The crew of Star Trek: Discovery have been through a hell of a lot in the last three-and-a-bit seasons of the show. We’ve gotten to the point that it’s delightful when they get moments, brief or long, to decompress from all that hell and just sit down and talk through their feelings. “All Is Possible” is all about that, in various ways, leading to some pretty major changes on the show.
Much of the episode’s framing is about the idea of therapy—whether it’s Captain Burnham mandating increased time off for her crew after the hard few weeks tackling the anomaly, or that literally Dr. Culber gets to change from running around the bridge patching people up physically to becoming Ship’s Counselor and patching them up mentally, like Book and Tilly. But not all of “All Is Possible” is about that passive kind of emotional workout in a literal sense. The episode is largely split into two plots. First, the Federation and Ni’Var are concluding talks to return the reunified homeworld of the Vulcans and Romulans to the fold, and both Burnham and Saru find themselves last-minute guests to proceedings in one. In the other, after talking to Culber about her attempt to re-discover what she wants out of her future in the 31st century, Tilly decides to take a voluntary position, with Adira in tow, leading a Starfleet Academy training exercise with a group of young students.
Let’s start with perhaps the least therapeutic of the two plots, which is saying something because the other involves a series of increasingly lethal disasters and duplicating flesh-eating monsters, because it’s actually the more frustrating thread of the two: Saru and Burnham on Ni’Var. Invited under dubious circumstances by the politically shrewd Federation President Rillak, the two officers find themselves an odd couple in the proceedings. On the surface, it’s a chance to witness history and, in some way, get some of the downtime that Burnham has asked her own crew to take, away from the stresses of figuring out the anomaly. But they are Starfleet officers asked to sit in on a diplomatic meeting between citizen governments, and that makes their presence awkward. Even more so when Ni’Var’s President T’Rina reveals a last minute gotcha that threatens to tear the proceedings apart. Ni’Var wants to include a get out clause on its return to Federation membership, should the same breakdown of trust that tore them out of the alliance a century prior happen again. To be fair, it’s not really a “gotcha,” in so much that Ni’Var absolutely has every right to make it clear that the Federation needs to, and hasn’t quite yet, prove it has re-established that trust. Rillak is immediately put on the defensive, going hostile and shutting down any potential inclusion of such a clause, believing that she needs to show strength, rather than trust—and if Ni’Var asks for a takeback, other Federation worlds might too, weakening it even further.
This creates a fascinatingly awkward situation for Burnham and Saru, who, as Starfleet officers and not Federation diplomats, know that they can’t intervene even when it looks like the talks are about to break down entirely. It’s a heady idea, one that touches on Discovery’s own prior ponderings about the nebulous existence of Starfleet itself: it is both a military organization in a utopia and ostensibly a scientific exploratory unit crossed with a diplomatic corps. But when it’s quickly revealed, thanks to Saru and Burnham sussing it out, that they were brought to Ni’Var as Rillak’s political tools—that they would be a concerned third party that would be able to figure out a way to show a compromise to Ni’Var after she learned from a source ahead of time about the “surprise” amendment—things get messy. It’s frustrating for Burnham, who is increasingly concerned about her personal relationship with Rillak, and the way her previous penchant for being an effectively blunt tool to get her own way is being used by someone else.
But it also runs into a problem that Discovery has faced time and time again: it cannot let world-changing events occur without putting Burnham at the personal heart of them. The solution to the Federation and Ni’Var’s issues isn’t for Burnham or Saru to convince T’Rina and Rillak to sit down together and actually listen to each other, and rebuild that trust that is missing, or for them to be clear that Starfleet’s nebulous existence makes it a difficult arbiter to act as a third party when the Federation itself is involved. Instead, it’s for Michael to make herself the solution. As an adoptive child of a Vulcan family, and a Starfleet Captain, she decides to establish a neutral advisory committee that will act as a balance check on Ni’Var-Federation diplomatic relations, ensuring that the two sides receive impartial guidance and maintain a healthy relationship that will mean there is an impetus for the Federation to rebuild trust without Ni’Var needing to threaten leaving it again. It’s not just that centering Michael for little reason in such a monumental piece of worldbuilding for the show was unnecessary, but it goes against what Discovery’s fourth season has been saying about its characters and their needs to not share burdens alone by placing the future of Ni’Var/Federation relations squarely on Michael’s shoulders.
Thankfully, the arc with Tilly and Adira is much more true to that idea, on multiple levels. Firstly, the duo discover that the cadets they’re tasked with face an intriguing issue: after the Burn cut off most Federation member worlds from each other, they’re part of some of the first classes to represent a mix of Starfleet students from multiple species, and are extremely hesitant to co-operate with each other socially or academically, because they just do not know how to. Especially because one of them, Hiral, is an Orion—making him carry the uneasy burden of being connected to the legacy of the Emerald Chain from last season. Nothing on Star Trek can be as easy as overcoming social anxiety and a dash of racial prejucide however, so immediately Tilly, Adira, and the cadets find their mission goes horribly wrong and they crash land on the wrong moon. Out is a safe M-Class desert world, in is a less-safe L-Class ice moon that just so happens to be home to a hive species that wants to eat the bioorganic components found in their Starfleet tech. So far, so very Star Trek. Who doesn’t love an away mission gone wrong?
The answer is these Academy kiddos, who immediately fall apart in panic and start snapping at each other, but Tilly—in a truly standout performance from Mary Wiseman, the reason for which becomes very clear by this episode’s end—comes into the moment she has spent pretty much her entire time on Discovery looking for. Ever since we first met Tilly, we’ve seen the drive in her that wants to lead others, to prove herself, and the way she has wanted that for so long was the quickest possible path to a captain’s chair. She’s taken on command training, she became Saru’s first officer briefly, and she has, time and time again, proven she has the capacity to be someone her fellows can turn to. All of that is on display here, as Tilly leads her cadets to safety, pushes them to work together, and makes budding Starfleet officers of them all when she enacts a risky plan to get them to abandon their shuttle and locate a safe point that will let them beam out to an awaiting Starfleet ship. The day is saved, the kids learn to connect with each other (even Adira, who gets over their social awkwardness to make new friends, much to Tilly’s delight) and the comfort zone Tilly has wanted to be pushed out of all this season is well and truly thrown out the window.
... Which is how figures out that her path isn’t towards a captain’s chair in Starfleet, but as a teacher at the academy, and why she resigns her position aboard the Discovery in a heartbreakingly bittersweet close to “All Is Possible.” Tilly more than any other character on Discovery has always represented a different kind of Star Trek character. She’s been, perhaps controversially, a bit more kooky than we’d expect; she’s been an empathetic figure for people like Michael and Saru; she’s been a fresh-faced, excitable, energetic insert for all of us who have ever thought being in Star Trek was super cool, even when it’s trying its best to kill you. To lose her as a regular among the crew is sad—even if, as she promises Michael, this is not the end and she’ll be hanging around on Federation HQ whenever the Discovery is in dock. But it is perhaps the greatest example of the therapeutic core of “All Is Possible”: the most healing lesson of all can be to realize your calling will take you somewhere unexpected, whether by circumstances out of your control, like Book and Michael find themselves, or by taking the reigns on a new path for yourself as Tilly learns. Even if it means losing one of its best characters for now, it’s nice to see Discovery’s heroes take the time to take that lesson to heart.
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