UK TV review: Star Trek: Discovery: Season 4, Episode 11
Ian Winterton | On 05, Mar 2022
Warning: This review contains spoilers.
Following two solid episodes, Star Trek: Discovery’s fourth season flounders a little again as it limps towards the season’s end. Once again the cold open is exciting, clearly laying out this week’s mission: Michael and the Away Team must travel to the former world of Unknown Species 10-C to learn as much as they can so that, when First Contact does come, it succeeds – and the aliens are hopefully persuaded not to let their Dark Matter Anomaly (DMA) destroy Earth, Titan and Ni’Var.
The main problem this week is the plotting, with clunky set-ups – Detmer (Emily Coutts), a character we barely know, is so tough and resilient! – leading to predictable pay-offs – wait, she had a bad childhood! The worst of these comes when Book (David Ajala) and Tarka (Shawn Doyle) – sneaking on board Discovery, also for badly plotted reasons we’ll come to shortly – tap into the ship’s systems in order to view conversations between other characters that turn out to be important. It’s dreadful.
And it’s Book and Tarka who have been the main problem since this season’s midpoint. The writers have simply failed to convince that Book – who loves Michael and is a decent guy – would go rogue in the way he has. The main drive is there – the destruction of his home world – but he needs to be unhinged and borderline insane to have embarked on this course of action. Similarly Tarka, now revealed to be a thoroughly pleasant chap too with a backstory of a lost love/intense friendship, doesn’t have that desperate edge – even though, as with last episode, the plot demands he take desperate measures.
All of which brings us to Book and Tarka’s pathetic storyline this episode: supposedly single-minded in their quest to destroy the DMA’s power source and having built and detonated an isolytic bomb, their big contribution is… to assume Michael will figure out how to access the hyperfield and so latch their ship onto Discovery so they can hitch a ride. What happened in that writers’ room? Did nobody – nobody? – point out that Tarka, established as the best scientist the galaxy’s ever seen, could maybe redeem himself by being the one to figure out how to get through Unknown Species 10-C’s defences?
It’s all so subpar, made worse by Book contacting Earth representative General Ndoye (the excellent Phumzile Sitole doing great things with the meagre fare she’s given), only for this to come to precisely nothing – apart from her tipping Book off so he can see Michael when she returns to the ship. This, again, makes zero sense characterisation-wise (dude, you’ve seen Michael at regular intervals ever since you went rogue – and even hung out in a casino together).
It’s not all bad, of course – this is still Discovery, after all – with the Away Team’s exploration of the dead core of a former gas giant resulting in some intriguing details: the huge fossilised bones suggesting Unknown Species 10-C evolved to float in the gas of their homeworld is fantastic world-building. The Arrival-style xenolinguistics is fun, too, and having a language based on emotions is very Trek (Kirk’s heart always triumphs over Spock’s logic). However, we could maybe have done without Michael’s observation: “It feels… like love.”
Overall, though, this is yet another disappointing episode from Discovery, with all the story faults baked in throughout the season coming to the fore. What has happened to the once mighty Discovery? Is the Covid-19 pandemic the explanation? Not only is the storylining far below the show’s usual high standard but there are scenes this episode where the actors seem to be performing in a vacuum; Sonequa Martin-Green, in particular, has some scenes in which Michael’s emoting seems at odds with other cast members’ performances, with them presumably having been recorded separately and spliced together in the edit.
Whatever the reason, there’s not much to look forward to as the season drags its carcass across the finish line. Except… Finally, Tig Notaro’s Jett Reno gets a scene and – in a genius move – the episode ends with her having been taken hostage by Tarka. The season’s penultimate episode, if nothing else, should at least contain a smattering of Notaro’s exquisitely delivered sardonic quips. Will it be enough to save the season? Can the team that gave us Seasons 1 to 3 of Discovery – among the best Star Trek ever – make a triumphant return? Perhaps. But don’t hold your breath.