In one of the best episodes of the original Star Trek — “The Devil in the Dark” — Spock links his mind with a shuffling rock-alien that looks like a pulsating pizza crossed with a shag carpet. The episode isn’t good because of the absurdly silly special effects. It’s good because it flips the script on a space monster trope. And the latest Discovery — “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not For The Lamb’s Cry” — does the exact same thing. It just takes it a little while to get there.
Spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Episode 4.
Picking up where the last episode left off, the monster that ate the entire crew of the USS Glenn is still locked-up in Captain Lorca’s creepy menagerie. However, it’s quickly revealed that this chamber of space-horrors is no secret at all. After giving her a new Starfleet uniform (minus a badge) Lorca assigns Burnham to study the giant killing machine with Security Chief Landry, who decides to call the monster “Ripper.” Their job is to figure out how to weaponize it. Meanwhile, a Starfleet colony is under attack from the Klingons and the only way to save them is to get the special instantaneous spore-drive back online in a hurry.
With an episode title this grizzly and philosophical, the episode doesn’t mess around. The internal machinations of the remnants of the Klingon fleet from the first episode are explored and are mostly gross. The Klingons eat gross food and talk about eating the body of the slain heroic Captain Georgiou. Was this detail specifically necessary? Or is it all a giant red-herring setting up the actual return of Michelle Yeoh’s excellent and already beloved character? By the end of this episode, we see these Klingons are capable of all kinds of deceptions, including faking each other’s deaths. Wishful thinking that this was also a fake-out?
Also on the Captain Georgiou front: The episode’s coda finds Michael Burnham receiving her portion of Georgiou’s will; the retro telescope which was the ready room in “The Vulcan Hello.” Who went back to the wreckage of the the USS Shenzhou to pick this telescope up? Was there a lawyer on the ship when everyone evacuated? “Sure, I’ll get to the escape pod, but let me grab this stuff first to make sure everyone gets these knicknacks outlined in the Captain’s will. I’ll only be a second.” To be fair, this might be a minor plot hole, one that should be overlooked probably because it’s pretty heartwarming when Burnham gets the telescope at the end, but still.
Regardless of the nitty-gritty plot stuff, the best aspect of this episode was Discovery’s new version of the Horta — the rock pizza from the original Trek. Unlike the Tribble or Gorn skeleton from last week, this isn’t a literal return of an old Trek alien, but a figurative one. And with Ripper, Discovery does the most Trek-y thing possible; reveal Ripper it wasn’t a monster at all. Once a microorganism, Ripper was turned macro by the weird science happening on the Glenn. It’s all a bit muddled, but the bottom line is, Ripper isn’t here to kill mean Starfleet officers (RIP Landry) but instead, to help make the spore drive work. When Discovery insta-warps above the Federation colony and save the day, it’s enough to make you cheer.
A little girl asks her father “who saved us?” The answer is probably a little complicated, but so far, Discovery’s dark and gruesome soul is being perpetually saved by optimistic ideas from the classic series.
And who knows, because the “monster” is still around, maybe we’ll see a friendly mind-meld between Burnham and Ripper very soon. Because if Burnham can do the Vulcan neck-pinch, maybe she can do a mind-meld too?
Star Trek: Discovery airs Sundays at 8:30 p.m. Eastern on CBS All Access.
If you liked this article, check out this video on Inverse’s review of Star Trek: Discovery.