"Star Trek: Discovery" constantly comes under discussion and decisions made in the writers' room continue to divide fans, more so — it's safe to say — than any other incarnation of the longest-running science fiction franchise in history. And some on social media claim that "Discovery" isn't true "Trek" (whatever that means). However, I recently had reason to go back and rewatch some of Season 1 and the difference between what we watched back in October 2017 and what we're watching now is stark. Despite the disruption and revolving door of showrunners behind the scenes, from beginning to end, it is more enjoyable than any season of "Discovery" we've seen since.
Once we're past the recap, which makes last week's episode seem much better than it actually was, this week's installment, titled "All Is Possible," opens with a beautiful establishing shot of the Discovery's hull that morphs into the corridor ceiling. It's reminiscent of just one of many gorgeous similar shots used in the first season, in this particular instance, the long-distance zoom-in from the episode "Context is for Kings" (Season 1, Episode 3).
Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) provides the narration over a montage of clips showing the crew — particularly Stamets (Anthony Rapp) — still puzzled over the DMA (Dark Matter Anomaly) and Book (David Ajala), who is still suffering from the grief of losing, well, just about everything. Judging from what Burnham says, somewhere between three weeks and a month has passed since the destruction of Kwejian. So he sadly still has a long way to go, which will probably fill this season, as we've mentioned before.
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Following Burnham's recap, she is informed by Saru (Doug Jones) that Adm. Vance (Oded Fehr) is sick with a Malindian stomach worm and that President Laira Rillak (Chelah Horsdal) has requested that they replace him in a diplomatic capacity in the negotiations on Ni'var, regarding that planet joining the United Federation of Planets, thus setting up one of the primary storylines for this episode.
Another storyline continues as we see Tilly (Mary Wiseman) have a counseling session with Dr. Culber (Wilson Cruz). She explains that throughout her (still very much fledgling) career, she has been purely focused on getting to the captain's chair, but now she feels like she needs to take a detour. It seems that Dr. Kovich (David Cronenberg) is looking for Discovery volunteers to lead a team-building exercise for Starfleet cadets. However, as a favor, Culber asks if Tilly could request that Adira also join the mission. It's a shame Kovich has transformed from a Master of Spies to Head of the Academy, all his mystery and intrigue suddenly evaporated.
Plus, I still have some issues over the whole Trill story arc this season, topped off by the unnatural transference of consciousness last week. And what's happened to the actual symbiont, Tal, it must be still inside Adira? So, will Adira be able to communicate with past hosts? No mention was made, or advice given regarding these really rather important issues last week. Will they be able to take visible form to Adira following this new precedence set by Alex Kurtzman and Michelle Paradise? This particular subplot has felt contrived and unconvincing from quite early on, so, fingers crossed they'll soon all be given more interesting parts to play in the grand scheme of things.
Kovich briefs Tilly in the docking bay at Starfleet HQ and touches upon an interesting issue, that there is an ongoing concern with Starfleet cadets who do not seem to be working well, in teams, as they haven't met any lifeforms different to their own…because of the burn, no warp drive, exploding dilithium thing. It's explored a tiny bit more as this episode unfolds, but without adequate explanation as to why these new cadets never read books, watched videos or participated in holo-simulations at school on their respective homeworlds, it just ends up being a slapdash, lazy and convenient reason as to why they're all so hostile to each other when the plot requires it a little later on.
All it would've taken is for Kovich, in his incomparable Cronenberg way, to utter a couple of lines in response to Tilly raising this issue, something like, "Holo-simulations, regardless of how realistic they may look, are just not as beneficial to a potential Starfleet officer's training. The best way to learn how to maintain a rational, focused state of mind under extreme circumstances is to actually be in that situation. That hasn't changed in hundreds of years and probably never will." Oh well.
The mission is to fly to Geryon, an M-class desert moon orbiting Theta Helios and carry out a full planetary analysis. Joining Tilly and Adira is Cadet Harral, an Orion (Seamus Patterson), Cadet Val Sasha, a human (Amanda Arcuri) and Cadet Taahz Gorev, a Tellarite (Adrian Walters) plus the shuttle pilot, Lt Callum (Nck Name, yes really) makes six.
When suddenly, there's a loud bang, the shuttle drops out of warp and the pilot shouts that they've been hit by a rogue gamma-ray burst. Hmmmm. Anyways, the engines are offline and the helm isn't responding so down they go. Roll opening credits.
We head straight back to the downed shuttlecraft after the credits and straight away we see that poor Lt Callum didn't survive the crash. There's a little bit of an "Original Series" "The Galileo Seven" (Season 1, Episode 13) vibe to this story, which is nice. Of course there were only six to begin with and now with Lt Callum down, there's only five, but the constant bickering, plus the threat of being killed and/or eaten in a thoroughly unpleasant fashion by the local wildlife, has a familiar feel to it.
The burst has also knocked out the communications systems, so they take a peek outside and quickly learn that they're not on Geryon, in fact, they're not even close; instead they've crash-landed on Kokytos, an L-class moon, which means it has a breathable atmosphere but is environmentally hostile.
Shock kicks in and the young trainee crew struggle to get to grips with their predicament. Tilly has a handle on it until the cadets start venting anger and frustration toward each other. They have six hours until their scheduled rendezvous with the USS Armstrong, so Tilly insists they start telling each other about themselves and it's a well-written and enjoyable set piece.
We cut to the other major storyline for this episode (a much more sensible number of subplots this week), which are the negotiations on Ni'var between presidents T'Rina of Ni'var (Tara Rosling) and Rillak of the Federation. This is also the first proper look we've had, brief though it may be, of The Planet Formally Known As Vulcan — aside from the Science Institute…er, temple (?) we saw last week — and it has a certain Coruscant look and feel, which works well. (Also, there's a Saurian at the conference and despite his name being in the credits and he was seen in Burnham's voice-over montage at the beginning, it's surely not Lt Junior Grade Linus…unless he's someone's favorite spawn back at Starfleet?)
Apparently, it's taken four months to reach this stage and they are just about to put pen to paper when T'Rina drops a spanner in the works. As a result of the impending doom threatened by the DMA Ni'var wants an unconditional Get Out Clause incorporated into the final agreement. According to T'Rina, the people of Ni'var feel that they stand a better chance of surviving economically without the Federation should the gravitational anomaly threaten the stability of the galaxy. Rillak does not agree and so this sets up a well-written and politically driven sub-plot that is unquestionably a highlight in this week's episode.
Meanwhile, Subplot C concerns Book and he's gone to see Dr. Culber. They talk a little, sharing stories and Book attempts to replicate Kwei'tholum'Kwei, a Kwejian healing ritual. Unfortunately, you not only need sand from the bed of the Mameckx'sha River to do it properly, you must also ask the Tulí Forests for their blessings, not to mention requiring the Great Storms of Naillem'kwai for something equally as impressive-sounding. So, understandably, he gets a little upset and irate as he attempts to create a passable reproduction using programmable matter.
Back on the Ni'var homeworld, the plot thickens a little. Saru and T'Rina bond and form an unlikely friendship, while Rillak and Burnham head off in a different direction to talk things through. This could've unfolded several ways; personally I expected Saru to take one side and Burnham the other, forcing a wedge between these two Starfleet officers. But instead, mercifully, the writers take us in a different direction and not one that's burdened with clichés. Granted this is not a Tom Clancy novel, but the dialogue is good and nothing is forced, effectively making this an enjoyable set piece and consequently the best episode of Season 4 so far.
Both T'Rina and Rillak confide in Saru and Burnham, respectively and then the Discovery captain and her first officer talk to each other. And it turns out…this is precisely why the Federation President arranged everything, including Vance's "illness".
We alternate between the two primary stories, with Book's subplot in support. So next up we check in on our stranded Starfleet cadets who are beginning to fray a little at the edges. Unfortunately though, Helios has 46 moons and without functioning communications, the USS Armstrong is going to have a very difficult time trying to locate them. Added to which, they only have three days of emergency rations. And then they meet this episode's equivalent of the Taurus II anthropoid from "The "Galileo Seven" — a Tuscadian Pyrosome; a colony species made up of thousands of interconnected zooid life-forms. According to Adira, it primarily preys on bioluminescent crustaceans, tracking them via electromagnetic signatures, which happen to be exactly the same signatures produced by their equipment. Uh oh.
It's going to be necessary to leave the safety of the shuttlecraft and venture outside, naturally. Along the way though, Adira very nearly dies and it takes the whole team to rescue her (by pulling them out of a sheet of deadly, killer ice, which I'm pretty sure they then all walk over to reach the ridge). The Starfleet Five make their way to higher ground in order to make contact with the waiting USS Armstrong, but Tilly must act as a distraction to buy the others more time to establish a clear line of communication.
Thankfully, Tilly's "broaden her experiences" subplot has been gently bubbling away now for a few weeks, not like when Cmdr. Nahn was suddenly and unexpectedly thrust forward, front and center, to the primary plot in the Season 3 episode "Die Trying" (Season 3, Episode 5) so it was obvious that she either gets left behind or dies, just like Lt. Cmdr. Airiam in the Season 2 episode "Project Daedalus" (S02, E09). However, Tilly's generous amount of screentime and her solo, action-adventure-style antics in this episode do suggest, without even really trying very hard, that something is going to happen to her.
The Ni'var Negotiation subplot ticks along nicely. It's very dialogue intensive, with long scenes that require solid performances from everyone, not just Sonequa Martin-Green and Doug Jones. Much is learned about everyone's different cultures as Saru and Burnham do exactly what Rillak hoped they would: find a reasonable compromise, enabling a treaty to be signed and Ni'var rejoins the United Federation of Planets.
Tilly gets beamed off Kokytos just in time and everyone makes it out safely, apart from poor Lt Callum of course. Kovich greets Tilly and makes her an offer to teach at the Academy. All the other subplots are wrapped up, including Book's, who finally manages to create a satisfactory Kwei'tholum'Kwei and thus feels like he's accomplished something, along with creating the foundation of a solid friendship with Culber, which he will only benefit from.
Tilly has a heart-to-heart with Burnham in their old shared quarters…where she explains that she's going to take that teaching post at the Academy. And before you can even blink, we see a montage of Tilly saying goodbye to all the primary characters before she boards a shuttlecraft, wheeling her carry-on luggage, neck cushion and so on.
It's…unexpected to say the least. No way is this simply a she'll-be-back-like-normal-next-week thing, the montage of emotional farewells pretty much establishes that. So, what gives? Tilly is a fan favorite, so this is not permanent, we'll wager a pile of gold-pressed latinum on that. Rumors abound that Mary Wiseman left the show to go on maternity leave and while that's possible, these have not been confirmed. No doubt Twitter will be all about this today. But a representative for Paramount+ apparently confirmed to Decider that Wiseman would continue as a series regular in Season 4, so it's more of a "see ya later" than a "goodbye". Decider also interestingly notes that this reflects on recent events, specifically the pandemic and what's been coined The Great Resignation, where many workers in many different fields have used the lockdown and the remote working dilemma as the excuse they've needed to change jobs, even change careers, which is more or less what Tilly has done.
Section 31 ✓
• The pacing alone in this episode makes it the best in Season 4 so far
• A potentially dull treaty negotiation set piece becomes very entertaining
• Dr. Culber is a much better ship's counselor than…er, others have been
• A new spin-off show could be Saru and Burnham opening a law practice
• We really hope things develop between Saru and T'Rina wink, wink
Section 8 ✗
• Not really sure playing if with programmable matter would resolve much
• Kinda obvious something significant was going to happen to Tilly
• Kovich has gone from mysterious spy-type to head of the Academy?
• If Tilly's still going to be a regular, why the emotional goodbye montage?
• Pretty sure everyone walked through that patch of deadly killer ice
The first four episodes of Season 4 of "Star Trek: Discovery" are available to watch now and subsequent installments will drop every Thursday on Paramount+ in the US and CTV Sci-Fi or Crave TV in Canada. Countries outside of North America can watch on the Pluto TV Sci-Fi channel.