Discovery‘s “All is Possible” in Review
There’s some good Discovery to talk about in episode four of the show’s fourth season. Following on in the same vein as last week, “All Is Possible” offers us clear A, B, and C plots, with diverse pieces of text and subtext, as well as plenty of fine acting.
The episode has generally more subtle visuals than the genre easter egg fest that last week provided. Here, the standout visual moment that is reminiscent of other genre projects is the lovely upward screen-wipe we get at one point, which, while something we’re perhaps most used to in Star Wars, is so well done it just immediately scores as “love that screen-wipe” rather than “hey, a Star Wars-type thing.” It’s a tiny moment, but the devil’s in the details, and often these small things make all the difference.
Plot-wise, there are three discrete elements to this. Firstly, Michael and Saru are tasked by President Rillak (look, it’s almost an anagram of “killer”; she’s bound to turn out evil!) to be representatives at the Federation/Ni’Var Brexit deal negotations for rejoining. No, seriously, it’s about the Ni’Var wanting a triggerable exit clause – a 32nd Century Article 50 – added to their deal; there’s zero way that’s not a deliberate reflection on modern history.
Secondly, Tilly and Adira are sent on a training mission with some new cadets, to teach them how Starfleet officers must work together. To nobody’s surprise, the mission immediately goes horribly wrong, and they… have to work together and make peace between cadets of rival races to survive.
Meanwhile, back on the ship, Hugh is counselling Book about how to move on with his life and finding a new way to perform the rites that previously required presence of elements of Kweijian.
Let’s be honest, nobody who’s watched at least a season or so of any Trek is going to be that surprised by the outcomes of any of these three plotlines. No, they’re going to be surprised by something else that’s a little more out of the blue, and in fact nicely misdirected by one of the other outcomes.
The Michael-and-Saru plotline is talky Trek, perhaps geared more towards TNG fans in particular, as it has the feel of a Picard-centric negotiation episode. This might in part be because of the Ni’Var being a Vulcan/Romulan combo, the beginnings of which were threads in TNG. It also gives us some lovely acting and teases cool character development, particularly where Saru and the Ni’Var president are concerned, between whom there’s a palpable sense of sexual tension. Both actors really knock it out of the park with subtlety, which is even more impressive considering the prosthetics that Doug Jones is working from under. Then again, we’re used to Jones just nailing this level of perfection from under all that makeup anyway, so it’s ever-welcome consistency, and one of the things that really makes this series.
The visuals are also giving more subtle pleasures this week, with the view out of the windows on Ni’Var granting a lovely view that might take a second viewing to note the inclusion of Vasquez Rocks, the familiar landmark common to many Star Trek planets. Over on Tilly’s training mission, the visuals in and of themselves are less striking, giving the air less of an actual frozen planet than of a themed arena for a videogame boss battle – perhaps from something akin to Lost Planet, considering the spider-like mosters that pop up from under the ice – in the sense that it somehow feels like a self-contained area with a border around. That said, it does say a lot about this season’s new virtual sets, as it’s absolutely impossible to tell which bits of the planet are CG, which are physical sets, and which might even be plates taken on location somewhere for this or a previous season. That’s a great achievement for the tech departments.
One wonders whether the ice that comes up around Adira’s ankles is meant to be the same sort of predatory ice from last season, while the spider-like jellyfish are impressive nasties. (Amusingly, there’s one shot in which one of them looks like a person in a costume on all-fours despite being completely CG, and it might be that this is a deliberate nod to TOS creature creator/performer Janos Prohaska… or not.)
Sadly, this sequence brings us the main eye-narrowing irritation of the episode, as a warning about the creatures reaching the cadets in a matter of seconds is immediately followed by five minutes of talking about how the two opposing cadets need to understand each other to work together. This isn’t a bad moral, considering, but is rather messed-up pacing. Nevertheless, it’s all suitably exciting, and re-establishes a standard basic bit of Starfleet ethos.
Meanwhile, Hugh is really settling into the counsellor side of his job, still helping Book get along with his life – and mentioning Grudge, hurrah! – in nice character-building scenes, and it’s good to see that both actors have a good chemistry building. There isn’t really any resolution to this C-story, because of course it’s the ticking-over part of the season’s arc, and it’s a pleasant showcase for the actors.
Michael’s solution to the Brexit negotiations is kind of obvious, and gives her a new job, which is what makes it more surprising that she’s not leaving the ship to take up that duty, but that Tilly does leave to teach at Starfleet Academy. It’s totally understandable, because she’s been looking for new experiences for a couple of episodes, and we now have Adira as the whiz-kid, but it would have made at least as much sense for Michael to have left, as a lot of her original story arc has been concluded.
A few other points worth noting are that we’ve now had two consecutive episodes without the other five Bridge crew, and Gray’s new hair and uniform are really nice. David Cronenberg returns as Kovich, which is very welcome, though he now seems to be a less sinister character than last year, and hopefully we’ll see more of him.
The biggest disappointment, if you can call it that, is that we learn nothing new about the DMA (the anomaly) or what’s being done about it. The episode continues, like the season as a whole, to deal well with how people’s lives react to their interactions with a not-pandemic-honest-scary-life-affecting-threat, and is keeping up the high quality in all respects… except maybe the “revealing stuff about the DMA” respect.
David A McIntee is a writer and historian who has written for properties such as Doctor Who, Star Wars, Final Destination, and Stargate, as well as having written several adventures in the Star Trek franchise for Pocket Books. He has contributed many pieces to the magazines Star Trek Explorer (née Star Trek Magazine) and Star Trek Communicator, as well as having written nonfiction books about Star Trek: Voyager.