I honestly cannot help but giggle internally at Star Trek fans who claim that The Orville has surpassed Star Trek at being Star Trek. Face it, The Orville is simply re-treading plots that Star Trek did decades ago while Discovery, with its current season, has been a glorious return to form with each episode seeing the crew boldly going where no one has gone before and facing challenges to morality and humanity.
Take “An Obol for Charon,” for example. In my opinion, this is Star Trek: Discovery‘s best episode. We’re introduced to an alien life form completely unlike anything we’ve seen on Star Trek before, there is a major question of the motivation of the alien which is not what it first appears to be, there is a question of morality not only in the response to this alien, but also the treatment of a fungus blob alien that was pulled out of Tilly in the last episode, and finally a question of humanity when Saru reveals that he is dying from a natural and irreversible biological process.
While it may sound like the episode is overstuffed with plot, it actually congeals in such a way that this is one of those rare hours of television that the passage of which feels timeless. You are lost in the drama and the flow of the story to the point that time is meaningless and it is wonderful.
I will also say that if new crew member Jet Reno is not made the permanent chief engineer of Discovery, I will lead a mutiny. I love her so much.
Speaking of Reno, her story, or rather Tilly’s story, is the lesser of the three which is an unfair label since it’s incredibly good, but let’s go with it anyway. This plot was not only frightening – Because how else would you describe a blob monster latching on to you, drugging you, and taking over your mind? – but it also went a long way to show the evolution of Staments as a character. No longer the sassy gay stereotype, this episode had him showing such amazing empathy and camaraderie with a character that season one Staments arguably hated. The moment when he and Tilly sang Space Oddity together was beautiful.
Reno, as I have mentioned before, added a wonderful brashness to the story as well, without coming off as a complete turd of a person.
The second of the three stories found Saru dying. It’s impossible to really discuss this story without spoilers, but I have to admit that the culmination that had Saru and Burnham together was so wonderfully written and so wonderfully acted that it brought a genuine tear to my eye. I cannot remember the last time that Star Trek did that. Sonequa Martin-Green and Doug Jones deserve every commendation that can be voiced in the language.
The main story, the encounter with the alien, is also almost impossible to talk about without spoiling the episode which I don’t want to do. What I can say is that, as I have said before, the alien is unlike anything else we’ve seen, it’s motivation is a mystery, and the havoc that it visits upon Discovery is both fun and terrifying. The breakdown of the Universal Translator, a fun scene in of itself, is such a simple way to send a ship into chaos and something we haven’t seen before. The solution was both elegant and simple as well. It was just fun.
Sure, you got some old cliches about systems failures and life support failing, but none were quite as memorable as the entire bridge crew speaking in a dozen different languages, unable to understand each other.
Even the minor scenes that can barely count as part of the main story were great. The introduction of Number One from the original series pilot episode 53 years ago was not only a bit of fan service, but actually advanced the search for Spock plot that has been interwoven throughout the series.
Burnham’s reluctance to face her half-brother holds over from last week, but this week, the events of the episode directly leads to a logical and well-motivated change of heart. If there’s one thing you can hand to Discovery, it’s that it does not linger on plot questions too long.
There’s no other way to put it, but “An Obol for Charon” was a great episode. It avoids Discovery’s usual pitfalls and creates one darn fine hour of television that not only solidifies Discovery as Star Trek, but solidifies it has incredible Star Trek that honors the past, but finds new ways to tell challenging stories. This is better than anything The Orville has done, better than anything Star Trek: Enterprise ever did, and better than anything Star Trek: Voyager has done. Easily, this is the best Star Trek episode in over 20 years.