UK TV review: Star Trek: Discovery: Season 4, Episode 2
Ian Winterton | On 05, Dec 2021
Season 4 is premiering weekly on Pluto TV on Fridays at 9pm, and repeated on Saturday and Sunday at the same time. Read our guide to how to watch here and follow our weekly reviews here. Warning: This review contains spoilers.
Following the destruction of his homeworld in last week’s season opener, Book (Cleveland Booker) – thought to be the only surviving Kwejian – is understandably a bit snappy with Michael, so she’s extra pleased to have her old friend Saru (Doug Jones) back. As a character, it’s easy to see why he’s a fan favourite, exhibiting as he does qualities of other cool and reflective characters such as Spock and Data. Seeing him resplendent in his new 32nd-century red uniform, we’re all with Tilly (Mary Wiseman) when she remarks that he perhaps seems even taller because he has “a little more swagger going on”.
In among such great interplay between the characters, the serious plot of the episode gets underway as Federation/Starfleet – and other worlds (such as a Ni’Var – Vulcan in old money) endeavours to discover more about the anomaly that annihilated Kwejan. Five lightyears across, their best guess is it’s a “roving binary black hole” – and that they can’t tell where it might hit next. “It would also be prudent to prepare ourselves for civil unrest,” counsels T’Rina, Ni’Vari president (Tara Rosling), in what is perhaps an intentional parallel with our own pandemic-hit reality – one made even more pertinent as, in the week of the episode’s broadcast, the new threat posed by the Covid-19 “omicron” variant became apparent.
Out of this discussion comes The Discovery’s quest for this episode: to get close to the anomaly and gather data. With gravitational waves and debris, Discovery can’t get close enough – but Book’s smaller, shape-shifting craft can. Obviously, grieving for an entire planet and its people, he’s in no state for a mission – and Michael is faced with her first test of head over heart. As Book’s lover, she wants him to be safe, but as Starfleet captain, the risk to Book – also the best pilot for job – outweighs the potential benefits. Besides, Booker – angry and out to atone for his survivor guilt – isn’t going to take no for an answer.
He’s accompanied by Stamets (Anthony Rapp), albeit – like Rimmer in Red Dwarf – in hologram form, so he’s never in physical danger (although the fact that he can touch and feel as though he was real is something Arnold Rimmer would have killed for). Stamet is able to direct Book as to where he should be harvesting data from, and to analyse the data as it comes in.
On the characterisation side, we see Stamets – rather implausibly, considering the dire situation – worrying that Book doesn’t seem to like him very much. It plays out predictably, with grumpy Book – “Just pretend like your life depends on it. You know? Like mine does.” – won over by Stamets’ brilliance, and they both bond in a final joint act to blast the ship, by then crippled, back to safety.
This flight to freedom comes as the result of the Discovery crew brainstorming, bringing forth some splendid technobabble in a single Trek scene. “Basic application of fluid dynamics,” declares Bryce (Ronnie Rowe). “I used to kite-surf the biggest breaks on Manark IV. It’s the same basic idea. If Book accelerated into the distortion here, the buoyancy will take care of the rest.” Seems like a plan – so long as Tilly can turn the “holo rendering into programmable matter”. Which, of course, she can.
In the grandest tradition of Star Trek, it’s all very silly – especially the crew suspended mid-air as gravitational waves surge through the ship – but still lands an emotional punch. Although, like Book and Stamets, the writers sail especially close the wind on this one – but we’ll forgive them for giving Saru the wonderful line “Well done, Commander Bryce – may we all cultivate such life-saving hobbies.”
Away from the main story, we focus in on Adira (Blu del Barrio) and their partner Gray (Ian Alexander) – currently living inside their mind as Trill are wont to do but, as we see, a physical body is almost ready. It is, Dr Culber (Wilson Cruz) tells us, based on the “Soong Method, named after the 24th century cyberneticist who developed it”. This is, as fans will know, a reference to the ongoing series Picard – and the great man is name-checked here, his own synthetic body shortly to be seen when the show returns for its second season in February 2022.
As well as Adira’s worries over what life will be like when Gray has their own body, we get to see the first indications that Tilly – already freaked out to be alive almost a thousand years after her birth – is suffering from mild PTSD following last week’s near-death experience on the space station. She checks in with Culber and books an appointment, which, presumably, we’ll get to see next week.
Overall, then, as an episode it’s rather by-the-numbers plot-wise, and the revelation that the anomaly has changed direction (almost as though someone or something is controlling it) is all too predictable. The characterisation remains as strong as ever, though – and, together with the superior opening episode, indications are good that Season 4 of Discovery will be as good as those that have gone before.