Star Trek: Discovery S4E7 — “…But to Connect” Debates Essential Ideals

Grey, Adira, Stamets, Culber, Kovich, and Saru look inquisitivly at the camera
Photo Cr: Michael Gibson/Paramount+ © 2021 CBS Interactive. All Rights Reserved.

The following contains spoilers for Star Trek: Discovery, S4E7, “…But to Connect” (written by Terri Hughes Burton & Carlos Cisco and directed by Lee Rose)

Star Trek: Discovery, S4E7, “… But to Connect,” delves deeply into some really interesting arguments about what Starfleet is, and how the Federation should operate. The notion of building connections through peaceful means, exploring strange new worlds, has always been an essential element of the franchise. But those exploratory and scientific ships have always had extensive phaser banks for a reason. In order to uphold the ideals that the Federation wants, do they have to destroy threats in order to keep the peace? Star Trek: Discovery S4E7 really embraces that debate by having President Rillak (Chelah Horsdal) bring everyone together to debate the issues.

Since it was established in “Stormy Weather” that the DMA originated from outside of the galaxy and was created by the unknown species 10-C, the options regarding how to deal with it have become far more difficult. If it had been a natural phenomenon or had been created by a known, but aggressive, species then it could be destroyed or the creators approached without questions. Since it is instead also a message from an unknown civilization the Federation has to actually move carefully—if it was not intended as an attack, then to attack it might provoke them. But if it was aggressive, or the intentions were not benign, then sitting back could lead to death and destruction on an enormous scale.

Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), Rillak (Chelsea Horsdal), T'Rina (Tara Rosling) and others stand at the confernce of planets
Photo Cr: Michael Gibson/Paramount+ © 2021 CBS Interactive. All Rights Reserved.

It is clear that Rillak, T’Rina (Tara Rosling), and Captain Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) are on the side of waiting and gathering information about the intention behind the DMA before doing anything rash. Their views are clearly the ones at the heart of the Federation and Star Trek ideals, so the viewer is clearly inclined to agree with them. And yet, the destruction of Kweijian and its impact on Book (David Ajala) can’t be overlooked. His emotional response to the DMA is really reasonable, and is given a lot of weight and emphasis throughout the debate. When Burnham at first refused to speak up to present her side after his impassioned plea at the conference, I thought she really may have been convinced, if not of his argument, at least not to actively oppose him. But she does wind up speaking and ultimately her information gathering, potentially peaceful, approach carries the day.

Speaking of this conference, I have to comment on the odd structure of it. It seems as though the votes at the end are based on the planetary systems as a whole, but it is unclear who the actual representatives for each system are, or why they get to vote. Or to speak, as both Book and Tarka (Shawn Doyle) give impassioned speeches in favor of immediate action. Though neither of them seems not to have an official reason to be there (though Book as spokesperson for Kwejian does at least make sense). Also, I know that President Rillak is both trying to get former members to rejoin the Federation and also to get all of the different peoples to work together, but it seems strange that non-members and members would have equal votes in something so critical.

Earth in particular is both not a member of the actual Federation and also represented by General Ndoye (Phumzile Sitole) who is not the leader of the civilization. Burnham gets to vote as well but it is unclear who her vote represents, or perhaps the people are voting as individuals. None of this is important to the actual result and doesn’t change the philosophical argument, it would just be nice to have a little more clarity as so much of this political maneuvering is important to this plot and the ideas going forward.

After Burnham and the Ni’Var delegation seem to have pushed the conversation toward patience, Tarka takes “his moment” and takes over the meeting. He tells the assembly that he can destroy the DMA but only if he is allowed to set off an isolytic explosion, which has been banned in the Trek universe since the Khitomer Accords. When Burnham rebuts this with her own impassioned appeal that ultimately carries the day, it pits Burnham and Book in direct opposition to each other.

Martin-Green and Ajala have had wonderful chemistry since Book arrived on the show back in Season 3. Usually the two have played off of each other with romantic chemistry and a flirting sexiness that has served as an undercurrent through the other stories, but in this case all of that builds the tension between the viewpoints that really helps drive home the way this is not just a philosophical debate. Book feels things, it is one of the primary characteristics of his people. Burnham has also been driven by passion and personal connection on the show but that has almost always been in the service of the greater good. The two sides cannot be brought back together easily. So Book breaks free.

Tarka and Book decide to set off Tarka’s weapon on their own. Tarka, in his typically smarmy and untrustworthy way, tells of how this is a personal thing for him as well. He wants to break free to another parallel dimension where he thinks his lover may have gone. It seems clear that the life of hardship and slavery to the Emerald Chain has driven Tarka a bit mad. But the destruction of Kweijian has done the same to Book. We know Book is serious because he leaves Grudge behind on Discovery, telling Burnham that he still loves her and to take care of “his girl”. He does not expect to live through the journey and is dedicated to this plan that he thinks is right.

Book (David Ajala) and Tarka (Shawn Doyle) look on during the conference
Photo Cr: Michael Gibson/Paramount+ © 2021 CBS Interactive. All Rights Reserved.

The other plotline running throughout Star Trek: Discovery S4E7 is also interested in a philosophical question at the heart of Star Trek: can artificial life exist and what is our responsibility to that life? Dr. Kovich (David Cronenberg), who Admiral Vance should probably just assign to Discovery at this point, comes to assess the situation regarding Zora and whether she needs to be removed from the Discovery system for the safety of the crew. Starfleet, due to many previous issues (many seen on other Star Trek series), does not allow “fully integrated AI” in starships, and Kovich is the one responsible for making this determination.

Cronenberg’s crotchety, but ultimately humane, portrayal of Kovich is really given a spotlight. He gives the character a gravitas and quiet dignity that means his every appearance and decision takes on an outsized importance both to the characters and the viewers. When Kovich brings in Culber (Wilson Cruz) and Stamets (Anthony Rapp) to get their assessment of Zora, he never loses sight of his mission despite their far more impassioned pleas.

Stamets is scared of Zora because of the horrors he encountered with the AI “Control” that tried to destroy the universe back in Season 2 and ultimately was the cause of Discovery moving into the future. For Stamets, in a mirror of what is happening with Book in the other plot, the entire situation is personal. No matter how much Zora seems to be helping them, he can’t trust her because of his past experiences. Culber tries to help Stamets keep perspective but Kovich just asks questions and takes notes.

Stamets (Anthony Rapp) speaks spreading his arms in a room with Saru, Kovich and Culber watching
Photo Cr: Michael Gibson/Paramount+ © 2021 CBS Interactive. All Rights Reserved.

While the meeting is happening, Adira (Blu del Barrio) and Grey (Ian Alexander) burst in to speak on Zora’s behalf. I’ve read some really angry comments and tweets about how this is evidence of the way the show “doesn’t know how to tell a Star Trek story” since the low ranked Ensign and non-crewmember can just walk in on a meeting and be accepted. But those critiques—in addition to forgetting the long history of this in the Trek franchise— really miss the point. Kovich is not really assessing Zora, he seems to accept her early on, he wants to understand how the crew react to her and if they can work with her. For this it would make sense that he actually wants this input and as he said, he wants nothing to be kept secret from Zora herself. They are all active participants in this assessment.

Zora is able to convince Stamets of her sincerity and love for the crew after they access her “dreams” in a hidden part of her memory. Kovich determines that she is a new life form, so is not applicable to rules regarding AI, and she is allowed to stay in her form as Discovery. Stamets comes back very late in the episode and gives a speech, which is intentionally spliced together with Burnham’s during the assembly, about how our choices define us, and proposes that Zora be asked to join Starfleet. Kovich agrees to this, so Zora is officially going to be a member of the crew, which is a nice, though clearly very idealistic, solution to the issues.

Finally, having seen Trill during the look into Zora’s mind, Grey decides that he wants to go to complete his guardian training. The final scene between Adira and Grey where Adira pushes Grey to do this is very cute. It is another question of choice. Grey wants to go to Trill but does not want to leave Adira. For Adira’s part, they are scared of the effect Grey going will have on their relationship but ultimately they push him to go. Adira puts Grey’s needs above their own and it helps to drive home the theme.

Grey (Ian Alexander), Adira (Blu del Barrio) and Dr. Kovich (David Cronenberg) stand in the ready room
Photo Cr: Michael Gibson/Paramount+ © 2021 CBS Interactive. All Rights Reserved.

Star Trek: Discovery S4E7 is one of the strongest of the season so far because of this thematic consistency. The questions are central to the franchise and the decisions all stay true to the characters. The show continues to soar through its fourth season really establishing its own place in the Star Trek pantheon and using its place to bring up important themes and representation that is the essential mission at the heart of the franchise.

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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