When we left our heroes at the end of “…But to Connect,” right before a five-week break so Paramount+ could show Prodigy, Book and Tarka had buggered off with a super-weapon to destroy the DMA and the Federation needed to make contact with Species 10C.
For some inexplicable reason, it took five episodes to finally get to the point where the Federation makes contact with Species 10C. Getting here has been a slog, but the arrival is absolutely perfect.
The very first words that were spoken at the top of every episode of the original Star Trek five-and-a-half decades ago were that the Enterprise‘s mission was to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, and to boldly go where nobody had gone before.
I mention that because this entire storyline in general—and last week’s “Rosetta” in particular—has been about boldly going where no one has gone before to seek out a new life and new civilization, which they commenced by exploring a strange new world. And I mention that because there’s still a belief among a subset of Star Trek fans that the producers of Discovery don’t understand what Trek is all about, and, well, I’m having a hard time reconciling that after watching “Rosetta” and “Species Ten-C.”
Because this is what Trek is all about: finding a way to talk to people, to find a compassionate solution involving people talking to each other instead of trying to kill each other. This has been the watchword of the franchise from the beginning, whether it’s Kirk choosing to help Balok even after the Fesarius almost destroyed the Enterprise; Picard admitting that he needs Q’s help against the Borg; the Dominion War ending, not from military might, but an act of compassion by Odo; Kim making an AI remember that its job is to protect, not destroy; and so on.
Watching the process by which Burnham, Saru, Rillak, T’Rina, Ndoye, and Hirai try to communicate with 10C is tremendous fun. I especially like that Burnham brings the bridge crew in for a fresh perspective at one point, which helps give them ideas.
And they make a lot of headway. Using simple mathematical concepts as a starting point, they eventually figure out how to communicate with each other. In a very nice touch, Saru, Burnham, and Hirai mention Lincos, the constructed language based on math first created in 1960 by Dr. Hans Freudenthal, and which is considered by many right now to be the best way to try to communicate with any potential alien life we might encounter.
The process of getting there is a wonderful example of the scientific method at work, and it’s tremendous fun seeing everyone throw ideas around. (Also, once again, everyone turns to Saru to “translate” when the technobabble gets too fast and furious.) I find myself reminded of something Tor.com’s own Emmet Asher-Perrin said almost exactly three years ago on Twitter, and which remains the case today: “Hello, it is important to me that we praise one (of many) thing that #StarTrekDiscovery does better than any of the Treks before it: Tapping into the sheer joy that is just ‘Look at all these nerds solving puzzles together, they live for this shit.'”
Best of all is that 10C is truly alien. As established last week, they live in the atmosphere of a gas giant, and their mode of communication involves light patterns and the hydrocarbons that were also discovered last week. We haven’t gotten to see them yet, which is disappointing, but there’s always next week…
Unfortunately, while tremendous progress toward communication is made rather quickly—including 10C creating a pod for a team to enter to continue the conversation—it’s all undone by Tarka being an asshole. Again.
Reno having been kidnapped by Tarka plays an important part of the plot on two different levels. The first is an aspect of Reno’s character that, frankly, I had forgotten about: she spent the better part of a year on the crashed Hiawatha, caring for injured crew who were unable to be moved. She tells Book about a crewmember who was too far gone to be saved and wanted to die in peace, but Reno kept him alive well past that point, and it wasn’t until he finally died that she realized that the crewmember had the same color eyes as Reno’s dead wife.
Reno knows from pain, and she recognizes that Tarka and Book are a couple of giant quivering masses of pain, and it’s impeding their judgment.
But she’s also a crack engineer, and she recognizes something that Book isn’t qualified to see: Tarka’s plan to steal the power source from 10C to power his inter-universal transporter will leave tremendous destruction in his wake: Species 10C, Discovery, Book’s ship, and probably also everything near the DMA on the other side of the spatial rift connecting the DMA to 10C are all likely to be damaged or destroyed by Tarka’s actions.
Book tries to stop Tarka, but Tarka has reprogrammed the security system so that every time Book attacks Tarka, the attack is turned back on him. This is the second time Tarka has reprogrammed Book’s ship without his consent. We are very deep into “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me” territory with Book regarding Tarka. It’s blindingly obvious that Tarka doesn’t give an airborne intercourse about anybody but himself and Oros, and that he will do anything, consequences be damned, to get to that alternate universe.
Because she’s just that awesome, Reno is able to cobble together a commlink to Discovery, warning Burnham and the gang about what Tarka is doing. His actions ruin the first contact, and now may kill everyone. And I’m wondering why the hell Book has continued to keep this jackass on his ship. Yes, yes, yes, his backstory is tragic, but he’s proven himself to be a completely self-centered schmuck over and over again.
This is another byproduct of dragging this story out over so many episodes. There was no need to spend an entire episode on Space Vegas, nor an entire episode getting through the galactic barrier. We’ve had four episodes of Tarka being untrustworthy, so for Book to be gobsmacked by Tarka being untrustworthy once again in the fifth just makes him out to be an idiot. Had this part of the story been told in two or three episodes (which it could easily have been), Book wouldn’t look quite so bad.
Ndoye doesn’t come off well, either, as she continues to help Tarka with his dumbshit plan even though Ndoye can see that progress is being made with communicating with 10C. She’s reluctant, at least, but she still does it.
I don’t see how either Ndoye or Book come back from this, assuming they survive. I can actually see a road back for Ndoye, who is trying to defend her home, but Book’s past the point of no return in many ways. He’s had so many chances to back off from his must-destroy-the-DMA stance, yet every time he’s been presented with a better option—when Burnham asked for a week’s grace, when 10C just blithely sent another DMA after Tarka blew up the first one, when Ndoye told him they had a good Plan A and he needed to be Plan B, when Tarka kidnapped Reno—he’s stuck with Tarka like a moron. Reno’s observation that he’s in so much pain he can’t think straight is certainly true as far as it goes, but he’s been given so much rope, and he just keeps using it to tie a noose around his neck.
We get some other nice bits. Zora has a feeling that something’s wrong, and Culber works with her on it—and it turns out to be Tarka’s spoofing Reno’s combadge so Zora thinks she’s still on board. In addition, Burnham and Saru have a delightful conversation about some difficulties Saru is having in his bizarre courtship with T’Rina. Burnham provides some useful insight from her childhood being raised by Vulcans. Best of all, unlike, for example, when Jurati decided to bring up her relationship issues with Rios in this week’s Picard, Saru and Burnham have this conversation during a lull in the action when they’re waiting for engineering to put together a frammistat they need for their first-contact mission. And we find out that “Cleveland Booker” is a title that is passed on from Courier to Courier, and Book is the fifth one to have the name. Yes, Book is the Dread Pirate Roberts!!! (It’s now very important to me that we find out that his birth name is Cummerbund…..)
Next week is the grand finale of the season. It started out strong, stalled a bit the last few weeks, but “Species Ten-C” is very much a return to form. I’m looking forward to seeing how they solve this problem and maintain their good start with 10C.
Keith R.A. DeCandido has stories in the recent and upcoming anthologies Devilish and Divine, edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail & John French (“Unguarded” about a young boy with conflicting guardian angels), Phenomenons: Every Human Creature, edited by Trek novelist Michael Jan Friedman (“The Light Shines in the Darkness” about a superhero in the Bronx), The Fans are Buried Tales, edited by Trek novelist Peter David & Kathleen O. David (“The Carpet’s Tale” about the infamous Marriott carpets), Three Time Travelers Walk Into…, edited by Michael A. Ventrella (“What You Can Become Tomorrow” about Mary Shelley, Josh Gibson, and Katherine Johnson), and Tales of Capes and Cowls, edited by sometime commenter C.T. Phipps (“Smells Like Teen Spirit” about the investigation into the murder of a teen superhero).