The following contains spoilers for Star Trek: Discovery S4E12, “Species 10-C” (written by Kyle Jarrow and directed by Olatunde Osunsanmi)
Star Trek: Discovery S4E12, “Species 10-C” is basically two episodes of Star Trek jammed together into one. The first, the story of Captains Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and Saru (Doug Jones), and Presidents Rillak (Chelah Horsdal) and T’Rina (Tara Rosling) making first contact with species 10-C is among the best and most interesting in the series’s four-season run thus far. The other plotline shines a light on all the ways Discovery can sometimes fly off the rails. We have unnaturally raised stakes with the imminent destruction for Earth, out-of-character betrayal by General Ndoye (Phumzile Sitole), and the continued nonsense of everything Book (David Ajala) and Tarka (Shawn Doyle) are planning.
Every aspect of that first plotline works though. The 10-C have already been established as being among the most alien species we have ever seen on Star Trek. (Though, despite the franchise’s reputation for having the aliens look incredibly humanoid, there have been some remarkable exceptions before.) Star Trek: Discovery S4E12 takes that even further. The sheer size and differences like having them float in the atmosphere of gas giants make species 10-C truly alien even before the episode starts to tackle the difficulty of communication.
The time and care given to the science of working out the language are fascinating to watch. We have seen aspects of this previously— in particular, the ingenious ways they are able to figure out how to communicate are reminiscent of the classic Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Darmok”. Star Trek is at its best with these types of stories. Communication is necessary but it seems like it will be impossible until, by virtue of these nerds and their love for science and thinking outside of the box, the solutions are found. Especially with Olatunde Osunsanmi’s stellar direction, the ways that the crew members revel in the thrill of discovery are as exciting as any huge action set piece.
It takes a coordinated effort from most of the crew and the diplomats to translate the message, but they are able to do it. At first, the real egg-heads are at a loss—all of them are too tied to the things they know about language to think outside of the box in the way needed for understanding species 10-C. But situations like that are where Burnham excels. She realizes that it took differing experiences and ways of thinking to figure out the mystery of the substance back on the planet, so she calls in most of the bridge crew to give their perspectives. Commander Nilsson (Sara Mitich), Lt. Christopher (Orville Cummings), Lt. Commander Owosekun (Oyin Oladejo), and Lt. Commander Detmer (Emily Coutts) all join the team to provide new perspectives.
This works. With the crew adding personal depth and emotional resonance to the science, they are able to figure out how to interpret the messages from the 10-C. Also, Dr. Hirai (Hiro Kanagawa) finally starts to justify his role in all this. Hirai is the one who synthesizes the information the others give and the joy he feels at the accomplishment stands in stark contrast to the grumpy recluse he has been up until this point. Hirai is the type of scientist that Star Trek has so often shown—and inspired in real life— and this moment reinvigorates him. The 10-C’s message is, as complicated as it seemed, their attempt to communicate in a simplified language the humanoids can understand.
This leads to lots of linguistic history, scientific discussion of how to communicate with new species, and the nature of relative sentience. The team has several great discussions on how and why to communicate back and all of it is riveting. The 10-C accept the message and create a space to communicate even more, so Burnham, Saru, T’Rina, and Rillack travel deep into the atmosphere and seem to be on the brink of solving all the issues when they find themselves suddenly back on the Discovery. It turns out that the 10-C no longer trust them because the plot of the other, terrible, part of the episode has finally come to a head.
At the end of “Rosetta” with Book and Tarka on the verge of implementing their plan to hide on the hull of the Discovery, Tarka was discovered by Jett Reno (Tig Notaro) and decided to kidnap her. The creators seem to feel that next week’s finale has to have been an action set-piece and have been stretching this plotline with Book and Tarka to the limits since it was introduced. The stakes keep getting higher: first, there was the DMA’s destructive presence, then it became Earth and all of the other Federation core worlds that hung in the balance, now the stakes are upped again to endanger not only all of those worlds but also all of the 10-C, the Discovery, and much of the universe. But none of it follows naturally from the characters and with the other plotline of Star Trek: Discovery S4E12 being so strong, it feels particularly galling here.
The only benefit of this plotline is that we get to spend an incredible amount of time with the amazing Jett Reno, though the idea that she would not be missed by the humans on the Discovery as she is missing for hours is ludicrous. Kyle Jarrow’s script seems to have recognized some of the impossibilities and goes to great lengths to explain why none of Zora’s internal systems realized Reno was no longer on the ship, but it does a very poor job of explaining how a senior engineer could be missing for so long and not be noticed by her peers.
Stamets (Anthony Rapp) even tells Culber that he had been looking for Reno to help with their predicament—because of course he should be looking for her— but there is no explanation for why he would have had no concern that she was missing. Even the scene where he, Culber, and Adira (Blue Del Barrio) finally start to worry is edited in such a weird way that it seems that several minutes in the show go by at the same time they should have instantly raised the alarm that Reno was missing. It is all distracting to such a degree that it would have been a problem even if the Book and Tarka plot hadn’t been so frustrating.
But frustrating it was. For two-thirds of Star Trek: Discovery S4E12, Reno, who we all have to remember was kidnapped by Tarka, calmly tries to explain to Book why he needs to stop trusting his “friend”. She finally gets through to him when she explains Tarka’s ploy will actually destroy the DMA, the 10-C, Discovery, and Earth and Tarka doesn’t care. So Book finally tries to stop Tarka and winds up imprisoned himself, because of course Tarka was planning on Book trying to stop him. Tarka does not care for anyone or anything other than his plan to find Oros, which has made him formidable, but not interesting.
So Tarka sends a message to General Ndoye and she helps him enact the plan while Reno and Book look on. Reno, who is great to the very end, is able to get a message back to Discovery to tell them of the danger and tell them that they have to stop Tarka no matter what, even if that means destroying Book’s ship. And with that Star Trek: Discovery S4E12 leads us into the finale and the ultimate confrontation with Tarka and away from the first contact with the 10-C, which happens to be the story we care about.