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

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

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

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

A group of Unknown Species 10-C.

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

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

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

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

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

Tarka met his end in an unsatisfying way.

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

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

Tarka with the interdimensional transporter shortly before his death.

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

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

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

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

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

Tarka and Book caught in an explosion.

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

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

Book was saved by Unknown Species 10-C.

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

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

Book survived… and so did everyone else.

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

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

The USS Mitchell arrived to save the day!

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

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

Admiral Vance led the evacuation efforts.

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

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

Tilly and Admiral Vance sharing a drink.

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

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

What happened to Dr Kovich?

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

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

I had no idea who this was at first!

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

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

The President and the President shake hands.

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

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

Captain Burnham and the President of United Earth.

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

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

A member of Unknown Species 10-C.

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

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

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

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

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

President Rillak speaking with Unknown Species 10-C.

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

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

Adira, Dr Culber, and Stamets.

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

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

Captain Burnham and Book embrace.

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

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

Captain Burnham spoke to Unknown Species 10-C.

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

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

General Ndoye.

A few scattered thoughts before we wrap things up:

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

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

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

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

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

Star Trek: Discovery review – Season 4, Episode 12: Species Ten-C

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

Species Ten-C wasn’t just a good episode in its own right, with plenty of excitement and tension that showed how Star Trek can do a heck of a lot without resorting to violence and battles, but it was one that made the episode immediately preceding it significantly better in retrospect. I wrote last week that the one saving grace to an otherwise frustrating experience in Rosetta could be if the hydrocarbons discovered by Captain Burnham and the away team were put to good use – and that happened in a big way this time.

On the other side of the story, I finally felt what I believe the writers have been aiming for for weeks with the Book and Tarka storyline: that Captain Burnham was right, diplomatic initiatives should be given a chance, and that Book has fallen victim to Tarka’s manipulations. While this has the unfortunate effect of relegating Tarka from a complex character with an equally understandable motivation into the out-and-out villain of the season’s final couple of episodes, it clarifies what had been until now a very fuzzy and occasionally frustrating story.

The Book and Tarka storyline was expanded upon in a big way this week.

If I were to be critical of Species Ten-C, what I’d say is that it probably took too long for the season to reach this point. Several advances in the DMA/Unknown Species 10-C storyline were sprinkled in at or near the end of unrelated or tangentially-related episodes, with the Federation often running into problems or delays that took too long to surmount, and the result of that is that it took a long time to arrive at the hyperfield.

The story of finding a way to bridge the communication divide could have been a longer one, and it was handled in a genuinely interesting way – but with only half an episode dedicated to it here and just one final episode of the season remaining, it’s an interesting concept that may not be explored in as much detail as it could have been.

Species Ten-C saw the crew making first contact.

This story of learning how to communicate with someone far more alien than usual, and doing so while under threat thanks to the DMA, is not one that required a B-plot villain. While Tarka was interesting in his earlier appearances and his motivations were laid out in a clearly understandable way, the narrative just doesn’t require this additional element in order to be exciting.

Discovery has a tendency, as I’ve pointed out on a number of previous occasions, to try to inject double the tension and three times the drama when it just isn’t necessary, and if I were to make one comment about the series as a whole it’s that the writers need to have more confidence in their stories. Dropping the Tarka angle, or reworking it to make him less of an antagonist in this final chapter, would allow the main story of learning to communicate with Unknown Species 10-C to stand on its own – and as it’s already sufficiently tense, interesting, and engaging, Tarka’s villainy just isn’t necessary.

Tarka in Species Ten-C.

Not for the first time, Discovery has set up a character who feels well-rounded and complex, with motivations that seem understandable, only to turn them into a pretty standard villain later on. I wouldn’t have even called Tarka “morally ambiguous;” his weapon plan made a lot of sense when it was first proposed, and I even suggested that a show which has had themes of seeking a “middle ground” could have figured out a way to keep Tarka on board, building his weapon as a back-up plan while attempting to make first contact. But as with Captain Lorca in Season 1, much of Tarka’s nuance now feels lost; brushed aside because the writers determined that the season needs a villain.

There were other ways to formulate this story that either skipped over Tarka altogether or that kept him in that complex space. We may yet learn that his interdimensional transporter will be important, in which case he may have served a narrative function, but if the ending of the story is going to be Tarka’s defeat or death, with a reunion with Oros not being able to happen, then I think I’ll have to go back and re-evaluate his role in the season overall. This story already had the complexities of Unknown Species 10-C and the DMA; I’m not sure it needed a second antagonist, especially not one who seems to have come at the expense of an interesting and complex character.

Tarka with Oros earlier in the season.

We’ve also got to talk about the new character of Dr Hirai. In short, he needs to do something truly outstanding and unique next week – otherwise his inclusion in the season will have proven to be a complete and utter waste of a great actor. I like the concept of the character; a linguistics and communications expert seems perfect for this kind of mission. But in his two earlier appearances this season he did nothing whatsoever, and his accomplishments this week were relatively minor. It didn’t feel like bringing Dr Hirai along was in any way important to the success of the mission, with Captain Burnham, Zora, Saru, and even characters like Detmer, Nilsson and the very minor Lieutenant Christopher all contributing at least as much – if not more – to the story as he did.

He was ultimately sidelined by President Rillak, who chose Saru and Burnham over him for their linguistics and first contact expertise, confirming his relegation to a bit-part role at best. In light of what happened last week with Rosetta, I’m willing to wait and see if Dr Hirai will yet make a significant contribution – but with only one episode left in which to do so, he needs to do something big pretty quickly or we’ll unfortunately have to consider his inclusion in the story a bit of a let-down.

Dr Hirai doesn’t have long left to make an impact on the story.

There is one concept underlying the way Unknown Species 10-C reacted to Discovery’s arrival – and the conversation it prompted between Captain Burnham and the others – that I didn’t like. As humans, we’re able to recognise signs of intelligence in other species, even though we’re far more advanced and intelligent than they are. We can recognise the complex social structures present in ant colonies, for example, or how crows and some great apes are learning to use tools. Even though these creatures are far lower on the intelligence scale than we are, we’re able to determine quite easily that animals – even small and lowly ones – can exhibit signs of complex understanding and intelligence.

With that in mind, the idea that Unknown Species 10-C would see a starship arriving at warp speed, using a warp core and a spore drive, built from clearly artificial alloys, and somehow not understand that the creatures aboard it are sentient makes no sense. This species is supposedly much farther advanced than even the 32nd Century Federation, and even though they exist outside of the galaxy they must have the ability to scan and detect the existence of other sentient species, even if they choose not to interact with them. It’s conceivable that they might be selfish and not care about any other species besides themselves – but the idea that they would be unaware or incapable of determining intelligence in this situation is one that I can’t buy as a believable story point.

The USS Discovery approaches the hyperfield.

It seemed at first as though Species Ten-C was going to centre on this aspect of first contact, and I was certainly a little disappointed at first. But thankfully this didn’t last too long, with Unknown Species 10-C eventually getting the message and realising that the life-forms aboard the warp-capable starship are actually intelligent. Took them long enough!

I know that probably sounds like a nitpick – and it is, in a way. It’s just that, despite all of the talk of Unknown Species 10-C being very alien and having a very different culture, some things should be universally obvious – like if someone is capable of building a starship that can travel faster than the speed of light, use metal alloys that don’t exist in nature, and fly right up to your base to initiate contact, it’s probably a safe bet to assume that they possess some degree of intelligence. That should apply no matter who you are! And as pointed out above, humans are capable of recognising the signs of intelligence in the natural world. As a narrative beat, I get that it was in there to make the initial meeting feel very tense, but it’s kind of illogical if you think about it!

A representative of Unknown Species 10-C.

We didn’t get a clear look at Unknown Species 10-C, as their representative was partially obscured by a cloud of swirling gas. Nevertheless, the visual effects on this side of the story were mostly high-quality, and Unknown Species 10-C themselves at least seem like they’ll be visually interesting if we ever get a better look at them. I actually got a slight “Mass Effect Leviathan” vibe from what we glimpsed of Unknown Species 10-C. The design of the hyperfield was likewise interesting; it appeared much more solid than I had been expecting based on the holographic projections seen in previous episodes. Seeing it go from solid-metallic looking to swirling like fluid was also a very cool visual effect that Discovery executed well.

The only visual that I felt was a bit of a miss was Unknown Species 10-C’s shuttle pod/diplomatic chamber. When it arrived in Discovery’s shuttlebay it looked rather bland and low-quality, like a video game where a texture hasn’t loaded properly. It was clearly designed to look similar to the hyperfield, but I guess trying to blend that with a real set and real actors was difficult. It didn’t look awful, but it was noticeably lower quality when compared to the rest of the visual effects and animation work present in Species Ten-C.

This visual effect felt rather weak.

The idea of Unknown Species 10-C recreating part of Discovery as an environment for the crew works as a story point – I can quite understand why they’d choose to do something like that. But I confess that I rolled my eyes a little when I saw Captain Burnham and the others stepping onto the bridge set. It was understandable in the context of the story, but it didn’t make for a particularly impressive or interesting sequence when shown on screen. In fact, it almost makes Species Ten-C feel like a “bottle” episode – a Star Trek trope going all the way back to The Original Series where episodes would be set entirely aboard the ship.

As mentioned above when discussing Dr Hirai, President Rillak chose to bring both Captain Burnham and Saru when boarding Unknown Species 10-C’s diplomatic shuttle. And aside from totally sidelining Dr Hirai, this also left the command structure of Discovery and the rest of the mission uncertain. Rhys had the ship’s conn, as we’d see on the bridge near the episode’s climax, but who was in charge of the remaining delegates and the rest of the diplomatic mission? And how far did Rhys’ authority extend? Would he, for example, have been authorised to fire upon Unknown Species 10-C if time began to run out for Earth? Taking both the captain and first officer on this mission – when other experts were available – is a bit of an odd choice, and while of course as the audience we want to see our familiar characters leading the charge, it again makes the addition of some of these other delegates and experts feel like a bit of a waste.

The interior of Unknown Species 10-C’s pod.

A longer episode – or a story which had arrived at the hyperfield earlier in the season – could have spent longer on the whole first contact thing, and I really think that would have been worth doing. I’m actually getting a bit of a familiar feeling the more I think about Species Ten-C: it reminds me of the finale of Picard Season 1 in the sense that the season dawdled a lot to get to this point, and it feels like there’s a lot of important story points left to get through with very little time remaining. As a result, some aren’t being given as much attention or screen time as they probably should receive. We aren’t at the same level as Et in Arcadia Ego – at least, not yet. But suffice to say that Season 4 as a whole has left its final episode with a lot of work to do to wrap up all of the major stories in a satisfying way.

There were a few very close-up shots of characters’ faces that made the cinematography in Species Ten-C feel a bit odd. Close-ups can work and can be dramatic, but their use here felt rather gratuitous, with the episode both beginning and ending with them in a way that made it feel like the director was throwing everything at the wall in an attempt to make things seem even more dramatic. As I’ve said on several occasions this season when discussing certain narrative choices, Discovery is already a series that brings plenty of drama to the table – trying to take it from a ten to an eleven can sometimes fall flat, and a few of these extreme close-ups definitely strayed very close to the line.

Was there any need for so many close-up shots?

Book saw some significant character development this week after several episodes in which he felt very static. Although Tarka’s motivation for continuing to pursue the DMA’s power source feels pretty well-established by this point in the story, I’ve been finding it increasingly difficult to reconcile Book’s presence on this side of the story in the aftermath of the failure of the isolytic weapon back in Rubicon. We hadn’t seen or heard enough from Book since that dramatic event to signal that he’s still on board with the next phase of Tarka’s plan – and this week he actually seems to have moved much closer to Burnham’s position.

Book’s cause is noble: he wants to stop the DMA from hurting anyone else in the way it destroyed his home and hurt him. And seen in that context, his decision to get on board with Tarka’s weapon plan was understandable. In Rubicon, Book indicated he would be willing to stand down for a short time to give diplomacy a chance to play out, and in the aftermath of the failure of the weapon, it wasn’t clear at all why he continued to follow Tarka. I’m still not exactly sure how he arrived at this point – was he motivated by fear of repercussions for the use of the weapon? Did he still believe it would be possible to destroy it after Tarka failed once? If so, is he now no longer willing to let Captain Burnham try for a diplomatic solution first?

Book in Species Ten-C.

These points were glossed over in Species Ten-C, but we finally got some movement from Book, arguably bringing him back into the fold as one of the “good guys.” It emerged that Tarka’s plan would destroy the DMA, destroy Earth, and destroy the hyperfield containing Unknown Species 10-C and the USS Discovery – so Book didn’t really have a choice! Again, this is Discovery pushing the story to extremes, and it feels as though Book coming back to the light is more of a necessity than a choice at this point. Still, it worked, and for the first time in several episodes I felt like I could relate to Book as a fully-rounded character again, not just a plot device caught up in the narrative wake of other characters with more volition.

There’s even a message in Book’s story, if we look a little deeper. The idea that grief can lead someone to a very dark place was already something we’d seen explored a little with Book earlier in the season, but now we can add into the mix themes of manipulation, of being lied to, and of getting involved with someone untrustworthy. It was initially grief that saw Book teaming up with Tarka, but he also had the noble objective of wanting to prevent others from having to experience that same level of grief. Unfortunately for Book, he relied on someone who turned out to be unworthy of his trust – and that’s how he ended up in this particular predicament.

Grief led Book down a dark path.

Reno saw her best scenes of the entire season on this side of the story, too. We’ll have to try to excuse the lousy “kidnapping” plot last week, because as weak and difficult to explain as that may have been, it ended up going somewhere significant. It didn’t necessarily have to be Reno as the one to reach out to Book – basically anyone on board the ship could’ve done so – but it was interesting to see her in this situation. Her words managed to reach him in a way that even Captain Burnham hadn’t been able to, and the sequences between the two of them worked exceptionally well.

Reno has often been used as a light-hearted character, bringing moments of deadpan comic relief that could lead to brighter moments in otherwise dark stories. This time, her role harkened back to her introduction in Season 2 – which was also referenced this week – when we first encountered her trapped aboard a crashed starship. A more serious performance from a comedic character carried a surprising amount of weight, and perhaps it’s because we know how Reno usually behaves and speaks that her words to Book meant a lot.

This was Reno’s best episode of the season.

For at least the past three episodes, Discovery seems to have been building up to a conclusion which is going to say something like: “if only Tarka and Book had told Captain Burnham what they were doing! It should have been possible for everyone to get what they want through diplomacy and communication!” and I don’t think that’s changed. It isn’t exactly formulaic, and there are still big questions about what Unknown Species 10-C will do and how Captain Burnham will respond to try to cool things down in the time that remains. But one way or another, the story’s going to get to that place.

As we approach the end of the season, feeling like we know roughly where the story is going to go was to be expected, I guess! And on its own merits, Species Ten-C was a good episode, one of the better offerings from Season 4 for certain. Whether it has moved things along far enough for the season finale to wrap up all of the remaining narrative threads is an open question, one we’ll have to wait until next week to get an answer for.

Book’s ship escaped the USS Discovery and entered the hyperfield.

Although I had some nitpicks within the story, overall I had a good time this week. Species Ten-C told a very “Star Trek” story, with perhaps some inspiration from the film Arrival in there too! Meeting a brand-new alien race and learning how to communicate is something truly interesting, and my biggest complaint is that I would have liked to have seen more of it – for the season to have reached this point a couple of episodes ago so we could have spent longer with Captain Burnham, Saru, President Rillak, and Dr Hirai as they worked on figuring out how to use a complex arrangement of lights and pheromones to communicate. It was nice to see some significant movement from Book, too, after several uninteresting or flat episodes on that side of the story.

Did Season 4 need to turn Tarka into a villain? I think that could be a question for a longer essay once the season has wrapped up! I could certainly entertain the argument that the Unknown Species 10-C story – one of misunderstanding, communication, and first contact – was strong enough to carry both this episode and the bulk of the season without requiring this kind of last-minute character twist. Between the DMA and the smaller character moments – some of which, as noted last week, haven’t been as thoroughly explored as they could have been – maybe it would have been better overall to find a different way to include Tarka. But we’ll talk about that more in the weeks ahead, perhaps.

For now, there’s only one episode remaining! This time next week it’ll be all over… or will it? Could a cliffhanger ending be on the cards?

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 Paramount Global. 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 11: Rosetta

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

Last week’s episode, The Galactic Barrier, was absolutely fantastic – one of the highlights of the season for certain! Unfortunately Rosetta didn’t reach that high bar, and was an episode that felt like it was dragging its feet. While there were some emotional character moments, even those weren’t as strong as they might’ve been and couldn’t salvage an episode in which both halves of the story felt contrived, and where a major new element that had been introduced to the story last week constantly got in the way. Rosetta plodded along, constantly tripping over one big, unnecessary narrative cliché.

I like the idea of Discovery stepping away from total serialisation to go on away missions to planets like the one featured in Rosetta. As we saw just last week – and on a couple of occasions earlier in the season – those semi-standalone stories can work exceptionally well, blending together Discovery’s modern serialised approach to storytelling with at least some components of Star Trek’s episodic past. But this week, for much of the time all I could feel was a sense that the mission to Unknown Species 10-C’s ex-homeworld was a complete waste of time – not only for the characters, who don’t have so much as a second to waste, but more importantly for us as the audience.

The away team.

The worst part of last week’s episode was the insertion of the horribly overused trope of Earth being in danger. I tried to put that to the back of my mind as Rosetta got started, hoping that the time constraint it had imposed would lead to some kind of interesting or exciting storyline as Season 4 reaches its conclusion. But this cliché absolutely ruined Rosetta – turning a story that might’ve had the kernel of a good idea at its core into one that felt like a complete and utter waste of everybody’s time. With time being a very limited resource for Captain Burnham, that just isn’t something that should have been allowed to happen!

If the “Earth is about to be destroyed” cliché wasn’t part of the season’s story, this feeling would have been far less prominent throughout Rosetta, and I could have almost certainly forgiven another detour on the way to Unknown Species 10-C’s hyperfield. With less of a time constraint, such a mission would arguably be worth doing, and while there could still be naysayers and dissenters among the crew and assembled delegates, I would have been firmly in the camp that says “let’s see if we can find any interesting or useful information about this completely unknown faction.” But because Discovery’s writers wanted to crank up the tension and drama to eleven out of ten, what should have been a decent episode with some interesting story elements didn’t work. Instead of the tension rumbling in the background, spurring me on to make the story feel exciting, I could barely prevent myself from shouting at the series to just get on with it – to go to the hyperfield right now! Tension became frustration.

Captain Burnham chose to lead an away mission to a planet instead of racing to the hyperfield.

Not for the first time, narrative contrivances in Discovery have conspired to make Captain Burnham seem like she’s in the wrong. While not exactly being a complete and utter moron, she came across in the episode’s opening act as misguided in the extreme – wasting time on a mission that could have easily yielded nothing of consequence. As happened in episodes like The Vulcan Hello and The Red Angel, it fell to another character to be the voice of reason against Captain Burnham – in this case, Earth’s representative, General Ndoye.

Ndoye made the very simple point that there isn’t time to waste visiting a random planet, and that attempting to make contact first would be the best move. If Unknown Species 10-C didn’t respond to attempts at communication, visiting the planet could be Plan B – but there’s no way it should’ve been Plan A. Rosetta attempts to rely on the away team’s discovery of pheromone-like hydrocarbon dust to say “aha! Captain Burnham was right all along!” but in my view, all that the end of the episode proved was that she got very lucky. Her judgement, four seasons in, is still questionable at times – and on this occasion, with the stakes so very high, I can’t shake the feeling that she made the wrong call.

General Ndoye became the voice of reason… briefly.

The hydrocarbon pheromones will almost certainly play a role in the next couple of episodes – I mean, they have to, right? Otherwise Rosetta will have proven to be a complete waste of time. But even assuming that’s the case, Captain Burnham took a massive risk by diverting to the planet with hours to spare, and it just feels like – not for the first time this season – there was a very easy “middle ground” approach that neither she nor anyone else seems to have considered.

The USS Discovery is equipped with a contingent of shuttles, so sending one with a small away team to the planet while the rest of the crew takes the ship and visits the hyperfield – instead of sitting in orbit of the planet doing fuck all – would have been the hallowed “middle ground” option that the show’s writers seem to have just ignored. Because Captain Burnham has to be the main focus of practically every episode and every major plotline, other characters in the show are relegated to sitting on their hands and waiting for her latest stroke of brilliance. In this case, everyone with the exception of Detmer, Saru, and Dr Culber were just shoved off-screen, seemingly doing nothing except waiting for Captain Burnham to get back. Adira and Reno even found time to get coffee.

This picture is Rosetta in microcosm: Captain Burnham goes off on an away mission while everyone else stands around doing nothing.

That makes Discovery Season 4 feel like a pretty basic story – one designed for small children who don’t have the attention to focus on more than one major narrative at once. Because Captain Burnham wanted to visit the planet, everyone has to visit the planet. God forbid any other character is granted any agency over the plot or given the volition to do anything independently – they’re not real people, you know, just narrative devices.

And yes, it’s Star Trek. It’s fiction. It’s “just a story” – but god do I hate that tired excuse every time it’s trotted out in defence of contrived, underwhelming, or just plain indefensible narratives. If we’re expected to suspend our disbelief and get lost in the world of Star Trek, even just for an hour, the way characters behave has to make basic sense. The characters themselves have to feel like real people – flesh-and-blood beings with emotions, feelings, and brains, not just plot devices who can be used one moment then placed into hibernation the next. And this week, Rosetta basically sidelined the entire crew, forcing them to sit on their hands and do nothing while Captain Burnham took charge of a pretty barebones side-story that I’m not even sure accomplished all that much.

The away team with a cache of magic dust.

I said earlier that the pheromone hydrocarbons will have to feature in the story in some way later on – and I certainly hope that they will! But as of the end of Rosetta, the mission to Unknown Species 10-C’s ex-planet doesn’t feel as though it achieved very much. Captain Burnham didn’t find anything substantial – and the dust, while narratively interesting, was visually unimpressive to say the least. If there had been something more visually unique or interesting about what the away team recovered – like one of the bones that were briefly seen, a computer core, a stone tablet, or literally anything we as the audience could see, maybe that feeling wouldn’t be so prevalent. But because even the away mission’s big accomplishment was difficult to really perceive, the entire story feels like it’s on far shakier ground than it already was.

If the pheromone hydrocarbons are incorporated into the story of the next couple of episodes in a major way, maybe we’ll revisit Rosetta and consider it a little more favourably in hindsight. There are definitely interesting possibilities with this new narrative element that could be explored or that could be paid off in a big way. But if Discovery doesn’t do something big with the pheromone hydrocarbons before the end of the season, the episode will feel like even more of a waste than it already does.

Will the pheromone dust play a significant enough role in the story to make Rosetta feel like a worthwhile detour?

In past iterations of Star Trek – including in previous episodes and seasons of Discovery – the universal translator has been shown to work pretty well. There are some exceptions – such as the Tamarians – but even then a way across the language barrier was eventually found. With the 900-year time jump to the 32nd Century, it stands to reason that the universal translator has only gotten better as Starfleet has encountered more and more races. Even if we accept the premise that communication has never been successfully made with a species that uses pheromones or chemicals to communicate, doesn’t it seem like it would be worth trying to use the universal translator, especially given the time constraints? With the level of technology that Unknown Species 10-C has been shown to have, they might have some kind of translator or communicator of their own, too.

I know a lot of this must sound like nitpicking, but it all stems from the fact that the show’s writers chose to inject forced drama by using an “Earth is in danger and there’s just hours to save it!” cliché that wasn’t necessary to make this story interesting or exciting. The stakes were high enough, the danger was real enough, and by trying to turn the drama up to eleven, Rosetta tripped over. There was a potentially interesting story about learning more about a very new and different form of life… but it’s one that this cliché has spoiled. Take away the time constraint and many of the narrative complaints on this side of the story would have fallen away.

A holographic depiction of the hyperfield.

Rosetta wasn’t saved by its B-plot, either, with Tarka and Book undertaking an equally nonsensical away mission that also seemed to be based on a very shaky premise. With Captain Burnham’s decision to take an away mission to the planet, my criticism stems from the fact that The Galactic Barrier had introduced the cliché of Earth being threatened meaning that there wasn’t time for a detour. But Book and Tarka’s away mission to the USS Discovery was done because they… wanted to stick Book’s ship to Discovery’s hull? Couldn’t they just remain under cloak and tail the ship? It feels pretty weak, even by the standards of Star Trek technobabble.

We also didn’t get to see any of Book and Tarka’s journey navigating the Galactic Barrier, which is something I was genuinely interested in. A powerful ship like the USS Discovery barely made it through, so how would Book’s glorified runabout survive? We basically got no payoff to Book and Tarka’s side-mission last week of collecting programmable antimatter at the abandoned prison camp. Presumably they were able to successfully apply it and transit the Galactic Barrier – but the episode literally didn’t even pay lip service to that, with their story starting up with Book’s ship already parked a few yards away from the USS Discovery.

Couldn’t Book and Tarka just continue to tail Discovery? Also, how did they make it through the Galactic Barrier?

Given how difficult navigating the Galactic Barrier proved to be for the USS Discovery, it’s a shame that we didn’t get to see Book and Tarka having to tackle that task. Maybe it could’ve been included at the end of last week’s episode – even if it was just a short sequence, Discovery should really have done something to pay off their mission to the prison camp.

It also seems like Book has decided that he and Tarka are fugitives without even trying to make contact and explain what happened. The end of Rubicon suggested that there might be a pathway to reconciliation for him and Michael, but he has done nothing to attempt to pursue that – except for creepily spying on her in what has to be one of the most uncomfortable moments in the entire episode. Book signalled his willingness to stand down and give peace a chance; it was only Tarka’s actions that led to the weapon being detonated. With Captain Burnham on his side to advocate for him, you’d think he’d know that he has a good chance of not getting into serious trouble – and he could even be a valuable asset to Starfleet, sharing his knowledge of Tarka and his plans.

Did anyone else find this moment of Book spying on Burnham a little creepy? Cool camera shot, though…

This continues a trend of Book having been fairly static for several episodes now, having gone through several stages of grief for Kwejian and his family before seeming to just… stop. In the first half of the season, Book got some of the most deeply emotional moments in the show, and seeing how grief was leading him down a dark path was a potentially interesting story, but it’s one that Discovery hasn’t really been able to successfully elaborate on. Like most of the rest of the characters, Book has been relegated to a supporting role, and that means he doesn’t really get much agency over the story any more. He’s stuck following Tarka just like everyone else is stuck following Burnham. If we’d heard anything from him to indicate that he was still committed to that cause, maybe it wouldn’t feel so silly. But right now, Book feels like a follower; a passive character caught in Tarka’s narrative wake.

So I’m not going to nitpick things like needing to physically board the ship to install a macguffin into the macguffin network. That’s Star Trek-ish enough to be inoffensive. But the setup that led Book and Tarka to that point felt very contrived, and it wasn’t sufficiently explained as to why they couldn’t just continue to tail Discovery all the way to – and perhaps inside – the hyperfield. It also wasn’t explained why everyone keeps assuming that the hyperfield will be impenetrable – they haven’t even tried to approach it, and if Unknown Species 10-C are as advanced as we think they are, surely they’d see a spaceship coming and investigate. Book and Tarka’s quest this week seems like an unnecessarily involved stealth mission that had the potential to lead to moments of either extreme drama or perhaps even comedy, with the two fugitives sneaking on board the ship, but it ultimately didn’t deliver much of either.

Book and Tarka managed to sneak aboard Discovery.

Bringing General Ndoye into the Book-Tarka side of the story is, again, something that we’ll have to watch and see whether it leads to a significant payoff. Right now it feels like it could go either way, and although I would argue that Ndoye had been the voice of reason earlier in the episode with Captain Burnham, I’m not wild about her becoming a kind of double-agent in this conspiracy.

Two of the big thematic elements of Seasons 3 and 4 have been connection and communication – and it seems like the series is now building to a conclusion which will say something like “if only Book and Tarka had worked with Captain Burnham, everyone could have got what they wanted.” If Book and Tarka would share why Tarka wants the power source, maybe Captain Burnham could work with him – or find an alternative way for him to travel between universes, such as the Guardian of Forever that we saw last season. And if Captain Burnham could find a way to compromise with Book, their whole relationship feud could be solved. A story about how division and failing to communicate can lead to problems can be a powerful one, but it’ll need to be executed a damn sight better than it was in Rosetta. Here, the two disconnected stories just chafed against each other in the most frustrating way.

Book and Tarka at the end of the episode.

The CGI work for Unknown Species 10-C’s planet was good, and although it was only seen very briefly and not really explained, I liked the “Dyson rings” seen orbiting their star. Presumably Discovery scanned the rings off-screen and determined there’s nothing worth looking for there… although that would have been nice to get confirmation of, otherwise the rings seem a good target for an away mission of this nature as well.

The filming location for the outdoor sections of the away mission looked very familiar; I’m sure it was seen either earlier in Season 4 or perhaps in Season 3. In an interview for The Ready Room a few weeks ago, Mary Wiseman mentioned a quarry in the Toronto area that has been used for several outdoor shoots, which could be why it’s so familiar. Slapping a yellow filter on it in post-production didn’t really do much to disguise it, and with the new AR wall that Paramount invested a fair amount of money in, I’m left wondering why the Star Trek franchise keeps walking headfirst into this particular mistake. The AR wall was used to great effect to depict the interior of the Unknown Species 10-C base… so why not the exterior as well?

The away team.

The crew’s EV suit malfunction is also a bit of a contrivance. Aren’t protective suits meant to protect against everything in the environment, especially things that are new or haven’t been encountered before? This is another nitpick, I guess, but I didn’t like the way that this was just hand-waved away by half a line of dialogue. “Oh, I guess the EV suits don’t protect against substances that aren’t in the Federation database and are very different.” That just seems like an odd way to explain it. And if we want to keep nitpicking, that dust looked like it was everywhere – floating in the air as well as lying on the ground and on surfaces. So how did Detmer not get exposed when everyone else did?

After making the decision to waste time on an away mission that, realistically, she must’ve known had the possibility of failure, Captain Burnham came across as incredibly stubborn shortly before the crew encountered the 10-C nursery. Partly this was triggered by a reaction to the hydrocarbons, I guess, but coming after I found her decision to go on the mission in the first place difficult to justify, stubbornly doubling-down on it when it seemed as though there wasn’t anything to find wasn’t a great look for her character.

Captain Burnham during the away mission.

So have we just nitpicked Rosetta to death?

There were interesting and clever concepts buried here, and there were some nice but unspectacular character moments between Dr Culber and Captain Burnham, Tarka and Book, and to a lesser extent between Reno and Adira and Detmer and Adira too. Some fans argue that Discovery is all about its characters and that the sci-fi trappings should just be seen as a backdrop, with any contrivances and plot complaints waved away because of how well-done some of these character moments can be. I don’t agree with that – if you want character drama, go and watch a soap or some scripted reality show. Star Trek is science fiction, so at the very least the sci-fi side of the story has to be basically competent and good enough to keep my suspension of disbelief going.

Because of how Rosetta sidelined many of the other characters and didn’t actually spend that much time on these interpersonal moments, I would argue that it wasn’t even a particularly impressive episode on the character side of things, either. The moment between Dr Culber and Captain Burnham came in two parts – one during the away mission and one at the end in her ready-room. But it lasted all of two minutes, maybe, and that just isn’t enough time to do justice to a complicated mental health story.

Counselling for the counsellor.

Dr Culber’s storyline feels like it’s retreading the Detmer path from Season 3. We’ve had a few short scenes spread across a handful of episodes to explain in the most basic of ways how he feels overwhelmed, stressed, and/or unable to cope with his work and the situation he’s found himself in. His moment admitting to Captain Burnham that he isn’t okay should have been the culmination of this season-long character arc… but it’s an arc that feels so underdeveloped that, despite the beautiful performance by Wilson Cruz, I’m struggling to buy it. The story of a counsellor – someone working as a mental health professional – needing to seek help for their own struggles is a noble one, and one absolutely worth telling, but it’s also a story that Discovery is not doing justice to as things stand.

I’ve been a big advocate for better mental health representation in all forms of media, but I’m unfortunately in the position of having to say that if the series can’t do justice to stories like this I’d honestly rather that it skipped them altogether. It feels like Discovery is doing little more than paying lip service to a serious topic, one that’s clearly too big for the limited time and attention that the show is willing to dedicate to it.

Captain Burnham and Dr Culber during the away mission.

Returning to Detmer, last season she got a storyline about post-traumatic stress that was referenced in Rosetta. But like Dr Culber’s story of dealing with his struggles this season, it wasn’t fleshed out enough to be meaningful. She had a few scenes spread across a handful of episodes, then seemed to magically “get better.” It’s only now, a full season later, that we even heard about her getting help or treatment for PTSD.

In Rosetta, Discovery also continued a disappointing trend of ham-fistedly inserting blatantly expository dialogue that the writers sometimes use as a substitute for actual character development. In this case, Detmer remembered something about her father mistreating her that could have been significant, but it was treated as an afterthought by a script that had its attention firmly focused elsewhere. Emily Coutts did well with the material she had, and put in a decent performance – but the material was barebones to say the least.

Lieutenant Commander Detmer.

Saru’s panic attack was one of the more interesting moments of characterisation, and if I were to single out one performance and one strong element from Rosetta it would be the way Doug Jones conveyed Saru’s terror during these sequences. We’ll have to set aside questions of why Captain Burnham didn’t immediately send him back to the shuttle, but if we can ignore contrivances like that, Saru really sold me on his panic attack. As someone who has had panic attacks myself – thankfully infrequently – I found the depiction of Saru in these moments very relatable.

We got a bit of a pep talk between Reno and Adira; two characters who don’t feel like a natural pair but who worked well together this time. Adira has adopted much of the awkwardness of Season 1 Tilly, and that “young, inexperienced, and nervous” character type is a good counterbalance to some of the show’s older and more established characters. Reno was deadpan as ever, but none of her lines this week were laugh-out-loud funny; while her scenes brought some much-needed levity to the story, they didn’t exactly blow me away.

Reno with Adira.

Finally, we come to Dr Hirai. For the second episode running – and he’s only been in two episodes so far – he felt very underused. There was a brief scene between him and President Rillak in which she rebuked him for his bluntness, but that was it. Perhaps that was deserved, but as we’ve spent such a minuscule amount of time with this character, it just felt like an unnecessary addition. If Dr Hirai was going to be featured in a scene this week, why not show him working or doing something that could contribute to the story? Just because everyone aboard Discovery was sitting around waiting for Burnham to get back that doesn’t mean he couldn’t have found something useful to do.

Again, Dr Hirai is someone who could have a bigger role to play before the season ends. But his two appearances so far in Rosetta and in The Galactic Barrier have felt like fluff; a potentially-interesting character about whom we know nothing of consequence. If he is going to have something significant to do in the next couple of episodes, we need to start seeing more from him very soon – otherwise he risks feeling rather flat.

Dr Hirai.

So that was Rosetta, I guess. Not the season’s high-water mark, unfortunately.

At the core of the episode there was an interesting idea, and the notion of Unknown Species 10-C being difficult to communicate with is a concept that could still work – if it’s properly executed in the two episodes that remain. But because The Galactic Barrier added an unnecessary time constraint to Captain Burnham’s mission, this side-quest felt more frustrating than exciting; I wanted to shout at Captain Burnham – and at Discovery’s writers – to just get on with the main story.

There were more than enough smaller narrative threads to pick at to unravel the episode’s entire story. Both the A- and B-plots were disappointing, and even where Discovery has been successful in the past – with moments of characterisation and communication – I was underwhelmed by what Rosetta had to offer. As we approach the final two episodes of the season, there’s a lot of work left to do to pull out a decent ending to this rather plodding story.

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 Paramount Global. 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 10: The Galactic Barrier

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4. There are also minor spoilers for Star Trek: Picard Season 1 and the most recent trailer for Season 2.

Don’t get confused! According to Star Trek, there are not one but two barriers in the galaxy: one around the centre called the “Great Barrier” and one around the edge called the “Galactic Barrier.” They are not the same thing, and Discovery took us to the outer edge this week, not the centre! Two barriers, one galaxy. I hope that clears it up for you!

After being underwhelmed by the last couple of episodes, mostly due to their heavy focus on Captain Burnham’s angst over the situation with Book, The Galactic Barrier came along like a breath of fresh air. Though it relies heavily on the DMA and Unknown Species 10-C storylines, it came across on screen as two almost standalone sci-fi adventures, one starring Captain Burnham, President Rillak, and the crew of the USS Discovery, and the other focusing on Book and Tarka as they tracked down a rare element that they needed to cross the galactic barrier.

The USS Discovery approaching the titular Galactic Barrier.

Both of these stories worked incredibly well for me, and showcased how strong Discovery can be when it doesn’t overdo the character drama. This isn’t a soap opera – and when the show’s writers get the right balance between fun sci-fi antics and intimate character moments, we’re treated to what I genuinely believe is some of the best science fiction ever brought to screen – and some of the best Star Trek, too.

The central character pairings of Book and Tarka on one side and President Rillak and Captain Burnham on the other worked brilliantly this week, and when the adventures paused to spend time on these character relationships, it was a welcome break from the incredibly drawn-out conflict between Book and Burnham that had dominated the past two episodes to the detriment, I would argue, of other aspects of the season’s storyline.

Captain Burnham got a much-needed break from Book this week.

I wrote last week that the DMA/Unknown Species 10-C story was unfolding in a very similar way to the Burn last season – and, to an extent, Control and the Red Angel in Season 2 as well. Discovery is definitely still flirting with repetitiveness in that regard, but with The Galactic Barrier telling these two semi-standalone stories of the mission to cross the Galactic Barrier and Book and Tarka’s antimatter harvest, at the very least we got a bit of a break from that feeling of déjà vu that had been present.

Let’s get what is perhaps the least impressive part of the story out of the way first: Earth being in danger is such a played-out cliché in stories like these. It was hard to avoid rolling my eyes when Admiral Vance’s holographic message dropped that particular bombshell, and I find myself repeating something I’ve said about Discovery on several occasions in Season 4, Season 3, and all the way back to the beginning: the show is strong enough and its storylines are interesting enough in their own right that there’s no need for this. Falling back on tired tropes doesn’t really do anything to ramp up the tension; the mission to contact Unknown Species 10-C is already sufficiently tense, exciting, and dangerous that there’s nowhere left to go.

Admiral Vance’s holo-message.

For me, this wasn’t so much an epic fail as a piece of unnecessary fluff. I wish Discovery’s producers and writers had more confidence, sometimes, in the stories they want to tell. When a fictional setting is built up as well as Star Trek’s, and when we already know the stakes involved thanks to what happened to Kwejian, there’s no need to put Earth in harm’s way – doing so almost detracts from the story, because now we know for absolute certain that Captain Burnham will find a way to save the day! If another planet was in danger – say, for example, the Breen homeworld or Bajor – the story could still go in any direction. We saw with the destruction of Kwejian that the writers are happy to blow up planets. But when it’s Earth, far from feeling like the planet is in serious danger and Captain Burnham might not be able to save it in time… now I’m left with a sense that the story’s conclusion is an inevitability rather than a possibility.

But aside from that unsuccessful attempt at taking the stakes from a ten to an eleven, The Galactic Barrier was impressive all-around. The visual effects of the titular barrier were impressive, and it was a rare treat to see the USS Discovery at warp! I love the spore drive, don’t get me wrong, but warp drive has been a huge part of Star Trek going back to the beginning, so to see the USS Discovery at warp for what I think is the first time this season and only the second or third time since the end of Season 2 was beautiful. The updated look of ships at warp is absolutely fabulous, and I never tire of seeing it.

The USS Discovery at warp.

The Galactic Barrier had originally appeared in The Original Series, first in the show’s second pilot, Where No Man Has Gone Before, and again in the third season episode Is There In Truth No Beauty. The latter episode featured a pocket of space within the barrier, something that Discovery also used to great effect this week, which was a fantastic callback to the very beginnings of Star Trek.

Discovery has been criticised in the past for treading on the toes of the established canon of Star Trek. Some of that criticism is fair, some arguably is very nitpicky, but we’re getting off the subject! In The Galactic Barrier, Discovery didn’t overwrite anything but instead expanded on our knowledge of how this unusual phenomenon works. Using the way the Galactic Barrier had been set up in The Original Series as a baseline, the episode took the concept and fleshed it out, explaining why travelling through it is so difficult and showing why it hasn’t been attempted in such a long time. As the Star Trek franchise continues to grow, I’d like to see more of this kind of thing. Picking up an element from the franchise’s past and looking at it in more detail without overwriting what came before is incredibly rewarding for long-time viewers, and I hope that other Trekkies who enjoyed The Original Series are as impressed as I am with Discovery’s approach this week.

The Galactic Barrier was visually impressive.

I was wrong in my theory that Ruon Tarka’s friend was someone we might be familiar with… and I have to say that I’m a little confused by the way this unfolded. I always caveat my theories by saying that they probably won’t pan out and that getting too attached to fan theories is a bad thing, and I also said from the beginning that I might well be overreaching by suggesting potential crossover characters for Tarka’s friend. But as we moved through three episodes with this individual’s identity being deliberately hidden by Discovery’s writers, I felt increasingly sure that there must be a reason.

The revelation that the character of Oros was someone brand-new is fine, and I actually like the relationship between he and Tarka that The Galactic Barrier showed us in flashback form. There was a sweetness to Tarka that we haven’t really seen before, and a hint – just a hint, at this stage – that the relationship goes beyond mere friendship. All of that is totally fine, and is even good; it adds dimension and complexity to Tarka and helps turn him from a villain into an antihero we can root for. But I have to question why this character’s identity was so carefully hidden until this episode. What was the point? Was it just to throw out a red herring, to send fans like me into theory-crafting overdrive? If so, that seems a little cruel. It just feels like naming Oros as far back as But To Connect wouldn’t have done any harm to the flashbacks in The Galactic Barrier, and that there wasn’t any reason to go to such lengths to keep Oros’ name and identity a secret for so long.

Ruon Tarka’s “friend,” Oros.

Since Tarka’s first appearance in The Examples earlier in the season he’s been much more than just a “mad scientist” character trope. His characterisation may have begun with that archetype, but the complex and nuanced character that we’ve come to know is so much more than that. We saw this week how he dealt with defeat: his weapon had failed to get him the power source he’s so desperately seeking, and through the flashbacks with Oros and his conversations with Book, we also saw how he’s a genuinely loving and caring person, willing to go to extremes to reach someone he cares about. In a series that has been all about finding and holding onto connection, Tarka fits the mould in a different way, but no less of an important or impactful one.

The relationship between Book and Tarka is evolving, too. Tarka had been in control for much of their time together, dictating how the weapon would be built, what components he needed, and so on. But this week we saw Book take back control – firstly by threatening to kick Tarka off his ship, and secondly by demanding to know the full story of what happened with Oros and what’s driving him.

Book and Tarka make a great character pair.

Book has been pretty static the past few episodes; his development this season came earlier as he grieved for Kwejian, leading up to his betrayal and team-up with Tarka before the mid-season break. And I don’t think we saw a lot in The Galactic Barrier to further develop or explore the extent of Book’s grief or how he’s dealing with his feelings of loss, but what we did get was someone trying to reassert himself and regain control of a situation that I’m sure even he would admit has spiralled out of control.

Despite his complex relationship with Tarka, finding out more about the man he’s stuck with seemed to be important to Book, and the revelation of Tarka’s past seems to have solidified their partnership, at least in the short-term. It would have been possible for Book to take the antimatter and ditch Tarka if he’d wanted to; he seems to recognise that, at least for now, it’s in his interests to continue to work together. I suspect that there will be some pay-off to this if and when the pair make it across the Galactic Barrier – and I’m still rooting for Tarka to find a way to reach Oros. In spite of his misdeeds (or perhaps because of them), I find him a strangely relatable character.

Tarka in one of the flashback sequences.

One thing that wasn’t addressed in The Galactic Barrier was the status of Book and Tarka. Are they fugitives now, having detonated their weapon? Is Book in less trouble than Tarka having indicated his willingness to stand down? It seems as though Book assumes he needs to remain off the grid, otherwise I would’ve expected him to have at least tried to reach out to Burnham; their parting of the ways in Rubicon seemed to suggest a middle ground between them was possible, and from there perhaps even a pathway to reconciliation. I’m sure Discovery will address this before the end of the season, but it was interesting that Book and Tarka’s status wasn’t really discussed here.

One thing that’s baffled me ever since it was announced a few weeks ago is the scheduling of the next few episodes of Discovery. They will overlap with the first three episodes of Picard Season 2… and on a streaming platform I just don’t get why that is. This is something that I’ll address in more detail in my next theory post, but I wonder if there’s a possible crossover on the cards and that’s why the weird scheduling has happened. If so, perhaps we got the very first hint at it in The Galactic Barrier, with a reference made about Vulcans observing Earth prior to official first contact taking place. This could be a reference to the events of the Enterprise episode Carbon Creek, but it could also be an oblique reference to something we’re about to see in Picard Season 2 – the most recent trailer showed off a Vulcan (or perhaps a Romulan) on what appeared to be 21st Century Earth. We’ll dig deeper into this possible crossover in my theory post in the days ahead, so stay tuned for that!

A Vulcan (or possibly a Romulan) on Earth in what appears to be the 21st Century as seen in the recent Picard Season 2 trailer.

The burgeoning relationship between Saru and T’Rina took a turn this week, with Saru responding to T’Rina’s earlier invitation to dinner. There’s something adorable about the way both of these characters behave; they’re clearly not used to reaching out to someone else in this way, and the almost teenage awkwardness of asking someone out and worrying about saying the wrong thing is made so much cuter by the fact that they’re both usually so calm, wise, and stoic.

I’m glad that Discovery has given this kind of new relationship to Saru. It would’ve been easy, in a series with a lot of relationship drama coming from its protagonist, to either completely ignore the possible relationships between other characters or to give them easy, comfortable, safe relationships that don’t take up a lot of screen time. Discovery learned the hard way from messing with the Stamets-Culber relationship that these things don’t always come across well on screen, so taking a bit of a risk here with Saru and T’Rina is bold – and it’s working exceptionally well, injecting some lighter moments into a series that can be very heavy at points. It’s also sweet to see Dr Culber helping Saru as he takes these first steps into his very own new frontier; they work so well as a pair in these moments.

T’Rina and Saru.

So who do we think the Federation Vice President is? My money is on Kovich right now; I don’t see another plausible candidate among the very limited Federation HQ minor characters, and there was something about the way that President Rillak and Admiral Vance went out of their way to avoid using the VP’s name that makes me think that there could be a significant revelation to come. Kovich has remained ambiguous since we met him in Season 3, and although he went through some significant growth this season, particularly in episodes like All Is Possible, the events of The Galactic Barrier seem to have placed him right back in that mysterious space.

What is Kovich doing that’s more important than dealing with Unknown Species 10-C? And will this be paid off at all, or was it just a conveniently ambiguous line to move him out of the way so President Rillak could go on the mission? Sometimes it feels like Discovery has a plan with these moments, but then when the story ends and the dust settles, they turn out to be nothing more than throwaway lines! So right now I feel that there should be something bigger going on with Kovich – and again I’ll take a look at a couple of possibilities in my upcoming theory post – but at the same time, Discovery’s track record, and the fact that there are only three episodes left, makes me question whether we’ll see anything for ourselves.

Dr Kovich… Vice President of the Federation?

In a way, I enjoy Kovich’s ambiguity and the somewhat mysterious nature of his role within the hierarchy of the Federation. Speculating is always fun, but at the same time if Kovich’s position was fully explained and his role fleshed out, there’s a chance he might lose what has made him such an interesting part of the show over the past couple of seasons. I had initially pegged Kovich as a villain, perhaps a Section 31 leader or something like that. But episodes like But To Connect showed off that he at least appears to be committed to Federation principles, so I’m not sure about that any more, and I even struck the “Kovich is Section 31” theory off my list a few weeks ago.

We’ll save the guesswork for my theory post, but suffice to say I can think of a few reasons – both good and evil – for what role Kovich might play and why he might’ve chosen to recuse himself from the mission through the Galactic Barrier. I hope that, whatever’s happening with him, we don’t lose him as a character by the end of the season. With Discovery returning for a fifth season, I would hope Kovich could stick around for more ambiguous adventures!

Kovich and the rest of the senior officials.

Speaking of Kovich, it was said on several occasions this season that Lieutenant Commander Bryce is working closely with him, and he got a scene this week in which he parted ways with Saru that was very sweet. Although Bryce has been a secondary character, his goodbye with Saru hit all of the emotional notes that I might’ve expected from a major character, and this scene genuinely felt like two good friends parting ways, knowing that it could well be for the final time.

There weren’t that many characters with whom we could’ve gotten similar scenes, so in that sense it’s logical to use Bryce here – and actor Ronnie Rowe Jr. put in a beautiful performance opposite Doug Jones. The pair really sold me on this moment, and it was a surprisingly emotional scene given that Bryce has never been the focus of a major story across the show’s four-season run to date. Again, this is something to speculate about in-depth next time, but I wonder if Discovery plans to pay off Bryce’s story of working with Kovich in some way. Perhaps the two of them will work together to save the day… or perhaps Bryce won’t survive, and this moment with Saru was the equivalent of his goodbye to the series and to us as the audience!

Are we about to say goodbye to Bryce?

I stand by what I’ve said about President Rillak in her past appearances: she’s a hard-nosed politician with a Machiavellian edge, willing to use other people to manipulate events to get the outcome she’s looking for. But this week we saw – dare I say – an almost altruistic side to the Federation’s President, as she delegated power to her Vice President and accompanied the USS Discovery on its mission through the Galactic Barrier.

It’s still possible, in my view, that Rillak has an ulterior motive here. But at the same time, it was nice to see her recognising her mistake from the season premiere – in which her questioning and time-wasting on the bridge in the middle of a crisis was completely out-of-line… and arguably got poor Commander Nalas killed. Some characters on Discovery have arguably been less good at recognising their own mistakes and learning from them, so this was something nice to see; a moment of (apparent) contrition from a wonderfully complex character. As she has done all season long, Chelah Horsdal absolutely nailed it.

President Rillak joined the mission.

Captain Burnham showed last week that she has a weakness when it comes to Book – understandably so. But that weakness definitely had an impact on her ability to command her ship level-headedly, to such an extent that Nhan was given authority to overrule her if it came down to the wire. This week, with Book effectively out of the picture, we got to see a much more composed Captain Burnham, and she remained fully in control of the ship and crew as they made their way through the Galactic Barrier.

For me, this hammers home why the whole relationship drama angle that Discovery has aggressively pursued for the last few weeks is such a mistake. Captain Burnham is at her best when she’s composed and in control, able to draw on her inner strength to be the kind of leader that we know she can be. When she’s distracted unnecessarily by a fairly pedestrian and poorly-written soap opera-inspired boyfriend angst storyline, we don’t see her at her best. Female characters – especially leading characters like Captain Burnham – are done a disservice by the show’s writers and creatives if all they’re permitted to do is sit around and worry about the men in their life. By cutting the crap this week and focusing on what was a fun sci-fi adventure story in its own right, Discovery once again allowed Captain Burnham to shine.

Stepping away from Book was good for Captain Burnham this time.

Discovery presented Captain Burnham and President Rillak with a complicated question after Admiral Vance’s holo-message arrived. There isn’t an easy, clear-cut answer in situations like these, and I can understand both Captain Burnham’s position of wanting to share the news about the danger to Earth and Ni’Var with the crew so they know the full picture and understand the stakes, but also from a practical point of view, I can understand President Rillak’s wish to keep the information private, at least in the short-term.

President Rillak wanted to avoid losing control of the situation, which is understandable psychologically for someone in a position of authority. But more so I think her point about not wanting to leave the crew with an unnecessary distraction that could interfere with their work is a valid one; at the very least, waiting until the dangerous mission to navigate the Galactic Barrier was complete seems like a perfectly reasonable and sensible position to take.

President Rillak and Captain Burnham.

Because this is Discovery, though, and despite all the talk last week of “finding a middle ground,” Captain Burnham had to win this particular argument, and after a conversation with President Rillak, the news was ultimately shared with the crew and the assembled delegates. I like, however, that they waited until the most dangerous part of the mission had concluded before doing so – it feels like somewhat of a compromise under the circumstances.

It was interesting to learn that the mycelial network doesn’t extend beyond the edge of the galaxy. The network seemingly connects at least two parallel universes – the prime and Mirror – so it seems odd that it has this limitation. Obviously, though, for the sake of the story a way around the spore drive had to be found, but it does feel at least slightly inconsistent with previous statements about the mycelial network spanning an entire multitude of universes. This is really just a nitpick, though, in the grand scheme of things, and the mycelial network being a galactic phenomenon allowed Discovery to tell one of the most exciting and interesting stories of the season so far.

Dr Hirai.

I’m interested to learn more about Dr Hirai, the new character introduced in this episode, but he ultimately didn’t get a lot to do on this occasion. The talk of universal translators and making assumptions about Unknown Species 10-C was all very interesting, but until we actually get to see this faction for ourselves it was a bit of background that may or may not come into play… and it feels like it was there as an excuse to show off some combadges and other props more than anything else!

So I think that’s about all I have to say this week. The Galactic Barrier was one of the best episodes of Season 4 so far, telling two distinct stories that took our characters to some very different literal and thematic places. The sci-fi adventure of overcoming the odds to navigate a dangerous phenomenon was a ton of fun, and stepping away from the show’s recent focus on Captain Burnham and Book allowed both characters some much-needed breathing space. The show itself took advantage of this, too.

I had a ton of fun with The Galactic Barrier, and it’s an episode that I’ll happily rewatch for its semi-standalone adventure story when the season is over. With only three episodes remaining, surely we’re close to learning who Unknown Species 10-C are… right?

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 Paramount Global. 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 9: Rubicon

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

Last week, All In took Discovery on a bit of a detour to a Star Wars-inspired gamblers’ den. With the season now building to what appears to be the climax of its story, Rubicon returned to the DMA in a big way, moving the story along in leaps and bounds while spending a little too much time on the dreaded Burnham Relationship Drama™.

I’m in two minds about Rubicon, really. On the one hand, the episode was by far the cinematographic highlight of the season so far, with some outstanding visual effects, beautifully-composed camera shots, and a sense of scale that would’ve made Rubicon feel right at home on the big screen. On the other, there were a couple of moments where I literally couldn’t stop my eyes from rolling at overplayed clichés that I’d hoped Discovery could’ve outgrown by now. What resulted, all things considered, was a mixed bag of an episode; there were some excellent moments and some very sub-par ones.

Captain Burnham on the bridge in Rubicon.

Stepping back from Rubicon for a moment, I want to consider the overall story of the DMA and Unknown Species 10-C in Season 4. As the season has rolled on, I’ve been feeling a growing sense of déjà vu. The DMA storyline is unfolding in a remarkably similar fashion to the Burn in Season 3, with the big, mysterious, galaxy-threatening event being slowly uncovered by Burnham and the crew of the USS Discovery.

When the first Season 4 teaser initially revealed another “big bad,” I wrote the following: “there are possible downsides to another ‘huge galactic disaster’ storyline so soon after resolving the Burn, in that it risks feeling tacked-on, derivative, or even anticlimactic…” Right now, with the very similar way that the two storylines are unfolding – with little tidbits of information about the DMA or Unknown Species 10-C having been tacked on to episodes throughout the season – I’m definitely feeling that Discovery is straying increasingly close to repetitive territory. There’s still time for the emergence of the second DMA or the reveal of Unknown Species 10-C to take things in a very different direction, but this feeling is something that had been building up for several episodes now, and it kind of came to a head in Rubicon.

The DMA as it appeared in Rubicon.

I don’t usually like to talk about too much production-side stuff, but while we’re taking more of a birds-eye view of Season 4, I thought it was worth noting that showrunner Michelle Paradise recently discussed Unknown Species 10-C during a social media event. Her comments seemed to imply that Unknown Species 10-C will be someone that we’ve never met before; someone brand-new to Star Trek. And while it’s possible these comments have been misinterpreted – Paradise could have been talking about an extensive redesign of an existing faction, perhaps – I wanted to briefly consider what that could mean for the show.

In Season 3, one of the reasons why the Burn storyline fell flat at what should’ve been its climax is that basically none of the hints that Burnham and the crew had picked up over the course of the season ultimately mattered – the ending was such a bolt from the blue that it was unpredictable, making for an unsatisfying end to a season-long mystery. Because Season 4 has followed such a similar mystery box-type setup, the DMA and Unknown Species 10-C have seen crumbs of information thrown our way over the course of the season thus far. And with myriad smaller references to past iterations of Star Trek, fans have been encouraged to speculate about possible connections and explanations. For the ending to be another “surprise!” might work… but it might not. And I can’t shake the feeling right now that the explanations for the two big mysterious elements of Season 4’s story are ultimately going to be disappointing for a lot of fans.

Okay, that’s enough of that! The speculation about who Unknown Species 10-C may or may not be will have to wait, and we may not know the answer for a while!

Unknown Species 10-C sent a second DMA.

One of the central conceits of Rubicon was this idea of searching for a middle ground in between Book and Burnham’s positions. Communication and compromise have been themes that Discovery has tackled on multiple occasions over the past couple of seasons, but here I’m just not sure it’s been handled very well. I said in my review of But To Connect that there has always been a middle ground in this standoff, and it’s such a basic one that it beggars belief that no one so much as mentioned it until now.

The dividing line was whether to attempt to make peaceful first contact, as Burnham wanted, or to deploy a weapon against the DMA, as Book wanted. But the answer has been right in front of everybody the entire time: do both. In the time it would take to build the weapon and plan for its deployment, the Federation could make its attempt at first contact. It didn’t need to turn into the big fight that it did, and the idea that none of the dozens of diplomats, the Federation President, Starfleet Admirals, and the entire crew of Discovery didn’t even consider it might be a clumsy metaphor for our current divided political climate, but it doesn’t really work as a story beat. And that means that when Burnham finally proposed the compromise to Book, instead of cheering it on and thinking what a wonderful idea it was, all I could think was “that took you long enough!”

Captain Burnham eventually came to discover a rather obvious compromise position.

If the story underlying this division was stronger, perhaps I would forgive the silliness of failing to propose a compromise sooner. But because this particular story focuses almost exclusively on Burnham Relationship Drama™, something that I would argue Discovery simply does not need at this point in its run, it feels even more disappointing, somehow.

Despite a weak start in the Season 1 premiere, I have genuinely come to like Captain Burnham. Her ascent to the captaincy, particularly across the back half of Season 3, felt great – and along with Captain Sisko from Deep Space Nine, we can absolutely say that she’s one of the few Star Trek characters who genuinely earned her promotion. We saw a lot of the process that took her from a subordinate to a commanding officer, and while she has her flaws, which Star Trek captain doesn’t?

Captain Burnham’s rise to the captain’s chair has been a great story to watch.

But after a lot of messing around with Ash Tyler in Season 2 in particular, the whole Burnham Relationship Drama™ angle is completely overdone. Giving her a new start with Book worked so well in Season 3, and to upend that over such a stupid disagreement that should have been solvable is disappointing. Female characters don’t need the support of male characters to be successful, so I’m not saying that Captain Burnham somehow needs Book in her life – but having given her that relationship, to strip it away from her so soon just for the sake of injecting additional drama into a series that’s already full to the brim with it just seems gratuitous and unnecessary.

It would still have been possible to have a conflict over the DMA, with Tarka taking off on a mission to detonate his weapon. All In and Rubicon could’ve played out almost word-for-word without the Burnham Relationship Drama™ detracting from other aspects of the storylines. Another character could’ve been teamed up with Tarka, if the writers felt it necessary, and he could have even swayed a member of Discovery’s crew. In Rubicon, we saw glimpses of the way this could’ve gone with Rhys being generally supportive of Tarka, and any of the secondary characters could’ve played the Book role on this side of the story. Tarka is the driving force here, Book is really just a pilot. And while Book’s story of grief leading him to dark places sounds interesting in theory, Discovery hasn’t really done anything significant with that angle for several episodes. Book got to his dark place earlier in the season, and has been fairly static since.

A hologram of Book in Rubicon.

In short, if I was going to make one change to Season 4 as it’s unfolded so far, it would be to keep Book and Burnham together. There was scope to see Book in therapy with Dr Culber, talking out his feelings with Saru or even Zora, and being comforted all the while by Burnham. Instead, the story almost suggests that Burnham is out of her depth with Book, unable to know what to do or say.

The only way I can see the Burnham Relationship Drama™ making sense in Season 4 is if it leads to some bigger destination that isn’t apparent right now. Rubicon saw Burnham hesitate, unwilling to give the order to stop Book because of her love for him essentially overriding her duty as a Starfleet officer – comparable, in some respects, to the choice Worf made in the Deep Space Nine episode Change of Heart. If she feels that she can’t ever make that kind of choice again, or that Starfleet is getting in the way of her relationship, maybe she’ll end up resigning her commission in order to stay with him. If there’s some kind of larger arc at work, perhaps we’ll look back on the way it unfolded and reflect, wondering if the ends justified the means. But right now, assuming that isn’t going to be the case, this aspect of the Season 4 storyline remains disappointing verging on irritating.

Captain Burnham.

None of that is to detract from two wonderful performances. Sonequa Martin-Green continues to be impressive as Captain Burnham, and in an episode that revolved around her character’s internal conflict between love and duty, Martin-Green put in an outstanding and beautifully complex performance that was, at times, riveting. David Ajala made a wonderful addition to the cast in Season 3, and his arc in Season 4 has seen him put in some harrowingly beautiful performances that truly succeed at communicating Book’s grief. This latest turn for his character and his disagreement with Burnham wouldn’t have been my choice, but there’s no denying that Ajala brought it to screen and did his utmost to sell it.

It was also great to welcome back Rachael Ancheril in Rubicon, with her character of Nhan making a return for the first time since Season 3’s Die Trying. I felt it was a shame to see Nhan shuffled off the ship so quickly after arriving in the 32nd Century, and although it seems like her role this time was a one-off and not the start of a full-blown homecoming, it was still nice to catch up with her and learn that her mission aboard the USS Tikhov came to a successful conclusion.

Nhan made a welcome return to Discovery this week.

Unfortunately, though, one of Nhan’s lines was so poor that I felt myself involuntarily rolling my eyes. At a crucial moment in the mission, Nhan revealed to Burnham that, rather than just following her orders, she had another motivation: she’d been on another mission somewhere else and had lost “half her team” because she waited too long to make a decision. This terribly clichéd moment added nothing to Rubicon, nothing to Nhan’s character, and nothing to the overall story. It was undeveloped beyond a single line and was nothing but unnecessary fluff thrown in seemingly haphazardly to try to further ramp up the drama.

Discovery has a tendency to do this: taking a secondary character and giving them one or two lines about something in their past that we never saw and that is never referenced again to try to inject additional tension and drama into a story beat. It occasionally works, but more often than not it just falls flat on its face because it’s so painfully obvious that these lines are purely there for dramatic effect. Nhan’s is a case in point: it didn’t flow naturally, it was too barebones to add anything of substance to either her character’s motivation or the storyline she was part of, and overall it just felt like a very clumsy addition to the episode; the kind of line that might be written by a middle school student in one of their first creative writing projects.

Unfortunately one of Nhan’s lines was the worst in the episode; an underexplained piece of exposition thrown in to artificially ramp up the drama.

Despite that one line being so poor that it detracted somewhat from her return, I liked the role that had been given to Nhan in a more general sense. There’s no denying that Captain Burnham is too close to Book to be objective, and the rest of Discovery’s crew know him well so couldn’t necessarily be trusted either. Bringing in an outsider – or at least somewhat of an outsider – who has the authority to override Captain Burnham in this specific case makes a lot of sense from Starfleet’s point of view, and it was neat that Discovery managed to find a way to address this conflict in a way that felt natural.

I also liked the way Nhan introduced Saru and Captain Burnham to her secondary plan – the secret briefing that she gave them when their first attempt to capture Book and Tarka failed. It fitted perfectly with Nhan’s very militaristic role as a Federation security officer, and the way she presented the plan after the shuttle mission was as close as Starfleet gets to feeling like a military organisation.

This briefing was a very cool idea that was executed perfectly.

Speaking of the shuttle mission, it was nice to see Saru in command for the first time since Season 3! I also really like the shuttlecraft set design, with its rounded consoles and expansive bridge area. We saw this set used when Tilly took a group of cadets on a mission in the episode All Is Possible, and it’s neat that Discovery is continuing to make use of this new space. Because the USS Discovery hasn’t really seen much of a redesign internally, it’s one of the few sets other than Federation HQ that has a 32nd Century feel, and I like that. The USS Discovery has always felt like a ship that blends aspects of the NX-01 Enterprise, the USS Kelvin, and to an extent, parts of the Constitution-class refit into its own somewhat spartan 23rd Century style. I was wondering if we’d see much of a redesign this season, but in lieu of that it’s nice to get scenes like the one aboard the shuttlecraft that incorporate more 32nd Century design elements.

Although it sadly didn’t take up much screen time and wasn’t really expanded upon in a significant way, the conflict between Rhys and Bryce was an interesting one. It makes sense that there’d be members of Discovery’s crew who were generally supportive of Book and Tarka, so giving that debate some air was neat to see. It didn’t last as long as it could’ve, and the resolution – with Bryce offering Rhys a hand after they were beamed back aboard Discovery – was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it affair, but it was nevertheless an attempt by the show’s writers to expand the story beyond Captain Burnham, Book, Tarka, and Nhan.

This conflict could have been expanded upon, but it was a nice inclusion nevertheless.

The visual effect of the shuttle being “eaten” and torn in half was spectacular, and definitely one of the highlights of the season so far. The “goo” that captured the shuttle seemed to be a visual blend of programmable matter – a stalwart of 32nd Century tech – and the living ice from the Season 3 episode Far From Home that almost consumed the USS Discovery. And as it gripped the shuttle, eventually ripping it in half as it tried to get away, it was an absolutely thrilling spectacle.

I genuinely felt that Saru, Dr Culber, Rhys, and Bryce were in danger during their away mission, and in a series – and a franchise – that almost always sees its heroes make it home safely, that can be a difficult thing to pull off. As Saru led his team, though, I was so immersed in the world of Star Trek that I fully suspended my disbelief! I would add, though, that this isn’t the first time in Season 4 that Discovery has put crew members into dangerous, life-or-death situations only to save them at the last second. Dr Pollard had a very lucky escape in the episode Stormy Weather, and that’s perhaps the most obvious example. It can feel as though Discovery is providing even its minor characters with some very heavy plot armour at times, and while I didn’t feel that way in the moment, as I was thrilled by an incredibly tense, well-constructed sequence, looking back it feels like yet another opportunity to demonstrate the dangers posed by the DMA, Unknown Species 10-C, and Tarka’s weapon that Discovery missed. A character death can be so meaningful and so significant, and even if it were one of the secondary characters involved in this mission, it would still have been impactful; they’re characters we’ve seen in dozens of episodes across more than four years.

This was an incredibly exciting sequence that benefitted from some outstanding CGI work.

After the failed shuttle mission, Discovery chased Book and Tarka into the heart of the DMA. I wish we’d got something – even just a clumsy line of obvious exposition – to explain how it’s possible for the ships to operate inside the DMA with impunity, especially considering how dangerous it was for Book when he piloted his ship inside it in the episode Anomaly a few weeks ago. I guess the explanation is that the central part of the DMA is more gravitationally stable than its outer edges… but something on-screen to confirm that wouldn’t have gone amiss.

Despite that, I greatly enjoyed this part of the episode. It began with a really incredible close-up of Captain Burnham ordering Black Alert – something I still find incredibly cool four seasons in! – and that led us into a ship-to-ship combat situation that was reminiscent of the Battle of the Mutara Nebula in The Wrath of Khan. This sequence was much faster-paced, as the two ships could use their spore drives to jump around, but the basic premise of having to fight without the ship’s full array of scanners, shields, and weapons in the confines of a nebula-esque setting definitely felt like it was drawing on inspiration from what is still one of the Star Trek franchise’s best space battles.

The USS Discovery inside the DMA.

The USS Discovery bridge set saw a significant upgrade this season with the addition of pyrotechnics that could spew jets of fire. That effect was, perhaps, ever so slightly overused earlier in the season, so to see the show return to a more typical “battle damage” style with sparks flying and the occasional chunks of scenery being thrown around was certainly no bad thing. Some effects are best used sparingly, after all!

Partly because Discovery still likes to give most of the significant story moments to Captain Burnham, and partly for the sake of increasing the drama and tension, there was once again a moment during this battle that felt rather contrived. Captain Burnham managed to single-handedly figure out that the DMA wouldn’t leave the area until it had hoovered up all of the boronite particles – something that doesn’t survive a second glance as you’d think everyone would’ve realised that far sooner. It worked to set up the “middle ground” part of the story, offering a compromise to Book, but it feels like something that Stamets and co. should have worked out sooner – they’ve supposedly been working on the DMA for weeks off-screen.

Book and Burnham searching for middle ground.

The shot of Book on the bridge of his ship and Burnham at the console of a shuttlecraft was another that was beautifully composed and cinematic. Discovery could’ve chosen to set up this scene using holo-communicators, and that would’ve worked okay, but there was something about seeing the two characters literally divided that really emphasised the point that the series is trying to make about compromise, reaching out, and doing the right thing. Although I think I’ve made clear that the whole Burnham Relationship Drama™ angle isn’t something I’m wild about, I can still appreciate that it was handled incredibly well at this moment.

It seemed obvious to me that Tarka – the driving force behind this whole renegade mission – would fire his weapon regardless, and so it proved. Perhaps because I’m less invested in the Book-versus-Burnham conflict I wasn’t so distracted by it that I was caught off-guard by Tarka’s actions, but it seemed like Discovery was trying to tee this up as a shocking twist near the episode’s conclusion. In that respect it fell a little flat, but I like that the writers didn’t just forget about Tarka or have him break character by standing down.

Tarka stayed true to his characterisation by launching his weapon.

Tarka was originally presented as an arrogant mad scientist – a character archetype that we’ve seen in Star Trek on a number of previous occasions. But he very quickly showed off a depth that went far beyond that character trope. I would classify Tarka as somewhat of a fanatic; he’s single-mindedly dedicated to his own goal, and is willing not only to go to extreme lengths, but to disregard the feelings and views of practically everyone else in the process. He would hurt – and perhaps even kill – if it meant he could accomplish his objective of going “home” to find the friend he’s been talking about. In that regard, I would compare Tarka with Dr Tolian Soran, the villain from Star Trek: Generations. Both characters share a comparable goal – seeking their idealised versions of paradise – and both are willing to go to extreme lengths to get there.

When the DMA was destroyed, however, we got a very rushed scene with Tarka as he realised the DMA controller had disappeared or been destroyed. He scanned the area for literally a few seconds before sitting down looking dejected, and the pacing of this moment just felt off. We’ve seen in Discovery that sensor scans can take a long time, but even if we set aside nitpicky canon reasons, just as a character moment I think this scene needed more. It wasn’t even clear if he’d miscalculated, destroying the controller, if it had been recovered by Unknown Species 10-C, or something else had happened to it.

This moment needed to be longer.

Shawn Doyle has done a remarkable job bringing the complex Tarka to screen in an understandable and occasionally sympathetic way, so at the moment of what appears to be his biggest gamble and biggest defeat (at least so far), we needed to spend more time with him. With the scene’s short runtime, Doyle did what he could to communicate the extent of Tarka’s disbelief, sadness, and even anger… but a few extra minutes spent here would have gone a long way to paying off an arc that has been running for several episodes. There will be more to come from Tarka, I have no doubt, but this moment feels like it should have been bigger and handled with more significance in his story. This is another consequence of Discovery choosing to prioritise Burnham Relationship Drama™ over practically everything else in the story at this point.

Finally in Rubicon we had a development in the burgeoning relationship between Saru and Ni’Var President T’Rina. In a story that focused on the growing separation between one couple and arguments between friends, it was cute and sweet of the series to dedicate some time to a story like this. It served as somewhat of a counterbalance to some of the heavier themes of separation and failure, but more importantly the chemistry between Tara Rosling and Doug Jones is intoxicating, even with the latter under heavy prosthetic makeup. Saru, despite his wisdom and calm demeanour, is inexperienced in this area, and that’s a nice new angle for his character, too.

T’Rina and Saru sitting in a tree…

Seeing Saru being the one to seek romantic advice toward the end of the episode was interesting, and the candour shown to him by Dr Culber says a lot about the respect and friendliness between the two of them, too. Aside from the away mission earlier in Rubicon, we haven’t seen much interaction between Saru and Dr Culber for quite a long time, so this reminder that other members of the crew have friendships with one another was very sweet. I’m looking forward to seeing how the Saru-T’Rina relationship plays out, and the fact that Discovery hasn’t rushed it is a good thing!

So I think I’ve said more or less everything I wanted to say about Rubicon. It was a mixed episode for me, one where a particular storyline really clogged things up and overshadowed others, but that managed to have some beautiful moments that shone through even when I wasn’t particularly interested in the approach being taken. It was a beautifully cinematic episode, one of Discovery’s best from a visual and technical standpoint, and one that used sound and silence to great effect. Seeing Captain Burnham silently looking around at the climax of the battle was one of the most intense, dramatic moments from all four seasons of the show, and I can’t fault it.

An episode with some stellar performances from both of its leads and a couple of guest stars stumbled under the weight of an unnecessarily heavy storyline that, unfortunately, had all the subtlety of a sledgehammer at times. There were a couple of places where more time could have been spent away from Captain Burnham and Book; stories that are just as deserving of attention that Discovery chose to rush through in favour of spending more time with its protagonist and her angst about her boyfriend. This is a choice that I wouldn’t have made for a series which is well into its fourth season, and it’s one that, unless it gets resolved soon, will continue to be a drag on what is an otherwise excellent and engaging sci-fi adventure.

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 Paramount/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 8: All In

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

After what seemed like a never-ending six-week break, Discovery has finally returned to our screens! I don’t necessarily mind a mid-season break in principle, but the way Discovery’s was handled was poor from ViacomCBS and Paramount+. Being announced with mere days to spare seems intentional, as if it were deliberately designed to make sure that fans had no opportunity to cancel or suspend their Paramount+ subscriptions. We’ve talked on several occasions recently about the need for ViacomCBS and Paramount+ to get a grip and demonstrate that they’re serious about this whole streaming business – and randomly announced, unscheduled mid-season breaks are not a particularly good look.

The six-week break opened up a gap for Star Trek: Prodigy, though – and if you skipped it or didn’t want to check it out because it’s billed as a show for children, do yourself a favour and reconsider! Prodigy was fantastic, and managed to be a series that really embodied the spirit of Star Trek. Unfortunately it’s only available “officially” if you live in the United States (even Paramount+ in Australia didn’t broadcast the full ten episodes for inexplicable reasons) but I daresay you can find a way to watch if you so choose. Check out my spoiler-free review of Prodigy Season 1, Part 1 by clicking or tapping here.

If you missed Prodigy, go back and check it out. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

So let’s talk about All In. The episode had a very strong “Star Wars” feel for the most part, with the gamblers’ den that served as the main setting definitely taking its cues from comparable locales in the Star Wars franchise. The Karma Barge felt like Star Trek’s answer to the Mos Eisley cantina in the original film, complete with shady aliens, drinking, gambling, and criminality – all under the watchful eye of a charismatic crime boss. And I can’t be the only one to notice the similarity between the way the names of Haz Mazaro and Star Wars’ Maz Kanata sound, can I?

I don’t object to these kinds of “out of bounds” places existing in Star Trek, and we’ve seen lawless settlements and shady saloons in basically every iteration of the franchise in some form or another. It’s a trope from westerns that the franchise inherited going all the way back to its inception. In the context of a post-Burn galaxy it makes sense that places like this would exist and would be popular with a certain proportion of the population. I guess the only real thing to say is that this Karma Barge was definitely more Mos Eisley cantina than Quark’s – and that’s a choice that the show’s writers and producers made.

The Karma Barge felt like something lifted from the Star Wars franchise.

After a break of six weeks, putting Book and Burnham back together makes a certain kind of sense. There are only another five episodes to resolve everything before we get to the end of the season, after all. But if we watch But To Connect and All In back-to-back, and take into account statements made by President Rillak in particular about the in-universe passage of time, the story feels pretty weak. All In kicks off mere hours after the events of But To Connect, and although it arguably says something about the connection or similarities between Book and Burnham that they both chose to visit the same location… it makes the story feel incredibly contrived.

Also, considering the major contrivances required to simply get these two in the same room, I’m not sure this pretty weak story setup actually accomplished very much. Book and Burnham are no closer to resolving their feud than they were at the end of But To Connect, and in some ways are a step further apart having tried and failed to talk it out. I think we needed at least one episode in between But To Connect and the Book-Burnham reunion to really let things sink in for both of them, so going from that conflict over the vote last time (which was itself a rather weak premise that could have been easily resolved) to this episode, with another phase of the conflict in a pretty contrived setup, leaves me struggling to find many positive things to say.

Book and Burnham were reunited.

If All In had been a stronger episode overall, with a stronger central premise, perhaps some of those feelings would’ve melted away. If we’d spent longer getting to the Book-Burnham reunion, or if the gambling storylines were better written (to put it bluntly) I could’ve seen myself getting to a place where it would’ve been possible to write off some of these contrivances. But as you can probably tell already, I felt that All In’s story was, once we cut through the contrived fluff, not an especially strong one.

Book and Tarka definitely got the better and more interesting part of the story, as they had to earn the magical macguffin molecule by tracking down a cheater in the gamblers’ den. Though All In skipped over much of Tarka’s process as he tracked down the changeling and modified a piece of equipment to trap them, it was a neat premise and one that, for lack of a better term, had a very “Star Trek” feel to it in what was, as mentioned, a setting that definitely drew on other sci-fi/fantasy influences. As an aside, I don’t think this changeling was a Founder – there are other shape-shifting species in Star Trek, and the way this changeling switched forms didn’t remind me of Odo in any way.

Tarka caught a changeling gambling cheat.

We also got to see glimpses of how well Book and Tarka actually work as a duo. In a scene at the tail end of The Examples we got to see them together for the first time, albeit briefly, and But To Connect showed them coming together to try to win the vote. But it was here, for the first time, that we really got to see their dynamic as a dysfunctional duo – and it works remarkably well. Shawn Doyle and David Ajala play off one another’s strengths beautifully, and they do an excellent job at showing how these two characters have such radically different motivations for undertaking this mission.

There was a moment later in the episode which seemed to hint at Tarka perhaps having some kind of emotional draw to the “friend” he told Book about in But To Connect that arguably goes beyond “just” friendship. It’s possible that this character is a love interest for Tarka, which could be an interesting development if: a) this character is still alive, and/or b) they’re someone we as the audience might be familiar with. Neither of those points is guaranteed, so this could be a red herring that doesn’t go anywhere significant.

Did Owosekun touch a nerve when she pressed Tarka about his “friend?”

That scene between Tarka and Owosekun was cleverly-written, though, and I honestly can’t tell if Tarka was responding to Owosekun with genuine emotion or was feigning it in some kind of double-bluff. He’s an egotistical man, that’s something we’ve known since even before we first saw him on screen, but whether he’s capable of lying and manipulating at that level to throw people off-balance is unclear right now.

All In was a good episode for Owosekun, giving her a storyline comparable in scale, at least, to Detmer’s in Season 3. A lot of folks have complained about Discovery not making good use of its secondary cast – the bridge crew in particular – so this might be the writers and producers responding to those criticisms. A similar role could have been created for Burnham or several other main cast members – so the choice to put Owosekun in this situation was definitely a deliberate one.

All In gave Owosekun her biggest role in the season thus far.

It was definitely a sweet moment to have Burnham and Owosekun paired up, and they worked well as a character duo for this part of the story. The moment between them on the shuttle was perhaps the strongest, at least from an emotional point of view, and aside from episodes like Explorers, where Captain Sisko and Jake went on their own adventure, it’s got to be one of the very few missions in Star Trek’s 800+ episodes where both principal characters were black. Add into the mix Book and the only non-black participant in this story was Tarka.

Unfortunately, though, I felt that Owosekun’s big fight was not well-constructed. This was the central turning point of the mission for her and Burnham, and there are basically two ways to interpret what happened. Either Owosekun was, as her rivals later alleged, essentially hustling the fight by throwing the first two rounds – which I don’t believe, based on the extent of her injuries and her interactions with Burnham – or the fight was simply badly-written and poorly-filmed, not allowing us as the audience to see any of the process involved as Owosekun presumably tried to figure out how to outplay her opponent.

Owosekun’s fight sequence was not well-constructed.

From where I was sitting, here’s how it looked like the fight went down: Round 1, Owosekun got her butt kicked incredibly easily by a far larger, stronger opponent. Round 2: the exact same thing happened. Round 3: out of nowhere, and with all of their money on the line, Owosekun suddenly became 10x stronger and was able to win by magic.

We needed to see something – anything, really – to indicate what was going on. Was Owosekun using the first two rounds to spot weaknesses or patterns in her opponent’s fighting style that she later exploited? If so, that was subtle to the point of being hidden. Was she, in fact, hustling, knowing that the odds would get better with each defeat? Again, if so, that was not communicated to us as the audience. Fights don’t work like this in any contact sport in the real world – so either the explanation is childish writing, saying that Owosekun “got good” at the perfect moment, or the explanation is bad writing and/or filming and editing, meaning that essential elements of the story were simply not well-communicated to us as the audience.

Owosekun on the ropes with her opponent in the background.

In a story that was already choked by the contrivance of Book and Burnham finding their way to the same place within hours of the events of the previous episode, the poor way in which the fight was executed on screen added to the sense that All In was just not working very well. It was exciting in the moment, I will happily concede that point. And Oyin Oladejo did a creditable job at making me feel that Owosekun was in danger, but determined. Combined with her scene with Tarka later on, it was her best episode of the season so far, and her best performance since That Hope Is You, Part 2 in Season 3. It’s just a shame that the material itself wasn’t particularly strong.

The final part of the episode depicted a card game with Burnham, Book, and two nobodies, with the magical macguffin molecule on the line. And here’s a piece of free advice to the writers of Star Trek, Star Wars, or literally any other sci-fi or fantasy franchise: if you’re going to make a card game an essential part of your story, either make it a familiar card game or explain the rules. Spending nearly ten minutes watching people play a card game that was impossible to follow because it used different designs for the cards and different rules was not entertaining in any way, and this sequence was the episode’s weakest by far.

Haz Mazaro and Burnham at the card table.

The game was called Leonian poker, and despite the “poker” moniker, the rules were not explained at all. The non-face cards had a vaguely familiar design, but were different enough that it wasn’t easy to see at a glance who was winning or who had a strong hand. And this sequence dragged as a result. Now I will freely admit that watching professional poker is not something I care about in the slightest, but at least if I do watch a poker game I know the rules and can follow what’s going on. Here, a combination of the card designs, lack of clarity over the rules, and the pacing of the sequence itself meant that it was impossible to follow what was happening. This led to a deeply unsatisfying feeling of being on the edge of my seat hoping Book and Burnham could defeat the “Emerald Chain holdouts,” but not knowing what was going on or who was in a good position. The entire sequence was just frustrating.

When designing any kind of fictional card game, it needs to either have its mechanics explained, or be visually very easy to follow – or ideally both. This game, while it may or may not have followed the basic rules of poker, was neither explained nor visually simple enough to be intuitively understood, and I think it’s that combination that detracted from this sequence. If it had been a shorter sequence it might’ve worked better, but it lasted almost eight minutes – and those minutes really did seem to drag.

I found the card game frustrating and difficult to follow.

The upshot of all of this was that Book won the game, meaning that he and Tarka could escape with the magical macguffin molecule. I think there was something at least somewhat visually underwhelming about this isolynium, too, that made the stakes of the whole gambling operation – and the threat from Burnham that Book was crossing a line that he “could never come back from” – feel a bit anticlimactic.

In the real world, of course, we have materials like plutonium and uranium which don’t look like much, but are very dangerous, and isolynium is clearly modelled after elements like those. But it doesn’t make for a visually impressive presentation in the way that, say, a barrel of glowing, pulsing, neon pink goo might have had. That’s a deliberate aesthetic choice on the part of the show’s creators – but coming in an episode that had a number of other weak elements, the fact that the highly sought-after prize that all of our characters were desperate to procure was a vial of nondescript metallic flakes no bigger than a coffee mug was definitely an anticlimax. I didn’t know what to expect from isolynium – as far as I know the material is new to Star Trek – but the way the magical macguffin molecule was presented felt like a bit of a let-down in visual terms. Discovery has done some exceptionally interesting things with some of its visual effects across all four seasons, including in a number of unimportant or background areas. For something so vital to the plot to be so visually uninspired made this moment underwhelming.

The isolynium – the macguffin at the centre of the episode’s story – was visually unimpressive.

All of this led us to Book and Tarka taking the magical macguffin molecule and leaving, planning to build the weapon. I don’t really see what was stopping Burnham having the USS Discovery on standby to jump in and try to apprehend them after they’d left the barge (which was, understandably, neutral ground). But I suppose that’s a bit of a nitpick. Technologies like the Spore Drive can feel kind of overpowered, so using them sparingly is probably no bad thing! What’s the betting, though, that Tarka already figured out about the tracking device and leads Burnham and the rest of Starfleet to a dead-end? Maybe I’ll save that one for my theory update!

The conflict between Rillak, Vance, and Burnham was one that had the potential to be interesting, but it strayed very close to feeling as though Rillak in particular, but also Vance, were lashing out at Burnham for something that she couldn’t have reasonably been expected to predict. Book’s turn in But To Connect was sudden, and their theft and escape came 90% from Tarka – he was the one who stole the Spore Drive prototype. I can understand the frustration that Rillak in particular would have as she tries to keep the Federation united, and I think Chelah Horsdal did a good job portraying that complex emotional state.

Vance and Burnham during their meeting with President Rillak.

It was also somewhat of a rarity to see Admiral Vance get a bit of a dressing-down from the Federation President. We’ve usually seen Vance very composed and in control, but this situation has exposed a vulnerability for him, as he fears not being able to see his family – or even for their safety – in the event of war with Unknown Species 10-C. Again, a stellar performance from Oded Fehr communicated Vance’s emotions expertly. I also liked that Vance was willing to find loopholes and bend the rules for Burnham, something that I think he would never have considered under normal circumstances.

As the episode was drawing to a close we got a tiny tidbit of information about Unknown Species 10-C. Much of the rest of the episode felt like a detour, so it was important in the closing moments to advance the season’s main story in some way. The revelations this week were that Unknown Species 10-C appear to have some method of cloaking an entire star system – making them far more powerful than the Federation had been anticipating – and that the DMA is designed to harvest a particular particle: boronite. This could be a reference to the Voyager episode The Omega Directive, in which boronite was said to have been used by the Borg to synthesise an omega molecule – one of the most powerful substances in the Star Trek galaxy.

Unknown Species 10-C live here.

This sequence was cut a little short for me; I felt Discovery could have made more of the explanation of this new angle. The DMA being akin to a mining tool confirms what I’d been suspecting – that it isn’t a weapon – but the scene in which this was explained was very short on detail. Burnham makes huge assumptions based on only a few pieces of information, and may not have the complete picture. For storytelling reasons I daresay her assumptions are accurate and I’m not expecting any of it to be reversed or undone, but I feel like a longer sequence with a bit more time for debate and discussion could have got us to the same place in a bit more of a believable way.

Finally, one of the more understated moments in All In was actually one of the best. Dr Culber had been feeling overwhelmed with his role as ship’s counsellor, and that slow build finally boiled over in what was a rare emotional moment in an episode that had its focus elsewhere. The sequence between Dr Culber and Stamets in their quarters was tender and sweet, and reinforces how the pair really are Discovery’s emotional core.

Dr Culber finally got to confront some of his bubbling emotional issues this week.

It also tapped into a theme that Discovery has been running all season – and going back to last season, too: trauma. Different members of the crew have come to stand for different responses to trauma and different parts of the grieving process. We saw Tilly choose to take a very different path, leaving the ship. Gray returned to Trill to try to pick up the pieces of his training. Book had been most strongly affected by grief and ended up going down a dark path. And in Dr Culber’s case, he’d been throwing himself into his work at the expense of taking care of himself.

Feeling that he had failed Book, and also failed to prevent Book from taking the actions he took in But To Connect, Dr Culber was blaming himself and taking it as a personal failure. Stamets seemed to be able to get through to him, though, and that’s definitely a positive thing. Showing how love can cut through moments like this is something that we’ve seen Discovery do on occasion, and it was powerful here.

Stamets and Culber took some time away from work.

So I think that’s it for All In. Overall, I’d say it was a bit of a disappointment, despite some individually strong performances and well-constructed moments. The central conceit of putting Book and Burnham back together in such a random way didn’t work for me, and as a result much of the drama at the gamblers’ den felt contrived. The climactic card game was too difficult to follow, leading to a sequence that dragged on far too long and was frustrating to watch, and when All In did find time for fun or interesting moments, they tended to be cut short in favour of returning to the contrived, less-interesting side of the story.

I don’t want to say this is “the worst episode of the season,” because that makes it sound like I hated it and it was irredeemably terrible. I don’t think All In was an awful episode; it’s certainly streets ahead of the likes of Season 2’s The Red Angel. But it was a bit of a let-down, and a weak reintroduction to Discovery after its six-week break.

With only five episodes remaining, there’s still a lot of work to do; All In didn’t move the needle in a major way. Tarka and Book are still on the run, planning to build their weapon. Unknown Species 10-C is still out there and still hidden. The DMA is still doing its thing, flitting about the galaxy. And Starfleet is still two steps behind both. It will take a lot to bring Season 4’s storylines together and start wrapping things up! I hope Discovery is up to the task.

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 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 4: All Is Possible

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

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

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

The USS Discovery at the beginning of the episode.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tilly gave her snowglobe to Adira.

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

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

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

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

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

Tilly had hoped to one day command her own ship.

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

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

Stamets was noticeably absent from Tilly’s story.

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

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

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

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

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

Adira and Tilly with the trio of cadets.

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

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

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

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

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

Tilly’s departure is a bittersweet moment.

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

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

The negotiations on Ni’Var.

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

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

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

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

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

President T’Rina was happy with the proposed compromise.

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

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

Ni’Var has rejoined the Federation!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book spent this week’s episode in counselling.

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

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

Onward to new adventures.

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

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

Kovich made his first appearance of the season.

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

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

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

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.