UK TV review: Star Trek: Discovery: Season 4, Episode 4
Tilly and Adira being awesome9
Michael and Tilly reminisce9
Ian Winterton | On 11, Dec 2021
Warning: This review contains spoilers.
“One might say that today’s exercise is about the very future of Starfleet,” intones a fabulously dour Kovich (David Cronenberg).
And he’d be right, as this first-rate episode examines what Starfleet – and, by extension, the United Federation of Planets – stand for, both in its main plot (Tilly – Mary Wiseman – leading greenhorn cadets on a training exercise), and its fully complementary B-story (Michael – Sonequa Martin-Green – and Saru – Doug Jones – working covertly to enable Ni’Var’s return to the Federation).
Tilly, in order to get out of her comfort zone, sends herself off to Starfleet Academy to take a group of inexperienced cadets off on a training mission, accompanied by Adira (Blu del Barrio). Of course, before the opening credits roll, disaster strikes and it’s “Brace for impact!” as Tilly, Adira and their charges plummet in the burning shuttle towards their certain doom.
They don’t explode on impact – although one of the cadets is killed, which causes panic to ripple through the others. They are children of The Burn, products of civilisations that had all turned inward post-catastrophe, and they aren’t used to working alongside species other than their own. It’s a great piece of world-building and an example of what Trek does best: rather than just brushing huge events under the carpet and re-setting, the show – in all its iterations – leans into these seismic changes and incorporates them into the lore. The finest example comes when, towards the end of the episode, through Kovich we get to see exactly what a shock to the system having Tilly and her fellow crew members turn up from the 23rd century is:
“You know, when Discovery first arrived, no one here trusted you. It wasn’t just that you were in a 930-year-old starship and had never heard of the Burn, it was the way you carried yourselves, like you grew up in a world that believes anything is possible. Quite frankly, it stung.”
It’s what makes the decision to fling Discovery into the 32nd Century more than just a gimmick – these people, from a more idealistic time, are as inspiring for the fictional 32nd-century Starfleet and Federation as they are to the people watching at home in 2021.
This theme applies to Michael and Saru’s story as well. Continuing Michael’s reluctant dalliance with – and ironic aptitude for – the dark political arts, we see her take on an unofficial mission from President Rillak (Chelah Horsdal) as talks break down with Ni’Var. At the same time, Saru gets some intriguing scenes with T’Rina, Ni’Var’s president. Are they… flirting over medication techniques? Shippers everywhere will, no doubt, be coming up with a suitable compound name: T’Aru? Sa’Rina?
The nuts and bolts of the various plotlines are straight forward, but well structured. Michael and Saru avert a diplomatic crisis with ease, with Michael – as a citizen of the Federation, Starfleet and Vulcan-as-was, she offers to sit on a council so all member-worlds of the Federation – not just Ni’Var – can air their grievances independently.
Tilly and her cadets, meanwhile, find themselves on the wrong moon – an L-class (“breathable but environmentally hostile”) instead of an M-class – and discover there’s no “I” in “team” while evading the clutches of huge snow-burying crab-like monsters. This comes after a great moment of social commentary that sees one cadet assume they’re in a simulation. “No,” insists Tilly, taking command, “This is real. This is happening.”
As with Michael and Saru’s story, it works a little too neatly – maybe it would have been more interesting if Orion Harral (Seamus Patterson) had turned out not to the son of a resistance hero, but an Emerald Chain war criminal – but, with only 45 minutes to wrap everything up, we’ll forgive them.
Besides, Tilly doing such a bang-up job in uniting the cadets turns out to have massive implications. We said last week that we’d be expecting a Tilly-centric episode soon – but we had no idea it would be her exit story. Having plotted it out carefully over preceding weeks, it’s a sorrow-filled but thoroughly earned turn of events. The final conversation between Michael and Tilly, in which they reminisce about first becoming cabin mates, is particularly touching. Again, the show leans into the big stuff – and makes it personal. Tilly confesses she was making her way doggedly through Starfleet’s ranks to impress her mother but:
“Getting my lieutenant pips was the worst day of my life… All of a sudden I realized, like, my mom is 900 years in the past. She’s never gonna see me wear them. And I started wondering if this is what I really wanted, or if I just really wanted to be seen. You know. And that was humbling.”
And so she opts to take this new perspective into her new role: as a teacher at the Academy. Discovery without Tilly will seem strange – not for nothing is she a fan favourite – but there is a sense that Adira, who serves alongside her in this mission, has been designed to fill the gap. Now separated from Grey (which was, to be frank, getting wearisome) they’ve got a new lease of narrative life. Much like Tilly was in Season 1, Adira is brilliant but cripplingly shy and over-cautious. “I cant have soup without scanning it!” she exclaims, before admitting to Grey: “I can’t do new without you.”
Watching them try – and no doubt succeed – is something to look forward to over the next season or three. And, although it seems Adira is taking over from Tilly in the week-to-week eps, there’s every chance we’ll see Tilly again. Maybe even sooner than expected if it transpires the season’s unfolding story sees the Academy feature once again. Could the dreaded DMA (only mentioned in passing this week) threaten the Academy? After all, establishing that it’s no longer on Earth could be a cunning way of being able to destroy it without too much in-world fuss…