Star Trek Discovery reaches its fourth season midpoint.
With “…But To Connect,” Star Trek Discovery serves up a midseason finale full of high-concept sci-fi philosophy and high stakes moral debate.
Discovery returns to Starfleet Headquarters. President Rillak is convening an assembly of delegates from within and beyond the Federation to decide on how to deal with the Dark Matter Anomaly. Zora, Discovery’s sentient computer, is about to determine the point of origin of the DMA and its presumed creators, the unknown Species 10-C.
But knowing Discovery’s crew will travel to the coordinates, Zora decides to keep the information to herself. Dr. Kovich comes aboard to evaluate Zora. Starfleet prohibits fully integrated artificial intelligence in its starships. “If that’s what [Zora] is,” Kovich tells Burnham, “we may be just at the beginning of our problems.”
Burnham and Book attend the assembly. The delegates waste no time disagreeing about how to approach Species 10-C. Ruon Tarka (returning from “The Examples”) reveals he’s invented a weapon that will disable the device at the DMA’s center. But apart from threatening the fabric of space itself—a prospect Tarka considers acceptable risk—use of his weapon could, Burnham argues, turn the Federation and its allies into aggressors in Species 10-C’s eyes. The DMA may not be a weapon. “We cannot judge their motives based on our own cultural contexts,” she states. “We need more information.”
The assembly adjourns to debate whether to approach Species 10-C in peace or to strike first. Tarka tells Book he (Tarka) comes from a parallel universe, and needs the DMA’s power source to return home. He urges Book to speak to the assembly in favor of using the weapon, even as Rillak wants Burnham to speak in favor of attempting diplomacy.
In the end, the assembly casts a divided but clear vote for peaceful first contact. Taking matters into their own hands, Book and Tarka steal and install the next-generation spore drive in Book’s ship and jump away to attack the DMA.
Meanwhile, Stamets has convinced Zora to divulge the coordinates by arguing she must trust Discovery’s crew just as she is asking for their trust. Because she was able to set caring for the crew as her own parameters, Zora has demonstrated she is a new lifeform and, as such, not subject to Starfleet AI regulations. She is offered and accepts the chance to join Starfleet as a specialist, subject to the chain of command as is everyone else.
“…But To Connect” Connects Star Trek Discovery to our current social conflicts
“…But To Connect” takes its title from Burnham’s summary of Starfleet and the Federation’s stated ideals. “For generations,” she tells the assembly, “the Federation has sought out new life, new civilizations, not to destroy but to connect, even in the face of uncertainty.” As Star Trek fans, we’re used to hearing such noble sentiments. We may even tell ourselves we’d fit into such a future without any difficulty. But this episode reminds how difficult living up to those ideals can be.
In much the same way Deep Space Nine showed us Starfleet’s ideals aren’t always self-evident or easy to embody, “…But To Connect” forces us to hear and honor experiences of anger and pain and ponder how easily we could set those aside in favor of gathering more information, privileging the possibility of peace, and entertaining the idea that we might be wrong.
Certainly, the divided assembly mirrors the social divisions confronting us in the U.S. and elsewhere today. Where some voices like Burnham’s argue “we can move forward as a united front” despite our differences, others like Book’s respond, “Some differences are too great.” The assembly’s vote ostensibly settles the question of how to respond to the DMA, but it offers no insight into how long this fragile union of Federation and non-Federation worlds can work together. And, again like other voices in society today, Book and Tarka are unwilling to accept the result of the vote. This episode speaks to its moment and ours in clear and unmistakable ways.
In the Zora plot, this episode is a spiritual successor to TNG’s “The Measure of a Man,” and arrives at the same conclusion Captain Picard reached: “Starfleet was founded to seek out new life. Well, there it sits!” This episode also nicely develops the commonality between Zora and Gray begun last week, as Zora says “being seen” “feels marvelous.”
The revelation of Tarka’s origin from a parallel universe is sloppily done. As in “All Is Possible,” the show places what we are asked to accept as a pivotal piece of exposition in a rushed and unengaging bit of verbose dialogue. The move feels unnecessary and confusing.
Overall, however, “…But To Connect” is a strong mid-season finale for Star Trek Discovery. It makes the philosophical issues at play clearer than ever, and hints at a conflict between Burnham and Book that may indeed prove her “no-win scenario.”