It’s the season 4 finale of Star Trek Discovery. Reviews of previous seasons and episodes may be found here.
Warning: Spoilers under the cut!
When we last saw the Discovery and her valiant crew, they had just figured out how to communicate with the mysterious Species 10-C and persuade them to stop using the DMA to mine boronite, when that arsehole Ruon Tarka had to throw a monkey wrench into the proceedings, took Jet Reno and Book prisoner and breaks out of the containment bubble to try to steal the DMA power source, even though he knows that this will cause Species 10-C’s hyperfield to collapse, putting Species 10-C, Discovery and her crew as well as the entire population of Earth, Titan and Ni’Var (and not to forget Book, Reno and Tarka) in mortal danger.
Meanwhile, Discovery is still stuck in the impenetrable bubble and can’t persuade Species 10-C to let them out, because Species 10-C insists that Discovery has already left the bubble, clearly confusing Book’s ship with Discovery. And Discovery can’t use the same method Tarka used to break through the bubble either, because Tarka exploited Discovery‘s plasma venting to break out of the bubble.
Worse, Michael knows that someone aboard Discovery helped Tarka and quickly suspects that it must be one of the delegates. Rillak is worried about the diplomatic implications of detaining and questioning the delegates. She needn’t have worried, however, because Ndoye confesses almost at once and is confined to her quarters. Ndoye is also genuinely shocked to hear that Tarka is mad (even though that was bleedingly obvious for a long time), that he took Book and Jet Reno prisoner and that his plan may well kill everybody. In fact, I found it striking how long it took for everybody to catch on to the fact that Tarka is insane, considering he almost blew up Discovery in his very first appearance.
In order to persuade Species 10-C to let Discovery go, President T’Rina attempts to mind-meld with Species 10-C, which promptly causes her to pass put and Saru to hover anxiously over her. Once T’Rina comes to again – while Saru is still anxiously hovering – she reports that she managed to make contact with Species 10-C and that Species 10-C have a collective consciousness – though not like the Borg, T’Rina adds, which again begets the question: “What happened to the Borg by the 31st century?” However, T’Rina suspects that Species 10-C may have no concept of individuality, which is why they won’t differentiate between Discovery and Book’s ship.
Since Discovery is stuck in a bubble, the best chance of stopping Tarka lies with Book and Jet Reno. Unfortunately, they are locked up behind a forcefield. And while Tarka initially has problems flying Book’s ship, he quickly gets the hang of it, at least enough to evade the hyperfield bubbles that Species 10-C sends after him. By now, Tarka is also so far gone that he doesn’t respond to Jet and Book pointing out that his only motivation is grief and loss and that while they sympathise, both having lost loved ones, they can’t let Tarka kill a shitload of people (in the widest sense of the word that encompasses giant floating sentient jellyfish).
Tarka tells Book to come with him to the parallel universe where he wants to go. Kwejian will still exist there and Kyheem and Leto will still be alive and everything will be as it was. Jet points out that even if Kwejian, Kyheem and Leto exist in the other universe, they won’t be the same people and that both Book and Tarka have to accept that their loved ones are gone. Book has finally come to terms with losing Kyheem and Leto, but Tarka has not come to terms with losing Oros and is willing to put his plan into action, consequences be damned.
The way Book and Jet escape their forcefield prison is genuinely clever. And yes, it involves reversing the polarity, but it also involves Grudge’s cat collar, which is programmed to automatically let Grudge passs through any forcefield. Unfortunately, the opening in the forcefield is literally a size of a cat door, much to Jet Reno’s dismay.
So Jet and Book escape the forcefield and manage to knock out Tarka (very satisfying to finally see Tarka get punched in the face), though Tarka has locked the controls of the ship, so Book can’t regain control. He gives his transporter badge to Jet to allow her to beam back aboard Discovery and warn the crew. Book also asks Jet to tell Michael he loves her.
Once Jet is back aboard Discovery, Book wakes up Tarka to try to persuade him to abandon his plan and unlock the controls. Tarka finally accepts that Oros is gone and that he won’t see him again, but he still can’t reprogram the controls in time before the ship reaches the DMA controller and destroys it and everything else along with it.
Meanwhile, Stamets has finally figured out how to free Discovery from its bubble, though he warns Michael that she won’t like it. Basically, they will fire up the spore drive without jumping until the spore drive overheats and blows a hole in the bubble. Didn’t Stamets say three episodes ago that the spore drive doesn’t even function beyond the galactic barrier, because there is no mycelial network there? I guess this is a case of the writer’s conveniently forgetting a fact established earlier that would hinder the plot. After all, it was established back in season 2 that using the spore drive damages to mycelial network so badly that it should not be used at all, another fact that writers have conveniently forgotten. I guess by now that spore drive is and does what the plot needs it to be and do this episode.
“Coming Home” requires the spore drive to blow up and punch a hole in the hyperfield bubble. Unfortunately, this manoeuvre will also take out the spore drive and it cannot be repaired without the resources of a space dock and there are none of those beyond the Galactic Barrier, which means that Discovery has to limp home at warp speed Voyager-style. When Stamets announced the dire consequences of his plan, I thought, “Well, season 5 is going to be Star Trek Voyager Redux then.”
However, billions of lives on both sides of the Galactic Barrier are at stake and so Michael has no choice and orders Stamets to put his plan into action. A lot of random consoles and panels on the bridge as well as the spore drive chamber in the engineering section explode in showers of sparks, but Stamets finally succeeds and blasts Discovery out of the bubble.
Discovery immediately sets off after Book’s ship, because everybody agrees that Tarka must be stopped, whatever the cost. And the cost to stop Tarka turns out to be steep. For the best way to stop him is to load a shuttle up with explosives and crash it into Book’s ship to take it out. Unfortunately, the resulting interference will make it difficult to beam anybody out, so both Book and Tarka as well as the shuttle pilot will probably die. Reluctantly, Michael gives the order and Detmer volunteers to fly the shuttle, since she is the best pilot. The look on Owosekun’s face when Detmer volunteers for a suicide mission says it all. These two are definitely more than just friends.
However, Detmer is spared, when Ndoye volunteers to pilot the shuttle to redeem herself for her part in bringing this situation about in the first place. Ndoye succeeds, too, and manages to crash the shuttle into Book’s ship just as Book has persuaded Tarka that he is chasing a forlorn hope and that he’ll likely never see Oros again.
Discovery manages to beam out Ndoye just in time and both Book and Tarka survive the initial explosion as well. However, Book’s ship is out of control and will slam into the hyperfield, which will completely destroy it. So Tarka gives Book the sole transporter badge and tells him to beam back to Discovery. Meanwhile, Tarka will take his chance and hope that the explosion when the ship smashed into the hyperfield will generate enough energy to power up transporter and send him into the parallel universe where he wants to go.
Discovery locks on Book’s signal and proceeds to beam him onto the bridge. But just as Book begins to materialise, the ship hits the hyperfield and explodes. Book’s signal flashes out of existence in front of a horrified Michael. I expected that Book would not survive season 4, but the way he blinks out of existence just as he has seemingly been saved is still a shock. Also rest in pieces Book’s ship, which never even got a name
Michael comes close to breaking down on the bridge – after all, she has just seen the man she loves get disintegrated in front of her eyes. It is Rillak of all people who comforts her. And since Michael is too Vulcan to allow emotions to derail her for long, she quickly pulls herself together.
While all this is going on, Earth, Titan and Ni’Var are being pelted by debris, as the DMA is barrelling towards them. Starfleet has sent every vessel available to aid with the evacuation efforts, which includes some lovely callbacks and tributes to former Star Trek characters and actors. And so we have the USS Mitchell, named after Gary Mitchell from the Original Series episode “Where No Man Has Gone Before”, the USS Nog, named after Nog from Deep Space Nine to honour actor Aron Eisenberg who died two years ago aged only 50, as well as the USS Yelchin, named after Anton Yelchin who played Pavel Chekhov in the J.J. Abrams Star Trek movies and died in a freak accident in 2016, aged only 27.
Coordinating the evacuation efforts as Admiral Vance aboard Starfleet Headquarters, which is not only mobile and warp capable, but which also has detachable decks with individual warp drives. Aiding with the efforts is another familiar face, namely Sylvia Tilly, whom we haven’t seen since she left Discovery in “All is Possible” to teach at Starfleet Academy. Tilly is leading a bunch of cadets to assist with the evacuation, including the Orion cadet and the tusked alien we met in “All Is Possible”.
But in spite of Starfleet’s best efforts, the time is too short to evacuated the entire populations of Earth, Titan and Ni’Var. Vance heroically offers to remain aboard Starfleet headquarters to fire at debris to cover the retreating ships and Tilly stays behind to help him, having first sent her cadets to safety. And so Tilly and Vance share a flask of Risian whiskey, ironically a gift from Tarka to Vance, and muse about their lives. Tilly remarks that her life has been pretty good and that she accomplished a lot, even if she would have wished for more time. She also assures Vance that his daughter knows that he loves her.
Back on the other side of the Galactic Barrier, Species 10-C has clearly been watching the fireworks and sends a message to Discovery to inform them that they assumed that Discovery and Book’s ship and everybody aboard it was a single individual. However, now Species 10-C has realised that they are dealing with multiple individuals and ask how many of them there are and if they could they meet them all maybe. We suspect that Species 10-C is in for a huge surprise, once they realise how populated the galaxy next door is.
But for now, Species 10-C guides Discovery to a landing pad on its gas giant homeworld and also creates a neat bubble full of breathable atmosphere. The diplomatic delegates as well as Michael, Saru, the bridge crew and Dr. Pollard all step outside to meet Species 10-C. We finally get a good look at Species 10-C and they look like giant floating space jellyfish.
Species 10-C repeats its question how many beings they’re dealing with and then it’s time for inspirational speeches, because it would not be a Star Trek season finale without inspirational speeches. Rillak begins by explaining that all Federation citizens are individuals (so we presume the Borg never joined) but also connected. When Species 10-C asks about Book’s ship, Michael steps up to explain that Book and Tarka were once connected to Discovery and her crew, but broke away because of personal pain and loss. When Species 10-C asks why Michael is sad (presumably they can detect her sadness pheromones), Michael explains that she lost “her one”.
“Oh, about that…” says Species 10-C, “…we intercepted this weird signal just before Book’s ship blew up and thought it might be important, so we stored it.” And then Book plops back into existence.
Don’t get me wrong, I like David Ajala a lot and am happy that Book survived, but the whole thing does feel a bit like a cop-out. How in the universe did Species 10-C even know what a transporter signal was and how did they know to intercept and store it? And how did they manage to restore a healthy and whole Book rather than something terribly mangled?
Tor.com reviewer Keith R.A. DeCandido points out that even though no fewer than six regular characters offer to sacrifice their lives in this episode, only one of them actually dies and it’s Tarka, the guy no one liked anyway. Not that I want Book, Detmer, Tilly, Vance or even Ndoye to die, but it is a bit strange if characters repeatedly offer to go on suicide missions only to survive. Especially since this is not the first time Discovery has pulled a stunt like that – Tilly and the bridge crew also survived certain death in the season 3 finale. And both Philippa Georgiou and Hugh Culber actually came back from the dead. Now I like all of those characters and am happy they survived, but if characters routinely survive certain death, Discovery is wading into comic book territory where no one ever stays dead, not even Bucky and Gwen Stacy.
And for the record, we don’t know for sure that Tarka is really dead. After all, his transporter may have worked and transported him to the parallel universe of his dreams. In general, I feel that Tarka’s plot was insufficiently resolved. For what happened to Oros? Tarka mentioned at one point that he could find no trace of Oros either alive or dead, so what happened to him? Did he make it to the parallel universe or did the Emerald Chain kill him and hide the body where no one ever found it? Considering how important Oros was to Tarka’s subplot, it’s just strange that they never even explained what happened to him. Even a brief shot of Oros in a parallel universe – either with or without Tarka – or of an unmarked grave on some distant planet would have been sufficient.
Talking of plot threads that are just dropped and never mentioned again, the random Ferengi who was part of the Federation delegation is briefly glimpsed in this episode, but never utters a single line nor does he ever get a name, so what was the purpose of this character? Why stick an actor in Ferengi make-up, when you don’t give him anything to do?
Keith R.A. DeCandido also notes that Jet Reno just vanishes halfway through the episode (and she has fewer scenes in season 4 in general), though that may have to do with the ongoing covid pandemic. Tig Notaro is a breast cancer survivor and therefore has a heightened risk of a severe covid infection, so she may only have been able to shoot at limited times. The same explanation may apply to other actors and characters who seemingly vanish halfway through the series like Tilly or Bryce or even the random mystery Ferengi.
Once Book is restored to life, he takes over the inspirational speaker duties and explains to Species 10-C that the DMA destroyed his homeworld and his people. Species 10-C is genuinely sorry and explains that they had no idea that there were sentient lifeforms in the galaxy next door. However, they will be more careful and only deploy the DMA in uninhabited parts of space. Book tells them that this is not good enough, because the DMA leaves behind subspace rifts and wormholes which pollute space.
Species 10-C points out that without the DMA, they don’t have enough power to maintain the hyperfield, whereupon the Discovery crew points out that they don’t need the hyperfield, because no one is threatening them or going to harm them. So Species 10-C switches off the hyperfield and creates one last wormhole to send Discovery home, so they won’t have to pull a Voyager after all. Species 10-C knows that they are not alone in the universe, the Federation has made a new friend and everybody is happy.
The solution to the DMA season arc is very typical of Star Trek. The attack is only a misunderstanding and the conflict is resolved by talking rather than shooting. Basically, we have a very typical Star Trek situation here, namely “We’re sorry, but we had no idea that you’re sentient, since you are so very alien”, a plot which goes all the way back to the Original Series episode “The Devil in the Dark”, when the Horta turns out to be just a Mom protecting her kids, whom the miners are accidentally mining. However, Discovery puts a neat spin on this old plot by making the Federation the ones on the receiving end and the ones whose sentience is questioned.
The rest of the episode is devoted to tying off loose threads. The Discovery crew is reunited with Tilly and prepared for a long overdue holiday. Rillak offers Michael the captaincy of the new Starfleet flagship Voyager, but Michael declines. Saru and T’Rina decide to take their budding romance to the next level. Book, who has after all broken umpteen laws, is sentenced to the Federation equivalent of community service and is sent to help with the resettlement of DMA refugees, which compared to Michael’s ridiculously high sentence from season 1 proves that the Federation justice system is capable of evolving, even though it was still pretty shitty by Voyager‘s time.
Finally, Earth rejoins the Federation (and Andoria is in talks to rejoin as well), so the founding members of the Federation are all back on board now. This momentous occasional is celebrated by Rillak shaking hands with her earthly counterpart, the President of United Earth, who is played by none other than Stacey Abrams, politician from Georgia, romance author and avowed Star Trek fan. The usual suspects are complaining that Star Trek has gotten political, completely ignoring that Stacey Abrams is not the first or the highest ranking political guest star. After all, King Abdullah II of Jordan has a cameo appearance on Voyager more than twenty years ago. Coincidentally, does the fact that both representatives of United Earth – Ndoye and the President – that we’ve seen in Discovery so far are black women mean that United Earth is ruled by black women? Cause that would be very cool.
All in all, this was a very uneven season of Star Trek Discovery. The good thing is that Discovery finally seems to have found its feet, which is a far cry from season 1, where the show seemed to change direction every few episodes. And for the most part, season 4 of Discovery delivered solid Star Trek.
That said, the DMA was always more of a clumsy metaphor for various ills of our time – climate change, dependance on fossile fuels, the covid pandemic – than a compelling threat. The fact that the pacing of the whole season was really off didn’t help either. The DMA is supposedly the worst threat Starfleet has ever faced (even though a space anomaly would have been Tuesday in the days of Kirk or Picard), yet there is very little urgency in dealing with it. Instead, the plot meanders about at an almost glacial pace.
The pacing issues are also apparent in the season finale with the extended codas and wrap-ups that take up almost the entire back half of the episode. io9 reviewer James Whitbrook actually likes this and the various character moments are fun to watch, but they nonetheless take way too long. For example, couldn’t Earth have rejoined the Federation in an earlier episode?
Part of the weird pacing and other issues may be due to the covid pandemic impacting filming, so I’m willing to cut the show some slack. After all, no TV series, not even Star Trek, is worth endangering the lives of cast and crew for. Nonetheless, I hope that season 5 will be better.