The following contains Star Trek: Discovery spoilers.
Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 Episode 12
After what feels like at least half a dozen episodes of spinning its wheels on this particular plot point, Star Trek: Discovery finally introduces us all to the mysterious Unknown Species 10-C. And the end result is an episode that manages to (also, finally) find something close to the right balance between pushing the plot forward and indulging in the sort of extremely nerdy, deeply philosophical discussions that are a big piece of why we all fell in love with Star Trek in the first place.
Your mileage may vary, of course, on whether you think the way the show chooses to illustrate the 10-C as a concept—as beings whose very existence is framed as so advanced it’s something we can’t understand and whose physical forms we never even fully see—is effective from a visual or a storytelling point of view. But, for me, the decision to shroud these creatures in mystery effectively conveys just how far removed they are from our expectations and understanding. And how small we, for all our own hubris about our importance in the wider universe, truly are. (Sidebar: I can’t be the only person who definitely made several “All Hail the Glow Cloud” jokes in my head, can I?)
Even though we’ve yet to get a good look at them, these have to be some of the downright weirdest creatures that have ever existed in this franchise, beings whose language the universal translator has no idea how to handle, who have defaulted to mathematical equations to find a common way to speak with us, whose technology is so beyond anything that the Federation and Starfleet has access to, even in the super-advanced 32nd century. Do the 10-C look a little terrifying and godlike? Maybe to us, they should! Aliens are (and probably should be!) really weird and unknowable.
(Plus, given budget and technological constraints, it’s probably better if we don’t see these creatures, since they would most likely have to be completely CGI.)
Much like last week, this episode shines brightest when it’s at its absolute nerdiest. Did I expect most of this long-awaited first contact to take place opposite a screen that looks like glowing cotton candy? Or that it would largely consist of a half dozen characters animatedly discussing mathematical equations and light patterns together? Not really, but this kind of thing is exactly what Star Trek does best. (Discovery Season 5 request: Can we just watch this crew go around making first contact with increasingly bizarre aliens and learning about their cultures? I’m here for it.) The unique tension of trying to find a way to linearly convey with numbers both the peaceful intentions of the Discovery and her crew and the threat that the 10-C’s DMA poses to Earth and Ni’Var—it’s so incredibly dorky and so fascinating to watch unfold.
Elsewhere, let’s take a second and pretend to be shocked that Ruon Tarka, a man who has repeatedly lied, misled, and betrayed Book and the Discovery crew has once again lied, misled, and betrayed the Discovery crew! At this point, it’s honestly getting difficult to feel a lot of sympathy for Book, who just keeps making the dumbest possible choice at every turn and trusting the wrong people. Honey, we get it, trust is a big part of both your formative culture or whatever, but there is placing your faith in concepts like trust or an honor system and then there’s straight-up idiocy.
Perhaps a more nuanced character than Tarka might have made this second betrayal more emotionally impactful than it actually is. Discovery tries, giving poor kidnapped Jett Reno a heartfelt speech about her dead wife and the things grief can make us hold on to without realizing it, but it’s hard to square her very personal story (or even Book’s larger cultural loss) with Tarka’s incredible and utterly unapologetic selfishness. Because at the end of the day, he’s willing to commit genocide, kill everyone on the Discovery, possibly destroy both Earth and Ni’Var and cause untold collateral damage all for a chance to jump to a universe he isn’t sure exists to find his former bestie that he’s not even sure is still alive. Men really will do literally anything to avoid therapy.
(Sorry, truly, but that one sad backstory episode just does not justify any of this. Yet I feel as though Discovery really wants me to feel bad for Tarka in some way. Thank you, next.)
Speaking of things that probably could have used some more nuance, it would have been nice if General Ndoye were allowed to be anything beyond a belligerent plot device. Obviously, as a leader of Earth, protecting the planet is her ultimate (and absolutely correct) priority but the fact that her default state is “welp diplomacy doesn’t work better destroy something” is tiresome. Maybe she could have at least waffled a bit before helping Tarka light a plasma fire?
On the plus side, the possibility of impending death does offer us a handful of really great character moments in this installment. Michael’s decision to ask the rest of her bridge crew to help solve the mystery of the 10-C’s light puzzle has big teamwork makes the dream work energy. Her heart-to-heart with Saru—where the pair literally scream out their stress and fear together—is one of the best moments they’ve shared onscreen to date and a real testament to the bond that Sonequa Martin-Green and Doug Jones have built together. How far they’ve come since Season 1. And Michael giving Saru advice on how to be in a close personal relationship with a Vulcan is so incredibly perfect. (For those who are playing along at home, T’Rina confesses she has “personal fondness” for Saru so that’s practically a declaration of love, right? If only literally everyone on this ship could stop interrupting them!)
As we barrel toward the Season 4 finale, Tarka is in command of Book’s ship, the 10-C are basically convinced the Discovery crew has betrayed them, that new interspecies friendship between them seems out the window now, and everyone might die. So, you know, no pressure, show. Let’s fly.