[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for the Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 premiere “Kobayashi Maru.”]
Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) may now be captain of the U.S.S. Discovery — she took command at the end of the Season 3 finale, but we only saw her in the chair long enough to say “let’s fly” — but that’s not going to stop her from being the one to volunteer to head straight into danger. But even she might have to stop and think before acting after witnessing a shocking event at the end of the Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 premiere.
Meanwhile, Saru (Doug Jones) remains home on Kaminar, where, as the Great Elder, he joins the debate about the Federation’s gift of dilithium and how to use it. They’ve lived in fear in the past, but it’s a new era. Su’Kal (Bill Irwin) can tell Saru misses his Discovery family and tells him he no longer needs to stay for him. He’s been the father Su’Kal never knew, but now he has other friends and family. Saru can leave. And Discovery is certainly going to need him considering what’s going on.
The Good Times Couldn’t Last
“Kobayashi Maru” picks up pretty much right in the middle of the action, with Burnham and Cleveland “Book” Booker (David Ajala) running into a bit of trouble during a dilithium drop-off. Due to their strained relationship with the Federation before the Burn, the aliens don’t believe anything’s changed … especially with the misunderstanding over Grudge. No, they’re not holding a queen captive. But it’s too late: “Free the queen!” Burnham blames Book for not having a hologram goldfish for a pet, but he explains he did have one, only “Grudge ate it.” Still, Burnham manages to smooth things over, safely returning to the ship and delivering the dilithium (including some to fix the aliens’ satellite).
With that mission complete, Book heads home to Kwejian to visit his family and for the ceremony as his nephew becomes a man. But while there, he notices something’s off about the birds flying. While he’s in his ship checking it out, the birds start falling against his ship, and a proximity alert sounds before his ship is attacked.
Starfleet Academy is opening after 125 years, and Burnham has been tasked with introducing the Federation’s president, Rillak (Chelah Horsdal). “In this moment, I feel like anything is possible. You are tomorrow’s ensigns, lieutenants, commanders, and captains. In this new world, all of you will go where no one has gone before,” she says.
President Rillak acknowledges that Discovery is why any of this possible and they can distribute dilithium to distant worlds and have reestablished peaceful relations with planets that have been antagonistic in the past. They’re embracing Starfleet’s original mission of scientific exploration once again and have a new space dock.
Also new: Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman) is now a lieutenant! But she and Burnham don’t get too much time together as they reflect on the past because the captain is pulled away to be debriefed on Discovery‘s next mission: Commander Nalas (Rodrigo Fernandez-Stoll) sending a SOS after his station was affected by some sort of gravitational distortion. Kwejian is the nearest system. To Burnham’s surprise, President Rillak insists on joining the mission. The captain worries she’s trying to prove herself and wants to be able to tick off that box that says she’s seen action. Unfortunately, she can’t tell her no.
The Hard Choices
Upon Discovery arrives at the station’s location, Nalas informs them that life support is down everywhere except in the main control room. To help with repairs, Burnham sends Tilly, and off the lieutenant’s suggestion, Adira (Blu del Barrio). They grew up using that tech, Tilly says. It’s Adira’s first away mission, but they’re ready, they assure Burnham (and Ian Alexander’s Gray, who’s looking forward to soon having a body).
Soon after Tilly and Adira arrive on Nalas’ ship and begin helping, they’re hit by chunks of frozen methane. Burnham has Discovery‘s shields extended over the station, but it soon becomes a rescue, rather than repair, mission. The only problem? They can’t beam Tilly, Adira, Nalas, and his crew over. Adira can reprogram the escape vessel to make a return trip (since it’s meant for one-way), but the door is jammed on the outside; debris is blocking it. Burnham insists on being the one to take a worker bee to remove it — she has the most experience — even as Rillak questions the captain leaving the ship during a red alert.
Burnham runs into a bit of trouble when frozen methane hits the bee and she must eject, then Nalas pulls his phaser on Tilly because he wants to essentially go on a suicide mission to find another way off the station. Rillak talks him down, bringing up his beautiful home world, but after, as Burnham finishes the job, she wonders if she was just reading his file or had she really been there. “Does it matter?” the president asks.
When Burnham returns to Discovery and Nalas’ crew has arrived on the escape vessel’s first trip, they’re running out of time. But even though Rillak may be willing to sacrifice Tilly, Adira, and Nalas, waiting for the vessel on the station to definitively save those on Discovery, Burnham isn’t, and so with the president not pulling her from the chair, they wait.
Discovery loses its shields moments before the escape vessel arrives, and as soon as it’s clear, Burnham orders a jump. But just before they do, they’re hit, and when they land, the shuttle bay is destroyed. Dr. Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz) is among the medical and emergency personnel on scene, and he immediately begins looking for Adira and Tilly. Both are relatively fine, but Nalas, sadly, didn’t make it.
Burnham vs. Rillak
After, Rillak finds Burnham and speaks of the Kobayashi Maru. It’s rigged, Burnham says. They don’t tell you that so when you fail, you immediately think about wanting to retake it, to beat it, even though you never will. But for the president, it’s a lesson in accepting that as captain, you night have to mitigate. “I can’t mitigate life and death,” Burnham says. “I need to bring everyone home.”
“Leadership is about balance, knowing what weight is yours to carry and what isn’t. You just don’t see that yet,” Rillak tells her. She came on this mission to evaluate Burnham to take the captain’s chair on Voyager as they test new tech, including a next-gen spore drive. Now, she’s seen that she’s not ready, meaning, “the willingness to accept all potential outcomes of a command decision and an ability to make the hard call, regardless. It’s a matter of experience, really.”
But for Burnham, “Discovery is my home, so I wouldn’t have accepted even if you’d offered. That said, I don’t think I’m out of line in pointing out my experiences have prepared me for any kind of captain’s seat.” Rillak disagrees, simply because she was prepared to sacrifice the many to save the few.
Book’s arrival, via autopilot, interrupts their conversation. He’s bruised as he joins everyone on the bridge and tells them what happened. He experienced the same gravitational distortion as Nalas’ ship, Burnham determines. When Lt. Joann Owosekun (Oyin Oladejo) tries to pull up Kwejian, nothing’s at the coordinates … but then she finds something hundreds of thousands of kilometers away, and everyone is shocked. Kwejian has been destroyed. “They’re gone,” Book realizes in horror. “They’re all gone.”
Star Trek: Discovery, Thursdays, Paramount+