Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 Episode 9 Review: Rubicon

Photo: Paramount+

The following contains Star trek: Discovery spoilers.

Star Trek Discovery Season 4 Episode 9

Alea iacta est, it would seem. Star Trek: Discovery finally casts the proverbial die in “Rubicon, an hour that sees DMA destroyed despite Michael’s–and eventually Book’s—best efforts to prevent it, an event that may well kick off an intergalactic war between the Federation and Unknown Species 10-C. 

Most of us probably figured something like this was going to happen just from the episode’s title, a reference to Julius Caesar’s historical crossing of the Rubicon River that kicked off a five-year Roman civil war. It indicates a moment or decision from which there is no return, an action that cannot be undone, a die that is irreparably cast for good or ill. That “Rubicon” manages to build such genuine tension around the question of whether Book and Ruon Tarka’s attempt to destroy the DMA is successful is a point in its favor, but there’s still a sense of inevitably about it all that the hour can’t shake. (No matter how many cute moments Book and Burnham share as they face-off in front of the anomaly or how well done the sequence of their two ships jumping around one another may be.)

Of course, perhaps the episode’s big “twist”—that Tarka chooses to destroy the DMA anyway even after Book and Burnham have forged an uneasy path forward that allows for a peaceful first contact—would have been more shocking if it had not been telegraphed from essentially the moment this character was introduced. And the fact that Tarka spent most of this episode mugging like a Bond villain, “accidentally” firing photon torpedos at the Discovery, and whining endlessly about how desperate he was to go back to his own universe didn’t exactly help matters either. Of course, he betrayed you, Book. This is why we don’t just blindly trust scuzzy men from parallel universes!

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There’s a version of this story where Tarka’s predicament is portrayed as deftly and carefully as this episode tries to handle the differences of opinion about Book’s actions between various members of the Discovery bridge crew, one that acknowledges the impossible situation he’s found himself in and which likely sets Michael and friends take on a mission to help him find his way home by the end of it. Instead, this character is laughably one-note, and his presence is so grating that it almost undoes all the good work the rest of the hour manages to achieve with this story. Who feels bad for this guy or is even slightly torn on his behalf? And who didn’t see this coming from a mile away? 

Perhaps this decision to destroy the DMA would have been more impactful had Book actually decided to fire on it himself, since we’ve actually spent a whole season watching him grieve and struggle and tear himself in two over Kweijan’s fate and what, if anything, he could have done to prevent it. It would have been an emotional betrayal of Michael, sure, but it would have also been an understandable, even defendable decision on his part.

Plus, he would have had to have taken direct and full responsibility for whatever happens afterward, as opposed to now, where he’s sort of guilty and will obviously feel bad about it but isn’t fully to blame because at least he did try to do the right thing in the end. It smacks a bit of wanting to have it both ways with his character and as much as I love Book and Burnham’s relationship, I would have liked to see them take a narrative risk here. 

At any rate, the destroyed DMA is basically immediately replaced with a new one, because Species 10-C is really not messing around and I swear if we don’t find out what kind of beings these are next week I am going to lose my mind. They have to be some incredibly powerful creatures, yes? 

Despite ending on an awkward first contact that definitely could mean war with a dramatically more powerful alien race, “Rubicon” has a lot of great moments throughout. But as much as I liked the character and was pleased to see her back on the canvas, I”m not entirely sure Nhan’s presence was entirely necessary—though the fact that she’s now an official Starfleet security team member means at least she could pop back up again later—if only because it, once again, it felt like the show trying to thread the needle when it comes to Michael’s casual disregard of basic rules and protocols. 

We all know that there was 100% no way she should have ever been involved in this mission in any capacity, let alone left in command for it, and the return of Nhan feels like Discovery trying to at least acknowledge that it knows how ridiculous it was that she was allowed to do so. Yet, despite the fact that Rachael Ancheril and Sonequa Martin-Green get to share several great scenes together (and I wanted more about Nhan’s discovery of her family!) it never feels like there’s any way Nhan will actually override Michael and give the order to blow up Book and his ship. 

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All of that said, no matter what else happened, this episode was always going to get a gold star in my book because it returns to one of my most unexpected (and honestly truly joyous) surprises of the season: The charmingly weird friendship slash maybe something more that’s developing between Mr. Saru and President T’Rina. You know, the pair who apparently regularly hologram chat one another for advice and are now going on what at least appears to be an actual date. Is this the most adorable thing that has ever happened on this show? (That is not named Grudge at least?)

What I’m saying is this: Reader, I adore them. And, yes, I obviously have many questions about all of this, such as how interspecies dating works in the 32nd century, and what the political ramifications might be if a Kelpian and a Vulcan who also happen to be leaders of their respective species decide to be together forever but I cannot wait to find out the answers to all of them as soon as possible. And, let’s be real—if anyone on this show deserves a sweet love story of his own, it’s Saru, who has spent so long being the therapist, sympathetic ear, and general emotional support person for everyone on Discovery. Just let us see their actual date, okay?


4 out of 5