Star Trek: Discovery fourth season overview and Star Trek: Picard‘s “Watcher”

My last two-post day for a bit on, at least until May when Picard‘s season finale and Strange New Worlds‘s season premiere drop on the same day…..

A look back at what is truly the most purely Star Trek season ever, though it’s not without its flaws — particularly pacing issues that dogged the latter half. Still and all, the fourth season of Discovery is what Trek is all about……

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My favorite thing this whole season is watching the developing relationship between Burnham and Rillak, very nicely played by Sonequa Martin-Green and Chelah Horsdal. The captain and the president start out somewhat adversarial, but the more they work together the more smoothly their working relationship becomes, and by the time the season is over, the pair of them make a fantastic team talking to 10C and convincing them to retract the DMA and stop causing harm to these individual life forms that they didn’t even recognize as being higher life forms until they showed up on their doorstep.

It’s the first episode this season that isn’t giving us a new status quo, so you’d think there’d be more forward movement. We do get lots of references to past Trek, hilarious comedy with Seven and Musiker, and a nice bit of acting by Ito Aghayere as young Guinan, but overall there’s not a lot of forward movement here. My review of Star Trek: Picard‘s “Watcher.”

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Jurati gets to verbally fence with the Borg Queen some more. I’m loving the way Annie Wersching is playing the Queen, which is more than I can say for how she’s being written. For some reason, they’re leaning into the awful portrayal of her on Voyager as a mustache-twirling villain. Jurati begs her for help, and even makes her a compelling offer: someone to talk to. The Queen said last week that the silence was maddening, as she’s been cut off from the Collective, and Jurati offers to keep her company if she helps Jurati get the transporters online so she can beam Seven and Musiker out of their car chase.

Then when it’s over, Jurati pointedly leaves the room, and the Queen fumes. I was practically expecting her to shake her fist and cry out, “Curses, foiled again!”

Star Trek: Discovery‘s “Coming Home” and Star Trek: Picard‘s “Assimilation”

For the third (and last) week in a row, we get simultaneous releases of Discovery and Picard, with the former’s fourth-season finale and the latter’s third second-season episode.

On Discovery, we get chases through space! New attempts at first contact! Romance! Action! Adventure! Snark! The return of Tilly! Tarka continuing to be an asshole! Six different people volunteer for suicide missions and only one of them actually dies! My review of “Coming Home.”

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This is very much David Ajala’s episode. He’s still hurting so very much from Kwejian’s destruction, but he has finally, belatedly, come to realize that more violence is not the solution, talking is. And he also rejects Tarka’s offer to come with him to the alternate universe, even though Tarka thinks he’s sweetening the deal by saying that Kwejian’s probably intact in that universe. Backed by Reno, who has an epic rant about how they may look the same and act the same and laugh the same and cut their sandwiches diagonally the same, they’re not the same, Book then is able to finally get through to Tarka that Oros is gone and that he has to accept the loss instead of trying to twist the universe to his will for a reunion that will probably never happen.

Picard gives us another wacky time-travel adventure, as La Sirena goes back to 2024 Los Angeles, which is almost like what you’d see if you looked out your window in L.A. today. Picard and Jurati mess with the Borg Queen, Seven and Musiker mess with a security guard, and Rios gets messed with by ICE. My review of “Assimilation.”

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The Los Angeles we see sorta-kinda looks like the world outside our door. There’s a depressing number of homeless people, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers are acting like fascist shock troops going after immigrants with darker skin, and heterosexual male security guards will fall for anything said to them by pretty women, especially if they’re a couple.

But it also doesn’t in one interesting way: there’s a forthcoming mission to Europa that is a big enough deal to have billboards and stuff.

So what we’re seeing here is a mix of the actual early twenty-first century mixed in with what older iterations of Trek thought the early twenty-first century would be like, to wit, one filled with space travel and other science fictional stuff (the Botany Bay from “Space Seed,” Shaun Christopher’s mission to Saturn from “Tomorrow is Yesterday,” the cryogenically frozen folks from “The Neutral Zone,” etc.).

Star Trek: Picard‘s “Penance” and Star Trek: Discovery‘s “Species Ten-C”

Again, we’ve got two new Treks in one day, with Picard‘s second episode of its second season and Discovery‘s second-to-the-last episode of its fourth.

It starts with epic Picard-Q banter, and sadly never quite rises to those heights again, though the episode is overall fun, if a little too repetitive. My review of “Penance.”

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Having Seven be the president and Picard a respected general makes it pretty easy for our heroes to contrive to get themselves together, though this also means we’ve done two episodes in a row in which the band has to be gotten back together. Which is not the only bit of repetition here, as we also have the must-adjust-to-an-unexpected-unfamiliar-landscape trope, seen not only in the three aforementioned time-travel storylines, but also in “Mirror, Mirror,” “Assignment: Earth,” The Voyage Home, “Time’s Arrow,” “Future’s End,” “Workforce,” “Despite Yourself,” etc., etc., etc. It’s mildly entertaining to see how each person responds—Seven  and Musiker adjust perfectly, while Rios and Jurati struggle a great deal. (Elnor mostly just looks confused. But he does get to kick butt at one point, so that’s fun.) But it’s also a major letdown, to have to go through this all over again, particularly after the spark and wit of the Q-Picard conversations at the top of the episode.

It’s first contact with Species 10C and it’s fabulous. A wonderful example of the scientific process, and especially of seeking out new life and new civilizations. Unfortunately, it’s likely to be completely ruined because Tarka is still an asshole. My review of the very unimaginatively titled “Species Ten-C.”

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The process of getting there is a wonderful example of the scientific method at work, and it’s tremendous fun seeing everyone throw ideas around. (Also, once again, everyone turns to Saru to “translate” when the technobabble gets too fast and furious.) I find myself reminded of something’s own Emmet Asher-Perrin said almost exactly three years ago on Twitter, and which remains the case today: “Hello, it is important to me that we praise one (of many) thing that #StarTrekDiscovery does better than any of the Treks before it: Tapping into the sheer joy that is just ‘Look at all these nerds solving puzzles together, they live for this shit.’”

Star Trek: Picard‘s “The Star Gazer” and Star Trek: Discovery‘s “Rosetta”

For only the second time since 1999, we’re getting two new Star Trek episodes in one week. It was a regular occurrence from January 1993-May 1994 (TNG and DS9) and again from January 1995-May 1999 (DS9 and Voyager), but it didn’t happen again until the end of last year (the mid-season finale of Discovery and the premiere of Prodigy, but that overlap was only for one week). It’ll happen again for each of the next two weeks, which is pretty fabulous…

Star Trek: Picard‘s second-season premiere brings back a couple of old friends in Guinan and Q, and does some excellent character work, some mediocre explanations of where everyone is a year-and-a-half later, and some terrible work on a very clunky climax. My review of “The Star Gazer.”

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Rios in particular becoming a Starfleet captain again feels like it’s happening solely because the plot requires it. Though it does mean that Seven has been gifted La Sirena to use for the Fenris Rangers. She doesn’t have a crew, sticking with the Rios holograms, though, for whatever reason, she only seems to be using Emmet, who still only speaks Spanish. After the scene of Seven and Emmet taking out raiders who have boarded La Sirena to steal medical supplies Seven is ferrying for the Fenris Rangers, I’d be totally on board with just watching Seven and Emmet kick ass in two languages for an entire season.

The journey to meet Species 10C takes yet another detour. While the idea of going to a planet they abandoned to find out more about them — and make it easier to communicate with them — is good in theory, in execution, it’s yet another delay until we actually meet them. I have a very mixed review of Star Trek: Discovery‘s “Rosetta.”

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What’s especially frustrating is that the story of this episode is quite compelling on its own. Discovery is at its best when the crew is science-ing the shit out of something, and that’s exactly what the away team does here. The planet is a gas giant that had some manner of catastrophe that led to 10C abandoning it, and transporters aren’t reliable, so Detmer flies them down in a shuttle that also includes Burnham, Saru, and Culber. They work their way through the ruins, and have to deal with a crisis when Saru starts to feel fear. Saru’s acting the way he did before the vahar’ai, which concerns Burnham and Culber greatly. But then the two of them also start to hallucinate and feel fear as well. But Detmer doesn’t.

It’s tremendous fun watching the four of them work through the problem, while three of them are also fighting their way through an externally induced fear.

Star Trek: Discovery‘s “The Galactic Barrier”

We finally get Tarka’s backstory, and it features Osric Chau (the guy who played Kevin on Supernatural and the Atom on The Flash). Meanwhile, the U.S.S. Discovery ferries Presidents Rillak and T’Rina and a bunch of other delegates to try to make first contact with Species 10C by traversing the galactic barrier in an episode imaginatively titled “The Galactic Barrier.” My review of Star Trek: Discovery‘s latest episode…

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Vance contacts Discovery to inform them that the DMA is now endangering Earth, Titan, and Ni’Var (among, presumably, lots of other worlds). Burnham wants to tell the crew, and Rillak wants to keep that information classified.

On the one hand, from a military standpoint, Rillak is absolutely right. The crew and the contact team need to be focused, and being told that their homes are in danger is not a great way to stay focused.

On the other hand, from a Star Trek standpoint, Burnham’s right. Jean-Luc Picard once reminded us all that a Starfleet officer’s first duty is to the truth, and Burnham believes it’s more important for the crew to know the stakes.

Star Trek is an idealized future, and because of that, we’re dealing with people who are the best and the brightest. This crew has been through hell and back together and they’re professionals of the highest order. Ideally, as professionals, they shouldn’t be adversely affected by such news, and Trek is an ideal future.

Star Trek: Discovery‘s “Rubicon”

It’s Book and Tarka vs. the entire crew of the U.S.S. Discovery. The good news is that it’s mostly a triumph of brains over brawn, as science and thoughtfulness and compassion are the order of the day. The bad news is there’s one bit of stupidity that almost ruins it all. My review of Star Trek: Discovery‘s “Rubicon.”

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Because there’s an obvious conflict of interest in Discovery going after Book and Tarka given the relationship between Burnham and Book (and, indeed, between the ship’s entire crew and Book), Vance sends in someone to backstop Burnham: Nhan.

This is a brilliant move. Because of the spore drive, Discovery is the only ship that can get to Book and Tarka in time. And they can’t just replace the entire crew. So they send Nhan—last seen in “Die Trying” last season, and now back in the saddle as part of Federation Security, a welcome return of Rachael Ancheril to the show. She’s someone Burnham (and the rest of the crew) knows and trusts, she doesn’t really know Book all that well, and she’s security, so she’ll do what’s right.

Star Trek: Discovery‘s “All In”

Everyone goes to the Vegas Planet! Owosekun does Space Boxing! Book and Burnham play Space Poker! No, it’s not a Glen Larson show from 1979, it’s the latest episode of Star Trek: Discovery, and it’s actually a lot of fun, and moves things along nicely. My review of “All In.”

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Great execution can make up for a terrible idea. “All In” does not have great execution, but it is good, and there’s something to be said for a dopey fun cliché-ridden sci-fi story, especially since it provides some good character bits for Burnham, Book, Tarka, and Owosekun, as well as Rillak and Vance, and it’s fun to get a glimpse into Burnham and Book’s year of Courier-ing between “That Hope is You, Part 1” and “Far from Home.”

Star Trek: Discovery‘s “…But to Connect”

It’s a talking-heads episode! The latest episode of a Star Trek show that is often dinged for its overuse of action and big ‘splosions gives us an hour of people having conversations. It’s glorious, and a great reinforcement of Trek‘s ideals, through some of the franchise’s tried and true tropes: emotional humans disagreeing with rational Vulcans, conversations about AIs and sentience, and whether or not problems are solved with compassion instead of violence. My review of Star Trek: Discovery‘s “…But to Connect.”

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The two conversations come together in a beautifully written and filmed sequence, and much credit to writers Terri Hughes Barton & Carlos Cisco, director Lee Rose, and the editing crew for this. Because Rillak, as the person who called the assembly, must remain neutral, it’s left to Burnham to plead the case for an attempt at contact and gaining knowledge rather than going in with guns blazing. At the same time, Stamets is trying to find a way to trust Zora, and needs help getting there. Stamets’s emotional response to Zora’s growing sentience is one of fear, borne primarily of his experiences with Control, and he wants to find a way to get past that fear and choose to trust her.

The two speeches are masterfully intercut, with Burnham pleading for the assembly to make the very same emotional journey that Stamets is also struggling with: to not let fear rule the day.

Star Trek: Discovery‘s “Stormy Weather”

Discovery investigates a subspace rift left behind by the DMA and things go horribly wrong. Zora is developing sentience at a really inconvenient time. And Book was already not doing well before he started hallucinating his dead father. I don’t know why there ain’t no sun up in the sky in my review of Star Trek: Discovery‘s “Stormy Weather.”

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It’s been fascinating watching as the show slowly works things toward the 2018 Short Treks episode “Calypso,” an episode whose time frame has to be completely rethought in light of the events of the show since it aired. (It was assumed to be taking place in the thirty-third century, a thousand years after the present-day of the show when it aired, but now the show’s “present” is the thirty-second century. So now maybe “Calypso” takes place in the forty-second century?) First the computer gets the Sphere Data, then she takes on the name and personality that Annabelle Willis gave the computer in “Calypso,” and now we’re seeing her show the emotions that she displayed when bonding with Craft.

Star Trek: Discovery‘s “The Examples”

It’s the triumphant return of Tig Notaro as Jett Reno and David Cronenberg as Kovich, plus Stamets has mellowed enough that we need a new asshole scientist, and we get one in Shawn Doyle’s Ruon Tarka. Plus Book and Burnham engage in a prison break of sorts. My review of Star Trek: Discovery‘s latest, “The Examples.”

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We also see Culber and Stamets together, which has been rare this season, as Stamets both bitches to his partner and also expresses concern for his mental health. It’s the first time we’ve seen Culber really be vulnerable in a while, and Wilson Cruz plays it beautifully, showing the broken person behind the helpful façade that he presents to his patients. I hope we get more of this—I know that both of them have different roles on the ship, but Stamets and Culber are such a great couple, the best and sweetest of the three couples in the cast, and we need more of them. (Nothing against Burnham and Book, who are a delight, or Adira and Gray, who are fabulous, but we’ve gotten lots of those four and I want more of Stamets and Culber, dagnabbit. The teeth-brushing scene in “Choose Your Pain” remains one of the loveliest and most romantic scenes in Trek’s five-plus decades, and we need more of that, please and thank you.