Star Trek: Discovery returned last night with another all-new episode, the fourth of this new season titled “An Obol for Charon,” finding the Discovery crew’s search for Spock hindered yet again, a crew member on death’s door, and the premiere of a classic Star Trek character.
The episode opens with Pike welcoming an old friend aboard: Number One, his first officer, played by none other than Rebecca Romjin. If you’ll remember, Number One first appeared in the original Star Trek pilot, and later the re-aired version of the episode titled “The Cage,” but here finally has a chance to stretch her legs as a character in a way that she never has before – and yes, it’s clear that Pike does regularly depend on her as much as he did in that episode, too.
She reveals that Spock’s case has been further classified, but that she got her hands on new intel: a warp signature they can follow. But, in pursuit of their lost Vulcan crew-mate, they come across another problem: a massive celestial body in space that somehow cripples the Discovery, including taking out their universal translator, which turns the bridge into the metaphorical Tower of Babel, and further threatens to destroy the ship.
On the backdrop of all of this, Saru, the hyper-polyglot science officer speaking hundreds of languages, has come down with a severe illness. What at first seemed like a common cold is actually a biological process unique to the Kelpians. Functionally, it’s a biological suicide trigger: the Kelpian species are prey on their home planet, and their bodies shut down to save them pain when cornered by their natural predators. The giant red sphere seems to be triggering the same process, spelling certain doom for Saru unless they can escape in time.
But luckily they manage to realize that the Sphere is just trying to communicate with them – fittingly it is dying, and wished to speak to someone before it died. When Saru realizes this, he convinces Pike to allow the Sphere to transmit its epitaph – narrowly avoiding his own death in the same way.
Meanwhile, Tilly, Stammets and Reno become trapped in the Spore section of Engineering due to the ship’s malfunctions, and Tilly once again is hijacked by the weird fungus creature from the mirror universe – which we learn sees the Discovery’s jumps as a destructive intrusion and cocoons Tilly – with a secret nefarious goal.
All in all, this was another solid Discovery episode, if not quite as great as the first two iterations this season has had to offer, with one exception: maybe the performance of the season thus far from Doug Jones as Mr. Saru, getting to really stretch his legs in the role and explore a character on the verge of his own death, which he’s feared and prepared for his whole life, and face to face with a lifetime of regrets. Now, as a creature learning that everything he knew about life was wrong, he’s practically got a whole new character to explore.
In that vein, the interaction between Jones as Saru and Sonequa Martin-Green as Michael Burnham are really the high-water mark for acting performance on the series, which to be fair they locked up a long time ago. But that brother – sister dynamic we’ve seen explored for a season and a quarter now felt like it was all leading up to this moment, with a special emphasis given the context of the episode and, really, the season thus far with the Search for Spock storyline.
The return of Tig Notaro as Jett Reno was another major highlight of the episode. Notaro’s dry wit was a perfect compliment to the often uptight Stammets and Tilly’s whimsical naivete, but she also showed that she’s kind of a badass – and can hold her own in both the scientific and dramatic portions of the show.
Rebecca Romjin’s long-awaited debut as Number One was also a great feature of this episode, even if it was only for one brief scene before she presumably jetted off back to the Enterprise. She lived up to the semi-mythological figure that is Number One though, and the late Majel Barrett (the original Number One and later Lwaxana Troi on The Next Generation) would be proud. It’s also one of the really big highlights of the show to me – that we get to flesh out and explore this period before the adventures of the Enterprise as captained by James T. Kirk.
But the episode wasn’t without its issues. Just like the last episode, this one felt a little too standalone – like the series is caught between wanting to be serialized in its storytelling with one long story arc and also be a collection of standalone episodes like the Trek series of the past. Spock is still missing, and it seems like he will be for another week too as the next episode will potentially conclude Tilly’s fungus trouble – but the unwillingness to advance the Spock storyline quicker makes me worry that there might not be much there, in the end.