‘Star Trek: Discovery’ finally embraces standalone storytelling in its fourth season

Below contains minor spoilers for season four, episode six of ‘Star Trek: Discovery(And a vague discussion of Episode VII).

There is little trend or tradition among the Star Trek shows, starting with next generation. Somewhere around the third or fourth season, the show finds its way and gets really good, if not great. This isn’t a phenomenon exclusive to Trek, of course, but only Trek has a definite name to it: beard growth. This is in reference to the leaders William Rieker and Benjamin Sisko, who both started their show clean-shaven but grew beards at the time. next generation And Nine deep space It became noticeably better. And Discovery He might finally be ready to do his own makeover, but instead of a beard, a makeover is getting fans talking.

One of the complaints about DiscoveryThe first three seasons – along with the grim tone, the infallibility of Michael Burnham and all crying – it was that it pretty much embraced a more serialized format, with each episode being another part in one long, continuous story. Sure, there were episodic one-off adventures, but each episode was still very focused on the bigger story.


Season 4 began the same way, with the season premiere and episode two dedicated to setting out the new status quo to rebuild the United Federation of Planets and presenting the season’s big threat: The Dark Matter Anomaly (DMA). However, unlike previous seasons where each episode could have focused on a single step toward finding a solution, problem-solving has taken a back seat to a largely self-contained A-plot.

The transformation can be first seen in Episode III, in which Burnham and her crew are tasked with tracking down a rogue member of Milat’s force (as she called it to my editor: Sisters of the Ninja). DMA is more of a C-plot in this episode, as B-plot occupies the story of Gray Tal and the new Android body. Episode four was Tilly trying to train and keep a group of Starfleet students alive (in a plot reminiscent of the Voyager episodes “Learning Curve” and “Good Shepherd”). Episode five saw the crew tasked with evacuating a planet threatened by the DMA. The anomaly may have been the instigating force in the episode, but in reality it was interchangeable with almost any other planetary threat since the episode focused more on Michael’s struggle to free six prisoners on the surface.

Pictured: David Agala as Paramount Book + Original Series STAR TREK: DISCOVERY.  CR Photo: Michael Gibson/Paramount + (C) 2021 CBS Interactive.  All rights reserved.


Find this week’s episode Discovery He travels to a subspace crack created by the DMA and becomes stuck, with the ship’s conscious AI Zora unable to lead the crew to safety. However, while the anomaly is again the cause of Discovery’s problems, it is also, once again, an interchangeable threat. The episode’s real motive is problem-solving to get the crew out, and the personal struggles of characters like Zora and Cleveland Booker.

Next week will bring the anomaly of dark matter back to the fore again, but that only makes sense since episode seven marks the approximate midpoint of the 13-episode season as well as the end of the calendar year. It’s not unusual for many TV shows to take this time to “check” their main stories and bring those plots to the next. But it is uncommon for Discovery In that it’s not as clean a gap as in previous seasons: Season 1 of the Klingon War has moved into the Mirror Universe, Season 2 of Red Angel puzzle has moved on to battle the evil AI control. Next week’s episode marks a much smoother transition than before.

Pictured: Ian Alexander as Gray from Paramount + Original series STAR TREK: DISCOVERY.  CR Photo: Michael Gibson/Paramount + (C) 2021 CBS Interactive.  All rights reserved.


This fluidity is mostly due to the fact that the ongoing story is not given much time to blossom openly, instead flowing in the background while the show instead focuses on one-shot adventures of character building. Standalone episodes can feel outdated in the age of broadcast and binge-watching, where viewers can get their answers right away so there’s no need to make each individual chapter feel “complete”. There is no chance of you becoming dissatisfied with the content of an episode when the next episode is only seconds away. Even shows that premiere week after week have fallen into the trap, assuming most viewers will indulge in the show later anyway, with only fanatics watching every installment as it falls.

But for most of its existence at this point, Star Trek has been a hardcore franchise. People who can’t wait for the next episode, people who will read and write summaries of their favorite pop culture sites and those who share theories on social media. Paramount+ has put a lot of its chips on the strength of this hardcore base, stacking its production schedule with five different Star Trek shows that rarely overlap, meaning a fan who wants to see everything as soon as possible will need to keep Paramount+ subscribing throughout the year.

Pictured: A grudge against the original Paramount + series cat STAR TREK: DISCOVERY.  CR Photo: Michael Gibson/Paramount + (C) 2021 CBS Interactive.  All rights reserved.


While fan complaints may have played a huge role in DiscoveryThe decision to switch to a more show-stopping format likely played an even bigger role. when Discovery It was the only Star Trek show, and one of Paramount+’s few showtimes, when it was common for viewers to only sign up when they wanted to overdo something—sometimes even during the service’s free week for new customers. appears like lower floorsAnd Miracle and next Strange new worlds It actually works in a more casual format, meaning Discovery It would have made a “hole” in an ongoing subscription for viewers, a chance for them to take a break from Star Trek and pay $6 a month.

With the occasional display it is very difficult to ignore while it is being shown; Each episode represents a complete viewing experience, which makes waiting between episodes less painful. And when Discovery Encountering new worlds and new adventures every week, it gives fans something new to talk about, rather than rehashing the same old theories about the ongoing story over and over until the season ends. Star Trek was just designed for episodic viewing, and adopting the format will make it easier Discovery To capture the interest of fans over time.

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