Star Trek Discovery Season 4 Review: Galactic Challenges Mixed With Intimate Character Moments

The last season of "Star Trek: Discovery" propelled us way into the future and conveniently out of the continuity restraints of being set in a time before Captain James T. Kirk even helmed the U.S.S. Enterprise. The show benefited from being free of those constraints last season and also did the work of establishing what this future looks like, most significantly that the Federation has become weakened in the century after The Burn killed warp travel. (Also, everyone has their own personal transporter now.)

We now know the rough outline of this new "Trek" time, and while we're hundreds of years from when we've ever been before, "Discovery" is still very much a "Star Trek" show. The Federation is rebuilding post-Burn, and the future is once again full of opportunity, exploration, and hope.

Another Galactic-Level Threat

The beginning of season 4 starts out on an upbeat note. We're on a lush planet with some interesting aliens, U.S.S. Discovery Captain Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), and her partner, Book (David Ajala). The two are there on behalf of the Federation and are doing the good work of giving away dilithium to those who lost their supplies after The Burn (aka the Very Bad Thing the series tackled in season 3).

This is a non-spoiler review so I'll stop there, but even when things get a bit dicey on the aforementioned lush planet, Michael keeps smiling. The sequence has danger, yes, but it's also lighthearted, an event that highlights Michael's deep drive to save everyone and solve every problem. She's in her element, doing what she does best with the people she loves.

After those first few minutes, however, things get very bad, very fast. That anomaly we've seen in the trailer makes its ruthless introduction and — as Saru says in the aforementioned trailer — puts billions of people at risk. This is bad, folks — another cataclysmic event for the crew of Discovery to tackle head on.

The anomaly, like other threats in seasons past, is almost absurdly epic in scope, so big that its enormity makes one almost numb. What "Discovery" does better this season, however, is pair this galactic existential threat with the personal struggles of its characters.

A Balance

Take Michael, for example. She's the protagonist of the series — someone who has helped save the universe and solved the centuries-old problem of the Burn. Her drive to save everyone no matter the risk, however, is seen as a fault by the newly elected Federation President (Chelah Horsdal). The character conflict extends beyond Michael, however, more than what we've seen before. Other characters have their own personal journeys and get more time and focus on what they're going through. The first few episodes see some characters deal with grief, for example, while others look to find one's own place in the ever-changing galaxy.

Two characters in particular are also getting more welcome screen time. Adira (Blu del Barrio) and Gray (Ian Alexander) are now part of the main cast instead of recurring characters, and their characters are more fleshed out (Gray in the literal sense of the word, as he is on a journey to get a body of his own).

It's not easy to maintain the right balance between intimate character moments and events that span the galaxy. "Discovery," however, gets it right more often than not, though there are definitely moments that swing and miss. What the show doesn't lose sight of, however is that it is a series about hope, about people using all their technology and know-how at their disposal to help others and make the galaxy a better place.

And so the Discovery crew continues to strive forward and face monumental threats, armed with portable transporters and programmable matter, yes, but also the bonds they have with each other. They are family, albeit a family who constantly must stop threats that threaten billions.

The fourth season of "Star Trek: Discovery" premieres on Paramount+ on November 18, 2021.