USS Discovery

Star Trek Discovery: Rubicon – How Far Is Too Far?

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

After last week’s revelations regarding the nature of the DMA, “Rubicon” both ups the ante and draws to a certain anticlimactic close. This season’s pacing has been a bit on the slow side, but “Rubicon” throws everything it has at the plot. Even the cold-open is eventful. If “All In” was a fun romp to ease us back into Discovery’s fourth season, “Rubicon” reminds us that this is the back half. Discovery has a lot of ground left to cover, so it’s going to have to increase the pace quite a bit to do it.

Plot Ahoy!

“Rubicon” pits Discovery’s crew against their former compatriots, despite President Rillak’s misgivings at allowing Burnham to go after her former partner. However, Discovery’s spore drive remains the only means to catch them in the event they jump to the DMA. Vance orders Commander Nhan to board the Discovery as a neutral voice imbued with his full authority behind it. Burnham uses the tracer she put on the isolynium to track Book’s ship to a rogue planet. Discovery jumps to within sensor range of the planetoid where they find Book’s ship deep inside a crater. Burnham proposes sending a cloaked shuttlecraft to take advantage of a maintenance hatch and sends Saru, Rhys, Culber, and Bryce.

The cloaked shuttle attempts to dock with Book’s ship, only to be enveloped in programmable matter. An internal alarm sounds on Book’s ship, much to his surprise. Tarka explains that he’d developed and installed an intrusion defense system while they traveled to Porathia to acquire the isolynium. Book recognizes the shuttle as belonging to Discovery and concludes that Burnham put a tracer on the isolynium. However, Tarka’s intrusion defense system threatens to destroy the shuttle. Book demands that Tarka disable it, but Tarka insists that the system is autonomous. He is therefore unable to accomplish anything in time. Fortunately, Owosekun manages to beam the away team back to Discovery before the system destroys the shuttle.

After the shuttle’s destruction, Book and Tarka jump to the DMA, so Burnham orders Discovery to follow. Unfortunately, upon arrival, they discover that the dark matter interference poses more of a problem than anticipated for critical systems like cloaking and scanners, not to mention shields. Book and Tarka have similar problems, but they do notice that Discovery has found them once again. Back aboard Discovery, Burnham has an epiphany. If the DMA mines boronite and then moves on to the next location, they can discern when it will jump based on the amount of boronite available. She puts Stamets and Reno on figuring out how much boronite is left.

She also orders Discovery to take a position between the controller and Book’s ship, determined to prevent its destruction if at all possible. Book’s ship attempts to avoid the Discovery, but the ship moves to intercept them every time. Eventually, a frustrated Tarka launches a full spread of quantum torpedoes at Discovery, to Book’s horror.

Burnham attempts to hail Book, but he doesn’t answer as he’s too busy threatening Tarka. She takes a shuttle and pilots it toward Book’s ship, and he hails them. They discuss finding a middle ground between their positions, and Burnham suggests that she’s found one. With the data Stamets and Reno collected regarding the boronite in that sector, they know the DMA will remain there at least another week. No other planets are therefore at risk. Book agrees to wait that week while the Federation makes contact with Species 10C.

Tarka has no interest in waiting, so he beams his isolytic weapon aboard the controller. Book contacts Discovery with a warning, giving both ships moments to jump to a safe distance. The weapon detonates, and in the aftermath, Tarka scans for the power source he so desperately wants to use to get to this other universe. However, no power source emerges because the DMA’s power source lies on the other end of the wormhole. Back at Federation headquarters, Burnham and Nhan share some thoughts about finding a middle way before Nhan takes her leave. Sometime later, on Discovery’s bridge, Burnham shows Saru footage that indicates a new DMA has appeared to take the other one’s place. For good or for ill, first contact has been made.

Analysis

The Rubicon in the title refers to crossing a point of no return, and the episode poses the question, has Book crossed that point? The question isn’t subtle; Bryce and Rhys argue both sides of the question explicitly for us before Saru shuts them down. Tarka has clearly not only crossed the river but burned his bridges and salted the earth in his wake. Book, however, takes a moment to check that no one aboard the shuttle perished in the shearing, and he allows Burnham to talk him down from off his cliff. If anything, Book seems to be waffling a bit. On the one hand, he’s resolute in his determination to destroy the DMA, but on the other, Burnham talks him down with facts. He’s open to doing it her way. Tarka presents the sole obstacle with his unilateral decision to destroy it in service of his own interests.

Tarka has conceived this entire plan as a means to acquire the power necessary for him to cross between dimensions, and as part of same, he willfully jeopardizes the safety of millions. He doesn’t particularly care if he’s going to burn down the entire galaxy to do it, and he’s very clearly not above manipulating Book’s grief to achieve his goal, which feels less and less tied to his promises to his friend and more to his own desire to reach what is, for all intents and purposes, Heaven. Significantly, however, despite his genius and ten years of planning, Tarka apparently failed to account for the possibility that the wormhole within the DMA would serve as a power conduit. Ultimately, he is wrong.

While the show has made hating Ruon Tarka very, very easy to do, I wonder what we’re going to see in the next few episodes. This season continues to develop the theme of community and connection as a method of conflict resolution, and I do wonder if we’re going to see Tarka taking steps to pursue a real connection or if he’ll continue to be the one-note villain we’ve seen thus far. I think it would make for a more interesting twist if Tarka’s pursuit of community with his friend, unfettered by consideration for the larger community as a whole turns out to be misdirected, but we’ll have to see.

Speaking of connections, I really have enjoyed watching the budding romance between T’Rina and Saru develop. Their relationship has provided a charming counterpoint to the violent dissolution of the relationship between Burnham and Booker. Moreover, it fits into the theme because it represents a reaching out across species and culture to create a bond. Commander Nhan’s decision to return to Starfleet, paradoxically, does the same thing. Even though she can no longer find that community on Barzan, she does find it with Starfleet. Nhan also learns a bit about cooperative problem solving from Burnham. Being “all or nothing” is a lonely way to be, and as she learns, it’s not the only way to be, which makes for a nice coda to an otherwise tumultuous episode.

“Rubicon” sets us up nicely to pierce the galactic barrier next week, and I have to say, I’m looking forward to it. Discovery has opted to do something unique and new, and I, for one, think it’s about time.

Rating:

Three and a half cups of Earl Grey Tea

Stray Thoughts From the Couch

  1. It’s really nice to see Nhan back, and I like the design for her new breather.
  2. Culber telling Saru he’s an idiot made my day. We should all have a friend like Culber.
  3. I’m not entirely wild about the reappearance of the DMA because I feel that it undercuts some of what the episode wants to accomplish, but I do like that it renders Tarka’s plans fruitless. No, I’m not a fan of Ruon Tarka, why do you ask?
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