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Star Trek: Discovery

‘Discovery’ ties it up neatly in the season finale

My one-sentence review of "Coming Home," Discovery‘s fourth-season finale, is as follows: It does all the right Trekkian things, but is predictably and sometimes painfully obvious about it. There’s very little that happens here that was not telegraphed or expected, and that simultaneously speaks to this season’s merits and shortcomings. On balance I consider this pretty average, mostly because it whiffs at being an emotional and visceral payoff (while trying way too hard at that), even as it succeeds in affirming the season’s overall values and mission statements. The substance is fine, even admirable; the execution is … sigh.

On the plus side, this season of Discovery is the most true-to-Trek of the four seasons of this series thus far, highlighting the importance of diplomatic restraint, communication efforts, teamwork, and individual contributions, while warning against the dangers of unchecked aggression and hubris. In the end, the values of Starfleet are affirmed and rewarded, which is exactly the way it should be if you’re going to tell a story that extols the traditional Federation.

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Discovery’s first contact with 10-C is an effective arrival

It took a while to get here, and it got a bit tiresome with the padded pace in recent weeks, but we’ve finally reached the destination — the home of unknown Species 10-C. And even though the destination alone can’t make all the stops in the journey along the way worthwhile, this on its own proves to be an effective (partial) payoff that serves as a standout example of well-envisioned Star Trek in its most cerebral science-fiction mode.

We’ve reached Species 10-C’s massive protective hyperfield. What awaits inside is anyone’s guess. The crew sends in some of the DOT drones up to the field. Liquid tentacles pull them in, then pull in the Discovery. We are truly entering the unknown. The crew sends hails. They even attempt to use the chemicals that align with the different types of dust and corresponding emotional states discovered in last week’s "Rosetta." No reply. Either the 10-Cs are ignoring the message or they aren’t receiving it. The crew has no way of knowing which.

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Once again, ‘Discovery’ finds all the feels

Discovery, over the last two seasons under showrunner Michelle Paradise, has turned into the Star Trek workplace drama that’s all about not only the respectful workplace, but the respectful workplace where we talk openly about our feelings. I’m all for the first thing, considerably less about the second thing, but that’s just me. It’s interesting to see how the show, which was once a breathless throw-everything-at-the-wall free-for-all sensation-generating action series (albeit sometimes more exciting than what it has become), has gradually developed a kind of overarching guiding philosophy that’s more in line with a Trekkian ethos.

Unfortunately, focusing on these components so unrelentingly makes them lose their impact. I rolled my eyes at the ship being unable to make it through the day without a pep talk in "Stormy Weather," because, yeah, it’s a goddamn starship, and at a certain point I’d like to see people (and computers) get through the day and punch the clock so I can watch some procedural spacefaring professionalism. But at this point, everyone being so emotional and sharing all the time has become this series’ mission statement and biggest cliche.

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Discovery can’t figure out how to fly over the ‘Galactic Barrier’

The barrier in "The Galactic Barrier" is an arbitrary technobabble device whose sole purpose is to impede our characters’ progress in getting from A to 10-C. If it were a compelling and interesting technobabble device, I could forgive that, but the fact that this episode feels so dramatically inert makes this a pretty tough sell.

This is a bridge episode between last week’s big development where the isolytic weapon was deployed and a future installment where we get our eventual first contact with 10-C. But when a bridge episode feels specifically like we’re being slowed down because there are too many episodes left in the season to unveil the Big Thing right now, it becomes filler.

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Discovery reaches the point of no return

On the whole, "Rubicon" is a well-executed series of cat-and-mouse games between Discovery and Booker/Tarka, with the suspense upped by the parameters of the personal stakes and the ticking clock. Book and Tarka are very close to being ready to deploy the isolytic weapon, and only Discovery now stands in their way.

Burnham has to figure out how to stop them, starting with a hopeful, last-ditch appeal to reason before moving on to potentially deadly force (but first a lot of warning shots). Meanwhile, Stamets attempts to predict the rate of the DMA’s consumption of raw materials in its current region of space, with the logic being the efficiency of the DMA will deplete all available resources before deciding to go somewhere else. If Stamets can provide that estimate, perhaps Burnham can use that information to convince Book to stand down while the first-contact plan is undertaken.

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‘Discovery’ goes all in with poker, kickboxing

"All In" describes the subject, but not the spirit, of this week’s episode of Discovery. This is fine as a routine stopgap sort of episode, but the lack of ambition is notable. Fortunately, the lack of ambition is somewhat offset by the fact that at least there’s a solid character core here, even if that character core feels mostly redundant when considering what happened at the end of the previous episode. This episode is not strictly necessary, but then what episode of television is? (I guess it’s probably a problem if I’m waxing philosophic on the existence of all television episodes.)

When you consider the previous episode ended with Booker deciding to go with Tarka to pursue their forbidden mission to destroy the DMA, do you really need "All In" to explicitly show how Booker and Burnham come to grips with that realization and further affirm to each other that they’re committed to their positions? On the one hand, Sonequa Martin-Green and David Ajala do a good job of making me believe the emotional stakes of this relationship. On the other hand, setting this aboard an alien port amid the major set pieces of an Epic Cage Fight and a High-Stakes Poker Tournament feels a bit tropey. It’s like a TOS throwback hour.

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‘But to Connect’ puts the discovery in ‘Discovery’

I struggled quite a bit with the idea of the ship unable to carry out key functions as a result of a crippling emotional crisis in "Stormy Weather." At the end of the day, it just seemed ridiculous, even wrong, that a computer that’s supposed to simply do what it’s instructed to do would fail in this particular way, on a show that’s always constantly mired in the emotions of its human characters. It was an annoying complication in a straightforward anomaly/mystery/jeopardy story that otherwise seemed to be on solid footing.

But with "But to Connect," I see everything now regarding Zora in a much larger and more impressive scope. This episode finally fully explores what I had hoped would be explored when the sphere data merged with the ship way back in the second season (and something it has been hinting around at ever since but without really committing the time to deal with): Zora as an artificial lifeform that has reached a level of sentience that can no longer be brushed aside by the plot. This episode started to win me over when it had Stamets arguing the same viewpoint I held — that having everyone’s lives depend on an emotional computer that could shut off the life support if it’s having a bad day is, well, a very bad and dangerous and untenable thing. (I was fully on #TeamStamets with his argument that they simply could not let this stand.) But what’s even more impressive is how the argument keeps going and introduces other points of view from the other characters, and how this episode persuaded me with these arguments while its characters were persuading Stamets. Good stuff.

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Computer almost defeated by anomaly, feelings

"Stormy Weather" is a mysterious, focused, and claustrophobic sci-fi yarn that works pretty well … up until it doesn’t. This is a story about the crew working a single problem on multiple fronts. Meanwhile, the darkness of the rift (reminiscent of Voyager‘s "The Void" and V’Ger’s cloud from ST:TMP) and the unknown of what’s coming at the ship and whether the ship can escape, give the episode a tense, atmospheric quality.

Unfortunately, the episode started to fall apart for me once it became clear the path to escaping the rift was going to be charted through the emotional journey of Zora, the ship’s conscious (and now emoting) computer. It’s been a running joke for a while now that Discovery is all about the characters’ feelings. But with "Stormy Weather" it’s now even about the ship’s feelings. The ship is in crisis because of the negative effects of the rift’s strange properties, but it’s at even greater risk because Zora is so emotionally compromised that it (she?) can barely carry out core functions. Folks, our starship is a basket case.

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‘All is Possible’ in the diplomatic community

"All Is Possible" is evidence that Discovery is trying. It’s trying to build out the universe, develop and empathize with its characters, and adhere to a storytelling philosophy that relies on dialogue rather than overblown action. It’s also, as I’ve said previously, trying to be the Trek show most in touch with its feelings. If you look back at the first season versus this one, that’s the most notable shift in priority. In order to be at peace with the universe, our characters must first be at peace with themselves.

That can make the show cloying and treacly at times, and this episode has its moments of that, but at least its heart is in the right place. "All Is Possible" focuses on three main storylines, with two of them being about a central character dilemma, and the third one being the most interesting and series-impacting with its focus on Federation politics.

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Discovery makes some better choices

"Choose to Live" is the best episode of Discovery in a very long time, since maybe "Die Trying." It works because it mostly keeps its stories grounded and straightforward, rather than excessive and overwrought, and puts forward sincere interest in them. Instead of shaking the camera for an hour while artificially employing emotional manipulation, it tells a reasonably good story and lets the emotional notes grow naturally from it. This is a major course correction that, while not a groundbreaking or stellar example of Trek, is a good example of it, and gives me hope that this season might be able to find its footing.

Stamets has a theory that the gravimetric anomaly, now dubbed the dark-matter anomaly or "DMA," might be a primordial wormhole, thereby explaining its ability to change directions spontaneously. I’m not going to pretend I think this makes any scientific sense, because I honestly don’t keep track of the sci-fi minutiae within Trek beyond its most core elements. But as long as they convince me the details are being considered by somebody in the moment and they try to explain them, I’m game. In this case, they make the case that Stamets is lacking the key evidence he needs for his wormhole theory in the presence of tachyons (which were a key clue to DS9‘s wormhole, so hey, there’s that). So he wants more scientific minds beyond the Federation’s to look into the possibility.

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