Star Trek Discovery concludes season four by “Coming Home.”
“Coming Home” brings the fourth season of Star Trek Discovery to a close. It’s a cinematic, action-packed, and dramatic finale that celebrates this series’ core values of honest communication and interpersonal connection. It also leaves the direction the show will take in its fifth season very much up in the air.
The episode culminates in the Discovery crew’s first in-person, face-to-face contact with Species 10-C (as opposed to their initial communication last week). The sequence is visually spectacular, as Star Trek Discovery always is. Atmospherically, it harkens back to many classic Trek moments where our heroes have found themselves confronted by awe-inspiring majesty and mystery. It reminded me especially of Kirk and company’s trip to V’Ger’s inner sanctum in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
But what sets this close encounter apart is the raw emotional honesty both Burnham and (when he unexpectedly returns) Book present to Species 10-C. No Kirk-like corbomite maneuvers or out-logicking alien computers here. Direct sharing of emotional truth saves the day.
“We experienced your fear and your pain, when you had to leave your former home,” Burnham tells the 10-C, which convinces them to stop their mining device. And Book persuades them to stop it for good, despite their fears, by drawing on the pain he’s been wrestling with all season to find common ground. “The void will eventually reach you,” he tells them. “We all live in the same space. This is all there is.”
More than any other series in the franchise, Star Trek Discovery wears its heart on its sleeve. The show is seldom subtle with its messages, and “Coming Home” is no exception. Burnham’s concluding voiceover this week spells out the key takeaways the show wants to leave viewers with after these last two years: “the Burn and the DMA have shown us that we are all connected, and we can overcome any challenge so long as we do it together.” Given our society, at this moment in time, has trouble remembering this truth, which has long been a key element in the Star Trek ethos, if Star Trek Discovery wants to preach it loudly and often, I support it.
“Coming Home” offers a “sudden joyous turn” toward an open future
“Coming Home” teases several character deaths that don’t come to pass. In the first act, General Ndoye volunteers to pilot a shuttle on what’s called a “suicide mission” to stop Tarka from destroying the DMA controller. I thought the show was making, if not a bold, at least a believable choice to give her character a “redemptive arc.” But Ndoye survives, which in no way diminishes her willingness to put herself at risk. I’m glad the show chose to break with rather than conform to a dramatic cliché.
Likewise, Tilly and Vance survive Starfleet’s heroic evacuation of Titan, even though they resign themselves to death after providing covering fire so the fleet can escape the path of the DMA’s debris. Mary Wiseman and Oded Fehr play Tilly and Vance’s reflective conversation about finding and fulfilling purpose in life beautifully. It’s wonderful to see the episode follow through on that conversation by showing us Tilly’s reunion with the Discovery crew after the crisis, and Vance taking the time he says he always wished he had to be with his family more.
I confess Book’s unexpected return after his apparent death (thanks to the 10-C’s interception and storage of his transporter beam) did and to some extent still does strike me as a little too convenient and contrived, as though the writers committed, for whatever reason, to avoid any consequential character deaths in “Coming Home” (apart from Tarka—but even his final fate is left open). On the other hand, we can choose to see Book’s survival as another instance of the unexpected good fortune that pervades the episode—what J.R.R Tolkien called “eucatastrophe,” the “sudden joyous turn” that “denies universal defeat.”
To paraphrase Admiral Kirk in Star Trek VI, our Star Trek heroes have once again saved civilization as we know it. The Federation is growing—even adding President Stacey Abrams’ United Earth to its roster of member worlds. For his violations of Federation law, Book is willingly sentenced to time helping the rebuilding effort. And the Discovery crew is taking some well-deserved time off.
Unlike seasons one and two, but like season three, Star Trek Discovery season four ends with no clear indication of what the next season will bring. It is a fitting way to end a season that has shown us, time and again, how important it is for us all to work to keep the future open to possibilities of a better tomorrow.