Review: Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 Episode 13 “Coming Home”
The fourth season finale of Star Trek: Discovery closes the book on not only this season’s arc, but the story that began in season three, and in the process adeptly delivers a message seemingly straight from the heart and mind of Gene Roddenberry himself.
As we were heading into “Coming Home,” we were hoping this finale would be more satisfying than season three’s ending, which made some questionable choices that resulted in an overall weak episode. We’re happy to say “Coming Home” is a better cap to this season than the preceding finale, but there are still some criticisms we want to address.
After a halted first contact effort between the 10-C and Discovery, Captain Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) is racing against time to stop Ruon Tarka (Shawn Doyle) from destroying the DMA’s power source, and with it the entire hyperfield. Stopping him can’t come too soon, as Earth is starting to get impacted by the DMA despite the best efforts of Admiral Charles Vance (Oded Fehr) and Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman), who are aboard Federation Headquarters, which is itself now in orbit around Earth to help with the evacuation efforts. The stakes are clear: stop Tarka now, or Earth will be destroyed.
Onboard Book’s ship, Cleveland Booker (David Ajala) and Jett Reno (Tig Notaro) are witnessing Tarka starting the process needed to destroy the DMA’s power source. Book, however, is not content to stay trapped behind the forcefield while the destruction of the hyperfield takes place, so he devises a plan to free himself. Using Grudge’s collar, he forms a small entryway in the forcefield big enough for a cat to get through, but that’s apparently not a problem for the six-foot-tall man. Book sneaks out of the forcefield and ambushes Tarka, but he can’t stop the gravimetric beam Tarka is emitting from Book’s ship.
Back on Discovery, Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and Adira Tal (Blu del Barrio) devise a way to free the ship of the membrane that has entrapped the ship. By channeling energy built up during the spore jump process and directing it toward the membrane, Discovery breaks free and pursues Book’s ship, but the cost of this plan is high. As predicted, the spore drive is destroyed, leaving Discovery to warp back to Earth once everything is said and done, a trip that would take decades.
This concern is put on the backburner as Discovery catches up to Book’s ship and the bridge crew devises how to stop the DMA power source’s destruction. Ultimately, General Ndoye (Phumzile Sitole), who previously admitted to being the one who helped Tarka and Book escape, helps concoct a risky plan: a person could ram a shuttle into Book’s ship, thus breaking Tarka’s connection with the DMA’s power source. But there’s a catch: the person piloting the shuttle is almost certain to perish in the impact. Who, then, should do it?
After faking viewers out with the possibility of Kayla Detmer (Emily Coutts) being the one to sacrifice herself to sever the connection between Book’s ship and the power source, it’s actually Ndoye who volunteers to do it. This bravery is the perfect redemption for her character, as she now knows communication was indeed working between the away team and the 10-C before she assisted Book and Tarka’s escape. To have her perish helping save the people she put in jeopardy is a nice touch – but it turns out not much actual sacrifice is required on her part.
While we are told the chances of Ndoye getting beamed out of the exploding shuttle as it impacts Book’s ship are extremely low, the general is indeed whisked back aboard Discovery as her shuttle makes contact. Lucky her! We are also told that Book and Tarka won’t survive such an extreme impact, but alas they do. This speaks to a major flaw of this episode: setting up huge stakes just to ignore them. It’s like the show wants us to believe our characters are truly in harm’s way but don’t have the stomach to follow through. This episode does this four times: 1) suggesting Detmer will make the sacrifice, 2) making Ndoye survive the collision, 3) making Book and Tarka survive the collision, and 4) Book actually being beamed to safety by the 10-C. Stop pulling your punches, Discovery!
Anyway, the impact with Discovery’s shuttle disables Book’s ship, and the two men onboard have precious little time to escape. By his point, Tarka has come around to the idea that maybe he did take things a little too far, and more importantly, his friend Oros may not be waiting for him in the perfect alternate universe. It’s a sobering realization for Tarka, who, for the first time, shows real, honest-to-god grief at what he has done. But there is one last chance to help make things right.
Book’s ship only has power for one transporter beam, and Tarka makes Book utilize it to get back to Discovery. It’s not entirely self-sacrifice for Tarka, however, as he considers that the impending explosion that will destroy him and Book’s ship will be enough energy to power his transporter and whisk him away to Kayalise. It’s a long shot but leaves the viewer with the comfort that Tarka, a man haunted by demons and the burden of true friendship, will actually find the peace he has been looking for all these years.
Not all is right onboard Discovery, however, as the transporter signal that is supposedly beaming Book to the bridge suddenly winks out of existence, leaving Burnham with the realization that Book perished along with Tarka and his ship. It’s a gut punch for the captain, who understandably breaks down on the bridge briefly before turning her attention back to the more pressing problem: communicating with the 10-C again to have them stop the DMA. But honestly, who watching this show believes Book is gone at this point?
Luckily for the crew, the 10-C is interested in talking again, and they invite Discovery to one of the planets within the hyperfield. Yes, this is the moment we’ve been waiting forever since we learned about the hyperfield and the DMA’s creators. Burnham, along with most of her crew, beams down to the planet and talks to the 10-C face-to-face, and what a touching conversation it turns out to be.
“Each of us is an individual one. We are also one as a whole. Our appearances and experiences differ, yet we all seek happiness, freedom, security, equality. We want that for our children, just as you do for yours. There is so much that unites us.”
President Rillak to the 10-C.
First, showing the 10-C in all their glory is a great exercise of sci-fi imagination, brought to life through this show’s impressive big-screen technology. With Saru utilizing an improved version of the translation method they created in last week’s episode, Burnham asks the 10-C to stop the DMA to avoid incredible loss of life, which they quickly do. Burnham and Rillak, for their part, impart a delicate message upon the 10-C: the Discovery crew, and everybody else in the Milky Way, are individuals with their own passions, thoughts, feelings, and intelligence, but together they work to better the lives of others. It’s a touching message, delivered to a species that operates mainly as one harmonious entity, the information we learned thanks to President T’Rina’s (Tara Rosling) mind-meld early in the episode.
The 10-C inquire about the ones who broke away from Discovery and tried to harm their home, to which Burnham confesses Book and Tarka’s rebellion and describes how Book’s planet was destroyed by the DMA. This helps the 10-C understand the pain they have caused, and promise to move the DMA away from inhabited worlds. As such, the Discovery’s mission is complete, and the assembled crew are elated and grateful.
But the 10-C have a surprise in store for Burnham; they were able to save one of the men from Book’s ship, and to the surprise of no one, Book magically appears in front of the away team, much to Burnham’s shock and relief. It turns out the 10-C intercepted the transporter beam and saved Book.
Back in the world of the living, Book talks with the 10-C himself and urges them to stop hiding from the outside just because they suffered greatly when their homeworld was destroyed – clearly a situation he can relate to. He not only urges the 10-C to stop the DMA, which they already did thanks to Burnham, but he urges them to turn off the DMA for good; after all, the area of space the DMA leaves behind is dangerous by itself. The 10-C asserts that shutting down the DMA will also shut down their hyperfield, but Book reasons that hiding behind a wall because they fear what’s outside is not the way to live. Taken by itself, this message is pure Discovery; advocating for connecting with others and not hiding behind fear is what this season has been all about. Kudos to David Ajala for conveying this message to the 10-C with such intense emotional resolve.
As a last gesture of connectivity, Book (seemingly accidentally) connects telepathically with all the 10-C gathered at this meeting and expresses to them the raw emotional essence he is trying to convey. It’s a touching moment, beautifully filmed and acted, and it symbolizes the culmination of this season’s major theme: connection is the key toward peace and understanding.
Thus ends Discovery‘s journey to the 10-C and stopping the DMA, and the ship uses the wormhole that was previously connected to the DMA to travel home since the spore drive was broken. Back at Earth, damage done from the DMA is being repaired and a major event is about to happen: United Earth is rejoining the Federation. Coming aboard Federation Headquarters is the United Earth’s president herself, and until a few seconds, before this person steps out of the shuttle, we honestly didn’t pay this always-off-screen, rarely mentioned character any mind. But it turns out Discovery has been keeping a major guest spot secret in this finale.
Playing United Earth’s president is Stacey Abrams, a well-known Democratic politician and voting rights activist who is a self-professed Star Trek fan; case in point: in December 2020 she joined a panel with various Star Trek cast members about the importance of voting. Having such a progressive politician cast in a Star Trek show (as a major in-universe politician, no less) certainly fits this franchise’s ethos, although we must say that seeing such a familiar face was, at first, jarring. But the more one reflects on Abrams’ progressivism, activism, and dedication to equality, the choice to have her play United Earth’s president is a decision we can get on board with.
Closing this episode, and thus the season, is a fairly standard monologue by Burnham about the importance of being connected and kind to one another, but the very last sequence shows a simple but thematically important sight: the Earth, beautiful as ever against the blackness of space. In its final frame, Discovery is reminding us of our interconnectedness, our shared place in this galaxy despite our countless differences. It’s a message Burnham and Book shared with the 10-C, and in turn, it’s a message the show is expressing to its viewers. Moreover, it’s a message that seemingly comes straight from the heart and mind of Gene Roddenberry; in that sense, we think he would have been proud of this season.
“We came to this future to find the Federation in pieces, quadrants and sectors, planets and families, divided, so much uncertainly and disconnection. But the Burn and the DMA have shown us we are all connected. And we can overcome any challenge as long as we do it together.”
Part of Burnham’s season-closing monologue
In this way, Discovery sticks its landing in a way it did not in its last season finale. “Coming Home” also helps this show come full circle since its jump to the future, as the Federation the Discovery first encountered in “People of Earth” was fractured and struggling to survive the post-Burn galaxy; such is definitely not the case at the end of “Coming Home.” But this episode isn’t perfect. We can’t help but think the inclusion of Tilly and Vance’s scenes on the Federation Headquarters was a roadblock for an otherwise well-paced episode. While their perspective on Earth’s damage was useful in visually conveying the stakes, this could have been accomplished in shorter, less verbose scenes that wouldn’t have negatively impacted the episode’s pacing. When Burnham and crew are about to meet the 10-C, we don’t need to hear about Tilly’s mom or Vance’s off-screen family!
Taken together, “Coming Home” is a Star Trek episode through and through, providing a decent cap on a season that took great strides to spotlight how similarities between people can trump differences, and how it’s not healthy to hide behind the pain. It’s an important message that Discovery told adroitly via its sci-fi setting, and in the process introduced viewers to neat new aspects of the Star Trek universe. What more can we ask? Bring on season five!
- What a visually spectacular sequence in the beginning, with the Federation Headquarters warping to Earth and then setting up evacuation operations with other ships.
- Mind-melding through a window actually worked?
- Saru is getting to be quite the romantic. What will his and T’Rina’s relationship look like in the next season?
- Tarka asserts Book’s ship is safe while he completes his plan because the 10-C wouldn’t dare come so close to the plasma streams. Why not? For such an advanced species, surely a little plasma stream wouldn’t stop them from doing anything. This sounds just like a convenient way for Book’s ship to be left alone while the plot continues.
- The USS Mitchell gets a lot of love in this episode (remember, it was the vessel that first detected the second, more powerful DMA), and we’re curious why. Is the Mitchell named after someone? We guessed before that it might be a tribute to Discovery actor Kenneth Mitchell, but no official source has confirmed that. (UPDATE: Writer and co-showrunner Michelle Paradise has confirmed that the Mitchell is indeed named after Kenneth Mitchell.)
- This episode name-drops the USS Nog and USS Yelchin, ships named after deceased Star Trek actors Aron Eisenberg, who played Nog in Deep Space Nine, and Anton Yelchin, who played Chekov in the newer Star Trek movies, respectively.
- We don’t mind how most of the named Discovery crew heads down to meet the 10-C, but… who is in command of the ship while all those people are away?
- This episode seems to lack the vignette effect the other episodes of this season had, which makes us think that effect was added throughout the season to help illustrate the dark nature of the DMA threat and everyone’s emotional state.
- Rillak asserts that Burnham “has come a long way” since their conversation in the season premiere about the Kobayashi Maru. At the time, the president thought Burnham’s luck in accomplishing wildly dangerous missions was going to run out at some point, and it was for that reason Burnham wasn’t ready to captain the Voyager. In this episode, the president says Burnham is now ready, but we must ask: has Burnham’s method of command, her risk-it-all-to-save-a-few style changed during this season? Her luck never ran out, as the president predicted. She wasn’t forced to make a hard choice between saving someone, perhaps someone she loved, over accomplishing the mission.
- Alas, this episode did not relate to the Short Trek “Calypso” in any way, so we’ll have to keep waiting!
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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