Star Trek Discovery returns for the second half of season 4 with “All In.”
With four episodes in its fourth season to go, including this week’s, Star Trek Discovery is entering the home stretch of its dark matter anomaly (DMA) storyline. And though this week’s episode is titled “All In,” it makes me question how fully committed Discovery’s creative team ever was to this season’s premise.
On the lam from Starfleet, Book and Tarka, who need the rare and expensive element unobtainium—excuse me, I mean “isolynium”—to construct Tarka’s DMA-destroying weapon, make their way to Haz Mazaro’s Karma Barge. Haz has isolynium, as Book knew he would, but it’s going to cost more latinum than Book and Tarka have. They agree to help Haz root out cheaters who are beating the house in return for the element.
Meanwhile, Burnham—whom Federation President Rillak has tasked with collecting data on Species 10-C (the DMA’s enigmatic and unknown creators), but whom Admiral Vance has encouraged on the sly to stop Book and Tarka—takes a shuttle with Owosekun to… Haz Mazaro’s Karma Barge!
Yes, the place lives up to its name, since both Burnham and Book seem fated to meet there. Burnham wants star surveys of the regions just inside the Galactic Barrier, where a civilization called the Stilph may have knowledge of Species 10-C. She also wants to buy up Haz’s isolynium, to keep it out of Book and Tarka’s hands. It’s not long before she discovers Book and Tarka are already there, after the same prize.
To quickly multiply their latinum, Owosekun enters the fights in the Karma Barge’s ring. She loses her first two matches against a fighter named Ato Kurr. But some well-timed, well-placed kicks and hits below the belt allow “Oh Wow” Owo to win. She’s apparently been pulling her punches until the end, to raise the latinum bets as much as possible.
While Burnham and Owosekun have been busy, Book and Tarka discover the cheater in Haz’s establishment is a changeling. (One of the Dominion Changelings from Star Trek Deep Space Nine? Who can say?) But this hastily handled subplot is dropped so we can get down to what the writers apparently decided was the episode’s real business, a high-stakes game of Leonian Poker.
Book and Burnham at first work together, through some patently obvious cheating, to keep the isolynium out of the hands from two former Emerald Chain members. But soon, only they are left at the table. Casting long and significant looks at each other and talking past each other about “ending” the current situation, Burnham’s straight loses to Book’s flush, and Book takes the isolynium.
Fortunately for Starfleet and the Federation, Burnham gets the start charts, and managed to place a tracker all sneaky-like on the isolynium when she inspected it before the poker game. Since Stamets has discovered the DMA is a boronite-mining dredge, and not a weapon at all, it’s even more imperative than before that Book and Tarka be stopped.
“All In” is a derivative and mistifying detour for Star Trek Discovery
“All In” is an unconvincing episode of Star Trek Discovery that feels hastily plotted and lazily written. The cast members deliver strong performances, but it’s a shame they weren’t given stronger material to work with.
Its setting is what we could charitably consider a hat tip to Quark’s Promenade, but which feels more like a casino from the Star Wars universe. Even the name of its proprietor, Haz Mazaro, sounds uncannily close to Maz Kanata, who ran a “pirate palace” in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. Daniel Kash is engaging as Haz, but it’s despite being forced to deliver one nonsensical “sci-fi” line after another. “It’s true what the Elasians say: Give a man a tor-bak, and you are warm in the desert.” “Elas” is a nod to the original series—but, what?
The episode also gives us not one but two rare and valuable elements as plot-driving McGuffins. When Tarka tells Book they need isolynium to finish the weapon, it feels like the show is spinning its wheels when it should have capitalized on the momentum at the end of “… But to Connect.” Similarly, the literally last-minute revelation that Species 10-C is using the DMA to dredge boronite to power the hyperfield in which they hide further dilutes what was, at the season’s beginning, a very strong premise.
We’re implicitly asked to believe “All In” will prove a consequential episode. In siding with Tarka, it appears Book is, as Burnham tells him, “crossing a line [he] cannot come back from.” And the emotional beats Sonequa Martin-Green and David Ajala play are nice, although they’re starting to feel a bit repetitive.
But “All In” mostly feels like filler, since we’re basically in the same situation we were at the mid-season break. Starfleet is going after Book and Tarka, who are going after Species 10-C. Why the Star Trek Discovery creative team felt we needed a side trip to the Karma Barge, with the introduction of yet another “side quest” to handle in the Stilph, is a mystery to me. It’s a choice that, at this point, only seems to dilute the season’s main focus on surviving and stopping the DMA.