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Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 Premiere Review – ‘Kobayashi Maru’

Some mild spoilers follow for Star Trek: Discovery Season 4, Episode 1. We’ve avoided revealing any major plot points here, but watch the episode first if you don’t want to know anything about it before reading this review!

Michael Burnham has finally taken the center seat as captain of the USS Discovery in Season 4 of Paramount Plus’s flagship series. The Sonequa Martin-Green character’s ascension to captain was teased at the end of last season, and indeed as far back as the opening moments of the series premiere in 2017. But even though Burnham is now running the Disco, she’s still finding herself chafing against authority as the new season kicks off — even as the Federation is confronted by a mysterious new threat.

Indeed, to illustrate the core conflict at the heart of Burnham as captain, the show’s writers have invoked the classic Kobayashi Maru test that Starfleet Academy cadets take. You know the one — it forces them to confront a “no-win” scenario. Captain Kirk famously beat the test through some distinctly Kirkian methods, but like that famed leader, Burnham has trouble dealing with the concept of the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few. This, it seems, will be a theme for the character this season. How many times can she risk it all in the hopes of pulling out a win from death’s door?

Things kick off in “Kobayashi Maru” with a sort of First Contact mission for Burnham and David Ajala’s Book, as the pair attempt to deliver a shipment of dilithium to a planet of butterfly people. Yes, butterfly people — but it actually works way better than it sounds. (These guys amass glowing butterflies around them to form wings and fly.) The mission is all part of the Federation’s attempt to rebuild itself in the aftermath of the previous season’s events, where we learned that “The Burn” had effectively ended interstellar travel, and as a result, the United Federation of Planets. Now, the Federation is rebuilding, and it’s attempting to recruit former member planets back into the fold.

Of course, Burnham and Book’s mission doesn’t go so great at first, and the result is a scene that reminds us once again that the scope and design of Star Trek: Discovery remains truly expansive. The days of fake-looking cave sets on Star Trek are long gone, with alien landscapes like this one now the norm, allowing the characters here to run through weird forests, jump off cliffs amid huge, floating chunks of granite, and just generally visit strange new worlds. There, I said it.

It’s also nice to see the Discovery on a more traditional Star Trek-style mission for a change, and the chemistry between Martin-Green and Ajala has been a highlight of the show since the latter actor joined the cast last year.

Doug Jones’ Saru also gets a lot to chew on in this episode. It starts with him making an almost Spockian entrance a la Star Trek: The Motion Picture, as he is now living back on his homeworld and struggling with whether or not to return to his friends in space. Here, the question of what is truly home is raised — is it your town, your country, your planet, your galaxy, or something else? — and it applies not just to Saru’s situation, but to the bigger question of if the Federation can survive in the far less utopian 32nd century. And hey, this is Star Trek, so it’s a question that also applies to us in the 21st century.

There’s also a lot here for long-time fans of Trek, from the new uniforms of the Discovery crew — which kindaaaa feel like they’re gonna take some getting used to — to new and interesting variations on classic aliens (one character is human/Bajoran/Cardassian) and even some iconic Trek name-dropping.

The bigger mystery of the season, which has been heavily promoted in trailers and interviews already, begins to emerge in this episode as the crew are called upon to save an out-of-control space station that is being affected by a spatial anomaly — but which also poses a grave danger to the bigger galaxy. Mary Wiseman’s Tilly and Blu del Barrio’s Adira are rewarded with a few nice moments as a result of this plot, but the main conflict of the hour is between Captain Burnham and the new Federation president, Rillak. It looks like the prez will be a recurring character this season, and the uneasy relationship between the two that’s established here should fuel some fun confrontations in the weeks to come.

Questions and Notes from the Q Continuum:

  • Line of the week: “I feed her, love her, give her cat treats.”
  • I alluded to it above, but man, those new uniforms seem so stiff… I really miss the old Disco-style blue suits.
  • Was that a Tribble tribbling its way down the corridor? Are Tribbles… members of the Federation now?!
  • The dominant species of Kaminar are now allies in the 32nd century, and we see them working together here — Saru’s Kelpiens and the Ba’ul, a.k.a. the scary guys who used to hunt the Kelpiens. They have a cool underwater base too.
  • Spacedock Archer! And we even got a few bars of the Star Trek: Enterprise theme when it was introduced.
  • And just a heads up: I won’t be reviewing Disco weekly this season, but I may check in here and there when and if something momentous happens.

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