Discovery Recap: An Obol for Charon (Episode 4)

“You are the most empathic soul I know.” Burnham to Saru

Previously on Star Trek Discovery: The Enterprise is in dry dock and Pike still has command of Discovery. Burnham is struggling to understand the seven signals and what they could mean for Spock, and her relationship with him. Amanda arrives with Spock’s stolen medical file. The doctor tells them that Spock has killed 3 doctors and fled the Starbase. So Pike, Amanda, and Burnham open Spock’s medial file to find drawings of the Red Angel. Amanda says that’s the vision that changed him forever, but Burnham insists that it was something cruel she did that was the real impetus for change. And Amanda leaves to find him. Elsewhere, Tilly takes a sample of the dark matter asteroid she captured, and it attacks her. After she wakes in Sickbay, she starts seeing an old friend, May, who is dead. Stamets determines that May isn’t May at all, but a parasite from the mycelial network. He extracts it, and it turns into a blob, which they quickly quarantine.

Here we go. It’s happening. The episode opens with Number One (Rebecca Romijn) beaming on board Disco and I cannot contain myself. She gives Pike (Anson Mount) and update on the Enterprise’s systems and all of the work that still needs to be done. But Chief Engineer Louvier (there will never be a chief engineer more in love with his ship – wink) is still having trouble with the “damn holographic comm system,” and the Enterprise is the only ship in the Fleet having issues. So Pike orders that it be ripped out, and “from now on, we’ll communicate using good, old-fashioned viewscreens.” Take that, canonistas.

They arrive at the mess hall, where number one orders a Cheeseburger, fries, and habanero sauce. When Pike appears to question her appetite, and asks if she’d like to order some lighter fluid as well, she replies, “That goes with the shake” and immediately became my hero. They begin to talk about Spock (publicly?), and it turns out that Number One has called in some favors and done a little extra digging into the classified case. The both agree that something about this situation with Spock isn’t adding up. Pike is called away to a briefing, taking the Enterprise-style Padd from Number One, and leaving her to enjoy her meal alone. It’s just about 2 minutes, but I love her already.

Tilly (Mary Wiseman) and Stamets (Anthony Rapp) are watching over the quarantined BlobMay, who Stamets has determined has sentience and intention, leading him to believe that the mycelial network harbors life. Tilly opens up about her relationship with the real May, and how she could have been a better friend. Stamets tries to reassure her, but Tilly believes her took her friend for granted. That’s when they notice that BlobMay is moving, and has mimicked Tilly’s hand on the containment area.

In the briefing room, Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) explains that she can’t find any life form in the database that could possibly be interpreted as the Red Angel. Commander Nhan (Rachael Ancheril) suggests that they need to figure out what it wants rather than what it is, which seems to disturb the rest of the crew. Saru (Doug Jones) is drinking some tea or broth because he woke up with a cold, and Linus (David Benjamin Tomlinson) is having trouble with the Universal Translator. Pike arrives and order the ship to their next destination, dismissing the bridge crew and sending Saru to his quarters to get some rest. Pike asks Burnham to stay behind, and shares with he what Number One had learned: that Spock is on a shuttle and they’ve traced the warp signature. Discovery’s new course will intercept the shuttle in a few hours. Burnham tells Pike that she shouldn’t involved when they locate him, believing she will only make things worse. Pike’s not buying it, and says “Reaching him has to be the priority.”

Suddenly, the ship jolts to a stop. As Pike and Burnham enter the bridge, Detmer (Emily Coutts) explains that something “grabbed” them out of warp, and they don’t know what and they can’t move. On the viewscreen is a giant, glowing sphere.

During the ad break, Burnham and Linus ran some analyses and determined that the sphere is large, massive, old (100,000 years), and meld organic and inorganic matter. The sphere doesn’t respond to hails, but does vibrate a frequency that the computer can turn into sound. Just not a sound that makes any sense to the crew. Pike orders Burnham to “Communicate with it or disable it.” And she answers… in Klingon. Which he questions, in French.

Alarms start blaring, and back on the bridge, everyone is speaking languages that they don’t even know. And it all started when the sphere answered their hail. Burnham calls Saru to the bridge, since he speaking 94 languages fluently, and explains the the Universal Translator has a virus. Saru’s all, “obvs” and casually makes he way around the bridge, making local adjustments so bridge officers can communicate, but the virus will continue to spread. Burnham decides to head to the UT’s main interface to deal with the problem, and Saru insists on accompanying her, though still not feeling well.

Down in engineering (I guess? Or the part of engineering where they keep the spores…) Tilly and Stamets report the they’re a-okay, and prepared to spore jump if they have to. That’s when Jet Reno (Tig Notaro) to firewall off the spore drive from the virus, and immediately insults Stamets, who gives it right back. And suddenly we have a battle of the wits, mirroring the energy debates of today. Stamets may have met his match in Jet Reno, and it’s glorious, but it doesn’t appear that he’ll be getting off his high horse any time soon. In the meantime, Reno will be fixing the ship with duct tape.

Saru and Burnham appear to purge the virus from the UT, and Saru collapses as the ship is jostled again. There’s a discharge of energy in the engineering compartment, and Tilly, Stamets, and Reno and sealed inside. They need to ground the power surge before the oxygen ignites. Good thing that Stamets infuses his sports with an argon-xenon mixture that can conduct electricity.

The bridge reports that EPS conduits all over the ship are overloading and the virus is spreading. Saru wants to go back to the bridge, but Burnham insists on taking him to sickbay.

Stamets, Tilly, and Reno link up the canisters and attempt to transfer the surge to the door, so the power can dissipate in the frame of the ship. The transfer knocks them all back, but they’re okay (and we learn Reno is a Prince fan)… until they realize that BlobMay has escaped, and attaches herself to Tilly’s arm.

Pike catches up with Burnham and Saru, and accompanies them to Sickbay. After a quick scan, Dr. Pollard (Raven Dauda) says that Saru is experiencing such intense pain that it would render the average human unconscious. Saru’s seeing flashes of ultraviolet light and threat ganglia are flaring, but he brushes it off as a symptom of his “condition” and just wants to get back to dealing with the danger the ship is in. After a stern word from Pike, Saru explains that he is in Vahari. It’s a terminal biological process, experienced by Kelpiens, which signals when they are ready to be “culled for slaughter” by the Baul (Some answers! See: The Brightest Star). Even though there are no Baul anywhere nearby, Saru insists that the ganglia only inflame like this when Kelpiens are near the end of their lives. Death is inevitable.

BlobMay and Tilly are now together in Ripper’s quarantine chamber, but Tilly I not nearly as freaked out as Stamets things she should be, and a scan reveals that BlobMay is secreting a hallucinogen to calm her down. Reno suggests that it’s so she won’t fight back.

Burnham’s now turned her focus to saving Saru – if the sphere triggered Vahari, then maybe getting away from it can reverse the effects. She’s sure that it doesn’t mean them harm; If it did, why aren’t they already dead? So it must need something. Pike believes its already taking what it needs, directly from Discovery. But Burnham insists that his interpretation of the sphere is no logical. Saru has a plan to chip away at the virus, but it will be very slow going. He and Burnham head to the Science Lab, committing to using every last moment to help his ship.

In the lab, with Saru’s plan underway, it’s heart-to-heart time. He tried to explain to Burnham that Vahari is a part of his life cycle that he always knew was coming and accepting long ago, but doesn’t think she can understand, as she has fought for her life every step of the way. Burnham assures Saru that even if she can’t understand, she will never judge him. He asks her, after he’s gone, to catalog his personal logs and deliver them back to his people once they are no longer subject to General Order One, so that they will know what’s possible for them. Burnham asks if he made any record of his life on Kaminar, but Saru explains that his life didn’t really begin until he reached Starbase 7 and saw all of the diversity that the universe had to offer, and every person with a dream and a story. He joined Starfleet to help those in need, just as Starfleet helped him. But, his biggest sacrifice is that he can never return home. Their chat comes to an end when Saru sees another flash of UV light (which are going in strength and frequency) – he tells Burnham to return to the bridge while he keeps handle on things in the science lab.

Back on the bridge, Owosekun (Oyin Oladejo) reports that if Discovery is immobile for much longer, they’ll loose track of Spock’s warp signature (I don’t remember Pike briefing them on that – he just gave Detmer a heading – but I’ll forgive it). Pike orders all possible power rerouted to long-range sensors. Airiam (Hannah Cheesman) reports that there’s no enough power to jump away, and Nhan says that security systems are going haywire, too. Well, shit. Burnham arrives and reports that Saru’s plan is working, but slowly. And then she leaves again, on her way to Engineering.

Burnham arrives to find Reno and Stamets locked inside with Tilly barely conscious in the containment chamber. Burnham asks if there’s any way to boost shields, and Stamets explains that they’re completely partitioned off. So Burnham turns her attention to Tilly, asking why BlobMay won’t release her. Reno quips, “It’s not like we can ask it.” But Stamets thinks that maybe then can – they can modify Stamets’s link to the mycelial network to link BlobMay to Tilly’s central nervous system, allowing May to speak to them. A light bulb practically appears above Burnham’s head as she realizes that the sphere is also trying to talk to them. And she runs back to the Science Lab to consult with Saru. She’s really getting her steps in today.

The modifications are done in Engineering, but the signal’s not strong enough. Reno suggests a neural implant, which would require drilling a hole in Tilly’s skull… and Tilly thinks she’s right. All they have is a drill, no laser scalpel. Good thing they have a scalpel-less first aid kit to sterilize it.

Discovery’s been able to raise shields, but they still can’t move, life support is failing, and the energy within the sphere is building. Pike is preparing to fire on the sphere, when Saru arrives and shares his theory, while also revealing to the rest of the crew that he’s dying. Pike still isn’t quite on board, but they have 6 minute’s until Spock’s shuttle is out of sensor range, so he lets Saru explain. He believes that the sphere is trying to share it’s story and knowledge with them before it dies – his reaction and the UV flashes are all apart of the puzzle.  Saru adjusts the viewscreen to UV display, and then runs the light pattern through the Universal Translator, showing multiple complex languages. Burnham suggests that the sphere is not intending to do any damage, but the information coming from it totally overwhelmed their systems.

In Engineering, Stamets is trying to comfort Tilly, while about to drill into her skull, and gets her to ding her favorite song – Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” He sings along with her, and gets the job done. This is really just beautiful, as we see Tilly’s trust in him, and his reluctance to hurt her in any way. Reno cleans the wound and injects the implant. After a dew seconds, May is speaking to Stamets.

May is part of a species called the JahSepp. She left her people and broke out of the mycelial network because alien intruders kept breaking through, damaging their ecosystem. Stamets tries to understand, but May has to spell it out for him: “You are the destructive alien presence.” The spore jumps. May couldn’t reach Stamets because he performed the jumps from inside the box, and chose to appear to Tilly as someone she’d be sympathetic to. She’d build trust with Tilly, then have Tilly deliver her message. Stamets apologizes, says he wants to make everything right, and asks that May release Tilly. But May has other other plans, and the blob begins to envelop Tilly.

The temperature and energy in the sphere continue to rise. Saru makes a final plea with Pike, that once the transmission is complete, he believes they’ll be able to leave. Pike prepares to lower the shields, but not without a backup plan – if it doesn’t work, they’ll be ejecting the warp core, raising shields, and trying to ride the shock wave away from the explosion. Oh, and they’ll loose all track of Spock. They lower shields and divert all computing resources to communications, and the computer libraries are processing at 20% above maximum.

The energy is building within the sphere, but the status field is holding and computer controls are locked. As the sphere begins to explode, the crew is stunned by the beautiful light… and that they’re still alive. The status field reversed polarity just before the detonation and pushed Discovery clear. In Engineering, Reno and Stamets cut Tilly free from BlobMay, and pull her out. On the bridge, Saru asks Burnham for help to his quarters, and the entire crew stands as he looks out at them from the Turbolift.

Saru’s quarters are incredibly beautiful, covered in mosses and flowers and he tells Burnham that he left home all those years ago with just a handful of seeds. And confides in her that while trying to be the best Starfleet officer he could be, he worries that he lost who who was. Burnham disagrees, pointing out that he’s found himself in Starfleet, his strength, and his bravery.

Saru asks Burnham to retrieve his knife – his sister’s knife, really – and sever his ganglia, which will “end his suffering” before the pain and madness overtake him. As she holds out the knife, Burnham begins to cry, and asks if it really has to be this way. Saru apologizes for the pain this loss will cause her, but he’s too weak to do it himself. These two share that they consider each other family. Saru explains that he had to leave his sister, Siranna, without even even saying goodbye, and asks Burnham to promise that she will do whatever it takes to mend her relationship with Spock. She agrees, then steels herself, and reaches the knife out again… and Saru’s ganglia just fall out and Burnham drops the knife. And Saru doesn’t understand why he’s not dead.

In Sickbay, Saru tells Dr. Pollard that he feels better than he ever has before – the fear is gone, and he feels powerful (I really hope that Saru isn’t magically “fixed” now…). Pollard clears him for duty, and he thanks Burnham. She tells him that the sphere didn’t just give them its language, but records of everything it’s ever experienced. It gave them it’s legacy, and now Saru’s has a new chapter.  (And Doug Jones should win an Emmy.)

But Saru is more troubled that Michael would have expected. Everything that he was raised to believe – Vahari, The Great Balance, the Culling – is wrong. Knowing this, he’s questioning whether he can continue to uphold his promise to Captain Georgiou not to interfere with the development of his species. His newfound knowledge could change everything for his people and his planet.

Burnham goes to see Pike, who tells her that Federation scientists will be studying the sphere’s transmission for centuries to come. She tells him that she took a peek at it’s sensor records, and it saw Spock’s shuttle. Pike sends it’s coordinates to the conn, and they’re back underway. Pike tells Burnham he’ll honor her request to leave her out of Spock’s business, which she qucikly withdraws. She’ll keep her promise to Saru.

Stamets is working on closing the door to the mycelial network – for good. Tilly’s not so sure, and then she sees May again. Reno and Stamets start acting strangely, and there are spores in the air, and realized that BlobMay dosed them with hallucinogens as well. Stamets injects himself and Reno with impedrizine to come down, and then look for Tilly… who’s back in the blob.

Next week, it’s time to rescue Tilly from the mushrooms.

A note on the title of this episode: In Greek mythology, Charon is the ferryman on the River Styx, which divides the world of the living from the world of the dead. The ancient Greeks would place a Obol (coin) in the mouth of the deceased before burial, so that when their “shade” (spirit/soul) reached Hades, they could pay for passage across the river. If unable to pay for passage, they would be forced to wander the banks of the river for 100 years.

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