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Thursday, 16 November 2017

Star Trek: Discovery 1-09: Into the Forest I Go (Quick Review)

Episode:9|Writer:Bo Yeon Kim & Erika Lippoldt|Air Date:12-Nov-2017

Today on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'm writing about Star Trek: Discovery's epic mid-season finale, Into the Forest I Go! I mean I'm just assuming it's going to be epic. It was originally scheduled to be the first episode to air in January after the break, but it got moved forward for a mysterious reason and I'm theorising that reason to be that the last episode was significantly less than spectacular and they wanted more of a hook to get people eager for chapter 2.

The episode is the directorial debut of Chris Byrne, who's directed absolutely nothing before this so I can't have any opinions about his work whatsoever. Though he was a second unit director on several episodes, including Discovery's pilot, so I expect he knows which direction to point the cameras. Writers Bo Yeon Kim and Erika Lippoldt have got even less on their IMDb pages, but according to Memory Alpha, the repository of all Trek knowledge... they wrote the Discovery mid-season finale Into the Forest I Go together. Well, that's a big help.

This is one of my rushed scruffy reviews, meaning no long screencap commentary, just a few opinions and observations. Also SPOILERS, for this and earlier Trek episodes as well.

Trust Discovery to troll all its viewers by having an episode where the crew finally leaves the ship to go into a forest, and then naming the next episode Into the Forest I Go. This is pretty much part two of Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum (hey I still remember how to spell it), but neither the Pahvans nor their blue trees make an appearance this time. Turns out that their only purpose in the plot was to lure Kol over and give the Discovery crew someone to protect. No further godlike powers or hidden agenda has been revealed.

The title's actually another quote, this time by naturalist John Muir: "And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul." If they'd used the whole line it would've been the longest Trek title ever, but I guess the writers weren't interested in breaking records or giving viewers a chance to figure out the relevance without hitting the internet. It's the second title this season to refer to going mad, though this time it's nature rather than love to blame, which kind of makes me think it really should've been attached to the episode where Saru flipped out over trees. They could've called this one 133 instead, to continue the homage to Battlestar Galactica's first episode 33.

There are two characters this episode who take a trip and lose their mind, as Tyler is crippled by flashbacks after his surprise reunion with L'Rell and Stamets gets his brain fried after one trip too many down the mushroom pipes. He gets persuaded into making an insane number of consecutive jumps to save lives and someday go 'where no man has gone before' and ends up with white eyes for his sacrifice. I hope this doesn't mean he's gone Gary Mitchell on us; we don't need a godlike Stamets.

Despite the title, Into the Forest I Go is mostly about the Discovery crew utterly clowning Kol's holy Ship of the Dead. I was expecting this to be a real struggle for the heroes considering how badly they lost in their last fight against cloaked ships and how much bigger the Klingon vessel was, but nope, the USS Discovery was barely scratched during this epic battle between superweapons. The bigger concern was that the Klingons would run away or blow up too early.

At the start of the episode, Lorca tasked his crew with coming up with a cunning plan to get through the invisibility screen cloaking the Klingon fleet and they had it figured out in less than 3 hours, which I guess is the advantage of having a crew of fierce warriors who are also polite scientists. It's always great to watch them actually working together, though I'm not sure why Saru was there in a nice clean uniform instead of being in a cell. Seems like they were missing a scene of Lorca visiting him in the brig to let him out because he needs his help. It would've been a nice bookend as there's a scene of L'Rell in the brig at the end.

Their plan was simple: get the attention of the big-ass super-ship from the pilot, beam over a two-man team consisting of the woman who lost her captain there along with the man who suffered months of Klingon torture to plant sensors, then stick serious side-effect sufferer Stamets into the Spock sacrifice box and make him do 133 gruelling consecutive jumps to map out the flaws in the cloaking device. But this wasn't quite enough drama yet, so afterwards they also ended up bringing back the admiral who intends to take Lorca's ship from him and the torturer who's been raping Tyler! Everything's going on here, which surprised me a little seeing as it's only episode 9 of 15. I definitely didn't expect them to succeed in their mission to take down the Sarcophagus Ship and kill Kol, not this early. I figured we were going to get more backstory to the ancient ship first, learn what it was about and where that canon-bending cloaking device came from, but nope it's gone now. Lorca even put his eye drops in to watch it explode, which is a nice mirror to his eyes being damaged by his own exploding ship. Now all the Klingon characters are either dead or on Discovery, so I guess the war will be getting even less focus from now on.

I kept thinking that the Sarcophagus Ship side of the story was going to turn into a cautionary tale about letting Starfleet scientists develop tech for a stealth mission, but despite wearing glowing Iron Man circle on their chests and flashlights on each shoulder, Burnham and Tyler somehow managed to plant both sensors without being caught. And amazingly the sensors remained undiscovered the whole time too, even though the things beep, glow, flash and talk, in addition to literally broadcasting their location.

This is the second time Burnham has beamed to this ship as part of a clever scheme to help end a war, but this time she's able to keep her head and not ruin the plan. Sure stopping to rescue Cornwell may yet lead to dire consequences, but it's hard to argue it was a bad call at the time. And when Kol decided that hanging around to watch the Discovery jump around them 133 times was probably a tactical error, she pulled a reverse-Burnham and did what was necessary to save the day! I was a bit disappointed she didn't beat the leader of the Klingon Empire in a knife fight (after all, Worf lost to everyone who invaded the Enterprise), but flipping out and killing a Klingon leader for revenge went poorly for her last time and she's grown since then. She needed to keep the bridge crew distracted for about seven minutes, so she kept her emotions in check and put on a show for them. It was only when she knew that her job was done that she allowed herself to make an emotional choice and grabbed Captain Georgiou's dog-tag badge on the way out. It's not the way she wanted to earn a captain's badge, but bringing this back is the closest she'll get to closure and redemption.

It's a shame that Kol had to explode so soon though, because I suddenly started to like him in this episode. I think it happened roughly the same time that Burnham's communicator began translating his speech into English. Thankfully there's no more Klingons around for L'Rell to talk to, so she'll be speaking English too for the foreseeable future. I was a bit surprised she didn't have a chance to talk to her cellmate Cornwell at all though, after the events of last episode, even if just to clarify... anything. Whether she intended to kill her would be a start. She could've even explained why Kol had locked her in the corpse room instead of a cell.

Fortunately, Tyler's 227 days spent not escaping from prison have given him the skills needed to cut the correct fibreoptic cables to get the door open, though it's less fortunate that he was immediately crippled by flashbacks at the sight of L'Rell. All of the serious blood and nudity happens inside Tyler's head this episode and I'm not sure what I'm supposed to think about it. Was I supposed to read his PTSD at face value or go through the video frame by frame looking for any glimpse of Voq on that surgery table? Because I did the second thing. It's starting to seem like L'Rell's secret plan is to continually fuck up everything she does and hope that it works out for the best, and against all odds she and Tyler are presumably right where she needs them to be now.

Another thing I noticed about the episode is that it has some beautiful effects shots and it benefits from flashy direction and interesting camera moves. Even when the plot ends abruptly 30 minutes in it still finds excuses to give us shots like this, and these are exactly the kind of visuals I've been wanting from Trek ever since... well, since I watched Farscape.

Having 10 minutes spare at the end gives Burnham and Tyler the chance to act like an actual couple in a much more convincing way than in the last episode, which is cool. It also means there's time to show Cornwell meeting Lorca again... but that doesn't happen, because she's put on a shuttle off-screen that inexplicably makes it to its destination without incident (and without their Klingon guest). I guess she figured it'd get her there faster than Discovery would with Lorca in command, which was absolutely true, and not just because they end up lost in space. The spore drive accident couldn't have been telegraphed more, with Stamets being just one jump from retirement and having the first all-male on-screen kiss in Star Trek with his partner before he went in, but at least he made the choice himself with absolutely no clever manipulation from Lorca. Well aside from him offering Stamets a medal.

For some reason, I'm still finding everything Lorca does to be suspicious, despite his heroic actions in saving Pahvo when the Starfleet brass were happy to let the world burn. When he showed concern for Burnham I started wondering what he needed her for, when he claimed to have an interest in exploration he revealed that the map he likes staring at has a mysterious purpose, and when he pulled a Star Trek 6 and invented a problem to keep them from jumping away from the innocent planet of harmony it sure felt a lot like he was disobeying orders so he could blow shit up.

Also, there's the scene of him typing in coordinates before the failed jump, which was apparently an override to send them to 'unknown' (plus, the readout shows they only did 132 jumps after resetting the counter, which is strange). I couldn't see anything familiar in the wreckage they jump into to hint at where they are now, but that conversation about the map earlier hints that Lorca's deliberately sent them to an alternate universe, and they've taken that anti-cloak algorithm with them. They really need to get back home and send that to Starfleet quick to make the current Klingon cloak tech useless and fix canon!

Overall I think I liked this one. It has some similarities with episode 9 of The Orville as they both come after an episode set in a forest, they both feel like season finales and they're both my favourite episode so far. I'm sure that Discovery has the potential to be better than this once it's gotten past the 'awkward first season' stage, but this is a damn good first season episode. They were right to pull it forward for the mid-season cliffhanger because it ends chapter 1 on a high note.

The Discovery crew had to come up with a way to be in 133 places at once, and not once were shuttles even considered as an option! If they'd sent a few of them out, plus a few probes, they could've gotten that number down to the low 120s. Also, Cornwell's emergency medical shuttle beat the odds and made it home safely, so that's a crisis for Captain Gabriel "I'm so crazy I sent my friend into a Klingon trap to keep my ship" Lorca. 

Discovery will return in January with Despite Yourself. But next on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'll be writing about the Justice League's cartoon's epic three-part introduction, Secret Origins!

Until then there'll be nothing new here to read but your comments.


  1. I've suddenly begun seeing explainers about the Mirror Universe in my newsfeed. Is that the buzz about where Discovery wound up? I hope it's not the case. We hardly need to see an evil counterpart to the Discovery crew.

    1. Everything I've been hearing about the next episode, even from the director, is that they're in the Mirror Universe. I'm still not sure I really believe it though, because Discovery doesn't seem like the kind of series that'd want to have fun with evil scarred doppelgangers.

    2. There is a photo out there with a massive -- maybe deliberate, maybe not -- hint at Mirror Universe shenanigans, unless it's an elaborate double bluff.

      There's a theory going around that Lorca is from the Mirror Universe and is trying to get home, but I'm not convinced. He's a bit shifty, yes, but that's quite different to being an evil sociopath like everyone else in the other universe. Also, if he is from the Mirror Universe, how did he get to the Prime Universe in the first place? No, not convinced about that.

    3. It seems pretty clear to me from all the clues we've been handed throughout the season so far that Gabriel 'Garth' Lorca is actually an undercover Klingon agent from the Mirror Universe version of Section 31 (known as 'IZAR'), here on a mission to steal both the Spore Drive and the algorithm to beat the cloaking device, along with a spinning spaceship full of quirky scientists with PTSD, so that the Terran Empire can... something something subspace mushrooms.

    4. I just hope the Mirror Universe's current uniforms, like the Prime Universe's, are not sexist. In other words, I want everybody's midriffs bared.