The newest episode of Star Trek Discovery disappoints.
Remember that Onion article when Star Trek (2009) hit theaters? The one complaining the movie didn’t have even one scene “set at a long table in which interstellar diplomacy is debated and endlessly fails”? I think this week’s episode of Star Trek Discovery, “All is Possible,” would have made The Onion’s imaginary (but recognizable) Trek fans happy.
While Captain Burnham and Saru attend the final negotiations for bringing Ni’Var back into the Federation, Lieutenant Tilly—continuing the quest she began last week to move outside her comfort zone—agrees to lead a team of Starfleet cadets on a team-building mission to an unexplored moon. Believing Adira could also benefit from the mission, Tilly orders her to come along.
Sudden and violent gamma ray bursts cause the team’s shuttle to crash on the hostile ice moon of Kokytos. One of the crew dies in the crash. Unable to use the shuttle’s fried comms, Tilly leads Adira and the remaining crew toward a mountain ridge where they can use their commbadges to hail the USS Armstrong for rescue.
A hideous monster (who would’ve been right at home on J.J. Abrams’ Delta Vega) pursues the group, but only when they’re using their electronics. Tilly draws it off the rest of the team’s trail while they successfully hail the Armstrong. And so our main protagonists are saved with ten full minutes of the episode left, much of which are taken up with Tilly’s decision to leave the Discovery and teach at Starfleet Academy.
Meanwhile, in the aforementioned tedious diplomacy news, T’Rina throws a last-minute wrench into the reunification works by demanding Ni’Var’s agreement with the Federation include an “exit clause” by which, should the UFP ever again prove unresponsive to its member worlds, as it had been before The Burn, Ni’Var could unilaterally and without qualifications secede. Although various characters spend a lot of screen time wringing hands about this complication, it proves easily avoided when Burnham, as an ostensibly disinterested third party, proposes establishing an independent committee “to conduct regular reviews with all member worlds.” Ni’Var rejoins the Federation, and all is well.
In the episode’s third plot, Book works on a sand mandala while working on his grief and trauma in therapy sessions with Dr. Culber. Although Culber has modeled the sand mandala assignment after a traditional Kweijan healing ritual, he bluntly tells Book he should expect to be healing for “a long-ass time.”
“All is Possible” suffers from too much poor pacing and too many easy outs.
“All is Possible” gets off to a promising start by placing Tilly, Adira, and the cadet crew—played by a trio of obviously talented actors—in a situation that evokes any number of downed shuttle stories from past Star Trek adventures, especially the original series’ “The Galileo Seven.”
But instead of watching the situation organically bring these characters into focus, we get some cursory character conflict moments and, ultimately, an infodump from Adira that instantly helps the Tellarite and Andorian cadets bury the hatchet between them. It all happens too quickly and cheaply.
This approach proves especially unfortunate given we are asked to accept these cadets are emblematic of the main challenge facing the now-fragile Federation. According to Kovich—whose presence, while welcome, feels entirely unnecessary, given we learn nothing more about this character—current Academy cadets grew up on worlds isolated and disconnected from each other. “One might say,” he tells Tilly, “that today’s exercise is about the very future of Starfleet.”
But if this evaluation is true, surely the exercise should have been the episode’s primary focus. Instead, we spend far too long on a diplomatic subplot that is also quickly and cheaply resolved. While it begins with hints of political intrigue, it quickly becomes scenes of characters earnestly confiding in and/or meditating with each other. Conversation and mediation are both fine things, but don’t make for compelling viewing this time around.
The subplot does pick up on the theme from the cadet subplot of problems arising when people won’t talk to each other, but Burnham’s “deus ex committee” is a stunningly banal move for a Star Trek story to make. If people need to talk, let’s see and hear them talk—passionately, angrily, tearfully, bluntly. That’s the kind of conversation Star Trek does well. It’s also the kind that, in real life, often leads to breakthroughs. This episode manufactures a conflict, then takes the easy way out.
Finally, if Tilly’s departure to teach at the Academy means Discovery viewers will be seeing less of the wonderful Mary Wiseman, then the show is going to be a much poorer one for it. The scene in which Tilly and Burnham say their good-byes is genuinely affecting. Tilly’s realization that she doesn’t want to keep pursuing rings true to people’s experiences of changing direction in life, but we can only hope she’s right when she says her departure isn’t forever.