UK TV review: Star Trek: Discovery: Season 4, Episode 5
Season arc intrigue8
Ian Winterton | On 18, 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.
While other Discovery episodes often suffer from too many plotlines fighting for limited screentime (something that marred even last week’s brilliant swan song for Tilly), this week’s adventure gives too much time to its rather thin central story.
When, pre-credits, the DMA blips out of existence and re-emerges, 4.2 seconds later, 1,000 lightyears away it’s suddenly threatening to gobble up the an asteroid belt, home to thousands of Akaali (a race last seen in the Trekverse a thousand years ago – in 2001’s Enterprise episode Civilisation). These Akaali have been living under the Emerald Chain boot and, although free, remain brutalised. They’re happy enough to be rescued by Starfleet, but consider the six convicts – known as “The Examples” – kept in a prison complex as not worth saving.
Michael (Sonequa Martin-Green) disagrees, of course, and sets off on a dangerous mission with PTSD-afflicted Book for company. It’s all relatively straightforward – and it helps that the majority of the prisoners are inside for minor crimes that, as with the Orion cadet last week being the father of a war hero rather than criminal, undercut the moral dilemma. And, when it comes to what passes for the episode’s crux point – Felix (Michael Greyeyes), who is a murderer, opting to stay behind to die – it’s all most unconvincing.
Letting a man choose to die is not only very un-Starfleet – life is sacrosanct, and a criminal should face a humane but just punishment, even if the Prime Directive is muddying the waters – but doesn’t seem to suit Michael either. If anything, I’d have believed Book – traumatised and near suicidal as he is – being the one to siding with Felix. Either way, it all makes for the least interesting story Discovery has served up to us in quite a time.
The more intriguing moments – and they are moments – take place outside the main story. We meet arrogant uber-brainiac Ruon Tarka, played by Shawn Doyle (sci-fi fans will know him as dastardly traitor Sadavir Errinwright). Although Tarka seems similarly complex – and untrustworthy – this episode boringly spends time having Stamets worrying (just as he did with Book) about why the mighty scientist might not like him, as though he’s a schoolboy in the playground. It’s not very Trek. And, weirdly, it doesn’t even seem to figure greatly in the episode: we could have just had Stamets being grumpy at the professional slight. You know, like a grown-up.
The “revelation” that the DMA seems to be controlled by a malevolent power is disappointing – what again? – but the writers at least sweetened the bitter narrative pill by slipping in mentions that possible perpetrators include “the Metrons, the Nacene, the surviving members of the Iconian empire [and] the Q Continuum” (all godlike beings encountered over Trek’s different series). For now, though, the race behind the DMA are given the code name “Unknown Species 10c”. Whatever they are, they have access to highly advanced technology; as Tarka remarks to Book towards the end, by his calculations, the power source for the DMA is “equivalent to a hyper=giant star”. We end with Book – revenge evidently in his mind – musing that: “Whoever they are, they’re not gods. And they’re sure as hell aren’t immortal.” Hinting he has plans for Book, Tarka says he knows anger. “It’s a wonderfully productive emotion.” And there, on his neck, a tattoo. Was he a former slave of some kind? (Incidentally, the tattoo on his forehead identifies him as being from Risa, and he jokes that he’s from “the pleasure planet”. Whether this will have any bearing on future events remains to be seen – but it all indicates a character who’s going to have a major part to play in the rest of the season.
Finally, almost as a throwaway scene, when the ship’s computer, Zora (voiced by Annabelle Wallis – aka Grace in Peaky Blinders), calmly reiterates Michael’s quandary for this season – “It can be painful to weigh duty against compassion” – we discover that it can recognise emotions. Is it developing them itself? And does this indicate that something, long hidden in the Datasphere, is re-emerging?
With an episode this lacklustre – and coming right after Tilly’s departure – it’s hard to care. Here’s hoping normal Discovery service is resumed next week.