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Recap / Star Trek: Discovery S2E04 "An Obol for Charon"

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A mysterious red anomaly ensnares the Discovery, Tilly and Stamets examine the fungal lifeform, and Saru comes down with a terminal illness unique to his people.

Tropes in this episode:

  • Almost Out of Oxygen: Thanks to the virus, life support is disabled and the crew only has a limited time before the air becomes too toxic to breathe.
  • Call-Back:
    Linus: I had a cold last week. It sucked.
  • Call-Forward: Pike orders the holographic communication emitters removed from Enterprise when they cause conflicts with the primary systems and says that from now on they'll use old-fashioned screens, thus explaining why such a system was not present on Enterprise in the future. He thinks they look like ghosts, anyway. Apparently, it catches on with the rest of Starfleet.
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  • Central Theme: Death, and how one deals with the possibility of it. Characters variously work to avert it, consider killing others to prevent the death of loved ones, or accept it as inevitable. And of course, the Orb's dying act is to save Discovery's crew so they can preserve its memory.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Saru keeps seeing flashes of ultraviolet light no matter where he goes on the ship. Burnham eventually realizes that the sphere is trying to communicate with them.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Saru being an Omniglot, established two episodes prior, comes in handy when the universal translator goes haywire and no one can understand each other.
  • Commander Obvious: Burnham explains to Saru what he can figure out himself.
    Burnham: (in Spanish) The universal translator's been invaded by a virus. It's translating everything into a different language.
    Saru: (in Spanish) I have eyes and ears, Burnham.
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  • Continuity Nod: The knife Saru gives to Burnham to cut off his ganglia is the same knife Saru's sister Siranna gave to him before he left home.
  • Curse of Babel: The sphere scrambles the Universal Translator, which causes every crew member to speak in different human or alien languages and renders all computer screens in different writing. Pike even greets Saru by saying "Welcome to the Tower of Babel" in Hebrew when Saru enters the bridge. Luckily, Saru is an Omniglot and can help solve the issue.
    Saru: Am I the only one here who bothered to learn a foreign language?
  • The Determinator: Saru is convinced he's going to die, he's in an incredible amount of pain (described as so much a human would be totally incapacitated), he can barely stand, and yet he refuses to stop working to save Discovery and her crew.
    Saru: I am dying, Captain, but I am most certainly not dead.
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  • Due To The Dying: As Saru leaves the bridge for what he thinks is the final time, each of the crew stand and come to attention out of respect.
  • Duct Tape for Everything: Reno claim she can "fix things with duct tape." Including Stamets' analogies, apparently.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: In the nanosecond before it explodes, the sphere reverses its stasis field to push Discovery to safety.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The "red sphere" being comes across as this, as it glows from within like incandescent magma (maintaining a temperature of thousands up to millions of degrees Kelvin) while its surface looks like a constantly shifting mass of coiled black tentacles. It wouldn't look out of place next to Ego the Living Planet.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: When Stamets tells Burnham he and Reno are trying to communicate with May, Burnham realizes the planetoid is trying to communicate with Discovery.
  • Failsafe Failure: A power surge locks down the spore laboratory, which due to its proximity to the warp core also means that access to the core is blocked off when Burnham needs to get there, forcing her to consider an alternative solution.
  • Fan of the Past:
    • Tilly's favorite song is "Space Oddity" and Stamets knows it well enough to sing with her.
    • Reno is familiar with Prince, enough that her brief concussion-induced dream subtly references "When Doves Cry" and "Raspberry Beret".
  • Fire-Breathing Diner: Number One orders a cheeseburger, a side of fries and a bottle of habanero sauce.
    Pike: Do you wanna order some lighter fluid with that?
    Number One: That goes with the shake.
  • Genius Loci: The sphere is a living planetoid.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Stamets drilling an implant into Tilly's skull is shot from the opposite side of her head.
  • Government Conspiracy: Starfleet is going to great lengths to hide information about Spock, classifying his case well above what would be standard for his rank. Number One has to go above and beyond just to get the barest details.
  • I Cannot Self-Terminate: Saru asks Burnham to help him end his life. Thankfully, it's not necessary.
  • Internal Reveal: Saru tells Burnham that he's prohibited from ever returning home and seeing his younger sister again.
  • Irony: Only a few minutes after Stamets has ranted about the environmental costs of dilithium mining for standard warp drives, comparing it to the pollution that choked planetary biospheres before the widespread adoption of more environmentally friendly power sources, May informs him that his more "environmentally friendly" spore drive is causing devastation in the biosphere inhabiting the mycelial network.
  • I'm a Doctor, Not a Placeholder: When commenting on the spore drive, Reno describes herself as a gearhead, not a farmer.
  • Karmic Jackpot: Because Pike allows the sphere to transmit its knowledge even though Spock's shuttle will move out of range, Burnham is able to access the superior sensor data of the sphere and pick up Spock's trail once more.
  • Like Brother and Sister: Burnham and Saru admit that they are so close, and have been through so much together, that they are essentially family — each replacing the sibling the other considers "lost" (Spock and Siranna, respectively).
  • Meatgrinder Surgery: Stamets and Reno need to install a cortical implant in Tilly's head so May can speak through her. All they have is a power drill.
  • Mercy Kill: Saru asks Burnham to cut off his ganglia and end his life before his illness drives him to madness. She hesitates just long enough for the ganglia to shrivel up and fall off on their own, revealing that what he thought to be an illness is actually a natural biological process.
  • Mushroom Samba: May releases spores which cause Stamets and Reno to hallucinate, disorienting them just long enough so she can kidnap Tilly.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Stamets has a minor freakout when May informs him that the spore drive is causing an environmental disaster in the mycelial network. He recovers, however, and immediately begins work to shut down access to the network.
  • My God, You Are Serious: A variant. Reno picks up a nearby drill when she suggests putting a cortical implant in Tilly so they can communicate, but when Stamets agrees she says that she was joking and they really ought to go get a laser scalpel to do it properly. (Unfortunately, they can't.)
  • Mythology Gag:
    • The virus wreaking havoc with the ship's systems is quite similar to the situation in the TNG episode "Contagion", right down to the virus threatening to destabilize the warp core.
    • Pike's contingency plan to eject the warp core and hopefully ride the shockwave to safety is the same plan used by Scotty in Star Trek (2009) to allow Enterprise to escape the singularity.
    • Pike mentions to Number One that he doubts anyone will love Enterprise like his current Chief Engineer. Oh, laddie, if ye only knew...
    • The "red sphere" of the anomaly trapping the Discovery also recalls the ball of "red matter" from Star Trek (2009).
    • And a spherical anomaly trapping the ship hearkens back to how Q enveloped the stardrive section of the Enterprise-D in TNG's "Encounter at Farpoint", not to mention the ship the Enterprise encounters in "The Corbomite Maneuver".
    • Stamets and Reno end up having to drill a hole in Tilly's skull, a surgical procedure that Doctor McCoy would later describe as being worthy of the Dark Ages.
    • The Universal Translator goes on the fritz, leaving Captain Pike speaking French.
  • Negative Space Wedgie: A spherical red anomaly has the Discovery trapped.
  • Out of the Frying Pan: Burnham and Saru manage to isolate and reset the comm system, fixing the Curse of Babel. Then the virus spreads to every other system and suddenly proper communication is the least of their worries.
  • Platonic Declaration of Love: Burnham gives one to Saru when they think he's dying.
  • Race Against the Clock: Pike has been given the location of Spock's shuttle, but it is traveling at maximum warp and will eventually exit sensor range. Since they've just been captured by a mysterious sphere, they have to figure out how to break free before Spock becomes impossible to track.
  • Remember the Dead:
    • The sphere's reason for intercepting Discovery was a desperate attempt to communicate with someone and share what it has seen and experienced over 100,000 years before it dies so that knowledge is not lost forever.
    • Saru asks Burnham to hold on to his personal journals so that they may be returned to his people once General Order One has been rescinded.
  • The Reveal: May hitched a ride with Tilly to reveal that the spore drive is causing harm to the lifeforms that live within the mycellial network, thus explaining why Starfleet never adopted the technology on a wide scale.
  • Reverse the Polarity: The sphere does this with its stasis field to propel Discovery away from itself just before it explodes.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: Potentially, anyway. Saru willingly stayed away from his homeworld out of respect for Georgiou and because General Order One forbids interference with pre-warp societies. But now that he knows his people are living a lie, he's no longer convinced he made the right choice.
  • Sick Episode: Saru starts the episode fighting what he thinks is a bad cold. It turns out to be something far more debilitating.
  • Snark-to-Snark Combat: Cmdr. Reno vs. Dr. Stamets in a Slobs vs. Snobs type - Reno dismissively calls him a "farmer" while Stamets snidely calls her a "grease monkey".
    Reno: Chief engineer sent me to firewall off the critical propulsion systems. I didn't realize a greenhouse could be critical or propulsive, but what do I know? I'm just a gearhead, not a farmer.
    Stamets: A farmer? Oh, please let us know what you think, because we care.
    Reno: You should. Antimatter and dilithium might be old school, but they don't let you down.
    Stamets: Why soar when you can crawl?
    Reno: You don't know me, doc. I'm uninsultable, especially by a guy who thinks he can run a ship on mushrooms that I pick off my pizza.
    Stamets: Spores are clean, renewable.
    Reno: Do they come with house dressing?
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Before performing surgery by power drill, Stamets asks Tilly to sing her favorite song, leading to the two of them singing a bittersweet rendition of "Space Oddity", a song about a space explorer dying.
  • Tractor Beam: The sphere uses a multi-spectral stasis field to yank Discovery out of warp and then hold it in position while the sphere attempts to communicate its knowledge.
  • Voices Are Mental: When Stamets and Reno manage to link May to Tilly's nervous system, thereby allowing her to speak through Tilly, it's May's voice that comes out.
  • Waking Non Sequitur: Reno coming to after being zapped.
    Reno: Weird dream...I was playing drums for Prince, and there were doves and a beret.
    Stamets: Okeydoke.
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are: Stamets assures Tilly that she is always kinder than she gives herself credit for.
  • You Do Not Want To Know: When Number One tells Pike that she's been digging into Spock's case.
    Pike: Sanctioned?
    Number One: Better you don't know the answer to that.


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