Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 Episode 5 Review: The Examples

There’s been a discernible shift in the writing style of the series this season. I’m not saying it’s better or worse than what’s come before, but there is a familiarity to it as individual episodes become more self-contained when it comes to conflicts and adventures.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 Episode 5 draws on the classic Trek tropes of the unknown genius joining forces with the resident genius, as well as the moral dilemma of personal agency versus the Federation’s principles and mandates.

Thrown into the mix is the “Healer, Heal Thyself,” message which shines a light on Culber’s savior complex and what might be at its root.

Reminiscent of La Forge and (the real) Brahms’ initial meeting or Bruce Maddox’s visit to the Enterprise, Ruon Tarka boards with a reputation that precedes him and an unapologetic arrogance.

In keeping with the season’s bent towards reintroducing known Federation worlds, Tarka’s Risan heritage is an unexpected Easter egg.

His tattoo hints at more than an unusually intellectually-gifted childhood amongst hedonists.

Great intellect can be costly.


His death-wish antics suggest he’s got other issues besides a brain that works orders of magnitude faster than his so-called peers.

And his whiskey-bearing encounter with Book at the bar intimates plotting that involves Book’s ability to pilot the spore drive.

Book and Tarka - Star Trek: Discovery

Book’s moroseness at not being allowed to force Felix to give into being rescued is both understandable and hard-to-parse.

It’s understandable from the perspective that he’s seen the DMA destroy his entire planet and family and the personal mission he’s taken on to prevent it from taking any more lives.

It’s hard to accept from Book because his gift is empathy. That gift should’ve made him aware of Felix’s intentions on an emotional level. But if his reaction to Kwejian’s destruction still clouds him, his empathy is probably impeded.

Tarka: So much anger. No place to put it.
Book: You don’t know me.
Tarka: No, but I know anger. It’s a wonderfully productive emotion.

Tarka sees the anger driving Book immediately, and he’s quite delighted.

I suspect that Tarka pushed Stamets on purpose to see how risk-aversive he is, and Stamets may have failed that test. For Book to be silently raging the way he is, he’s easily shot to the top of Tarka’s list of “Crew Members Who’ll Lose Control With Me.”

Saru’s supervision of the working model DMA Tarka is raring to create is the perfect example of his ability to balance experimental science against the crew’s well-being.

That he was able to kill it when even Stamets was caught up in the potential data they could collect, once again demonstrates Saru’s steadfast sense of cautious exploration in the face of emotional and machismo-fuelled pressures.

Tarka: Great science was never accomplished with caution.
Reno: I’m not sure that’s actually true.

My god, how I’ve missed Jet Reno. Every line Tig Notaro delivers makes my sardonic nerd heart beat faster.

As Tarka’s bound to be on board for the foreseeable future, I look forward to his interactions with Burnham. He may find it a bit more challenging to get her to roar with him.

Ruon Tarka - Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 Episode 5

Burnham and Book’s rescue of the Examples from the Radvik-5 prison is an away mission ripped from the Trek Handbook. One could easily swap Kirk or Riker or Kira into the scenario, and it would play out 90% the same.

There is an incredible absurdity that Burnham has to negotiate with the Examples to convince them to let themselves be rescued from the DMA. There is also a tragic layer to the absurdness that they’d rather be pushed into the sun than remain prisoners.

Burnham: They need to be evacuated immediately.
Magistrate: Why? They’re criminals. Six offenders chosen to demonstrate the costs of misbehavior. An Emerald Chain tradition. It has proven most effective in preventing crime.
Book: Doesn’t matter who they are. They don’t deserve to die there.

While Burnham and Book agree that the Examples should not die because they are prisoners, their opinions diverge on whether an Example can choose to die.

This could be a new wedge in their relationship that widens the crack that grief created.

Drowning His Anger - Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 Episode 5

I’m always here for a Kovich visit, and he does not disappoint with his Culber consultation.

With Tilly gone, Culber’s struggle to keep it together as ship’s counselor becomes the new trauma focus on the crew.

Kovich: What do you need?
Culber: Well, you’re familiar with my duties as ship’s counselor. And I saw how you were with Georgiou when she was in crisis. So…
Kovich: You need brutal honesty. Noted. We now have eight and a half minutes.

Not sure how much Kovich’s “brutal honesty” differs from the Qowat Milat’s Absolute Candor, but they both serve a purpose.

Kovich: You died. You died and came back to life. Little wonder you’re a mess. Your file is stunningly generic as to your feelings on this rather unique fact of your existence, so allow me to fill in some blanks. ‘Why me?’ It’s the question you ask yourself every morning and every evening. No one else gets a second chance so why me? That led you to the idea that there was a reason for your survival, a purpose you’re meant to fulfill, right here, right now. And that led you to a savior complex because if there is no reason, if there is no purpose, then your very existence is a middle finger to anyone who has ever lost someone. Which is everyone. How’s that for brutal honesty?
Culber: Do you have a recommendation to go along with that sparkling analysis?
Kovich: Whether or not you are a miracle, Dr. Culber, you are only human.

In truth, every member of Discovery’s 22nd-century crew probably suffers from survivors’ guilt. Culber, having actually resurrected from the dead, has a more extreme case of it, to be sure.

The savior complex is not unique to him (as President Rillak’s run-down of Burnham’s file on Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 Episode 1 made clear), but as ship’s counselor, he risks losing himself to a multitude of emotional cuts as he provides individualized attention to everyone on his couch.

Brutal Honesty - Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 Episode 5

Kovich’s analysis and recommendation are blunt, basic, and — as advertised — brutal.

And while Stamets said the exact same thing, Culber needed to hear it from a party removed from any nicety or emotional connection.

Culber: Well, I can’t just stop. Not now, anyway. It’s what I do. It’s who I am.
Kovich: It’s the way you escape the persistent guilt of being alive.

Time will only tell if Culber’s able to take that advice. No one on this ship’s crew — excepting Reno, perhaps — is very good at making good personal choices.

With the minutiae of the individual conflicts out of the way, we are left only with the big long-arc reveal.

Someone with access to an energy source of unimaginable power created the DMA.

Finger on the Button - Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 Episode 5

It’s a weird shot in the dark, but something about that rings oddly close to the Protostar Engine on Star Trek: Prodigy. If The Diviner managed to replicate the protostar containment in the 24th century, could the Vau N’Akat have developed the DMA by the 32nd century?

That, along with the many Star Trek: Picard references this season, makes me wonder if someone with a much better imagination than me is envisioning a crossover event for the Trek vehicles the way the Arrowverse did for many seasons.

Book: You know who’s behind the DMA, don’t you?
Tarka: You say that with such confidence.
Book: A man only gets as close as you did when he has some idea what’s over the cliff.

Mind you, I was also the one who thought Tilly was going to join the Qowat Milat, so my batting average for theories this season is abysmal.

What’s your best theory? Who is behind the DMA? And will Tarka manage to solve it without destroying the ship or its crew members?

Risan Genius - Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 Episode 5

Will Book prove the weak link? Or will he be Culber’s key to success?

More Reno, please!

Hit our comments with your thoughts on the DMA origin, Saru’s roar, and anything else that sparked your imagination!

Diana Keng is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.

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