Discovery finally starts communicating with Species Ten-C.
With “Species Ten-C,” Star Trek Discovery presents arguably the finest first contact story Star Trek has ever told. Yes, it’s more than a little reminiscent of Arrival, the 2016 first contact film starring Amy Adams. Like Arrival, Species Ten-C shows us scientists—in our case, Michael Burnham, Saru, and Dr. Hirai—patiently and methodically figuring out how to communicate “from scratch” with an utterly alien life form, largely obscured from view, that “speaks” in a language that’s equal parts mathematics and music.
Species Ten-C may mimic Arrival more than necessary, but the importance of peaceful communication and empathy have been integral to the Star Trek ethos for more than 55 years. So it’s just as true to say Arrival is more than a little reminiscent of a standout Star Trek story, which is exactly the story Discovery serves up this week.
The episode also reminds viewers just how much Michael Burnham has grown since the pilot episode of Star Trek Discovery. When Burnham remarks Species 10-C has “come to say hello,” we can’t help but think about her own well-meant but misguided and ultimately catastrophic extending of a “Vulcan hello” to the Klingons in that binary star system three seasons ago.
Back then, Burnham advocated striking first, ostensibly for safety and strength. Now, she is the one advocating for the extra time and effort it takes to achieve a diplomatic breakthrough, even when General Ndoye is arguing the mission has hit a wall. “I used to think there was no wall,” Burnham admits. “As captain, my experience has taught me otherwise. General, we haven’t hit it yet.”
Species Ten-C also reveals backstory for Jett Reno
The other plot in Species Ten-C takes place aboard Book’s cloaked ship, covertly attached to Discovery’s hull. Just as the Discovery crew is making its breakthrough with Species 10-C, Ndoye and Tarka put the prospect of peace at risk. Ndoye vents plasma from Discovery that burns a hole in the orb into which Species 10-C has brought Discovery, so that Tarka can escape and destroy the new Dark Matter Anomaly’s control device.
While all the actors acquit themselves well, the most riveting performance in this plot is Tig Notaro’s. It’s understated, with few of the caustic or comedic remarks we associate with Engineer Jett Reno. But Notaro plays the scene in which we learn about her character’s painful past simply and beautifully. Reno was unable to let a fatally wounded ensign aboard with whom she had crashed die peacefully because his eyes looked just like Reno’s dead wife’s eyes. She applies her experience to Book and Tarka: “You and Tarka have made some dubious choices, because you’re both in pain, and you can’t see it.”
For the second time, Tarka has lied to pursue his goal of destroying a DMA. His actions could have terrible consequences for Earth, because the resulting subspace rift could destroy the planet. His pain has blinded him, just as Reno told Book it would.
Species Ten-C sets up a high-stakes season finale for next week. While season four has, to me, seemed uneven and oddly erratic in its pacing (perhaps due to some degree or other because it was produced under COVID protocols), it feels as though we’re moving into an epic conclusion that will have lasting repercussions on both the cosmic and the personal scales.