on track with a double-header review of the first two episodes: Kobayashi Maru and Anomaly.

The first shot of the new season.

Kobayashi Maru kicked off with a neat CGI sequence showing the USS Discovery arriving from a Spore Drive jump, then Book’s ship departing the shuttlebay. The special effects work across both episodes was outstanding, and the animators and artists deserve a lot of credit – even more so when you consider that much of the work was done remotely due to the pandemic. In particular I’d point to shots of Book’s ship in flight, the USS Discovery’s Spore Drive jumps, and the anti-gravity sequences that we’ll look at in a moment.

The one criticism that I have of Kobayashi Maru is related to CGI, though. It isn’t what you think – none of the effects themselves were bad! But as a consequence of the somewhat rapid, occasionally chaotic way that the episode was cut together, edited, and paced, at a couple of crucial moments, CGI sequences were nowhere near as long as they needed to be to properly communicate what was happening. At both points where Book was looking at the impact of the gravitational anomaly, first on Kwejian’s moon from the console of his ship and later at Kwejian itself from the bridge of Discovery, the CGI shots of the anomaly and the remains of the planet were barely shown for a scant few seconds – not long enough, in my opinion at least, to have the impact they were intended to have.

This CGI shot of the remains of Kwejian was only visible for a few seconds.

In the first case I think we can excuse the pacing. Book blacked out as the anomaly hit, and the structure of the scene was enough to show that the proverbial “something bad” was happening, but also the short cut kept it mysterious enough that we didn’t see everything – and were left wanting to know more. But as Book stood on the bridge of Discovery, we caught a glimpse of Kwejian that began somewhat blurry and obscured by the ship’s viewscreen, then lingered for mere seconds before cutting back to Book and the crew to see their reactions. A few extra seconds, perhaps, might’ve helped this moment.

As it is, we know what happened to Kwejian. And since we’re already talking about the premiere’s biggest single moment, let’s jump into the “should Kwejian have been destroyed” conversation! In my view, the season premiere needed something big to sufficiently communicate the stakes. A character death could’ve accomplished this, but considering that the anomaly is being presented as this kind of galaxy-ending threat, the destruction of an entire planet – especially one we’re familiar with and from which a main character originates – succeeds in this objective.

Book’s immediate reaction to the loss of his homeworld.

Objections to the Kwejian storyline seem to stem from a much broader point of contention – that Discovery shouldn’t be running this kind of apocalyptic storyline for the third (or arguably fourth) season in a row. Taking a break from saving the galaxy would’ve allowed the show to tell different kinds of stories – stories that could be just as exciting and dramatic, but smaller in scope and more character-oriented. That’s not a bad argument, but it’s been apparent since we got the first teaser trailer for the season at First Contact Day in April that this was going to be the direction of travel. In the context of this kind of story, the destruction of Kwejian works; it succeeds as a story point.

Obviously this hurts Book, and represents a change for his character that’s at least as substantial as Saru’s Season 2 vahar’ai transformation. Two episodes in, we don’t really know what the outcome of this will be for Book. He could follow the path of Kelvin-timeline Spock, recommitting himself to his work. He could draw on the loss of Kwejian at a key moment later in the story, perhaps spurring him on as he knows he’s one of the last remaining Kwejian natives. Or he could fall deeper into a depression that lasts all season and from which he struggles to recover. One thing is certain, though: Book won’t be the same after the destruction of his home planet and the loss of his family.

Book being comforted by Burnham in Anomaly.

President Rillak manages to simultaneously embody the “bad admiral” character archetype from past iterations of the franchise (where Starfleet admirals would often be depicted as adversarial if not outright evil) while also feeling like a character with nuance and depth. It would’ve been easy for Rillak to fall into a fairly flat villain trope given that Kobayashi Maru deliberately pitted her against Captain Burnham right from the start. But her reasons for seeking an evaluation of Burnham, her level-headed rebuke and assessment of Burnham’s captaincy, and the impressive way she stepped in to disarm the situation aboard the space station all work in her favour.

However, I would be remiss not to point out that her noisy interventions on the bridge of a starship while it was engaged in a dangerous and highly time-sensitive assignment ended up causing a lot of problems. Had Captain Burnham not been delayed by those crucical seconds, the outcome of the mission could have been very different – and someone who lost their life might’ve survived. There is a time and place for someone in a position of authority to question or criticise, and in the heat of the moment is not that time.

President Rillak interrupted Captain Burnham at the wrong moment.

I’m glad that President Rillak has been brought on board, though. The only other authority figure we’ve met within Starfleet is Admiral Vance – and I can’t imagine him being so adversarial and harsh toward Captain Burnham. I was worried before the season premiered that storylines which could’ve been Vance’s will end up going to President Rillak, but I’m actually glad in this case that he gets to remain on friendly terms with Discovery’s captain, and that we don’t have to see him as an obstacle for her to overcome.

The “butterfly aliens” had a neat, unique design, and it played into the story of repairing their non-functional satellite network well. My only criticism of this sequence would be that it felt rushed. The intention was to show Captain Burnham and the crew working together, knowing each other’s strengths and using them to solve a puzzle. But Kobayashi Maru as a whole felt very rapidly-paced, and this sequence – which in past iterations of Star Trek might’ve been a whole episode – felt undeniably rushed, lasting only a few minutes. The episode wanted to get into the meat of the story, and the “butterfly aliens” and their satellites were elbowed out of the way in relatively short order to make that happen.

The butterfly aliens up close.

I get the sense that Book and Burnham’s mission to deliver dilithium to the “butterfly aliens” might be all that we get to see of the Federation being rebuilt this season. Some of this seems to have happened off-screen, and it feels like the rebuilding, expanding Federation is basically going to be a backdrop to the main event – the story of the gravitational anomaly.

Considering how big and devastating the Burn had been, I think I’d have liked to see more of this rebuilding work. It makes a good backdrop, don’t get me wrong, and it gives the crew something to fight for and defend as they step up their efforts to defend against the anomaly. But when you think back to how fractured and small the Federation felt in Season 3, particularly in the first half of the season, there’s a bit of a risk that we’re rushing past something meaningful; a story worth telling.

Fixing the satellites for the butterfly aliens was a short moment designed to be a microcosm of Captain Burnham’s and the USS Discovery’s work prior to the main anomaly storyline.

Frankly, I could have happily entertained the idea of an entire season’s worth of “rebuilding” stories. Seeing Captain Burnham and the crew traveling the length and breadth of the rump Federation, bringing help and hope to familiar and new races would have been really interesting to see. It would’ve allowed for a season-long story, but one comprised much more of individual elements – rebuilding work on one planet or in one system, then moving on to a different area to face a different challenge. It was nice to get a taste of this rebuilding work – which is presumably something Captain Burnham and the crew have been doing a lot of off-screen – but there was absolutely scope to do a lot more with this idea.

Though only on screen for a brief moment, it was wonderful to see Admiral Vance’s family. He’d mentioned them in Season 3, but it was implied that his work meant he couldn’t spend as much time with them as he wanted. To see him able to welcome them to Starfleet Academy and show them around was really touching.

Admiral Vance with his wife and daughter.

One moment in Kobayashi Maru had me tearing up – and I bet you can guess which one! As President Rillak introduced the assembled cadets and officers to Starfleet’s new Archer Space Dock, Archer’s Theme from the end credits of Star Trek: Enterprise was heard. The USS Voyager-J was docked, and for a brief moment I got very emotional! Star Trek has done this to me before: seeing the refit USS Enterprise for the first time in The Motion Picture, accompanied by another beautiful piece of music, is another sequence that turns on the water works! This scene was very similar, and was truly a beautiful homage to Enterprise. More than a millennium after his voyages of exploration, it’s incredibly sweet to see the Federation remembering Captain Archer.

As Kobayashi Maru drew to a close, pretty much everything we’d seen across the episode’s fifty-minute runtime had ceased to feel important. The revelation of Kwejian’s destruction overruled everything else, and the conflict between Captain Burnham and President Rillak felt petty in comparison. Tackling the anomaly would mean they’d have to pull together – any interpersonal conflict or rivalries now needed to be set aside. As I sat down to watch Anomaly, the direction of travel for the season felt set.

This moment, accompanied by a familiar musical sting, was beautiful

That doesn’t mean that Kobayashi Maru was some kind of waste. It told an exciting and engaging story in its own right, one which laid the groundwork for what’s to come in two key ways: firstly by showing off how far the Federation has come, giving Captain Burnham and the crew something to fight for, and secondly by introducing the gravitational anomaly and its devastating destructive power.

So that brings us to Anomaly.

Despite its subject matter, Anomaly ended up being a much more intimate, personal, and emotional episode than I initially expected. Several different characters got cathartic, emotional storylines that really showed off how well Discovery can do these smaller, personal moments even in the midst of a galactic-scale story.

Captain Burnham in Anomaly.

Book and Stamets made an amazing, underrated pair in Anomaly, and their central conflict was handled incredibly well. In the run-up to the season I had asked what Book’s ability to control the Spore Drive could mean for Starfleet, and we got part of an answer to that in Kobayashi Maru, with President Rillak explaining that a “next-generation” Spore Drive was in development. But naturally, a proud person like Stamets would be impacted by the reveal too.

I liked the way this was handled. It wasn’t presented as mere jealousy – though perhaps Stamets’ ego did play a role in the conflict between himself and Book – but more a feeling of helplessness. Having to rely on other people, feeling unable to help and having to watch from the sidelines as Stamets did in the Season 3 finale, is never a nice feeling. As someone who’s disabled and who has to rely on help more often than I’d like, this is definitely something very relatable. Everyone wants to feel independent and in control of their life and their situation – Stamets lost that control, and having already lost his husband once before was already emotionally vulnerable to this kind of situation. He appears to have redirected some of those feelings onto Book, but he recognised that and tried to make amends.

Stamets and Book made a great pair.

David Ajala and Anthony Rapp played off one another beautifully in their scenes together, and it makes me want more Book and Stamets! They’re an unlikely team in so many ways, but it’s fantastic to see Discovery stepping out of its comfort zone and pairing up different character duos. This is something I hope to see more of as the season rumbles on.

One character pairing that came together beautifully at the beginning of Season 3 last year was Saru and Tilly, and seeing them reunited in Anomaly was fantastic. Saru is a calming influence on Tilly, who can be excitable and emotion-driven, and their contrasting personalities make for truly fun viewing. Tilly has come a long way since Season 1, but she still needs the occasional support of someone like Saru.

Tilly was glad to have Saru back!

Speaking of Saru, he’s now back aboard Discovery – albeit in a less-than-permanent capacity. What I liked about Saru’s reunion with Captain Burnham was the agency he was given over his role after returning to Starfleet. It would have been easy for the writers to have Burnham be the one to ask Saru to remain aboard the ship, but for Saru himself to make the offer to serve as first officer was an outstanding choice. I got genuinely emotional seeing Burnham accept his offer.

This might irritate the Discovery haters, but Captain Burnham and first officer Saru mirror Kirk and Spock in more ways than one; echoes of Star Trek’s first main character pairing are present. Burnham is younger, quicker to act, and more of a risk-taker. Saru is older, more experienced, and slower and more deliberate when considering his moves. He’s the perfect first officer to serve someone like Captain Burnham. She needs that kind of XO just like Kirk needed Spock – and while we’re talking about contrasting pairs, just like the calmer, level-headed Picard needed someone like Riker.

Captain Burnham arguably needs a first officer with the temperament of Saru.

I’m glad that Saru didn’t have to be demoted in order to take up his new role (like poor Decker was in The Motion Picture!) Starfleet ships have been depicted with two officers who both hold the rank of captain on several occasions; Kirk and Spock were both captains during the events of The Final Frontier and The Undiscovered Country, for example. So I don’t think it presents any kind of in-universe problem to see Saru occupy the role of first officer.

It would’ve been potentially interesting to see a secondary character promoted to occupy that role. Nilsson, Rhys, Bryce, or even Linus were possible contenders, and it wasn’t really clear who served in that role before Saru came aboard – Discovery has been flying around for months, after all. But on the whole, I think the role suits Saru perfectly. I’d even go so far as to say it suits him better than the captain’s chair ever did. His style is well suited to being the person to present multiple options, to consider the possibilities, but to leave the decision-making to someone else. I just hope that his presence on the ship won’t end up causing Captain Burnham any problems; I don’t think the writers would go down that road, but you never can tell!

There were other prospective first officer candidates – such as Rhys, who appeared to have the conn for a time in Kobayashi Maru.

Speaking of Captain Burnham, we see two distinct aspects of her command style on display across the first two episodes of the season. In Kobayashi Maru, particularly during the fast-paced opening sequence, we see her at her most self-assured, confident not only in her own abilities but in those of the crew under her command. In Anomaly, we see her willing to listen to the advice of members of her crew – relying on Tilly, Adira, Bryce, and particularly Saru at several key moments across the episode.

Critics of Michael Burnham’s characterisation would be well-advised to watch her in Anomaly in particular. I don’t think it’s fair to say she’s “changed” in Anomaly compared to how she’s usually been portrayed, but some of the criticisms of Burnham in past seasons stem from a sense of selfishness or self-centeredness that arguably are more to do with the way Discovery as a whole is written than the way Burnham herself is. But in Anomaly we see firsthand how she’s relying on others – and from the production side of things, how Discovery is willing to allow other characters far more agency over the way the story unfolds.

Anomaly was a great episode for Captain Burnham.

Someone like Bryce is a relative “blank slate” – despite being a longstanding member of the bridge crew. We don’t know a lot about him, his background, or his hobbies, so in that sense making him the one to figure out a solution to the dangerous situation makes sense. It’s quite believable that Bryce might enjoy kite-surfing – far more so than if it was suddenly a hobby ascribed to Burnham, Saru, or Tilly for the first time. It’s a contrivance, for sure, but Star Trek’s history is littered with those – many of which are far more egregious!

David Ajala put in his best and most emotional performance of the series so far in Anomaly, communicating the incredible, almost unimaginable pain of someone who feels like he’s lost everything. Mixed in with loss is regret – Book had spent most of the last few years away from Kwejian, prior to the events of Season 3’s episode Sanctuary, and in light of the loss of the world and his family, regrets those lost years all the more.

Book lost almost everything and everyone he had cared about – and David Ajala’s performance captured that pitch-perfectly.

The standoff between Captain Burnham and Book was riveting to watch in Anomaly, as the latter insisted on helming a dangerous mission into the anomaly. It reminded me of The Next Generation Season 6 episode Lessons, where Captain Picard struggles with the similar conundrum of ordering someone he cares about to undertake a dangerous mission. Lessons is a fantastic episode, but I think in retrospect it’s limited by the fact that Nella Darren – Picard’s love interest – is a new, one-off character. Book and Burnham’s relationship has been well-established over the course of Season 3 and into Season 4, so the conundrum she faces as he insists on going on the mission is something we as the audience are far more invested in.

Star Trek has, on more than one occasion, depicted people at moments of severe depression, willing to end their lives or to give up. Book is in that position in Anomaly – not actively trying to die, but so uncaring about his life in the wake of everything that’s happened that he’s willing to take risks, put himself in harm’s way, and give up rather than fight to survive. But Anomaly showed Book that Burnham is in his corner, willing to fight when he isn’t, and pushing him to find the strength to try.

Burnham was there for Book when he needed her most.

Anomaly shows us, through a variety of different character pairings, how people can help one another through difficult circumstances. Whether it’s Tilly complimenting Adira for their hard work, Saru telling Burnham to be a partner, not a captain, Dr Culber talking to Gray through Adira as he works on his new synthetic body, or Stamets reaching out to Book, the theme of the episode is connection.

I loved the Picard reference in the scene with Adira, Gray, and Dr Culber. It was an interesting revelation that the “Soong process” for transferring minds was ultimately unsuccessful in most cases – I wonder what impact that will have on future Picard stories. The character it might impact most is Dr Soong himself, as he had planned to transfer his own consciousness into a synthetic body. But perhaps we should leave that speculation for another time! I think the intention here was to pre-emptively close a potential plot hole – by saying that the Soong process is basically unlikely to succeed, it gets around potential questions in future about why it wasn’t possible to save characters by transferring them into synthetic bodies when they’re near death. I’m not sure it was necessarily something that needed to be wrapped up in this fashion, but then again we Trekkies can be a pedantic bunch!

Dr Culber connected Gray’s story to Star Trek: Picard Season 1.

As someone who has struggled for a long time with my own gender identity, the scene with Gray “customising” his new body was very emotional. For a long time, I lacked the confidence to change anything about my appearance – especially when going out in public – to better match my own gender identity, so to see Gray talking about making cosmetic changes in order to be more comfortable in his own skin – literally – was a deeply emotional moment.

There’s power in representation, and even though Gray wasn’t the main focus of Anomaly, the main scene he had with Dr Culber and Adira was one of the best, and perhaps most underrated, in the entire episode for me.

Gray had the opportunity to customise his new body.

One of the big questions facing Season 4 at the moment is the nature of the gravitational anomaly. It always felt that the characters’ first guesses as to what it could be wouldn’t pan out, but I kind of liked the idea of a rogue black hole – or pair of black holes, in this case. Facing a purely natural phenomenon could be a story that brings with it all kinds of real-world parallels as we struggle with the climate emergency, for example.

However, it seems from the ending of Anomaly that Stamets, Tilly, and co. weren’t correct with their binary black hole theory, once again opening up the story to a completely unknowable next phase. Keeping the mystery going is good; had the anomaly been all figured out within a couple of episodes it might’ve been less exciting going into the rest of the season! It was interesting, though, to see Tilly in the closing moments of Anomaly presenting this as a defeat.

The nature of the anomaly is still uncertain.

Tilly seemed to be suggesting that the fact that the anomaly’s path remains unpredictable means that the mission to scan it was somehow unsuccessful, but I’m not sure that’s the best way to present this revelation. Scanning the anomaly up close yielded a treasure trove of information for the crew to scour, and was an absolutely necessary step in understanding the danger it poses. Maybe its path is still impossible to predict – for now. But that doesn’t make the mission a failure. And considering no lives were lost and the damage to the ship seems repairable, I guess I just don’t really get why the closing moments of Anomaly chose to present the results of the data in such a negative way. Obviously it’s bad news that the path of the anomaly is still unpredictable – but that’s no one’s fault and it doesn’t mean that the mission failed.

The visual effect of the crew lifted out of their seats as artificial gravity failed was incredibly impactful; one of the most powerful visuals in the first two episodes. I can see why clips of that were chosen for the trailers! Star Trek rarely depicts artificial gravity failures – doing so has historically been prohibitively expensive. A couple of behind-the-scenes photos have shown the cast suspended in harnesses and on wires, and it seems clear that those sequences will have been difficult to film. It was worth the effort, though, and the finished effect is fantastic. Not only that, but I think it’s made substantially more impactful because artificial gravity failures are so uncommon in Star Trek.

Dr Culber and Captain Burnham float free as Discovery’s artificial gravity fails.

So that was Season 4’s opening pair of episodes. It took fans a lot of hard work to ensure the episodes would be available to more folks, so I hope everyone has found a way to tune in and watch via official channels – where such channels are available, of course. I think the season got off to a rocky start with all of the international mess, but the episodes themselves were fabulous, setting up a suitably engrossing mystery that feels very open right now. The story could go down any one of many different, utterly unpredictable routes – just like the anomaly itself!

Discovery is always at its best with moments of intimate characterisation, and there were many, many moments across both episodes that showed off the characters at their best – and gave the actors some fantastic material to work with. There were amazing performances from David Ajala, Sonequa Martin-Green, Doug Jones, Ian Alexander, and Chelah Horsdal in particular, and I’m sure I’m leaving too many folks out. The visual effects are once again amazing, an improvement on Season 3 – something I didn’t think would’ve been possible.

As the credits rolled on Anomaly I was left wanting to know more – and not wanting to have to wait a week! That’s the mark of a good story in my book, leaving fans clamouring for more, wanting to figure out the show’s mysteries. I’m eagerly awaiting next week’s episode, Choose To Live. Stay tuned for my weekly list of theories in the days ahead, and a review of Choose To Live next week!

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, 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.