In the highly-anticipated 4th season premiere of Star Trek: Discovery, we start off hopping right into action. Booker’s frigate departs Discovery and lands on a planet rich with life. Capt. Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and Cleveland Booker (David Ajala) offer dilithium and good will, but the indigenous folk are offended – partly by the Federation extending a helping hand, but mainly by Grudge. Burnham and Book flee the angry natives, and Burnham realizes their erratic flying is due to planetary magnetic issues. She calls in the team, putting the crew on it. The newly pipped Ensign Adira Tal (Blu del Barrio) and Commander Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) figure out how to repair the planet’s geomagnetic compensators, assisting the natives in hunting Burnham and Booker more effectively. Booker is complains about the riskiness of the plan, but Burnham pushes on, making it back to his ship in time to beam over some dilithium. Burnham and Booker beam back aboard Discovery just in time to receive a salty semblance of a “thank you.” Capt. Burnham thanks her crew, and sets a course home.
After the credits, we focus on Kaminar, as the Kelpians and the Ba’ul discuss rejoining the Federation post-Burn. The discussion is lead by Su’Kal (Bill Irwin) and Saru (Doug Jones). Saru encourages the council to consider Kaminar’s place in the galaxy, gently but firmly suggesting that rejoining the galactic community would ultimately be more beneficial to Kaminar that they realized.
Back on Discovery, Burnham sees Booker off as he goes back to Kwejian for his nephew’s adulthood ritual. As she prepares to host the re-opening of Starfleet Academy, Burnham is apprehensive about the re-introduction of politics into Starfleet. Book wishes her well before she goes, and reminds her not to be reckless.
Burnham welcomes the first class of Academy cadets since the Burn. The senior officers observe from the balcony as Burnham delivers her speech. She then introduces Federation President Laira Rillak (Chelah Horsdal), who elegantly receives and thanks the crew of Discovery. She goes on to reveal the new Archer Spacedock, bringing in a new era of Starfleet vessel. The crew is generally excited to get back to science, but Lt. Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman) is detached from her promotion. Burnham notices and moves to console her but gets called away.
Zadmiral Vance (Oded Fehr) notifies Capt. Burnham and President Rillak that he’s just received a distress call from a deep space station, and sends Disco to investigate. President Rillak announces that she’ll tag along, much to Burnham’s chagrin. Vance consoles her, but reminds her that the president doesn’t need her permission to board. Burnham swallows her pride, and Disco jumps to the rescue.
On Kwejian, Booker and Kyheem (Ache Hernandez) perform a manhood ritual for Leto. Booker is obviously grateful to spend the time with his brother and nephew, thanking Kyheem for letting him participate. As the boy runs off to play, Kyheem and Booker notice the birds take to the sky in a hurry.
Back on Disco, the crew tries to determine what could have sent the station spinning on such a wild course. After consulting with the station commander Nalas (Rodrigo Fernandez-Stoll), Commanders Owosekun and Detmer (Oyin Oladejo and Emily Coutts, respectively) work together to get on course, and Tilly and Adira beam to the station to help. Adira is nervous about their first away mission, but Gray (Ian Alexander) silently encourages them from within.
Just when the away team manages to stabilize the station, Disco gets hit with debris. They raise shields around the station, pulling a great deal of power from ship’s systems. Burnham quickly changes mission from repair to rescue, but damage from the wave disables transporters. Stamets scurries to re-enforce shielding, openly more worried about Adira than the others. Tilly and Tal move to evacuate the station by shuttle, but one is jammed. Detmer suggests a worker bee could remove damage. Burnham agrees and decides she should be the one to pilot it. Rillak calls her out in front of everybody, but Burnham remains resolute.
On Kaminar, Saru quietly ponders rejoining Starfleet and Discovery. Su’Kal finds him and reassures him that Kaminar will be fine and encourages Saru to return to his friends.
Burnham works on removing debris from the launch area when her bee gets smacked by a stray rock, destroying the vessel just as her EV suit activates. She then flies back to the launch area to complete her task, unshaken by the momentary exposure to the vacuum of space. Commander Nalas starts to cracks under the pressure, but President Rillak talks him down by passionately describing his home world. Burnham frees the pod, and Nalas puts his crew in first, insisting on waiting for the second trip with Tilly and Tal. As Burnham hitches a ride on the pod back to DISCO. she contacts Rillak and asks if she lied to the commander. Rillak, in a very Cardassian-tone, doesn’t give her a straight answer.
Burnham returns to the bridge to ensure that Tilly, Tal, and the station commander make it back. Rillak calls her out in front of the crew again, but Burnham remains steadfast and insists on getting everyone else aboard.
Back on Kwejian, Booker notices the birds again. He leaves the atmosphere to investigate just in time to watch his planet get destroyed by the same temporal anomaly that affected the station. Repeat, Kwejian is gone, y’all.
As they wait for the pod, Tilly and Tal talk with the Commander Nalas about their next steps to keep themselves grounded. Tilly realizes she’s lost her sense of ambition just as the pod arrives. They make it back to Disco and jump just as debris threatens to hit the ship. They end up cutting things a little too close, and Nalas doesn’t survive the jump. Dr. Culber (Wilson Cruz) tries to help, but finds Nalas dead on arrival. Tilly and Tal are crushed.
In the aftermath, Burnham reviews the events when Rillak visits her in her office. They discuss the hard lessons of the Kobayashi Maru, and dance around Rillak’s mysterious origins. Rillak praises Burnham’s strengths but admonishes her for the severity of her risk-taking. Burnham realizes that Rillak wasn’t aboard for political reasons after all. The president admits that she was scouting Burnham for a new wave of ships in development, but has determined that she isn’t ready. Affronted, Burnham insists the president to clarify, and Rillak reiterates the dangers of Burnham’s decisions. They’re interrupted by Booker’s ship, incoming on autopilot.
On the bridge, Burnham and Rillak join as Booker frantically tries to locate his planet on sensors, but Owosekun has difficulty finding it as well. Focusing on the planet’s last known coordinates, the crew is shocked to discover that Kwejian – and everyone one it – has been destroyed by the temporal shockwave.
This was certainly a riveting start to this long-awaited 4th season. It’s full of Discovery‘s patented blend of sci-fi, action, and heart while passing the Bechdel test with flying colors. The crew seems mostly adjusted to life in the Federation amidst post-Burn scarcity, save for Tilly and her uncertain attitude regarding her future. It’s disappointing that after all this time, there is still discourse surrounding Burnham’s leadership style, but the crew’s unwavering faith in her abilities should compensate for this new source questioning in President Rillak. “Should” being the operative term, of course.