The pacing seems to be off in this season of Discovery. Ever since they came back from the mid-season break, they've been simultaneously sprinting and plodding; advancing the plot and taking side detours that make little sense given the urgency of the situation. To be fair, that is mainly because of an arbitrary, unnecessary and cheap deadline slapped on the show in the last episode: the new iteration of the Dark Matter Anomaly, being much more efficient than its predecessor, has moved to the area of Earth, Titan and Ni'Var. Admiral Vance expected the fallout from its operations to hit one or more of those systems in 72 hours.
This ratcheted up the suspense, all right, but it may have turned the screws a bit too much. It makes Michael's decision in this episode to stop and investigate the planet located two light-years from the DMA's hyperfield a bridge too far, even though they discovered important information on that planet. And as Michael pointed out, just jumping in on Species 10-C without knowing anything about them would be disastrous. This episode would have been interesting in and of itself, but with that added pressure, it felt like the equivalent of fiddling while Rome's roaring, crackling flames drew ever nearer. I wish the decision had not been made to add this ticking clock to the timeline, because the story is quite urgent enough without it.
Having said all that, the highlight of this episode for me was the return of Jett Reno! Tig Notaro inhabits that cynical, wry, and ultimately warm-hearted character like a glove, and I laughed out loud at her rejoinder when Linus, the "Black Lagoon Creature" character, came to engineering to request help with the sudden replicator malfunctions: "I require some assistance."
"I live to serve," Reno said, and Tig Notaro's perfect dry, resigned delivery cracked me up.
The bulk of this episode is Michael's expedition to the planet mentioned earlier, the dead core of a former gas giant that had all its gaseous layers stripped from it by an asteroid bombardment. (Though why she chose to investigate that instead of the two Dyson rings around the system's star boggles the mind. No doubt she thought she didn't have time for the latter--that stupid encroaching deadline again--and hoped finding something on the planet would be faster.) She takes Saru, Culber and Detmer with her, and they do indeed find some important facts and cultural context about the unknown Species 10-C: that they were gigantic creatures that lived in the gas giant's layers before the planet died (Giant Space Whales, Possibly with Tentacles, here we come!); not all of them managed to evacuate the planet before the end; they built structures that floated in the gaseous layers, and one of said structures that crashed to the stripped planet's core held a nursery; and they communicated with long-chain hydrocarbons that were the species' version of pheromones. Said hydrocarbons still remain on the planet's surface as floating blue dust, and the dust begins to affect the crewmembers who unknowingly touched it. This starts with Saru, who experiences hallucinations and fear that he has not felt for a long time, and spreads to Culber and Michael (Detmer did not touch any of them and is not affected). It was very cool watching the four of them work together and "science the shit out of it" (as wonky as Star Trek's 'science' has always been) to solve the mystery. The pheromones floating outside held the emotions and memories of the last survivors as they died, and the pheromones inside the nursery held the infants' feelings of love and security. This last was particularly attractive for Culber, who admitted he was still struggling with everything that had happened to him despite Dr. Kovich's advice. In the end, the expedition secured 16 separate compounds which correspond to varied emotions, which caused Stamets to express some genuine hope that they would be able to solve this.
One would think so, since there are only 2 episodes left in the season and we already know the show has been renewed for Season 5. However, the point was made twice that the species may know what their mining equipment is doing to other species and they just don't care, so I expect the attempted communication is not going to go well, at least at first. We've got to give that bloated egotistical maniac Ruon Tarka another chance to blow everything sky-high once again, apparently.
Speaking of Tarka and Book, they evidently make it through the galactic barrier sight unseen with no problems (perhaps following Discovery's trail of soap-bubble pixie-dust?), and Tarka comes up with a way to deaden a portion of the hull so Book's ship can piggyback undetected on Discovery's underside. Installing this "patch" requires the two of them beaming on board Discovery and not only dodging the sentient supercomputer and the various crewmembers, but distracting Jett Reno and her engineering crew long enough for Tarka to sneak in and install the patch. This doesn't quite work out as Reno realizes that the sudden epidemic of replicators shooting out steamed bananas (that's a thing? gag) is indeed a distraction, and she returns to discover Tarka hiding behind a panel: "Please tell me I just spoiled a surprise party."
It's a surprise, all right, but it's hardly a party, as Tarka kidnaps her, drags her to Book's ship, and installs her on the bridge behind a force field. So.....I wonder how long it's going to take before Discovery notices her chief engineer is gone? (Although I fervently hope Jett Reno gets the opportunity to turn her sarcasm loose on Ruon Tarka and tear him a new one.)
Meanwhile, Book, after overhearing General Ndoye's dissatisfaction with Michael's little side expedition, shows himself to the general and asks her to cooperate with what he and Tarka are doing. Why Book, Ndoye and/or anyone else would trust Tarka as far as they could throw him is beyond me, but that's what it seems Book is doing. Ndoye insists Book give diplomacy a chance, and he promises to do so. And I yelled at the TV: "Y'ALL ARE JUST GOING TO STAND THERE AND TWIDDLE YOUR THUMBS WHILE TARKA SCREWS THINGS UP YET AGAIN?" For frak's sake.
At episode's end, Discovery is once again on her way with Book's ship tucked under her unseen. We had better meet up with Species 10-C next time out, or I'm going to start throwing things.