Star Trek: Discovery’s fourth season, much like the seasons that came before it, has put a lot of emphasis on the idea that perhaps the most important ideal any of its heroes, Federation or otherwise, could hold is a sense of unity and communal understanding. As it heads into a surprise mid-season hiatus this week, it makes that ideal more necessary than ever—in spite of what could be great cost to its lead character.
“... But to Connect” brings to a head two of the biggest underlying plot points of Discovery’s fourth season, finally taking the space to really focus on the threat of the Dark Matter Anomaly that’s been plaguing the galaxy after more than a few weeks spent riffing on classic Star Trek episode premises. As the Discovery sits in drydock repairing itself from the damage sustained last week, two plot threads intertwine over that theme of unity. At Federation HQ, Michael attends a massive diplomatic summit that draws together worlds from across the galaxy to discuss how to approach the mysterious “Species 10C” (it’s all very “Species 8472,” layering on even more Voyager references this season), the unidentified species behind the DMA. Meanwhile, aboard the ship, Saru and Stamets find themselves teaming up with Kovich—the returning David Cronenberg, and always a delight to see—as they deal with the wider ramifications of ship computer Zora making her increasing evolution known to the Discovery crew at large. Namely, that Zora has computed a rough location of where Species 10C might be hiding out in the galaxy... but refuses to share with Stamets over the emotional response that it would put the Discovery crew in danger.
Both threads create some fascinating hurdles for our heroes to. Michael and Federation President Rillak continue their little game of politics. The latter unsubtly nudges the former into once again becoming the voice of her agenda, when Rillak makes clear to Michael that even if she is a Starfleet officer and not a Federation diplomat, her voice will have the power to sway any vote over what action to take against Species 10C—peaceful first contact, or an assault on the DMA itself. Matters are complicated when asshole Risian scientist Ruon Tarka (guest star Shawn Doyle) once again shows up to drop his ego on proceedings, and offer a potential, tempting alternative to peace: what if the galaxy did a little war crime, as a treat? Tarka’s latest plan to disable the DMA requires breaking one of the most enduring treaties in Federation history, the second Khitomer Accords, to use subspace-damaging isolytic weaponry to overload the DMA’s power systems. It’s a tempting offer to the growing contingent of voices at the summit who want a show of force—but Tarka is much more interested in how much it compels Book, who is still grappling with his anger over Kwejian’s destruction and is pulled between Michael’s angel on his shoulder preaching patience, and Tarka’s offer of immediate response.
Aboard Discovery with Zora, things get heated for Stamets, who immediately starts freaking out at the computer’s evolution into a potential sentient life form for reasons even beyond the fact she won’t give him the co-ordinates he and Adira have been hunting for weeks. You’d think a man who plugs himself into tech-mushrooms every time Discovery needs to get somewhere would be more trusting of a bio-organic system, but that’s Stamets’ biggest issue with Zora: if she is essentially a new member of the crew in this evolved form, she has to act like it, working with a chain of command and being able to put trust in the people around her, even as she fears their decisions could put them—and her, being one with the Discovery—in harm’s way.
The answer to both threads is ultimately a simple one. Whatever happens in either scenario—whether the summit votes for diplomacy or action, or whether Kovich decides that Zora’s sentience violates Federation rules about artificial intelligence in Starfleet ship systems and needs to extract her entirely—the outcome must be faced by all parties involved together. Divisions between those who get their way and those that don’t can’t undercut either process, because whether it’s something as far-reaching as facing the Anomaly or something as personal as the Discovery crew losing a new friend in Zora, the only way everyone will be able to move forward trusting the right decision was made was if they do so together. The summit (and Michael in particular, much to Book and Tarka’s personal chagrin) agrees that it must be open with its members to make their ultimate decision actually carry the weight it deserves, and Stamets, Saru, and Kovic agree that the crew’s relationship to Zora has fundamentally changed, and needs to be navigated with trust and open communication from both sides. It’s nothing new for Discovery, the show has always been honest about how it values this idea of unity above all things in its various, often cataclysmic conflicts. But “... But to Connect” throws an interesting wrench in the works for us to sit with as the series goes on break for a couple of months.
For the most part, that hopeful message of unity saves the day. Stamets and Zora agree to work with each other on building their trust of each other, and the latter rewards his honesty expressing concern over her by finally relinquishing the co-ordinates Discovery needs. After Rillak pushes Michael into one of her trademark Big Speeches at the summit, the vote overwhelmingly favors first contact over Tarka’s plan. Everything’s fine! Until it isn’t, and this time Discovery inverts its usual problem of a personal crisis having galactic ramifications (although... the jury’s still out on whether or not those galactic ramifications might show up). Michael’s intervention at the summit may have been at Rillak’s behest, but in doing so she directly goes against Book, who Tarka had already pushed to give his own address advocating for immediate action against the DMA. Book’s grief over Kwejian makes his desire for action—and perhaps vengeance, as Tarka has poked and prodded out of him before—understandable, but it also makes him blind to Michael’s goals in advocating for a diplomatic, unified response. Seeing her go against him and successfully convince the summit looks less like a healthy debate to him, and more like another example of her priotizing the needs of Starfleet and the Federation over her relationship to him... and Book responds in turn by going behind her back with Tarka to go execute the scientist’s isolytic attack on the DMA regardless.
We’ll have to wait a few months just to see the ramifications of Book’s choice—the rare one in “... But to Connect” that threatens to shear off those titular connections, rather than embolden them—but it’s an interesting climax for Discovery to rest on for a while. So much of the show so far (and admittedly, some of its messiest problems) have come from when it centers Michael’s personal crises as intrinsically connected to the fate of the larger galaxy, and whatever big threat of the season she and the Discovery are facing. By making the emotional fallout of her relationship with Book become the cost for putting aside those concerns for the greater good here, Captain Burnham might have the rare chance to face some longstanding consequences for her actions, even if she ultimately did the right thing as a Starfleet Captain. At least, no matter what happens, she knows she has the trust of the Discovery crew—and its “new” friend in a re-committed Zora—to work alongside her confronting whatever outcome the series will face when it returns.
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