Sep 18, 2020
Star Trek: Discovery "Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum"
Previously on Star Trek: Discovery: Mutineer Michael Burnham accepted a bridge post on the USS Discovery, the Federation’s not-so-secret weapon in its war against the Klingons. Captain Lorca and Lt. Ash Tyler pulled of an escape from a Klingon prison vessel, during which Klingon captain L’Rell sustained serious injuries to her face. Later, Lorca felt his current position threatened by Admiral Cornwell, and so engineered her capture by the Klingons.
While not being billed as such, this is basically the first episode of a two-parter, as it leaves us with several cliffhangers to be resolved next week in what’s being billed as this show’s “fall finale”. As such, the current episode is nothing but setup, and mostly a grab-bag of mediocre, predictable subplots. Instead of going blow-by-blow through each scene, I’ll just summarize the A, B, and C plots individually.
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But before we get to those plots, the episode kicks off with the Discovery coming to the rescue of the USS Gagarin, which has just been ambushed by six Klingon vessels. There’s a great-looking but somewhat confusing battle sequence where the Discovery’s crew says that the Klingon ships are equipped with “invisibility screens” and so they can’t get a lock on them, even though we can see most of the ships with our own eyes.
Finally, Lorca orders the Discovery to get between the Klingons and the Gagarin to protect it from enemy fire. Unfortunately, one torpedo gets past them, and the Gagarin is destroyed (I’ll just assume its shields were gone). With the rescue attempt a total failure, Lorca calls for a Black Alert and orders the ship to get the hell out of there.
And this battle never really becomes important beyond showing what’s at stake in the war against the Klingons; we later see Lorca being briefed by that same Vulcan admiral, and being told that two other ships, the Hoover and the Muroc were also ambushed by the Klingons, causing the loss of “462 souls” in all. Also, the admiral explains that “Kol of House of Kor” has taken command of the Ship of the Dead, AKA T’Kuvma’s ship, and is now sharing the “invisibility screen” technology with any other Klingon house that swears allegiance to him. This means that the Discovery’s currently in-progress mission to the planet “Pahvo” is now Starfleet’s “highest priority”.
And that brings us to what I’ll just call the “A” plot, since it’s the one that involves our main character Michael Burnham. She and Ash Tyler and Saru are on the planet Pahvo, which consists mostly of blue foliage, and seems to be the result of the writers watching Avatar one too many times.
Burnham’s log (and this is the second episode in a row where she records one) fills us in on their mission: Everything on this world generates a “tone”, giving the planet its own signature sound, which is broadcast into space thanks to a towering, naturally occurring crystalline structure. Starfleet wants to modify the Hometree crystal tower to somehow use it as “sonar” to detect “cloaked Klingon vessels”. I’m not sure I’m buying any of the technobabble she’s spouting here, but nevertheless, Burnham’s VO says getting control of this tower will “turn the tide of war in our favor”, even though just last week she was saying in her personal log that Starfleet was winning the war.
The away party has to beam in several kilometers away from the tower because of reasons, and Saru complains that he could have gotten there already. Burnham exposition-izes to Tyler that Saru’s species, the Kelpiens, are often the target of apex predators, so they possess incredible speed (sometimes clocking in at 80 km/h) and heightened senses, which means the sounds given off by the planet are akin to torture for Saru.
Just then, some blue mist descends from the sky and seems to form into a cohesive entity. Saru knows the entity wants to communicate with them, even though it doesn’t register as a lifeform. They’re soon surrounded by blue mist creatures, which take them to some kind of hut they somehow created despite not having physical bodies.
Saru reaches a hand into one of the creatures and feels their “desire to converse”. And so Burnham explains to Tyler that they can’t touch the big crystal transmitter now. Tyler thinks this is because of “General Order One”, AKA the Prime Directive, but Burnham says they’re way past that, and now have to adhere to “First Contact principles,” which is where the aliens have to agree to let Starfleet use their stuff. How does this work, exactly? So the Prime Directive means you can’t interfere with pre-warp cultures, unless you’ve already inadvertently interfered with a pre-warp culture, in which case that rule gets completely thrown out the window? Accidental contact or not, shouldn’t they still be trying their best to minimize interaction with this species? Eh, whatever, this certainly isn’t the first time the franchise has played fast and loose with the rules of the Prime Directive.
Later on, Burnham and Tyler talk about how an agreement with the Na’vi Pahvans could mean an end to the war, and Tyler talks about his post-war plans. He owns a house on “Lake Shasta” where he’ll fish for trout and camp on the beach and “watch the stars fall”, but Burnham is all like, good for you and your lake house, but once the war ends, she’s probably going back to prison to serve out her life sentence for mutiny.
So Tyler suggests they fail at their mission so that the war continues and Burnham never has to go to prison. Solid plan, Lieutenant; I’m sure everyone’s fine with perpetual war as long as it helps you get laid. This leads to a tedious conversation where Burnham starts to quote the “needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” line (which as I recall was established on Enterprise as being a Vulcan proverb), but Tyler’s comeback is that “the needs of the few” are also worth fighting for. Burnham adds, “Or the one.” When it doubt, always fall back to quoting The Wrath of Khan, because we saw how well that worked for Star Trek Into Darkness. But hey, Nicholas Meyer is one of the producers on this show, so it’s all good, I guess.
This leads into Tyler and Burnham having their first kiss. By which I mean, they’re having their first kiss for the second time. Forget it, Jake, it’s time travel.
Saru returns and reports some progress in his efforts to communicate with the Pahvans, and describes how this planet is a place of total peace and harmony. But he’s exhausted now due to the constant sounds, and he suggests they all try to sleep. Unfortunately, the planet’s noises keeps him awake, and he runs out of the hut in a panic and pleads with a Pahvan to make it go away.
The Pahvan then seems to invade Saru’s brain, and form a telepathic link with him, and his face glows and there’s a flashback to the scene in the pilot where Saru told Burnham that his species is “biologically determined” to sense the coming of death, and the Pahvan apparently learns all about the conflict between the Federation and the Klingons.
The next morning, Saru is peaceful and happy, and tells the others there’s been a change in plans. He asks them both to hand over their communicators, and immediately crushes them with his bare hands. The encounter with the Pahvan has caused Saru to go fully bonkers, “This Side of Paradise” style, and he insists they all need to stay here and live on this planet, and he assures the other two that they’ll eventually see things his way.
Once he’s gone, Tyler says they need to take control of that crystal tower to get in touch with Discovery. But then Burnham reminds him that First Contact protocols prohibit this, so he pulls rank on her, saying that with Saru off in la-la land, he’s now the one in charge.
Cut to Saru coming into the hut, and finding Tyler alone, and telling him about how he feels in perfect harmony now. Tyler wants to know how he can also feel at peace, because all he can think about is making the Klingons suffer the way they made him suffer. So Saru goes and picks up a random glowing rock, and says if Tyler touches it, he can also feel the “harmony” this world offers. And Tyler stupidly goes ahead and does it, even though he has no idea if this will make him go nuts just like Saru. Instead, this random rock causes a psychic link between them, and Saru’s threat ganglia descend again as he realizes Tyler is just distracting him while Burnham makes her way to the crystalline structure.
Burnham attempts to use the tower to contact the Discovery, while Saru runs to her location, with obvious CGI deployed to show him going at super-speed. Burnham sees him coming for her, and yet doesn’t pull out her phaser until he’s right on top of her and able to swat it away. Saru tries to destroy the communications equipment with his bare hands as the two slug it out, until Burnham is able to reach her phaser and stun him. And then Tyler suddenly materializes out of a cloud of blue mist, meaning the aliens are able to transport people, too?
Burnham pleads with the blue mist creature, asking for its help to end the conflict, reminding it that the Pahvans are all about “harmony and peace”. The alien seems to agree, because the big crystal tower starts glowing, allowing the Discovery to get a lock on them and beam them out.
Back on the Discovery, Saru is in Sickbay and feeling guilty about lying to Burnham and attacking her. He says that due to the nature of his species, all he’s ever known is fear, and he was intoxicated by just a brief moment of knowing what it’s like to live without feeling afraid.
On the bridge, Lorca tells them they didn’t succeed in their mission to turn the crystal tower into sonar. Instead, there’s a signal coming from the planet that’s going out to both the Discovery and the Klingon Ship of the Dead. It seems the Pahvans, being all about peace and harmony, are trying to bring the Federation and Klingons together by inviting the Klingons to their planet. The Discovery detects the Ship of the Dead approaching, and Burnham says they have to stay and fight to protect the Pahvans.
And that would be the “A” plot. Over in the “B” plot, we’re on the Klingon Ship of the Dead, where L’Rell makes an appearance and Kol comments on her new facial scar. She says she’s here to pledge loyalty to him, and also offer her skills as an interrogator, because she’s heard they have a prisoner who refuses to talk, namely Admiral Cornwell.
L’Rell goes to Cornwell’s cell to torture her, but as soon as the guard leaves, she starts asking Cornwell about what the Federation does to their prisoners of war. Cornwell says they’re humanely interrogated, and eventually released to their own people once the war is over. When L’Rell asks if those prisoners are ever executed, Cornwell says, “The Federation has no death penalty!” Which contradicts TOS’ “The Menagerie”, where the Federation had an entire general order specifically prohibiting travel to Talos IV under punishment of death, but let’s just assume Cornwell is bluffing here to get more info out of L’Rell.
Upon learning this, L’Rell says she wants to “defect”, because there’s nothing for her here, since her lover Voq was “chased away”. And while she doesn’t mention her boytoy Ash Tyler escaping, I’m guessing that’s also factoring into her decision. L’Rell says they can escape on her vessel as long as Cornwell assures her “safe passage” to the Discovery.
Unfortunately, on the way there, they get caught by Kol. And then comes a weird moment where L’Rell says, “You were not what I expected,” and Cornwell replies, “Neither were you.” Cornwell then immediately grabs L’Rell’s blade and the two start fighting. Eventually, L’Rell knocks Cornwell unconscious with a head butt, and then kills her by throwing her against some piece of equipment that electrocutes her. L’Rell lies to Kol and says that Cornwell tried to escape, and she’ll “dispose of the body”. Okay, I understand L’Rell needing to quickly come up with a cover story, but why did Cornwell lean into things by grabbing L’Rell’s weapon? And what was that “now what I expected” dialogue about?
L’Rell drags Cornwell’s body to the ship’s morgue, I guess, where she also sees the bodies of her family members, I guess. She promises to “end Kol” and avenge them all. On the bridge, Kol forces L’Rell to have her face painted with red streaks like himself and all the members of the House of Kor. Then he reveals he’s fully aware of her “deceit” and has her taken away.
That’s when the Klingons detect that signal from the planet Pahvo, and they figure, hell, why not go there right now? I mean, what else do they have to do? What war with the Federation?
And finally, there’s the “C” plot, which starts when the Discovery is escaping from Klingons after the destruction of the Gagarin. For the first time, we see Lt. Stamets interfacing with the spore drive, and laying back in a chair as needles are inserted into those patches on his upper forearms.
After the jump, Stamets stumbles out of the spore chamber, looks at Ensign Tully, and says, “What are you doing down here, Captain?” When Tilly asks if he’s feeling alright because he just called her “Captain”, he yells at her for being “absurd” and stalks off. But it’s safe to say that, given her stated career goals, he’s obviously seeing the future, right?
Later, Tilly confronts Stamets in the mess hall, pointing out how the tardigrade DNA made him goofy and fun at first, but now he’s back to being his old surly self. He resists her probing questions at first, but eventually admits that he’s experiencing moments where everything he knows suddenly gets “jumbled”. And he can’t tell his partner Dr. Culber about this, because then Culber would be obligated to tell Starfleet, and then Stamets would be sent to a “Starfleet lab”, which would spell doom for the Discovery and the war effort.
And that’s about it. Three completely uninvolving plot threads which will presumably be resolved next week, but probably in an episode not a whole lot better than this one.
The first few episodes of this half-season were pretty intriguing, and full of promise, in that it seemed to be trying a lot of things we’ve never seen before in Trek. Unfortunately, the last few episodes have been the same sort of predictable, Anomaly-of-the-Week stories that previously made this franchise a chore to watch. The writers don’t seem to realize that it’s 2017 and they’re not going to wow us with supposed high concepts like a temporal loop (a retread of TNG’s “Cause and Effect”) or members of the crew going insane (a retread of “This Side of Paradise”) or sentient clouds (a retread of TOS’s “Metamorphosis”). They need to go back to what they were doing early on, which was focusing on creating compelling characters. They weren’t necessarily successful at it, but at least it was something different.
Oh, and the title of the episode is Latin for “If you want peace, prepare for war”. Can’t argue with that.
Next up: In the last episode until 2018, Discovery goes head-to-head with the Klingon Ship of the Dead, Stamets continues to get a little bit crazy, and Burnham fights Kol mano a mano.