Star Trek: Discovery – Season 5 Episode 6

May 2, 2024 | Posted by in TV


Star Trek: Discovery continues the search for the Progenitor tech with a visit to pre-warp civilisation prompting further questions about faith.

The opening credits for The Original Series and The Next Generation contained a monologue where Captains Kirk and Picard said “to explore strange new worlds; to seek out new life and new civilisations; to boldly go where no man -or no one- has gone before”. It was a mission statement for the Enterprise and for Star Trek that told the viewers what they could expect from what they were watching. Many classic episodes feature visits to a planet home to an alien race with a definable trait that provides an opportunity to tell a story. In many cases, these alien races weren’t much more than the baseline trait but the better examples provided something meaningful to think about.


Kovich and theatricality go hand in hand

Modern Star Trek has delivered curiously little in the way of “strange new worlds”, even the show called Strange New Worlds is noticeably lacking in this so it really stands out when an episode is devoted to introducing a new alien species to explore. Discovery‘s final season continues with the structure of using the search for the next clue as an excuse for an episodic adventure and this one is about exploring the inhabitants of a planet unknowingly benefitting from a weather tower creating life-giving rain.

The inhabitants have created a religion around the tower creating rain; they believe that the Gods have to be appeased before they will supply it and have built a trial around endurance to prove one’s worth to commune with the Gods. It’s later revealed that communing with the Gods brings death and it’s considered an honour for someone to sacrifice their life in exchange for bringing rain.

Naturally, this is a misguided approach as the inhabitants have created a religion around a technology placed there intended to help them. The failure of other towers has massively reduced the habitable regions of the planet and has contributed to the belief that sacrifice is necessary to ensure the Gods will spare who is left. It’s easy to see how they arrived at this conclusion as they are a pre-warp civilisation with a limited grasp of science so it’s a classic case of sufficiently advanced technology being indistinguishable from magic.


Continuing to look for answers

This is very much a Prime Directive story -something that the episode overtly declares- and it comes at the idea from a couple of angles. Firstly, the very existence of the weather tower is arguably a breach of the Prime Directive as the natural course of development for the planet’s inhabitants has been interfered with. Granted, the natural course of development would appear to be extinction as the lack of rain would eventually result in the people being wiped out. The tower was placed there without their knowledge and has kept them alive by seeding the atmosphere to create rain.

There are other examples of the Prime Directive being breached in this way. In The Next Generation episode “Pen Pals” Picard uses the resources at his disposal to save the planet and its unsuspecting population. In that case, it was blatantly defined as a breach of the Prime Directive and it was a decision that Picard made consciously while being prepared to accept the consequences of that decision. In the Strange New Worlds episode “Children of the Comet”, Pike orders the crew to divert a comet so that it doesn’t hit an inhabited planet. In the process of doing that, the atmosphere is seeded by parts of the comet to produce rain and create a more forgiving climate. “Pen Pals” addresses the breach of the Prime Directive but “Children of the Comet” doesn’t even though the spirit of the rule is non-interference. In both cases, had the Enterprise not been present then the inhabitants of each planet would have been wiped out. Preventing that is interfering in the natural development as it’s possible that the extinction of one species might one day create the opportunity for another to evolve.

A consistent problem in Star Trek is that the Prime Directive is defined as a monolithic doctrine that can’t be defied under any circumstances. The issue is that it’s constantly bent, broken or ignored with little or no consequences. Better examples acknowledge that it’s a rule created by people that is a strong starting point as an ideal course of action but doesn’t apply in all circumstances. Captains should be allowed and encouraged to interpret it as long as they are willing to make a case for their decision. “Whistlespeak” is one of the strongest examples of the Prime Directive being applied practically and thoughtfully as it is acknowledged that it is something that can be broken but breaching it is not to be taken lightly.


Seeking out new life

One thing the episode doesn’t address is that the Prime Directive has already been broken so, in theory, Burnham and the Discovery crew are performing damage control in the wake of something that happened centuries earlier. The ideal solution is repairing the weather tower without the inhabitants knowing. Doing so would ensure their survival without further cultural contamination but there is an added complication due to the search for the next clue. As Burnham points out, the failing tower doubled their mission parameters and added further complication to the situation.

Burnham makes an unambiguous decision to breach the Prime Directive to save Tilly’s life. She learns that the winner of the challenge loses their life because of how the weather tower works and the only way to quickly prevent Tilly’s death is to beam into the adjacent chamber and reveal herself to Ohvahz (Alfredo Narciso). The most striking thing about her decision is that she is fully willing to answer for breaching the Prime Directive as she sees saving her friend’s life as being more important than what the rule represents.

The consequences are interesting as Ohvahz learns that aliens exist and that the tower is a device left behind by an alien intended to help them. It’s a lot for anyone to take in as it shatters his worldview completely but he takes it in his stride and is willing to listen to Burnham’s explanation even if he is overwhelmed by what her existence represents to him and how the knowledge he now possesses could fundamentally change his people.


Preparing to run the gauntlet

This season has featured a continuous theme of how faith relates to science and the inhabitants of this planet slot neatly into this theme. Ohvahz learns that his people aren’t alone in the universe and that his entire belief system is wrong but that doesn’t mean his faith is meaningless or that he should renounce it altogether. Burnham shows respect for his faith by making it clear that she can’t say for certain that she wasn’t sent by a God and that nothing he has been shown means that Gods don’t exist. All she is saying is that the Gods don’t directly influence the creation of rain on his planet and she isn’t a God.

Ohvahz reflects on this and starts to consider how this knowledge should change their beliefs. The religion may evolve now that he knows that sacrifice isn’t necessary to bring about rain. Burnham tells him that people might be willing to consider abandoning the sacrifice when they see that it isn’t required as knowledge is a very powerful motivator. Of course, this enhances how severe a breach of the Prime Directive this potentially prompts a fundamental change in the belief system of an entire species though, as mentioned above, it’s furthering a prior breach of the Prime Directive that prompted the existence of this religion in the first place so it’s definitely complex and thought-provoking. It’s unlikely that the consequences of Burnham’s decision will be explored to the extent that they should but that doesn’t alter the fact that this is among the strongest Prime Directive explorations the franchise has delivered.

Another blurring of the line between faith and science can be found when Burnham repairs the control panel. She has a moment of faith where she almost prays for the panel to come back online after following the steps involved in repairing it. Bringing it back online is a fully scientific process as there are defined steps to perform to return it to working order but there is a moment of uncertainty when Burnham worries that the repairs won’t succeed. It isn’t rational as the almost prayer won’t influence the outcome in any way but Burnham does it anyway. This reinforces the idea that not all technological problems are easily solved and hope or faith is unavoidable when there’s any degree of uncertainty.


In the big leagues!

Faith is also explored through Ohvahz’ child Ravah (June Laporte). Their main motivation for wanting to commune with the Gods is interacting with their mother. They are grieving and want to be closer to her through The Gods. Being denied a final moment with their mother weighs heavily on them and comfort is found in the possibility of the Gods bringing them together once again.

This desire makes them highly motivated to endure the trial and prove themself worthy of communing with the Gods. They are even willing to sacrifice their life in order to have that final moment with their mother as well as be as close to the Gods as possible. Ultimately, the decision is taken out of their hands when their life is saved but it makes for a strong example of how damaging the misguided faith is. Ravah’s voluntary near-death experience makes it particularly disappointing that the episode doesn’t address the harm that has been caused by deploying the tower. Granted if it wasn’t present then the entire species would most likely be dead but the influence its presence has on their culture isn’t explored in detail even though it should absolutely be part of the Prime Directive conversation. Arguably, Burnham repairing the tower and explaining its presence to Ohvahz is a necessary step given the lack of thought that went into ensuring the towers were maintained. There’s a larger Prime Directive debate to be had and the episode doesn’t quite get there.

Ravah performs another function in the episode. They provide an opportunity for Tilly to consider her abilities as a teacher. She mentions to Burnham that a student of hers reached out to her asking for advice on whether to leave the academy for another position. Tilly is reluctant to give advice as she’s worried about saying the wrong thing and sending her student down the wrong path. The lesson for her is to provide advice and trust her judgement. It’s mentioned that Ravah reminds her of the student and Tilly takes them under her wing to some degree. She helps Ravah cross the finish line and makes the race a collaborative effort rather than a competitive one.


This isn’t what I expected

The connection between Ravah and the unseen student isn’t as strong as it needs to be and Tilly’s personal revelation doesn’t work because the circumstances are too different. She does demonstrate an ability to support someone in need of guidance and proves that she has it in her to be an effective mentor of sorts but Tilly being uncertain about what advice to give doesn’t pay off with her being certain and offering the advice with confidence. It’s also the first time her lack of confidence in this area has been brought up. Prior mention of her role as a teacher at Starfleet Academy has been along the lines of her having found her calling and taking to it naturally so the uncertainty is an unnecessary complication that has minimal payoff. It’s a confusing inclusion and Tilly could have related to Ravah in any number of ways.

As alien races go, they are typical of Star Trek in that they are defined by a small number of baseline traits but they are used to good effect in crafting a story. Burnham’s summary of these traits provides some background and her excitement as she pours over what she has learned is infectious. As mentioned above, it’s rare to see modern Star Trek take the time to explore a new species and Burnham’s excitement serves as a reminder of how compelling learning about other races and cultures can be. The Whistlespeak that gives the episode its title is an interesting detail that is unfortunately underused. It’s a compelling quirk of evolution that they have developed the ability to communicate over large distances by whistling. The title of the episode suggested that it was going to be a more significant fixture than it ended up being. Perhaps it could have been used to communicate with Ravah inside the chamber or helped with the repair of the tower in some way. The application of sound to heal someone when their lungs are full of dust was a really strong touch that suggests they have found different ways to use this ability to improve their quality of life. There was certainly scope for more coverage of this ability to justify the title of the episode.

This was another disappointing episode for Rayner as he is once again stuck on Discovery waiting for Burnham’s return. He and the crew are far more active than they were in the previous episode as they actually offer practical support to Burnham and Tilly but Rayner really needs a story where he takes Discovery on a mission of his own to properly explore his command style.


Grace in the face of death

His edges have been largely sanded off to make him a more functional member of the crew but there are still hints at the character that could have been. He has consistently been portrayed as both observant and fair in his own way. He’s clearly a commander that pushes the crew when he knows they can handle it. This is exemplified through Adira working on the bridge. They asked to be assigned to the bridge and Rayner thought they were ready so wasted no time in allowing it. He points out that there’s no time like the present and he wouldn’t have allowed it if he didn’t believe that they were ready.

This ends up resolving the thankfully brief and uninteresting arc for Adira where they feel responsible for bringing the Time Bug aboard. Rayner points out that it isn’t their fault and won’t let them blame themselves for something that they couldn’t have prevented. It’s not very well developed or explored and only seems to exist to create a point of connection between Rayner and Adira while showing how fair-minded he is as a commander. Adira’s crisis of confidence could easily have been motivated by the trust placed in them to work on the bridge unsupervised though even that wouldn’t have been a natural fit as they have never lacked confidence in their ability to deliver. It’s another example of unnecessary complications being handled clumsily.

Culber exploring his approach to faith continues to be a fascinating arc for him. His first appearance in the episode sees him interact with a hologram of his Abuela created from his memories. He’s testing it as a grief management tool and is impressed by how detailed it is. This prompts him to wonder if his memory of her can guide him in some way and help him resolve the confusion that exists in his mind. He’s initially disappointed when an answer isn’t provided but it helps him to consider that separating the scientific and the spiritual might be the key to him resolving this personal impasse. His Abuela prompts him to consider believing in something beyond the scientific. She was a doctor and had a strong working understanding of the mechanics of how a body works but that didn’t prevent her from believing in a soul. Culber considers the notion of someone’s essence being far more than the biological processes that make their body work.


Taking it all in

A conversation with the memory of his Abuela isn’t enough for him to fully commit to this idea so he enlists Stamets to help him further explore the scientific angle. He previously mentioned that he doesn’t know how to discuss what he’s feeling with Stamets because his mind is firmly geared in the direction of the scientific so he would be unable to understand or appreciate the spiritual. Asking for his help with a neurological scan is his way of letting Stamets in and inviting him to explore this in a way that makes sense to him. The scan is inconclusive which further supports the idea that Culber’s answers can’t be found in the scientific so he will have to lean into the spiritual to further explore this.

He admits to Stamets that since being inhabited by Jinaal he has felt more connected and attuned to something greater than himself. There is no scientific basis for this feeling so it can only be labeled as a spiritual awakening of some kind. Stamets doesn’t pretend to understand what that means but expresses how glad he is that Culber is healthy and encourages him to enjoy this feeling because it’s clearly very positive and should be embraced. He can’t provide understanding but he can provide encouragement and support.

Culber is initially disappointed that Stamets can’t understand how he feels but Book offers a different perspective that allows him to see his relationship with Stamets differently. He advises Culber that it’s ok for partners to have things that are just for them. There’s no need to share or understand everything about your partner as it isn’t required to be able to support them. There were things about Burnham that Book couldn’t be a part of but he had no problem with that because he was secure in the strength of their connection. Culber and Stamets clearly have a strong connection so there’s no need to worry about being unable to share this spiritual awakening.


A quiet and comforting moment

Book and Culber’s interaction furthers the friendship developing over the season and highlights why it’s such a strong dynamic that enhances both characters. They both offer something meaningful to the other and find comfort in confiding in one another. Sharing a meal together is a sedate and comfortable experience that allows both characters to slow down. Culber bringing the food that he was initially going to make for Stamets sets up his acceptance of Book’s advice. It’s ok not to share everything with your partner and other relationships can fill those gaps. Sharing a meal with a friend while opening up about certain anxieties doesn’t diminish the intimacy of the romantic relationship.

Another puzzle is solved and another clue is gained in the quest for the Progenitor tech. Once again, the solutions to these puzzles are far too simplistic. Solving this involves knowing what symbols represent numbers in the language of the natives. The lesson of wielding technology bringing responsibility is also very simplistic and should be self-evident for Starfleet officers. That is something they already understand as evidenced by how seriously the Prime Directive is treated in this very episode. The actual quest is the least interesting thing about the season because there’s nothing clever about the clues or their solutions.


What have we learned today?


A good episode that numbers among the franchise’s best explorations of the Prime Directive while delivering compelling coverage of how faith fits into science.

  • 7/10
    "Whistlespeak" - 7/10


Kneel Before…

  • a Star Trek episode that features a strange new world, new life and a new civilisation
  • one of the strongest examples of the Prime Directive being applied practically and thoughtfully
  • interesting consequences to Burnham’s breach of the Prime Directive
  • Burnham respecting Ohvahz’ faith
  • Ohvahz reflecting on what he learns
  • faith being explored through Ravah’s desire and motivation
  • the Whistlespeak being a compelling detail
  • Culber’s continued exploration of his spiritual awakening
  • inviting Stamets into his feelings by appealing to the scientific
  • Stamets not understanding how Culber feels but encouraging him to enjoy what he’s experiencing
  • Culber’s conversation with the hologram of his Abuela prompting him to consider something beyond the scientific
  • Book advising Culber that partners don’t need to understand or be part of everything about the other
  • the development of Book and Culber’s friendship
  • their meal together showing that other relationships don’t diminish the romantic relationship with your partner


Rise Against…

  • not fully covering the Prime Directive breach despite all the elements being in place to explore it
  • Tilly’s lack of confidence in her teaching ability coming from nowhere
  • Ravah not being the example that Tilly needs to resolve her lack of confidence despite the episode hinting at it
  • Adira’s crisis of confidence being unearned and seeming to exist for the sake of a complication
  • another disappointing episode for Rayner as he is left on the ship waiting for Burnham to return
  • the puzzles and clues continuing to fail to be clever or interesting


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

User Review
6.3/10 (5 votes)

We’d love to know your thoughts on this and anything else you want to discuss. You can find us on Facebook, Twitter, BlueSky and Discord or just leave a comment in the comment section below. You’ll need an account for Disqus but it’s easy to set up. Don’t forget to share your rating in the “User Review” box.

If you want to chat with me directly, I’m also on Twitter