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Star Trek: Discovery 506 “Whistlespeak” Review: Decoding the Relationship Between Faith and Technology

Star Trek: Discovery 506 "Whistlespeak" Review: Decoding the Relationship Between Faith and Technology
Image credit: Paramount+

Review: Star Trek: Discovery Season 5 Episode 6 “Whistlespeak”

It’s been a while since a Starfleet crew thoroughly discombobulated a native population, and that’s exactly what the Discovery crew does in this week’s episode.

After hundreds of tests on the vial Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) retrieved from the I.S.S. Enterprise, the crew learns it contains something incredibly… well, boring: clean water. But thanks to some sleuthing, there’s a much greater significance to the water than meets the eye.

You see, Doctor Kovich (David Cronenberg), at home in his white infinity, shares with Burnham a list of all scientists who were involved in hiding the Progenitor tech. With the clues hidden by Jinaal Bix, Carmen Cho, and Dr. Vallek already found, that leaves Hitoroshi Kreel, a Denobulan, and Marina Derex, a Betazoid. Burnham deduces the water vial is the product of Kreel, as the scientist’s specialty was designing weather towers to generate rain. Zora (Annabelle Wallis) helps Burnham, Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp), and Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman) deduce the water in the vial is representative of one planet, Halem, so that’s where Discovery heads next.

Alfredo Narciso as Ohvahz in Star Trek: Discovery, episode 6, season 5, streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Credit: Michael Gibson/Paramount+

First, let’s talk about Kovich, who the writers for this season are trying to seem even more mysterious than before. Kovich in this episode uses a 21st-century legal pad to provide Burnham with the list of scientists, and claims he procured such an oddity by being “resourceful.” Just who is this guy? Hopefully, Kovich’s true nature will be revealed before the end of this show; we sincerely hope this character isn’t just quirky for the sake of being quirky, and that he plays a larger role in Discovery’s overarching story.

Before transporting to the only weather tower still operating on Halem, the crew learns a bit about the native, pre-warp, pre-industrial population. The Prime Directive is in play here, as Kreel disguised the weather tower as a mountain to avoid exposing the natives to outsiders, and now Discovery’s crew needs to follow the same example. The tower functions as a place where Halem’nites go to commune with their gods, so accessing the mountain will be tricky.

“You can learn so much about a society by how the individuals speak to one another.”

– Burnham, on the Halem’nites

The humanoids on Halem communicate both via traditional language, and “whistlespeak,” a form of communication that is inclusive, progressive, surprisingly articulate, and allows longer-range communications than traditional phonetic language. All signs point to the natives being a welcoming society.

After helping rescue and escort a group of Halem’nites from outside the weather tower’s safe perimeter into the habitable zone, Burnham and Tilly quickly incorporate themselves well enough into the motley local community as visitors from afar. The Starfleet pair soon enter themselves into a competition that judges who can gain access to the High Summit – a race to the water tower that serves as a test of devotion to the Halem’nites’ gods. Before the race, the pair also encounter a native, Ravah (June Laporte), daughter of the Summit’s priest, Ohvahz (Alfredo Narciso), and the young native befriends them despite also being a challenger in the race.

L-R Wilson Cruz as Culber and Anthony Rapp as Stamets in Star Trek: Discovery, episode 6, season 5, streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Credit: Michael Gibson/Paramount+

On the morning of the race, Burnham checks in with Discovery, where Ensign Adira Tal (Blu del Barrio) found other now-defunct weather towers across the planet. The other towers stopped working due to energy issues, and that’s what’s happening now with the High Summit, which means the Halem’nites Burnham and Tilly just started to get to know are in grave danger. The only way to stop the High Summit from failing is if the away team can find an auxiliary control panel somewhere near the High Summit and restart it. As if there wasn’t enough burden on Burnham’s shoulders.  

Considering the Halem’nites are constantly fighting thirst because of their planet’s general aridness, the competitors are subject to extreme thirst as they begin the race to the High Summit. As if running up a mountain wasn’t trying enough. Partway through the challenge, Burnham miraculously notices a point on the race trail where she thinks the auxiliary console is located, and drops out of the competition to pursue the lead. Sure enough, she finds and restarts the console, thanks to assistance from Ensign Tal, which strikes one mission objective off their list.

Tilly is heading toward her own disqualification from the race, if not for the support from Ravah. Soon enough, both Tilly and Ravah make it within striking distance of the finish line, and Tilly returns the favor by helping Ravah limp across in a show of good sportsmanship. Good for Tilly, but this just means both are now heading to the High Summit, which as we see shortly is not the enlightenment we were led to believe.

June Laporte as Ravah in Star Trek: Discovery, episode 6, season 5, streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Credit: Michael Gibson/Paramount+

The winners of the race get to be close to gods who are supposed to bring rain to the natives. Burnham and Tilly know the weather station is actually responsible for bringing good weather, but the Halem’nites think something different: a human sacrifice in the heart of the High Summit is what does the trick. This twist is reminiscent of a similar sacrificial heart-dropping reveal in Strange New Worlds’ Lift Us Where Suffering Cannot Reach,” and suddenly the stakes are much higher for Burnham, who has to rescue Tilly and Ravah from a needless death – even if it violates the Prime Directive.

“Are there no gods? Are there… what is there?”

“There is still what you believe. Nothing we have shown you means gods don’t exist.”

– Ohvahz and Burnham

While they await their sacrifice, Tilly and Ravah bond over their struggle, and Ravah describes some peculiar numerical markings on the wall of the chamber, which both represent the five serenity prayers within Halem culture and the five weather towers across the planet. Tilly recognizes the fifth symbol as the same as being on the vial back on Discovery, but the revelation may not matter, as suffocation threatens to take Tilly and Ravah both.

Despite the enormous consequences of revealing the existence of people not from Halem, never mind the reveal of the High Summit not just being a tool of the gods, Burnham flips off the Prime Directive and reveals herself to Ohvahz so she can rescue the innocent people trapped inside the High Summit. She convinces Ohvahz that her extraterrestrial story is legit, and that the High Summit is actually a piece of technology – no small discovery for the native.

Should Burnham have blatantly violated the Prime Directive in this way? Of course not, but let’s be honest: the Prime Directive really is more of a guideline than a rule for the protagonists in Star Trek shows. We hope Burnham faces some discipline for this flagrant violation of Starfleet’s most sacred rule. In any case, Burnham breaking the Prime Directive ultimately means the Halem’nites need to start to embrace a major societal change. The ritual race to the High Summit won’t have as much meaning anymore now that they know the rain will come no matter what, but as Burnham suggests, perhaps there are plenty of Helem’nites who are ready for a change. As Ohvahz notes to his daughter, “Perhaps devotion means being able to hear when the gods tell us something new.” This is as great a lesson as any Star Trek episode can offer.

Mary Wiseman as Tilly in Star Trek: Discovery, episode 6, season 5, streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Credit: Michael Gibson/Paramount+

With the weather tower repaired and two peoples’ lives saved from a needless sacrificial death, the Discovery crew retrieves the next clue from one of the planet’s other water towers.  Near the end of the episode, Burnham and Tilly ponder the meaning of finding the clue in a water tower, and they reason that technology can be powerfully dangerous in the wrong hands, and they need to be careful when they find the Progenitor’s tech. And just on schedule, the crew learns of Moll and L’ak’s most recent whereabouts, but that’ll have to wait until next week.

Elsewhere in this episode, Doctor Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz) is still struggling with explaining and processing the spiritual awakening he has had following his experiences in “Jinaal.” His partner, Paul Stamets, doesn’t seem to quite get what Culber is going through, and not even “grief alleviation therapy” – where a holographic version of Culber’s wise grandmother can have conversations with the doctor – can help.

The person who does offer some welcome perspective and emotional support is Cleveland Booker (David Ajala). Book asserts that Culber’s spiritual awakening, and accompanying emotional turbulence, is just as important as anybody else’s journey – and that’s all we’ll get from Culber’s multi-episode arc for now. After a few episodes of marginal development, hopefully, something happens with this subplot soon, or else we’re going to start to lose interest. But while Culber’s arc may seem tangential at times, his search for meaning resonates with the overarching themes of identity and purpose woven throughout the series.

So, as the Discovery crew continues their quest for the Progenitors’ technology, they are reminded of the potential dangers that come with wielding such power. It is a sobering realization that underscores the responsibility they bear as guardians of advanced technology in a universe fraught with conflict and peril.

With each episode, this season invites viewers to contemplate the complexities of morality, identity, and the ever-evolving nature of progress. As the crew inches their way toward the ultimate treasure, “Whistlespeak” remains true to one overarching theme of this show: the true measure of humanity lies not in adherence to rules, but in our capacity for compassion and understanding in the face of uncertainty and adversity. That seems to be what this show is all about, yeah?

Stray Thoughts:

  • Why didn’t it occur to Culber, a doctor, sooner that he should run a series of tests on his body, as his grandmother suggests, to determine if there’s something medically wrong with him.

  • Tilly drops a couple hints about what is going on at Starfleet Academy nowadays, and it’s not a rosy picture. The Academy isn’t giving the cadets “what they need,” so perhaps these conflicts will be at play in the upcoming Starfleet Academy show?

  • Why do video games in the 32nd century look no better than Space Invaders?

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).

Stay tuned to for all the latest news on Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Prodigy, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Star Trek: Lower Decks, and more.

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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.

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