The following contains spoilers for Star Trek: Discovery S4E11, “Rosetta” (written by Terri Hughes Burton and directed by Jen McGowan)
Star Trek: Discovery S4E11, “Rosetta” continues to follow our crew on their diplomatic mission to make first contact with species 10-C before the DMA can destroy the old core of the Federation. It is certainly clear by now that the plan is for the season to end with the final confrontation with the 10-C. I could even see the results concealed as a cliffhanger to lead us into Season 5. Then Season 5 could be dedicated to the exploration of the new galaxy.
And, unlike many of my contemporaries, I have no real problem with that. Star Trek: Discovery has been many things in its still relatively short run so far, and the creative team has not been afraid to reset the status quo liberally. Season 4 has been a shift away from the more action-heavy darkness with so many ruminations on diplomacy and philosophy that it would not have felt out of place for Picard or Janeway to show up—and for Sisko to blow up the meeting.
It is true though that the middle stretch of the season, especially since the show returned from hiatus, has not progressed the plot very far. And what progress has been made has been consistently set back by Book (David Ajala) and Tarka (Shawn Doyle) and their very misguided mission to blow things up. Their misadventures continue in Star Trek: Discovery S4E11 and, while I think Book, in particular, is likely to make a heroic choice to redeem himself, Tarka’s every action continues to call into question his genius status.
Book and Tarka infiltrate Discovery in order to place a device on the ship that will allow them to attach Book’s ship without being detected. “Like a parasite,” Book says, and he could not be more right. No matter their justification, these two are leeching off of the superior skills of everyone on Discovery, and really doing nothing to justify their unwillingness to step aside. Tarka’s grand plan has already failed. He is now a broken man grasping at straws and making increasingly reckless and reprehensible choices.
The most consequential of which in Star Trek: Discovery S4E11 is kidnapping Jett Reno (Tig Notaro) and bringing her back onto Book’s ship. Reno is probably my favorite character on Discovery and she has been missing—though frequently referenced—for most of the season, so I was overjoyed to have her back. Notaro also got to play both sides of the character, giving an adorable Adira (Blu Del Barrio) romantic advice about their crush on Lt. Commander Detmer (Emily Coutts) and also spouting off more hilarious one-liners than we have heard all season. (It’s almost like Notaro is also a hilarious comedian or something.)
But when Reno discovers Tarka hiding after he has implanted his device on the ship, he captures her which means that it should probably take all of five minutes for Discovery to discover that one of their senior staff members and most brilliant engineers is missing. They have not done so by the time Star Trek: Discovery S4E11 ends, but when Book discovers Reno on his ship in the last scene, it is obvious that he knows the gig is up. The rational move at this point would be for Book to give up, take Tarka prisoner, and return to Discovery begging for Captain Burnham’s (Sonequa Martin-Green) forgiveness. But we all know he won’t because he has been hatching his own spectacularly misguided plan with General Ndoye (Phumzile Sitole).
Ndoye has basically been on the same side as Book and Tarka since they introduced the idea of destroying the DMA back in “…But to Connect”. Even as Burnham and President Rillak (Chelah Horsdal) have proven time and again that they know what they are doing, and even as the destruction of the DMA was shown to be a terrible and counterproductive act, she seems intent on aggression at every turn. This attitude is probably true to the character as she was introduced, but it also makes her seem nearly incapable of growing and learning as circumstances change. This undermining and ridiculous use of General Ndoye comes to a head though when Book asks her to spy on Burnham for him and provide him with information as he and Tarka try to destroy the DMA… again. There was a time that it would have made sense for these characters to work together, but this is not it.
Ndoye is open to Book’s terrible plan because she feels that Burnham’s attempts to learn things about the 10-C, like how they communicate at all and what sort of beings they might be, are just wasting time. The opposition just doesn’t hold. We have seen Burnham do plenty of irrational and dangerous things on the show, but this simply isn’t one of them. If they come rushing headfirst at the 10-C with no idea how to communicate at all, there is no way they can succeed. And every likelihood they will be instantly destroyed by the far superior technology of the species. Ndoye, Book, and Tarka don’t seem irrational because they oppose Burnham, the issue is that they have never been given a significant enough reason to oppose her. (Except Tarka, who admittedly does not care if everyone in our universe dies if he can be with Oros.)
Burnham for her part is dedicated to the idea of trying everything to learn how to communicate with the 10-C. She decides to take Mr. Saru (Doug Jones), Detmer, and Dr. Culber (Wilson Cruz) on an away mission to the closest—though now dead—planet to where the 10-C are located. Rillak, reasonably, wonders if taking both of the Captains on the ship on a dangerous mission is a good idea, but Burnham is able to convince her Saru is needed for the mission. It turns out he really wasn’t (he was needed for dramatic character reasons only). This is the type of decision it makes sense to question Burnham about. She feels she knows better than everyone and does not always think about all the ramifications of her choices. It would make better dramatic tension if this were what Ndoye was reacting to.
As it is though, the away mission is filled with four of my favorite characters, and Star Trek: Discovery S4E11 actually spends a great deal of time and effort focusing on their mental states. Mr. Saru, in addition to his budding romance with Nivari President T’Rina (Tara Rosling), has been the calm and soothing voice of reason for several seasons now, but exposure to a substance on the planet sends him back into the fearful, dangerously overwhelmed, character he was in Season 1. Jones plays this side of the character beautifully, especially as it becomes clear that it is not so much the feelings themselves that upset him as it is that he felt he had moved beyond those feelings. Jones is one of the best actors working at showing all of the pain and emotion of his characters through all the layers of prosthetics, and he does great work here.
Dr. Culber has been falling apart all season, with the pressure of the work and his return from death causing him to forget what it means to be alive. The substance that affects Saru so negatively eventually infects Culber and Burnham as well and Culber is barely able to hold together. Detmer is able to save the day and figures out that the substance is something unknown in our galaxy, so their suits didn’t know to filter it out. Once they figure this out, they encounter a different substance that they figure out is in a nursery for growing young 10-C. This substance creates feelings of love and allows the team to understand the substances are how the 10-C communicates. Culber lingers and has a heart-to-heart with Burnham about how he has forgotten how to feel love and peace. His story slowly moves forward, hopefully toward healing.
But the real focus of this part of Star Trek: Discovery S4E11 is on Lieutenant Commander Keyla Detmer. Emily Coutts has quietly been giving one of the best performances on the show since her glorified cameos in Season 1. Here she gets to show off her piloting skills, once again. But more than that, she can relate her amazing grace under pressure, her stoic resolve, and her ability to stay calm in the face of danger. But then she touches the substance in the nursery and we get to see Coutts show us Detmer’s deep and quiet pain.
Detmer says she has never felt this sort of love, the kind that a parent should show their children, and it is emotionally wrenching. It is this feeling that breaks her facade. But Saru guides her, reminding her (and all of us) that found family, the family we choose, is still family. Detmer can get this feeling, she just has to be open to it from her Discovery family. Like Adira, who we see join Detmer for a cute and awkward lunch back on the ship.
As we fade out on Star Trek: Discovery S4E11, Burnham has not yet developed her Species 10-C communication strategy. But, as Stamets (Anthony Rapp) joyously says, “At least we now have hope.” And, heading into the endgame, that hope is all we need.
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If the Short Trek “Calypso” is any indication, the Discovery crew will be leaving the ship behind while they go on a three-hour tour exploring outside the galaxy.