It took a while to get here, and it got a bit tiresome with the padded pace in recent weeks, but we've finally reached the destination — the home of unknown Species 10-C. And even though the destination alone can't make all the stops in the journey along the way worthwhile, this on its own proves to be an effective (partial) payoff that serves as a standout example of well-envisioned Star Trek in its most cerebral science-fiction mode.
We've reached Species 10-C's massive protective hyperfield. What awaits inside is anyone's guess. The crew sends in some of the DOT drones up to the field. Liquid tentacles pull them in, then pull in the Discovery. We are truly entering the unknown. The crew sends hails. They even attempt to use the chemicals that align with the different types of dust and corresponding emotional states discovered in last week's "Rosetta." No reply. Either the 10-Cs are ignoring the message or they aren't receiving it. The crew has no way of knowing which.
At last, something happens. 10-C appears to be trying to communicate. They flash bright lights at the Discovery, which Burnham, Saru, and the delegates view from the shuttle bay. The crew attempts to formulate a response, but is the response enough to convey a sense of intelligence when the 10-Cs are so different they may regard humans as no more sentient than ants? Finally, a breakthrough: Using the light patterns like a decryption key, the crew figures out how to decode the molecules emitted from the 10-Cs into a pattern that reveals ... math, the universal language.
I'm not going to summarize the complexities of the translation scenes any more than I already have. But I will say the procedure plays as top-notch sci-fi, in both how it's written and how it's visually conveyed. The writing staff has created something that feels solid and smart, while the production staff implements it in a way that's visually stunning and conveys what's happening.
Is this original? I suppose not, but it feels pretty unique for Star Trek, give or take a V'Ger. "Species Ten-C" owes a lot to Arrival, which had a similarly framed communication scene that attempted to break down visual patterns into meaning. There's also some of the sense of amazement of Close Encounters, where for once we're truly dealing with a truly alien unknown, as opposed to most Trekkian species, who are humanoid — and where a universal translator allows everyone to communicate verbally without missing a beat.
We don't actually see Species 10-C yet, and I might be okay not seeing them at all. Watching how they communicate is probably way more interesting than finding out what they look like. After initial communications are successful, the 10-Cs send an egg-like pod to Discovery for our crew to board, where communications continue. I was reminded of the spherical metallic enclosure in Contact, although inside this one the 10-Cs have created a replica of Discovery's bridge. There are little moments of excitement as messages are sent, received, interpreted, and understood. Communication is happening, and negotiation may be possible.
Having this heady effort transpire while the DMA is mere hours away from hitting our home planets is still an unnecessary distraction, but the ticking clock does provide the B-plot (Book and Tarka) with its motivation, and the B-plot adds some visceral juice alongside the A-plot's thoughtful exploration — because you just know that this is where the other shoe is going to drop. The episode does a good job of turning the screws in the final act to ratchet up the suspense, with everything going right in an A-plot that's on a blind collision course with a B-plot where everything will go wrong.
Book and Tarka have Reno as a prisoner, and she does her best to talk them down from what looks increasingly likely to unleash a disaster just as the Discovery crew is making slow but steady progress. Book you can talk sense into, but Tarka remains the wild card, and Reno summarizes it aptly when she tells Book that Tarka has been "blinded" by his own pain and personal needs. (I was reminded of how Matt Damon in Interstellar could not let go of his own self-interests, despite what catastrophic consequences that might have for all of humanity. At the end of the day, can we see beyond ourselves when the bigger picture might seem more distant and abstract?)
When Book realizes it's time to stop and let the communication effort move forward, Tarka isn't having it. He had already long committed to this action, and he has locked Book from control of his own ship. Tarka untethers from Discovery, which prompts the 10-Cs to instantly stop communications and to return the away team to the ship.
Can Discovery end this season on a high note? I feel like the process of communication was the real point here, and now that we've seen that, I'm not sure what else would happen next week except to re-establish negotiations and wrap up. We'll see, but the initial encounter was a memorable one that goes down as possibly the best example of pure sci-fi on this series. I've named-dropped a number of great sci-fi movies here. If you're going to borrow, borrow from the best.
"Despite knowing the journey, and where it leads, I embrace it, and welcome every moment":
- Tig Notaro has a narrow range of direct delivery on this series, but Reno's tale of the person she tried to save against his will because the victim's eyes subconsciously reminded her of her wife's did a good job of conveying a sincere and emotional moment while staying within her typically stoic parameters.
- Speaking of Reno, I said she would snark her way through being a prisoner, but she's mostly sincere in what she says and does here.
- One more on Reno: She has a MacGyver moment when she uses black licorice to jury-rig the enablement of a device she has that can get a message to Discovery.
- Zora being the self-aware starship computer seems to function at the needs of the plot. If she has internal sensors, she should know what's going on everywhere, but apparently you can smuggle a device into engineering and kidnap an officer from the ship and she's none the wiser. (The same goes for Ndoye's back-corridor plotting with Book.) The plot does its best to explain these things away, but it would be better if the writers just separated Zora from a lot of the ship's day-to-day operations altogether.
- The writers manage to work in the story of Cleveland Booker's name, which was passed to him through tradition not from his father, but from his courier mentor. He's the fifth to carry the name.
- The Saru/Burnham yelling scene did nothing for me. You win some, you lose some.
- Saru is having trouble figuring out if T'Rina has any interest in him. While I think they have drawn this out far too long for me to care, I did appreciate Michael's Vulcan insight into the matter to help Saru out.
- I still think it's going to be a tough sell to explain away that the 10-Cs simply didn't know their DMA was doing any damage. They come from a (devastated) planet that orbits a star, and that should be similar enough to life within the galaxy to know the gravitational effects are going to destroy whatever it comes near.
Like this site? Support it by buying Jammer a coffee.