Star Trek Discovery Season 5 Episode 10 Review: Series Finale

We say goodbye to Star Trek: Discovery with an extended episode that doubles down on the franchise’s best and worst tendencies. Our final recap...

Sonequa Martin-Green as Michael Burnham in Star Trek: Discovery
Photo: James Dimmock/Paramount+

This Star Trek: Discovery review contains spoilers.

It’s the end of an era. Or at least, the end of a beginning of one. We’ve now all seen the final episode of Star Trek: Discovery, and no matter how you may feel about that fact, its conclusion still marks an important moment within the larger Star Trek universe.

The show wasn’t always easy to like. It struggled to find and maintain a coherent identity and for every step it took forward creatively, it often felt as though it took another (or two) back. It didn’t always find enough stories for its sprawling cast of characters. Its hyper-focus on Michael Burnham, once a mutineer now a Starfleet captain, and its trademark emotional feel—and love of talking through problems—made for a very different sort of Star Trek show, one that only occasionally managed to capture the adventurous, pioneering spirit of its predecessors. 

But, to be a bit sappy for a moment, we owe this show so much. It brought Star Trek back to television after over a decade away, and played a key role in launching the larger franchise universe we’re all enjoying today. Heck, you could argue critical darling Strange New Worlds only exists because Discovery introduced Anson Mount’s Christopher Pike, Ethan Peck’s Mr. Spock, and Rebecca Romijn’s Number One back in season 2. Discovery has helped define what modern Trek means for an entirely new generation of fans, and for that, it deserves our gratitude. After all, it’s always so difficult to be the thing that goes first, that takes the criticism and vitriol right on the chin, even as it opens up a road for those that follow afterward. While we may not have always liked everything about Discovery, surely it’s okay if we love it for everything else it has given us. 

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As finales go, “Life, Itself” does its best to wrap up the season-long arc involving the Progenitors and their technology. Much like last season’s encounter with the god-like 10-C, the Progenitors’ much-hyped power of creation serves as a teachable moment for Michael and, through her, humanity. That it gets dumped into a black hole is remarkable only in that the “technology” actually existed—personally, I was convinced it was all going to be a “the real power is the friends we made along the way” sort of last-minute swerve—and the neat disposal of the MacGuffin we’ve spent weeks looking for is nothing if not convenient. At least the visuals in this episode are stunning: the celestial gateways to vibrant other worlds within the portal, its constantly shifting rules of gravity and space, and even the slo-mo perspective shifts as Michael tried to navigate through the alien landscape all looked like something out of a video game. 

The season-long storyline ties up its loose ends up in peak Discovery fashion: Michael convinces Moll to cooperate (or at least not kill her immediately) through the power of friendship, Moll betrays her but only enough to learn a valuable lesson about the Federation and forgiveness, and the big reveal of the Progenitors gets overshadowed by an even bigger reveal: that they were not the all-powerful creators of life as humans understand it after all. They’re just the latest in what may be a constant string of creators and creations pushing life and the cosmos forward. Perhaps this is Star Trek’s answer to intelligent design—that, at some point, we simply have to take some things on faith, and believe that the long arc of the universe ultimately bends toward the good. (Culber’s story this season—which culminates here in his being able to access a memory of Jinaal’s he shouldn’t still possess at a key moment—certainly seems to bear that out.)

Perhaps the only real shock of the larger season 5 story’s resolution was that L’ak actually stayed dead, and it’s probably best if we don’t look too closely at how quickly the Breen conflict was swept under the proverbial rug. We should probably just assume Saru yelled at all of them until they sorted out their succession issues. But there are certainly questions: what happened to the Breen group Moll was lording it over? Who ended up taking over the Breen Imperium? Shouldn’t someone other than Stamets have pushed back on Michael’s idea to destroy the Progenitor tech? But ultimately, none of these loose ends are the kind to lose sleep over. 

Clocking in at an hour and a half, it’s evident that “Life, Itself” was extended to add in a larger segment toward the end that helps wrap up the Discovery team’s stories. And while the runtime feels a bit clunky—there’s certainly a bit of a Peter Jackson vibe to its seemingly never-ending final segment—it’s a genuine relief not to have the season conclude without acknowledging that the show is ending along with it. Saru and T’Rina get married in a sequence that should have been longer if only so we could have seen more of their banging wedding outfits, Michael and Book finally admit that they’re still in love with each other, Moll gets recruited to what must surely be Section 31, and we learn the truth about Kovich’s secret identity. It’s possible I was the only person watching this show who had zero interest in Kovich beyond his utility as a plot point, so the sudden reveal that he’s actually Enterprise’s Agent Daniels was genuinely surprising. (The inclusion of Geordi’s visor, the bottle of Chateau Picard, and Sisko’s baseball was the icing on the cake.) Here’s hoping we see him again in Michelle Yeoh’s Section 31 movie. 

A time jump takes us to the scene of Discovery’s pseudo-retirement—which sees the ship and its sentient AI abandoned in deep space to set things up for the Short Treks episode “Calypso.” And Sonequa Martin-Green gets to rock some extremely sus old-age makeup to show us Burnham’s happy ending, a life with Book on a planet that seems similar to Kwejian (it’s even got trance worms!), and a son who’s a Starfleet captain in his own right. It’s a warm and satisfying final coda for a character who has often had a difficult time allowing herself to be happy, and a deserved bit of peace for one of the series’ best couples. I’m choosing to believe one of Grudge’s descendants still lives with them. 

Overall, it’s a finale that serves as a mostly satisfying conclusion to the story of Discovery’s characters and that underlines many of the themes the series has spent its five-year run exploring. This is a show that has always boldly gone with its heart on its sleeve—for better or worse—and it’s more than fitting that’s how its story ends.

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4 out of 5