Star Trek: Discovery S4E8 — “All In” Checks Its Bets

Kaz and Burnham at the Poker table

The following contains spoilers for Star Trek: Discovery, S4E8, “All In” (written by Sean Cochran and directed by Christopher J Byrne & Jen McGowan)

Star Trek: Discovery S4E8, “All In” brings us back out of the mid-season hiatus not with a bang but with a whimper. Instead of the expected high-speed chase of the fugitives who pose an immediate danger to everyone, S4E8 is a meandering, repetitive episode of the “Space World Series of Poker.” After the exciting ending of “…But to Connect” the entire episode seems like it is just trying to delay the inevitable conflict between the Federation and species 10-C, the creators of the DMA. Scene after scene plays out as a delaying tactic, refusing to get the characters any closer to the resolution of the plot, or to the point of discovering anything new about themselves.

Where S4E8 struggles the most is with the urgency of the plot. After Tarka (Shawn Doyle) and Book (David Ajala) stole Book’s ship it seemed the natural next episode would be “chase” plot as Starfleet mobilized to go after them. Instead, everyone just sort of shuffles in place.

When President Rillak (Chelah Horsdal) calls Admiral Vance (Oded Fehr) and Captain (Sonequa Martin-Green) out for the way their relationships allowed this to happen, it seemed that things were being set up for a bigger conflict between Burnham and Starfleet. Or at least for something to happen with some urgency. Instead, Vance immediately undermines the President by giving Burnham orders to use her connections to find Book.

There are two issues with this. First, Rillak is definitely right in her assessment, both Vance and Burnham are too close to Book and Tarka to think clearly about what needs to be done. Burnham has shown this consistently with regard to both Book and nearly every other thing she has a hunch about. Vance is torn apart because he is the one who brought Tarka into the inner circle of Starfleet and now he is afraid he will be torn apart from his family. Both of those reactions are reasonable and might be interesting to explore, but instead of exploring them we just get the information and everyone splits up while working together to undermine the reasonable limitations Rillak wants to put on them. The second issue is the bigger one though—the issue is Burnham’s reaction.

Vance stands with his back to the camera giving Burnham her orders

For much of S4E8 Captain Burnham is back to being outwardly defiant and inwardly stoic, which is my least favorite mode for the character. I prefer Martin-Green’s performance at the more heroic and fun-loving ends of the spectrum, but the Discovery creative team loves to have her in situations that require this almost contradictory characterization. This is the Burnham of mutiny and defiance, which is an essential part of the character, but it always seems to overwhelm everything else while she is in this mode. Thankfully, this is balanced later in the episode when Burnham and Book get back together, but it is not particularly fun to watch.

Culber (Wilson Cruz) and Stamets (Anthony Rapp) have a really important scene together where Culber is melting down about having failed Book. As Kovich (David Cronenberg) told him previously, Culber is putting too much responsibility on himself and his anxiety is overwhelming. Cruz is at his most effective as an actor, you can see the pain and terror in his eyes as he looks like he is barely holding together. Then Stamets comes to him and leads him out of the darkness. “It’s terrifying. Let’s be terrified together,” Stamets tells his husband and they head off together to try to decompress on the holodeck. It is a short scene, but also the type of emotional, character-based storytelling that has always been the secretly best part of Star Trek. For much of S4E8, this is forgotten, but this moment is essential. And the beat where the Bot that is in the room immediately returns to cleaning the room after they leave is a great funny moment.

Owo in the ring with her arms in a fighting pose

The other focus of S4E8 is Lieutenant Commander Owosekun (Olin Oladejo). Owosekun has had some moments throughout the series so far, but she really gets to shine with the additional spotlight here. She and Burnham lead a hustle in the Casino that involves her getting trounced in a fighting ring several times before turning around (at 45-1 odds) and destroying her, much larger, opponent. She earns the nickname “Oh-Wow! Owosekun” which is pretty perfect for the character’s cheekier tone, and Oladejo is really great and compelling. I’ve personally been wanting a focus on Owosekun and Detmer (Emily Coutts) together and this would have been even better if those two had been together here, but it was amazing to see Owosekun get to show her stuff.

Everything is resolved when Hoz (Daniel Kash) the owner of the Casino, who feels much more like a character out of Buffy the Vampire Slayer agrees to let Book and Burnham compete for the right to get the Isolinium. They wind up playing a game of “Lionian poker” at which Book is apparently nearly unbeatable. (Book should take on Lando Calrissian and Leia Organa in a game of Sabaac, that would be fun to see.) Burnham and Book wind up working together and doing a whole routine, which showcases their history and chemistry. Burnham throughout these later scenes gets to be funny and outlandish and flirts with Book, all of which are skills much more suited to both the character and Martin-Green’s skills. The poker scenes are just as unnecessary and slow as much of S4E8, but at least here everything is entertaining as Book and Burnham make a great, and compelling, team.

The alien Kaz overlooks his Casino

In the end, Book wins and he and Tarka continue on their way. But Burnham knew he would win and put a tracer on the Isolinium, which Book should have certainly anticipated. This is treated as a revelatory action by Vance and Rillak, but really it isn’t. Zora and Stamets have discovered that 10-C is indeed a spectacularly advanced civilization, and the DMA supplies their energy, which means attacking the DMA will definitely be seen as an act of war. But none of that is very different from what we knew going in. All in all, S4E8, “All In,” leaves us exactly where we were when it started, nothing has really progressed and no one has really made any huge changes, it just confirms some things that had been in the background, and is all the less interesting for it.

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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