DISCLAIMER: This recap of Star Trek: Discovery holds enough spoilers to keep Section 31 busy for a decade. You’ve been warned. Jump to black alert at your own peril.

Welcome Trekkies! During the fourth season premiere of Star Trek: Discovery, Kobayashi Maru, Captain Burnham and the crew of the U.S.S. Discovery face a threat unlike any they’ve ever encountered. 

Ready to dive in? Let’s fly!

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With Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) now captain of the U.S.S. Discovery (she took command during the third season finale, but we only saw her in the chair long enough to say, “let’s fly,” for the first time), season four picks up where the third season ended: dealing with the consequences of the Burn and rebuilding the United Federation of Planets, which now has 59 member worlds (as compared to 38). 

The first episode opens with Cleveland “Book” Booker (David Ajala) and Captain Burnham on an away mission, trying to reforge diplomatic relations with a planet occupied by butterfly-like aliens who had strained relations with the Federation before the Burn. But as a gesture of goodwill and to help mend the butterfly people’s relationship with the Federation, Burnham generously offers the planet some of the Federation’s dilithium stores, no strings attached.

Episode 401: “Kobayashi Maru”

Pictured: Coverage of the Paramount+ original series STAR TREK: DISCOVERY. Photo Cr: Michael Gibson/ViacomCBS © 2021 ViacomCBS. All Rights Reserved.

But before they can make amends, Emperor Lee’U (Alex McCooeye) of the Alshain butterfly people learns about a third life-form on Book’s ship, Grudge, which royally pisses the monarch off.

First, he is pissed off that Burnham claimed to know their culture but brought a carnivore to their world. Then, he becomes even more pissed off as Book explains all the ways to love a domestic cat: they think the Federation will make pets of them just like Book made a pet of Grudge. And as Burnham launches into a biology lesson about Earth’s Felis Catus, she refers to Grudge as a queen (like they always do), and the aliens become convinced that the Federation is holding a Monarch captive. All this results in an attack to free the queen.

Burnham instructs Book not to fire back as they take cover from the butterfly people’s phaser fire, saying they’re still on a diplomatic mission despite the Alshains’ attack. 

After noticing the Alshains are having trouble with their flight path, she has another opportunity to fix diplomatic relations with the planet by working with Discovery’s science team to help them: the satellites that regulate the planet’s magnetic field are out of juice (dilithium), so Lieutenant Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman), Commander Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp), and Ensign Adira (Blu del Barrio) must work together to figure out a way to fix them and save the diplomatic mission.

Burnham orders her crew to send enough dilithium to restart the satellite array and restore the butterfly people’s navigational abilities. Then, leaving even more dilithium for the Alshain, Book and Burnham return to Discovery. By ordering Discovery to refuel the satellites, the ship’s new captain is taking a gamble that they will recognize her actions as a gesture of goodwill and trust, and it pays off.

After Burnham returns the bridge, Emperor Lee’U hails to say that he was surprised they still left the dilithium despite the assault. He decides to open the door for a continued relationship with the Federation.

Episode 401: “Kobayashi Maru”

Pictured: Oyin Oladejo as Lt. Joann Owosekun, Sonequa Martin Green as Burnham and Emily Coutts as Lt. Keyla Detmer of the Paramount+ original series STAR TREK: DISCOVERY. Photo Cr: Michael Gibson/ViacomCBS © 2021 ViacomCBS. All Rights Reserved.

Meanwhile, on Kaminar, Saru (Doug Jones), as the Great Elder, is in the middle of a debate about the Federation’s gift of dilithium and how to use it. Although the Ba’ul and Kelpiens have lived in fear and hatred in the past, it’s a new era, and with Su’Kal (Bill Irwin) safely at home, there is no danger of another Burn. Not only does Great Elder Saru hope for his species to stop living in fear, but he also hopes they will begin to explore other worlds.

After the meeting on Kaminar, Su’Kal can tell Saru misses his found family on Discovery. Even though Saru has been the father Su’Kal never knew, he tells Saru that he no longer needs to stay on Kaminar: he has other friends to protect him now and the planet is very different than it was nearly 1000 years ago. So, Saru can leave.

Back in the starship corridors, and with the diplomatic mission complete, Book is joking about getting a dress uniform Grudge, which could (almost) convince him to miss his nephew’s Ikhu Zhen ceremony. It could convince me too, Book. Grudge in a dress uniform would melt my little Trekkie heart. But more importantly, this conversation tells us that Book is heading home to Kwejian to visit his family and attend the ceremony where his nephew becomes a man.

While on Kewjian, Book notices something’s wrong with the birds’ flying patterns. Guessing that the birds may have sensed an earthquake, he goes out in his ship to look for the source of what spooked them. As the birds start pounding against the ship’s viewing window, a proximity alert sounds and we see a massive anomaly destroy Book’s home planet before a shock wave hits his ship, sending its pilot through the air.

David Ajala as Book and Sonequa Martin Green as Burnham

Pictured: David Ajala as Book and Sonequa Martin Green as Burnham of the Paramount+ original series STAR TREK: DISCOVERY. Photo Cr: Michael Gibson/ViacomCBS © 2021 ViacomCBS. All Rights Reserved.

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While Book’s on his tragic trip to Kewjian, Burnham is at the reopening of Starfleet Academy to give an inspirational welcome speech and introduce the new president of the Federation, Laira Rillak (Chelah Horsdal). She is part Bajoran, part Cardassian and part human and the first president we’ve seen who’s not a cis man (which is pretty cool, even if The Undiscovered Country is one of the best movies ever). 

The newly-elected President Rillak acknowledges that Discovery is the reason any of this possible: the ship’s arrival in the future allowed Starfleet to distribute dilithium to distant worlds and reestablish peaceful relations with planets that were antagonistic in the past. Furthermore, Rillak promises that Starfleet will once again embrace its original mission of scientific exploration. As she makes the announcement, she turns to the cadets to show them the recently-constructed Archer Space Dock.

As the camera pans around the space dock, Captain Archer’s theme music plays in the background.

Episode 401: “Kobayashi Maru”

Pictured: Chelah Horsdal as President Laira Rillak and Sonequa Martin Green as Burnham of the Paramount+ original series STAR TREK: DISCOVERY. Photo Cr: Michael Gibson/ViacomCBS © 2021 ViacomCBS. All Rights Reserved.

Cutting the celebration and nostalgic feels short is a distress call from a distant space station. Admiral Vance (Oded Fehr) orders the Discovery to check it out and repair any broken systems. Then the President invites herself on the mission against the wishes of Captain Burnham, who doesn’t want to give joyrides to politicians looking to “tick a box” for space action on their resume.

However, as Admiral Vance insists that Burnham has no choice, we quickly learn that President Rillak isn’t the only person who can play hardball with politics. As the Admiral starts to leave, Burnham slyly reminds him of where his loyalties should lie, telling the Admiral that she’s happy his family is back home.

Back on Discovery, Lieutenant Keyla Detmer (Emily Coutts) prepares the ship for black alert (the first one of the season) to jump the station’s location.

Once Discovery arrives at the station, the crew realizes that gravitational distortion has taken out the relays, causing the space station to spin out. After contacting Commander Nalas (Rodrigo Fernandez-Stoll), he informs them that it’s a “shit-show”: life support is down everywhere except in the main control room, inertial dampeners are fluctuating, artificial gravity is a mess and the station’s sensors are unreliable.

To help with repairs, Burnham sends Tilly, and because of the lieutenant’s suggestion, she sends Adira as well. After all, they grew up using similar tech. It’s Adira’s first away mission, but they’re ready, they assure themself, Burnham and Gray (Ian Alexander), who’s looking forward to getting a body and kicking ass.

Soon after Tilly and Adira arrive on Nalas’ station with the programmable matter, they’re hit with frozen methane, making the rescue more difficult.

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Blu del Barrio as Adira and Mary Wiseman as Tilly

Pictured: Blu del Barrio as Adira and Mary Wiseman as Tilly of the Paramount+ original series STAR TREK: DISCOVERY. Photo Cr: Michael Gibson/ViacomCBS © 2021 ViacomCBS. All Rights Reserved.

Then, just when the away team manages to stabilize the station, Discovery also gets hit with the anomaly’s debris. Pulling a great deal of power from Discovery’s systems, Burnham extends the ship’s shields over the station. But it isn’t enough to keep the station safe: the repair mission has become a rescue mission. The only problem? The transporter array is not responding and there is too much interference to beam the crew members over to Discovery

Stamets scurries to re-enforce the ship’s shields and fix the Heisenberg compensator (a reference that Trekkies may recognize from the Star Trek: Next Generation episode “Ship in a Bottle”), openly more worried about Adira than the rest of the crew.

While the Discovery crew scrambles to assist, Tilly and Adira move to evacuate the station, at least once the escape vessel is reprogrammed to make the return trip (since it’s meant for one-way), but there is a problem: the door is jammed from the outside. Detmer suggests a worker bee could remove damage, and although the mission is dangerous, Burnham agrees to it, insisting she should be the one to take the bee to remove the debris. Even though President Rillak questions the captain’s orders in front of everybody, Burnham remains resolute — she has the most experience.

Now in space, Burnham runs into a bit of trouble when frozen methane hits the worker bee, and as the soundtrack goes completely silent, she is forced to eject from the shuttlecraft.

Nalas pulls his phaser on Tilly back on the station because he wants to take his crew (yes, even the Lurian) on a suicide mission to find another way off the station. But that’s when the politician steps in. Rillak manages to talk Nalas down, bringing up his beautiful homeworld, its freshwater oceans and the Fissure of Jorat.

But despite Rillak’s successful intervention, Burnham has concerns that the president was lying and wants to understand her motives better. As the captain finishes removing the debris, she opens a channel to the President to ask if she was just reading the commander’s file or if she had really been there. “Does it matter?” the president asks.


Pictured: Blu del Barrio as Adira of the Paramount+ original series STAR TREK: DISCOVERY. Photo Cr: Michael Gibson/ViacomCBS © 2021 ViacomCBS. All Rights Reserved.

With four minutes of life-saving shields left and five minutes needed to rescue the last survivors, Burnham decides on a last-ditch effort to save the rest of the crew. Giving Burnham a speech about how everything is not possible, Rillak expresses her displeasure with her decision to put the needs of the few ahead of the needs of the many, which is advice the captain promptly ignores. 

Then, immediately before the station is destroyed by a frozen methane chunk hurling through space, the escape vessel arrives to pick up the three-stranded crew members. As the escape vessel docks in Discovery’s shuttle bay, and right before the ship has a chance to jump to black alert, a huge piece of debris crashes into them, leaving the shuttle bay in shambles and Tilly mourning three dead, including Nalas. This outcome was totally expected once he started talking about home.

In the final moments of the premiere, we see Burnham standing in her quarters, looking forlorn. Rillak enters Burnham’s quarters and consoles her, suggesting to the new captain to focus on the number of crew members she saved instead of the three she lost.

Highlighting the already complicated relationship between the two women, President Rillak also uses their conversation as a teaching moment, admonishing the Discovery captain for failing this particular Kobayashi Maru. Burnham must learn to accept that some things are beyond her control, and for this reason, the new captain is not ready to take command of one of Starfleet’s latest flagships. Despite Burnham’s undeniable acts of bravery, Rillak says that she has a “pathological” need to save everyone, which could get her entire crew killed, and that during a time of rebuilding, there is a very fine line between a pendulum and a wrecking ball.

Clearly, Burnham is a wrecking ball. I think Miley Cyrus would be proud.

Sonequa Martin Green as Burnham

Pictured: Sonequa Martin Green as Burnham and Chelah Horsdal as President Laira Rillak of the Paramount+ original series STAR TREK: DISCOVERY. Photo Cr: Michael Gibson/ViacomCBS © 2021 ViacomCBS. All Rights Reserved.

During their conversation, Rillak reveals that the Federation is developing new technologies, such as a next-generation spore drive and pathway drive prototype. Some of this technology is ready to install in the latest iteration of the U.S.S. Voyager. The President is evaluating candidates for the captaincy, and Burnham is no longer in consideration, but can Michael change her mind before the end of the season? It remains to be soon.

Interpreting the conversation, Book’s ship suddenly returns for Kwejain on autopilot. Now, back on Discovery, Book is desperate to find out what happened to his home — and why his planet is thousands of kilometers away from where it should be.

In shock, the President and crew pull up what’s left of Kwejian on the ship’s viewscreen as the planet disintegrates before their eyes. “They’re gone. They’re all gone,” Book says as the credits begin to roll.

New episodes of Star Trek: Discovery air on Thursday on Paramount Plus. Check out our Star Trek: Discovery recaps here!

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