“All Is Possible”
Star Trek: Discovery Season 4, Episode 4 – Debuted Thursday, December 9, 2021
Written by Alan McElroy & Eric J. Robbins
Directed by John Ottman
In a solid episode, Discovery delivers multiple classic Star Trek storylines, each offering rich and emotional character exploration.
“This is real”
The USS Discovery remains at Ni’Var while Stamets burns the midnight dilithium along with the Vulcan scientists trying to figure out the DMA (Dark Matter Anomaly)—which, for the moment, isn’t threatening any other systems. Captain Burnham orders the crew to take a bit of R&R to blow off steam to deal with galaxy-ending stress and uncertainty. For boyfriend Book, who has been hit hardest of all, she recommends grief counseling with Dr. Culber. As she eagerly awaits the culmination of negotiations for Ni’Var’s reentry into the Federation, Burnham is surprised to get an order from President Rillak for her and Captain Saru to attend the summit, where they are expected to “remain silent and look official.” As for Tilly, her crisis of confidence continues, so Dr. Culber prescribes a new challenge in the form of leading a team-building exercise at the new Starfleet Academy, and he asks her to take Adira along to help with their (lack of) socialization skills.
At the Academy, David Cronenberg’s Kovich (now “Dr. Kovich”) briefs Tilly on the problems of getting cadets to work together after growing up disconnected in the post-Burn era. He ominously warns her that this simple team-building exercise is “about the very future of Starfleet,” so no pressure, Sylvia. The exercise has Tilly and Adira taking three squabbling cadets on a shuttle to do some “fun” (well, Tilly thinks it’s fun) orbital scanning of a nice little desert moon, but no amount of her endearing banter can break the ice with these glum cadets. Things literally get even chillier when a rogue gamma-ray burst sends the shuttle crashing into the wrong moon and they find themselves on an inhospitable icy rock with a broken shuttle, a dead pilot, and no way to call for help. Oh, and the shuttle is surrounded by tentacle monsters attracted to their tech, so they have to shut everything down. Plus the Orion and Tellarite cadets have a simmering historical post-Burn blood feud, so… go team?
“Trust is a journey”
After protracted talks, Ni’Var should be ready to sign on the dotted line, but the summit breaks down as President T’Rina informs President Rillak they want a last-minute “exit clause” due to fears that the DMA could bring back the bad times, even before the Burn, when the Federation was ghosting its various member worlds. Ignoring orders to keep quiet, Captain Burnham jumps in to calm things down. When a hasty recess is called, Michael and Saru do some backchannel presidential tag team with Burham taking Rillak and Saru taking T’Rina, who everyone noticed has a thirst for some Kelpien tea, nudge nudge, know what I mean? Both captains learn that while the presidents want to deal, they are hampered by interests within their respective coalitions and neither has the latitude to compromise on their own without the risk of losing their positions.
It becomes clear Rillak’s last-minute invitation was a ploy to inject the USS Discovery pair into this crisis and work it behind the scenes. Moving past her distaste of politics, Burnham channels her inner Josh Lyman, recognizing the only way out of this diplomess is for her to broker a deal. Together, she and Saru (channeling his inner Sam) quickly (perhaps too quickly) assess all the players and then pivot to full-on lecturing Bartlet (in this now strained West Wing analogy) calling on Federation history and their own personal histories to inspire the regathered dignitaries to move on from the past into a new future with common ground. The solution to satisfy the hardliners in each coalition is an independent committee to review how the Federation is treating all member worlds, with Michael as a member to bridge the gap as both a citizen of Ni’Var (remember she grew up on Vulcan back in the day) and a citizen of the Federation. An elegant solution even Toby Ziegler could get behind… okay, I’ll stop.
“Grief is complicated”
For the third episode in a row, Book is still dealing with the trauma of losing his home planet and family. With T’Rina’s calming mind meld from 403 fading, he is sent to grief counseling in a series of emotionally charged scenes. After sharing some funny macabre family history to break the ice, Dr. Culber prescribes a Kwejian healing ritual, but Book rejects it as a “cheap trick” and “rubbish” because it uses programmable matter to stand in for the required ritualistic sand and other impossible elements now that the planet has been destroyed. But that was the entire point. Hugh hits him with the hard truth that he will never feel the “Kewi’tholum’Kwei” again and it is going to take him “a long-ass time” to deal with his loss. Book presses on to finish the sand sculpture and the pair bonds over both having things they need to deal with. (Culber tells Book he’ll talk about his own issue “someday” in the future.)
“You want to go back, don’t you?”
Back on the ice moon, Tilly’s plan is to head up to a ridge and use their communicators to contact the USS Armstrong for rescue. And if avoiding the “jellyfish from hell” hunting them wasn’t terrifying enough, they now also have to deal with “spider lighting,” two words scary enough on their own. The cadet bickering tests Tilly’s bubbly limits and when Adira ends up stuck in the ice she has to rally the kids to work together like this is the worst escape room ever… with the on-the-nose solution of everyone pulling on a rope. Even after that bit of team-building, the cadets continue to argue until Tilly gets them to actually talk, revealing Orion Harral’s father was a martyred Emerald Chain dissident, so not one of the evil ones that made the Tellarite Gorev’s family starve to death. Now, finally, they can work together. Tilly’s final plan is to make herself into distracting bait for the monsters while the rest of the team opens up coms for rescue. They even help her out with some synchronized phasering, and they are all beamed up to safety just before Tilly gets eaten too. Go team!
Back at the Academy, Tilly looks on as her charges are now all now smiles and best buds, including Adira who has learned how to make friends. Kovich is impressed they survived the ordeal and immediately offers Tilly a teaching position as she has the “anything is possible” optimism that everyone else lost after the Burn. As for Michael, she gets to witness the result of her good work: Ni’Var is officially brought back into the Federation in a touching ceremony, followed by some solid hatchet burying between her and President Rillak. Michael is also happy to see Book has made some progress with Dr. Culber while she has been busy. But when she checks in on Tilly, she senses a change in her old roomie. Sylvia now understands her path to the captain’s chair was all about sending a message to her mother, who has now been dead for nine centuries. Tilly reveals she is now ready for a whole new path, one that leads her to that teaching job at Starfleet Academy. After getting a hug (of course) from all the main characters, Tilly leaves the USS Discovery, looking back at her time there with a smile as she warps away. Wow.
Like the previous episode, “All is Possible” juggled multiple storylines but with help from a consistent theme of bringing people together and some nods to the overall season arc of the DMA, this collection was more successful and compelling. Perhaps part of that could be because the character stories being told were within familiar if not classic Star Trek stories, especially Tilly and Adira’s crashed shuttle and Michael and Saru’s Federation politics. With good pacing and strong editing, the various strands were woven together well as we bounced from location to location, emotional beat to emotional beat, with especially strong performances from Mary Wiseman, Blu del Barrio, and Doug Jones.
While David Ajala and Wilson Cruz had a “runner” story throughout the episode, it feels like this focus on delving even more into Book’s grieving either wasn’t necessary or could have been done with a single scene, which would’ve given a bit more time to the other stories. But some of the mythology around Kwejian was welcome and could possibly be telegraphing a future storyline that’s possibly related to the Anomaly arc itself.
Of the two bigger stories, the Ni’Var diplomacy with Michael and Saru navigating between T’Rina and Rillak was probably the stronger. It was reminiscent of some of the better Deep Space Nine episodes, which relished in political intrigue. This was emphasized when Michael cited how moving past conflicts between Cardassians, Humans, and Bajorans is exemplified by Rillak herself. Doug Jones also shined, moving between diplomacy and a bit of subtle romance with T’Rina, and the callback to his history with the Ba’ul was on point. Bringing Ni’Var back in is part of the promise of the rebuilding of the Federation begun at the start of season three and was worth dedicating a storyline to, instead of just an aside. But it also showed continued growth for Burham and her relationship with Rillak, who are warming up to each other (although not as red-hot as T’Rina teaching Saru meditation).
As for the shuttle crash, that’s a Star Trek trope going back to the beginning with “The Gallileo Seven,” also seen in the most recent seasons of Lower Decks and Prodigy. Even landing on an L-Class planet is a classic, with the most spot-on vibe coming from DS9’s “The Ascent.” But as in that episode, the real action is in the character dynamics, with a great exploration of Tilly and some for Adira, although the cadets themselves were a bit one-note and hard to buy as the “best of the best” of their respective worlds. The team-building moments were also a bit clichéd, but Tilly’s determination and optimism demonstrated what Star Trek is all about, so much so that we really didn’t need Kovich to spell it out in another example of Discovery’s unfortunate tendency to explicitly hammer home points when they can be done more organically. Mary Wiseman delivering Tilly’s personalized version of Star Trek’s core mission with “It’s new worlds, new things, it’s like, ‘What’s that? Is that a new life form? What?’ Amazing.” was all we needed.
Most importantly, the experience did feel like a culmination of Tilly’s arc this season, showing how she can make a difference on a different path, one that (sadly) takes her away from the USS Discovery. Wiseman and Sonequa Martin-Green once again showed their perfect chemistry as they moved between humor and heartbreak when they said goodbye. The season has also been subtly been showing us how Adira is the “new Tilly” on the ship, stepping in as the ship’s awkward nervous genius, and they really put a bow on that with Tilly handing Adira the torch (in this case a snowglobe) with the name of the episode right on it. But if you look deeper, Adira’s arc and the arc of the cadets could be seen as a little bit of a social commentary on people needing to learn how to deal with others outside of their bubbles and silos.
Getting back to Kovich, it’s always great to see David Cronenberg return with this enigmatic character that has been a bit of an obsession here. While he certainly got the job done in framing Tilly’s arc, this more touchy-feely version of the character (now mysteriously revealed to be Dr. Kovich, Academy Consultant) makes trying to sort out exactly who this guy is even more difficult, to the point where it feels like the producers themselves don’t really know. They like working with Cronenberg and they will continue to insert Kovich into various roles in the 32nd century Federation and we should just go along for the ride. At this point, hopefully, they will never definitively say exactly who Kovich (sorry, Dr. Kovich) is.
It’s hard to say goodbye
As for what Tilly’s departure from the ship means for the show, that remains uncertain. We have seen character departures that prove to be simply temporary plot points before on Star Trek, but this may be more than that. We are expecting to hear more from the actress and possibly producers soon. Indications are this is significant, although Mary Wiseman’s Tilly is expected to return at some point this season.
Let’s get going
The first four episodes of the season have set up the big bad, reset our characters into new emotional situations, and even seen the departure (possibly temporarily) of one of our major characters. This episode also nicely reinforced the ongoing theme of uncertainty, along with the pandemic allegory that is the DMA as a backdrop behind everything. We are about a third of the way through season four and we have all the pieces in place now to start digging into the mystery set up in episode one. Shore leave is over Discovery; time to get to work.
- This is the fourth Discovery writing credit for co-executive producer Alan McElroy, who joined the series in season two, and the first for Eric J. Robbins, who joined as a writers’ assistant in season three.
- This was the first time directing Star Trek for John Ottman, who is primarily known as an editor and composer of feature films.
- The episode begins with a traditional Captain’s Log, with the Stardate given as 865661.2
- Theta Helios is a new Star Trek planet, but the 1969 Star Trek comic strip did feature the USS Enterprise visiting the Alpha Helios star system. Theta Helios has 46 moons.
- Helios is the Greek god of the sun and Kokytos (the moon where they crashed) is named for one of the five rivers encircling Hades in Greek mythology. Geryon (the moon they were supposed to go to) is named for a mythological giant.
- The Tuscadian Pryosome colony species monster on Kokytos appears inspired by the real-world Pryosome colony species which can be found deep in oceans and can be 60 feet long.
- The Kokytos monster was reminiscent of the Henrauggi from the 2009 Star Trek movie, also designed by Neville Page.
- The Ni’Var council chamber appears to be inspired by the Vulcan architectural aesthetic seen in the 2009 Star Trek movie.
- The USS Discovery bar introduced in the previous episode is called the “Forward Lounge,” a possible homage to Ten Forward on the USS Enterprise-D.
- Two Saurians were featured in the episode: Linus was seen playing cards in the lounge, and there was a Saurian Federation official working with Rillak.
- USS Armstrong captain’s name was Imahara, possibly a tribute to Mythbusters star Grant Imahara, a Star Trek fan who appeared in the fan series Star Trek Continues and passed away in 2020.
- The Armstrong is presumably named for astronaut Neil Armstrong. There was also a 23rd-century Kelvin-Universe USS Armstrong featured in the 2009 Star Trek movie and a 24th-century Prime Universe USS Neil Armstrong referenced in Star Trek: The Next Generation.
- Gray is doing “Zhian’tal” exercises to get used to his new body, apparently following up the Zhian’tara-related procedure to transfer him from Adira to his new android body.
- The recommended treatment for a Malindian stomach worm is to just let it gestate for 24 hours before extraction. Gross.
- Tilly’s tour of new foods has included Rigellian rutabagas, which she finds “horrible.”
- The Puerto Rican custom of “standing funeral” (Muerto Parao or “dead man standing”) Dr. Culber mentioned is a real thing.
- The Kewi’tholum’Kwei sand sculpture ritual appears inspired by Tibetan sand mandalas.
- Tilly’s NX-01 snowglobe looks to be based on one of a set of Star Trek snowglobes released in 2012 by Danbury Mint.
- Gorev mockingly calls Adira “admiral,” but past host Senna Tal was indeed a Starfleet admiral.
- The renegade Qowat Milat nun J’Vini has been sent (under the charge of Gabrielle Burnham) to meditate over her crimes at a monastery named P’Jar.
- Tilly’s snoring was mentioned in the character’s first episode back in season one.
More to come
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New episodes of Star Trek: Discovery premiere on Thursdays on Paramount+ in the U.S. and on Fridays where Paramount+ is available around the world. In Canada, it airs on CTV Sci-Fi Channel on Thursdays, and streams on Crave on Fridays. Starting November 26, Discovery also streams on Pluto TV in select countries in Europe and is available as a digital download in additional international territories.
Keep up with all the news and reviews from the new Star Trek Universe on TV at TrekMovie.com.