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 5: The Examples

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Culber and Stamets in their quarters.

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

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

Stamets and Culber gave the episode heart and emotion.

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

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

Kovich offered Dr Culber counselling… of a sort.

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

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

Captain Burnham faced a very difficult choice this week.

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

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

The Akaali magistrate.

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

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

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

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

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

Felix made his own decision.

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

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

Tarka and Stamets created a scale model of the DMA.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ruon Tarka made for a wonderfully complex character.

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

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

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

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

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

Saru and Tarka having a stand-off!

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

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

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

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