After the action and adventure of the previous three episodes, Star Trek Discovery is looking to settle down a bit with The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not For The Lamb’s Cry (yes, that’s actually the title). It spends most of it’s time giving official names to things we’ve seen before; the “organic propulsion system” is now the Displacement Activation Spore Hub Drive (or ‘DASH drive’ as I will now forever call it), Lieutenant Saru’s weird head tentacles are called his “threat ganglia”, and the creature which Lorca transported over from the Glenn is affectionately (not really) named Ripper. That doesn’t mean nothing happens though - far from it - and we need a breather to take everything in from the last few episodes anyway, so while ep4 never quite reaches the heights of it’s predecessors it’s still an incredibly strong 45 mins of TV. Spoilers to follow.
Now that Burnham is on the USS Discovery and definitely staying (at least for the time being) Captain Lorca removes her from Engineering and puts her in charge of studying the creature he captured from the Glenn. He wants her to study it and turn its phaser-resistance hide and hull-shredding claws into weapons he can use in the war. This is new territory for Star Trek which was always more ‘monster of the week’ than ‘monster to study and learn from’ (despite what it said), and it feels a little off. Even accounting for Lorca’s weird preferences and the fact that Starfleet is at war, I’m not sure it’s a particularly believable plot point, but oh well. “I study war,” Lorca tells her as he gives her a tour of his creepy menagerie confirming what I’ve long suspected, that this Captain is no explorer and has somehow worked his way into Starfleet under false pretenses, waiting for the day war would be declared. Lucky him, it has and he now has carte blanche to do whatever necessary to beat the Klingons. Something Admiral Cornwell impresses upon him when she informs him that there’s a dilithium mine about to fall into Klingon hands with the Discovery the only ship with a chance of reaching them in time using the DASH drive.
Looking like all his dreams just came true, Lorca now has all the excuse he needs to threaten, manipulate, and scare Lieutenant Stamets into making the drive work. Unfortunately, despite the tech the Engineering team bought over from the Glenn, he still hasn’t cracked their navigational problems. This is where Burnham and her project comes in as her research leads her to believe Ripper isn’t naturally violent at all (despite the fact it rips Commander Landry to shreds during this episode). It turns out that Ripper has a connection with the mushroom spores which make the drive work and after some experimentation with transporting a dangerous creature around a starship, Stamets and Burnham plug Ripper into the system and BOOM - they can transport anywhere they want. The only problem is that Ripper doesn’t enjoy the experience and Burnham seems to be the only one who’s noticed/cares. You don’t need to know Star Trek to know that this will ultimately be the reason the DASH drive is outlawed (hurting conscious life forms for your own gain is a big no no), even if Starfleet is willing to overlook it for now. The question really is, what will Lorca do when Burnham confronts him about it?
We also rejoin the Klingons after their brief absence in episode 3, and discover that Voq and the rest of T’Kuvma’s followers are slowly starving to death after being stranded in the Battle of the Binary Stars. Their ship is dead in the water and in the six months since war started no-one has cared enough to come and get them… that is until Kol turns up offering aid in exchange for their help defeating Starfleet. Their ship is the only one with cloaking technology so it should come as no surprise when Kol betrays Voq to take control of the ship, but thankfully he survives thanks to his new ally L'Rell. The development of the Klingon storyline brings some welcome balance to the episode and shows how far Star Trek has come with its ‘villains’. The exchanges between Voq and L’Rell explain relationships and history without being too expository and there’s even some real 3D emotion to the characters while still being recognisable as Klingon. There’s genuine potential here and I’m interested to see where it goes.
While it was definitely time for a slightly slower pace so we could wrap our heads around everything that’s happened so far, you can’t help but feel something is missing from The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry. It feels like an episode which sees the death of a secondary character and the first successful use of the DASH drive should be more memorable. That said, there’s nothing really bad about the episode, it just fails to thrill in the way we’ve quickly become used to after the first three outings.