Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Confusion Abounds in Star Trek: Discovery

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And we’re back to “what the hell.”

Episode 8: “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum”

Stardate 1308.9

The USS Gagarin is under attack by a squadron of Klingon vessels. Although Discovery arrives and engages with the Klingons, suffering significant damage, they are unable to prevent the Gagarin and its crew from being destroyed. Lorca orders an immediate jump from the battlefield.

Once safely away, Stamets steps out of the spore drive. Tilley asks him if he’s alright, and Stamets asks why the captain has come down to engineering. When Tilley questions him, Stamets snaps at her, accusing her of lazing about on the job.

Lorca contacts Starfleet Command and demands to know why Discovery was the only ship in range to assist the Gagarin. The admiral informs him the other Starfleet ships in the area were also destroyed, simultaneously attacked with the Gagarin. The cloaking technology Kol has been rewarding Klingon houses that pledge fealty to him is turning the tide in the war; there is little Starfleet can do to combat that technology, unless Discovery’s newest mission on the planet Pahvo is successful. The admiral asks for a mission update. Lorca informs him the away team—Burnham, Saru and Tyler—have landed on the planet’s surface.

On Pahvo, the away crew explores the unique planet. Although seemingly uninhabited, the planet vibrates with constant frequencies, creating music through the harmonies of the earth and vegetation. Starfleet is hoping to use the frequency to create a homing beacon through a crystal transmitter on Pavho, which will allow them to track cloaked Klingon vessels. Burnham and Tyler are fascinated and awed by Pahvo’s music and beauty, but Saru is suffering; the constant noise irritates his heightened senses.

In the woods, they are confronted by an energy presence. Although it doesn’t speak a language any of them recognize, Saru is convinced it is sentient and attempting to converse with them. Several of them surround the away crew.

On the Ship of the Dead, L’Rell congratulates Kol on his unification of so many Klingon houses. Kol declares he doesn’t care for unification, only power under his banner. L’Rell seeks to join him, offering her services as an interrogator. She knows he has a valuable prisoner—Admiral Cornwell—in his cells.

On Pahvo, Burnham, Saru and Tyler make camp in a hut shown to them by the energy presence. The energy continues trying to communicate, and only Saru believes it doesn’t mean them harm. Saru tries to establish communication, reaching out his hand. The energy enters him, then dissipates. Saru believes he felt honest intentions to converse from them, but declares establishing communication will take some time.

L’Rell arrives at Admiral Cornwell’s cells with her instruments. She tells the admiral to scream, an order only followed when L’Rell roars at her. Admiral Cornwell screams back in defiance. L’Rell praises her, telling her that the guard at her cell is now gone, believing L’Rell has started her work. Now they can “talk.”

At night, Tyler and Burnham discuss the mission and future. Now that they’ve established contact, they must follow protocol and get the Pahvans’ permission to use the crystal. Tyler tells Burnham his plans to go home and fish on the lake near his property. Burnham reminds him she is a prisoner. Ending the war will mean she goes back to prison. Tyler  says that won’t end the war then, so she can remain free. They kiss.

On Discovery, Tilley corners Stamets in the mess hall. She demands to know what’s going on, and although initial reluctant and combative, Stamets eventually confesses to her that something is wrong. When he steps out of the spore drive, sometimes he cannot remember what’s going on or who’s with him. Stamets hasn’t told Culber because he would be forced to report Stamets behavior, which would lead to them being separated as Stamets will be forced into a Federation lab. And if Culber refuses to report him, Culber’s career would be ruined. Stamets refuses to do either thing to Culber. Tilley promises to help Stamets monitor the spore drive and tardigrade DNA effects on him.

L’Rell questions Admiral Cornwell about what happens to Starfleet prisoners. Cornwell explains that prisoners are captured, interrogated and then eventually released as part of the peace broker process; there is no execution. L’Rell tells her she wishes to defect to the Federation. She feels no loyalty to Kol, only anger for turning her people and chasing away Voq. She promises she can get Cornwell out, if she agrees to take her to Discovery. Cornwell is suspicious, but she has no other option.

Saru updates Burnham and Tyler with what he knows. They have established a limited vocabulary, but he has learned the energy presences are Pahvu, having established perfect symbiosis between themselves and the planet. Achieving perfect harmony and peace. The three rest for the night, and while Tyler and Burnham can sleep, Saru is kept awake by the planet’s constant noise. Seeking relief, he stumbles out of their shelter and into a Pahvan. He begs it for relief. The Pahvan merges with Saru.

In the morning, Saru finds Tyler and Burnham. He seems well rested. Saru informs them he informed Lorca of their situation, explaining he was able to make contact by adjusting the frequency in his communicator. He tells them the Pahvans will grant them whatever they want, although some mission perimeters must change. He asks for their communicators, and when Burnham and Tyler give them over, Saru crushes them. The Pahvans have invited them to stay, and Saru tells them they will. The Pahvans exist in perfect balance, and the three of them will stay and achieve that same balance and peace.

Saru leaves to tell the Pahvans they will stay. Burnham and Tyler argue over what to do: Tyler insists on going through with the mission, but Burnham is concerned about Saru’s behavior and worried the Pahvans don’t understand what they are trying to do. Since he outranks her, Tyler orders her to go through with the mission as planned.

In the corridors of Kol’s ship, L’Rell leads Admiral Cornwell to her shuttle. L’Rell explains she will set the ship to explode before they leave, ensuring Kol’s death. They nearly make it, until Kol catches sight of them. L’Rell grabs Cornwell, telling her she was not what she expected. Admiral Cornwell expresses the same before taking L’Rell’s weapon and attacking her. They fight, and L’Rell shoves Cornwell into some of the ship’s machinery, electrocuting her and seemingly killing her. L’Rell tells Kol Cornwell escaped, and then drags her body away.

Saru returns to the hut with food. He asks Tyler where Burnham is, and Tyler admits they had an argument. Saru goes to look for her until Tyler calls him back. He asks Saru what happened to make him so much more comfortable with the planet’s noise. Saru says he changed, opening himself up to the existence and opportunity the Pahvans offered him. Tyler asks him how he was able to just let go, to stop resisting. He admits he doesn’t want to defeat the Klingons; he wants to make the Klingons suffer. Saru tries to offer Tyler solace by introducing him to the harmony he has found. He holds out a rock for Tyler to touch and focus on. It is then he realizes Tyler has tricked him.

Elsewhere, Burnham reaches the crystal transmitter. She sets to work calibrating the frequency to hail the Discovery and locate cloaked Klingon vessels. Saru races to stop her.

In the deepest depths of the Ship of the Dead, L’Rell deposits Cornwell’s body. She finds friends and allies of her house, killed by Kol. She promises them vengeance.

Saru interrupts Burnham’s attempts to hail Discovery. He attacks her and then tries to destroy the frequency equipment. Burnham has no choice but to stun him with her phaser. Saru collapses, and accuses her of taking the peace and harmony he found on Pahvo from him, just like everything else she has taken from him. Burnham reminds him that staying here will not bring peace; they have to win the war to get true peace. Saru lunges at her.

The Pahvan arrives, bringing Tyler with it. Saru apologizes to it, trying to explain how he wanted to protect it from the war they were bringing here. Burnham explains to the Pahvan they want harmony, but they need to take care of the threat first. She asks for its help. Saru begs it not to help them. The Pahvan repairs the crystal transmitter, letting the Discovery answer the hail and beam the three of them aboard.

In the med bay, Burnham asks Saru if he is all right. No longer under the influence of the Pahvan, Saru is horrified by his actions. For once he had not been afraid, and he had clung to that new freedom, endangering the mission and the crew with him.

L’Rell gives Kol the information she has gleaned from Admiral Cornwell: Discovery has power technology that would extend his reach if it was Kol’s. Kol sees through L’Rell’s deceptions. When she kneels to take his mark, Kol reveals his knowledge. L’Rell is captured just as another Klingon informs Kol they are being hailed by a signal from Pahvo.

The Pahvan has not used the crystal to locate and decloak Klingon vessels. It is calling them, inviting them, to it and the Discovery.

Episode Impressions

You know, there was an episode almost exactly like this, 50 years ago. “Errand of Mercy” (Season 1, episode 27) was our first introduction to the Klingon Empire, when Captain Kirk and the Enterprise attempt to stop Klingons from using the planet Organia as a military outpost—thus preventing interstellar war. The seemingly naïve inhabitants of the planet turn out to be intergalactic energy, infinitely older and wiser than humans or Klingons. These evolved gods orchestrate a cease fire between Kirk and the Klingon commander Kor. The Organians inform them in the future, humans and Klingons will be allies, and that their discordant emotions and behaviors now means they must leave their planet without any altercation. They do so, without any bloodshed at all.

And that was still better than “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum.” Black face, deus ex machina and all.

Star Trek: Discovery falls back into the painful trap of trying to do too much in too little time. The Pahvan away mission, Admiral Cornwell and L’Rell’s potential alliance, Burnham and Tyler’s burgeoning romance, and the deterioration of Stamets’ condition all suffer because instead of being singular episodes with distinct story lines, they’re tacked together with a hodgepodge of confusing cut scenes. This is a shame because these could all be great story lines (minus the romance, which I just don’t care about).

L’Rell is a character I want to be invested in, and instead I’m just confused. They are trying to write her as duplicitous but her trajectory is coming across more and more as just unstable. She told Voq he would be going back to her House to be trained by the matriarchs who would show him things thought impossible. He shouldn’t be “missing” unless he refused, or perhaps died during the attempt. Granted I’m sure she wouldn’t tell such a thing to a Federation Admiral, but Voq being “chased away” just doesn’t make sense.

Almost as little sense as her allying with Admiral Cornwell, whom she then kills to keep up appearances with Kol. I don’t know if she actually wanted to defect to the Federation, or if this is part of some larger plot, but apart from seeing a moment of nice mutual respect between powerful women, L’Rell’s entire presence on the Ship of the Dead was simply frustrating. Nothing actually happened aside from Admiral Cornwell’s death.

Maybe this is part of what Discovery is hoping will be a big cliffhanging reveal that will hook us in for January. At the moment, however, it just feels like the slight, almost-obvious precipice before a particularly nasty fall.

Saru was equally confusing in this episode. Doug Jones is a fantastic actor, and the emotion he brings to Saru is wonderful and should be visceral, but I felt no sympathy for his loss on Pahvo. If there had been more time dedicated to how utterly exhausting Saru’s constant state of fear must be, his fury at Burnham, his collapse, and his admission would have been one of the emotional highlights of the show. Instead he comes off as whining and self-pitying—a person who wants to blame everyone else and not himself.

I was really invested in Stamets and the spore drive, but this storline got all of five minutes because it doesn’t have any direct implication in the war. Except, you know, if something happens to Stamets, Discovery will be stranded. But who actually cares about that?

At least this week we got more names for the bridge crew. It’s the delayed start of making this ship feel like its fully-peopled. Too bad it’s probably so we will feel a little something when they inevitably die.

Do I sound tired? It’s because I am.

Next week is the mid-season finale; we’ll have to wait until January 2018 to see the second half of this fifteen-episode season. Although I’ll watch the second half—and not just because I’m the reviewer—I’m going into this finale and the next installment with more of a sense of drudgery than I hoped for.

I like Discovery. It may not seem like it, but I actually do. The problem is, Discovery has potential and has taken almost every opportunity to ignore it in favor of doing too much in too little time, or worse riding on the popularity of grim-dark.  I signed up for neither of these when I first heard about the first televised Star Trek series in over 10 years.

I’ll continue to hold out hope—Star Trek is all about hope—but so far, I’m approaching the first finale with the firm belief that Discovery is decent sci-fi, but not so-decent Trek.

Images Courtesy of CBS

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