Discovery‘s Season 4 finale is “Coming Home”
Airing on St. Patrick’s Day, is there going to be a pot of gold at the end of the Discovery leprechauns’ rainbow? In all honesty, not really. A couple of coins scattered here and there, and maybe a nice Guinness somewhere, but if there’s a pot, it’s only full of plain old stew.
The fourth season finale “Coming Home” follows up on the episode “Species Ten-C”, in which Tarka betrayed Book, sabotaged Discovery to escape the bubble they were in (inside the atmosphere of a gas giant), and headed to snatch the DMA power source. Meanwhile, the 10-Cs, who were chatting with Discovery and the diplomats, went quiet. Given how none of the tension or twists this season have actually been surprising and the pacing has been well off but that they have to wrap up all the arcs in one episode, this goes exactly as expected.
Looking at the good things first, we start with the return of Tilly. It’s great to see her back, getting some quality time with Admiral Vance as they stay behind to shoot down asteroids and debris while the rest of Starfleet evacuates a small percentage of the Earth’s population. Their two-hander scenes show how Tilly has grown, make Vance more accessibly human, and even give vibes of what this could have been if it had been a disaster movie focused on a natural threat. Sadly, the desire to have a villain figure got in the way, but you can’t have everything. As they share some booze, it’s tempting to imagine their eventual rescuers finding them drunk and in bed, not because of character or chemistry but simply because that’s the sort of thing that humans do in disaster situations. But instead, we see Vance’s oft-mentioned wife and daughter.
Also on the positive side, Tig Notaro‘s Reno shines as always, saving the day. Michael and Book perfectly deliver touching speeches about life, love and death. The crew has done the definitive Trek thing of seeking out new life and a new civilisation. The visuals of the 10-C are stunning (even if we do know a Vorlon when we see one). The music is suitably impressive, hitting all the right emotions, and teasing us with hints of V’Ger’s theme again. There’s a sense of wrap-up and return to status quo, ready for next season
Which brings us back to the disappointments and negatives, because – following the events of this season – there really can’t be a believable return to the status quo. After Book’s treasonous, illegal, and romantic deal-breaking, he’s shown to get off with… wait for it… some community service! No doubt this “penalty” will last just long enough for him to return in Season 5. Somehow, this is all hunky-dory with Michael, despite the sheer number of “that’s it, we’re done, it’s over between us, no comebacks ever” moments during the season. Likewise, the speed with which everything is suddenly sorted is unbelievable. Obviously, the words “believable” and “Star Trek” are not always the best bedmates. But here, the believability within the context and limits of the dramatic range for Trek has gone hideously awry.
It’s also ironic that an episode – and arc – which tries to squeeze in such an elevated level of tension and twists is actually utterly predictable. It ends up having zero tension and zero surprise, apart from the unwelcome surprises of inconsistencies in the writing, of course, such as Tarka suddenly admitting he was selfish and wrong after all. When Michael calls for a pilot for the ramming mission, the immediate reaction is “hey, that Ndoye is a traitor who needs a redemption moment and isn’t needed in Season 5.” Detmer’s scene of willing self-sacrifice is thus reduced to mere padding, before Ndoye gets on with it. Similarly, when Book’s transport fails (and after shock and grief from Michael), we learn the 10-Cs have grabbed him and they beam him back later (rendering Michael’s shock and grief irrelevant). Seriously, did anybody not see those coming, or think for a moment that war with the 10-Cs would begin?!
In the end, everything is sorted, and there is what is presumably meant to be a “we’ve survived the pandemic” analogy, which is undercut by the fact we’re still in it. Starting a war at the end of the season would have been more topical. It’s disappointing that Gray didn’t reappear as well.
So, it’s a predictable, inconsistent, unsatisfying end to a predictable, inconsistent, badly paced season. The episode makes for a disappointingly shallow conclusion to what is probably a great six-episode arc dragged out to thirteen episodes. The Covid pandemic has undoubtedly been responsible for some of the issues, and perhaps budgetary constraints as well; something about this season has felt like there’s been a budget squeeze as well as a greater reuse of standing sets (they’ve got a virtual set for exteriors now, which hasn’t always had a convincing floor).
So far, Discovery has peaked with Season 2, and this season finale doesn’t engender any excitement for next season. It’s Trek, so it has a default level of entertainment value, and I love the cast, but that’s unfortunately as far as it goes. This season finale, and the rest of the fourth season, could have been so much more!
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.