The Triumphant Return of Glow Worm and Right Hook — Star Trek: Discovery’s “All In”

There is a truism in writing that I have always subscribed to, which is that the execution matters significantly more than the idea. The idea is an important starting point, but the quality of the idea is less relevant than the execution of that idea. The best idea in the world doesn’t matter a lick if it’s executed poorly (e.g., the 2010 vampire movie Daybreakers, which is a brilliant concept and a truly awful film). And some of the worst ideas ever turn into great stories thanks to brilliant execution (e.g., Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell books, which is a terrible Mary-Sue-ish idea that have turned into some of the finest books of the past thirty years).

And hoo boy, does that apply to this week’s Discovery

Reading the basic description of the plot of “All In,” you might be forgiven if you thought you were reading about a show from 1979 instead of 2022. It’s got our heroes going to The Vegas Planet and you’ve got Space Boxing and the characters playing Space Poker, and it’s right out of one of the many doofy sci-fi shows that populated the television landscape both contemporary with the original Star Trek and especially in the interregnum between the original series and The Next Generation. (Seriously, it’s right out of Glen A. Larson’s story book…)

And yet, they pull it off. This season has done an excellent job of telling interesting single episodes that nonetheless move things forward. It’s unlikely that anyone will list this in their top ten Discovery episodes, but it has some wonderful bits. I particularly like the gaze into the year Burnham and Book spent being Couriers together. For starters, they apparently acquired the nicknames of Glow Worm (Book) and Right Hook (Burnham).

We open with President Rillak being justifiably pissed at Vance and Burnham. When last we left our heroes back in “…But to Connect,” Book and Tarka had buggered off with the prototype spore drive to build a subspace weapon that would destroy the DMA. Since Vance was the one who brought Tarka into the fold, and since Book and Burnham have a relationship, Rillak wants to know why neither of them saw this coming.

She also very sensibly denies Burnham’s request to be in on the search for Book. Tarka needs isolynium to make his weapon, and Vance sends ships to four known brokers who he might go to. Burnham, meanwhile, is ordered to learn as much as possible about Species 10C.

Star Trek: Discovery "All In"

Image: CBS

This being television, Burnham is going to find Book anyhow, but it’s done in a way that works nicely with what has come before. Vance describes Burnham as one of the more creative thinkers in the fleet, which is a nice way of saying she’s pretty batshit, but she also gets results. This is an aspect of Burnham’s character that has been there from jump—it was her batshittery that started a war in the two-parter that debuted the show, after all, and also that led them to jump to the future in the two-parter that ended the second season. Rillak has already proven to be willing to use Burnham’s batshittery for her own purposes in “All is Possible,” and Vance cites that when he orders Burnham to do what she can to locate and restrain Book and Tarka while still fulfilling her mission to learn more about Species 10C.

Because Species 10C is extra-galactic, the great barrier is an issue to scanning it, but there’s a civilization called the Stilth that is proximate to the coordinates. Zora finds info about the Stilth in the Sphere Data, but unfortunately, they have no diplomatic relations with the Federation.

That gives Burnham an in to go to Parathia, which is The Vegas Planet. Haz Mazzaro (Daniel Cash), who runs the place, is a broker who can get his hands on Stilth stellar surveys that might provide info on Species 10C—and is also a place Book might go for isolynium.

Sure enough, that’s where Book and Tarka are as well. In a very nice touch, Book had no idea that Tarka didn’t have everything he needed to build the weapon, and he’s pissed when Tarka announces that he still needs isolynium. Book is completely focused on the mission, after all, and he’s been so buried in his own grief about Kwejian’s destruction that he hasn’t completely cottoned to the fact that Tarka’s an egomaniacal jackass who doesn’t always tell the whole truth. Book just assumed he could build the weapon with no problem.

Book, of course, goes to Parathia, because the Federation has no authority there and Mazzaro doesn’t permit any weapons or communicators on the planet. For that reason, he doesn’t expect Burnham to find him there, which also shows spectacular poor judgment on his part. I mean, he’s met Burnham, for crying out loud. Book isn’t thinking straight, and hasn’t been since he lost his homeworld.

Burnham and Mazzaro do a deal for the Stilth stellar surveys, but she also wants to buy isolynium. Which makes sense—she has no authority, so outbidding Book is the best she can do. But she doesn’t have enough latinum—and neither does Book. (What he brought along is enough to forgive a previous debt with Mazzaro, but that’s it.)

So Mazzaro pits the two against each other. Book and Tarka are tasked with finding a cheater that Mazzaro hasn’t been able to nail down. Burnham and Owosekun do the Space Boxing thing. This is a nicely played hustle by Owosekun. Burnham brought her along to let her know she understands about the nutty she threw in “Stormy Weather.” She absolutely gets her ass kicked in the first fight, at which the betting odds are 2-1, but she insists on a rematch. Several rematches later, when the odds are 45-1, Owosekun takes her opponent out with consummate ease.

It’s a hoary hustle, yes, but it’s sold here by Oyin Oladejo and the directors (both Christopher J. Byrne and Jen McGowan are credited, but the pre-release material all only listed Byrne as director, so I’m not sure what’s going on there). Oladejo’s body language during the first fight is that of someone who thinks they know what they’re doing trying to pose like a fighter; during the final fight, she’s relaxed, composed, and smiling. The best fighters I’ve seen in my career as a martial artist are the ones who are relaxed with a minimum of extraneous movement, which is exactly how Oladejo does the final fight.

That gives Burnham enough latinum to buy the isolynium—but Book and Tarka have determined that the cheater is a changeling, whom Tarka has trapped in a force field. (The makeup on the changeling indicates that this is indeed one of the Founders of the Dominion, and how the mighty have fallen if it is a Founder. Of course, it could also be one of the hundred changelings sent out into the universe like Odo and Laas who never made it back home. There’s a story to be told here, is what I’m saying…)

On top of that, two Emerald Chain underbosses who are angling to take over also are also bidding on the isolynium. (Tarka at one point says of Parathia that it’s where “Emerald Chain dimwits go to die.”) So Mazzaro posits a Leonian poker game, which is pretty much Texas Hold ‘Em with slightly differently designed cards. Space Poker.

Star Trek: Discovery "All In"

Screenshot: CBS

This is also a hustle, as Book and Burnham are willing to work together to knock the other two out of the game. While I bought that Owosekun was able to hustle the big dumb dude she fought, I had a lot more trouble buying that Book and Burnham did so to the two Emerald Chain dimwits, as their signaling to each other was so incredibly obvious. I just didn’t believe that anybody who’d ever played cards, y’know, once wouldn’t see their obvious cheating for what it was.

In the end, of course, Book wins. But Burnham saw that coming, because she knows how good her boyfriend is at Space Poker, so she put a tracker on the isolynium when Mazzaro lets her check it for purity—the same type of tracker that was used on the dilithium shipments that were being targeted in “Choose to Live.” Burnham couldn’t detain or arrest Book and Tarka on Parathia (and the spore drive makes trying to capture them once they leave Parathia damn near impossible), so the tracker was the best bet. So now they can go after them.

And it needs to happen fast because the Stilth stellar surveys reveal that Species 10C is in some manner of gigunda conveyance that is using absurd amounts of power. Each site the DMA has attacked at has left behind zero traces of boronite, which can be a massive power source if you collect enough of it. (I love the moment in the briefing when Stamets, Zora, and Burnham are throwing technobabble about boronite around, and Rillak plaintively looks to Saru to explain what the hell everyone’s talking about.)

The DMA isn’t a weapon, it’s a dredge. It’s very possible that Species 10C doesn’t even realize that their mining of boronite is causing harm to sentient beings. (It’s also very possible that they do realize and don’t give a damn.) Still, the DMA is their equivalent of a pickaxe, which means their actual weapons are probably really nasty. So the urgency to keep Book and Tarka from pissing them off just got greater.

Star Trek: Discovery "All In"

Image: CBS

Great execution can make up for a terrible idea. “All In” does not have great execution, but it is good, and there’s something to be said for a dopey fun cliché-ridden sci-fi story, especially since it provides some good character bits for Burnham, Book, Tarka, and Owosekun, as well as Rillak and Vance, and it’s fun to get a glimpse into Burnham and Book’s year of Courier-ing between “That Hope is You, Part 1” and “Far from Home.”

What I like best about the episode, though, is the revelation that the DMA is not a weapon. Some of the best Star Trek episodes are ones where assumptions are challenged (e.g., the Horta isn’t a murdering monster, she’s a mother protecting her kids), and this is right in line with that.

Keith R.A. DeCandido is also rewatching Star Trek: Enterprise every Monday here on, and has in general been writing about Trek for this site since 2011. More of his commentary on Star Trek can be found in various issues of Star Trek Magazine over the years, in Entertainment Weekly’s 50th anniversary special on Trek published in 2016, and in the forthcoming Gold Archive monograph on the TNG two-parterBirthright.”


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