On a mission to hunt down a renegade Spock and find out what he knows about the mysterious Red Angels that have potentially driven him to the brink of madness, Discovery’s pursuit gets an unexpected interruption when a mysterious sphere of energy pulls them out of warp and plays havoc with ship systems.
With on board functions from life support to translators suddenly failing ship-wide, the crew try to escape the sphere’s grasp as Burnham and an extremely ill Saru try to find out what it is and how to escape it as they patch together Discovery.
Meanwhile in Engineering, Stamets and Starfleet hitch-hiker Jet Reno are trapped in the spore drive lab as it falls into shutdown, but as systems fail the mycelial network alien Stamets had previously extracted from Tilly escapes and locks itself to the young ensign, forcing Reno and Stamets to find a way to save her.
Following a slower episode catching up with the Klingons last week, An Obol for Charon brought the pace back up; starting with a quick and seemingly innocuous crew briefing they were flung – quite literally – into a new adventure diverging from the path of the Red Angels.
There was a lot going on in the episode, but from the moment Saru stumbled onto the bridge grumbling his way around like me before my morning coffee, everything moved along at an incredible speed despite not much actually happening in terms of the core plot.
Fighting against the systems failures seemed to be background to the amount of character work on display with Saru being at the forefront of the story. As the sphere tinkered with the ships systems, Saru was equally as effected. From struggling with what seemed like a cold at the start of the episode, slowly his condition worsened before being dragged to sickbay by Burnham and Pike where he was forced to admit that the encounter had triggered his Kelpian biology towards it’s natural end; a kind of shut down that on his homeworld would lead to two ends; either being farmed by the worlds superior species, or driven to madness if he didn’t submit to being culled.
Facing his end, asking Burnham to terminate his life, we got to finally see the depths of the sibling relationship the two actors had hinted at since their characters time on the Shenzhou. Doug Jones was a powerhouse in the episode, not just in showing a Saru who would fight to the bitter end to do his duty, but in bringing his sympathetic qualities to the surface; showing all the talent and empathy that often gets buried under the years of creature acting.
Unsurprisingly one of the most dramatic points of the ships failure was the Engineering lab shutdown. As Reno offered to lend a hand in fixing things up, she and Stamets differing ideologies between his compassionate scientific mind and her more blunt workhorse attitude would give enough of a distraction to let us all take our eye off the threat trapped in the drive chamber.
Since being ripped out of Tilly, ‘May’ has been held under study by Stamets. As Team Science (and guest engineer) overloaded the systems to stop themselves being fried, May escaped and once again attached itself to Tilly. Putting their heads together Reno and Stamets try to free Tilly from it’s grasp, eventually drilling into her head to implant a translator to talk to it; only to learn that May had came to stop them using the Spore drive, that her people within the mycelial network were being harmed by it’s constant use and no matter what Stamets tried to say to convince them he’ll fix it, May had her plan in mind and she was only just beginning to get her revenge.
Just like Saru’s story, what happens in engineeriing is just as emotionally charged as Stamets struggles, not just with what may be happening to the mycelial network, but with rescuing Tilly while he and Reno have next to nothing to help them. One of the biggest highlights was the realisation that all they could do was drill a hole in her head to implant the comms device, while a sombre Stamets asked the scared ensign to sing her favourite song; an oddly emotional moment as they belted out some Bowie together before he began drilling and started chatting to May.
Both stories were woven into each other very nicely with each having a huge sense of desperation over the emotional fallout faced by losing a member of Discovery’s close family. Of course it all led to something in the end.
On Saru’s part his empathic senses were picking up a signal from the alien sphere, a message that all it wanted to to impart thousands of years of knowledge as it’s dying legacy; forcing Pike to suit to the creature while the data was passed over and the sphere imploded – shifting Discovery to safety to preserve it’s gift. Saru also learned that the biological trigger it had began – which led to him shedding his threat ganglia – wasn’t quite what his people believed; it was a maturity, a point where his people would grow beyond their natural fear and for generations they had been lied to.
Tilly on the other hand wasn’t so lucky as May tricked Stamets and Reno into thinking they had saved her, only to learn they’d been spiked and that May had Tilly firmly cocooned and under her control.
Filled with witty dialogue, great twists throughout and a whole load of character work, An Obol for Charon was a great display of Disovery’s strengths; ensuring the plot never slowed for a second and that every point of the tale led to an emotional climax that would tie into the bigger picture. While at first I did miss the tension of the first season, it’s episodes like this that reminds me Discovery’s return to exploration can bring us the best of all worlds from the Star Trek universe.
While it makes sense for Saru and Burnham to be close, especially with them both being under the care of Georgiou while they served on the Shenzhou, this episode really jumped that forward massively. It may make sense, but their confessions of how much they mean to each other felt very sudden considering how distant they were in the last season and that since then, the friendliest they’d been was communicating during the Terran crisis. Understandable connection, and appreciated, just could have done with a bit more foreshadowing or groundwork.
Where are we now?
While missing any sign of a Red Angel encounter for a second week in a row, the episode did tie into, and begin several important arcs to carry forward the season.
The search for Spock has had a bump in the road, but is still an ongoing priority that Saru and Pike want to ensure Burnham uses to find pace with her foster brother; May is still on a mission and now we have a better idea as to what that mission is, but… what does this mean for Tilly?
And of course, Saru, who has now accidentally uncovered a dark truth to his planets hierarchy and is now certain he can free his people from their controlled state. More than enough to carry over into the next few episodes,even with a lack of angels, Section 31 or Klingons.
Episode 5, Saints of Imperfection, is released on Netflix on Friday February 15th.
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