Star Trek: Discovery Season 2 Episode 4 Review: “An Obol For Charon”

Discovery delivers on its promise of optimistic science fiction storytelling when the ship encounters an ancient, spherical being.

This Star Trek: Discovery review contains spoilers.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 2, Episode 4

One of the refreshing things about watching/covering Star Trek: Discovery is that you literally never know what show you are going to get week to week. Will it be a Klingon soap opera, an attempt to fill in canonical spaces that nobody ever asked about, or perhaps a fond return to one of the franchise’s classic formulas? (Note: This narrative mania is also one of the most frustrating things about watching/covering Star Trek: Discovery.)

This week, Discovery fell into the final, aforementioned category, where it has arguably found the most success. (See also: Season 1’s “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad,” which played with the time loop formula and Season 2’s “New Eden,” which gave us an away mission to a pre-Prime Directive planet as a story structure.)

“An Obol for Charon” is reminiscent of those classic Star Trek episodes in particular that saw some kind of incident incapicitated the ship, forcing the crew to work together to solve the problem(s) and save everyone. Extra points if at least some of the crew members are trapped in a section of the ship. (My favorite example of this kind of episode is The Next Generation‘s “Disaster,” which sees Captain Picard trapped in a turbolift with a bunch of kids, singing “Frere Jacques”—he’s French, OK?!—to distract them.)

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“An Obol for Charon” wasn’t as good as the best of these kinds of Star Trek episodes, but it was still pretty goddamn delightful and, in the context of this show, easily one of the most enjoyable episodes. Much of this had to do with the way Discovery felt like a real, lived-in setting, using spaces like Saru’s quarters and people like Linus (hey, Linus!) to create a much more textured world. In general, this show has never used its supporting cast so well.

read more: Mary Chieffo on Season 2’s L’Rell Plot Twists

I legitimately thought Saru was going to die and I was bereft. I was convinced Doug Jones was going to make The Shape of Water 2 and we were never going to see him again, and all of this after getting the sweet taste of an episode (not a Short Trek, dammit) that highlights his character so wonderfully. This would have been a shame for several reasons, not least of which he is one of the truly alien characters we have on this version of Star Trek.

Fear not, fellow Saru fans, for this cruel fate was not meant to be. While Saru thought he had entered his death throes, a period of preparing for death that Kelpians apparently enter before offering themselves up to the slaughter, he just needed to let it pass. This didn’t make total sense to me? There was a mention of Kelpians who didn’t submit to the slaughter going mad from this illness, so what makes Saru different?

I hope Discovery delves further into how Saru has been changed by the loss of his threat ganglia. I hope he doesn’t lose his immense capacity for empathy that so defines his character. And I hope he challenges Starfleet on its use of General Order One, and the nuance of the non-interference law in relation to situations like Saru’s home planet of Kaminar. The storytelling device has always been one of the Federation’s ethically-murkier ideas, and I mean that as a compliment.

Saru’s illness was tied, thematically and logistically, to the epic death of a 100,000-year-old (which apparently makes it “ancient”?), spherical being. What, at first seemed like a malevolent viral attack on the Discovery was actually the being’s attempt to communicate its life story before its death. Discovery was hella heavy-handed with the message of this storyline, as is their endearing way, but that didn’t keep my optimistic science fiction-drived self from digging it. May we all have the courage to explore the world and universe with curiosity first, assuming benevolence from the beings we meet along the way.

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Let’s hope benevolence is what Tilly finds down whatever plane of existence she was just pulled into. At first, it seemed like Tilly had been saved from the clutches of the spore being we know as May, but the fungal plane, which unsurprisingly we were f**king up with our spore drive trips, is much too clever for that. It distracted Stamets and Reno long enough to pull Tilly back into its coccoon and into SporeWorld™. 

I’m worried about Tilly, but I am glad someone is addressing the Discovery’s unprecedented use of the mycelial network under Lorca’s command. Will we get another heavy-handed climate change metaphor? God, I hope so. (I mean… I’d take a nuanced climate change metaphor, too, but I’ve learned not to be overly ambitious when it comes to this show.) Whatever happens with Tilly’s trip down the rabbit hole, Discovery better double down on the Alice in Wonderland references or what has all of this been for?

Additional thoughts.

Did you catch all of the Star Trek Easter eggs in “An Obol For Charon”?

The Spock storyline here is mostly just background noise here, something that works to tie this episode to the season-long mystery of the red signals and how Spock is involved, but doesn’t distract from the central action. Also, an excuse to get Number One onto the show. I hope she comes back!

Real talk? The dysfunction of the universal translator was, hands down, one of the coolest things this show has ever done, and an entirely new idea in the Star Trek universe. How has Star Trek never done this before? I would have liked a whole episode surrounding this, and would have liked to explore which of the main characters, if any, don’t speak Earth Standard English.

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My other favorite moment of the episode? Stamets and Tilly singing together. (Their relationship is easily one of my favorite on this show. When he calls her “kiddo”? So sweet.) I do wish he had been paying more attention when he, you know, drilled into Tilly head.

On another note: This is the second episode in a row that has seen medical procedures performed on Tilly without her express consent. Not a great trend, tbh.

This is the second episode this season for which the Short Treks mini-episodes that aired during the hiatus feel like essential viewing—in particular the Saru-centered episode “The Brightest Star,” which explains the character’s backstory and how he came to be in Starfleet in far more depth than The Show Proper ever has.

I, for sure, want to be on the highly-functional ship that seems to be the Enterprise. Captain Pike and Number One make a badass command team.

Saru’s quarters are amazing. I hope we see them again soon.

“I was going to say the same thing about your aura!” I have a feeling Tig Notaro’s character either really works for you or really doesn’t. I found her to be a delight, and was very into the time Reno and Stamets turned into SnapChat filters in general.

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Maybe I’m showing my character biases here, but I’m kind of pissed Saru didn’t say goodbye to Tilly?

It doesn’t make sense to me that the Discovery crew isn’t working with Amanda to find Spock. I know she’s (unfairly) pissed at Michael, but it doesn’t seem like any of them would prioritize finding and helping Spock below those feelings.

What even is medical care on the Discovery?

Of course Tilly loves Prince. She’s perfect.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 2 airs on Thursdays at 8:30 pm ET on CBS All-Access. Read more about Season 2 here.

Kayti Burt is a staff editor covering books, TV, movies, and fan culture at Den of Geek. Read more of her work here or follow her on Twitter @kaytiburt.

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4 out of 5