The latest episode of Star Trek: Discovery, “Stormy Weather, ” is available for streaming now, and it’s yet another example of some recognizable Trek concepts mashed together and refurbished to advance a season-long arc. As with other entries recently, the character moments more than compensate for any shortcomings in story originality. After 800-plus hours of Star Trek, originality may not be possible, as any story is bound to resemble some past Trek episode or movie.
Directed by Jonathan Frakes (“Star Trek: First Contact”), and written by Anne Coffell Saunders & Brandon Schultz, the episode is a “bottle show”; an episode which usually takes place within a series’ existing sets; in this case, Discovery’s interiors and Book’s ship. Presumably this was done to save money, as it was in past Star Treks; understandable, given this show’s consistent feature film quality. The series’ confidence over the last two seasons (under showrunner Michelle Paradise) has grown to such a degree that the interactions of the crew easily fill an hour of shipboard action.
Anyway, let’s batten the hatches for some…
Inspired by her encounter with the survivors of last week’s rescue mission (“The Examples”), Captain Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin Green) has decided to create her own holographic ‘family tree,’ which includes portraits of her biological and adoptive families, including Sarek, Amanda and her brother Spock. It’s her way of remaining connected, even after someone is gone. Speaking of losses, Burnham’s partner Book (David Ajala) is in her quarters, along with his beloved cat, Grudge. Book is still anguished over the loss of his home planet Kwejian, and is tormented by the Dark Matter Anomaly they are currently investigating–the same anomaly which destroyed his world and is now believed to have an intelligence controlling it. Book wants Burnham to fly into uncharted space and seek out the makers of the DMA, in the hopes of peaceably negotiating with them, but Burnham shoots down the idea, saying they need to investigate a nearby rift created by the anomaly–checking out the “crime scene” while the evidence is still “fresh.”
Note: I realize Book is still grieving and not in a sound frame of mind, but where would he suggest they even begin to go looking for the makers of the anomaly? What course would they follow? Burnham made the right call.
As Burnham leaves her quarters for the bridge, she is met by First Officer Saru (Doug Jones). The Kelpien tells her that recent observations (from starships Enterprise and Voyager) of the rift noted heated plasma at its perimeter, as well as ionized particle eddies–a bumpy ride. Because of these hazards, warp drive and spore jumping cannot be used within the rift. On the positive side, Saru reports crew morale is good. Burnham is doing her best to become comfortable with Discovery’s newly sentient computer, the self-named Zora (Annabelle Wallis), who is becoming more and more emotional as time goes on…
Note: Several references made to prior Star Treks, both intentional and (perhaps) unintentional. Saru casually mentions the starships USS Enterprise and USS Voyager, both currently in service. The new USS Voyager is the latest in the series and has been previously seen on Star Trek: Discovery, but I have no idea which Enterprise is currently in use. The last futuristic Enterprise we saw was the USS Enterprise-J, briefly glimpsed when Jonathan Archer was pulled from the 22nd century into the far future (ENT’s “Azati Prime”), so perhaps it’s the J? Who knows. That would be an interesting reveal in a future episode. Finally, the computer’s self-given name, Zora; Zora was also the name of the savage biochemist who experimented with the body chemistries of subject tribes on the planet Tiburon (TOS’ “The Savage Curtain”). Zora was widely regarded as one of the most evil people in Federation history (at least in the 23rd century). I’m sure the computer picking such a malevolent name was sheer coincidence….or was it?
On the bridge, Burnham orders all personnel to duty stations, which cuts short the workouts of Commanders Detmer (Emily Coutts) and Owosekun (Oyin Oladejo). The call also cuts short a date night between Adira (Blu del Barrio) and their newly android-bodied lover Gray (Ian Alexander). The understanding Gray urges Adira to get to their station, assuring them he will be just fine. As the lounge empties, Gray paces around, all by himself…even the Ferengi bartender is gone.
Note: The Ferengi bartender, as well as the overall look of the Discovery’s lounge are nice homages to “Deep Space Nine”, one of the consistently Star Trek series ever produced, in my humble opinion. Cheers!
On the bridge, Burnham briefs the crew. They are looking for any clues about the nature of the DMA within this fissure, and they will be heading in slowly, on impulse power only. As Detmer pilots the ship into the fissure, they encounter predicted turbulence when Discovery hits the plasma barrier surrounding it. Then, suddenly, the buffeting stops–abruptly. The viewscreen is completely dark. No energy readings, no stars. There is none of the usual natural radio ‘noise’ found in space, either. It’s a total void. Eager to be of help, Book offers to take his ship out to do reconnaissance, but Burnham once again shoots down his suggestion. Instead, she instructs Commander Nilsson (Sarah Mitich) to launch a DOT probe instead. The small, vaguely anthropomorphic robot flies out into the void. The DOT’s camera gives a view of further nothingness until it gets chewed up and “eaten” by the void… over the comms, there is the eerie sound of the DOT ‘screaming’ as it ‘dies.’
Note: The DOTs were seen extensively in the Short Trek “Ephraim and Dot” as well as the Discovery third season finale “That Hope Is You, Part 2”. The DOTs are this show’s answer to Star Wars’ all-purpose astro-mech droids (the R2 units), though they more closely resemble the sleeker Eva robot seen in Pixar’s “WALL-E” (2008).
Wondering what exactly happened to the DOT probe, Michael orders flares into the void to “light it up.” Within ten seconds or so, the flare burns out. Michael then orders extended shields, which will require extra power. Michael calls engineering…
Note: I wonder if anyone on Discovery’s crew looked in their ship’s 32 century updated databases for any similar phenomena encountered by other Starfleet vessels over the last thousand years–they might’ve found the “zone of darkness” surrounding the space amoeba in TOS’ “The Immunity Syndrome,” or the similarly starless, equally difficult to navigate starless void created by the entity called “Negillum” in TNG’s “Where Silence Has Lease.” Not that those situations were similar to the circumstances facing Discovery’s crew, but at least there was some precedent for navigating within a starless void.
Down in engineering, Commander Stamets (Anthony Rapp) takes the call. When asked if he can extend shields any further, he sarcastically quips that he might have some reserve power tucked under his chair–before remembering he doesn’t have a chair. With Stamets desperately trying to redirect power from wherever he can, Book walks into engineering and volunteers to help (keeping busy is good therapy). Stamets presses the only other spore drive operator on the ship into immediate service, and actually remembers to thank him this time. The extended shields quickly collapse. The destructive plasma perimeter of this void is rapidly closing in on the ship. Burnham makes the call to “Abort,” but helmsman Detmer is unable to plot a course without reference points, and even the computer Zora is unable to triangulate their position.
Note: Stamets is getting some of the best lines this year, and Anthony Rapp is quickly becoming this show’s answer to DeForest Kelley with his wry, often prickly sarcasm. Love him!
Back in Discovery’s deserted lounge, a lonely Gray begins a conversation with ship’s computer Zora. Gray and the computer get to know each other–Gray being a biologically born consciousness reawakened within a mechanical body, while Zora is a computer with an emergent artificial consciousness. Both are, in essence, living machines. We also learn that both picked their own names (I always wondered why a Trill had such a human-sounding name like Gray). Gray wants to feel useful by helping Zora, and he recreates a Trill game for them to play as they get to know each other. Later on, in the bar, as they each learn the limits of their own sensory perceptions, Zora admits to being overwhelmed by the bombardment of information flooding into her consciousness from all parts of the ship–including something detected on the outer hull, followed by a decrease of pressure…
Note: Two things once depicted as ‘evil’ in TOS Star Trek–a conscious android and a sentient supercomputer, calmly having a conversation together in a bar… how times have changed, haven’t they? I appreciate how Star Trek: Discovery can have these two entities simply getting to know each other with no trace of malevolence or conspiratorial overtones.
Back in engineering, they receive Burnham’s order to abort the mission and jump back to Starfleet Command. With Stamets’ hands full with the ship’s defensive systems, Book volunteers to operate the spore drive. The once-jealous Stamets now calmly grants Book entry into his spore drive chamber. Stamets realizes that the mycelial network in this region is out of whack. Book places his fingers into the drive and is immediately electrocuted by highly energized particles. Collapsing to the floor, the not-quite unconscious Book sees a vision of his father (Rothaford Gray)–on what would’ve been his birthday, of course–in the spore chamber with him. Book’s father is angry with his son, telling him that he should be hunting down the anomaly on his own, not meekly taking orders from the humans on Discovery. Book clearly has some father issues to work out.
Later, in sickbay, Book tells Dr. Culber (Wilson Cruz) about seeing his father in the spore chamber. Culber tells him it was a hallucination, but assures him that he’s still in his right mind. Dr. Pollard (Raven Dauda), who hasn’t been seen very much of late, chimes in, seconding Dr. Culber’s prognosis. Stamets tells Book that the mycelium network reacts differently within the void; almost like touching a live wire… if they still used wires, of course.
Note: Once again, I applaud that the show doesn’t mock hallucinations by labeling them as “crazy,” as they might’ve done in Dr. McCoy’s time. The hallucinations seen by Adira (of Gray, before he got his new body) and later by Book (of his nephew and father) are not dismissed as psychosis or any other mental aberration–they are accepted as something very real to the person experiencing them. A significant leap in mental healthcare depiction within the franchise.
Realizing that Zora’s report of pressure on the outer hull is a warning, Gray immediately reports that fact to the bridge (by insta-beaming there in person). Other officers on the bridge report a decrease in pressure in one of the ship’s decks. Dr. Pollard, making a house call to crewman Linus’ quarters, agrees to evacuate the affected section. The hull then breaches, blowing Ensign Cortez (Ivan Lopez) out into the void–instantly killing him–before an emergency forcefield is erected to maintain hull integrity. Dr. Pollard reports the loss to Capt. Burnham. Zora feels… guilty. Gray tells Burnham that Zora the computer is overwhelmed by the mass of sensory inputs bombarding her from all over the ship. When Michael asks Zora herself for an explanation, she is greeted by a large, circular, holographic avatar–this is how Zora chooses to ‘appear.’ Michael tells the troubled computer how it (she?) can achieve greater awareness by focusing, but the self-doubting computer isn’t feeling it. Michael and her officers concoct a plan to fire a highly energized, focused signal through the void, but it will only work with Zora’s help.
Note: In case it wasn’t clear enough by now? The key word of this episode is focus!
Back in sickbay, Book experiences another hallucination of his father–Culber warned him there might be a few more before the effects subside–and once again, dear old dad yells at his son Tareckz (Book’s Kwejian-birth name) about focusing on the “hunt” for the anomaly responsible for Kwejian’s destruction, and chides him about wearing the “Ikhu Zhen” amulet. As Book yells at his hallucinatory father, he is observed by the crew in sickbay, who allow him to have the conversation without trying to calm or sedate him, knowing how ‘real’ it is for Book…
Note: This is the third time in this episode where we learn a character chose their own name; first there was Gray, then Zora, and now we learn that Book’s real name is “Tareckz”–a birth name that he despises. One of the most important aspects of modern Star Trek is that of found identity, and of being one’s truest self.
As the bridge crew brainstorms for ideas, Owosekun asks Saru if she can reinforce the weakening hull integrity in engineering. Saru denies her request. When she becomes insistent, he calmly but firmly re-denies her request. He chooses to send disposable DOTs to perform the structural reinforcement work instead. Realizing his shortness with Owosekun might lead to a morale issue, the wisened Kelpien has a pep talk with the entire bridge crew. Let’s do what we can from here, he tells them. Owosekun later apologizes to Saru for her defiance, and all’s good between them. Meanwhile, Zora is afraid…and Burnham has to do a bit of hand-holding with the computer. Emboldened by the captain, Zora agrees to navigate towards an exit point created by their signal. Meanwhile, Burnham and her bridge officers propose using sonar-type signals to ‘ping’ against the perimeter–to find its weakest point, and shoot themselves through it.
In sickbay, Stamets tells Book that an examination of the energy particles that flowed through his body in the spore chamber revealed something about the DMA’s origin–the particles that passed through Book are only found at the “galactic barrier”; the (fictional) zone of energy that surrounds the Milky Way galaxy. This means that the DMA came from outside the galaxy, tracking in particles from the barrier as it entered our own.
Note: Stamets makes mention of the ‘galactic barrier’ which surrounds our galaxy, as seen in TOS’ “Where No Man Has Gone Before” (Star Trek’s 2nd pilot) and “By Any Other Name.” Using sonar-pings for navigating within a starless void was also attempted, albeit fruitlessly, by the crew of the Enterprise-D in the aforementioned TNG episode, “Where Silence Has Lease.”
Detmer reports to Burnham that the ship will lose all shielding before it reaches the plasma barrier at the edge of the void, and that plasma will heat the ship to dangerous levels. For their safety, it’s decided to put the entire crew into transporter buffers while Michael alone remains in a spacesuit to pilot the ship through the plasma. Leaving in groups, the entire ship’s complement is quickly converted to energy patterns and evacuated into the ship’s transporter buffers.
Book returns to his ship to fetch Grudge and beam out with Discovery’s crew, until he faces his ‘dad’ one last time. Dear deceased dad acknowledges that his son resented him for hunting precious Kwejian wildlife, but he also warns his son that his current lover, Michael, will always put duty to Starfleet ahead of him. Despite his father’s goading, Book refuses to take the bait–he grabs Grudge’s carrying case and leaves…
Note: Yes, yet another idea from past Star Trek is revisited; this time from the classic TNG episode “Relics,” where the TOS-era engineer Captain Montgomery Scott (the late James Doohan) is found aboard a crashed spaceship, where he stayed alive by beaming himself into the ship’s transport buffer, where he remained, suspended in time, until beamed out by Commander Geordi LaForge (LeVar Burton) some 75 years later. Scotty was only one of two survivors from that crash to successfully re-materialize. The other survivor, Matt Franklin, was unable to be retrieved due to a badly degraded pattern. Fortunately the crew of the Discovery didn’t have to wait nearly as long to be revived from their own suspended animation, automatically increasing their odds of survival.
Meanwhile, as the ship slowly approaches the plasma barrier, a spacesuited Michael Burnham is walking to the bridge, until she is momentarily stopped by Book. Book puts down Grudge’s carrying case, and the two of them kiss goodbye–openly declaring their love for each other. He then beams out, and Michael arrives on the bridge. Turning off all life-support, Michael is alone–with only the nervous computer Zora for company…
Note: Nice to hear a starship captain openly and honestly declaring their love for someone for a change… someone who’s not a starship, that is.
With the entire crew stored in the ship’s transport buffers, Discovery enters the plasma barrier. Michael and Zora act as support systems for each other… a scared human captain acting as strength for a scared sentient computer. As the plasma outside causes the unshielded starship to shed bits of her outer hull, Zora reports that she can feel “parts of (herself) dying.” Through gritted teeth, Michael orders the computer to “Free the crew when it’s safe!”
Note: I have to admit, the idea of the ship now having a sentient, emotional computer presents a host of problems for me; is Zora’s consciousness forever ensnared within her starship body, or can she also, like Gray, inhabit an externalized body of her own someday? The idea of Zora involuntarily doing the Discovery crew’s bidding until the ship’s demise is a terrifying prospect for any living being; it’s essentially slavery, as outlined in TNG’s “Measure of a Man,” which successfully argued that sentient android Starfleet officer Data (Brent Spiner) had the legal right to self-determination. Given this precedent, what does the future hold for sentient ship’s computer Zora?
With Discovery further and further damaged by the plasma energy buffeting on the outer hull, Zora announces they still have four minutes to go until they’re free of the barrier. As each tries to keep the other calm, Zora offers to sing a song. Michael thanks her, and Zora begins singing “Stormy Weather.” The dulcet tones of the computer relax Michael into oblivion, as she passes out…
…and reawakens in sickbay to the faces of Dr. Culber and Saru, who tell her that they all made it out of the pattern buffer. Culber tells Michael she lost consciousness, but she’ll be okay. The flickering lights in sickbay speak to the damage the vessel took in the plasma barrier, but Discovery successfully managed to jump to Spacedock at Starfleet Headquarters, where repairs are underway.
Note: I would’ve laughed out of my chair if Zora chose to sing “Daisy” to Michael instead…
At Starfleet Headquarters, Saru and Book gaze out a window as the docked Discovery’s hull is quickly repaired by robotic service drones and programmable matter–that wonder of the 32nd century that can be whatever one needs it to be. Book quietly admits to Saru that he has to suppress his own desire to “hunt” the anomaly down, and avenge his home planet’s loss. Saru can definitely relate, as he tells Book of how the Ba’ul species of his own planet used to cull his fellow Kelpiens, including his own parents–and now he sits across from the Ba’ul in his planet’s council chambers. Despite the great passage of time, Saru still feels rage. Yes, the anger is still justified…but no longer the focus.
Note: Just in case you’d forgotten? The key word of today’s episode is focus (hehe…).
In her quarters, a fully recovered Michael is gazing into the faces of her holographic family tree. She and Zora talk about connectedness as the computer then tells Michael she wishes to present her own holographic family tree. Gracefully emerging before Michael is a new tree with the individual faces of the Discovery crew on each of its many branches, including the now reassigned Lt. Tilly (Mary Wiseman). Michael smiles approvingly; “So glad you’re with us, Zora.”
Summing It Up.
“Stormy Weather” reuses the ‘inescapable space void’ idea first seen in TOS’ “Immunity Syndrome” and later in TNG’s “Where Silence Has Lease” (right down to the audible sonar pings) and even mentions the ‘galactic barrier,’ which was previously seen in TOS’ “Where No Man Has Gone Before” & “By Any Other Name.” Putting the entire crew into pattern buffers was also used in TNG’s Scotty episode, “Relics” as well. Arguably, “Stormy Weather” borrows a bit heavily, but at least those borrowed elements are used nicely. Jonathan Frakes’ typically warm, energetic direction gives this technobabble-heavy story that extra surge of electricity it needed.
Note: Stamets seems very familiar with the idea of the galactic barrier, which is odd, considering the galactic barrier wouldn’t be ‘discovered’ for a few years yet from the perspective of Discovery’s crew, who left the 23rd century a few years prior to the missions of Kirk’s Enterprise. I assume that the entire crew of Discovery were brought up to speed on some of the major discoveries in space made after their emergency leap into the future, including the discovery of the galactic barrier in 2265.
Like Michael at the beginning of the story, I’m not sure how I feel about the ship’s computer, self-named Zora, possessing consciousness. Isn’t it wrong to automatically enslave an emergent consciousness into servitude? The idea of Zora’s legal status (and potential rights) is one left on the sidelines in favor of the greater DMA arc, but I wonder if there’s a “Measure of a Man”-style story down the road. We know from the Short Trek “Calypso” that Zora eventually remains with the later abandoned starship, but now I wonder if the crew deliberately deserted Zora because she was dangerous, or because they were setting her free? Personally, I don’t think I’d feel very good abut forcing a sentient Mac into my permanent service. Call me computerist, but I prefer my service machines nice and dumb, thanks.
The theme of the episode was emotional focus, and for a woman raised with the emotionally reserved Vulcans, Michael has become quite the expert on feelings, as she talks Zora through her own doubts by continuing Gray’s outreach. Saru’s pep talks with the bridge crew and with Book also stress focus as well. Perhaps it was hit too squarely on the head, but it would hardly be the first time Star Trek wasn’t subtle. Either way, the necessity of focusing one’s way through fear, guilt, self-doubt, etc gives a very human vibe to what could’ve easily been a technobabble-heavy bore. The loss of the crewman and the heavy structural damage to the ship also gave the episode enough stakes to feel important to this season’s overall arc.
As bottle stories go, the heavily-borrowing “Stormy Weather” may feel overly familiar at times, but it works well enough as one piece of a season long puzzle. Overall, Star Trek: Discovery is cruising along a lot more confidently now, as this long-struggling series seems to have found its groove.
Where To Watch.
Star Trek: Discovery (and most of Star Trek) is now available for streaming on Paramount+ in many more markets, as well as on PlutoTV’s free streaming service and other participating streaming services (Star Trek: Discovery’s international plan revealed/Trekcore.com). To my readers, I once again wish you and all of your loved ones good health and strength during the current coronavirus pandemic. The current number of COVID-19 related deaths in the United States is over 809,000 (and over 5.3 million worldwide) as of this writing, so please wear masks and get vaccinated (with booster shots) as soon as possible to prevent infections and protect your loved ones through the holidays. With a bit of Star Trek optimism and medical science, we can persevere through this pandemic.
Live long and prosper and have a happy holiday season!