What Discovery‘s “All Is Possible” Can Teach Us About Reconciliation
“He can’t do this alone. None of us can.” — Captain Michael Burnham
There is nothing so unifying, and so divisive, as a widespread crisis. In season four of Discovery, a Dark Matter Anomaly (DMA for short), a metaphor for the pandemic we are all living through, is threatening all inhabited worlds in the known galaxy. The only way to overcome the DMA, and the pandemic, is to come together.
However, just as is true in our world, there are many obstacles to reconciliation for members of the Federation with former members, former foes, and non-member allies. “All Is Possible” shows us these obstacles both on the macro scale, that of Ni’Var’s process of rejoining the Federation, and the micro scale, that of young Starfleet cadets from formerly antagonistic worlds learning to work together for the good of all.
The very group gathered around the Ni’Var conference room table is living proof of the fact that such reconciliation is possible. President Rillak, President T’Rina, and Saru all bear witness to the possibility of reconciliation. Let us consider how this is so.
The End of the Never-Ending Sacrifice
We were first introduced to Cardassians in TNG: “The Wounded”. The military officers, the only members of Cardassian society we saw at first, cruelly occupied the peaceful, spiritual, plentiful society of Bajor, causing untold suffering to that world and to many others. But the Cardassian society reformed, made amends to Bajor, and became an ally to the Federation. President Rillak – part Human, part Cardassian, part Bajoran – is the result of matches made out of love and partnership, not the coercion and rape of the Occupation. As Captain Burnham sums up, “All three [races] are at peace because they were willing to grow and change together.“
The moment in TOS: “Balance of Terror” in which the Romulan Commander tells Captain Kirk, “In another reality, we might have been friends,” has turned out to be prophetic. As we discovered in the third season of Discovery, essentially that reality, after hundreds of years of mutual suspicion and border skirmishes, finally came true. Ambassador Spock’s long and tireless labors toward Reunification between the Vulcans and the Romulans finally came to fruition. And thus, the Romulans joined the Federation.
Saru and his people were culled and slaughtered by the Ba’ul for centuries. When we first see Kaminar in Season 4, we see Ba’ul and Kelpiens conferencing together in a shared space, friends and allies, truly in balance with each other.
However, the cataclysmic Burn has seemingly destroyed centuries of hard work toward reconciliation, leaving a legacy of deep-seated mistrust. Anger and bitterness have grown from unresolved wrongs and failures to be there for one another. The obstacles keeping Ni’Var from rejoining the Federation and the cadets from opening their hearts and minds to one another are considerable.
The first step toward reconciliation is asking the hard questions. T’Rina shares with Saru the question she is grappling with: “Is trust of another’s commitment to a shared goal enough, despite the scars of history?” Trust has to start somewhere, and if Ni’Var does not take a chance on trusting that the Federation is not what it was before the Burn, new wounds will be laid on top of old scars, and healing will not begin.
The next step toward reconciliation is acknowledging the mistakes and wrongs of the past, and working to make amends. When Harral, a young Orion Starfleet cadet, found himself stranded on a hostile planet with Gorev, a Tellarite, he had an opportunity to listen to Gorev’s story and acknowledge it, thereby beginning the long road to reconciliation. When Gorev learned that Bashorat Harral – who died advocating for the slave emancipation clause in the armistice that ended the conflict between the Emerald Chain and the Federation – had been Harral’s father, he learned that not all Orions were evil slavers. Harral had learned from his father to speak out against the injustices and cruelties of the other Orions, and when he did, Gorev’s own journey toward reconciliation could begin.
But there is a delicate balance between acknowledging and making amends for the hurts of the past, and allowing that past to define the future. The next step in reconciliation is to put the past behind us. As Tilly tells her group of frightened, mistrustful cadets, “The Burn is in the past. You have to decide now: are we gonna work together as a crew or not?” If we cannot set aside the past in order to work together, how can we survive?
Communication is essential for reconciliation. Tilly advises her cadets, “There is common ground here, but you’ll never find it unless you talk to each other.” We need to connect, to share our stories, to be vulnerable with one another, to exchange ideas and thoughts. We are stronger together than alone, and we can talk our way to connection. Tilly acknowledges that reconciliation is going to be a long, hard road, but that they are on the right track: “You’re talking. We need so much more of that.“
Yet, as President T’Rina reminds us, “Words alone are not sufficient.” As the human expression goes, we need to walk the walk as well as talk the talk. The final step in reconciliation is to demonstrate, by our actions, that we have learned from the mistakes of the past and will not repeat them.
Reconciliation requires people like Tilly, Burnham, and Saru to stand in the gap between the two troubled parties and to make sure neither party backslides into past mistakes. Tilly does this by becoming an instructor at the Academy and continuing the work she began on that fateful landing party. Captain Burnham does this by offering herself as a bridge between the Federation and Ni’Var. Saru does this by serving as a Kelpien elder on Kaminar.
The future of Starfleet depends on the ability of its cadets to come together. The future of the new Federation depends upon the ability of its members to work together. The future of our own world depends upon every one of us learning to come together. Because when we reconcile, countless lives may be transformed.
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.