Star Trek Discovery pushes the edge in Stormy Weather.
Boldly going to the edge of the galaxy and beyond is a familiar Star Trek plot. The latest episode of Star Trek Discovery, Stormy Weather, even namechecks the Enterprise and Voyager as ships that have challenged this particular obstacle before. But Stormy Weather puts a slightly different spin on the plot. Instead of only watching Discovery go to the galactic barrier, this week we also watch the galactic barrier come to Discovery.
In its continuing quest for information about the alien technology responsible for the Dark Matter Anomaly, Discovery heads into a subspace rift the DMA has left in its wake. The rift seems to be a scientifically impossible dark void of nothingness—until Zora, Discovery’s sentient computer, detects something particles pressing against the ship’s hull. These particles cause a breach that claims Ensign Cortez’s life before Zora can activate a containment field.
The particles also affected Book, who was attempting to activate the spore drive. Culber and Stamets identify the particles’ source: the far-away galactic barrier. This evidence suggests the DMA is extragalactic in origin. Discovery should be able to find and use the point at which the DMA itself entered the Milky Way in order to escape the subspace rift.
The particles resonate at a sonar-like frequency of 218 kilohertz. Afraid and guilty, Zora is unsure she can follow the sonar “pings” and guide Discovery out of the void. But Gray, who played a game with Zora to calm and focus her, is convinced she can. Except for Burnham, the whole crew beams into the ship’s transporter pattern buffer for shelter as the ship goes through the superheated plasma of the barrier.
Burnham, in an EVA suit to protect herself while the life support systems are turned off, remains in the center seat. She and Zora, who sings the song from which this episode takes its title, support each other as Discovery successfully exits the rift.
Stormy Weather explores anger, fear, and connection with varying success
The DMA technobabble quotient of Stormy Weather is only slightly less and only slightly more comprehensible than that of last week’s episode, The Examples. That quibble aside, it’s undeniably exciting to see a current Star Trek production revisit a phenomenon that’s been a part of the Trek universe since Where No Man Has Gone Before. Kudos to the creative team for choosing to engage the galactic barrier—which, in case one wondered, does not exist in real life—rather than taking the path of least resistance and ignoring it altogether.
The barrier particles’ primary importance is to serve as catalyst for an intriguing and emotionally engaging subplot in which Book experiences visions of his dead father, Tareckx (per the episode’s subtitles), played with compelling moral ferocity by Rothaford Gray. Tareckx is the manifestation of Book’s continuing though misplaced guilt over Kweijan’s destruction, and his doubts about sticking with Burnham and Starfleet when he feels he might be and should be doing more to stop the DMA. (For example, at the top of this episode, he suggests jumping out of Federation space to track down the DMA’s origin.) But in the end, Book decides to believe his vision of Tareckx, like his earlier visions of his nephew Leto, is a spirit who goes on—and to whom he can say goodbye. The plot’s another strong turn in this season’s nuanced and sensitive exploration of trauma, anger, and grief.
Book’s “tag scene” with Saru toward the end of Stormy Weather mirrors his final scene with Tarka last week. Here, Saru gives Book and the audience a rare glimpse into the anger he still feels about the Ba’ul’s now long-ago harvesting of Kelpiens. “We are both justified in our anger,” he tells Book. “Allowing it to be our focus, however, only prevents us from achieving those things which serve the greater good.” The scene is classic Star Trek morality, deftly written and superbly acted.
Less compelling were Burnham’s scenes with Zora during the episode’s ostensible climax. (I found the first act, in which Discovery is first lost in the subspace void, far more interesting and exciting, with a tension worthy of such classic Trek stories as The Corbomite Maneuver and The Best of Both Worlds.) I imagine it’s difficult for even an actor as accomplished as Sonequa Martin-Green to act opposite a disembodied voice, even one as lovely as the voice of Annabelle Wallis. Perhaps sentient artificial intelligence is simply a subject Star Trek has done many times before at this point, and no longer evokes the sense of wonder it did—even as Zora herself did in the Short Treks episode Calypso.
But Stormy Weather does end on a lovely note, as Zora places the faces of the Discovery’s crew on her own holographic family tree. A tree that celebrates family connections and ties of affection—how appropriate for an episode dropped at the height of the holiday season! Perhaps Stormy Weather will be enjoyed as a Star Trek Christmas episode in the years to come.