Happy New Year!
To longtime readers/subscribers; I apologize for this Star Trek: Discovery review being a couple days late, but New Year’s Eve as well as a new Disney+ series set in a galaxy far, far away made things a bit more busy than usual, so without further ado, let’s get Trekking…
The latest episode of Star Trek: Discovery’s 4th season is now available for streaming on Paramount+. This 7th episode of the 4th season will be the last before a brief, mid-season break. Star Trek: Discovery will return on February 10th, 2022.
Written by Terri Hughes Burton & Carlos Cisco and directed by Lee Rose, “…But to Connect” further explores the mysteries of Discovery’s now sentient computer Zora, and of the obnoxious Ruon Tarka (Shawn Doyle), whom we met in S4.5’s “The Examples”. Neither may be quite what they seem.
“… But to Connect.”
The opening shot sees Discovery still undergoing extensive structural repairs in spacedock at Starfleet Command Headquarters, following her near destruction in last week’s “Stormy Weather”. We learn that a vital conference will be taking place shortly, as representatives from the 60 planets of the newly reorganized United Federation of Planets will come together to vote on official policy for dealing with the deadly, artificially-generated “DMA” (Dark Matter Anomaly) which threatens the entire galaxy.
Note: We learn that Federation members are coming from “all four quadrants,” which implies that before the warp-drive debilitating Burn, the United Federation of Planets had reached all four quadrants of the galaxy (Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta) before those member worlds were effectively cut off from each other 120-plus years ago.
Down in the engineering section, Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and Adira (Blu del Barrio) are brainstorming with the ship’s now sentient computer, Zora (Annabelle Wallis) over the possible location of the DMA’s creators, designated 10-C by Starfleet. After numerous false leads, Zora finally has the coordinates calculated for the makers of the DMA…
Captain Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin Green) and her lover Cleveland Booker (David Ajala) are enjoying a few minutes together in her quarters, where he is trying to warm her up to his cat, Grudge. Burnham is convinced that Grudge hates her, but Booker assures her that Grudge is slowly warming to her. Burnham then receives a call from Stamets to report to engineering as soon as possible. Once there, she learns that Zora has finally calculated the coordinates for the mysterious 10-C aliens. Relieved, Michael asks Zora for the coordinates, but Zora refuses, stating her compliance would put the Discovery crew in danger. Burnham then reiterates that she is ordering Zora to comply, but the maternal computer once again refuses…
Note: Once again; sentient computers are not a good idea on starships. See: Richard Daystrom’s M-5, or even the supercomputer HAL 9000 from another famous spaceship named Discovery (see: “2001: A Space Odyssey”).
Starfleet’s Dr. Kovich (David Cronenberg), Starfleet Command’s resident high-ranking psychiatric expert, consults with Burnham on her problematic computer. He reiterates the current illegality of having an integrated sentient computer onboard any Starfleet ship. She assures him that Zora’s status is unique, and that she needs just a little more time to establish a baseline of trust in order to get the coordinates from her. He leaves that job to Stamets and orders Capt. Burnham to meet the assembly of delegates arriving for the DMA conference…
Note: Beyond the fact that he’s played by famed horror/drama director David Cronenberg (“The Fly,” “History of Violence”), there’s still a lot we don’t know about the enigmatic Dr. Kovich; he still wears glasses in the 32nd century (Retinax allergy…?), and is very aloof–yet surprisingly understanding and insightful as well. Even after a season and a half, Kovich remains deeply unreadable, yet sympathetic.
Making her way to President Rillick (Chelah Horsdal) in the main assembly core of the station, Burnham is introduced to the attending Earth delegate, General Ndoye (Phumzile Sitole). We learn after the introductions that United Earth now includes Saturn’s moon of Titan, whose colonists were recently battling Earth for resources (“People of Earth”). Rillick, whose mother’s ancestry is of Earth, very much wants the Sol system back in the Federation family, but the General makes no firm commitment just yet…
Note: What a different galaxy we see in the 32nd century. Earth, the planet once famous in Star Trek lore for bringing alien races (Vulcan, Tellar, Andor) together, is now skittish about rejoining the very Federation it helped to create over 1,000 years earlier.
Meanwhile, Booker makes his way over with the other non-delegate observers to the conference, one of which happens to be the obnoxious Risan scientist Ruon Tarka (Shawn Doyle), whom we met in “The Examples.” Since the two didn’t exactly hit it off when they met, Booker isn’t terribly thrilled to share airspace with him. Tarka seems unusually motivated to attend this conference for reasons that will soon become clear.
Note: Ruon Tarka (Shawn Doyle) is the typical ‘arrogant scientist’ cliche we’ve seen in countless sci-fi movies and TV shows, including Star Trek (Paul Stubbs, Richard Daystrom, the list goes on). Have I mentioned that I genuinely dislike the character of Ruon Tarka? No? Well, I do, so there…
The conference begins. Rillick addresses the delegates, stating that the safety of the galaxy is paramount, and that they will soon have the exact location of Species 10-C, who are believed to exist somewhere beyond the rim of the galaxy. As the floor is opened to debate, General Ndoye argues for an immediate attack upon the anomaly, before it can strike more planets. The Ni’Varan president T’Rina (Tara Rosling) counters that suggestion, by stating they have no way of knowing the anomaly’s actions are intentionally hostile. Burnham gives examples of various known lifeforms whose routine biological functions might appear destructive only because their true nature isn’t fully understood. As the delegates squabble, Tarka leans over to Book and says, “Choose your moment.”
In Discovery’s briefing room, Saru and Kovich discuss the Zora situation as Dr. Culber (Wilson Cruz) arrives with a visibly nervous Stamets, who uncharacteristically asks for a “group hug.” Not sure why he is acting so strangely, Saru is told by Culber’s partner Culber that he’s paranoid about Zora overhearing them. The ship’s previous experiences with the sentient artificial intelligence known as “Control” (“Such Sweet Sorrow,” part 2) have left some in the crew, particularly Stamets, very skittish of a self-aware computer system. Kovich states they could simply extract Zora from the computer, but Stamets insists the Red Sphere data that created her consciousness cannot be extracted. Kovich tells the nervous engineer that computer technology has come a long way in the past 900 or so years.
Note: Kovich’s point about computer technology is irrefutable. I’m sure the computer technology of Star Trek’s 32nd century would be miracle machines that we couldn’t even begin to understand today, any more than the late Alan Turing could’ve imagined owning a smartphone back in the 1940s.
As Stamets and the others discuss options, the computer Zora creates her own solution; right in front of their eyes, she materializes a foolproof kill-switch that would effectively destroy her consciousness should she ever get out of line. A still uncertain Stamets examines the kill-switch and reasons that it is under their control, but still worries that she might turn into another Control, given her continued reluctance to give the 10-C coordinates. Gray (Ian Alexander) speaks up in Zora’s defense, offering himself as proof of a sentient artificial life form, but Stamets refutes the comparison.
Zora tells them that her reason for being is to care for Discovery’s crew at all costs. Understanding that’s not the response of a normal ship’s computer, they begin a detailed examination of the various sectors of Zora’s systems (with her consent, of course), eventually finding a zone of memories that Dr. Culber immediately recognizes as Zora’s newly created subconscious–the place from which memories, dreams, imagination all spring. They soon realize that Zora is a new life form; a summation of the Red Sphere’s vast database and Discovery’s computer which have somehow fused and created a genuine artificial mind. Zora has, what might be described by some, as a soul.
Earth’s General Ndoye and Ni’Var (nee: Vulcan) president T’Rina are at loggerheads over which approach to take with Species 10-C’s artificial anomaly, with T’Rina (and Burnham) seeing it as an opportunity for a first contact, while Ndoye and others wish to destroy the anomaly, whatever the costs. As the squabbling delegates go on, Tarka transports himself directly to the delegates’ level, situating himself between president Rillick and T’Rina (um…security, please??). Gaining their attention, Tarka presents his plan for an isolytic weapon he’s designed that is guaranteed to destroy the unpredictable anomaly’s central control device–thus, creating a dead sector of space in its wake, where warp travel will be impossible. Rillick points out that isolytic weapons were outlawed long ago by the Khitomer Accords, but Tarka points out the unique circumstances and grave danger the DMA still poses to all Federation planets. Burnham reminds Tarka that they are on the verge of obtaining the coordinates for 10-C’s location and that it might still be possible to negotiate peacefully with this unknown species.
Rillick reiterates their options; make first contact with 10-C or destroy the DMA controller. She tells the assembled delegates to deliberate further before a vote is taken.
Note: The desperate prospect of using a dangerous, outlawed weapon reminds me of the “nuclear option”, which guarantees destruction of an enemy, but leaves devastating longterm radioactivity in its wake. Sometimes vengeance takes just as great a toll on the avenger…
During the deliberation, Burnham reaches out to Booker; she pleads with her lover for patience, insisting that first contact might prevent further destruction. Booker is unable to look past his home planet’s destruction and seeks to destroy the DMA at all costs. They depart each other’s company.
Note: This is the first time we see Michael and Book’s relationship stretched to a potential breaking point. For some reason the more casual David Ajalas’s character is referred to more often as Booker in this episode, whereas in previous episodes he was often called “Book” as a nickname. For this column, I’m referring to him as Booker, well, just because…
Booker then meets with Tarka, inquiring about the scar on the back of Tarka’s neck. He tells Booker that they each ‘wear their grief’ in different ways (a non-answer answer). Tarka then lays out his true motives to Booker–his true reason for wanting to use the dangerous isolytic weapon; turns out Ruon Tarka is from another universe, and he hopes to, needs to return to it as soon as possible. While Tarka’s isolytic weapon will destroy the DMA itself, he tells Booker that won’t destroy the DMA’s power source–which he needs to return. Booker understands.
Note: When asked if he is from the infamous “Mirror Universe” (first seen in TOS’ “Mirror, Mirror” and extensively seen on Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Enterprise). Tarka balks, telling Booker there are many more parallel universes out there. This suggests that he genuinely isn’t from the mirror universe, or that he is deflecting. Personally, after season one’s four episode stint and season three’s two-parter set in that universe? I’ve had my fill of the Mirror Universe, thanks…
Addressing the assembled delegates, a somber Booker tells them he is Cleveland Booker, the last son of Kwejian. He is assuming the role of Melai’Zhi–a speaker for the dead. As an empath, he says he values diplomacy…in normal times. But with the loss of his home planet and all the rare species it gave sanctuary to, he urges the delegates not to wait till the people they love are taken from them. Speaking on behalf of those already lost, he urges them to end this now. Booker’s impassioned plea gets a hearty round of applause. Rillick asks for an opposing view, and no one answers… until Burnham reluctantly steps forward.
Reiterating the founding ideals of the Federation itself, Burnham makes an equally impassioned plea for first contact; urging not mindless destruction (“… but to connect”) with Species 10-C. “We cannot let fear define us in this moment,” she states. The only way they will get through this is by working together. Book sharply interrupts her persuasive argument, but she continues. It’s clear the two of them will never be able to see eye-to-eye on this issue. Burnham pleadingly insists the delegates hold to Federation core principles while Booker cannot see past the destruction of his home planet.
The vote is taken…Burnham’s argument wins.
Note: In a classic Star Trek-ethics scenario, both viewpoints make compelling cases and neither is entirely wrong. Such ethical dilemmas are what Trek does best.
Meanwhile on Discovery, another type of outreach is made to the sentient Zora. The once hesitant Stamets tells Zora that they need to trust each other. Still concerned about her prioritizing her own needs ahead of the ship, Stamets, in a classically Star Trek move, makes a first gesture of trust. He tells Zora that if she considers herself a part of the crew, she has to learn to accept their judgment. Part of that trust would also include her dismantling her own kill switch–and Stamets willingly obliges. With Kovich’s approval, Zora is reclassified as a separate life form–which effectively frees her from being an ‘illegal’ sentient computer system. As a consequence of her newly recognized status, Zora is given the rank of specialist, and takes an oath to serve, just like any crew member. Much like the android Data 800 years earlier, Zora is officially recognized as a sentient artificial being serving within the ranks of Starfleet.
With that newfound trust established, Zora willingly gives her new crewmates the coordinates for Species 10-C, which is believed to exist just beyond the boundaries of the galaxy.
Note: While I loved Stamets’ persuasive arguments for, and gestures of trust towards Zora, I only wish that his argument hadn’t been hurt in the editing by intercutting it with Burnham’s speech before the Federation delegates. The jump-cutting between both robbed each argument of its coherency and impact. This is a real shame, since the writers delivered two very dynamic ethical arguments. I recognize that both are similar pleas for trust, but their potency and subtlety are diminished by running them through a blender and pouring the results onto the screen like a thick, sweet milkshake. This is my single greatest issue with this otherwise sure-footed episode.
With Zora giving the coordinates to Species 10-C, and the Federation delegates voting in favor of first contact, Discovery remains in spacedock, completing repairs. In the ship’s lounge, Adira and Gray finally have the date they tried to have last week, but the occasion is marred by melancholy. Gray met with a Trill representative during the summit, and with his new body, he wishes to pursue his interrupted dream of being a Trill ‘guardian’ (one who tends the slug-like symbionts as they await new host bodies for joining). Adira recognizes their lover’s opportunity and encourages him to go. Both are nervous about the prospect of a long-distance relationship, but Adira tells Gray that they put in for a leave of absence, so that they can be with Gray during his transition on Trill. Change is really rough, sometimes…
Note: I truly hope that actors Ian Alexander and Blu del Barrio continue as recurring characters on the show, since both are as talented as their characters are groundbreaking.
Meanwhile, as Discovery prepares to depart for the coordinates of Species 10-C and the Federation delegates all prepare to depart for their home worlds, Saru manages to meet with T’Rina, with whom he shares a bond. Given their shared love of tea, Saru gifts her with a planet from Kaminar; a plant native to the desert regions of his home world which could adapt to the harsh, arid conditions of Ni’Var. The plant is used to make a Kaminaran tea that T’Rina enjoyed. They say their goodbyes, and a trace of a smile can be seen on the typically reserved features of T’Rina’s face…
Note: These two are so adorable together, I want to scream. That’s all.
With Adira and Gray leaving Discovery, the Space Family meets for a final hug; Stamets and Culber have been foster parents to Adira, who’s been their de facto teenage child. They say their goodbyes as Adira and Gray depart for Trill…
Note: Star Trek, a traditionally groundbreaking series in representative diversity, has been a little slow in its recognition of openly LGBTQ+ persons within its ranks. That has changed dramatically in the past four years with Star Trek: Discovery. Star Trek has come from (far) behind to once again take the lead in inclusivity. The found family of Stamets, Culber and Adira sees two openly gay fathers adopting a non-binary teenager who is in love with a trans-male Trill. But unlike Star Trek’s earliest attempts at inclusion, using token characters with little depth (or even first names), the Space Family of Discovery are all richly dimensional, fully-realized persons. Once again, I sincerely hope that Adira and Gray return to Discovery, even if only in recurring roles.
The ending sees Booker putting his beloved cat Grudge in her carrying case and leaving her in Burnham’s quarters with a goodbye note. Booker then meets with Tarka, who has just stolen a prototype next-generation spore drive which is both portable and universal. The drive easily ‘liquifies’ itself into Booker’s ship’s controls, allowing the naturally gifted Kwejian spore-driver to use it. Michael finds Grudge in her quarters, along with Booker’s farewell note: “I love you, Michael. Please take care of my girl.” Immediately realizing what Booker is doing, Burnham rushes to Discovery’s main hangar bay, just in time to see Booker’s ship depart and spore-jump away…
Note: On this cliffhanger, the series takes a short hiatus, returning February 10th, 2022.
Summing It Up.
The series has found a comfortable niche for itself in the 32nd century. Closing in on the mystery of the Dark Matter Anomaly’s creators, and finding a stop-gap solution to the question of Zora the sentient ship’s computer, everything was going well… but then there’s Booker and Tarka. I assume Booker will somehow stop Tarka before he can engage the isolytic weapon, otherwise Booker and Burnham’s relationship will be unrecoverable. The loss of Booker’s planet Kwejian is agony for him, of course, but now he’s willing to risk potential interplanetary war with Species 10-C over his need for revenge. Booker has also proven to Michael that he is untrustworthy, and that violation of trust is the greatest harm one can do in a relationship. There isn’t much room for backpedaling on Booker’s part, unless he actively stops Tarka somehow.
“…But to Connect” offers intriguing ethical/philosophical bones to chew on, though I wasn’t so fond of how the episode cut between the speeches of Burnham and Stamets–yes, I get that both characters were arguing for an alien intelligence’s right to exist (Zora, 10-C), but to overlap their speeches in the final edit had the effect of making their words sound repetitive instead of profound. That was my greatest nit with this otherwise enjoyable Star Trek episode.
Until Discovery returns from its brief hiatus in February of 2022, we will see the return of “Star Trek: Prodigy” S1 on January 6th, as well as the second season of “Star Trek: Picard”, also returning in February (no specific date as of this writing). It’s a busy time to be a Star Trek fan.
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 817,000 (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 best wishes for 2022.