“An Obol for Charon” returned STAR TREK DISCOVERY to a familiar Trek theme. Unlike “Point of Light,” which attempted, unsuccessfully, to weave together ten story lines, this episode focused on three or four stories. Of primary concern was the virus attacking the Discovery. The virus, apparently related to an unfamiliar energy pulse, affects a variety of Discovery’s systems, including its universal translator, and triggers an illness in Saru.
Saru identifies his illness as “Vaharai,” the final developmental stage his people go through. This illness immediately precedes his people’s mysterious sacrificial ritual, featured in the short episode, “The Brightest Star.” The Vaharai isn’t all it seems to be, though, leading Saru to question his weird-ass home-world’s social makeup.
Tilly, Stamets, and Reno occupy the majority of the rest of “An Obol for Charon.” Stuck in engineering during Discovery’s lockdown procedure, the three do their best to make contact with the fungal life form that once inhabited Tilly.
STAR TREK DISCOVERY – “Ritually kill me already!”
There were a couple familiar Trek elements in “An Obol for Charon” but one that might have gone unnoticed by Trek fans who never watched STAR TREK: The Next Generation was Saru’s asking Michael to kill him. This was probably the most touching part of the episode, but it isn’t the first time that Trek writers have explored the topic of assisted dying.
In TNG’s fifth season, an injured Lt. Worf, convinced he will never walk again, asks Cmdr. Riker to help him commit ritual suicide. Riker’s reaction is a bit different from Burnham’s, but the outcome is the same. Neither officer has to face the ethical dilemma of assisting in their friend’s death.
When Saru’s symptoms subside at the end of the episode, he questions the significance of his home-world’s sacrificial ritual that follows the Vaharai.
STAR TREK DISCOVERY – The Odd Couple…and Tilly
Stamets, Tilly, and Reno are having problems of their own. Locked together in engineering by Discovery’s reaction to the virus infecting her systems, the three officers try to prevent a power overload while also trying to make contact with the fungal life-form that has been harassing Tilly since “New Eden.”
Stamets and Reno don’t get along too well. They both have strong opinions about starship propulsion, Reno in favour of the tried-and-true matter/anti-matter warp engine and Stamets in favour of Discovery’s spore drive.
Providing viewers with a handy 21st-century metaphor, Stamets likens the transition from warp to spore drive to the transition from fossil fuels to sustainable energy sources — so I guess the survivors of the World War III will have that to look forward to.
STAR TREK DISCOVERY – “An Obol for Charon” – “Your environmentally friendly propulsion system is killing my environment!”
Forced to drill into Tilly’s brain to make contact with the mycelial alien, it describes Stamets as an invader bent on destroying its natural environment. This alien and ones like it reside within the mycelial network, and Discovery’s jumps have been polluting it. I guess Stamets will have to rethink his arguments for the sustainability of spore-drive propulsion.
STAR TREK DISCOVERY – “An Obol for Charon” – “You’re talking a lot but you’re not saying anything!”
It’s not just the fungal alien who’s trying to get its message through, though. Burnham realizes that the virus infecting the ship’s systems isn’t hostile. And, preventing Captain Pike from firing on the source of the transmission by only seconds, Discovery manages to make contact. The source of the transmission self destructs, using its remaining energy to push Discovery clear of the blast.
This is the well-trod Trek theme I was referring to earlier. For the amount of times it’s happened over six Trek series and 12 movies, if it isn’t standard training at Starfleet Academy to consider that every alien attack might be an attempt at communication, it oughtta’ be.
STAR TREK DISCOVERY – “An Obol for Charon” – Mycelial Payback
The ship is out of danger, but there’s still a hole in Tilly’s head. I guess she’ll have to get that looked after later. After a trippy interlude, where psylocibin spores overpower Stamets and Reno, the two sober up to find that Tilly is gone. The nearby husk of the mycelial life-form that had inhabited Tilly sits on the floor. With all signs pointing to a mycelial abduction of Ensign Tilly, it seems probable that Stamets will reverse his position on never using the mycelial network again.
STAR TREK DISCOVERY – “An Obol for Charon” – Number One
Giving long-time Trekkies a thrill, “An Obol for Charon” showed the series’ first appearance of Number One, Captain Pike’s first officer aboard the Enterprise. This character, originally played by Majel Barrett, first appeared in Star Trek’s rejected pilot episode “The Cage,” but most fans probably caught their first glimpses at Number One in “The Menagerie” since “The Cage” didn’t air until the 1980s.
Rebecca Romijn hasn’t had much opportunity to show viewers what this version of Star Trek’s first first officer will get up to, but it’s good to know she, like Captain Pike, is focused on finding Spock.
STAR TREK DISCOVERY – “An Obol for Charon” – Final Thoughts
Aside from “Point of Light,” which I found to be a bit of a miss, I’ve been enjoying this season more than DISCOVERY’s first. That the characters have had a chance to develop definitely helps the show, but what I’ve really been enjoying is the reinterpretations of original Star Trek properties, like Captain Pike and Number One.
I admit to being a bit concerned that Saru would meet his end before ever really getting a chance to get going as a character, but it looks like DISCOVERY viewers will benefit from Doug Jones’s presence for a bit longer at least.