Discovery‘s “Rosetta” in Review
Having left the galaxy in the previous episode, Discovery and Book’s ship now find themselves heading for the hyperfield (whatever that’s supposed to mean) within which the 10-Cs lurk, controlling the DMA. Nearby is a dusty dead planet which everyone correctly theorises may once have been home to – or at least a colony of – the 10-Cs. Michael takes an away team down to find any clues to who and what they are, and to how to make contact with them. Meanwhile, President Rillak is trying to find the best way to talk to the new species, and Book and Tarka plot to hack into Discovery’s systems to make use of them.
It’s probably not surprising, given the title, that the episode centres on finding a way to communicate with the 10-Cs, at the very least hoping to find a suitable language or cultural context. It refers to the Rosetta Stone, an artefact that allowed the translation of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, as it contained the same message written in two known languages – Demotic and Greek – as well as hieroglyphics. It was such a monumental discovery that there’s even a huge online language learning service named after it. Star Trek fans who think the title is familiar to the franchise might recall that “Rosetta” was also the title of a Hoshi-centric Enterprise novel.
Visiting the planet in search of contextual clues (because context is king, remember?), Michael, Saru and Culber start experiencing fear reactions while Detmer doesn’t. After checking for EM fields, that old 1970s Doctor Who favourite “psionics” and whatnot, they discover that a patch of dust contained a hydrocarbon that somehow transfers the experience of the 10-Cs’ fear when their planet was trashed.
It doesn’t take long for the away team to discover the ancient remains of creatures which seem designed to be lightweight and float in the atmospheres of gas giants. This is a nice, new type of species for Trek, whose species are – with few exceptions – generally humanoid or evolved beyond the need for physical bodies. However, this is a familiar trope for literary sci-fi, brought to the fore decades ago by Arthur C. Clarke in A Meeting with Medusa.
These are the ancestors of the 10-C, who apparently left for the hyperfield due to the destruction of their planet. Their evacuation left the remnants of a nursery, and a bunch of samples of hydrocarbons that can, by means unknown, transmit or create emotional reactions in our heroes. Theorising that this means they communicate by emotions, everybody starts wondering how a species that knows the terror of destruction could inflict it on others. Somehow, it still hasn’t occurred to anybody in this experienced first contact team that maybe a completely different type of life doesn’t actually recognise humanoid life as life.
This implies the group is not particularly good at their studies or jobs, because they have to not think about it, to persuade the audience that Book and Tarka’s concerns are potentially legitimate. Honestly, that’s showing the storytelling structure to the audience when it should instead be kept behind the scenes.
Meanwhile, Tarka and Book sneak aboard Discovery, so that Tarka can make some highly illicit modifications for use in the next episode. Book makes a deal with Earth General Ndoye to turn to their side and help, albeit agreeing to stand down if the diplomatic solution works… again. And we all remember how that keeps turning out, right?
All that said, the exploration of the planet, and discoveries of species and communications new to the Trek-verse is a major plus, and a sign of a return to the show’s roots. The clue is, after all, in the name!
The scene-stealing return of Tig Notaro as Jett Reno is extremely welcome. It’s nice that she has an important part to play as Tarka and Book sneak around Engineering, though it’s disappointing that she’s so easily captured by Tarka rather than the other way round, for this week’s cliffhanger. Elsewhere on the acting front, Wilson Cruz and Doug Jones are still the ones most knocking it out of the park.
The episode’s weak point, again, is the dragging out of “at what point is Book going to ditch Tarka the Selfish, or Tarka double-cross him?” It’s becoming increasingly frustrating and stupid to an unintentionally hilarious degree. Waiting for that penny to drop is like waiting for Putin to discover he has a limit about something.
On a scientific front – beyond “what the hell is a ‘hyperfield’?” and “can we have some real science?” – it seems a little strange that an aerial gasbag species (in effect, a sentient blimp or zeppelin) of such vast size could live in the atmosphere of a terrestrial-type rocky planet, or that a gas giant would leave such a rocky core when its atmosphere has gone. But, hey; that’s why they call it “alien,” which, by the way, means “other” in Latin.
Overall, a curate’s egg again, with pacing that desperately needs improved, but a return to the sort of Star Trek that is Star Trek, and some fine acting.
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.