Review: Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 Episode 9 “Rubicon”
Hot on the heels of Book and Tarka getting what they need to complete Tarka’s weapon to destroy the Dark Matter Anomaly, Michael Burnham sets out to stop the two men, even when it means going into the DMA itself.
It’s no secret that Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and Cleveland Booker (David Ajala) are on two opposing sides when it comes to dealing with the DMA, so much so that their relationship is on the line. Book, and his kindred spirit and co-conspirator Ruon Tarka (Shawn Doyle), are committed to their plan, though, meaning Starfleet needs to stop the two men before they accidentally set off a disastrous first contact with the makers of the DMA, Unknown Species 10-C.
Admiral Charles Vance (Oded Fehr) and Federation President Laira Rillak (Chelah Horsdal) are smart enough to realize that Burnham is way too close to this situation to operate with a clear head, especially since her chase of Book may very well call for his destruction. So, the admiral brings in an old friend of the Discovery crew, Commander D. Nhan (Rachael Ancheril), who we last saw in season three’s “Die Trying.” Originally an engineer on Captain Pike’s Enterprise, Nhan joined Discovery in their jump to the future, and ultimately opted to leave the crew to be the Barzan representative aboard the seed vault ship USS Tikhov. Now, she is a member of Federation Security, having recently been involved in Emerald Chain clean-up operations, and is brought aboard Discovery to make sure Burnham does what is needed to ensure Book and Tarka’s plan doesn’t work.
To Burnham’s credit, she totally understands that she’s compromised, and welcomes Nhan’s inclusion in this mission. She respects Nhan’s authority and encourages her crew to adhere to her instruction, should the moment arise Burnham is no longer capable, or willing, to make a hard decision regarding Book. Despite Nhan at first trying to cover the real reason why she was on Discovery, in an effort to spare Burnham potential embarrassment in front of the crew, Burnham asserts that they should know the truth. It’s a small moment, but we appreciated Burnham’s humility and emotional responsibility.
Burnham and crew first try the sneaky way of stopping Book and Tarka: boarding Book’s ship and talking them down. Thanks to Discovery’s cloaking device and spore jump capability, the ship sneaks right up on Book as the two men hide in an uninhabited rogue planet while Tarka finishes building his weapon. Saru (Doug Jones) leads the away team, which includes R.A. Bryce (Ronnie Rowe, Jr.), Gen Rhys (Patrick Kwok-Choon), and the ever-emotionally intelligent Doctor Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz) in a shuttle that tries to dock with Book’s ship. However, unknown to Book, Tarka installed an intruder detection system on the ship that starts to destroy Discovery’s shuttle.
With four major cast members in jeopardy, the viewer can reasonably expect that everything is going to work out just fine, but boy is it close. The away team ultimately beams back to Discovery with just milliseconds to spare before the shuttle is ripped apart, leaving Book to spore jump with a completed weapon into the DMA. Discovery follows in short order, and soon the two ships are both in the anomaly looking for the controller that, once destroyed, will end the DMA threat and presumably give Tarka the power source he needs to accomplish his personal endeavor.
With four episodes left in the season, we were surprised that Discovery chose to explore this season’s major threat so quickly – but then again, we should know not to try and predict where this show’s writers take us. In any case, being inside the DMA isn’t at all what we expected. It’s pleasantly colorful and beautiful in its own way, which is in major contrast to the havoc it has been reaping on the galaxy.
Things get more complicated for Burnham, however, as, after the failed attempt at docking with Book’s ship, Nhan reveals another aspect of her assignment to Discovery. Starfleet Command anticipated a scenario where Book doesn’t cooperate with Burnham, and therefore gave Nhan a last-resort plan to destroy Book’s ship. By firing a torpedo into the impulse manifold, a chain reaction that ends at the spore drive would destroy the ship – and any other vessel that is close enough. Burnham naturally doesn’t take too well to this destructive plan, but she ultimately recognizes she needs to find middle ground between not only Book, but Nhan. That middle ground turns out to be the same thing: trying to determine how much longer the DMA will mine its current area of space. In any case, knowing Nhan’s plan exists places even more weight on Burnham’s shoulders as she faces off against her lover.
Once in the anomaly, it’s a game of cat and mouse between Book and Burnham. Each knows the other’s tactics and seeing these two maneuver around the DMA grants viewers some great beauty shots of the vessels and the DMA itself. Discovery finds the controller first, and Burnham, always hanging on to hope that Book can be reasoned with, tries to place Discovery in-between him and the controller so Tarka can’t launch his weapon.
Seeing Discovery initiate several short-range spore drive jumps to keep in front of Book’s ship reminds us of when Discovery destroyed the Klingon Sarcophagus ship in season one’s “Into the Forest I Go.” But the dance isn’t just for show, as it accomplishes Burnham’s aim to prevent Tarka from destroying the controller. Thankfully, Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and Zora (Annabelle Wallis) determine that the DMA will continue to ravage the current area of space for boronite for another week, meaning no lives will be threatened by the anomaly for at least that long. Both ships are at a stand-off, leaving Burnham a chance to reason with Book one last time.
“We can’t go on like this. If we keep digging in on our own sides, we’ll keep battling each other and not the real threat.”Burnham to Book.
As is a prominent theme of this season, Burnham tries to find a middle ground between her and Book… so she literally goes between the two ships; she takes a shuttle and pilots it right up to Book’s viewscreen and talks to him face-to-face. She describes how the DMA isn’t a threat to anybody for another week and begs Book to halt his plan while the Federation uses that time to make a proper first contact effort. If that effort doesn’t pan out, the Federation would then back Book and Tarka’s plan. Book sees the reason in this and stands down, but Tarka does not.
To the surprise of no one, Tarka doesn’t accept that he can’t follow through with his long-gestating plan immediately. He launches his weapon and initiates the destruction of the DMA’s controller, forcing both ships to jump away from the blast, which leaves an empty area of space. But Tarka is in for a nasty revelation after this surprise act: the power source that he was hoping could help him travel to another universe to reunite with his mysterious friend is nowhere to be found. The DMA must be powered on the other side of the wormhole. He took all the risk and reaped none of the rewards. Finding out what he does next is one of our major questions going forward.
Back at Federation headquarters, Burnham and crew get their own surprise. Thanks to scans provided by the USS Mitchell, a ship that had been monitoring the space Discovery just left the destroyed DMA, another DMA has appeared. As Burnham notes, for all intents and purposes the arrival of an identical DMA at the same position as the previous one constitutes a first contact scenario… but we’ll have to wait until next week to see what the Federation does next. So, like the historical idiom for which this episode is named, “Rubicon” is a vital episode in the DMA storyline, as the Federation has now crossed the point of no return by (accidentally) making first contact with Unknown Species 10-C. How this first contact will play out, though, is up in the air.
Rounding out this episode is a movement within Saru’s love life, as he opts to ask Ni’Var’s President T’Rina (Tara Rosling) for help with “settling” his mind, as she did in “All is Possible.” Part of Saru’s discomfort stems from the mission to face Book, but also how to help calm his ward, Su’Kal, and help him deal with the emotional stress of the DMA. Remember, Su’Kal is an adult Kelpien whose mindset is more like a child thanks to his traumatic upbringing post-Burn. So, the question Saru is more or less facing is: how do you explain and give comfort to children in times of great crisis? It’s a question many parents of had to tackle in the last couple of years.
T’Rina also advises Saru with a coping mechanism that, coincidentally, many of us have undoubtedly used to combat COVID-19 stress: take comfort in the peaceful routines of daily life. T’Rina suggests sharing food with friends is a good coping mechanism… and then she literally invites herself over for dinner! Saru awkwardly says he’ll consider that option, and later consults Doctor Culber about the appropriate next steps. Culber, practicing absolute candor in a way that would make a Qowat Milat proud, tells Saru not to be an idiot and just accept the invitation, especially since the commander admits he does have feelings for T’Rina.
Regarding this week’s guest appearance, in our opinion, Nhan was never among the strongest characters on this show. Indeed, most of her character development came in the aforementioned season three episode where she ended up leaving Discovery. As we said in that review, “Discovery pulls a trick out of The Walking Dead‘s old playbook: if a character is spotlighted during an episode, it’s likely because something major is going to happen to that character… it’s clear the writers didn’t have much to do with the character before this episode.” So, it’s a pleasant surprise to hear Nhan explain to Burnham a bit more of her story before the jump to the future, and what she has been doing since then. She does also say that she would love to come back to Discovery at some point, so who knows if we’ll see Nhan again.
Watching out for the return of Nhan is only a background item for us as we look ahead to what awaits us in the episodes to come. We’re eager to see how Unknown Species 10-C manifests its intentions toward the Federation, and how the Federation responds – especially since first contact happened too suddenly. Moreover, Tarka is likely to be inching closer to closer to madness as he struggles now to determine how to get back “home.” We’re also thinking about how Burnham was able to get out of a super-sticky situation thanks to the hard work and good timing of her crew; as the federation president postulated in the season premiere, we are wondering when will her luck run out? And finally, we’re always thinking about how Discovery ends up abandoned save for its lone resident, Zora, as seen in “Calypso.” We haven’t seen much of Zora in the last couple of episodes, so we expect that to change soon.
- Even though Burnham has a history with Nhan, Vance asserts that the Barzan is a great choice to make sure Burnham’s mission is successful because she is Barzan, and their motto is generally “duty above all”… and this all sounds like just a convenient way to rationalize Nhan’s inclusion in this episode.
- T’Rina visits Saru’s quarters via hologram, but she can kneel on the replicated pillows Saru generates and touch his hands?
- The director of this episode, Andi Armaganian, is set to direct an episode of Strange New Worlds.
- While we get the message Discovery‘s writers are trying to convey by having Bryce and Rhys argue about Book’s actions, this quick scene seems so jarring and uncharacteristic from what (relatively little) we know about these two characters. Surely, they know to remain more professional on an away mission than to bicker in front of a senior officer.
- Doesn’t it seem like poor planning for Tarka to design a security system that’s so lethal and fast-acting, but not be able to reprogram it or turn it off at will?
- The fact that Book almost accidentally runs into Discovery while in the DMA is a wild coincidence, considering the relative size of space they are in.
- Burnham mentions running into pirates in Breen space “back in the day.” Breen were featured prominently in Deep Space Nine.
- Stamets laments how it’s taking him and Zora time to crunch “gigaquads” of data. A gigaquad – along with kiloquads, megaquads, and even teraquads – are units of information storage mentioned in Star Trek before. For example, in Voyager‘s “Threshold,” Tom Paris collected about five billion gigaquads of data when he catalogued a particular sector of space. In another episode, Seven of Nine analyzed 30 million teraquads of data in search of a conspiracy theory. This is all to say that one would think 32nd century technology could power through gigaquads of data pretty quickly. Thank you for coming to our Ted Talk.
- Here’s something nitpicky. Book initially launches five quantum torpedoes at Discovery, which brings its shields down to 50 percent. Tarka, just a few minutes later, launches nine or so torpedoes, which brings the other ship’s shields down to 20 percent. That math doesn’t seem to add up.
The fourth season of Star Trek: Discovery stars Sonequa Martin-Green (Captain Michael Burnham), David Ajala (Cleveland “Book” Booker), Doug Jones (Commander Saru), Anthony Rapp (Lt. Commander Paul Stamets), Wilson Cruz (Dr. Hugh Culber), Mary Wiseman (Sylvia Tilly), Blu Del Barrio (Adira), and Ian Alexander (Grey).
Star Trek: Discovery streams on Paramount+ in the U.S. and on Bell Media’s CTV Sci-Fi Channel and streams on Crave in Canada. Internationally, the series is available on Paramount+ and on Pluto TV in select markets.
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February 18, 2022 at 3:56 am
Burnham should be relieved of command, as this mission was a complete, total failure and breach of duty. Execution is probably warranted. Wow, what tripe. 🙂
February 20, 2022 at 7:33 pm
The cast is excellent. What is sorely lacking here is intelligent writing. Rubicon views like a darn soap opera with all the lengthy pauses by Capt. Burnham to consider what effect her decisions will make upon her relationship with Book. In any realistic scenario, Burnham would have been relieved of command forthwith.
Good writing is essential to Discovery’s continued existence, and this writing didn’t even approach minimum standards.
The Executive Producers and show runners need to tell the writing staff to get their collective acts together. Episodes like Rubicon will only insure the demise of Discovery.
February 21, 2022 at 8:23 am
Wreaked havoc, not reaped. Also, agree with K Anthony, not Captain-like behavior from Burnham or Nahn.