DISCLAIMER: This recap of Star Trek: Discovery holds enough spoilers to keep Section 31 busy for a decade. Jump to black alert at your peril.
Welcome, Trekkies! In Episode 12, “Species Ten-C,” of Star Trek: Discovery, there are 15 hours before United Earth and Ni’Var start to feel the effects of the DMA. Capt. Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), Mr. Saru (Doug Jones) and the first contact team are racing against the clock to figure out how to communicate with the enigmatic 10-C, so we get some great science fiction from the Star Trek Universe this week.
Ready to dive into this week’s recap? Vamos voar!
After weeks of investigating who is responsible for creating the Dark Matter Anomaly (DMA), Burnham, President Laira Rillak (Chelah Horsdal) and the bridge crew are finally outside the final barrier keeping them from first contact with Species 10-C, the titanic-sized hyperfield. Off-screen, Discovery‘s team sent a message to the 10-C, but they have not yet responded.
Burnham tells her crew to park U.S.S. Discovery 200,000 kilometers from the hyperfield’s borders, which Rillak explains is the distance from Earth’s sun out to Mars. However, despite the risk to her crew, Burnham does not want to raise the ship’s shields—at least for now—because she is worried it will signal aggression.
However, Burnham decides to change the tactical approach once Comm. Joann Owosekun (Oyin Oladejo, who directed the episode) points out, “There’s no sign of anything – no change of any kind in the hyperfield. It’s like they don’t even know we’re here.”
With Owo’s observations, Burnham decides it’s time to implement the contingency plan, which uses the knowledge gleaned from the 16 hydrocarbons collected on the 10-C’s former planet. The linguistics and science team uses the information to replicate the peacefulness hydrocarbon and load it into a fleet of DOTs.
The plan is to apply it to the hyperfield’s surface. Basically, “we come in peace,” in chemical form, summarizes Dr. Hirai (Hiro Kanagawa).
Meanwhile, Cleveland “Book” Booker (David Ajala) and Ruon Tarka (Shawn Doyle) are in Book’s ship on Discovery‘s belly after the successful installation of the patch in “Rosetta.” United Earth’s General Ndoye (Phumzile Sitole) sent them the data collected by Discovery’s away team, which Tarka is reviewing.
Nearby, Comm. Jett Reno (Tig Notaro) sits in a cell “temporarily detained” (yeah, she’s a hostage with a nice-sounding label, as she points out). She asks Book for black licorice to secretly fashion a crude communications device.
Then, as Discovery sends the DOT fleet to the hyperfield, both crews look on in awe when they spray the hydrocarbon “we come in peace” message into the hyperfield. But suddenly, a silicon-ellanium alloy tendril-like arm grabs the DOTs before it envelops Discovery, drawing the ship deeper into the 10-C’s region of space.
Inside the hyperfield, the ship is enclosed in an orb made of the same alloy, which the 10-C is using to shut down all non-essential systems like shields, engines and weapons. However, the ship’s sensors seem to be working. Owo says they are in a solar system with three gas giants. Additionally, hundreds of lifeforms are surrounding them and scanning them.
Back on Book’s ship, Ndoye hails Book and Tarka to tell them what happened on Discovery. After the general logs off, the cracks in the outlaws’ relationship begin to show. Tarka only wants to find a way to extract the DMA’s power source (for what is becoming increasingly clear is a selfish attempt to get “home”); however, Book orders him to find a way to escape the orb instead.
Reno watches the exchange from her makeshift cell and sees an opportunity to come between Book and Tarka. And after she glimpses Tarka’s projections for deactivating the DMA, she realizes the Risian scientist intends to get the DMA Controller even if it means destroying Discovery, United Earth and Ni’Var in the process.
Cutting back to Discovery, Zora (Annabelle Wallis) is beginning to notice the patch and the resulting numbness on her hull, saying her system is malfunctioning even though diagnostics don’t show any problems. Comm. Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) suggests she meets with Dr. Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz) to get to the root of the problem.
Now, in sickbay, Culber and Zora begin to play the Trill game she played with Gray in “Stormy Weather.” The game helped her then, so she hopes it will help now.
In another room, the first contact team discusses what to do next. Recalling Species 10-C use the DMA to mine boronite, Burnham decides to present them with a gift of the compound by directly beaming it onto the orb membrane as a way of building trust. And her idea works, despite the peanut gallery’s initial objections to her plan.
The 10-C approach Discovery’s shuttle bay, and as the delegates approach the 10-C, director Owo provides fans with some great reaction shots. Everyone looks terrified except Hirai, who seems damn excited.
The team scans the lifeform, and readings indicate the 10-C’s brain structure is wildly unusual. Although they have visual receptors and pheromone glands, it’s unclear if they have auditory receptors or electrical sensors. The 10-C don’t have any human-like physical qualities, making them genuinely unique, especially for the Star Trek franchise.
One thing the 10-C have in common with Star Trek: Voyager‘s Species 8472, which the Borg discovered in the fluidic space realm, is they are outside of the reach of Star Trek’s alien rule. A rule solidified when Captain Picard met ancient humanoids who said they spread their genetic material across the Milky Way in Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s “The Chase.”
Since the 10-C came from outside the Milky Way, the show’s writers again took advantage of not being bound by the alien rule. Not only do the 10-C look different, but they also communicate in a way that is entirely foreign to Starfleet.
Suddenly, Ndoye exists the shuttle bay and heads to a private corridor to contact Book and Tarka to tell them the universal translators won’t work with the 10-C, and they have 12 hours before the DMA reaches Earth. Tarka promises Ndoye it won’t take nearly that long to get out of the hyperfield, as long as the general’s willing to commit a little sabotage.
Back in the shuttle bay, the 10-C lifeform is sending a light pattern; it attempts to communicate. In response, Zora sends the exact light pattern back. However, it causes the 10-C to retreat.
Hirai guesses the 10-C retreat because they don’t see the Federation convoy as sentient beings, at least not yet, saying, “Compared to them, our technology’s primitive. They’ve achieved level two on the Kardashev scale, maybe beyond. It’s like comparing a human to a monkey with a rock.”
A level two on the Kardashev scale means the civilization can harness the energy radiated by its star. In “Rosetta,” we saw, over 1,000 years ago, the 10-C successfully created Dyson Rings, which are similar to a Dyson Sphere in that they harness the energy of a star. Maybe they have Matrioshka brains, a science fiction concept we have yet to see in Star Trek?
The first contact team calls in reinforcements for analysis of the light pattern message: Lt. Commander Detmer (Emily Coutts), Lt. Commander Nilsson (Sara Mitich) and Lt. Christopher (Orville Cummings). By examining their assumptions about the hydrocarbons, they figure out the molecules themselves are an encrypted message. Like how a star map is a 2D rendering to help navigate 3D space, the 10-C’s light pattern is a map to help them read the hydrocarbons in a specific order.
As they continue to decode Species 10-C’s language further, the Trill game is beginning to help Zora: an anomalous event happened around the same time she started feeling weird, a replicator-system malfunction. “Commander Reno fixed it,” says Zora, and that’s when Culber and Ensign Adira Tal (Blu del Barrio) notice Reno is missing from Discovery.
Back on Book the Fifth’s ship (we learn how Book got his courier name in this episode, as well, and he is the fifth man to carry the title), Reno finally gets a moment alone with the former courier by requesting even more black licorice. She tells Book that Tarka is going to kill them all.
If Tarka pulls the power source while the DMA’s up and running, the hyperfield will implode, destroying everything and everyone inside of it. Furthermore, the subspace rift it’ll leave near Earth will kill everyone almost as fast as the DMA would.
Book confronts Tarka about his lies, yelling that he promised no one would get hurt, “I won’t do to the 10-C what they did to Kwejian. And I sure as hell won’t put Discovery at risk.” (I am glad Book still has morals, although I never doubted he did. I’ve been saying Tarka is Julius Cesaer all along.)
Of course, Tarka refuses to stand down. Book tries to stop him and contact Ndoye to let her know about the risk to Earth’s inhabitants and the first contact mission. But Tarka has installed defense improvements all over the ship, obviously prepared for this eventuality (or at least some sort of attack on Book’s vessel).
Despite Book’s attempts to shoot Tarka, the new defense system deflects the firepower back at Book, taking him out. Tarka “temporarily detains” him with Reno, saying he’s sorry to do this to one of his two friends.
Meanwhile, back on Discovery, they’ve made progress communicating with the 10-C by sending a series of mathematical equations back and forth. Burnham references a theory of extraplanetary communication in Lincos: Design of a Language for Cosmic Intercourse, Part 1 developed by a Jewish survivor of the Nazi regime, Hans Freudenthal, to provide some science exposition.
The Lincos communication, aka math, works, and the 10-C respond. The following scene of math and logic equations reminded me of preparing for the logic portion of the LSAT exam. However, it works for the 10-C, who have no LSAT trauma, and they send a Chicago Bean pod coated in peace hydrocarbons to the shuttle bay to pick up the first contact team.
Rillak volunteers to meet directly with the 10-C, requesting Burnham, Saru, T’Rina and Ndoye join her. She asks Hirai to stay behind to resume peace talks should something happen, which upsets him. However, this is probably more of an honor than he realizes. Ndoye opts to remain on Discovery to sabotage the ship, unaware of what’s transpired on Book’s ship since they last talked.
Before getting into the orb, Burnham and Saru have a heart-to-heart. Burnham says she’s terrified going into a situation where she has so little control, and the pair yell to let off some steam, upsetting Queen Grudge. Saru is concerned about the cold shoulder he’s been getting from Ni’Var’s President T’Rina (Tara Rosling); however, she finally explains that she is nervous about being in danger with him.
Next, the 10-C teleport the delegation to a facsimile of the Discovery’s bridge to make them feel more comfortable. Species 10-C ask about the isolytic weapon used to destroy the DMA. The delegation comes up with a response to help the 10-C understand the destruction the DMA has caused: DMA + us (symbolized as air) = “terror” hydrocarbon.
Species 10-C respond with a message indicating great sadness. The team has had a breakthrough in first contact. Rillak points out it also shows the 10-C have empathy, meaning diplomacy can work. However, just as the delegation reaches their breakthrough, Tarka enacts his plan and escapes in Book’s ship.
Unfortunately, the moment of sabotage is also the moment Zora and the engineering team figure out that Book’s ship is attached to Discovery. A couple of minutes sooner, and maybe the Discovery crew could have done something and prevented the nacelles from venting plasma, but then again, we wouldn’t have dramatic tension for next week now, would we?
This apparent betrayal causes the 10-C to teleport the confused delegation back to Discovery abruptly. Now back in the shuttle bay, Hirai tells the said delegation that Book’s ship was attached to Discovery’s underbelly, but they have escaped the orb and are on their way to destroy the DMA Controller.
On the Discovery bridge, the crew is desperately trying to stop the damage to the hyperfield, but they have discovered someone entered override codes. Suddenly, a priority message comes in from Book’s ship: it’s Reno using her licorice-powered comms device, having Book’s overrides to overcome the security system blocking her transmission.
The message says, “Captain, it’s Reno. Tarka’s got me and Book locked up, and if he takes out the DMA the way he wants to, it’ll destroy the hyperfield, the Ten-C, probably Discovery, too. It’ll also leave a toxic waste dump heading straight for Earth. You have to stop us, whatever it takes.”
Star Trek: Discovery releases new episodes Thursdays on Paramount Plus.
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