Discovery‘s “Kobayashi Maru” in Review
The fourth season premiere kickstarted the show
Discovery has returned for a fourth season, with new virtual sets as well as the previously existing ones, new uniforms, and new exclusive platforms in the forms of Paramount+ in North America, and (unofficially) a day-before switch to BitTorrent in the rest of the world.
As you might expect, the show opens with a quick recap of some events in Season 3, focusing on The Burn, the collapse of the Federation, and the new recovery of it enabled by Discovery‘s rescue of Su’Kal from the dilithium planet. That recap over, we’re straight into some action, with familiar faces Captain Michael Burnham and Booker (and Grudge) trying to offer free dilithium to a race of butterfly people (visually half-Tinker Bell, half-Night King), which does not go well when they hear about Grudge…. An Into Darkness-type chase ensues, which makes for a lovely – if rather obvious – sequence of progressions from person to person, introducing most of the regular crew. The obvious exception to this being Saru, who has returned home to Kaminar to help Su’Kal reintegrate, and to reassure the planetary council that the returnee won’t destroy half the galaxy. Again.
Back at Starfleet, Admiral Vance is reopening Starfleet Academy, along with a new part-Cardassian (judging by the makeup) Federation President, Laira Rillak. The ceremonies are interrupted by a distress signal from a deep space repair station, which has been hit by a gravitational anomaly, and the rescue mission gives us the main plotline of the episode, while Saru looks to decide whether to return to Starfleet, and Book reunites with his brother and nephew on the nature haven planet of Kwejian, which is conveniently near the stricken repair station.
Much frantic rushing around to evacuate the station’s crew later, Discovery is damaged, not all the station crew survive, and Michael is getting an excruciating yet familiar and obvious lecture on guilt and acceptance from Madame President – the clue’s in the episode title – and Book has returned somewhat knocked around by Kwejian having been ripped apart and dragged across space by the mysterious gravitational anomaly. We hit the credits on this, knowing we’ve been introduced to the season’s rather different type of big bad…
As a season opener, it does its job well. We get right into a good giggle with regard to Grudge’s position on the mission, which leads to an exciting action sequence to get us in the mood, before a whistle-stop tour of the tropes that Trek fans are used to, and new viewers are being introduced to. This does mean, sadly, that we largely only get a whistle-stop tour of most of the characters, with most of them getting few lines and being visible there on the bridge or in whichever department they happen to be. All the other regulars are at least seen, though Gray only for a moment and still only by Adira. Most of the actual dialogue scenes go to Michael, Booker, Saru, and guest stars President Rilla and the station commander who is, frankly, so much a one-dimensional MacGuffin that even his name didn’t stick. Let’s call him Ensign Redshirt, ’cause you’ll probably be relieved when the inevitable happens.
Ensign Redshirt is one of the two biggest downsides to the episode, the other being the lecture about acceptance versus guilt that Rilla gives to Michael, and indeed the very fact that we’re still having Michael’s main character trait be her martyr complex, which Starfleet has known about for 930 years and doesn’t bother helping with. That doesn’t seem very…Starfleetish.
Let’s concentrate on the good stuff, though. The regular cast are all on form, and it’s nice to see Rhys get a turn in the big chair. Sonequa Martin-Green and David Ajala just wear their roles like gloves, and are always a pleasure to watch, and it’s nice to see Oded Fehr back as well.
The show makes good use of its new Mandalorian-style virtual sets, which make the Kaminar Council Chamber and the ship’s new wider viewing screen shots give real depth and breadth. The effects, of course, are always top notch in this show, and director Olatunde Osunsanmi gets the very best out of them, with some real jaw-droppers, such as the spinning station, and moons and planets being imploded and ripped apart.
Another always-excellent element of the series has, from the very beginning, been Jeff Russo’s score, and if this episode is anything to go by, that will continue to be the case for season four, as he provides both a spine-tingling cameo of the theme from Star Trek: Enterprise when the Archer Shipyard is introduced and an intriguing and ominous new variant of the end credits music, after Kwejian has been shredded.
Being a season premiere, this isn’t, of course, a self-contained story; rather, it sets up the various arcs. Namely, what is the mysterious gravitational anomaly? (We’ll probably find out something about that in next week’s episode, titled “Anomaly”.) Why is Booker not wearing his sacred necklace? Is President Rilla going to be good or evil? Will Michael ever get over blaming herself for everything? How will Gray become visible to all?
Nevertheless, this episode definitely eases us back into the world of Discovery in spectacular fashion, with a good mix of action, tension, humour, and mystery. Being Star Trek, there’s also the reflection of today’s issues, continuing with Season 3’s theme of energy sources vs the environment. If anything, it’s actually a little too rushed, but it kind of needed to be, to get the audience back into the groove in one premiere, as a contrast to last season. Overall, it does a good job, and definitely inspires hunger for the next episode.
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.