UK TV review: Star Trek: Discovery: Season 4, Episode 12
Reno talks Book round8
Ian Winterton | On 17, Mar 2022
Warning: This review contains spoilers.
After a string of disappointing episodes, Season 4’s penultimate episode is at least solid and exciting. Flaws remain, sadly baked into the plotting from previous weeks, but the mix of jeopardy and cerebral sci-fi recalls Star Trek at its best.
The pre-credits sequence is strong, with Michael and the other experts considering Species 10-C’s Hyperfield. The structure is huge – 1.5 Astronomical Units wide (“From Earth’s sun out to Mars,” Michael helpful tells us) – and suggests that “they’ve achieved Level 2 on the Kardashev scale, maybe beyond” (this is a real scale for hypothetical alien civilisations, proposed by Soviet astronomer Nikolai Kardashev in 1964; modern day humanity isn’t yet at Level 1). Saru points out that they perhaps don’t see humans as sentient, to which President Rillak (the ever marvellous Chelah Horsdal) drily responds: “We have a spaceship. We warped here.”
Building on what they learnt of Species 10-C’s language last episode, Discovery dispatches its droids to spray the equivalent of “we come in peace” on the exterior of the Hyperfield in the pheromones Species 10-C use to communicate. The droids are sucked into the Hyperfield – and Discovery seconds later. As Lieutenant Nilsson (Sara Mitich) remarks, the starship’s trapped inside “like a bug in a jar”.
The A-story of the episode then becomes an entertaining – even thought-provoking – quest to work out how to communicate to the aliens that their DMA – in harvesting boronite – has destroyed several inhabited planets and is set to do the same to Earth, Titan and Ni’Var. Yes it’s very reminiscent of the movie Arrival – Species 10-C even emerge in similar fashion from murky fog – but it’s nevertheless gripping.
Unfortunately we still have to deal with Book’s unconvincing team-up with Tarka, though the writers do at least finally get to put that to bed as Commander Jett Reno (Tig Notaro), a hostage, works to make him see sense. If we can park the implausibility of Book having taken this path, then we can enjoy a casually brilliant performance from Notaro, coupled with some of the best dialogue this season has seen.
“You and Tarka have made some dubious choices,” Reno says, “because you’re both in pain, and you can’t see it.” She then goes on to tell a chillingly effective tale of how, when on the Hiawatha, she kept a fatally injured crew member alive through constant skin grafts – and only realised after he’d died that she’d done so because his eyes reminded her of her dead wife.
This persuades Book, albeit too late. Tarka’s gone fully psycho now and intends to detonate the DMA’s power source even though – as Reno realises, having sneaked a peek at his calculations – it will cause the hyperfield to implode. This will destroy everything and everyone inside of it and – it sure is lucky Tarka kidnapped a scientist – create “a toxic waste dump heading straight for Earth”.
This builds to a cracking cliffhanger. Michael and the team make a major breakthrough, succeeding in conveying to Species 10-C that its DMA has caused much death, and get a confirmation – “great sadness” – that the aliens have empathy. But, with some deft plotting, the rug is pulled in the episode’s final minute, leaving Michael – appraised of the dire situation by Reno – faced with the fact that she probably needs to destroy Book’s ship – and kill him along with Reno and Tarka – in order, calling back to a conversation in the season’s opening episode, to save billions.
This has been a lacklustre season – especially since the midpoint – but if the show can keep up this level of tension, then it will at least go out on a high.