Star Trek: Discovery – Season 4 Episode 13
Star Trek: Discovery ends its fourth season with a race against time to stop the DMA by overcoming the communications barrier with Species Ten-C.
My biggest concern about the end of this season was that too much time had been wasted for everything to be resolved in a satisfying way. Species Ten-C were only introduced in the previous episode and the headway made in communicating with them was relatively minor. That in itself wasn’t a bad thing as the idea of proper understanding taking time and effort is a strong one but with only a single episode to wrap up the story at hand there is still a lot of ground to cover.
This episode opens in a way that attempts to make up for the lack of urgency or tangible threat prior to this point by focusing on those facing imminent destruction from the DMA. The point of view characters are Tilly -making a welcome return- and Vance who are taking charge of efforts to evacuate the planets in the path of the DMA. Very little time remains and space is limited on the available ships so they have to get creative. Even at that it’s clear they’re ill equipped to handle a threat of this magnitude but every life saved is important. This display of everyone pulling together to help in the darkest of times is truly inspiring and a practical showcase of the core Federation values.
Tilly acting as one of the point of view characters was great to see though having her develop into her role as an instructor off screen only serves to highlight the missing opportunity to have an ongoing side plot where she adjusts to this seismic shift in her life. Actually seeing it would give her words around finding her purpose far more weight though Mary Wiseman’s performance makes it believable that the change has occurred and has been earned. The material given to Tilly supports her natural aptitude for this role and the maturity she has gained in the short time since leaving Discovery.
Her conversation with Vance as they both wait for death is really moving and powerful. Vance immediately talks about taking stock of his regrets as he likely won’t have any opportunity to do so but Tilly’s reaction is far more positive as she has no real regrets as the positives far outweigh any negatives. She talks about seeing and doing great things as well as finding her purpose while acknowledging that not everyone can say the same so she is in a very fortunate position. Vance’s main regret is not spending more time with his daughter and laments the fact that he probably won’t ever get to do that but Tilly encourages him to take comfort in her knowing that he loves her. As long as she knows that then all mistakes and missed milestones pale in comparison. They survive as the DMA is stopped with little time to spare and Vance makes spending time with his family a priority so the near death experience inspires him to reassess his priorities and do something about his regrets.
Outside of the tangible stakes created through direct focus on the threat to Earth, Ni’Var and other places there are a few examples of ramping up the threat within the Hyperfield. Species Ten-C no longer trust Discovery and refuse to communicate anything beyond that due to damning them by association with Book and Tarka. Burnham and the rest of the crew have to put the entirety of their attention on preventing Book’s ship from reaching the power source as there’s a strong chance that they will destroy the Hyperfield and everything in it if they reach there. This brings in the next increase in threat through the Spore Drive being used to escape the orb surrounding them and being destroyed in the process. This is a problem as it leaves them decades away from Federation space assuming they survive to make the trip back. Of course it’s an easy decision to make when the alternative is billions being killed by the DMA but being stranded decades away from home is a less than attractive process and in theory constitutes a high price for doing the right thing.
Unfortunately neither of these threats amount to anything significant as they are both easily resolved. The unwillingness to communicate on Ten-C’s part is short lived when the crew of Discovery prove their commitment to stopping Book and Tarka and the destruction of the Spore Drive becomes a non issue when diplomacy succeeds and Ten-C send them home. using a wormhole. Those resolutions make sense in context but everything is neatly resolved and there is a distinct lack of consequence to most of what occurs here. Discovery is an unashamedly positive show where every problem has a solution but the near total lack of loss or consequence in this episode devalues any threat presented to the characters as every problem has a neat solution.
This carries into other tense moments such as Ndoye volunteering for what is defined as a suicide mission only to be transported out at the last second. Everything was in place for a satisfying yet tragic resolution to her misguided actions in support of Book and Tarka. Her guilt prompted her to volunteer as penance for what she did and her death could be seen as the accepted consequence of that betrayal. Her motivation is sound; she wants to make up for her mistakes and protect Earth so losing her life in pursuit of those goals would have been noble and a form of redemption. Her actions are swept under the rug when she survives with no punishment for her betrayal. This speaks to one of the ongoing problems with Discovery as a show; the chain of command is often ignored in favour of emotionally driven storytelling. As long as a character receives emotional catharsis for wrong-headed actions then that frees them from any actual consequences.
The same applies to Book who escapes death for reasons that aren’t explained. His punishment for allying with Tarka, setting off a forbidden weapon and being an accessory to derailing the attempt to communicate with Species Ten-C is to be assigned to help those displaced by the DMA. It’s the perfect position for him to be in since he dealt with the DMA taking so much from him. It’s an ideal opportunity for him to display empathy and make a meaningful difference in the lives of others but it certainly doesn’t qualify as punishment for his actions. Rillak and Burnham talk about the need to deal with what he did and Burnham even accepts that he will be beyond leniency but this is quickly dismissed when Rillak says that the reasons behind taking action matter. Other than being separated from Burnham for an undetermined amount of time Book doesn’t actually answer for his crimes which is incredibly frustrating as it devalues the authority on display since those who defy it aren’t punished.
Book is believed dead for a short time and it is used well until Ten-C reveal that they rescued him. Burnham’s reaction to losing him is powerfully delivered by Sonequa Martin-Green. Wrestling to push the emotions down so she can get back to the task at hand and be the leader she needs to be is a really nice touch. She recognises that grieving will have to be done later but her strong connection to Book means that she is unable to compose herself at the point of loss. It also proves useful in discussions with Ten-C as she is able to use her relationship with him as an example of two people becoming one through an association rather than merging as a single being. It’s a small detail but it’s an effective example of understanding under the limited parameters the episode has to work with.
Species Ten-C become far less interesting as the intrigue associated with the difficulty communicating with them all but fades away. The problem is resolved when communication where both parties understand the meaning becomes easy and any uncertainty associated with finding the best way to deliver even the simplest message disappears completely. It is the natural end point to what the previous episode sets up but there are a lot of missing steps in-between. This is due to the inconsistent pacing and having very little time to explore the unique First Contact scenario. Everything that was promised and set up around this truly alien species defying conventional understanding is completely forgotten in favour of simple messaging about common ground overcoming all differences. Rillak’s point is well made and in line with one of the core ideas this show promotes but it’s inadequate when weighed up against the potential associated with a truly alien race.
Lots of unanswered questions exist around Ten-C which isn’t necessarily a bad thing though many of them get in the way of fully understanding the story being told. T’Rina making telepathic contact reveals that they are a hive mind with no awareness of individual existence; something that isn’t elaborated on though likely serves as an explanation for not noticing the destruction they’re causing albeit a flimsy one. The idea could be that not recognising the existence of individuals means that they didn’t notice that sentient life was in the path of the DMA but that doesn’t work when placed under any form of scrutiny. It’s clear that they recognise individual existence on some level as they were able to gain enough understanding to create a replica of Discovery’s bridge which means they were able to gain some level of understanding of those they were interacting with. The prior discovery of a nursery indicating that Ten-C value life and protect their young strongly suggests they have some concept of individuality due to recognising the need to protect their young. On a conceptual level it’s interesting and in theory the biggest barrier to true understanding being the need to show them how individuals can be united in common cause. The similarities lie in groups of individuals working together for a singular purpose which is different to the way Ten-C exist but also something they can in theory relate to. It’s flimsy and there is a lack of detail to that commonality providing grounding for a peaceful resolution but is has the beginnings of making sense.
Ultimately, Species Ten-C are lacking in depth because this episode rushed to the resolution of the story surrounding them. They express regret and sorrow at the damage and loss of life they were responsible for and pledge to only target uninhabited regions of space. Book refuses to accept this as a compromise because the DMA poisons the space it passes through. It’s a quick and underdeveloped environmental statement driving at the idea of truly taking responsibility meaning finding a better way to live rather than making a minor change that doesn’t actually solve the problem. The obvious analogue is countries buying the emission limits from other countries. On the surface it seems to work as on a global scale they won’t be exceeded but it still does damage to the country producing the pollution. Similarly, regardless of where Ten-C deploy a DMA they are damaging space so the only actual solution is to stop doing it entirely.
Ten-C are less than enthusiastic about this idea at first as it means they’ll lose the ability to maintain their Hyperfield. Book has an opinion about that. He talks about everyone and everything in the universe being connected so remaining in hiding can never be a permanent solution nor should it be. Book encourages them to be part of the universe which encourages them to abandon their fear and isolationist based outlook. Having them do so on the back of a single conversation is painfully unrealistic and resolves this plot with laughable simplicity. The contrast between Ten-C as they were depicted in the previous episode and what they became in this one is staggering. To go from being possibly the most enigmatic and truly alien species ever encountered in the franchise to how they were used here is a massive disservice to the potential associated with them.
There are some satisfying developments and resolutions to be found in the episode. The resolution to Tarka’s emotional arc was both powerful and tragic. Over the recent run of episodes he has been quickly drowning in his obsession to the point of losing all objectivity. The previous episode firmly established that he doesn’t actually care about the destructive potential of the DMA or who will be harmed by it because the entirety of his focus is on achieving his goal. He has fully given into his obsession and convinced himself that his plan will work despite there being no actual evidence supporting it. Reno points out that going to another universe is a false solution because even though everything seems the same it very much isn’t. Loss has to be accepted rather than trying to lie to yourself in order to defeat it. Tarka tries to convince Book to come with him as his family and planet may be there but the major difference is that Book understands that “identical” doesn’t necessarily mean “the same” and the loss he experienced won’t be undone by encountering an exact duplicate. Tarka is so desperate to see Oros again that he believes everything will be resolved by using his transporter to move universes but fails to consider how unlikely finding Oros actually is.
Tarka is unwilling to accept that loss right up until the end though he does come to realise that he is unable to do so. He acknowledges that he can’t live in this world because there’s no place for him in it so there’s no way he can simply give up and go back to his life. Ultimately he’s destroyed by his grief which is a tragic end for him as there was no way to help him because he wasn’t in the right mental place to allow himself to be helped. His breakdown when he talks about Oros not being there to stop him going too far is heartbreaking. He does wonder if the impact will be enough to send him to where he wants to go and it remains an open question whether it does or not but whether he dies or not his journey has ended in the only way it could have given his stubbornness and being fully consumed by his inability to process his loss.
Book is a strong contrast to Tarka with him acting as a more healthy example of dealing with loss. He experienced setbacks and made decisions that he would later come to regret but his innate decency never wavered nor did his understanding of what he wanted to achieve. There were always lines he wouldn’t cross and Tarka’s influence was unable to overpower his empathetic nature. His simple statement “love always ends in grief” is so profound and highlights that Book has internalised the lesson around the necessity of finding a way to move forward even in the face of overwhelming emotional turmoil. Tarka is unable to learn that lesson because he is so single minded and has chosen to live his life refusing to let others get close to him so he purposely isolates himself from any support he could have. Once again it’s a tragic end but there was no other way he could end up while Book’s far healthier approach means that he could come back from the dark place he found himself in. The complex and varied approach to grief this season has been a definite highlight and the finale very much sticks the landing for Book and Tarka.
Another strong development is in the Burnham and Rillak relationship. They have a conversation mirroring the one in the first episode of the season where Rillak called Burnham out on her less than refined command style and openly declared her opinion that she wasn’t ready for certain opportunities. This follow-up is awkwardly signposted through dialogue as a return to this but still manages to be effective as the work has been put in for Rillak’s approval of Burnham’s leadership to be earned. Burnham was never quite challenged as a Captain in the way that episode promised but she did encounter different challenges, some of which were wide reaching in scope and earned the respect of Rillak in the way she rose to them. Their conflict plays out in unconventional ways but it’s effectively played and the conclusion depicted here works well despite being obviously signposted.
The season ends on a wholly positive note which is comforting in a lot of ways but very little of it is actually earned. I’ve detailed my issues with the execution of this episode and how poorly it resolves what the season has been doing but on a higher level, Discovery is a show that tries to goad the audience into being uplifted by positive developments without having the substance to back them up. Ending the season with the Federation growing thanks to Earth rejoining and others being very close to doing the same is undoubtedly worth celebrating but the lack of strong worldbuilding means that these developments are empty because the focus has never been on the political machinations preventing the unity that the Federation stands for. Hopefully with the DMA threat ended and the Federation becoming a stronger entity once again the next season will feature less apocalyptic stakes and focus on the fundamentals of the franchise.
An uneven finale that delivers unrealistically neat solutions to various problems but excels with some strong emotional character beats. The episode opens in a way that attempts to make up for the lack of urgency in prior episodes by showing Tilly and Vance preparing for the imminent arrival of the DMA. It’s an inspiring practical display of the core Federation values. Tilly and Vance’s conversation as they both wait for death is really moving and powerful. It covers taking stock of regrets and has Tilly highlight that she has none because of what she has been able to do and finding purpose in her own life. She also helps Vance to shift his perspective somewhat. Vance’s declaration of regret pays off when he does something about them upon surviving. There are some examples of ramping up the tension within the Hyperfield. Species Ten-C no longer trust Discovery and refuse to communicate anything else to them due to damning them by association with Book and Tarka. Added to that is the only method of escaping the orb involves destroying the Spore Drive which leaves them stranded decades from home. In theory this is a high price for doing the right thing but in practice these two problems are easily resolved. Species Ten-C communicate with them again and open a wormhole to send them home. They make sense in context but there is a distinct lack of consequence to most of what occurs here which devalues any threat presented as there is always a neat solution. This carries into other tense moments such as Ndoye volunteering for what is referred to as a suicide mission only to survive and suffer no consequences for her betrayal. Similarly Book escapes death for reasons that aren’t explained and doesn’t answer for his crimes in any major way. Being put in a role where he helps those displaced by the DMA is the perfect position for him following what he has been through and doesn’t track as punishment. Rillak dismisses the notion by saying the reasons behind taking action matter but the lack of consequences for Book is glaring and devalues the authority on display. Book’s believed death is very brief but used well. Burnham’s complex reaction as she breaks down upon thinking he’s dead only to pull herself together because she has to be a leader is brilliantly performed.
Species Ten-C become far less interesting as the intrigue associated with the difficulty communicating with them all but fades away. Communication becomes easy and any uncertainty associated with finding a way to deliver even the simplest message disappears completely. There are a lot of missing steps between what the previous episode depicts and the point reached in this one. All of the difficulties are abandoned in favour of simple messaging about common ground overcoming all differences. Rillak’s point is well made but inadequate when weighed up against the potential associated with a truly alien race. Lots of unanswered questions surround Ten-C that get in the way of the story being told. The hive mind concept is poorly explained though likely exists to answer why they didn’t notice the damage they were doing to sentient life. It doesn’t work when placed under any level of scrutiny. Ultimately they lack in depth because the episode rushed the resolution. The environmental message attached to Book’s speech about everyone and everything in the universe being connected so they need to stop the damage they’re doing to space. The idea that hiding from the universe is a bad one and can never be permanent is well expressed though it’s unrealistic that Species Ten-C would abandon their fear and isolationist based outlook on the back of a single conversation. There are some satisfying moments to be found in the episode such as Tarka’s tragic end is believably the only possible way it could go and the depiction of him being entirely consumed by his obsession works brilliantly. Reno’s point about going to another universe being a false solution isn’t something he can accept as he is so desperate to see Oros again that he is convinced his plan will work despite no evidence supporting it. Tarka comes to realise that he is unable to accept that loss and is ultimately destroyed by his grief as there is no way to help him. Book is a strong contrast to Tarka as he find a healthier way to process his grief despite some notable setbacks and bad decisions. The complex and varied approach to grief this season has been a definite highlight and the finale very much sticks the landing for Book and Tarka. Another strong development is the Burnham and Rillak relationship with the follow-up conversation to the one they have in the first episode of the season. It is obviously signposted but is nonetheless satisfying. The season ends on a wholly positive note which is comforting though not actually earned. Discovery is a show that tries to goad the audience into being uplifted by positive developments without having the substance to back them up. Ending the season with the Federation growing thanks to Earth rejoining and others being very close to doing the same is undoubtedly worth celebrating but the lack of strong worldbuilding means that these developments are empty because the focus has never been on the political machinations preventing the unity that the Federation stands for. Hopefully with the DMA threat ended and the Federation becoming a stronger entity once again the next season will feature less apocalyptic stakes and focus on the fundamentals of the franchise.
- raising the stakes through Tilly and Vance preparing for the imminent arrival of the DMA
- Tilly and Vance’s point of view showcasing practical application of the Federation values
- the moving and compelling conversation between Tilly and Vance as they wait for death
- the depiction of Tarka fully consumed by his obsession
- Tarka and Book serving as strong contrasts to one another with Book acting as the healthy example of processing grief
- Tarka’s heartbreaking account of Oros not being there to stop him
- the tragedy associated with the resolution of Tarka’s arc
- the well earned conclusion to Burnham and Rillak’s conflict
- easily resolved threats
- the lack of consequences consistently devaluing the threats
- Ndoye and Book not being duly punished for their actions
- missing several steps in the journey towards communication with and understanding of Species Ten-C
- Species Ten-C lacking in depth
- resolutions that are unrealistically neat such as Species Ten-C changing everything on the basis of a single conversation
- the unearned positive ending to the season
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