Star Trek Discovery – Season 4 Episode 6
Star Trek: Discovery traps the ship in an increasingly dangerous situation as different characters explore questions around family and identity.
Family is something that shapes who we are. For better or worse our identity is heavily influenced by our upbringing and those who featured in it. Whether people decide to embrace what those who brought them up had to offer or turn away from it the influence remains significant. Family has often been covered on this show in different ways. Burnham is the central character and her familial connections have been a major aspect of many stories told on this show whether that be her connection to Sarek and Amanda, her relationship with Spock or the family she has found on Discovery. The theme has been covered through all of the main featured characters in different ways so it’s woven into the DNA of this show.
This remains the case with it being the central theme for this episode with it being covered extensively through Book and Zora while Burnham feeds into it where Zora is concerned. Star Trek: Discovery very much promotes the idea that family is a choice and that people have the autonomy to be able to decide what makes up their family. This is a choice that Book has already made as detailed here and one that Zora makes by the end of the episode.
Circumstances created by the main threat of the episode present Book with a manifestation of his father that he interacts with. The opening scene of the episode establishes that Book doesn’t consider his father to be part of his family to the point that he would never add him to a family tree. It’s a very clear setup for his contribution to the episode and adds to his ongoing arc around processing loss.
The manifestation of Book’s father (Rothaford Gray) taunts him about weakness associated with relying on others. He specifically targets Book’s relationship with Burnham as something that is holding him back. Book isn’t part of the crew or the Federation yet remains loyal to the ship and Burnham specifically. His love for her is identified as a weakness where Book sees it as a strength. His father represents Book’s anger and desire for revenge with the words spoken encouraging him to embrace those urges rather than try to push them aside. This gives form to the internal conflict he’s facing between his core values and the anger he feels directed at whoever is responsible for creating the DMA.
His father constantly pushes Book to not be held back by compassion and do whatever it takes to ensure that no harm will come to everyone else. Book believes in Burnham, the crew of Discovery and the Federation so he trusts them to find out who created the DMA and deal with them but there is a darkness within him driving him to go out on his own and deal with the problem himself. It’s something he keeps in check for now but the manifestation of his father forces him to acknowledge that part of himself and tests the kind of person that he wants to be.
It does bring up unresolved anxieties within Book, specifically around whether his desire for revenge makes him no better than his father. Saru helps by opening up about his own feelings about working directly with the Ba’Ul. His people being culled and enslaved by them is still fresh in his memory and he admits to still being filled with rage whenever he has to deal with them. His rational mind knows that things have changed and that it’s better to work with them to build a better future but there’s a constant internal struggle that he deals with. He recognises that it’ll never be easy but the struggle is an important one as it shows that he has the strength to overcome his innermost desires. This is something that Book can consider and use to make his own decision on what course he will follow.
Dealing with the manifestation of his father proves useful to him in another capacity. He chooses to believe that it isn’t a hallucination because if his father’s spirit can live on then that means those he lost when his planet was destroyed also live on. He has no proof of this but belief doesn’t require proof and he can take comfort from believing this which is important to his own recovery. This actually means that his father provided one positive thing to his life even if the experience of being confronted with his memory was an uncomfortable one.
Much of the episode focuses on Zora and her development towards sentience. She has been rapidly developing in the background of other episodes such as giving herself a name and using emotionally charged words to describe her reaction to the crew’s safety. This prompts Burnham to notice that Zora is evolving and she has some concerns about that because it’s something she has never experienced before. A lot of this episode is geared around exploring what Zora’s sentience means to various characters but also to her.
Most of her interactions are with Gray who is the perfect character to pair her with as they are both adjusting to the fact they have a body to deal with. For Gray it’s the new synthetic body that he occupies and for Zora it’s Discovery. Gray understands how confusing and unfamiliar the sensations associated with having a body are so he is able to guide her to better understand how to deal with them. The external problem overwhelms Zora to the point that she believes she is receiving no input at all but this turns out to be a form of anxiety where she is unable to focus on what she is actually experiencing because she’s too busy concerning herself with the safety of the crew and her own fears around the chances of survival. It’s a very simple yet fascinating emotional problem delivered through the lens of someone who has never experienced being overwhelmed before. She doesn’t realise what the problem is because it’s such an unfamiliar experience that she never considered it.
Gray helps her by encouraging her to focus on a game they’re playing which calms her down and allows her to focus more clearly. From there Gray identifies that she is receiving sensory input but isn’t aware of it on a conscious level. This opens up a lot of questions around the relationship between Zora and the ship, it’s mentioned that Discovery is her body but it’s possible for her awareness of what is happening to that body to be impacted so that could present significant problems in the future since so many situations in Star Trek stories rely on information being accurate and available. If Zora’s accuracy can be compromised by her emotional state then the relationship between ship and crew becomes one that is more difficult to trust.
Zora’s sentience makes literal something that has often been said about Star Trek, that the ship itself is a character in the show. Discovery now has a personality and an emotional connection to the crew so this is something that they will have to be aware of when making decisions from this point on. Previously decisions could be made that would damage the ship but save the crew but Zora being a sentient being who could also be harmed or even lost by such a decision means that it’s far more difficult to simply accept the ship will be damaged. This opens up a new kind of conflict that is fascinating to explore.
Burnham steps in to help Zora understand and deal with her emotions so that she can function in the way she needs to. She relays her own experience of losing her parents and how that shaped her as a person. It’s an example of how negative experiences can have a positive impact as Burnham notes that her loss was formative. It draws an inelegant link between Burnham’s personal history and Zora using this experience to be a formative one for her. She is afraid for the safety of the crew and fears death which causes her to lose focus but Burnham encourages her to use that fear as inspiration to move forward and overcome it. Their interactions are really touching and create a strong connection between the characters. Zora beginning to understand emotions and drawing on the experience of those who have been dealing with them for their whole lives works really well in the context of the story being told while creating a compelling new character for the show to use in different ways. Her connection to Burnham and the crew is believable which makes the creation of a family tree featuring them a very touching moment that is well earned. Another strong touch is the use of the song “Stormy Weather” with the lyrics about feeling bleak in the face of a hopeless situation tying nicely the main plot as well as the commentary on emotional turmoil.
The main plot itself where Discovery is trapped in a dangerous situation with limited time to escape it is very much a classic Star Trek story. This is directly addressed in the episode itself when Saru names Enterprise -which one?- and Voyager as ships that dealt with similar situations in the past. It’s a typical Star Trek plot because it puts the crew in danger, challenges their ability to deal with being in a life threatening time sensitive situation and allows the tension to build naturally as they rapidly approach destruction. The mechanics of the plot itself are firmly pushed into the background with frequent reminders that time is running out. This is definitely the right decision as it maintains urgency while not getting in the way of the more interesting character driven plotting. There are some missteps along the way such as a clumsy excuse given to bring in some backstory for Owo who goes from being desperate to take action to save the ship to opening up to Saru about feeling helpless to save a friend’s life when she was a child. As good as it is to have some attention given to an underserved bridge crew character it didn’t fit the narrative and was clumsily deployed. Despite this it was a simple high tension situation that developed naturally before reaching a character driven conclusion. It also allows for acknowledgement that Burnham is developing as a Captain as shown by her decision to leave when it became apparent that the danger was increasing. Most of the pieces were in sync in this episode which made it a very strong outing.
A strong episode that uses a classic Star Trek plot to build tension and urgency while weaving in engaging character stories. Book dealing with the manifestation of his father forces him to confront a relationship he thought he had put behind him and ask questions about the sort of person he is. The manifestation taunts him about the connections he has made and values while identifying his compassion as a weakness. This isn’t something Book agrees with and is secure in his decisions but his father does represent him being pulled towards anger and revenge motivated by his grief. Saru helps him gain perspective on that and his unresolved anxieties around being no better than his father by opening up about the anger he feels towards working with the Ba’Ul. Saru recognises the internal conflict as a worthy one because being rational means his focus is on building a better future rather than giving into negative instincts. This leaves Book with something to think about.
Zora’s sentience creates a lot of interesting potential on the show. Her existence makes literal the idea of the ship being a character in the show and enhances the relationship between Discovery and the crew. This creates a lot of potential as the crew now has to regard the ship as a living being. Much of the episode is devoted to Zora understanding and processing her emotions so that she can better deal with the situation at hand. Gray initially helps her which proves to be an excellent pairing as he is also getting used to confusing sensations associated with adapting to a body. Zora is Discovery’s body and she is so overwhelmed by the situation at hand she is unable to process what’s happening. Once Gray helps her relax and focus she is able to identify certain input which helps in resolving the problem. Burnham steps in to help her process her emotions by opening up about the loss of her parents and how that negative experience shaped her in a positive way. It’s an inelegant link to Zora’s emotional state but the end result remains engaging. Zora’s fear for the crew’s safety and fear of death leads to her valuing them as her family and creating a family tree detailing them. It’s earned by what the episode provides. The main plot itself is pushed into the background while still increasing tension naturally as time runs out. It compliments rather than hinders the more interesting character driven storytelling.
- Book’s ongoing struggle explored through the manifestation of his father
- Book being pulled in the direction of his negative impulses by his father
- Saru opening up about the anger he feels towards the Ba’Ul and his preference to approach dealing with them rationally
- using the manifestation of his father for comfort through believing that spirits live on
- Gray and Zora’s similarities making them an engaging pairing
- making the idea of the ship being a character on the show literal
- lots of potential created by the crew having to consider the ship a living being
- Zora’s emotional journey and how she resolves it
- Burnham and Zora’s connection
- excellent use of the “Stormy Weather” song
- a classic Star Trek style plot that compliments the character stories while organically increasing tension
- the inelegant connection between Burnham’s past and Zora’s emotional turmoil
- the forced inclusion of an element of Owo’s backstory
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