Friday, April 12, 2024

Better at the End in Star Trek: Discovery Mid-Season Finale

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Episode 9: “Into the Forest I Go”

Content Warning: this review discusses sexual assault, as mentioned on the show.

Orbiting Pahvo, Lorca and the Discovery are ordered by Admiral Terral to retreat. Even knowing the Klingons will destroy the transmitter—eliminating Starfleet’s advantage—and an defenseless, peaceful race, he insists Discovery and its spore drive must be protected. Lorca is ordered to bring Discovery to Starbase 46, rendezvousing with the active Starfleet while the admiral board decides on their next move in the war. Although Lorca orders a course for the Starbase, he does so at normal warp. They are expected to arrive in three hours, which gives the crew a limited window to find a way to protect the Pahvans from the Ship of the Dead.

To make the ruse more convincing, Lorca and Stamets play up a minor issue Stamets has with his augmentation device. Lorca orders him to under a full examination in med bay. Stamets reluctantly obeys.

After an hour, Burnham and Saru report that they have discovered how Klingon cloaking works. The Klingons create an electromagnetic field that bends light, allowing it to become undetectable. But because the field is imperfect, they could track the small imperfections. Saru proposes placing two sensors on the Ship of the Dead that would relay information back to Discovery, letting him create the algorithm with the imperfections that will render Klingon cloaking useless. Unfortunately, the data collection will take days. Fortunately, they have a spore drive.

Lorca visits Stamets and Culber in med bay. Culber’s tests reveal changes to Stamets’ brain as a result of the tardigrade DNA and spore drive jumps. When asked, Stamets denies suffering any ill side effects. Stamets follows Lorca to his ready room, where Lorca tries to persuade him to make 133 jumps in rapid succession. The jumps around the Klingon vessel will allow them to collect the data they need for the algorithm in minutes instead of days. Stamets refuses, and Lorca shows him a map he has been compiling through their mission. Stamets realizes the pockets in the map, revealed through his jumps, could indicate parallel universes connected by the mycelial network. Lorca promises him after the war, Stamets and Discovery can continue research on the possibility of exploring these potential parallel universes. Stamets agrees to make the jumps.

Lorca okays the boarding party, led by Tyler. Tyler asks that Burnham accompany him, as she knows the vessel best. Initially reluctant, Lorca eventually gives in and allows them both to beam over to the Ship of the Dead.

In engineering, Stamets prepares for the rapid jumps. Culber doesn’t like the risk it poses, and insists on monitoring and treating Stamets while he is in the chamber. Tilley mistakes this for Stamets havign revealed his side effects to Culber and expresses her relief. Culber is furious with Stamets’ refusal to trust him but allows the jumps to take place.

On the bridge, Lorca makes an impassioned speech about the situation they face and the victory they are about to secure. Sensors pick up the Klingon signature orbiting Pahvo.

General Kol sees Discovery return to Pahvo. He promises his men they will claim Starfleet’s most prized ship as their own. The Ship of the Dead decloaks and prepares for attack. Burnham and Tyler beam aboard. Discovery begins evasive maneuvers to buy the pair time to plant the sensors.

Burnham and Tyler, human signals masked through pattern disrupters, make their way through the Ship of the Dead. After planting a sensor at the first drop point, they head toward the bridge and the second drop point. Along the way, Burnham picks up human life signs. Tyler tells her to stay on task, but Burnham insists they must rescue the potentially Federation prisoner. Tyler relents. The pair break into the burial chamber and discover Admiral Cornwell, badly injured but alive. They also discover L’Rell. At the sight of his former captor and torturer, Tyler panics, descending into a post-traumatic flashback. Burnham stuns L’Rell. Now conscious, Admiral Cornwell explains Tyler is in shock and warns Burnham he can’t help her in his condition. Burnham leaves the two to complete her mission, promising to get them all back to Discovery.

Burnham makes it to the bridge and plants the second sensor. The data link established, Discovery prepares to jump in order to entice the Klingons to cloak. They do so, firing torpedoes between each jump. To protect the Ship of the Dead, Kol orders them to cloak. Once invisible, the rapid jump succession begins. It taxes Stamets to his very limits. Culber begs Lorca to abort the mission, but Lorca refuses. Too many lives are at stake.

Kol’s men report sabotage near the burial chamber. Kol assumes L’Rell escaped. He orders her to be found and begins to activate the warp drive. Burnham, hoping to buy Discovery time, shoots at two nearby Klingons, revealing her presence. Using a universal translator, she speaks with Kol. He calls the device an attempt by humans to steal their identity. She calls it an attempt to communicate with them. Kol baits her with a captain’s badge, left over from Georgiou’s death; Burnham baits him with the knowledge that he stole the ship from T’Kuvma’s followers. She challenges him to combat. Kol accepts.

In the burial chamber, Admiral Cornwell talks Tyler out of his shock just in time to save the two of them from the Klingons hunting L’Rell.

Burnham battles Kol, and although he is clearly more powerful, she holds her own. Meanwhile, Discovery completes its 133 jumps and Saru begins the algorithm. Once he has it, Lorca gives the go ahead for the transporter room to transport Burnham and Tyler back. Tyler brings Admiral Cornwell, and an attacking L’Rell, with him. Burnham briefly overpowers Kol. She yanks Georgiou’s badge from him and leaps from the upper level of the bridge. As she falls, she is transported back to Discovery.

With Tyler and Burnham back, Lorca opens fire on the Ship of the Dead. It’s completely destroyed.

Admiral Terral updates Lorca on Admiral Cornwell’s condition, and then congratulates him and his crew for their victory at Pahvo and the algorithm they’ve created. He orders Discovery to Starbase 46, where Lorca will receive the Legion of Honor. Meanwhile, Burnham visits Tyler. She asks him to tell him about his experience with L’Rell on the Klingon prison vessel. Tyler admits she was his torturer, and that he survived those seven months by encouraging her physical and sexual obsession with him. Burnham comforts him.

Lorca finds Stamets in the shuttle bay and tells him about Starfleet’s intention to give him the Legion of Honor. He says he asked it be given to Stamets for his sacrifice and risk. Stamets promises to do one more jump to get Discovery and her crew safely to Starbase 46, but then no more. He has already seen space in a way no human ever has and can’t do anymore. Stamets needs to understand what this strain has done to his body and mind. Lorca agrees.

After a night terror about his time on the prison ship, Tyler visits L’Rell at her cell. He demands she tell him what she did to him. L’Rell simply promises him she will never let “them” hurt Tyler. As Discovery goes to black alert for its last jump, she tells Tyler, “Soon.”

Before his last jump, Stamets kisses Culber outside the spore drive chamber and promises to take him to see La Boheme when they arrive at Starbase 46. He gets into the chamber. Lorca inputs the jump coordinates.

The jump goes terribly wrong. Stamets screams in pain and all of Discovery’s systems falter. Alarms blaring, Tilley reports the jump as an incomplete navigation. Stamets stumbles out of the chamber and collapses. His eyes turn white before and he mumbles about seeing infinite permutations.

On the bridge, the crew reports some structural damage but no failing systems. Although they should be at Starbase 46, Discovery finds itself in open space, surrounded by debris. Saru can’t determine their position with their usual methods. He has no idea where they are.

Episode Impressions

If I had gotten this Lorca six episodes ago, I would have liked him. A military man who still had a shred of the Federation’s ideology in him, who balanced exploration and war.

If I had gotten this Lorca—who stared an Admiral in the eye but then refused to turn his back on a defenseless, peaceful planet; who fought only until it was no longer necessary and then returned to the mission of exploration and the expansion of knowledge—I would have really liked him. This is what a Star Fleet captain should be. Not the solid, goofy optimism of Jim Kirk, but an optimism tempered with practicality. A man who delays the mission only when an honest threat—to boldly go, to seek new partnerships, to make connections and expand knowledge—to innocent life comes up, but still sees the value of that mission.

It’s too little, too late.

With everything Lorca has shown himself to be (manipulative, uncaring, selfish, narcissistic), everything that should endear him to me in this surprisingly good mid-season finale instead solidifies my absolute loathing of him. I have no doubts that Lorca sabotaged Stamets final jump as a way to get out of seeing Admiral Cornwell again and losing the chair. I will bet he hoped to get to a parallel universe where Admiral Cornwell didn’t make it back, or died on the table. Just so he wouldn’t have to finally face the consequences of his actions.

If Discovery doesn’t do that? Then this will be one of the worst written characters I’ve ever seen because dammit, Jim, Lorca is bearable in this episode and he has no right to be.

“Into the Forest I Go” does a better job than I expected of tying together the threads of the first half of the season. The Klingons, as always, get the short end of the stick, blasted into smithereens after some cobbled together action scenes. There’s no emotional or narrative investment in any of them besides L’Rell and the still missing Voq. They were a convenient enemy and plot-device to transport L’Rell where she apparently needed to be: on Discovery with Tyler.

The “Tyler is Voq” theory is definitely getting more traction. I’m still not sure I buy it—or want to—but several of the post-traumatic flashbacks do hint at multiple Klingons around Tyler on the table. L’Rell preferred to torture Lorca—pretend-torture Admiral Cornwell—in private, which would mean Tyler was going through something besides torture. L’Rell did after all promise Voq that he would have to give up everything in order to become the true torch bearer, and Klingons have altered their own genetics before.

But to completely erase Voq’s mind? Or at least force it to lay dormant in the active mind of a human? That would be impressive, to say the least.

Tyler is most definitely a sleeper agent of some kind. But is he a Klingon transformed, or just a human booby-trap?

Although it was brief, I will say I’m glad Discovery portrayed Tyler’s PTSD experience, both in shock and in the aftermath, seriously. There are not many shows that deal directly with PTSD, or with men’s vulnerability in the aftermath of physical, emotional, and sexual torture. It was brief but poignant, his pain, resilience and confusion all very real. It was extremely well done.

Stamets in the spore drove, on the other hand, skated just this side of burying the gays, and that was not okay—particularly after the two kissed, and Stamets promised Culber what sounded like a lovely date. You knew it was coming; the alarm bells started screaming as soon as he touched his lover’s face. You knew the peaceful life they deserve was going to be snatched away. The only thing that kind of makes it okay is Stamets is at least alive.

Burnham, although she was one of the heroes of the episode, felt a little shelved in terms of emotional resonance. Her comforting of Tyler did more for his character than her own. Being able to retrieve Georgiou’s badge, the last piece of her left, was a nice touch. I just have no idea how Kol even had it? Georgiou was eaten, and I’m assuming Voq got rid of the uniform.

Star Trek: Discovery wrapped up its midseason mostly well, and with a cliffhanger that definitely hooks you into coming back. In addition to Tyler, there’s two TOS staples that could be in the future for Discovery’s crew: mirror-verse and, perhaps, a powered-up Stamets. The second pilot of TOS, “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” saw Kirk’s long-time friend Gary Mitchell overcome and corrupted by god-like powers after the Enterprise traveled through an odd cloud. The sudden change was marked by a changing of his eyes. To silver, not white, but the nod back to that first encounter with the strange and powerful is there.

And the mirror-verse? Well, Stamets and Lorca already showed how the jumps have revealed pockets in the fabric of space-time.

Which one did Discovery just fall through? We’ll have to wait until January 2018 to find out.

Images Courtesy of CBS

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