I struggled quite a bit with the idea of the ship unable to carry out key functions as a result of a crippling emotional crisis in "Stormy Weather." At the end of the day, it just seemed ridiculous, even wrong, that a computer that's supposed to simply do what it's instructed to do would fail in this particular way, on a show that's always constantly mired in the emotions of its human characters. It was an annoying complication in a straightforward anomaly/mystery/jeopardy story that otherwise seemed to be on solid footing.
But with "But to Connect," I see everything now regarding Zora in a much larger and more impressive scope. This episode finally fully explores what I had hoped would be explored when the sphere data merged with the ship way back in the second season (and something the show has been hinting about ever since but without really committing the time to deal with the full implications): Zora as an artificial lifeform that has reached a level of sentience that can no longer be brushed aside by the plot. This episode started to win me over when it had Stamets arguing the same viewpoint I held — that having everyone's lives depend on an emotional computer that could shut off the life support if it's having a bad day is, well, a very bad and dangerous and untenable thing. (I was fully on #TeamStamets with his argument that they simply could not let this stand.) But what's even more impressive is how the argument keeps going and introduces other points of view from the other characters, and how this episode persuaded me with these arguments while its characters were persuading Stamets. Good stuff.
This is like Discovery's version of "The Measure of a Man." Of course, this being Discovery, there's no escaping a certain amount of overly earnest schmaltz to these proceedings, even in a mostly cerebral, dialogue-driven episode. But maybe I should just cave in and accept that as a feature of this show rather than a bug. Even if a part of me wants to roll my eyes when the music swells with such pushy bombast and the camera dissolves so earnestly between two scenes — as if I couldn't mentally make the thematic connections without these devices hammering them home for me — I have to admit that the writing here is actually very good, that the speeches are woven together appropriately, and the thematic link has not only been made but also earned.
This is an episode that has a true curiosity about what Zora is, what it means if she is a new sentient artificial lifeform, and how to move forward with the issues she presents. The questions around these issues are prompted by the fact she knows, from the sphere data knowledge, where the mysterious beyond-the-galaxy species that created the DMA might live (referred to here simply as "Species 10-C"), but flat-out refuses to divulge that information because she concludes Starfleet's actions with the knowledge are likely to end in self-defeating disaster. But it's not her decision alone to make, thus the conflict. The ensuing discussions around Zora, much to this episode's credit and benefit to our fascination, are less about this information so much as what she is and represents, and what rights and responsibilities she might have as an AI. Very nicely done.
In the equally important parallel plot (and indeed more important to the season's serial storyline), the Federation has called a conference of all 60 of its member worlds as well as its non-Federation neighbors (including Earth) to talk about how to deal with the DMA and Species 10-C, operating under the assumption Starfleet will gain 10-C's origins from Zora's database. The question of what to do becomes a difficult binary choice when Tarka unveils to the assembly a risky plan to potentially collapse the anomaly by attacking its power core with an "isolytic burst," a method banned for centuries because of the dangers it poses to subspace. Worse, the use of such technology could be interpreted by Species 10-C as a hostile act, resulting in retaliatory measures that could be devastating. Tarka admits the plan carries significant risk, but so does doing nothing.
The other choice is to investigate the origins of 10-C and try to open diplomatic channels. This is the classic, cool-headed Starfleet way and it's the avenue Rillak, T'Rina, and Burnham want to pursue. Making this even more interesting and challenging and personal for the characters is the fact Booker and Tarka are on the same page and have made an agreement to support each other in the assembly. This all leads to a pair of opposing speeches to the council, one given by Booker ... and the other by Burnham. What's great about this is that it involves difficult ideological choices where both have pros and cons, and both viewpoints are represented by main characters who sit on opposite sides of the issue. For Burnham and Booker, it has every indication of being an impasse that could sink the future of their relationship.
Ultimately, the council members submit their votes, choosing the Starfleet way of caution, deliberation, and investigation. It's a win for diplomacy and a setback to the risky possibility of a quick fix to end the DMA. But even then, the issue is not settled, because Tarka and Booker seem poised to take matters into their own hands.
The result is Discovery's best episode since it arrived in the 32nd century.
"You're a plague, and we are the cure":
- This is at least the third episode this season where someone (in this case Zora) mentions they are glad they are finally "being seen." The notion is nice and all, but the repetition of the phrase really risks watering it down into a corny cliché.
- I'm still at a loss as to why the decision was made last season to reveal Earth left the Federation prior to Discovery's arrival in this century. It doesn't strike me as very well thought out (mostly just trying to demonstrate how much things had changed by this century), and it remains incongruous with how human-centric Starfleet remains.
- Kovich continues to be this season's all-around utility player, here basically mediating the discussion on Zora's existence. I still don't know what this guy's official Starfleet title or job is, but his appearances in these episodes are working, so I'm not going to argue.
- While the idea of making Zora an official Starfleet officer is cool, I still feel like there should be some sort of attempt to separate Zora from the ship's operations. It's not like firing weapons or maintaining life support is crucial to her personality and couldn't be handled by a lower-level system separate from her autonomy. No one person or entity should have that full level of control over the ship, probably not even the captain.
- Saru gives T'Rina a plant. They're totally gonna go out on a date.
- Learning here that Gray is apparently leaving the ship (at least for now) to train on Trill with Xi to be a Guardian, I realized that this series has more main characters who have entered and exited the show than probably any other Trek show. And based on the preview, it appears that a character who left last season will be returning after the January hiatus.
- Which, speaking of: Discovery will be off until Feb. 10, with Prodigy filling the nearly complete year-round Trekkian schedule on Paramount+ until then. I will post weekly Prodigy discussion threads for those interested (and hopefully brief reviews at some point, but we'll see when I can find the time).
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