SPOILER REVIEW: Season 4 of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY sticks the landing

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The fourth season finale of Star Trek: Discovery, “Coming Home,” was released for streaming on Paramount+ on Thursday, March 17th, 2022. Over the course of the final few episodes of the season, the shape of the season’s narrative arc was made clear. With a climax centered on an extremely memorable first contact and the conclusion of multiple plot threads from both this season and the one that preceded it, Disco season four provided a season finale that really tied the season together.

Discovery
United Earth rejoins the Federation in the season finale of Discovery. Photo Cr: Marni Grossman/Paramount+ © 2021 CBS Interactive.

Cold Openings

At one point, in the middle of the season, it seemed like the DMA (Dark Matter Anomaly) might be a little too similar to the Burn, the central driving crisis from Disco’s third season. In both instances, there was a mysterious force or event that had to be investigated, with galactic consequences. 

However, the DMA was wholly distinguished from the Burn in the third act of season four, when the focus shifted away from the Anomaly itself and onto an attempt to make first contact with the 10-C, an enigmatic species of alien which resides beyond the galactic barrier. Once this element of the story became clear, the season began to move in a very different direction.

In order to successfully communicate with the 10-C, who are truly alien to our protagonists, Captain Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) must draw on her expertise as a xenobiologist. This leads to some excellent scifi, particularly through the attempts to communicate with the 10-C, which brings to mind encounters with singular species like the Oankali from the Xenogenesis series by Octavia E. Butler. 

“However we think first contact will go… it won’t,” states Kovich (David Cronenberg) in the cold open of episode ten, “The Galactic Barrier.” First contact with the 10-C truly adheres to this assessment, and over the course of its final few episodes, Disco explores this concept from multiple perspectives, leading to some excellent genre storytelling.

First Contact with the 10-C. Photo Cr: Grossman/Paramount+ © 2021 CBS Interactive.

And speaking of cold openings, when the fourth season is viewed as a whole, the clever foreshadowing in the season premiere’s cold open becomes obvious. In that sequence, we saw Burnham and Cleveland “Book” Booker (David Ajala) attempt to renew contact with the Alshain, who had strained relations with the Federation before the Burn. 

While the meeting does not go well (complicated by a misunderstanding about Queen Grudge), the mission is nevertheless a success (thanks to the generosity displayed by Burnham and Book in spite of their being attacked). In a later episode, we see a member of the Alshain at Federation Headquarters, signifying that they have followed through with their choice to rejoin.

By the time the season has concluded, it’s clear that this cold open was foreshadowing the course of the fourth season, which saw Burnham and Book playing instrumental roles in first contact (and subsequent peaceful co-existence) with the 10-C. When the season is taken as a whole, this narrative loop provides clarity on the story’s central thematic concerns, and provides extremely satisfying bookends for the arc.

“Coming Home”

Discovery
Doyle as Tarka on Discovery. Photo Cr: Grossman/Paramount+ © 2021 CBS Interactive.

Disco’s fourth season finale, “Coming Home,” written by show runner Michelle Paradise and directed by series mainstay Olatunde Osunsanmi drew on concepts explored in individual episodes over the course of the heavily serialized season to deliver a spectacular conclusion – one that retroactively colored many of the character arcs we’d been watching unfold over the course of the season, especially those of Book, the complicated antagonistic character Ruon Tarka (Shawn Doyle), the good-intentioned United Earth General Ndoye (Phumzile Sitole), the much-missed Tilly (Mary Wiseman), and Disco’s stretched-thin Doctor Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz).

Furthermore, casting Stacey Abrams in the role of United Earth President (and allowing the character to perform the key narrative function of restoring Earth’s membership in the Federation) was an uncompromising statement – but not a wholly unprecedented one, as we’ve seen nonfiction heroes like real-life astronaut Mae C. Jemison play roles on Star Trek before. 

Likewise, the conclusive shot, which frames now-Federation-member planet Earth in such a way that Africa is centered (and positioned differently than it most often is on Western maps) made for a powerful conclusive image for the season.

I also appreciated that the conclusion of the episode gave the crew of Disco the opportunity to take some time for themselves. Over the course of the third and fourth seasons, it feels like the characters have been facing non-stop chaos, and while this may be a somewhat relatable feeling at this point in history, it’s nevertheless very cathartic to see our heroes get the chance to spend some downtime with each other. Perhaps we’ll get to see some of their recreation in the fifth season opener, before whatever crisis is up next arrives. 

Discovery Season Four

Plus, it was nice to see the supporting cast members get additional screentime and development this season, with Joann Owosekun (Oyin Oladejo), Keyla Detmer (Emily Coutts), Gen Rhys (Patrick Kwok-Choon), R.A. Bryce (Ronnie Rowe), and Nilsson (Sara Mitich) getting the chance to demonstrate why each of them is integral to the Disco crew – especially in “Species Ten-C,” which included a scene in which they all beamed into the docking bay for an impromptu briefing session that demonstrated how their connection with one another was essential in communicating with the 10-C.

Discovery
“Hot damn! A day off.” Photo Cr: Grossman/Paramount+ © 2021 CBS Interactive.

And while he was a recurring guest star rather than a full series cast member, as I mentioned in my review of the first three episodes of the season, Gray (Ian Alexander) had an outstanding story arc this season. Let’s hope we get to see more of him in next season’s story!


The first four seasons of Star Trek: Discovery are available for streaming now on Paramount+.

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