Star Trek: Discovery – Season 5 Episode 4

Apr 18, 2024 | Posted by in TV

“Face The Strange”

Star Trek: Discovery takes the crew to the next stop on the quest for the Progenitor technology where they encounter a problem that may doom the future for everyone if it isn’t solved.

Final seasons often deliver an episode where the characters can reflect on how far they’ve come since the show began. Discovery has changed a great deal since its first season so there are plenty of opportunities to explore the path that brought the characters to their present circumstances. Science fiction allows for circumstances that facilitate direct engagement with the past to aid in that reflection. Michael Burnham has always been the lead of this show so it makes sense that this reflection would be largely filtered through her perspective.


Ride or Die!

I’ve written often about how Discovery squanders opportunities that should create more compelling storytelling than they do. In this case, the show takes a leaf out of Voyager‘s book and delivers a riff on the season seven episode “Shattered” where Chakotay wanders through the history of the show while showing a version of Janeway from before Voyager launched what her first command will bring her. It’s a reasonable episode that contains some fun fan service through references to particular episodes.

Discovery opts for something similar with Burnham and Rayner jumping through time to experience the past -and in one case the future- of the ship. The trouble is that this largely consists of Burnham in Rayner standing in empty rooms explaining in dialogue where they are in time. There’s limited interaction with the events of a given time period so there’s no real nostalgia within the episode. The closest it gets is when Burnham rallies the season 1 version of the crew to solve the problem. This may speak to how memorable individual episodes on this show actually are. It has always been serialised so character and story arcs develop over the season, but the individual episodes lack a strong sense of identity. This contrasts with Voyager;  a purely episodic show with distinct adventures that don’t require the viewer to be aware of other episodes to follow the events of the one you’re watching.

That’s not to say that Discovery hasn’t had memorable moments over the seasons. The first season contained a trip to the Mirror Universe and a well-executed time loop episode. Season 2 began with an impressive introduction for Captain Pike and delivered a memorable action-packed ending. Those events don’t necessarily lend themselves to a time traveller being involved in the same way that visiting the holodeck when the Captain Proton program is running or being on Voyager when it was infested by Macroviruses. This is unfortunately shown by references to the events but with limited actual interaction with them. Discovery has been so episodically indistinct that two of the time jumps take Burnham and Rayner to the same events. One is when Discovery is journeying through the wormhole to the future and the other is during the battle that preceded that.


The boss isn’t happy!

Others include when Discovery is being built and interacting with a maintenance worker, shortly after Burnham was made Captain and the aforementioned time during the first season. The latter isn’t even an adventure that was depicted as Lorca is mentioned to be on an away mission with Saru and Landry. It neatly answers whether Jason Isaacs will be making an appearance but doesn’t call back to a specific episode.

The latter does call back to a specific time in the show’s history. Early in the first season, Burnham was granted temporary release from prison because Lorca made a case for her being useful to him during the War with the Klingons. It was also a chance for her to redeem herself after playing a major part in starting it. Burnham accidentally encounters her past self and is literally face to face with the person she used to be. Past Burnham is characterised as angry and impulsive in contrast to present Burnham’s more calculated and measured temperament. This is highly exaggerated to make a point as season one Burnham wasn’t as rage-filled as this episode makes out but the point is nevertheless clear. Burnham sees a time in her life when she didn’t think a bright future awaited her. Specialist Burnham serving under Lorca was given temporary and controlled freedom to do a job and could only see a future that would end up with her back in prison. Present Burnham reflects on this and gives her unconscious past self assurance that it will get better even if that currently seems impossible for her.

On a conceptual level, this is very powerful but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. The interaction is brief before they fight and past Burnham’s other appearance in the episode involves Rayner talking her out of impeding saving the ship. It’s clunky and wastes the clear potential that existed for Burnham to consider her life by directly reckoning with the person she used to be. This happens but there’s no depth to it as the interaction is sorely lacking.


At least the view has improved

Burnham solves the problem by rallying the crew to trust her by demonstrating how well she knows them. She expresses details about them that show she knows them on a personal level and tries to convince them that one day they will one day be a close-knit crew with her in command. Naturally, it’s difficult for the season one crew to accept because they know Burnham as a mutineer who is allowed to be among them. She manages to convince them that they’re genuine by revealing that Airiam will sacrifice her life to save the crew. This isn’t believed at first as shown when Detmer insists that Airiam will fight off whatever invasive programming infects her but Burnham points out that some battles simply can’t be won and Airiam believes her when agreeing that she would make that sacrifice if she had to. It’s a clumsy solution as it’s something that Burnham could reasonably guess, particularly because Starfleet Officers know that the time may come when they have to sacrifice themselves to save the crew. Once again, it’s good in concept but a misstep in execution. It also further demonstrates how poorly developed the supporting characters are as the facts Burnham expresses haven’t been seen previously in most cases.

There is a really strong reflective scene when Burnham stumbles onto Book in the time period just after her being named Captain. Her relationship with Book was possibly at its strongest at that point and there’s a very tender reminder of how good they were together shown through a simple loving interaction. This will likely inform future interactions between them as Burnham has been reminded of what they once were. This scene is an example of what the episode could have delivered in abundance and failed to.

Another opportunity missed is to allow this to be a Rayner story. The previous episode contained a subplot where he resisted engaging with the crew on a personal level as he would rather maintain a professional distance. Burnham doesn’t run Discovery like that so there’s an obvious conflict in style. This is highlighted early in the episode when Rayner interrupts Rees speculating on the problem facing them and orders him to only speak if he has an answer. It’s another example of a conceptually strong idea marred by clumsy execution. Rees was being reasonable in summarising what they were presented with so Rayner snapping at him was out of line. It’s possible the intent was for Rees and perhaps other members of the bridge crew to be talking in circles before Rayner interrupted to encourage them to focus.


Oh great, another Apocalypse!

Regardless, his conversation with Burnham in the ready room works really well as it clearly outlines the conflict that exists between them though it does highlight that Burnham hasn’t properly briefed Rayner on what she expects from him. He began his role as First Officer in the previous episode while Burnham was on Trill looking for the next crew so Rayner has received no guidance on what is expected of him. Despite this, his frustration is engaging his apology after snapping and saying something insubordinate was a nice touch. It’s a period of adjustment for him as he has been recently demoted to Commander after working with Burnham when they were both Captains. Internalising that will clearly take time and it’s intensified by his feeling that his command style isn’t welcome in his current environment.

This would seem to naturally lead into a story where Rayner is being propelled through Discovery’s history and having to connect with the crew to get out of the situation. Perhaps he could have taken on the Chakotay role and guide past Burnham through a future she knows nothing about which prompts him to learn why there is merit to connecting with those under his command on a personal level. It seems clear that Rayner’s edges are being sanded off to make him more amenable as a Discovery character rather than showing them a different and equally valid way to work. There is limited scope for him to apply what he has learned as he has present Burnham to guide him.

There are examples of him making use of personal connections to defuse situations. He talks Rees around by pointing out his love of Starships, particularly the Constitution Class. It’s another thing that would be easy enough to guess considering he lives in the 23rd century and presumably, the Constitution Class design is well regarded but it shows that he was paying attention when those he spoke to told him personal facts about themselves. He also connects with Stamets by deferring to his superior knowledge and trusting him to give the correct instructions. Calling him Paul and reaching out to him as another old dog that still has plenty of tricks. It’s a nice moment that gets Stamets back on task and shows the value of taking the time to be aware of people’s emotions.


This is the worst thing that could have happened

Rayner shows that he has learned a lesson by going to get his hand fixed by Culber and returning to the bridge with a more positive attitude. He appears to be feeling like more of a part of the crew after this experience which makes sense to a degree but the lesson learned as presented isn’t as profound as it needs to be. Burnham admitting that familiarity can lead to complacency is at least a minor example of her conceding that Rayner’s approach has merit but it remains to be seen if this will continue to be explored or if Rayner will shift to a full card-carrying member of the crew and lose much of his charming surliness that suggested he would be a welcome challenge to the status quo on the ship.

Stamets’ arc for the season is very much about his desire for a legacy and his concerns that history will forget him. It isn’t referenced directly on this show but his work -and possibly his existence- was marked classified after Discovery made the trip to the future so it makes sense he would be concerned about being forgotten, particularly after development on the new Spore Drive was recently stopped. The Progenitor tech is his current focus and he is fixated on learning how to use it even though it may be impossible to comprehend. He has a crisis of confidence that Rayner helps him through by allowing him to vent and then deferring to his expertise. Stamets’ desire to be historically significant is something of an arrogant goal but it’s also perfectly in keeping with his season one characterisation before the Tardigrade DNA tempered his personality. The desire to be remembered remains and is possibly reawakened by revisiting his past. It’s possible that finding the Progenitor tech will be akin to gazing upon the face of God for many characters and it will lead to them having a deeply personal revelation of some kind.

Moll and L’ak are briefly shown and their single scene delivers meaningful information about them. Their motivation is revealed to be looking to accomplish this task to run away and live free without fear of anyone coming after them. All they want is to live together in peace without looking over their shoulder but they have no limitations in what they are willing to do to achieve this. Their treatment of their contact shows the sort of world they have to navigate and how exhausting that would be but there’s certainly a reckoning coming for them as the glimpse into the future reveals that the Breen will use the Progenitor tech for destructive purposes. There may be no indication of who the right hands to wield the tech are but it’s clear who shouldn’t have access to it.

This is frustrating as it’s another apocalyptic threat for the crew of Discovery to deal with which is beyond tiresome at this point. It’s also clear that Jinaal and his colleagues developing a quest that would prove the worthiness of those looking to find the technology was misguided as Moll and L’ak are certainly not worthy but apparently more than capable of solving the various puzzles between them and the technology. What should happen next is a return to Trill to consult with Jinaal and point out that the quest he manufactured doesn’t work as intended. Despite this, continuing to characterise Moll and L’ak as challenging adversaries that represent a strong threat is encouraging and they are very engaging as characters also.


The crew always pull together


A frustrating episode that ruins a strong concept with an unending string of wasted opportunities.

  • 4.5/10
    "Face The Strange" - 4.5/10


Kneel Before…

  • the tender reminder of Book and Burnham’s relationship
  • Burnham and Rayner’s initial ready room scene working really well
  • Burnham admitting that familiarity can lead to complacency and acknowledging Rayner’s viewpoint
  • furthering Stamets desire for a meaningful legacy
  • setting up a meaningful motivation for Moll and L’ak


Rise Against…

  • squandering the potential of the time jumps by barely interacting with the periods featured
  • Burnham’s interaction with her past self being far too brief
  • Burnham convincing Airiam to help her being very clumsy
  • failing to pick up on the natural setup for this to be a Rayner story
  • Rayner’s apparent lesson being less profound than it needs to be
  • establishing yet another Apocalyptic scenario


What did you think? Select your rating in the “User Review” box below

User Review
6.33/10 (6 votes)

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