USS Discovery

But to Connect: What It Means To Be A Community

Marie Brownhill
Game Industry News is running the best blog posts from people writing about the game industry. Articles here may originally appear on Marie's blog, Fan Collective Unimatrix 47.

HERE THERE BE SPOILERS

…But to Connect” serves as a mid-season finale of sorts as Discovery will be going on hiatus until February 10th, and the episode is almost painfully self-aware. It builds to an unsurprising cliffhanger ending, but despite its obviousness, what’s interesting about “…But to Connect” is what it has to say about the season’s larger thematic arc of community and how those bonds affect how the Federation handles a crisis. In that sense, the episode sets up not only the primary plot challenge but also furthers the season’s primary metaphor—the DMA as a stand-in for the pandemic. I suspect the resolution will be all Trek, but the rift that emerges between Book and Burnham troubles me. Will we see Burnham lose Book to his need for vengeance? Will she be able to persuade him to understand the Federation’s position? At this point, only time will tell, but judging by how divided social media has been over the last couple of years, I’m not sure I’m holding out hope.

Plot Ahoy!

“…But to Connect” challenges our characters to explore what it really means to be a community, and it does so by juxtaposing the Federation conference with Kovich’s investigation into Zora’s sentience. It’s interesting that the writers chose to pit the macropolitical against the intimately personal, but the ultimate conclusions here are mostly identical.

Diplomacy and the DMA

While the Discovery undergoes repairs following the events within the subspace rift, President Rillak has put out a call for heads of state from all over the quadrant to come to Federation Headquarters in order to discuss what to do about the DMA. She tempts them with the tantalizing information that the Federation has the extra-galactic origin coordinates for the DMA, and most of the necessary parties agree to participate. Rillak also asks Burnham to be there to represent what are really Rillak’s interests since she must remain impartial for political reasons.

The usual suspects make the usual arguments. Earth has united with Titan under one governmental organization after the events from last season, but their newfound peace has not dulled the Terran paranoia a bit. Earth argues for the creation of an armada to combat what is obviously a hostile threat. President T’Rina of Ni’Var argues for a diplomatic approach considering that no one really knows what the DMA actually is. She contends that it’s entirely possible that Species 10C did not create the DMA to be a weapon, and even if so, there’s no guarantee that their technology would put the Alpha Quadrant races anywhere near advanced enough to pose a real threat to a species that has created a planet-killing anomaly.

As the talks continue, Ruon Tarka approaches a Book seething with rage that the delegates appear to be considering diplomacy and reminds him to choose the right moment to try and convince them otherwise. When the assembly reconvenes, Tarka listens for a few moments and then poses his own solution. Tarka explains that he has a way to destroy the DMA, but that method requires the use of an isolytic burst, which is a type of ordnance outlawed by the Khitomer Accords due to the damage it does to subspace. Tarka shrugs with characteristic ennui, and Burnham expresses her horror.

Rillak calls for a recess during which Book converses with Tarka who reveals that he wants the DMA’s energy source in order to hop universes to rejoin a friend from his Emerald Chain lab. Tarka reminds Book that he has emotional capital that he could expend in order to change some hearts. Book takes him up on the suggestion, and after the recess concludes, he pleads with them as the last survivor of Kwejian to destroy the DMA. However, Burnham’s counter-argument proves more effective, and the assembly votes in favor of attempting a peaceful first contact with Species 10C.

Zora and Stamets

Aboard Discovery, Kovich conducts an investigation into Zora’s sentience. While Adira and Gray plead for her to remain aboard the ship, Stamets reacts with deep mistrust, citing his experiences with Control. He explains that he cannot trust Zora not to put her interests before those of the crew. He points to her refusal to relinquish the origin coordinates as proof. Zora offers a compromise and creates a failsafe device that will effectively kill her in the event the switch gets flipped. Everyone in the room but Stamets reacts with an almost visceral disgust. Stamets seems willing to accept her offer, but Culber tells him he can’t hold another sentient being’s life over them for cooperation.

Stamets talks to Zora, explaining his fears, and between them, they decide that trust will be required. However, that trust must be extended mutually, so Stamets destroys the failsafe device. Zora reveals the coordinates and agrees to join Starfleet and to abide by the same hierarchy that governs everyone else on the ship. Stamets asks Kovich what he would have done had Stamets not worked through his fears. Kovich shrugs and tells him that he would have transferred Stamets off of Discovery, and Stamets agrees that would have been the right choice.

With everything apparently resolved, Burnham goes to look for Book but discovers Grudge in her quarters with a note from Book. Book has gone with Tarka to destroy the DMA, betraying Burnham. He asks her to look after his girl.

Analysis

“…But to Connect” is many things, but subtle it is not. At one point, the episode cuts between Burnham and Stamets making their respective arguments, nearly finishing each other’s sentences. That’s really the episode’s heart; both the assembled delegates as well as Stamets and Zora agree to move forward together in peaceful cooperation. Because this is Star Trek, we know this is the right choice for everyone involved, but Discovery does not allow this choice to be consequence-free. Burnham makes her argument knowing that Book will not agree with her, but she still does it in the hopes that he will understand. Book, however, isn’t sure he can ever get over this particular difference of opinion, and the episode leaves them in very different places, literally and metaphorically.

Burnham insists on adhering to Federation principles, but more importantly, she reminds the delegates that these ideals encourage them to be the best version of themselves. In this instance, that means not acting out of fear and lashing out just because they’ve been hurt by the DMA. It means trusting diplomacy and science to get them through this crisis. Book stands at the opposite end of the spectrum. He’s being crushed underneath his grief and guilt, and the destruction of the DMA means not only that he avenges his losses as is culturally appropriate but also that no one else will suffer the same devastating losses he did. Therefore, for him, the decision to destroy the DMA, consequences be damned, is an easy one. Furthermore, the episode means for us not only to understand why he makes the choice he does but also to empathize with his impulse while remaining cognizant that it’s still the wrong choice.

I mention above that this season treats the DMA as a metaphor for COVID, and “…But to Connect” really doubles down on the comparison. We know that the DMA is lethal, unpredictable, and devastating. It appears out of nowhere and affects huge numbers of beings and racking up an obscene death toll in its wake. The parallels with the virus write themselves, but for the first time, we really start to see the characters fragmenting along all too familiar lines. Burnham and the Federation want to pursue an information-based, communal strategy for dealing with the DMA in which everyone does their part. Book and Tarka reject that approach in favor of acting on their own instincts and information.

Trek as a franchise has a long, long history of using metaphor to explore not only current events but difficult moral topics. From “A Private Little War,” which commented on the Vietnam War, to “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” portraying the self-defeating nature of racism, to “Past Tense,” which served as a scathing commentary on not only racism but also the criminalization of homelessness. Discovery follows in an august, if imperfect, tradition in using allegory to explore such a sensitive topic. While to this point, the allegory has been mostly painted with a broad brush, the writers really want to leave the audience something to think about during the hiatus, and I think they succeeded. Moreover, I particularly like that they’ve deftly woven into the season’s thematic fabric the tools with which the characters can address the DMA, and those tools are firmly intertwined with Trek’s emphasis on community and Discovery’s season four emphasis on connection.

Rating:

Three full cups of Earl Grey Tea, a saucer, and a refill

Stray Thoughts From the Couch

  1. Y’all. Book left Grudge with Burnham. He doesn’t intend to come back from destroying the DMA. On the one hand, that’s really, really stupid, but on the other, I appreciate that even though he’s not sure where their relationship stands, he loves her enough to leave Grudge with her.
  2. A note on Tarka, his motivations are as selfish as expected. Sure, I feel for him that the Emerald Chain likely killed his boyfriend, so he wants to escape his universe and all its ills. There’s just something so inherently weak in hopping a universe in order to avoid dealing with the issues in this one.
  3. Stamets shows some remarkable personal growth here, and I like that he figures out how to trust Zora. I like even more that they conclude that Zora is less an AI and more a brand new lifeform. I also really loved that she turns out not to be Skynet but rather created her own directives to look out for her family. It’s a nice way to flip the trope on its ear.
  4. I also loved how the episode brought back a lot of familiar faces, not just from this season but from last. General Ndoye was a nice touch, even if she was as hawkish as one would expect her to be.
  5. T’Rina continues to be the best. That is all.

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