Warning: This Star Trek: Discovery season 4, episode 6 review contains major spoilers – many of them set to stun. Boldly go further at your own risk…
For a show that’s supposed to have the idea of boldly going where no one has gone before hardwired into its DNA, Star Trek: Discovery’s fourth season has been strangely reluctant to explore new frontiers. Six episodes in, however, ‘Stormy Weather’ reignites the spirit of James T. Kirk’s famous mission statement, warping the crew into a scenario that feels genuinely disconcerting and weird.
The episode is based around a conundrum that would have given the crews of both the Enterprise and Voyager – their successors in Starfleet are both mentioned in comms early on – plenty of sleepless nights. Discovery has been dispatched on a forensic mission to investigate the subspace tear Anomaly leaves in its wake, but the investigation is so far from routine that any CSI: DMA spin-off would be doomed from the start – there’s absolutely nothing to see. The sensors? Dead. Background radiation? AWOL. And with no external reference points to lock on to, there’s no way for the crew to find their way out of a very dark hole.
Total nothingness is supposed to be a scientific impossibility but it’s even worse news for the unfortunate DOT Burnham dispatches to gather data. Having watched the droid disintegrate in such a visceral, slow-motion manner that the crew swear they can hear its tortured cries, they quickly realize that the destructive ‘edge’ of the rift is getting closer by the second – and that, if they don’t find a way out, it’s likely to tear through Discovery’s hull in similarly unpleasant ways.
It’s the sort of headscratcher the best Star Trek stories are made of, but – even more importantly – it’s such a big threat to the crew’s existence that it forces the episode’s disparate plotlines to coalesce into one organic narrative.
That makes a big difference, because – with a diplomatic mission here and a visit to the ship’s counselor there – recent episodes have felt like a mish-mash of barely linked storylines. In ‘Stormy Weather’, however, there’s a sense that everyone’s pulling in the same direction, even if they’re coming at the problem from different angles.
With the mycelial network severely disrupted by the Anomaly’s awesome power, not even Discovery’s traditional ‘get out of jail free’ card – AKA the spore drive – can provide an escape route. Book learns this the hard way, when his attempt to pilot the ship to safety results in a massive overload that leaves him seeing vivid hallucinations – or are they something more? – of his late father.
Sadly, this isn’t a joyful reunion with a loved one, because Book Sr. is the sort of problematic parent who forces his kids to doubt everything they think and do. Are his searching questions about Burnham’s command based on Book’s own doubts? Or is there something more substantial to this very convincing apparition? Could the creators of the Anomaly be unleashing psychological warfare on the Federation?
Book isn’t the only one facing a crisis of confidence, either, because ship’s computer Zora is struggling to deal with her newly awakened emotions. This is, it turns out, a major inconvenience when you need Discovery performing at maximum efficiency – how to coax a starship into doing something it doesn’t fancy is not something they regularly teach at Starfleet Academy.
Anomaly aside, this is by far the most intriguing plot development of this middling season. Machines gaining sentience has long been a popular theme in Trek, from The Motion Picture’s destructive V’Ger probe to The Next Generation’s Pinocchio-esque Data arc, but the ship’s computer becoming self-aware – effectively turning Discovery into a living entity – feels like a new twist on a familiar trope. You also have to credit the showrunners for seeding the premise as far back as 2018, when Short Trek episode ‘Calypso’ transported us to a distant future where Zora piloted a deserted Discovery. Subtle updates to Zora’s ‘personality’ have been drip-fed into the series ever since.
Zora’s struggles also give Gray a belated reason to become a useful member of the crew, a welcome development for a character whose primary function until now has been acting as a sounding board for Adira. His conversations with the anxious computer bring out the best in both characters, and make us optimistic he won’t necessarily be backed into the sort of Neelix-shaped corner where the writers are constantly thinking up reasons to keep him on board.
While the use of audible sonar pings to find an escape route suggests the writers have forgotten some very rudimentary physics – Alien was quick to remind us that in space, no one can hear you scream – the solution requires a trip to the nerdier corners of Trek lore. The fact that “pattern buffers” are never properly explained suggests that attracting newbies is no longer a priority in the writers’ room, but this obscure component of transporter tech is nonetheless called into action as a way to keep the crew in stasis as they exit the void – a similar plot device allowed Original Series legend Scotty to crop up 75 years later in The Next Generation.
After a trio of episodes that have felt like Trek-by-numbers, ‘Stormy Weather’ again embraces the invention and intelligent sci-fi ideas that have made Trek one of the most successful franchises of all time. It may not be a coincidence that the show rediscovering its mojo coincides with Jonathan Frakes taking the helm for the episode – having played Commander Riker and directed numerous Trek movies/episodes, the man has Starfleet in his blood.
Now that we know the Anomaly’s creators originated outside our galaxy, Discovery has once again set its coordinates for genuinely new frontiers. Hopefully, this is the moment when a middling season starts to burn as fiercely as Discovery’s hull during its escape from the rift.
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.