Remember a few weeks ago when I said it was good the crew of the Discovery was getting some much-needed therapy? Yeah, it turns out that should’ve included the starship itself.
“Stormy Weather,” like much of Discovery’s fourth season so far, offers a quintessentially modern Trek twist on a classic Star Trek premise again—this time even literally referencing the events that came before it, as the Discovery heads into a tear in subspace left behind by the Dark Matter Anomaly, only to find a complete void of nothingness. Star Trek loves itself a void of nothingness—The Animated Series had “The Time Trap,” which had a similar idea of the Enterprise being trapped in a dimension it could seemingly not get out of, The Next Generation had “Where Silence Has Lease.” Hell, Voyager, also name-checked here, loved voids of nothingness so much it got trapped in two of them!
Which means we find ourselves in something of a bottle episode—we practically experience the entire episode on the bridge and in Discovery’s lounge, a rarity for a show that loves showing off lavish locations, and a scenario not really explored since season 1's excellent Harry Mudd time loop episode. Naturally, no one on the Discovery wants to go outside in a void of nothingness, especially after they send a Dot drone out into it and it promptly gets disintegrated by whatever primal unknown forces are out there in the black. The countdown begins, as it has several times this season: Discovery’s crew has to find the data on the DMA they need from the void before its forces encroach any further in past its shielding and rips the ship apart.
All this is very intense and high stakes, of course, and it’s actually a pleasure to see the rare sight of Discovery’s still-under-utilized Bridge officer crew put their thinking caps on as they, Burnham, and Saru all try to figure out ways to keep themselves alive and attempt to probe the void’s mysteries. It’s action-packed, for the most part, in that old-school Trek style: No whizzbang combative phaser fights, but probes, experiments, hail mary systems scans—it’s Star Trek sciencing in a way that Discovery hasn’t really had the time to do unless its cast is also being thrown about the place and buffeted by explosions. It’s a welcome mirror to the show’s more cinematic approach to raised stakes, still just as tense and riveting to get through but not necessarily so loud.
But this is Discovery, which means that it’s also a bit of an emotional wringer for everyone involved. The first is Ian Alexander’s Gray, who finds himself by his lonesome in the Discovery lounge when Captain Burnham orders all of the Starfleet crew—Adira included—to their duty stations to help solve the void’s mysteries. Already feeling listless about finding a place on the ship now he has physical form, isolating Gray immediately leaves him vulnerable. Frustrated that his status aboard the ship as a civilian means he can’t help in the way he wants to, even when he’s training to do so as a Trill Guardian. And so Gray strikes up an immediate connection to the other major character of “Stormy Weather”: Zora (voiced by Annabelle Wallis), the Discovery’s evolving ship Computer. Discovery’s fourth season has sown the seeds that something has happened to the computer since integrating the sphere data it inherited all the way back in season 2: Not only has it chosen a name, but the AI has become more emotive, more caring of the crew that looked to safeguard the information it housed within the Discovery’s systems. Seeing Gray in need when he reaches out to her, Zora responds in kind... and even opens up about the emotional turmoil she finds herself in, a ship confronted with sensor readings that make no sense, a pocket of reality that she cannot understand.
What follows is the crucible for Zora to become more than just a particularly chatty Star Trek ship computer. As things start getting more and more dangerous for the crew as the void closes in on the ship—seemingly cutting them off from a path back out of it—it’s not just Michael and the bridge crew that come under strain, but Zora herself, all but revealing that the Discovery has become something of a sentient being in secret. She gets frustrated, anxious, overwhelmed as the more things start happening and the more stress time weighs down upon the ship and the crew: all things that a starship computer, as least as we’ve known them so far, really shouldn’t be. But being something of an emotional wreck is what Discovery has settled on as something of its own Star Trek selling point now: a reminder that, beneath the veneer of a Starfleet officer, there is a person, and that person can be flawed, can have good days and bad days; they can be compromised by their feelings. It’s now come time for Zora and the ship itself to reflect that too, making her as vital a crewmate as anyone else aboard the ship.
Which happens just in time, considering Burnham needs to lean on Zora to get everyone else out alive. When it becomes clear that the path the crew has figured out for itself to flee the void won’t get them out in time before the ship is rendered inhospitable at best, in tiny little bits at worst, the Captain makes the risky, and yet very Burnham family decision to put herself at risk to keep everyone else out of harm’s way. Getting Zora to beam everyone into the transporter pattern buffer—suspending them in limbo so they are protected from the intense heat generated as Discovery rams its way out of the rift—Michael has to single-handedly guide the ship to safety, even as she starts succumbing to the strain, emotional or literal. And so, Zora steps up as any good Star Trek officer would, to support their Captain: She overcomes her own fear to keep Michael focused, while as literally the ship itself, also guiding her out of harm’s way, singing the titular Ethel Waters classic to calm the pair of them down in the face of oblivion.
Is it a bit overtly sentimental? Yes, but honestly that’s just the kind of show Discovery is at this point. It’s deeply interested in the emotionality of its stars, and reflecting on the fact that no matter how much they strive to be cut from the same cloth as the icons of Starfleet that came before them, this crew has been through so much, and that’s left them vulnerable and deeply human (and... well, you know what we mean, other Trek species are available). It makes sense that now even the ship itself is on board with that idea too, and every bit as important a character in the ensemble as the beings aboard it. In forging that new idea out of a classic Trek premise, Discovery once again reminds us that it’s quite perfectly capable of being its own spin on Star Trek as we know it—and gains a “new” crewmate in Zora that is full of potential to explore as the season progresses.
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