A great melding of classic and modern Trek.
Full spoilers follow for this episode. Click here if you want to learn how to watch Star Trek: Discovery.
The stage is set for next week’s mid-season cliffhanger of Discovery with “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum” — translation: “If you want peace, prepare for war” — as Burnham, Saru and Tyler find themselves on a very old school sort of Trek mission, even while the bigger concerns of the war effort become increasingly dire.
Things kick off with Lorca and the Discovery crew attempting to rescue the USS Gagarin from a Klingon attack, only to find themselves up against the dilemma that is the enemy’s “invisibility screens.” This scene is a variation on the training sequence we saw Lorca putting his crew through earlier this season, with the captain again barking orders and the Discovery crew ultimately unable to complete their mission as the Gagarin is lost. War is hell… but it’s an exciting sequence nonetheless.
But as Lorca says, now is not the time to grieve. Burnham and the landing party on Pahvo are on a pressing mission to utilize the strange world’s unique sound properties as a form of sonar that will allow Starfleet to crack the Klingons’ stealth technology. It’s a concept that doesn’t make a ton of sense from where I’m sitting — how exactly is Starfleet going to point Pahvo’s naturally occurring antenna at every Klingon ship out there, especially if they don’t even know where the ships are? This is a drawback of Discovery’s Big Ideas on occasion; the show’s attempts to sniff out new and interesting ideas sometimes taste slightly undercooked once you bite into them.
Looking past that, the depiction of Pahvo itself is pretty terrific. Gone, it seems, are the fiberglass caves and fake plants of Star Trek planets of yore. This place really feels alien both in terms of the sweeping wide shots of the weird and wonderful landscape, but also because of the very nature of the planet, a world where everything exists in a perfect, literally singing harmony. Even the non-corporeal alien inhabitants of Pahvo could’ve been pulled straight out of an old Captain Kirk adventure, as could Burnham and Saru’s climactic disagreement as each party tries to explain the pros and cons of the aliens’ exposing themselves to the bigger universe.
That Saru is overwhelmed by it all and ultimately overcome is also a classic Trek trope, although the final reasoning for his weakness is perfectly in keeping with his character. In a lifetime of fear, where he has never been at ease in his own skin, of course Saru would finally find peace on Pahvo and want to hold onto it forever. It’s tragic, actually, and as usual so nicely played by Doug Jones.
But it’s an impossible situation as far as Burnham and Tyler are concerned and they’re sticking to their mission. The resulting conflict between the three is nicely played, as even Burnham and Tyler find reason to disagree over how to proceed. Plus, we get to see that Saru, in the grand tradition of Trek aliens, is super strong — crushing communicators with his bare hands like a champ! — and also really, really fast.
The Burnham/Tyler relationship also continues to advance, and their “needs of the many” moment — while using that specific dialogue is blatant, unnecessary fan service — is so warm and charming that it breaks one’s heart to think that the Tyler theory floating around is very probably true.
We also got B- and C-storyline action this week in the return of L’Rell and Admiral Cornwell plus a bit on Stamets’ apparently worsening condition. The L’Rell/Cornwell stuff is simultaneously intriguing and yet frustrating; while it’s an interesting change of pace to see these two characters together, their plot thread goes a bit off the rails once they seemingly agree to work together. I am just not quite sure if L’Rell actually killed the admiral or not, if she really wanted to defect, and what exactly happened to all those dead Klingons who she vowed to gain vengeance for. The Klingon stuff on Discovery just hasn’t been working as well as it should in recent weeks, though at least this time around I knew that was L’Rell, and actress Mary Chieffo really shined through the thick make-up (in her last appearance I mistakenly thought she was just another Klingon character altogether). Jayne Brook as Admiral Cornwell is also good, and I do hope she isn’t actually dead…
As for Stamets, we knew that his happy-go-groovy spore state of mind couldn’t last, and now we’re starting to see the ill effects. After striking a very Christ-like pose in the spore chamber, Stamets emerges confused — he thinks Tilly is the captain for a second! Is he seeing some future time period? Or the mirror universe? Who can say, but clearly the failings of the spore drive tech are manifesting themselves here. We’ll see where this all goes, but it’s also nice that the writers haven’t forgotten about the cranky version of Stamets; it seemed kind of a cheat to soften him so quickly after he started spore-ing out.
Questions and Notes from the Q Continuum:
- L’Rell’s scar isn’t nearly as bad as it could’ve been. Kind of disappointing actually.
- Burnham makes a really good point. Once the war is over, it’s back to life in prison for her…
- As far as the Klingon cloaking device goes… now that it’s widespread among the fleet, doesn’t that further mess up the canon explanation that they got the tech from the Romulans?
- Airiam takes the conn a lot on the show. Pretty good for a synthetic.
- The Gagarin of course is named for Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space.