Warning: This Star Trek: Discovery season 4, episode 7 review contains major spoilers – many of them set to stun. Boldly go further at your own risk…
Since J.J. Abrams gave Star Trek a Star Wars-flavoured reboot in 2009, it’s been easy to forget that boldly going where no one has gone before hasn’t always been about action. The venerable old franchise has had its fair share of blockbuster moments, of course – standouts include The Wrath of Khan, First Contact, and classic The Next Generation two-parter ‘The Best of Both Worlds’ – but at heart, Trek has historically been more interested in pondering big questions than setting phasers to kill. ‘…But to Connect’ feels like a throwback to those pre-Abrams days.
If you took the 32nd century set dressing out of the equation, the themes explored here wouldn’t feel out of place in either The Next Generation or Voyager – indeed, Captains Picard and Janeway would have loved the chance to deliver the grandstanding speeches that provide the episode’s pivotal moments.
As Discovery gets a refit after its close encounter with the DMA, representatives of planets from all over the galaxy meet to formulate a plan for dealing with the unwelcome invader. Discovery computer Zora has even worked out where to find the Anomaly’s creators, but getting the coordinates isn’t as simple as it should be. In her new self-aware state, she’s decided to keep the information to herself to protect her beloved crew from a mission that could prove fatal – it’s nice to know your ship has your back, but not so great when they don’t do what they’re told.
The scenario raises a pair of philosophical questions that would each be strong enough to carry episodes of their own, but work even better in tandem. Should the Federation and friends – including an Earth that’s rethinking its isolationist principles – take the fight directly to the Anomaly’s creators, or should they adopt a more diplomatic approach? Should Starfleet be embracing Zora’s newfound state of consciousness, or does her free will pose a danger to the crew? The debates are both enhanced by their respective similarities and contrasts – and on a human level, have the potential to drive wedges between couples on board Discovery.
In the Zora discussions, Stamets and Culber find themselves in opposing camps, as Kovich – adding arbiter of law to his ever-expanding brief – adjudicates the case. There are definite echoes of classic TNG episode ‘The Measure of a Man’ – the one where Picard has to argue Data is a living being rather than the property of Starfleet – as Saru, Stamets, Culber, Adira, and Gray turn Discovery into a high school debating club, albeit one with super high stakes.
Writers Terri Hughes Burton and Carlos Cisco ensure you understand both sides of the argument: Gray and Adira point out that they’re both unique lifeforms, and Zora should be afforded the same respect; Stamets, meanwhile, counters that living on a ship with a mind of its own is too big a risk – especially after the crew’s experiences with rogue AI Control in season 2. And when the eager-to-please Zora replicates a failsafe device to enable her own destruction in the event of a malfunction, she opens up an even bigger moral can of worms – should anyone have the power to act as executioner over a bona fide intelligence?
Of course, Zora’s presence in the even-further-in-the-future Short Trek ‘Calypso’ means the outcome of the case is never in doubt, but it’s still a relief when Kovich rules that the Federation’s normal rules on artificial intelligence no longer apply because the computer is a new form of life. Stamets’ subsequent proposal to make Zora a member of the crew – subject to all the usual chains of command and regulations – is a lovely touch and a genuine first for Star Trek.
The debate that threatens to have bigger ramifications for the galaxy as a whole, however, is the one that takes place at Federation HQ. Although Burnham has a history of hawk-ish interventions, she’s the one leading the push for a more peaceful approach to the Anomaly. She believes that standard first contact principles should apply – even if it costs more lives in the short term, the risks inherent in antagonizing such a powerful force are even greater. Unsurprisingly, this puts her on a collision course with the grieving Book, who’s now found an unlikely new ally in charismatic, renegade scientist Ruon Tarka.
Planning the timing of his entrance for maximum dramatic impact, Tarka proposes unleashing prototype tech to destroy the object at the center of the DMA. The ‘act now, ask questions later’ plan, however, would involve the subspace-ripping isolytic weapons that nearly destroyed the Enterprise-E in Star Trek: Insurrection, and have been banned since the Second Khitomer Accords were signed in the 24th century.
As Burnham channels Henry Fonda from 12 Angry Men – 12 Angry Federation Delegates? – she manages to win enough votes to carry the motion in favor of the diplomatic approach. Nonetheless, Tarka has already proved he’s something of a loose cannon, and not the kind of guy who takes no for an answer – especially following the slightly leftfield revelation he’s trying to get back to the alternate universe he calls home.
In the episode’s biggest twist, Tarka persuades Book to go rogue, leaving Burnham with nothing more than an “I love you” note and custody of Grudge. As Book blasts off in his ship with the scientist to take down the Anomaly, you can’t escape the feeling he’s being used – and that he might be about to burn bridges with Burnham that can’t be rebuilt.
New episodes of Star Trek: Discovery season 4 beam onto Paramount Plus on Thursdays in the US and Crave in Canada. UK viewers can watch episodes on Pluto TV.