Star Trek: Discovery S4E2 — “Anomaly” Examines Loss and Grief

Captain Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) rests her head on Book (David Ajala) as he sits at the helm of his ship
Photo Cr: Michael Gibson/ViacomCBS

The following contains spoilers for Star Trek: Discovery, S4E2, “Anomaly” (written by Anne Cofell Saunders & Glenise Mullins and directed by Olatunde Osunsanmi)

Star Trek: Discovery S4E2, “Anomaly,” follows the pattern that the series has adhered to for much of its run. Following the rollicking and relatively joyful season premiere “Kobayashi Maru” with a more introspective, quieter, episode. “Anomaly” keeps the focus squarely on the relationships between the central characters, giving them each a chance to relate to each other and grow together in the face of tragedy.

Cleveland “Book” Booker (David Ajala) is the central focus throughout “Anomaly.” We follow him as he deals with his guilt and grief following the destruction of his home planet, Kwejian. Ajala is masterful throughout as he alternates between various stages of grief-stricken despair. This planetary destruction is the type of thing that science fiction tends to fall back on, but then gloss over. Destruction of entire planets, or planetary systems, happens a lot. But rarely does an entire episode focus so intently on what that destruction means to a single character. And, in doing so, the pain becomes much more real and impactful.

Book not only lost his planet, he lost his brother Kyheem (Ache Hernandez) and his young nephew Leto (Luca Doulgeris).  Leto’s death in particular haunts Book, and his memory keeps distracting Book, passing by like a ghost over and over throughout Star Trek: Discovery S4E2. Each of them was taken away just as Book was finally reestablishing his relationships with them. It is sometimes easy to forget that Cleveland Booker had spent the last several years away from this planet and had basically abandoned the life that he now wishes so dearly he could experience for just a little longer. 

Book (David Ajala) stands in the background as Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) look to the side
Photo Credit: Paramount +

Much of his grief is for the dead, of course, but this added element of guilt at having never been around is what makes the entire experience feel so universal. It seems unlikely, despite our best efforts as species, that any of us will ever see our entire planet destroyed. But almost everyone has experienced deep loss and has regrets over what we missed and what we maybe could have done better to help the ones we love. The story is bleak and the emotions are raw, and it threatens to overwhelm the other things happening in the show. A pain so large, and so well felt, is hard to escape. It is that emotional resonance that makes the destruction of Kwejian feel all the more tragic, and it ties to all of the other stories and relationships in Star Trek: Discovery S4E2.

At the center of this focus is the relationship between Book and Captain Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green). Their partnership has also been a focus since Ajala joined the show at the start of Season 3. The bond between them becomes more and more of a central concern throughout “Anomaly.” Burnham has to weigh one of the most common concerns for a Starfleet captain, whether to use her personal connection to improve the greater good, or whether to sacrifice everything for the one she loves. Martin-Green is able to infuse Burnham with a real sense of conflict and, amazingly considering many of the things we have seen her do, Burnham is actually able to detach long enough to make some reasonable decisions as the Captain of the ship.

The moral clarity for Burnham comes from the most likely, and welcome, of sources—the return of Saru (Doug Jones) to the bridge of the Discovery. He uses his considerable knowledge and presence to help Burnham navigate the tricky and emotionally fraught interactions with Book. Saru is now the wise emotional mentor figure for the entire crew. When Burnham officially offers Saru the position as her Number One there is real sense that the bridge (and in turn the show) finally has the right people in the right positions.

Culber (Wilson Cruz) looks over his shoulder at a pensive Tilly (Mary Wiseman)
Photo Credit: Paramount +

Strangely, while Saru does have a conversation with Burnham’s previous Number One, Lieutenant Tilly (Mary Wiseman), there are no allusions to the fact that he was taking her place on the ship. Tilly is great character, and Wiseman has been one of the show’s breakout stars, but Tilly was in no way ready to be the second in command on the ship. The character is much better suited to stories like the ones she had this week. She excels at being overly snappy at Adira (Blu del Barrio), the new perky young science officer on the ship, and trying (and failing) to deal with her own emotional responses to the death and destruction at the end of “Kobayashi Maru.”

Tilly internalizes her grief and Wiseman tones down her usually effervescent performance to match the character’s turmoil. Tilly is deeply burdened by the sudden death of Commander Nalas (Rodrigo Fernandez-Stoll) at the end of her last mission. The death and destruction have really started to take a toll on her and she also seems overly burdened with a sense of responsibility about it all. (Likely due, at least in part, to her speedy and reckless promotions up to this point.) When she finally goes to confide in Doctor Culber (Wilson Cruz) and express her desire to start regular therapy sessions it feels like another of the show’s attempts to make a real world statement. That message, that therapy is good, trauma is hard, it is OK to need and look for help, is one that we can all use from time to time.

Culber is preternaturally skilled at listening to problems and Wilson Cruz portrays the character with an innate kindness. Even before he takes on Tilly’s troubles Culber has been a guiding force for both Adira and Stamets, his own family. Adira is dealing with the potential reincorporation of their boyfriend, and previous symbiote host, Grey (Ian Alexander). Alexander and del Barrio share some sweet scenes about the wonder of love and loving who you are despite going through changes that may have been a bit on the nose, but still are wonderful to see. Culber is able to help his surrogate child and their partner through all of that while also really pushing his own partner, Stamets (Anthony Rapp), to finally open up as well.

Dr. Culber (Wilson Cruz) looking caringly at the camera
Photo Credit: Paramount +

Stamets lost Culber back in Season 1 and even though they have grown as a couple tremendously since Culber’s resurrection, that pain still defines much of Stamets’s life. Completing the cycle of the stories in “Anomaly” it is also keeping Stamets from connecting with Book. Since Book is the one who ultimately saved both Culber and Adira in “That Hope Is You, Part 2” Stamets sees him as a sign of all the ways he has failed his family. It bookends the story of Book and his Kwejian family in a really resonant way. The two ultimately have to work together to get the data they need to, hopefully, understand the way the anomaly that destroyed Kwejian will work. In order to do so, they have to actually open up to each other and let their loved ones guide them through the pain.

The way that the destruction of Kwejian looms over each of the stories of grief and pain and overlaps with different characters and different aspects of their relationships really helps to define Star Trek: Discovery S4E2. Book is lost and needs to act, but the real action is finding other people to connect to. Trek at its best—and despite far too many nay-sayers Discovery is indeed Trek at its best—can do all of that while still remaining hopeful and alive with possibility. Despite my own hopes that the show would abandon these darker themes for a more overtly joyful season there is definitely a real pleasure to be found in watching these characters discover love amidst the darkness.

Written by Clay Dockery

Clay Dockery is an actor, author, and impresario extraordinaire. They are the co-editor of Why I Geek: An Anthology of Fandom Origin Stories and was the co-head organizer and creative director of MISTI-Con, Coal Hill Con, and The West Wing Weekend fandom conventions. They live in New York City with their girlfriend and their two chonky cats.

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