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Star Trek: Discovery finally nails the landing of Season 4’s bumpy ride

Star Trek Discovery Season 4 Episode 13 (Paramount+)

The end of season 4 succeeds with a focus on unity and selflessness in the face of uncertainty.

Unity is at the very heart of Star Trek. In 1966, amid rampant racial, cultural, and international tensions, The Original Series dared to present a universe where folks from different communities and backgrounds would work together as one. The message was implicit but clear. Fences could be mended. Divides could be bridged. Hearts and minds could be won. More than the plentiful resources or wondrous technology, that was the foundation for the franchise’s vision of utopia.

Star Trek: Discovery’s fourth season finale honors that vision. There are still the requisite explosions and action sequences. The crew of the Discovery must still escape Species 10-C’s cosmic bubble and stop Ruon Tarka (Shawn Doyle) from destroying the DMA’s power source and billions of lives along with it. The mandatory fireworks remain intact and even deliver some creativity and thrills along the way.

But at the end of the day, the way Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and company save the galaxy is not through phaser blasts or tachyon particles. It’s through finding a common understanding with a species more alien than any they’ve ever encountered. It’s through people like President Rillak (Chelah Horsdal) expressing shared sentiments and values. It’s through survivors like Cleveland Booker (David Ajala) conveying the feeling of loss that both sides can relate to. Ultimately, it’s diplomacy, empathy, and unity that win the day—a wholesome affirmation of Star Trek’s deepest values.

To the point, there are no villains here, an idea “Coming Home” almost takes too far. Last week, Tarka was a heartsick extremist willing to let the whole stinking quadrant rot if it meant escaping this universe and finding the man he loves. This week, all it takes is a swift punch in the face and a big speech about right and wrong before suddenly he’s a blubbering, reformed soul who’d undo it all if he could. The turn comes a bit too easy, but his soul’s profound ache over his lost love, and the sense that this isn’t what Oros would want, carries enough weight to make the transformation emotionally potent, albeit narratively tenuous.

Pictured: Doug Jones as Saru, Tara Rosling as T’Rina, Chelah Horsal as President Rillak, Sonequa Martin-Green as Burnham and Phumzile Sitole as Ndoye of the Paramount+ original series STAR TREK: DISCOVERY. Photo Cr: Marni Grossman/Paramount+ © 2021 CBS Interactive. All Rights Reserved.

In the same terms, General Ndoye (Phumzile Sitole) admits to venting the plasma that allowed Book’s ship to escape and disrupt talks with the 10-C. Yet, she forthrightly explains the good intentions behind her choice and, more importantly, offers to make up for it. The General volunteers to pilot a shuttle for a suicide mission to stop Tarka. The fact that she miraculously survives the experience takes a bit of the oomph out of the gesture. But her willingness to not only own her mistakes but lose everything to correct them shows that there are no bad guys here, just people with different pains and priorities operating in the same veil of uncertainty.

That includes Species 10-C. The finale confirms, once and for all, that the extragalactic race did not realize the humanoids of the Milky Way Galaxy were higher lifeforms and thus did not understand the damage the DMA was causing. The horrors visited upon other worlds are born of ignorance, not malice. When faced with the beings before them, grasping for connection, they express their own sorrow and promise to act with greater caution.

Their regret is important. Burnham staked her reputation on the belief that first contact could work because even a species so far removed from the known and familiar might still have empathy and compassion. The 10-C’s remorse and assurance vindicates that faith and encourages the audience to look for the same sort of connection to that which we do not yet know or understand.

But their promise to be more careful is not enough for Book. He’s lost as much as anyone in this crisis and knows the costs the DMA has imposed. So he insists that Species 10-C halt their anomaly entirely. And when they protest that it would prevent them from powering the hyperfield that has protected them since their home planet was devastated, he too reaches out for communion, one founded on the sort of loss of a world they can both understand. Book speaks to how easy it is to put up walls after a painful experience, to seek to inflict your hurt on others or cut yourself off, but that openness to those in the wider world, the chance to resonate as part of that greater whole, is essential to healing.

It’s diplomacy, empathy, and unity that win the day—a wholesome affirmation of Star Trek’s deepest values.

Of course, the speech works. The 10-C not only agree to knock down their interstellar walls and stop the DMA, but also help clean up the subspace messes they left in its wake. Like much in “Coming Home”, such a monumental change comes a bit too easy. Yet, the spirit of the piece, the sense of appreciation for the broader world the Federation and their counterparts all share together, covers for any air of convenience.

The same goes for how quickly our heroes go from exchanging veritable pictographs with these aliens to conveying writer and showrunner Michelle Paradise’s suitably poetic prose. It’s far from the first implausibly rapid solution to a technical problem in Star Trek, and the purpose it serves here justifies the logical leap.

As does the impact of Book’s apparent death and his improbable but well-timed rescue and return at the hands (or fronds) of the 10-C. The stock joke about Discovery is to poke fun at Burnham’s penchant for tears. But Martin-Green’s incredible performance here sells the impact of Book’s would-be end and exultant reunion. The key moment where Burnham acutely feels the loss of the man she loves, gives herself a brief space to grieve, and then pulls herself together because there’s a job to do, is the signature performance in the episode and the season.

The finale finds plenty for everyone else to do too, though. Tilly (Mary Wiseman) makes her welcome return to the series as she and Admiral Vance (Oded Fehr) work to evacuate as much of the solar system as possible in the face of the DMA threat. Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and Adira Tal (Blu del Barrio) come up with a way to power out of the 10-C’s bubble using the spore drive. President T’Rina (Tara Rosling) performs a harrowing mind-meld with the 10-C. Keyla Detmer (Emily Coutts) volunteers for the suicide mission. Jett Reno (Tig Notaro) shares personal, practical, and wryly funny details from one ship to another. Nearly everyone is accounted for here.

Star Trek Discovery Season 4 Episode 13 (Paramount+)
Pictured: Sonequa Martin-Green as Burnham and Stacey Abrams as United Earth President of the Paramount+ original series STAR TREK: DISCOVERY. Photo Cr: Marni Grossman/Paramount+ © 2021 CBS Interactive. All Rights Reserved.

And they’re all ultimately working toward a common goal: to keep the people they love from harm, protect their homes from disaster, and come together when it matters most. “Coming Home” recognizes this struggle as a universal cause. It unites the Federation and Species 10-C. It unites those hovering above Earth and those beyond the farthest reaches of our galaxy. And it unites those who come at these challenges from different perspectives, who are each still willing to put their lives on the line when it counts.

Like its 1960s predecessor, Discovery asserts that the most uncertain challenges and greatest problems can only be solved through cooperation and understanding among those who recognize themselves as part of a greater whole. Burnham, Rillak, Book, and so many more forge a hard-fought connection built on that understanding and give the series its best finale yet.

With that achievement, “Coming Home” caps off Star Trek: Discovery’s strongest season to date. Whether it’s a newfound consistency in the showrunners, a worthy blend of season-long arcs and back-to-basics adventures, or a commitment to vindicating those essential values at the core of the franchise, the series has finally hit its stride. Its vision of unity and hope, as needed now as it was half a century ago, still stretches across years and boundaries, and comes in just as clear.

Ensign’s Log:

  • There’s an entire essay to be written about avowed Trekkie Stacey Abrams’ cameo as the President of the Federation. Suffice it to say, it’s neat to see a prominent superfan walk onto the show, but a little odd watching a real life politician play one on T.V.
  • Damage to Starfleet vessels still apparently causes flames to burst out in key areas of the ship. I don’t know if Section 31 has an OSHA division, but they might want to look into that.
  • Even in the face of death, Tilly reflects happily on her life, having found her purpose. It’s a nice way to round out her arc given where she started this season.
  • The same goes for Dr. Culber (Wilson Cruz) who may not be fully okay just yet, but who nevertheless finds solace and joy with his family.
  • At the episode’s end, Saru (Doug Jones) and T’Rina are holding hands, arranging flowers, and making time for intimate moments with one another. Go get it, you crazy kids!
  • Thanks for sticking with our coverage through another tumultuous year. Until next season, keep flying.


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