Reaching for One Another: What Discovery‘s “Choose to Live” Can Teach Us About Connection
“Sometimes, the most important thing we can do is to reach for one another.” — Mister Saru
When we first got the news that Doug Jones had shaved his head and that shooting had begun on Season 4 of Discovery, my greatest hope for the season was that the theme of connection that had made Season 3 so meaningful to me would be continued into Season 4. When we got our first glimpses of the season’s teaser trailer, it wasn’t the gorgeous uniforms that stole my heart. It wasn’t the great mystery of the anomaly that I was anxious to see; after all, we can only stay invested in just so many galaxy-ending threats before we become indifferent and long for smaller and more personal stakes. No. What thrilled my heart was the bits of dialogue about facing the crisis together, and scenes showing the crew drawing strength from the interpersonal connections with one another.
I grew up lonely and isolated, in a strict religious sect that strongly discouraged friendships with people outside the sect. However, real and authentic relationships within that sect were very difficult for me, because I never felt safe enough to be real and authentic myself. Star Trek showed me what healthy relationships looked like, and in Star Trek fandom, I have found many real and authentic connections for which my heart has always longed.
In the Discovery episode “Choose to Live”, Dr. Culber wisely says, “Connecting with someone can be a guiding light when things get dark.” But the paths to connection, both for the Discovery characters and in my own life, have been riddled with obstacles. Connecting with others can be risky and frightening; it could lead to rejection, or pain, or loss. It could also lead to healing, joy, and community.
One of the greatest stumbling blocks to connection is grief. Although it is universal, it is also a deeply personal experience. Just as we would shrink from touch on a physical wound, so we shrink from touch on the invisible wounds of grief. And the way we keep others from touching those wounds is as unique as our personalities.
By the time of “Choose to Live”, Book has emerged from the first shock of grief, and although he is participating in the life of the ship again, he is still shutting his closest ones out. His method of coping is one that many of us can relate to: he throws himself into work so that he can forget about the pain for a while. He hides behind “I’m fine,” erecting a brittle wall between himself and those, like Paul Stamets and Michael Burnham, who are deeply concerned with his welfare. Working with another person can create a common bond, but Book’s characteristic insistence that he can handle anything keeps him disconnected from Paul. He chooses to undertake a mission that could cost him considerable emotional distress… but it is that quest that leads him to the one breath that saves a drowning person.
Neither red spice tea, nor forensic sciences, nor the Vulcan discipline of the arie’mnu, can provide relief for Book. The release of guilt he has felt can only be found through what Sarek of Vulcan once (in The Next Generation episode “Sarek”) described as the “terrible intimacy” of the mind meld. It is through connecting deeply with T’Rina, letting her touch his mind and his pain, that he was able to recover the memory of his nephew smiling back at him, and knowing that Book loved him. This memory, that cost Book so much trauma to relive, gave him the closure he needed to begin to cherish his memories.
Another barrier to connection can be complete misunderstanding of why a person is acting the way they are. While Captain Burnham, who is thinking as a Starfleet officer, is focused solely on bringing justice to rogue Qowat Milat nun J’Vini, the killer of a fellow Starfleet officer, her mother reminds her that they must seek to connect with J’Vini, no matter how dangerous she may seem. “Reasons matter,“ Gabriella Burnham reminds her daughter. And once they connect with J’Vini and learn what those reasons are, what lost cause she has bound her sword to, they can work together as a team to save an entire race from destruction.
Yet, the two who had the most to risk, the most to lose, by seeking a more perfect connection, were Adira and Gray. Gray yearned to be seen, to physically interact with other living beings again, to share physical touch and daily life again. Their longing for connection led them to undertake the risky zhian’tara ritual, in which they could lose the tenuous connection they had. They agreed together with Tal that the risk was worth it. But Gray’s consciousness lost its way during the ritual. And only when Adira was able to move past their own guilt and anxiety were they able to reach out to Gray, to hold his hand and talk to him and provide a guiding light so that his consciousness could finally come home to his new body. Without his connection to Adira, he might never have found his way back. He felt them reaching for him, and their presence was an anchor.
Sometimes, the most important person we need to connect with is ourselves. Tilly, who has been feeling lost and disconnected since coming to the 32nd Century, learns this through a heart-to-heart with Gabriella. Tilly learns that the only way she can truly connect with herself is to follow the way of absolute candor. Has the path she has been on for years come to an end? What path does she truly want to choose in her life?
It is only through connecting and being candid with herself that Tilly can find her path, and that is a risky thing for all of us to undertake. But as we have considered, and as my own experience has taught me, the rewards of connection far outweigh the risks.
Ruth Anne Amsden has been a Trekkie since she was a ten-year-old reader voraciously devouring Star Trek novels (her family did not allow television in the home). She is working toward her first BA and aspiring to professionally write Star Trek novels as love letters to the novels she loved growing up.