Warning: This contains spoilers for Episode 4 of Star Trek: Discovery Season 2. Not caught up? See our spoiler-free review of Season 1’s opening episodes here.
Episode 4 is a cracking instalment of Discovery that gives us the best of all worlds – there’s a definite ‘story of the week’ vibe that evokes TOS and TNG, but its melded with the intrigue of the season’s ongoing story arc. There are, however, magic mushrooms – but even that aspect is well handled.
The primary story, established as the pre-credit cliffhanger, concerns a 100,000 year old sun-sized entity snatching Discovery from warp – it’s exactly the sort of knotty sci-fi one could imagine Kirk or Picard facing. And, as often happens in Trek, the strange alien lifeform turns out to be peaceful, if only the crew will listen. They do, of course, but only after they’ve been brought to the brink of disaster.
It starts entertainingly enough, with a malfunction of the ship’s Universal Translator that causes chaos until Saru – who speaks 94 languages, we’re told – is able to override the system. The brief Tower of Babel, in which Arabic, Russian, Spanish and English are mixed up with Klingon and several other alien races, is fantastic fun.
Matters grow graver, however, when Saru falls ill and reveals that this is the sickness that afflicts his species prior to being culled by their evil Ba’ul overlords. This is truly Saru’s episode, not least because the writers truly convince us that, actually, he is going to die. Both Doug Jones and Sonequa Martin-Green as Burnham act their socks off and there’ll likely be more than a few tears shed by Trekkers the universe over.
B-story, we’re back in magic mushroom territory as Tilly’s eukaryotic parasite escapes and attaches itself to her. Thankfully, Stamets is on hand, aided by the wonderful Reno (Tig Notaro), last seen in this season’s opener as the sole (conscious) survivor of the Hiawatha. The verbal sparring between the two experts – she brash and disrespectful, he buttoned up and proper – is brilliantly written. We look forward immensely to more of this in the future.
Reno’s laconic style even makes the magic mushroom trip sequence fun rather than cringe-worthy – there’s a definite counter-cultural air to her. As, it has to be said, is something that’s always been present in Trek, and here we’re treated to more Trump-supporter baiting, as Saru gives a touching speech about his own refugee story and his confession that he joined Starfleet “to help those in need as I was in need”. Give me your poor, your tired, your hungry, anyone…?
All plotlines are tied up by episode’s end, but in a far less forced manner than the previous, overcrowded episode. The entity, dying, bequeaths its vast knowledge and experience to the Federation (providing, no doubt, potential kickstarters for a million episodes) and Saru – hooray – doesn’t die. But what makes Discovery so enjoyable is that, unlike other iterations of Trek, everything doesn’t revert back to the status quo, sitcom-style – the characters and story develop from episode to episode. Most exciting of all is the change in Saru; now sans ganglia, he’s conquered the fear he thought was hard-wired, and so a trip in the near future to his homeworld seems on the cards – his people have been living a lie from which he must free them.
And, of course, there’s the small matter of Discovery’s Search For Spock. Pointy-ears is mentioned early on – a classified file contains his shuttle’s last known warp signature – but the entity puts intercepting him on hold. By episode’s end, of course, they’ve reacquired the signature (so maybe we’ll finally see Spock next episode?), but Burnham’s attitude to her foster brother has changed. She begins convinced she should stay away, but, after a death-bed promise to Saru, vows to rebuild her relationship with Spock. Finally, the cliffhanger leaves us with Tilly – vanished into the weird magic mushroom blob thing. The revelation that the spore-drive is damaging the creature’s pandimensional home means – surely, for the love of God – that this silly invention can be laid aside. But the blob has plans for Tilly… quite what remains to be seen.
Stay on course, Discovery – this season’s shaping up to be just as good as the last.
Star Trek: Discovery is available on Netflix UK, as part of £7.99 monthly subscription. New episodes of Season 2 arrive weekly on Fridays, within 24 hours of their US release.