The following contains Star Trek: Discovery spoilers.
Star Trek Discovery Season 4 Episode 11
After a couple of episodes where it felt like nothing much actually happened, Star Trek: Discovery bounces back with an hour that, though it somehow still manages to put off first contact with Unknown Species 10-C for another week, at least gets the ship and its crew back to its science mission roots in their attempt to learn more about the mysterious race. (Also, Saru and T’Rina are 100% going on a holodeck date! My heart!)
Smartly, the episode also puts a firm countdown clock on Earth’s impending destruction, and now we’ve got less than two days to convince the 10-C to call off the DMA (or at least change its course) before billions of lives are lost. And perhaps the imposition of that framing is almost entirely artificial, but it does add some much-needed tension to proceedings that this story has been lacking during its midseason run of episodes.
Much like “Rubicon” before it, this Discovery installment wears its purpose on its sleeve (er…in its episode title) in a terribly literal sense. In “Rosetta,” Michael, Saru, Detmer, and Culber head down to the surface of the dead gas giant that orbits just outside the 10-C’s hyperfield dome, in the hopes of learning, well, anything at all that might help first contact go more smoothly. Michael is desperate for some sort of cultural context about these creatures, a guidebook or a Rosetta Stone, if you will (ba dum tiss), that might help crack the mystery of who they are and what they value. And though she finds some useful clues—albeit not quite in the way she was expecting—none of them are a guarantee of success.
The best parts of this episode are far and away the bits that hint at what sort of creatures the 10-C might be and show us our faves exploring what was once seemingly their homeworld. Apparently, thanks to the crushing pressure that would have existed on this planet’s surface, the 10-C evolved to live among its gas layers, floating with bendy, cartilage-like bodies and somehow building reinforced structures to serve as nurseries for their young below. The few glimpses we get of them—or from them, really, as the fear-based memories imparted to the crew on the planet’s surface seem to show their final moments before death—are deeply alien, creepy almost Kaiju-esque creatures that don’t look anything like the Star Trek aliens we’re accustomed to seeing.
And I don’t know about you all, but this is the sort of Star Trek I love, the hands-on, mission-based exploration stuff that reminds us all why we thought it’d be cool to go to the stars in the first place. Aliens are (and should be!) really weird! It’s truly the height of hubris for us, as humans, to assume that other intelligent life in the galaxy—both our own and in the ones beyond it—would look or think like us, or generally exist in a way that’s easy for us to understand. I want Star Trek to show us more stuff exactly like this, is what I’m saying.
Since the Discovery crew now has an artificially imposed external deadline before billions of people will be killed, we can only spend so long exploring the ruins of the 10-C’s space nursery, but it’s all fascinating to contemplate. From the hydrocarbons that seem to nonverbally communicate group memory and emotion to the general coolness of the structure they somehow managed to build in a hostile environment to protect their young, it’s enough to make me wish we’d spent some more time on this kind of storytelling than some of the political arguments from earlier in Season 4.
(Sidebar: Does anyone else feel like we learned more about Detmer in this episode than we have during the previous three seasons put together?)
After communing with vaguely sentient dust particles, Michael is predictably gung-ho and optimistic about the Federation’s ability to convince the 10-C to stop killing billions of other species with its mining death machine, and I suspect she is likely correct, but I love Discovery for at least giving equal weight to the idea that she is not. For at least floating the idea that these creatures might know exactly what they are doing, and just not give a crap about it at the end of the day.
We all want to believe not just in the innate goodness of a mission like Discovery’s—exploring new civilizations, finding new worlds—but also in the idea that all manner of things will be well along the way. That the new species we meet will be friendly; that we’ll be able to find a way to make our good intentions understood; that some things are universal enough to make for common ground between every life form, no matter their individual experiences.
But…what if they aren’t? What if the 10-C are super-advanced geniuses who view our entire planet the same way we view the collateral damage we cause other species all the time on Earth but look away from it because it’s in the name of our own basic survival or general comfort? What if they’re just jerks? I don’t know that this season has enough episodes left to really dig into that kind of story, let alone the willingness to truly tackle all its nuances, but suddenly, I really wish it did.
Elsewhere, Book’s plan to invisibly attach his ship to the Discovery so they can cross the hyperfield with the ship and its crew smacks of the sort of endgame table setting that’s predominantly interested in putting pieces into place for the Season 4 finale rather than character-based plot decisions. (Who thinks he will get a shot at the new DMA controller and not take it this time? Just me?) But I have to admit that his surprise partnership with Earth’s General Ndoye is an interesting choice, and a team-up I sort of wish the show had considered before this moment. (Imagine if they’d been diplomatically lobbying the DMA vote together earlier this season?)
I’m not sure that I think it’s going to go anywhere—I’m not 100% sure there’s a ton of assistance Ndoye can really offer at the moment, beyond not ratting Book’s presence out generally or letting him know when he’s got a chance to sneak a look at Michael. (That split-screen was shot beautifully, by way.) Particularly when he’s now at the very least an accessory to kidnapping a Starfleet engineer that everyone should immediately notice is missing?? Ruon Tarka, truly coming through with the worst idea ever, again. I guess we should be glad he didn’t just kill Jett straight out. And at least watching her belittle him repeatedly should be fun?