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Star Trek: Discovery 504 “Face the Strange” Review: Embarking on a Temporal Odyssey

Star Trek: Discovery “Face the Strange” Review: Embarking on a Temporal Odyssey
Image credit: Paramount+

Star Trek: Discovery Season 5 Episode 4 “Face the Strange”

Star Trek: Discovery takes a break from the hunt for the Progenitors’ tech to deliver audiences a competent, entertaining time travel episode that serves as a neat retrospective on this show and its characters.

The device Moll (Eve Harlow) left on Adira (Blu del Barrio) on Trill, which we assumed was a tracker of some sort, was actually far more lethal and debilitating. The spider-like device is a temporal weapon – a tool from the Temporal War that took place before Discovery’s jump to the future – capable of freezing a ship in time. It’s the perfect instrument to let the criminal pair get the upper hand on Discovery. Luckily for Captain Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and Commander Rayner (Callum Keith Rennie), they are spared the time-freezing effects of the time bug because they both were transporting around the ship at the exact time the bug activated itself.

Sonequa Martin-Green as Burnham and Callum Keith Rennie as Rayner
Sonequa Martin-Green as Burnham and Callum Keith Rennie as Rayner

“I think they are too familiar, too comfortable with each other, and frankly, with you.”

“That familiarity helped us save the Federation, the galaxy, and you.”

– Rayner and Burnham, about Discovery’s crew.

The command duo were in the middle of a heated discussion about how the commander should interact with Burnham’s crew, a lesson he started to wise up to in the last episode. After calling out a member of the bridge crew for what he thought was an unnecessary and ill-prepared comment about the chase for Moll and L’ak (Elias Toufexis), Rayner is taken to task by Burnham, who insists Rayner adopt a more personal, diplomatic tone with her crew. His half-hearted attempt to connect with his subordinates in the last episode just doesn’t cut it with Burnham, but before the pair can finish their conversation, all temporal hell breaks loose.

Anthony Rapp as Stamets
Anthony Rapp as Stamets

Burnham and Rayner find themselves traveling across the timeline, always landing in Burnham’s ready room but in a different year, and never for very long before the next jump. Burnham quickly realizes Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) should be able to help rectify the time issue, as he exists outside of time thanks to his tardigrade DNA. Ultimately, we see Burnham, Rayner, and Stamets visit events from Discovery’s past and future, such as:

  • The climactic battle with Control in the season two finale.

  • The Discovery as it was under the command of Gabrial Lorca in season one.

  • The Discovery as it was jumping to the 32nd century following the Red Angel.

  • The ship as it was being constructed in drydock in San Francisco, a previously unseen part of the vessel’s history.

  • Osyraa’s attack on Discovery, as seen in “There is a Tide…

  • A future where Moll’s time bug was successful in stopping Discovery’s search for the Progenitors’ tech. The Federation was destroyed in this time, and the Discovery’s crew was killed, which gives Burnham and Rayner a look at what the stakes are should they fail in restoring Discovery to the present. Zora (Annabelle Wallis), lonely on Discovery, helps her former captain predict the pattern of time jumps.

  • Using the time bug as reasoning to jump across the timeline in this way is a neat excuse to revisit major moments from the show’s past.

“You have to be the only person in Starfleet to captain a ship that you first boarded as a prisoner. How’d you do it?”

“Never give up.”

– Rayner and Burnham.

Thirty-second-century Burnham encounters her first-season self on the Lorca-era Discovery, which offers the audience a neat illustration of how her character has changed across the five seasons. The younger Burnham is more hardened, aggressive, and a bit darker than the captain she would blossom to be, a transformation that isn’t lost on current-day Burnham.

Likewise, Stamets remembers how cranky and irritable he was back in season one – before the tardigrade DNA drastically improved his mien – and uses that to his advantage to help keep his mission to save the ship clear of any unwitting witnesses. He also reflects on this gradual shift toward a more collaborative approach with his crewmembers as the years went on, instead of trying to tackle all problems himself.

The solution to our heroes’ time-jumping escapades is to get Discovery to full warp, and then shut down the warp bubble – a plan concocted with no small amount of Star Trekian technobabble. But that’s much easier said than done, as it would require the crew of season one-era Discovery to trust current-day Burnham’s plan; remember, the ship’s crew still knows Burnham as an untrustworthy mutineer. However, Burnham, ever the persuasive one, presents herself to the crew outright as a future version of the Burnham they know and uses her knowledge of these people to persuade them she is legit.

One of the people she has to convince to get on board with her plan is the human cyborg Airiam, the ill-fated science officer who heroically met her end in 2019’s “Project Daedalus.” Airiam is played here by Hannah Cheesman, who is reprising her role from Discovery’s earlier seasons. It’s a wonderful surprise seeing Airiam back on screen, and a reminder of how her death impacted Discovery’s crew, especially Burnham. Burnham must convince the lieutenant commander, who sits in the center chair while Lorca and Saru are away on a mission, to follow her plan. She does so by sharing the intimate details of the cyborg’s future death and asserts she died for the crew – a rationale Airiam believes.

With Discovery’s bridge crew on board with Burnham’s warp bubble idea, it’s up to Rayner and Stamets in engineering to trigger the plan. But young Burnham and young Gen Rhys (Patrick Kwok-Choon) confront the pair, leaving the plan in a precarious place.

Eve Harlow as Moll and Elias Toufexis as L’ak in Star Trek: Discovery, episode 4, season 5, streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Credit: Paramount+

Rayner takes a page from his captain’s book and tries to connect with the younger, angrier Burnham, and uses intimate knowledge of Burnham’s backstory and motivations to dissuade the younger Burnham from stopping them. For good measure, Rayner also appeals to what he knows about Rhys – that the man’s favorite starship is the 23rd-century Constitution-class, a sentiment with which Rayner agrees. Really, who doesn’t like the Constitution’s ample curves?

With all obstacles cleared, the warp bubble plan is successful, and “Fear the Strange” smacks the ole’ reset button as Rayner and Burnham find themselves in Burnham’s ready room once again, safe and sound in the 32nd century with no changes to the timeline. With a mere six hours lost due to the ship’s entrapment in the time field, the crew can continue their hunt for Moll and L’ak, who are nearby as they also search for the next clue in the Progenitor puzzle.

This episode was smart, and we appreciated the retrospective on Discovery’s history – a welcome topic considering this is the last season of the show. Seeing the two Burnhams interact was a tour de force for Martin-Green, who has gradually and organically shifted away from her character’s markedly different season-one-era personality to the aspirational, emotionally intelligent, jack-of-all-trades captain we know and love. The message at the heart of Burnham’s experiences in the time bubble is striking: change, while hard, can be a driving force for good. Burnham turned herself into the change she wanted to see in the galaxy, and we have a renewed appreciation for her character arc after examining it in “Face the Strange.”

Revisiting season one-era Discovery was a nostalgic affair, and makes us want to go back and rewatch that long-ago adventure, an exciting time when Star Trek just came back to the small screen and the franchise was brimming with possibilities – possibilities that have since manifested in the current smorgasbord of television shows. Although we will ding one facet of Burnham’s journey to the past: it sure would have been killer if Jason Isaacs was able to reprise his role as the memorable villain Mirror Lorca. What a missed opportunity to bring back, however briefly, a key part of Discovery’s initial success!

As it stands, “Face the Strange” is a much more entertaining entry in this season than its predecessor, and thanks to its retrospective nature, occasional hits of humor, solid sci-fi concept, and heartful message, make it one of the most memorable entries of this show in recent years. Kudos to writer Sean Cochran. We didn’t mind the break from the season’s overarching plot, nor did we mind the confined nature of this bottle show, as the result was a competent time-travel story that deserves a place near the top of the franchise’s best time travel-focused episodes.

Burnham v. Burnham
Burnham v. Burnham

Stray Thoughts:

  • Writer Sean Cochran has five Star Trek credits to his name, including the memorable Short Trek Calypso,” which “Face the Strange” ever so gently alludes to when Burnham and Rayner visit the crippled Discovery.

  • It’s quite the bit of fortune that Stamets saw the time bug in engineering at all, let alone enter the panel behind which the bug would wreak temporal havoc.

  • A 32nd-century Breen ship makes an appearance in this episode, barely visible outside Discovery during Burnham and Rayner’s visit to the future. This is just one of a few references to the Breen in this season, which makes us think they will play a larger role at some point.

  • Why does Burnham suggest to Stamets and Rayner that they meet on deck 13 after each reset? Is there something special about that deck that ensures the trio has privacy?

  • This episode suggests Burnham still harbors strong feelings for Cleveland Booker (David Ajala), after having to pretend to be with him in one of her time jumps. Let’s see how awkward Burnham is around Book the next time she sees him.

  • This episode shows how Moll and L’ak obtained the time bug device. They murdered a trader who used to sell poison to the Emerald Chain, which the organization then used on “people like” Moll.  They grabbed the bug from the trader and reasserted to themselves how they would soon be free from being chased.

  • Why didn’t Airiam tell Burnham and Rhys to stand down from holding up Rayner and Stamets? We know Rayner needed an opportunity to connect with people but come on.

New episodes of Star Trek: Discovery stream Thursdays on Paramount+, this season stars Sonequa Martin-Green (Captain Michael Burnham), Doug Jones (Saru), Anthony Rapp (Paul Stamets), Mary Wiseman (Sylvia Tilly), Wilson Cruz (Dr. Hugh Culber), David Ajala (Cleveland “Book” Booker), Blu del Barrio (Adira) and Callum Keith Rennie (Rayner). Season five also features recurring guest stars Elias Toufexis (L’ak) and Eve Harlow (Moll).


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Written By

Kyle Hadyniak has been a lifelong Star Trek fan, and isn't ashamed to admit that Star Trek V: The Final Frontier and Star Trek: Nemesis are his favorite Star Trek movies. You can follow Kyle on Twitter @khady93.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Matt Butts

    April 18, 2024 at 8:56 pm

    It was a great episode, but the idea of breaking the warp bubble to solve a temporal problem was already done on The Orville, in the episode “Twice in a Lifetime.”

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