Star Trek: Discovery Season 4, Episode 9 – Debuted Thursday, February 17, 2022
Written by Alan McElroy
Directed by Andi Armaganian
Jam-packed with sci-fi action and character emotion, “Rubicon” ends up to be a bit of a mixed bag of an episode.
WARNING: Spoilers below!
“A friendly face”
Thanks to Michael putting a tracker on last week’s isolynium, Starfleet has located Book and Tarka as they prep the DMA-killing superbomb. Even after being made aware that Species 10-C is using the DMA as a mining tool and not a weapon, Book remains determined to attack, risking any chance at first contact with this clearly super-powered species. President Rillak is understandably wary of sending Captain Burnham to hunt down her boyfriend, but luckily for Michael, Admiral Vance has her back, mostly because the Disco is the only ship that can pull off the mission. But there is a condition: He is sending a minder along who has his authority to take over in case Michael gets squishy when it comes to stopping Mr. Booker. Although it isn’t so bad, as the minder is a fellow 23rd-century time-jumper, Commander Nhan, assuring Michael, “Better me than someone you don’t know” and assuring the Admiral her Barzanness will ensure “duty, above all.”
The crew of the Discovery is delighted to see their old friend Nhan back on the bridge, even after being told she is there as sort of a space nanny. The plan is to sneak up on Book and Tarka at their hiding place in a rogue planet and board Book’s ship via cloaked shuttle. Saru will lead the away team but instead of going in kitted out in tactical gear, phasers blazing, Dr. Culber is coming along to try to connect with Book and appeal to his emotions and reason, although Tarka is seen as a “wildcard”… uh yeah, no duh. Rhys and Bryce are also sent along and it takes both Saru and Culber to stop the pair of officers from arguing over the merits of Tarka’s plan. Guys, there is a time and place! After covertly docking, things seem fine—until the shuttle starts getting dissolved by a swarm of programmable matter. That’s new.
“This needs to stop”
Book is just as surprised to see his ship’s smart goo attack and learns that Tarka took it upon himself to install a new security feature. You’re welcome? Book may be going against Starfleet’s plan, but he doesn’t want to see his Disco friends get dissolved, and even Tarka lends a hand to try to free the shuttle, which breaks apart just as Saru and his team beams back to safety. With the element of surprise gone, Book books it to the DMA, which for a destructive galaxy-spanning planet-destroying space dredge is actually quite lovely on the inside. Nhan wants a plan but Michael is now just winging it. The Barzan informs the captain that Starfleet gave her a Plan B: Turns out installing the spore drive on Book’s ship gave it a Death Star vulnerability, allowing the Disco to blow them up with ease… not an option Michael wants, but a trigger Nhan is ready to pull. Saru suggests compromise, leading to Plan C, which involves Stamets working out how long the DMA will remain in hopes that more info can keep Book on the right side of the uncrossable line.
As Stamets and Zora crunch the numbers, the ships engage in some cat-and-mouse rivalry. Captains Burnham and Booker know each other’s moves intimately (wink, wink) and they even seem to be having a bit of fun as the ships jump around and exchange playful warning shots. Get a room, you two. Nhan remains entirely unamused. “We can argue semantics all we want, but I think we can both agree that Book is shooting at us!” Book has his own devil on the shoulder, with Tarka reminding him that sooner or later he is going to have to decide what is more important: his girlfriend and Disco pals, or his mission to stop the DMA. Eventually, the Discovery puts itself between Book and the DMA controller, and Tarka hits the fire everything button. That’s enough for Nhan, and even Saru admits playtime is over. Michael steels herself to do what she has been ordered to do… and what will certainly break her heart.
“Connection is always a risk”
Speaking of hearts potentially breaking… Saru and T’Rina. Somewhat awkwardly bookending the episode were some cute moments for this precarious budding romance between the Kelpien and Vulcan. Early on he rings her up for some guided meditation… is that what the kids are calling it in the 32nd century? Turns out he really wants to calm his mind but from light-years away she can sense he is out of sorts, suggesting he should find solace in the simple things, like dinner… together. You go, girl. Later after things calm down, Saru turns to Culber for advice on how he can break it to the Ni’Var president that he is far too busy with the ship and Kaminar and Su’Kal, but Dr. Hugh sets him straight. Calling his superior officer “an idiot” (with due respect), the ship’s counselor advises Saru to ignore all that stuff flustering him and follow his heart… which appears to long for some Vulcan melding.
“It’s the right thing to do”
Back to the action on the bridge, the Captain is about to blow Book out of the (again, quite beautiful nebula) sky, but Deus Ex Stamina arrives as Paul and Zora have determined the DMA is going to remain at its current spot for a week. With the risk to other systems at least delayed, Burnham has what she needs. After yet another heart-to-heart chat, Nhan agrees to another compromise, giving Michael the time to reach Book, but the Barzan is still keeping her finger on that button. With comms not working, Michael takes a shuttle over to Book’s ship to face him bridge window to bridge window in a touching moment. She offers a Federation-approved deal: Stand down for a week as they try first contact and if that doesn’t work, the prez and Vance will back Tarka’s bomb plan. Book agrees. Yay! Everyone unclenches… but aren’t they forgetting something?
Oh right, Ruon f—ing Tarka, who makes clear he doesn’t give a s—t about anything but getting his hands on that juicy DMA power source. To what should be no one’s surprise, he beams his bomb right into the heart of the DMA, and with no way to stop it in time, everyone jumps away. And of course it works; he is a genius, after all—except it turns out he may not be as smart as he thinks. The DMA is powered via the other end of the wormhole, outside of the galaxy, womp womp. Once the ship is back at Federation HQ, Nhan and Michael hug it out (naturally), with Book in the wind and Michael prepping for that first contact mission while Starfleet preps for possible retaliation for the DMA bombing. But it turns out the bombing was really first contact, as Species 10-C shrugs it off and simply fires up another DMA right where the last one was. For this unknown but clearly superior species, it’s just another day at the space dredging office.
Some of its parts
“Rubicon” had all the right components of a great episode and it certainly delivered with some of the series best starship action sequences and heartbreaking character beats, especially with focal character Michael Burnham forced to fight with her true love, Cleveland Booker. Sonequa Martin-Green and David Ajala shone, showing great chemistry even when in combat. And the sequence inside the DMA looked fantastic, evoking some great Star Trek battles. However, the episode too often got in its own way with uneven pacing and heavy-handed character beats. The plot and character stakes were sufficiently high and the season has organically built up to this Burnham/Book showdown nicely. But Discovery should not fall back on tropes to spice up these plot dilemmas and character conflicts.
“Rubicon” included a welcome dash of contemporary social commentary with the decision to bring Culber along to try to deescalate the situation with Book, a nod to the movement to use counselors instead of police in certain emergency responder situations. The episode also did a fine job of carrying on the season’s theme of uncertainty by examining the concept of risk, with characters constantly weighing their options and even learning that sometimes choices are not black and white. This was a through-line between the otherwise disconnected, action-focused A plot and romantic B subplot. While feeling a bit tacked on, Doug Jones and Tara Rosling sold this slow-burn love story that’s been brewing since last season. And while it is always welcome when Discovery gives the bridge crew time to add more depth, some of the random outbursts and conflicts in this episode felt forced, if not out of place.
The return of Commander Nhan was a treat with Rachel Ancheril doing her best work of the series so far, giving us a lot more depth on her character and Barzan society. Bringing her back now was a smart way to answer the obvious issue of sending Burnham after Book, and there was an elegant poetry to how Nhan and Tarka shadowed the two conflicted lovers. Her personal story felt real and reinforced the themes of the episode. The hint that the character may return opens opportunities for more drama, but hopefully next time Discovery can avoid some of the extra emotional character moments in the middle of the action which don’t seem natural.
10-C you soon?
With the focus on these character conflicts, and even with a battle within the DMA, it’s not clear how much progress has been made regarding the main plot arc of the season. The big bad DMA was shown to just be “a” DMA, a tool Species 10-C can start up at will, with the whole debate over destroying it rendered moot. It isn’t even clear if 10-C cares at all about what happened. The fact that they restarted a DMA right where the last one was—and that Tarka’s bomb did not result in a subspace disaster as expected—shows they are at a whole different level of capability. While 10-C remains a complete mystery, the show does seem to be setting up a coming interaction with the mysterious species with multiple mentions of how Bryce and Zora are working with Dr. Kovich on a way to open up communications through the galactic barrier. Also, Starfleet seems surprisingly sanguine about Burnham’s failure to stop Tarka, resigned to just move on without giving her another presidential dressing down.
As for Tarka, he is moving from rogue scientist to season antagonist. With the mega-bomb plan foiled and Book giving in to the Starfleet plan, it’s not clear why those two are still working together and jumping off to parts unknown. Tarka had made it very clear, all he wants is “to go home,” and he will do anything to get the power required to do it. Now it looks like the only place he can find it is to get it from Species 10-C, and he isn’t likely going to ask nicely. While the bornite-fueled controller itself continues to be intriguing and possibly even familiar, we are being told that Species 10-C is something new.
“Rubicon” is a fun but frustrating episode. For every two steps forward in action and heart, it takes a step back in logic or out-of-place emotional outburst. But the world-class visual effects and strong performances make it a walk worth taking as we head towards the next episode.
- The title “Rubicon” refers to the Rubicon River in northern Italy and the idiom of how “crossing the Rubicon” is a point of no return.
- This is the fifth Discovery screenwriting credit for co-executive producer Alan McElroy, who joined the series in season two.
- This is the first Star Trek credit for director Andi Armaganian, who transitioned from a two-decade career in editing to directing in 2018. She has also directed one of the episodes of the upcoming first season of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.
- Rachael Ancheril returns as Commander Nhan in her fourteenth appearance on Discovery and the first in season four.
- Nhan had a new and more simplified breathing apparatus required for Barzans, presumably a 32nd-century upgrade.
- Chief Engineer Jett Reno was mentioned but did not appear. Due to concerns for her health during the pandemic, Tig Notaro limited her time playing Reno for season four, and has so far only appeared in a single episode. However, she is expected to appear in upcoming episodes.
- For the second time this season, Captain Burnham used her new catchphrase, “Let’s fly.”
- Just after the USS Discovery got a complement of new Federation shuttles, DSC02 was destroyed by Tarka’s security system. Captain Burnham used DSC04 later, which survived.
- Like the Discovery after its 3rd season refit, the shuttles have the ability to cloak.
- This is the first time the Discovery has engaged its cloak before jumping with the spore drive.
- Michael mentions she and Book once encountered pirates in Breen space.
- The Expected Utility Hypothesis mentioned by Tarka is a real concept used in economics dating back to the 18th century.
- The USS Mitchell was assigned to monitor the DMA. There are a few Mitchells in Star Trek history including a 21st-century colony ship captain and a 24th-century Starfleet admiral. The most famous is Lt. Cmdr. Gary Mitchell of the 23rd century USS Enterprise, who went mad with power after traveling through the Galactic Barrier, which has become a plot point for season four of Discovery.
More to come
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