November 20, 2021

Streamin' Meemies: Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 Ep 1, "Kobayashi Maru"


So welcome back, y'all, to my recap of Season 4 of Star Trek: Discovery. Before I start, for those of you who just got your Discovery episodes rudely yanked out from under you, I must point out this widely-publicized dick move by Paramount, as recounted here:

For three seasons, most of the world has watched Star Trek: Discovery through Netflix, the streaming platform that was, outside of the U.S. at least, also home to most of Star Trek’s past as well. But in a shocking move, days before the series was set to return to the streamer for its fourth season, now those fans will have to wait—and sign up for an entirely different streaming service.

Deadline reports that ViacomCBS has paid off the lucrative deal that brought Discovery to Netflix across the world outside of the U.S. and Canada four years ago, pulling the entire show from the platform at midnight tonight. The removal also means that Discovery’s fourth season, which was expected to begin airing weekly on Netflix starting this Friday, November 19—a day after it premieres on Paramount+ in the U.S. and on CTV’s Sci-Fi Channel in Canada—will now not air in international markets for at least a few months.

As the first comment on the article so succinctly states:

I’m not endorsing piracy, but honestly, shit like this is a major reason as to why piracy still exists.

It's also surely inclined to make people want to sign up for Paramount Plus whenever it debuts in their country. 🙄

I apologize to any readers outside the US/Canada, for discussing a show you won't get to see for several months. 

ALL the SPOILERS follow. 

The title of this episode, "Kobayashi Maru," referring to Starfleet Academy's unwinnable training scenario, does not become relevant until nearly the end, when Captain Michael Burnham and the new Federation President, Laira Rillek (also the first female President we've seen, played by--and I had to rack my brain to figure out where I had seen the actor before--Chelah Horsdal, from Amazon's The Man in the High Castle) discuss Burnham's actions through the episode. President Rillek joined the Discovery crew for their mission not just to "tick a box and prove herself," as Michael originally thought, but to evaluate Burnham for a possible captaincy for the next generation of dilithium-free warp-capable engines, the experimental "pathway drive" soon to be tested on the Voyager-J. But after watching Captain Burnham demonstrate her usual James Kirk-style over-the-top heroics, Rillek changes her mind:

"Leadership is about balance. Knowing what weight is yours to carry and what isn't. You just don't see that yet.

Your acts of bravery are irrefutable. They are also huge swings of the pendulum, and in a time of rebuilding, there is a very fine line between a pendulum and a wrecking ball." 

Michael Burnham's well documented "pathological need to save everyone" is referenced in two scenes in this episode, more bluntly by Rillek and more kindly by Cleveland Booker, Michael's lover and honorary Discovery crew member (Book: "You know you got lucky today." Michael: "It worked, didn't it?"). We will see whether this theme is fully explored through the season, of course. I hope since it's been so prominent in the premiere, they won't flinch from tackling it head-on. 

The season opens five months after the events of the last, with Michael now Discovery's captain, taking her crew on missions to deliver dilithium to worlds left stranded by last season's Burn and re-establish diplomatic relations with planets left isolated for decades by said Burn. This gives us an amusing opening sequence of Michael and Book meeting with a species of bipedal butterfly people, the Alshain. A misunderstanding about Book's cat Grudge (Book and Michael: "She's a queen!" Butterfly guy, outraged: "You hold a Monarch captive?") leads to a shootout with the butterfly people chasing them. Michael notices they're not flying well and tasks Tilly for a solution. Tilly, Stamets and Adira figure out that with their dilithium gone and their satellite network down,  they can't navigate properly. (There is a lot of incomprehensible technobabble in this episode, but Anthony Rapp and Blu del Barrio handle it with aplomb.) Tilly sends out the remote DOTS robots with dilithium and fix the satellites, and Book and Michael escape in Book's ship, after giving the Alshain the dilithium Michael promised. After returning to the ship, the Butterfly Emperor calls Michael and asks her why she did that. Michael replies: "We're the Federation. It's what we do." 

Back at Federation headquarters, Starfleet Academy is re-opening after 125 years. In talking to the first class of cadets, Michael notes that the Federation's member worlds have risen from 38 to 59. She introduces President Rillek, who acknowledges and praises the Discovery's crew for their actions last season. She also introduces the newly-built Archer spacedock, where the next generation of Federation starships will be constructed (and we see what we later find out is the Voyager-J, in the midst of refitting). In talking to Tilly after the ceremony, we find out she has been promoted to Lieutenant (and in a nice touch, we see Admiral Vance has been reunited with his family). Then Michael is taken aside by Admiral Vance and shown a distress call just received from station Deep Space Repair Beta 6, which was knocked out of orbit and damaged by an unknown anomaly. Discovery, with its spore drive, is the only ship that can reach it in time, and Michael is ordered to go. President Rillek also insists on coming, which Michael tries to object to--as she tells Admiral Vance, Rillek is "a politician checking a box." But there's nothing she can do about it, so Discovery, with Rillek on board, set off.

They jump to Beta 6's location to find the station spinning madly out of control, with life support down in all but the center section and the artificial gravity and inertial dampeners fluctuating. The station commander asks for programmable matter to fix what's broken, and Adira, a newly made ensign, is dispatched with Tilly to help. (We also see a scene of Adira talking to Gray in which Gray says he doesn't yet have a holographic body, which seems kind of odd, as the Kelpien ship last season was able to make one for him.) The repairs to the station are almost done when Beta 6 and Discovery are suddenly bombarded by frozen methane from the system's Oort cloud, which was knocked askew by the same phenomenon that damaged the station. Michael orders Discovery's shields extended to cover the station, and a repair mission suddenly becomes a rescue mission. The methane has also knocked out Discovery's transporters, and the drain on the ship's shields puts a hard time limit on the rescue. This, of course, sets Michael Burnham up to save the day (as usual), and she takes off in a worker bee to free wreckage stopping the station's lifeboat from launching, which Rillek rightfully objects to. At any rate, the lifeboat makes two trips to get everyone off the station and onboard Discovery, and Discovery jumps away just after shields are lost and the lifeboat makes it into the shuttle bay--but the station debris smashes it as it lands, and the commander and two other people are killed. 

This sequence of events prompts Rillek's confrontation with Michael, where it is revealed that she really came onboard to evaluate Captain Burnham for the Voyager-J. Needless to say, Michael is no longer on Rillek's list. It's rather a refreshing scene, actually, as Rillek is willing to confront Michael's hotdogging as (so far) the crew of Discovery is not. Again, I hope this theme is carried through the rest of the season. 

We also check in with Saru on Kaminar, where it's establishes that it's been five months since the events of Season 3. On Kaminar, the Ba'ul and Kelpiens are living together in apparent harmony, but they have also gone completely isolationist since the Burn. We're treated to a nice scene of Saru making an impassioned speech, trying to convince his people to rejoin the wider galaxy. There's also a sweet scene where we catch up with Su'Kal, who says he is "happy and loved" on Kaminar, and Saru need not stay there when he clearly wants to return to Discovery. 

Finally, Book returns to his home planet of Kwejian to guide his nephew Leto through a manhood ceremony. This does not end well, as the entire planet and all of its people are consumed by the same anomaly that smashes the Beta 6 station, and Book only escaped because he was aloft in his ship, searching for why the planet's birds were suddenly panicking and flying, when the anomaly came through. His ship finds Discovery on autopilot, and Book storms aboard and insists they look for Kwejian. The planet is not at its previous coordinates, but is instead smashed into fragments and hurled hundreds of thousands of kilometers away. The final shot of the episode zeroes in on Book's anguished face: "They're all gone." 

(Which is kind of a crappy thing to do, fridging an entire planet.)

This episode does a good job of setting up what will be this season's stakes, as well as re-establishing relationships from the past season. It was also directed by returning go-to Discovery director Olatunde Osunsanmi in a sort of frenetic zoom-to-everyone's-faces style, especially in the bridge scenes. Your mileage will definitely vary on that, as some people might get a bit nauseated. The episode was mostly action, but there were some nice character scenes, for Saru in particular. And the episode just looks great, from the planet of the butterfly people to the clever upside-down depiction of the damaged Beta 6 station.

A (mostly) nice start, people. Carry on. 

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