Warp Factor Trek

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Following on from the last couple of episodes, the crew of Discovery are faced with deciding how to handle the future of Zora, the ship’s increasingly self-aware and emotionally-engaged computer. Meanwhile, the members of the Federation and various other allies and interested parties have to decide what to do about the unknown creators of the Dark Matter Anomaly, who have been designated “Species 10-C”.

It probably won’t surprise anyone that when an episode features two plot strands involving moral and ethical decisions to be made which will have repercussions on the parties of both sides, there’s some echoing, comparison, and mirroring between them.

Book and some alien representatives (CBS-Paramount)

This is a very discussion-heavy episode, with little action other than the cliffhanger leading into the mid-season break, but it does give us plenty of intrigue, guest stars, new and familiar species (Ferengi, the Butterfly people from the season premiere, and more), acting range, and some pleasant surprise change-ups in what would otherwise have been tired and expected twists. In other words, Star Trek giving us new and intriguing things to enjoy and think about. Well, mostly.

Let’s look at the two plotlines individually. In fact, there’s a very meta duality within the nature of the episode; both stories are about making choices between hostile response and thoughtful trust. With Zora, it’s “do we want to shut her down or limit her, because so many Trek and other screen computers go homicidally nuts, or trust her?” With Species 10-C, it’s “do we destroy the DMA and potentially start a war, or make peaceful contact and try to find out what’s going on?” Similarly, the episode contains two opposing options for the audience: do you want unexpected character developments and twists, or inevitable political developments that have been blatantly foreshadowed for several episodes?

The Zora storyline is by far the more interesting, and carries the most surprises and unexpected riffs on familiar tropes. Following on from the computer’s increasingly erratic and emotional behaviour in recent episodes, particularly in “Stormy Weather”, she refuses to give up the co-ordinates for the origin of the DMA, which she has calculated. She claims that if she gives the crew the co-ordinates for such a powerful unknown species, they will leap into danger, and she doesn’t want to put the crew in such danger.

Kovich in Burnham’s ready room (CBS-Paramount)

As a result, Dr. Kovich – who by now seems settled as Starfleet’s chief counsellor rather than the Section 31 mastermind he was hinted at being last season – launches an assessment of whether Zora is a fully sentient AI, the type of which are banned from being allowed to control Starfleet ships. If she is, she will have to be removed.

Meanwhile, at Federation HQ, a gaggle of presidents, admirals, generals, and ambassadors has gathered to discuss whether to try Dr. Tarka’s scheme to use illegal WMDs (isolitic weaponry, in this case) to destroy the DMA in a manner which risks destructive energy feeding back to attack Species 10-C, or whether to wait for the co-ordinates of Species 10-C to be extracted from Zora and attempt peaceful first contact.

Ni’Var President T’Rina is, finally, the first person to actually suggest that the DMA might not have been launched at the galaxy as a weapon. Good for her, whether she’s right or wrong. Naturally, Michael and President Rillak are of a similar mind, which means the inevitable is about to happen: after several episodes of Book not liking what Michael has done – such as leaving the prisoner to die on the prison colony a couple of weeks back (by his own choice, remember!), and being told by others (i.e., his hallucinatory dad and the non-hallucinatory Tarka) that she will always choose the Federation over him – they have a difference of opinion. Prepare for separation!

Book and Tarka (CBS-Paramount)

Tarka’s part in this is, at best, highly suspect. It turns out he was an Emerald Chain prisoner from another parallel universe, whose lover didn’t make it out. He professes to just want to get home by destroying the DMA, and reminding Book of how much damage its creators have caused. As if he needs to be reminded! Luckily for Tarka, Book’s the main person on Discovery who never knew Mirror Lorca, though you’d think he’d have opinons on people from other universes after knowing Empress Gorgeous… er, Georgiou. This gives us a last minute cliffhanger, as Book and Tarka take Book’s ship with some pirated spore drive controls, to go off and destroy the DMA.

Things go better with the issue of Zora, who is becoming a lovely character, and, unlike previous Starfleet ships’ computers, a proper character in her own right. This is a nice change on the one hand, though it does also lead the character more to being reminiscent of the ship’s computer from Andromeda, or Gideon from Legends of Tomorrow. Could be worse; you wouldn’t want Holly from Red Dwarf trying to help deal with a problem like the DMA and its creators.

It’s also great that Gray and Adira take such a lead in helping understand what’s happening with Zora, though slightly disappointing that Stamets again is so often the doubter. The outcome of whether Zora is a sentient AI or not is a nice one, familiar to Trek fans, as she is declared a new life form. It’s appropriate, considering the part Gray and Adira played in swaying matters, that she opines, “It is nice to be seen,” for who and what she is. No hiding, no pretending, just trusting and being trusted. In fact, the idea that the computer needs to trust is itself a nice touch, as is what would have happened to Stamets if things had gone differently.

The stunning touch, though, is the editing mix as both debates climax at the same time, switching from one to the other, as they both reflect each other in many ways. That’s an awesome minute or two that doesn’t just plaster over some cracks but paints a masterpiece fresco over the whole wall.

Rating: 4/5

Overall, a talky but worthy episode with some great performances and a gallery of cameo aliens. The episode culminates in a satisfying conclusion to one arc, balanced against a rather crude and obvious – and somewhat unconvincing, given how Book’s character has been so rapidly undermined by the obviously selfish Tarka – twist to give us a midseason cliffhanger. Fortunately, David Ajala is more than able to sell us this. And bonus points for Saru giving T’Rina that plant; they’re probably engaged now or something.

Star Trek: Discovery will return on 10th February.

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