Warning: Spoilers ahead for "Star Trek: Discovery" Season 4, Episode 7
Probably the most significant "Star Trek" news that broke in the time between last week's episode and now was that Paramount unexpectedly announced on Twitter that "Star Trek: Discovery" will be taking a mid-season break, with tonight's installment being the mid-season finale. The fourth season will then return with new episodes, starting with Episode 8, on Feb. 10, 2022. That's a break of six weeks.
There are just four episodes left now — if there is indeed a total of 11 in this season (last season was 13 episodes) — and we're at the same point where last season Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) had her shall-I or shan't-I moment on Ni'var in "Unification III" (S03, E07) before the season picked up the pace once again with "Scavengers" followed by the Mirror Universe two-parter.
Even though there wasn't a mid-season break, this does further suggest that the general blueprint for this season is very similar to the last one. It's almost as if the writers were briefed that a "threat to every living thing in the galaxy" would…er, threaten the galaxy, forming the season-long reason for actually doing anything and breadcrumb-like clues would be picked up in almost every episode along the way before the utterly jarring finale. Then the writers put their names in a hat and were split into teams and allocated a director to flesh out each episode with more specific character-based stories. Thus another erratic and unevenly paced season went into principal photography with communication between each team only permitted through the use of two empty tin cans and a long piece of string.
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Following the somewhat lengthy recap, that reminds us of everything that's happened this season and in particular how slowly the main plot has moved, we find the USS Discovery still in space dock and despite Saru (Doug Jones) remarking on how quickly programmable matter enabled the repairs last week, it's nice to see the Crossfield class starship still in a state of significant disarray.
What makes the fact that there are just four episodes left to conclude this wafer-thin seasonal story arc even more astonishing, is that after the last two weeks of high-octane, action-packed, accelerated story telling, the brakes have been hit hard in this week's episode, entitled "…But to Connect" so much so, you're going to need that restraint harness firmly locked in place as you decelerate from maximum warp to station-keeping with the inertial dampers disengaged.
Forget aerobraking or slamming into the "slow zone" of the Sol gate at interplanetary speed, this is sudden deceleration. The thing is, once you get past this shock to your system — and gloss over a couple of other things that we'll get to — this isn't an altogether terrible episode. Like many others this season, all the events that unfold seem to have a simple connection; in the past it's been things like "grief," "loss" or "transformation," but this week it seems to be "separation."
As we saw last week — and will continue to see much more this week — Zora (voiced by Annabelle Wallis) is developing as a sentient artificial intelligence. With Adira's (Blu del Barrio) assistance, Zora can cross-reference all the information collected with the Sphere data and out of 147 possibilities she is able to determine the origin point at the edge of the Milky Way where the dark matter anomaly entered our galaxy. Or something. However, upon determining the coordinates, Zora refuses to give them to Burnham, the Federation or anyone else, thus setting up the secondary plot and a refreshingly simple pre-credit sequence, especially when you think about how much has been crammed into this space in recent episodes.
Once past the opening credits, we are joined by Dr Kovich (David Cronenberg) who, thankfully, has returned to being a more interesting character than a glorified schoolteacher, which seemed to be the route he was going down at one point. Granted, he's still not quite the sinister, spymaster-type he was last season, but the scenes and set pieces he's part of are benefitting from his inclusion.
Kovich gets to work on the Zora issue since Starfleet prohibits fully sentient integrated units. He's soon joined by Adira, Gray (Ian Alexander), Dr Culber (Wilson Cruz) and Lt Stamets (Anthony Rapp), who has a big problem with Zora exhibiting this kind of behavior, contrary to her instructions. The discussion is an interesting one and as a gesture of good faith, Zora produces a device that if activated, would remove her from the Discovery's computer core.
Meanwhile the primary plot this week involves Burnham, President Laira Rillak (Chelah Horsdal), Book (David Ajala)…and Ruon Tarka (Shawn Doyle). At a massive gathered assembly of every Federation member world – the first gathering of this size since before the Burn — President Laira Rillak lays out the facts. Anyone who is anyone is there: The Orion and Andorian ambassadors, a Schlerm, a Morn, at least one member of Daft Punk and even representatives from Alshain IV that we were first introduced to in the premiere episode "Kobayashi Maru" (S04, E01). And from Earth! It's about time that blue dot in Sector 001 got in on the action. Now-General Ndoye (Phumzile Sitole) speaks for the former home of the Federation. You may remember her from last season's episode "People of Earth" (S03, E03).
It quickly becomes clear that there are two basic choices, project peace while exploring the DMA origin or go in with shields raised and torpedoes loaded. The situation is exacerbated when Tarka reveals to the entire assembly that he's developed a device that could destroy the anomaly by creating a cascading subspace burst (and allowing him to retain the power source).
However, he's used an Isolytic weapon to achieve this and they were banned in the Khitomer Accords. So by adding the issue of potential sub-space damage to the discussion, instead of a relatively straightforward ethical dilemma, anyone wanting to simply destroy the anomaly and be done with it now has the added outcome of collateral damage on their conscience.
Tarka reveals a little of his backstory to Book and why he's driven to secure the power source of the DMA — basically, so he can use it to escape this universe and enter an alternative one. It's a little reminiscent of Malcolm McDowell's character Soran in "Star Trek: Generations." He's become so fixated on returning, that not much else matters. It's well-written and despite sailing close to being a teeny-tiny bit of cliché, it's made more interesting because he's not acting alone; he's convinced Book that blowing this thing the hell out of our galaxy is the right thing to do.
No one wants to destroy Zora and the whole group learns of a new section of code that's unexpectedly appeared in a tiny area within the optical translator cluster. The dialogue almost goes down the road of memories-being-used-a-cushion-to-control-emotions à la "Blade Runner," but instead it seems Zora has started dreaming and that's what everyone is seeing. Zora let's them have full access so they can take a look-see. Adira remarks that this makes Zora an entirely new life form, much like Gray and in the blink of an eye, this becomes yet another metaphor for gender acceptance. As such, it once again drowns any chance that an effective comment on this crucial, contemporary issue might have of making an impact.
Don't misunderstand, it's great to see "Star Trek" embracing a metaphoric story reflecting the journey of a very personal transformation and we've seen a lot of that, but it's not exactly subtle anymore and it is entirely possible to saturate a good thing. I would honestly like to see both Adira and Gray having better parts written for them because at present, they are both rather one dimensional.
Thankfully though, good writing and more importantly, good editing, save this whole set piece and retains its appeal. Book makes a statement to the gathered assembly, which is compelling and powerful – destroy the DMA and save worlds and countless lives. Burnham makes a counter argument about how important it is to not use any destructive force when dealing with an unknown species, in this case species 10-C.
Each speech is tightly edited to mirror what's happening in the ready room with Zora. In quite possibly one of his finest moments since Season 1, Stamets saves the day and asks that Zora trust the crew just as she is asking them to trust her. She agrees and coughs up the coordinates. And the crew destroys the shutdown device Zora made for them.
Meanwhile the Federation assembly takes a vote to see which approach they will take…and the peaceful one wins through. However, the cost might be the relationship between Book and Burnham. And in a nice twist Kovich reveals that in his evaluation of the situation, had Stamets not acted the way he did, he had no further place on Discovery.
And then…in an even bigger "twist" Book and Tarka take the explosive device and fly off in Book's ship to deliver the payload, thus setting up tons of drama and emotional tension that we can look forward to watching…in SIX week's time..??!! Episode 8 will drop on Feb. 10, 2022, which means Season 4 will end one week before the premiere episode of Season 3 of "The Orville" drops, on March 10, 2022.
The trailer for What's To Come at the end of this week's episode promises even more inconsistency awaits us as we see Burnham in a Numidian Prime-style gambling den, Lt. Owosekun (Oyin Oladejo) engaging in a bit of underground bareknuckle boxing and even what looks like Cmdr. Nhan (Rachael Ancheril) in a Starfleet uniform..?
What is going to be the surprise with species 10-C..? Ewoks? Let's face facts, it's probably going to be something from "The Original Series," the makers of Nomad perhaps. Is Tarka from the JJ-verse..? Is that where he's trying to get back to?
Temba, his arms wide ✓
• Is there a relationship blossoming between T'Rina of Ni'var and Saru?!
• In a dialogue-intensive episode, most of it is exceptionally well written
• Stamets is well written this week and he saves the day basically
• Kovich seems to have taken on the role of some sort of overseer
• Tarka is developed nicely and Shawn Doyle really nails the part
Shaka, when the walls fell ✗
• Adira continues to be clumsily written and they're very rude to Zora!
• It feels like the DMA is going to be another Su'Kal-style ending
• Please write both Adira and Gray to be less stereotyped!!
• The trailer at the end promises even more drastic change of direction
• The only consistent thing about "Discovery" is how inconsistent it is
The first seven episodes of Season 4 of "Star Trek: Discovery" are available to watch now on Paramount Plus 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. Season 4 returns on Feb. 10, 2022.