Star Trek Discovery’s “Ten-C” Discovers the Plot of ‘Arrival’
Hey, remember Arrival? That movie where Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner figure out how to talk to aliens? Did you like that? Well, good news, everyone! The people making Star Trek: Discovery seem to be big fans, too!
Previously on Star Trek: Discovery, the crew find out that there ain’t no party like a gas giant party because a gas giant party is empathetic. However, they don’t find out that Book and Tarka are hiding out, attached to Discovery, and planning to do some nebulous, likely-bad thing.
To Boldly Recap
Discovery gets to 10-C space but can’t break into the hyperfield. They send an established message, but no dice. As a back-up plan, they are thinking of sending the chemical they found on the other planet that probably represents peace. They put the chemical into the hyperfield and, voila, the 10-c show up. Well, the goopy, grabby hands of the 10-C show up and pull Discovery into the hyperfield.
Once inside the hyperfield, Discovery is pulled towards one of three, identical gas giant planets. Meanwhile, Hugh links up with Zora because she can sense something is off but doesn’t know what. Hint: it’s Book’s ship where Reno is being held hostage. As Reno tries to use black licorice to escape (yes, really), Tarka hatches a plan to disable the DMA power source.
Burnham’s plan is to give the 10-C a gift of Boromite as it’s the one thing they know the 10-C wants. It works and the 10-C appear outside the shuttle bay utilizing a mix of emotion gas and lights to teach a rudimentary version of their language to DISCO.
Learning and Destroying With Math
Eventually Team DISCO figures out that the light patterns and molecules being sent work together. The light patterns reveal the order that the molecules should be read. This is a bridge language utilizing mathematical equations to communicate ideas.
At the same time, Ndoye reports back to Book and Tarka what’s happening. Tarka asks Ndoye to hack the ship to aid in their plan and she reluctantly agrees. But Reno realizes that Tarka’s plan is not safe and will likely yield the death of everyone in the hyperfield and also potentially destroy Earth as well. Book confronts Tarka and he knocks Book out before taking control of the ship.
The 10-C send a ship for DISCO reps to take and meet with them. Burnham, Saru, T’Rina, and Rillak agree to go. As soon as they enter the “shuttle” it disappears and the away team find themselves on a duplicate of Discovery’s bridge. Also duplicated on the fake bridge is a copy of the weapon Tarka used to destroy the first DMA.
One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
Both storylines resolve themselves more or less exactly as you would expect at this point. On the one hand, Burnham and company communicate a new message to the 10-C. They explain (with math) that the DMA is dangerous to them and the 10-C get it! Hooray!
However, on the other hand, Ndoye helps Tarka escape which makes the 10-C very confused and potentially angry. Uh oh. The episode closes with Reno finally able to send a message to Discovery. She tells them that Tarka must be stopped at all costs because, if he isn’t, literally everybody dies. Yikes!
To Boldly Review
There are some (I feel) obvious criticisms and I want to get them out of the way. The first is that, as with the sum entirety of the back half of DISCO season 4, not enough happens. Discovery and the 10-C talk sweet math to each other and then Tarka screws it all up by being an idiot (more on that later). That’s basically all that really happens. And this issue is compounded by the fact that the previous three episodes have this exact same problem.
But the larger problem is that the character motivations don’t quite make sense. Why does Burnham enlist the aid of Detmer, Nilsson and Christopher to solve the 10-C language? We can’t even guess why when it comes to Nilsson and Christopher because we still know nothing about them. But this pales in comparison with Tarka’s complete villain turn.
Why is Tarka risking everyone’s life, including everyone on Earth, on a plan he doesn’t know will work? We spent an entire episode showing Tarka has empathy for at least one other person and now all that feels erased. Tarka tells Book he’s only ever had two real friends, Book included. Maybe that’s because you are a BAD FRIEND, my dude! More than anything, though, Tarka’s behavior simply does not add up with what we know about him. It feels like he’s acting based on what the plot needs not on who the character is.
Say Your Emotions At Me
There is a common complaint about DISCO which I do not always agree with but is valid with this episode. Sometimes these characters simply announce their emotions rather than express them naturally. And while we could talk about T’Rina saying her feelings at Saru or Reno spontaneously giving Book her backstory, for me it’s all about the screaming.
There is a scene where Saru teaches Burnham how to scream out her frustrations as a form of coping. They are about to face uncertain communication with a new species and they just yell it out. And it reads as so very silly. Maybe silly was the goal, but venting frustration isn’t something I think this crew has a problem with. Burnham and Saru aren’t Sarek and Spock. These two state their emotions frequently. What are they screaming for? Stop it. You are adults.
Okay, enough preamble. Let’s talk about the actual 10-C and Arrival (2016).
Why Is Discovery Doing The Plot of Arrival?
A small group of humanoids attempts to communicate with enormous complex aliens. If communication fails, the consequences will be catastrophic. And while some people attempt peace, there will always people who choose violence out of fear. Are we describing Arrival or are we describing the Star Trek: Discovery episode “Ten-C”? The answer is that the description is applicable to both.
The question isn’t “why is DISCO lifting from a movie from 2016″ so much as it is “why is DISCO lifting from this specific movie now?” I can tell you why Arrival was so potent when it came out in 2016 – it released into theaters right as Donald Trump became the 45th president of the United States of America. Here was a movie about the devastatingly urgent need for open communication hitting during a time when virtually everyone refused to listen to one another.
Six years later and the only thing we can say for sure is that Trump was just a symptom. Two years into a new presidency and we still can’t agree on fixing healthcare or protecting trans kids or even how to deal with the threat of another World War. So while “Ten-C” is a retread of Arrival, I think it’s time accept a hard truth – we need a retread because we surely weren’t listening the first time.
But Is It Any Good?
Alright, enough soap boxing. Is DISCO’s first meeting with the 10-C satisfying? Eh. It’s alright. There’s some cool science lingo. The Kardashev scale gets namedropped and the bridge language the 10-C teach the crew is compared with Lincos. And certainly the way we learn that the 10-C have empathy is relieving despite the fact that Tarka is 100% about to screw everything up.
But beyond the fact that we, as a society, need reminding that peaceful negotiation is possible, I wouldn’t call the affair exhilarating. In the end if I want a story about seeing beyond the limits of time and communicating on a macro level, I’m far more likely to rewatch Arrival than I am this episode of DISCO.
I feel like a broken record, but this story arc didn’t require a full season’s worth of episodes. An emotional story that grows the characters and teaches a lesson about the DMA could’ve been resolved in less than half the time it’s wound up taking. And no amount of B to B+ quality episodes can change that.
Stray Observation Deck
No one on the ship, not Stamets, not Adira, not a soul in engineering realized Reno was missing? Really?
Look, we’re one episode away from the season finale, can Saru and T’Rina get together already, y’all? I am tired.
Another story I’d like to see: Stamets’ and Culber’s second honeymoon adventures. Just something nice, please!
Questions, Queries, Quibbles
There’s only one episode left! Can Burnham explain to the 10-C that Tarka is a big dope and to ignore him? Will we get an explanation for why the 10-C are so protective of their own space? And will Star Trek: Picard‘s altered timeline wind up having an impact on DISCO at some point? Tell us what you thought of this episode and share your theories for the season finale! We’ll see you next week!
Until then, this is your humble recapper signing off. Computer: end program.
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