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Thursday, 9 November 2017

Star Trek: Discovery 1-08: Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum (Quick Review)

Episode:8|Writer:Kirsten Beyer|Air Date:05-Nov-2017

Today on Sci-Fi Adventures, I've got another rushed Discovery review for you. This time I'm writing about Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum, which I've had to type so many times now in my notes and for filenames that I don't even have to check how to write it anymore.

Memory Alpha tells me that this is the ninth Trek episode with a Latin title, after Sub Rosa, Dramatis Personae, Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges, Ex Post Facto, Non Sequitur, Alter Ego, Terra Nova and Vox Sola, and I hope it's a hell of a lot better than most of them were, because that's the opposite of a 'Best of Trek' boxset. Memory Alpha doesn't mention that it's also the eleventh title with a comma in it, probably because who would ever care?

This is the first ever TV episode to be written by Voyager novelist Kirsten Beyer, and I'm not sure if I should be worried about that or not. I've never been keen on Trek tie-in novels, and I'm not all that keen on Voyager either, but she'll likely know the Treknical terms and suchlike better than most so there's a chance I may end up pleasantly surprised by how much closer to classic Trek this one feels.

If you want to read further, prepare for SPOILERS, both for this and earlier relevant episodes of Star Trek.

It's taken a while, but Discovery has finally let some of its crew out to visit a strange new world! Out of the whole cast, only Burnham has breathed fresh air during the series, and that was during the first scene of the first episode. It's not just any planet either, it's a colour tinted Canadian forest planet! Thankfully foliage tinting techniques have improved massively since the days of the original Battlestar Galactica so it really does look like they spray painted all the leaves blue for the most part. Funny how both Discovery and The Orville set their 8th episode in a forest though.

The episode has kind of a weird structure to it, as it starts without a teaser again, jumps straight into the Discovery fighting Klingon ships, then leaves Lorca and his bridge crew extras behind to focus on three other plots instead, including an away mission already in progress on a game-changing planet they've discovered off screen.

We actually get to see a bit of that war we're always hearing about this episode, as the Discovery comes to the rescue of the USS Gagarin, which looks so much like an upside-down Shenzhou that they put the wrong icon on the display. It's also got the Shenzhou's bridge, and it's nice to see that they kept it around. They're going to need that if they're ever going to film a Captain Georgiou prequel series (the only prequel anyone truly wants).

We also get to see the Discovery's spore drive tech versus the Klingon's cloaking device invisibility screen tech for the first time and it turns out that being able to teleport doesn't help you defend a ship when the invisible enemy ships outnumber you 3 to 1. I was worried at first that Lorca was going to stay seated during the fight, but he was soon on his feet, yelling at his poor bridge officers, who actually got to speak back a little I noticed. He even got a simultaneous "Aye, captain!" out of them all, which is something I didn't realise I'd been missing from Trek. The visuals and music were as great as ever, and it was a nice change to see the Discovery actually fly for once, but it's a shame that the space battle had all of the "Shields at 70%!" of old Trek, combined with the wimpy 'twip twip' weapon sounds of new Trek.

Also Lorca's tactics seemed a bit... suicidal there at the end, putting the Discovery in between the Gagarin and the Klingons with shields at 32%, when those torpedoes were taking off 20-30% a hit. It's very heroic for sure, but the Gagarin can't escape, the Klingons aren't going anywhere, and it doesn't help anyone much if you get Starfleet's secret weapon blown up to delay another ship's inevitable destruction for 10 seconds.

Then, once we've seen how much trouble those invisibility screens are causing Starfleet, the episode switches to the landing party already on the planet Pahvo, working to solve the issue. And like always on this series, the solution to a tech problem relies on something they've found in nature; in this case a giant subspace transmitter tower made of plant and crystal, which apparently has the potential to send a sonar-like signal to every part of the quadrant that a cloaked ship might be hiding! Not really the kind of discovery I was hoping for from the the series.

Though there is a good reason for it being there, as the inhabitants of the planet have built it (somehow) to send their song out to the galaxy in the hopes that someone will come over and visit them. They've even built a hut nearby in case their visitors turn out to be something other than blue wispy computer effects! These seem like exactly the kinds of friendly inquisitive aliens Starfleet always wants to meet but rarely does. Would be nice if the series could start using different colours for its tiny particles though, so that I don't get the Pahvans mixed up with the spores or the energy bugs that leech off shuttles.

It's interesting that they've made a whole planet of the singing blue plants from The Cage that could even make Mr. Spock happy, but this part of the story is more about people chatting in a hut, about first contact protocol (cool), Burnham's lack of a future (aww), the needs of the many (hey, I've seen that movie), and how much Tyler really wants to hurt Klingons (not a big shock). It's also about Saru getting This Side of Paradise'd by the forest fairies and crushing communicators in a scene that was unintentionally hilarious to me because they've given us no hint he has super-strength until now. Turns out the guy's got super senses, he can crush metal with his hands, he can withstand a phaser on stun, he can kick like horse, and he can even run at 80 kph with the aid of CGI... all this time Saru's been the toughest Trek regular after Data and we had no idea! It's always the science officer on these series who's the secret badass, and the last person you want to face in a fight when they go bad.

Except, plot twist, Saru wasn't actually mind controlled by the Pavhans at all! In fact they were very much against this inharmonious behaviour of his. Turns out that fear has been the only thing keeping Saru from acting out of character and stroking people's faces inappropriately, and when he finally found peace the idea of getting the fear back scared the crap out of him. I really hope the guy faces some real consequences next episode for pulling a Burnham here, because he deserted Starfleet, sabotaged their highest priority mission, tried to strand two officers on an alien planet and then assaulted them both. And the worst part is, it was all entirely pointless, because the Discovery would've just come by and beamed them up when it got no signal from them. All this time it seemed like Saru was the sane person on the ship as well. Well, at least Tilly's still normal.

The Saru plot seemed kind of rushed, but I wasn't all that interested in it anyway so I'm not going to complain. I found I wanted them to cut back to the Klingons instead, which is a first for this series.

L'Rell and Cornwell haven't been my two favourite characters so far, but after the scene where L'Rell screams at the admiral and she screams right back, I found myself reassessing my opinion of them. Plus she can fight too! I probably would've liked their scenes more though if I had a better idea of what L'Rell's actually up to. She lies to everyone, all the time, and she must still have that long-term plan with Voq going on, so there's unsatisfying question marks hanging over everything that happened or was said on the Sarcophagus ship.

Is Cornwell dead or just knocked out? Was there any truth to L'Rell's wish to defect or was she playing Cornwell? Did she ever intend to blow up the Sarcophagus ship? Did she plant Tyler on Discovery or forever lose him in an unplanned jailbreak? Is she planning to restore Voq personality and memories when she meets Tyler again, or is the guy an innocent red herring? All that I'm certain of right now is that L'Rell does want to get on board the Discovery. Plus if she didn't want to kill Kol before she certainly does after seeing those familiar faces in the corpse room, not one of them boxed and glued to the hull. But then she throws away her chance of doing either by reporting back to him and getting caught! He actually saw through her obvious deception! Or maybe he just heard her conversation with Cornwell echoing down the hallway.

At least I'm a little less confused now that I know that the Klingon who spotted her escorting Cornwell down the echoey corridor was Kol himself. I genuinely didn't recognise him the first time I watched it (everyone on the ship's got those pretty painted faces these days), so the conversation at the end about the prisoner escaping didn't make a whole lot of sense to me. I was also confused at first about why he went to the trouble of giving her the face paint before revealing he was onto her, but that's down to me being an idiot because in retrospect he's clearly tormenting her by making her do something she hates.

There's also a tiny bit of a C-plot featuring druggy Jesus Stamets, who's at the point now where he's gotten his forearms scooped out so they could install giant ports for the spore drive connectors to plug into. I'm not a doctor, but doesn't he need that space inside his arm for muscles, veins, ligaments and stuff? And why are they always interfacing with his nervous system via the ribs or forearms anyway?

Stamets is back to his old persnickety grumpy self here, which is a shame, and it's due to the fact that the connection to his mushroom network is making him lose track of reality. Lucky this didn't happen last week when he was the only one who knew what was going on. It's nice to see that Tilly's being a friend and helping him out, but not so good that he's hiding his symptoms from his partner because he's scared he'll get taken away to a lab if people know. Would Starfleet really cripple their superweapon over this though? Surely it'd be more likely they'd bring the experts to Discovery; it's not like there's any shortage of labs there.

But like the other plots this has no real resolution, because the episode's a surprise two-parter! Or possibly even a three-parter! To be continued...

Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum is story about people ironically turning against their own for the sake of unity, with Saru attacking Burnham to keep his harmony with the planet, L'Rell secretly supporting T'Kuvma's dream to unify the Klingons instead of allowing Kol rule them, and Stamets choosing his connection to his mushroom network over his connection to his partner... kind of. That one's a stretch. But if you translate the title, it says "If you want peace, prepare for war", and it's not immediately obvious to me how that fits anything that's going on here.

At first I thought it might be about characters like Lorca and Saru going into battle to achieve peace, but that's not what the adage is about. My understanding is that it's about maintaining peace by having a scary military that other forces are afraid to fight; using your preparation for war as a deterrent. I guess it fits the Pahvans situation pretty well, as they seem to be new to the idea of conflict and they make no preparations for war before inviting the Klingons over. Now that Kol's decided to take his flagship over to investigate their mysterious signal (alone, like an idiot) it'll be up to the Discovery crew to protect the defenceless pacifists. Unless the Pahvans are pulling an Errand of Mercy and they're actually godlike aliens who don't need help. They did teleport Tyler pretty easily.

Anyway, my opinion on the episode is that it's easily my least favourite so far. The curse of the Latin title continues. I'm actually relieved though, as it means I've finally found an episode of Discovery that I didn't like exactly as much as all the others! Though it's also got me a bit worried. The other Star Trek series had a lot of dumb ideas, but they quickly moved on. This, on the other hand, likes to dwell in them for several episodes and I'm losing my faith that any of it is going to be resolved in a way I personally find satisfying.


We'll never know how many shuttles were lost due to the tragic destruction of the USS Gagarin, but judging by earlier Star Trek series it was a number between 2 and infinity.

Discovery will return with it's mid-season finale Into the Forest I Go. But next on Sci-Fi Adventures, I should have some writing about Deep Space Nine's Rules of Acquisition for you.

Don't forgot to put a comment in the comment box before you go.


  1. I've been enjoying Kirsten Beyer's Voyager novels more than I ever enjoyed the show, though they do have a higher body count than I like in my Star Trek. Not a huge endorsement, I realize.

    What is it about Star Trek tie-in novels that turns you off? I'm pretty selective about which ones I'll read, but the genre as a whole doesn't bug me, so I'm curious.

    1. It's been a long while since I've read any, but I think I'm mostly bothered by the fact that they always seem 'off' to me. Probably because they haven't been through the Trek TV production machine, with all the staff writers, producers and sometimes even actors hammering the story, tone and dialogue into something that fits seamlessly with the episodes so far.

      Though it's likely I haven't picked the best set of tie-in novels to read. A lot of them were gifts, or free, or had 'William Shatner' written on the cover.

    2. Star Trek novels tend to cinema-sized, by which I mean they contain a lot more plot than a TV episode would. I wouldn't say they're always cinematic in scope, though. Some are, but some are just...long. I'm sure that contributes to them feeling off. I've been reading the old "Starfleet Corps of Engineers" novellas lately, and I've noticed they feel more like Star Trek -- despite featuring mostly original characters -- because each story is short and episodic and seems like it could be a TV episode. There've even been a couple two-parters.

      I hear you about the tone. There's also a huge spectrum of skill that goes into these books, even by the same writer. I'm reading a novel by Greg Cox, who I generally like, that seems like an elevated fanfic. I mean, its gimmick is "Kirk meets Seven-of-Nine". How is that not fannish? I wouldn't have bought it if I hadn't recognized the author. The writing is competent enough, but everyone feels a little "off", like they're all based on Flanderized caricatures of the characters. I can't explain it.

      So, yeah. If you're getting books randomly as gifts, there's a good chance you're not getting the better ones. Especially the Shatner ones.

  2. I can't be certain but I think they may have reused the cliffside location in that first image later on, only it was much closer to the spire the second time. That seemed a bit weird, as if the spire had jumped ten miles closer overnight. Maybe it did.

    Yeah, the structure of the episode was a bit strange. Jumping about all over the place, then it just sort of ends without warning. I suppose it's a good sign that I wasn't watching the clock, but it was a bit weird how there was no build-up to the episode end, just boom, here's a cliffhanger for you.

    I am as confused as you are by what's going on with L'Rell and I can't tell if my confusion is a result of bad editing and writing or really good editing and writing. I'm going to assume the latter for now.