Warning: Spoilers ahead for “Star Trek: Discovery” Season 4, Episode 9
While last week’s episode at least provided another fleeting glimpse into life in the galaxy circa 3190, this week we see a return to the primary plot, and we’re rewarded with drama, giant explosions, phasers and photon torpedoes — and even the return of none other than Cmdr. Nhan.
Following the recap, which teases that we might finally find out more about where Ruon Tarka (Shawn Doyle) comes from — spoiler: we don’t — we pick up the story more or less where we left it. Tarka is assembling the illudium Q-36 explosive space modulator that’s going to destroy the dark matter anomaly onboard Cleveland “Book” Booker’s (David Ajala) ship, hiding in the rocky debris of a destroyed planet.
So that the audience can be made aware of just how tricky this undertaking is, we see Tarka painstakingly pouring the isolynium like he’s playing Operation, or like any number of carefully-handling-a-volatile-substance clichés, when in fact, given 32nd-century technology, he could have just beamed it in there.
We saw in the Season 4 premiere episode teleport technology enabling Discovery team members to change clothing while simultaneously beaming into a hazardous situation. Plus, we’ve seen how transporters have replaced stairs at Federation HQ. Surely it would be easier to use this alternative rather than relying on a steady hand. This is why hard rules need to be introduced when incorporating technology that’s 1,168 years ahead of our own in a story, let alone several seasonal story arcs.
Moving on. It’s obvious that the Discovery must give chase, but in order to ensure that Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) can make the critical decision if it should come to that, Admiral Vance (Oded Fehr) has assigned a “neutral representative” to ensure orders are followed, and that representative turns out to be Cmdr. Nhan (Rachael Ancheril).
You may recall that in the third season episode, “Die Trying” (Season 3, Episode 5) a handy humanitarian crisis presented itself just as Burnham and the crew of the USS Discovery were trying to make new friends at Federation HQ. An alien race called the Kili was suffering from a mass extinction from eating contaminated food from a planet called Urna. However, a non-contaminated sample must be found and by an incalculable coincidence, a seed ship from the 23rd century called the USS Tikhov is still floating about in space somewhere.
Upon arriving at the Tikhov’s location, it’s discovered that a Barzan family were the last custodians of the ship, so Nhan joins Burnham and Culber for the away team. We learn more of Nhan’s backstory as this story unfolds, so it’s obvious that she either stays behind or dies. She elects to stay on the Tikhov, which she assumes is heading to her homeworld of Barzan. And that was the last we saw of her, until now.
We learn that duty plays a very important part of Barzan culture, and apparently this is why so many of them end up in the security divisions of governments, corporations and even Starfleet. So it makes sense that after the incident on the USS Tikhov, Nhan did indeed return home and ultimately ended up in Federation Security, not to be confused with Starfleet Intelligence of which Section 31 is just one part.
The pre-credit sequence is all buildup to embarking on this problematic mission, with the exception of a tender moment between Captain Saru (Doug Jones) and President T’Rina of Ni’var (Tara Rosling) , and hopefully this will develop further — and with care — rather than simply being a modular piece of sub-plot that’s been written, recorded and edited into sections that can be inserted at any point in the main story.
A plan is hatched to board Book’s ship with a cloaked shuttlecraft. (A multi-phasic signal discriminator will be used to override external proximity sensors.) Once they’re aboard, Dr. Culber (Wilson Cruz) has the unenviable task of trying to talk Tarka and Book down. Good luck with that. And for the first time ever, in this particular instance, I honestly think I’d come down on the side of the Aviator-wearing, gum-chewing, five-star, jingoistic, war-junkie General, when he bangs his fists on the table and insists that they should go in by force.
There’s a reason why police and security forces around the world are trained to disable a potential aggressor as quickly as possible in case they have a concealed explosive device. And all it would take in this situation is for them to make one false move and the game is up. However, they don’t even make it that far. Turns out Tarka has been indulging in some adjustments to Book’s ship (which still doesn’t have a name) and they catch the away team red-handed — or rather Book’s ship does. Then it goes into an auto-defense mode and begins to envelop it in smart matter.
Book has to fire at the shuttle in order for it to break free before it breaks up, and then he spore jumps away and out of the debris field. A connection of sorts has been established, so some progress has been made. Nhan reveals that Book’s ship has a vulnerability: If they fire a photon torpedo at the impulse manifold, the detonation will cause a chain reaction, destroying the ship. However, this is deemed the last resort, and then Burnham hits upon a genuinely brilliant idea.
We established last week that the dark matter anomaly was actually mining boronite from each region of space it visited. Therefore, by determining the rate at which the precious element was disappearing, it’s possible to calculate how long it will be before the anomaly moved to a new area, thus cleverly introducing a ticking clock to the plot. We enjoy having a bit of fun with “Discovery” and yes, we pick a few holes here and there, but credit where credit is due, whoever came up with this idea, should be patted on the back.
Both Book’s ship and the Discovery are hanging about somewhere near the anomaly, not to be confused with the sub-space rift leftover from the anomaly; that’s the dead zone that took up most of the plot of Episode 6, “Stormy Weather,” and resulted in a little of Star Trek’s trademark transporter tomfoolery that saved the crew of the Discovery and hasn’t been mentioned since.
Book and Burnham exchange a bit of phaser fire, but nothing too serious, as they start strategically spore jumping across the opening to the anomaly. Both ships scan desperately for the device controlling and thus powering the anomaly and Tarka gets frustrated as the Discovery keeps blocking their shot. It’s a fun set piece and shows one interpretation at least of space combat maneuvering in the spore drive age.
Burnham is on a roll and comes up with her second genius plan this episode. She instructs Nhan to fire on Book’s ship if they attempt to launch the isolytic weapon, and she sets out in a shuttlecraft in an attempt to convince Book and Tarka to stand down. Working with Zora (voiced by Annabelle Wallis) Lt. Cmdr. Stamets (Anthony Rapp) has managed to determine how long it will be before the anomaly moves on to dredge and destroy a new part of the galaxy. Given that estimates put it at approximately a week, that buys some time at least to work out a better way to make first contact with species 10-C.
However, Tarka is having none of this and fires the torpedo containing the weapon. And here’s where this episode gets really interesting, because it’s taking us far beyond where we previously thought the season might begin to wrap up. He successfully destroys the anomaly and begins to scan the area for the power source. Unfortunately for him, there’s nothing to find and he begrudgingly concludes that the power source must be on the other side of the wormhole connection between the anomaly and whatever is outside of our galaxy.
And then, just as the Federation is wondering how to initiate first contact with species 10-C now, after Tarka basically nuked their boronite dredge, a brand new dark matter anomaly appears in exactly the same position. Like it or not, species 10-C has responded. And we did not see that coming.
Will there be a united front between the Discovery and Book and Tarka to fight species 10-C? Where have the Klingons been in all of this? Where are the Borg? These questions and more may or may not be answered next week. We have four more episodes left to find out.
Rating: 7½ /10
The first nine episodes of Season 4 of “Star Trek: Discovery” are available to watch now on Paramount+ in the U.S. and CTV Sci-Fi or Crave TV in Canada. Countries outside of North America can watch on the Pluto TV Sci-Fi channel. Season 2 of “Star Trek: Picard” begins on March 3, 2022, and the premiere season of “Strange New Worlds” begins on May 5, 2022.