The following contains Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 spoilers.
The primary story of Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 has gone back to many of the basics that make the Star Trek franchise so great, asking big questions about the necessary conflicts between visionary ideals and the real world those who hold them must exist in. A season that has continually wrestled with what an institution like the Federation is supposed to be and do, its central arc explores the inescapable, often uncomfortable tensions between hope and pragmatism, philosophy and realism, and politics and practicality. But while these are precisely the sort of stories that Star Trek is uniquely positioned to explore, this season has rarely featured arcs that might be called “fun.”
From the tragic death of the entirety of Book’s people to the existential threat posed by the mysterious gravitational dark matter anomaly that destroyed Kweijan and the highly advanced Unknown Species 10-C that seems to control it, Discovery Season 4 has had its share of pretty dark plot twists. And this is probably why viewers everywhere have latched on so thoroughly to one of the season’s few unabashedly bright spots: The slow-burn romance brewing between Discovery’s Kelpian First Officer Saru and President T’Rina, the Vulcan leader of Ni’Var.
Star Trek, as a franchise, isn’t primarily focused on love stories, but the various series have certainly had their fair share of memorable romantic relationships. The will they/won’t they connection between Commander William Riker and Counsellor Deanna Troi was an emotional linchpin of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s entire run. The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine romance between Klingon Worf and Trill Jadzia Dax had all the theatrical drama you might expect from putting two members of such very different species together. And the sadly-unacted-upon romantic tension between Captain Kathryn Janeway and Commander Chakotay on Star Trek: Voyager has most certainly launched a thousand fanfics over the past twenty-five-plus years.
But while Discovery itself features strong romantic couples in both Hugh Culber and Paul Stamets and Michael Burnham and Cleveland Booker, we sort of skipped over the bit where these pairs actually fell in love. Stamets and Culber were already married when the series began, and though we have watched Book and Burnham’s relationship blossom over the past season and a half, the year-long time jump that followed Michael’s arrival in the 32nd century means we missed out on seeing the earliest days of their love story. By the time the Discovery crew caught back up with Michael once more, her relationship with Book was already clearly something more than simple friendship.
Yet, despite the fact that we didn’t see either of these pairs in their formative days, both have had great stories together over the course of the show that have both strengthened and tested their bonds. There’s something to be said for the joy of the beginnings of things, and the unique pleasure that comes from rooting for two characters who are finally/maybe getting their act together romantically speaking. This is a big part of the reason watching the love story between Saru and T’rina unfold in all its awkward, adorable glory is so much fun.
Every interaction between the pair is incredibly charming, and over the course of Season 4, we’ve gotten to watch them both forge an unconventional friendship and tentatively navigate the realization that their relationship might actually be turning into something more than that. From their genuinely thoughtful philosophical conversations to their comforting mutual meditation sessions, it’s clear they have a ridiculous amount of chemistry for a pair who should, on paper, have so little in common.
Regardless of his title—Captain, First Officer, Ambassador, General Friend of the Ship—-Saru has long served as Discovery’s moral compass and emotional center. It seems like virtually everyone, from Burnham to Tilly to Culber (who is, let’s not forget, the actual ship’s therapist!) turns to Saru when they need advice, comfort, or a sympathetic ear. He’s a character who simply radiates care and kindness, and it’s remarkable just how far he’s come since the show’s first episode. Truly, if anyone on this canvas deserves some genuine happiness and a partner to share it with, I think we can all agree that it’s Saru.
T’Rina, for her part, is a Vulcan who is often as emotionally closed off as Saru is warm and open. Raised in a culture that prizes logic above all else, she’s obviously not great at prioritizing or expressing messy things like feelings. Yet, her determination to bring Ni’Var back into the Federation shows us a leader who’s willing to fight for the things she believes in (even if those things occasionally require unorthodox or even potentially underhanded methods) and who’s clearly willing to make her own choices. One would assume that holds as true in the arena of romantic partners as it does in politics.
Though the pair initially met in the Season 3 episode “Unification III”, Saru and T’Rina have grown increasingly closer throughout Season 4. And it’s clear that despite their differences in species and general life experience, they very much enjoy each other’s company. (I don’t see T’Rina actively trying to hang out with Michael during her Federation meeting downtime, is what I’m saying.) Constantly seeking one another out during official functions and making efforts to learn about each other’s culture—Saru doesn’t give his beloved Kelpian plants to just anyone, nor does T’Rina appear to be the sort of woman who surreptitiously determines how most people prefer to take their tea often. They clearly view one another as important professional and emotional resources and stay in regular contact even when neither of them happens to be in the same place, or even the same quadrant of the galaxy.
From Saru’s, quite frankly adorable, emotional spiral after T’Rina oh-so-casually invited him to have dinner with her to his anxious determination to tell her how he felt before possibly heading off to die, it’s been ages since I’ve enjoyed watching a couple figure out that they are into each other this much. And though T’Rina has yet to directly address Saru’s adorable confession of explicitly more-than-friends feelings, her silence on the subject feels more like tacit agreement than anything like rejection. After all, the two are both taking part in a mission/likely death trap to save the Earth and Ni’Var from complete destruction at the hands of an unknown alien race, and still making a point to take holodeck strolls together. Get cuter, please.
It’s true, Discovery has a few bigger plot issues to deal with right now (potentially militant new alien species, Earth and Ni’Var possibly being destroyed) that might preclude our new favorite duo from working out the specifics of how interspecies dating works or making things Facebook official (or whatever the 32nd century equivalent of that kind of relationship status identifier is) by the end of the season. But that’s okay—it just means we (hopefully) have even more of this adorably awkward duo to look forward to in Season 5. After all, we deserve to see someone on this show find some joy.