Warning: Spoilers ahead for "Star Trek: Discovery" season 4, episode 8
It's been six weeks since we last saw the crazy antics the crew of the USS Discovery and we were left with something of a cliffhanger as Book (David Ajala) and Ruon Tarka (Shawn Doyle) departed the Discovery without authorization to build a bomb to destroy the dark matter anomaly and at the very least, risk provoking unknown species 10-C.
Then, the teaser we saw at the end of that episode for the second half of the season offered glimpses of Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) in a Numidian Prime (opens in new tab)-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. And we saw some of that in this latest "Star Trek: Discovery" installment, entitled "All In," on the streaming platform Paramount Plus (opens in new tab).
The recap, thankfully, is made up of only the good bits from the season so far and having thus been spared a reminder of how slow the so-called primary plot has been, we're actually quite excited. If you want to get caught up on "Discovery" since it's been awhile since the break, check out our Star Trek streaming guide for details.
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We've mentioned in the past that in order to write these reviews, each episode of "Star Trek," "Star Wars" or whatever it might be, is watched on average four or five times. This is then used as a benchmark, in addition to factoring in first impressions, then determining how enjoyable an episode might be upon repeat viewing… Or how excruciatingly painful it is and what "Clockwork Orange"-like extreme measures must be undertaken to secure myself to the sofa in order to endure it all over again. Simply put, if the bad bits outweigh the good bits, then it might be time to get the eye clamps out.
And unlike at least a few episodes before the mid-season break, this one does indeed become more enjoyable the more you watch it. We begin exactly where we left off and all hell is breaking loose as everyone is struggling to work out what's just happened. Regardless with what you might think about other aspects of this episode and we'll get to those, the dialogue in this installment is well-written and we see a great example of that straightaway as President Laira Rillak (Chelah Horsdal) gives both Burnham and Admiral Vance (Oded Fehr) a reprimand. It's effective and well written and sets a standard that continues through the entire episode.
The President instructs Burnham not to chase Book as she's too close to the problem, which predictably sets up what's obviously going to happen. Although Vance is the one who indirectly encourages her to go off-mission, which adds just a soupçon of intrigue to an otherwise overused "Discovery" formula. However, the quality of dialogue continues and the interaction between Burnham and Vance is convincing.
By now you've probably recognized Shawn Doyle (who plays Ruon Tarka) from "The Expanse." He portrayed Sadavir Errinwright, the former Undersecretary of the United Nations who conspired with Jules-Pierre Mao to weaponize the Protomolecule. His character here is disappointingly similar to the one he played in "The Expanse," so hopefully the writers will allow Doyle to show more of his range before the end of the season.
Turns out he can't just, you know, build the bomb. No, he needs the isolynium first. And that pretty much sets up this whole episode; it becomes a race of sorts to find and buy any and all amounts available of this precious resource.
Both Book and Burnham use old contacts from their…er, time spent working as couriers and this would be a great throwback to what little we saw of that, in the early days of Season 3. In fact, the premiere episode, "That Hope Is You, Part 1" was one of the best episodes we've ever seen and it continued for a short while at least, until the third season took a nosedive into absurdity in the second half.
It all feels like it was a dynamite idea on paper, but the execution fell a little flat. We're made to believe like Book and Burnham had a career together as couriers, but they were only enjoying this dynamic lifestyle for just one year before Discovery showed up and ruined everything. Can you imagine how cool it would've been to have had a whole season focusing mainly on Book and Burnham's exploits as legal/illegal buyers and sellers, intergalactic wheelers and dealers..?
Burnham is able to predict where Book will have to go to secure as much isolynium as he needs: Haz Mazaro's Karma Barge. And this is where this episode again feels like it's borrowing from that amazing Season 3 opener, except it's just not produced as effectively. The production design isn't as ambitious, the characters aren't as interesting and it's ultimately a wasted opportunity.
Whenever a sci-fi show attempts the backwater, drinking/gambling den, off-world-underworld set piece, it truly separates the men from the boys and when it's done well, it makes a bold statement. "The Expanse" nailed it, every time and so has the live-action "Star Wars" shows, but it's something "Star Trek" has rarely done well with. That said, this isn't terrible…it's just not as good as it really could've been.
The venue for this showdown of sorts is a very interesting idea and credit where credit is due, hats off to the team for coming up with this one. Owned by a character called Haz Mazaro (played by Daniel Kash and probably the best thing in this episode), the Karma Barge is a large, paddle wheel-driven surface vessel that serves as an off-grid hub for gambling and black market businesses. It's constantly in motion and forever sails the Porathian Ocean disguised inside a hologram of a monstrous sea creature.
And a particularly nice touch is that the approach to the Karma Barge through the sea monster is not shown when Book and Tarka arrive, but instead saved for effect when Burnham and Lt. Cmdr. Joann Owosekun (Oyin Oladejo) show up. Yes indeed, it's Owosekun's time to shine and frankly she hasn't had an opportunity like this since the second season's best episode by far, "New Eden" (S02, E02).
The writer's on "Discovery" haven't quite managed to make the simple premise of a member of the bridge crew accompanying an away team feel natural. It used to happen all the time on "The Original Series" and later shows, but whenever it happens on "Discovery" we automatically know that person whose name you can't remember will form a significant part of the plot by way of overcompensation.
Since two parties are now interested in the isolynium, the price is going up. Burnham is operating outside of Federation jurisdiction so she's unable to call for more cash. (It might have been nice to see them both being forced to change outfits because of the hostility Starfleet can sometimes attract, especially in a setting where the only law is frontier law.) Owosekun steps into a bare-knuckle boxing ring in an attempt to raise more funds. After a couple of disastrous rounds, she's ultimately and inevitably successful…by punching her opponent in the plums.
This enables Burnham et al to proceed to the next round, as it were, where she must face Book in a game of Leonian Poker. The Federation's favorite former couple team up to beat the other prospective players around the table in a scene, again, reminiscent of "That Hope Is You, Part 1" where Burnham is given a truth serum by an inept Orion and an equally incapable Andorian in the market place of Mercantile on Hima. It's great to see more of Martin-Green's range beyond Emotional and Very Emotional and she's clearly having fun with it.
With the two outsiders gone, it's Burnham v Book, so naturally they go all in with Book being the eventual winner. Throughout the this whole set piece, the Starfleet captain obviously tries to convince the Kwejian to do the right thing, and obviously he resists, but it's dealt out, so to speak, in manageable quantities, making it feel infinitely more natural.
Upon returning to Federation HQ, the president is ready to give Burnham both barrels for bungling the recovery of the isolynium, until the Discovery's captain reveals her cunning plan. Knowing she would probably lose, she cleverly placed a tracking device on the actual isolynium, so now they can track Book's ship.
However, down in engineering Stamets (Anthony Rapp) has made a startling discovery. Turns out it's all about the boronite; when the dark matter anomaly disappears, in the area of space where it was, there are no residual traces of any boronite, like there are other elements.
In the "Star Trek" universe, boronite is an element that forms naturally in extremely small quantities. However, a sufficient amount could be synthesized into some of the most powerful substances in existence, such as the Omega molecule (introduced in the "Voyager" episode "The Omega Directive" S04, E21). The Borg once used a quantity of boronite to synthesize a single Omega molecule, but were unable to repeat the experiment as they never found another source.
They draw the conclusion that the dark matter anomaly is mining the mineral. And, as Vance remarks, "If the DMA is their mining equipment, we can only imagine what their weapons are like." And so it becomes even more imperative that Book and Tarka be stopped.
This episode is nicely paced throughout and it feels like a lot unfolds without any sense of being rushed or that too much takes place – and that is down to constant, consistent care being paid to pacing. Yes, it flies close to the sun with the occasional cliché, but it manages to get away with only singeing its wings.
There are some thoughtful touches, like the playing cards featuring different species of aliens from "Star Trek" plus there's a touching scene between Stamets and Dr. Culber (Wilson Cruz) in an attempt to highlight the frustration and anxiety that the crew face.
Rating: 7½ /10
The first eight episodes of Season 4 of "Star Trek: Discovery" are available to watch now on Paramount Plus (opens in new tab) 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 2 of "Star Trek: Picard" begins on March 3, 2022 and the premiere season of "Strange New Worlds" begins on May 5, 2022.