This is my guide to Star Trek Discovery episode: An Obol for Charon, spoilers ahoy so turn back now if you haven’t seen episode 4 of Star Trek Discovery’s second season.
The Search for Spock is Interrupted by a Sphere
The episode begins with Pike in the transporter room. We see “number one” beam aboard; she has come over from the space-docked Enterprise with classified information pertaining to Spock. But first, she needs a burger. Pike accompanies her to the canteen and they discuss the information she may have obtained outside of Starfleet protocol. I was excited to see “number one”, originally portrayed by Majel Barrett in TOS. Barrett is a Star Trek legend also playing Lwaxana Troi, Nurse Chapel and the voice of the computer. She was of course also married to Gene Roddenberry and often referred to as the first lady of Star Trek. So Rebecca Romijn is stepping into some big shoes as our new “number one”. Thankfully she is perfectly cast but I do wonder who is going to play Nurse Chapel?
We move to the ready room where the main bridge crew are discussing tactics and it appears that Saru has a cold. This is a fun scene and we get more from Linus and it is revealed that Commander Nhan is still on board. Pike shares his Intel from “number one” with Burnham and they can now track Spock's shuttlecraft. They plot a course to pursue the AWOL science officer, it's not long though until the Discovery is pulled out of warp by a giant sphere; it is one hundred thousand years old and seems to be made up of organic and non-organic matter. It releases a virus that affects the ship's computer and the universal translator. It has also triggered the death cycle that Kelpians enter when they are called for culling on their home world. Saru is dying but he refuses to rest saying, “I'm not dead yet.” He fixes the universal translator and he and Burnham retreat to a science lab to try and arrest the encroaching virus the sphere has put into Discovery’s data banks.
Meanwhile, in engineering, the May blob is in quarantine but is growing at an alarming rate. Due to the ship malfunctions the blob escapes and attaches itself to Tilly. The May blob doses Tilly with a hallucinogenic, and there is a lot of references to being on a bad trip Jett Reno has turned up and has some really fun interplay with Stamets. Their sour banter could have carried a whole show in my book so I hope we get to see more of it throughout this season. Despite their arguments about renewable energy, a nice swipe by the writers at world government’s laughable efforts at tackling climate change, Stamets and Reno make a fine team and band together applying their wily resourcefulness to help Tilly. They decide that they need to communicate directly with the May blob so they construct a makeshift neural communicator. Without access to surgical equipment, Reno (who may have a worrying fetish for using engineering tools in a surgical setting), suggests they drill into her head to fit the communicator. “Trepanation,” queries Stamets. This scene reminded me of the subjectively best Star Trek film ever, “Star Trek IV, The Voyage Home”, and “Bones” muttering about the standards of medical care in the 20th Century when rescuing Chekov from hospital man. “My God, man, drilling holes in his head's not the answer. The artery must be repaired. Now put away your butcher knives and let me save this patient before it's too late!” It would seem that medical science hasn’t progressed as much as McCoy would have supposed.
They perform the makeshift surgery and Stamets prepares Tilly for this with surprising tenderness, getting her to sing her favourite song, which turns out to be Space Oddity by David Bowie. They harmonise together and then he drills into her head, it is a strangely brutal yet sweet moment. Stamets and Tilly’s relationship is blossoming and I always look forward to seeing them on screen together. They speak to the May blob and it reveals that Stamet’s spore jumps have wreaked havoc in the network jeopardising May blob’s world; and her species wants payback. The May blob was a menacing presence throughout; there maybe genuine terror in stall for our heroes. The May blob spreads over Tilly but Stamets and Reno manage to cut her out, only for the blob to dose them all with magic mushrooms, leading to a very trippy scene where Stamets and Reno have weird shaped faces. When they recover from their shroom trip they notice Tilly is gone, she appears to have been completed absorbed by the blob and I assumed sucked into the mycelial network.
Saru and Burnham work out that the Sphere is dying and its last wish is to communicate all it has seen over its long lifespan to the Discovery. They put this to Pike and with some convincing he lowers the shields and the Sphere transfers all its data to their computers and as it implodes it pushes the Disco away, its dying act is to save them. Now the scientists of Starfleet can help tell the Sphere’s story, it can continue on even though it has passed on. That is the theme of this episode, the idea of passing on wisdom through storytelling; Saru bequeaths his journals to Burnham asking her to tell his story and the story of his species once general order one is lifted from his world. Having saved the ship and the Sphere, (a very Spock thing to have done), Saru retreats to his quarters with Burnham. In a very moving scene Saru and Burnham reflect on the fact that they are family to each other, Saru asks Burnham to promise she will reconcile with Spock, as he can now never reconcile with his own sister as he faces death. He then asks Burnham to help end his suffering by cutting his ganglia. She agrees to do this but is heartbroken. Then suddenly his ganglia drop away and he recovers. This proves to Saru that everything he understood about his species and this specific process is a lie, he can now live without fear and perhaps go back to his home world and reveal the truth to everyone. And as good luck would have it, out of the one hundred thousand years of data, Burnham has managed to extract Spock’s co-ordinates so by the episode’s close the Discovery is back on the hunt for red angel’s and Spock.
After the hiccup of last week’s backdoor pilot, Discovery returns with a classic slice of Trek. The crew are on a mission and are waylaid by a mystery they have to solve together. You can also see some of the main themes knitting together. The episode ending with Stamets and Reno looking down the rabbit hole is a clear reference to the regular Alice in Wonderland nods and the mycelial network as metaphor for the underworld that has been hinted at in several episode titles. Is Stamets going to travel into the network/underworld to save Tilly and his husband? And is any of this connected to Spock’s red angel?
The ancient sphere put in my mind the idea of Dyson Spheres so my Trek episode suggestion of the week is TNG season 6-episode “Relics”. It has some uncanny similarities to this week's episode. The Enterprise is grabbed out of warp by a Dyson Sphere. This ancient structure may contain lifeforms of some sort and it causes the Enterprise engineering issues, threatening the ship. The episode ends with Starfleet sending scientists to investigate the mysterious sphere. The episode also ties into TOS as it features Scotty, who Geordi discovers in the transporter relay on board a ship they find crashed on the sphere.
It has to be “Engines of Destiny” a mind-bending time travel epic featuring Scotty, the Nexus and trying to save Jim Kirk. It was the last novel by Gene DeWeese and is fabulous fun. And if you are looking for Dyson sphere related literature “The Ring of Charon” by Roger Macbride Allen may be for you. I got very excited when I fell into my own rabbit hole this week, and became fascinated with Dyson Spheres. I have always held an interest in ancient space artefacts, monoliths, giant sentient machines etc., and in researching for this article I stumbled upon a suggestion that “The Book of the Long Sun” contained a Dyson Sphere. A-ha, “it’s all connected,” I thought triumphantly; Discovering Trek, Lower Decks, Gene Wolfe, my mind to Glenn’s mind. But before I committed anything to print, I sent a quick email to Glenn for sphere clarification and he replied: “It’s not a Dyson Sphere in Long Sun, but a generational spaceship that is inside a hollowed-out asteroid.”So, we are not all as connected to the network as I hoped but it was a fun rabbit hole to fall into and this is a good point to highly recommend the Gene Wolfe podcasts by Glenn and Brandon, and is a reminder that I need to get on and read Long Sun.
What did you think of the episode as a whole? How is the series panning out for you so far? I think this this was a very strong episode; although New Eden is still my fav so far. I was convinced that Saru was going to die. On reflection I wonder whether it was emotionally manipulative on the part of the writers. One thing is for certain they cannot pull this stunt too many times in a show without losing some credibility. What did you think? Perhaps you follow Doug Jones on Twitter and therefore knew there was no chance of him leaving or maybe you bought in to the death scene like me? Pike continues to be awesome and special mention for Anthony Rapp and Doug Jones who absolutely slayed in this episode. There is still no sign of Spock, and I wonder whether the writers are going to pull a Force Awakens and reveal a beloved character only in the last scene? I would love to hear your thoughts in the Claytemple Star Trek forum where the search for Spock continues.
"For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”
John is a writer and clinically diagnosed Trekker. You can get the latest news about his published work and read about his work with Star Trek Magazine at his website at his website The World Outside the Window. Live Long and Prosper.