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Sunday, 11 February 2018

Star Trek: Discovery 1-14: The War Without, The War Within (Quick Review)

Episode:14|Writer:Lisa Randolph|Air Date:04-Feb-2018

This week on Sci-Fi Adventures I'm writing about Star Trek: Discovery's The War Without, The War Within.

It's debatable whether Discovery's had the best episodes of any Star Trek series' first season, but one thing that's not in dispute is that it's got the longest titles of a Trek series first season. The War Without, The War Within is the 10th longest title in the franchise's history, meaning that Discovery's already claimed three slots in the all-time top ten. Hopefully they can do better next season; I want to see them knock For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky off the top spot in time for the story's 50th anniversary.

The episode's credited to Lisa Randolph, who also wrote The Wolf Inside just a few weeks back. I guess that explains why it wasn't called The Wolf Within, as she was saving the alliteration for this one to get a higher combo. It was directed by David Solomon, who did a whole lot of Buffy and Dollhouse, plus everyone's favourite episode of Firefly (Out of Gas). He never did any Angel though, weirdly.

Beyond this point there shall be SPOILERS and not just for this episode. Well mostly for this episode, but I may also mention some things that happened in earlier Trek.

Discovery's finally back in the Prime Universe and back to the Klingon war plot again, but their detour through time and alternate reality hasn't impressed the people waiting 9 months for their anti-cloak algorithm. Though despite the title, there's surprisingly little war without or within in this episode. Instead, it's a quieter episode mostly about characters catching up on what's happened, chatting about what to do next, and dealing with their relationship problems.

They've really loaded this one up with exposition and set-up for the big finale, but on the plus side Admiral Cornwell's found Discovery's briefing room, so the characters actually got to sit down and contribute to the discussion for a change. There were more than two or three people conversing in a scene together at once, it was amazing (though they forgot to invite the chief medical officer, chief engineer and the bridge staff). It seems crazy that they've gone this long without a briefing room scene, seeing as they've been a crucial part of Trek since the very first pilot, but the DS9 crew took until season 3 before they got their set, so it could've been worse. It's a beautiful briefing room as well; looks like they've redressed the starbase set from Choose Your Pain and put in a new table. They've left the lights on low though, which is strange considering that Lorca's gone now and Cornwell's so pissed off with him that she literally vapourises his fortune cookies. Man, I hope his tribble's okay.

Cornwell is coming across like the Federation equivalent of the Fire Wolf right now, with an Andorian and Tellarite in her boarding party and Sarek on hand to read minds. It was a bit dodgy how they managed to board them through the shields and very dodgy how Sarek violated Saru's thoughts without even requesting consent, but the worst part of the scene was how Sarek didn't mind meld with Burnham and get a flashback to the Prophet getting a flashback of Sarek mind melding with her as a kid. It would've made more sense for him to meld with Burnham anyway, as he talks about how they've been through an 'inconceivable ordeal', and the only thing that's been tormenting Saru these last few days is that he hasn't been able to find the lever to raise the captain's chair a couple of inches.

Plus the ISS Discovery has apparently had it much worse than them as it seems Mirror Tilly managed to get her entire crew killed almost immediately on arrival. So much for Mirror Universe folks being better at waging war than Starfleet. Though I guess this means we won't be getting a novel series about Captain Killy's adventures in the Prime Universe after all, which is a shame as they might have explained how the hell the ship got there without a displacement activated spore hub drive of their own. The only reason that the 'transporter beam in an ion storm' trick works is that both people on both sides are beaming up at the exact same time from the exact same place with the same technology. In the DS9 episode Crossover, crewmembers fly a runabout through the Bajoran wormhole and end up in the Mirror Universe, but an evil runabout doesn't take their place because the folks on the other side hadn't discovered the wormhole yet. So did the mycelium network just steal the other Discovery on its own?

Oh, turns out that Starfleet was ignoring the Discovery's hails last episode because they'd found the wreckage of Killy's vessel and assumed the ship had been destroyed. It still hasn't been explained how the Discovery downloaded a tactical map update without a connection, but we know now that it was basically lying to them for the sake of drama. The Federation's only lost 20% of its territory and a third of its fleet to the Klingons, which isn't ideal, but not as bad as it could've been considering their invisible ships. Though it seems that fighting 24 separate rival Klingon houses is even less fun than fighting one Empire, so blowing up the Klingon leader on the Sarcophagus ship before he could retreat may have kind of backfired. Oops. Still, at least they've sent the anti-cloak algorithm out to the fleet now, just nine months late.

We got a lot of Cornwell this episode as the Discovery's substitute captain and it's nice to see she's made a full recovery after Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum. She's pissed off, desperate and needed a little help from Saru to keep them all from being destroyed by Klingons, but I liked her as a flawed leader who's spent the last year living through an increasingly hopeless war. I also appreciated the way she was able to have a civilized chat with L'Rell, without taking that time she tried to murder her and activate her sleeper agent aboard Discovery personally. They've still got a respect for each other, and we're allowed to respect L'Rell more ourselves now that we know that all the stuff she did to Tyler wasn't as it seemed. I mean yeah she was part of a scheme to kill the real Tyler and steal his skin, but she didn't sexually abuse or torture our Tyler like we were led to believe.

Their conversation here was almost the inverse of the scene where Burnham questioned the Fire Wolf a few episodes back, as Cornwell let her know that the Klingons houses haven't unified to fight the war like she hoped. Plus like Voq she's confronted by someone that disputes T'Kuvma's teachings, but while Voq flipped out and got his ass kicked by himself, she seemed to actually stop and consider the idea that she may have been wrong. Of course, it's a bit of a contradiction for a Starfleet officer to tell someone that their beliefs are wrong because Starfleet would never interfere with their culture, but they don't stand a chance at making peace until they deal with the 'everyone sucks but us' part of L'Rell's faith.

Speaking of people who weren't exactly as they appeared, we also got a little of Cornwell dealing with her Lorca's almost certain death, but I was hoping for more. In fact, I was hoping for her to put on an old video log entry or something from the real Lorca, so we could get a glimpse of what he was like as a person. There's always the possibility that Prime Lorca's still alive, but bringing him back means handing sackfuls of money to Jason Isaacs so I'm not sure how likely it is we'll see him again.

Discovery seems to be putting the Mirror Universe firmly in the past at this point, with Cornwell telling everyone that the files are classified and that no one in the later Star Trek series is to ever speak of this again. Which is probably for the best really, as if they'd put information about Mirror Lorca's coup and the destruction of the Charon into the Federation database, then Emperor Georgiou would've gotten a history lesson about her own future from the time travelling USS Defiant. Though now that I think about it, there's no way the whole Klingon War can be classified, so there's a possibility that Mirror Geogiou has already looked up how it will end and knows exactly what to do.

She might even know what the deal is with Starbase 1, which seems to be orbiting an Earthlike planet just "100 AUs from Earth". To give this some context, Earth is 1 AU from the sun, Pluto is about 40 AU away on average, and our next nearest star is 276174 AU distant, so that places this mysterious world firmly in our solar system.

The episode got a bit weird with distance and Trek lore a few times I noticed, like when Burnham mentioned that Emperor Georgiou's rule extends through every system in her galaxy. Sure Star Trek's never been entirely consistent about how fast these ships can go and Star Trek V had the Enterprise flying over to the galactic core in an afternoon, but Voyager's entire premise is based around it being a 70-year trip to get across the galaxy using warp drive! That's 172 episodes that say that conquering the galaxy with warp drive is a really time-consuming endeavour. Plus conquering the galaxy means defeating the Borg, the dinosaur aliens, the Dominion, and a whole bunch of godlike aliens and I don't see the Terrans being in that league.

I realise that the writers' interest in science may well start and end with that book on mushrooms written by the real Paul Stamets, but it'd be cool if they brought in a science advisor with a knowledge of Star Trek lore to look over the scripts, and change 'galaxy' to 'quadrant' and '100 AU' to '10 light years' or whatever. They've been getting a lot right, but stupid little things slip through sometimes as there's no need for it.

This is a beautiful shot though. It's really rare to see the Discovery near a planet like this and they've chosen a good angle that hides the uglier sides of the ship. Plus it's nice to see them switch their renderer setting to 'relatively realistic' for a change.

Plus the terraforming sequence was cool too, and by 'cool' I mean 'horrifying nightmare fuel'. Not that I need any help to have nightmares about inexplicably fast growing plants springing out of the ground. But the most terrifying part of the scene is that it reminds me so much of the Genesis Device in Star Trek II that I'm worried they're going to launch Culber's body down there and regenerate it with mycelium energy.

Still, those pods with the rotor blades that change into landing struts were clever, and I like the irony that the biggest visual effects shot in an episode with 'war' in the title twice is all about creating life. Plus I'm happy that the Discovery crew is happy for once. I just hope their magic forest doesn't go and blow up next episode like the Genesis Planet did.

I expected them to wring some drama out of the ship being all out of spores but it turned out to be a complete non-crisis in the end, and now they've refuelled the ship they can use their detailed map of Qo'noS's cave system to jump the ship inside the planet and... make a detailed map. Hmmm. To be fair that map they've got was likely sourced from the NX-01's 100-year-old scans and Georgiou's memory, so it's not exactly up to date intelligence on the current locations of Klingon military targets.

Speaking of up to date information on Klingons, we finally got to learn what L'Rell did to Voq with her power gloves back in Vaulting Ambition, or at least what it appears she's done. The woman's an inept liar so there's always the possibility that she deliberately or inadvertently left Voq's personality intact, but right now it seems like the implanted Tyler personality is the only one left now. I was certain the episode was going to be about the war within him, with the two personalities fighting it out inside his brain, but instead he's claiming to have full control and access to all of Voq's memories, which I think is more interesting.

So now Tyler's got to deal with the fact that he's actually a Klingon (or perhaps was a Klingon before his species reassignment surgery), he was never Starfleet, his family aren't really his, and he remembers what it's like to have his fingertips shaved down. Plus this is probably the one time in Star Trek history where a person wasn't immediately forgiven for the actions of another consciousness controlling their body, as Stamets is still plenty pissed off with him for murdering Culber. Though even he left him with a backhanded acknowledgement of his humanity and identity.

But this led to my favourite part of the episode where the Discovery crew in the mess hall actually put their hate and distrust aside and went over to the guy. At first, it seemed like he was going to get the full Mutineer Burnham treatment with only Tilly showing him some decency, but then Detmer forced herself to go over, followed by Bryce and half the room! They've come a long way since Context is for Kings. I would've suspected that their time spent in the Mirror Universe has given them a new perspective on themselves... but I don't have to, because Tilly straight up says that's the case. The only difference between them and their evil selves, she points out, is the environment they live in, so the smart thing is to be compassionate. Even if it didn't change Lorca one bit and there's a real risk Tyler will start snapping necks again at any moment.

So that's yet more proof that Cadet Tilly is the secret Captain Picard of the crew: the one you go to for moral guidance, wisdom and speeches about humanity. Plus at the rate that everyone's else has been losing their ranks and lives due to mutiny, Mirror Universe mayhem and murder, she actually is going to end up being the captain soon enough.

Burnham, on the other hand, isn't at her most heroic right now, as she's had a pretty traumatic week and she's not ready to be her best self. If anyone's got an inner war going on, it's her. She and Tyler were both each other's emotional support and now they're blaming each other for not being there and lashing out at each other in frustration and desperation. It might not have been the best idea for Saru and Tilly to push Burnham into talking with the man who recently tried to kill her, they were thinking more about his feelings than they were hers, but he's going through hell right now so I can understand where they're coming from.

Personally, I'm rooting for the culturally Vulcan human and the mentally human Klingon to eventually get back together, mostly because I can actually care about Tyler as a person now that he is a person and not just a time bomb waiting to go off, but also because Burnham clearly needs someone. Her line about how fixing your life is a painful, solitary process really shows how much she's isolated herself. That's like the exact opposite of a Tilly line, which means it must be wrong.

Though maybe the former Terran Emperor isn't the person she should be going to for advice.

Mirror Georgiou is fun to have around, with how she observes and manipulates everyone (and gets into arguments with Sarek about which of their Burnhams is better), but she's definitely a snake in this war-torn paradise, tempting Starfleet into going to the dark side. Not that Starfleet's been living up to Burnham's image of them anyway, as she was convinced they would've helped Lorca get home and that's just not happening for Georgiou, but whatever they're planning next has to be pretty damn bad if they're worried about a mutineer being too moral to be brought into the loop.

Putting Georgiou in command of the Discovery and lying to everyone about it is already kind of messed up, especially considering that some of the crew knew and worked with Captain Georgiou. Cornwell started the episode furious with Mirror Lorca imitating her friend and lying to her, but now she's running the same con on people like Detmer! Though after everything that's happened this season I don't think anyone's going to be 100% convinced it's really her. I mean I doubt officers are going to jump to the conclusion that it's Mirror Georgiou, partly because only Burnham, Saru and the transporter chief ever saw the Emperor, and partly because it's insane to think that an admiral would put an emperor from an alternate universe in command and then lie to them about it, but they gotta be wondering if she's got a secret Voq in her head too.

Personally, when I saw that their mysterious new captain had a ponytail the first thought to jump into my head was "Oh damn, have they found a third Landry?" But no, Burnham just couldn't resist rescuing a ghost and now she has something else to haunt her: the next best thing to Khan Noonien Singh is now (apparently) calling the shots on the Federation's prototype starship during their journey into darkness. It's an utterly ridiculous twist, but hey I've always wondered what would happen if Darth Vader joined Luke and defected to the Rebels so I'm curious to see how it plays out. Plus this means that she's become the first Starfleet captain to gain her position by murdering the previous captain! I just hope they've taken out the button that lets her override the spore drive from the command chair.

Sarek and Cornwell haven't bothered to tell the characters what the real plan is yet, but this whole season (and the scene with the map in particular) reminds me of the game Wing Commander 3 so much it's got me wondering if Georgiou's intending to detonate a Temblor Bomb underground and shake the Klingon homeworld to pieces. Is that likely to stop the Klingon assault though? Attacking the Sarcophagus ship and killing T'Kuvma made things worse, destroying the Sarcophagus ship and killing Kol made things worse, and we already know from the Original Series episode Mirror, Mirror that destroying the Charon didn't exactly improve things over there either. It seems more likely to me that Burnham's going to have to mutiny against Georgiou again (or talk her into following her advice this time), to end the war and get back into Starfleet. Maybe by finding a great unifier with a profound cause for the Klingons to rally around.

Or maybe I'm wrong and they'll end the season by blowing up Qo'noS.

Anyway, that was a pretty decent episode I thought, even if it's just the characters getting a break to walk around with their jackets unzipped, catch their breath and unpack everything that's happened so far. I've got nothing much else to say about it.

They've blocked Discovery's shuttle bay door with giant spore pod launchers, so now shuttles can't get in or out! This is a pretty massive problem considering that shuttles are exclusively for the purpose of leaving and entering the ship.

I've given up on my naive belief that I'll be able to get anything about Deep Space Nine written this month, so coming up next on Sci-Fi Adventures it's Star Trek: Discovery's presumably epic conclusion Will You Take My Hand? and after that I'll probably be writing a Discovery season review.

Thanks for dropping by, please remember to leave a comment on the way out.


  1. When they announced that Discovery was going to follow crewmembers who weren't the senior staff, I wondered how they'd pull that off. Would it be like Redshirts, either with or without the self-awareness? Would our protagonists not be in the loop most of the time? Would Star Trek become more character-based and less plot-oriented?

    I'm disappointed that the show ended up half-assing it at best. Instead of a "Lower Decks"-style series, we follow the captain, the first officer, the security chief, and characters who either work directly with the senior staff (Burnham and Tilly) or who might as well be department heads (Stamets and Culber). And, of course, our protagonists are still the ones who make all the key decisions and drive the plot.

    I wonder if someone will eventually publish a development history of this show so we can find out how the premise evolved into a glossier later-series-DS9, and why.

    1. Yeah, I had exactly the same thoughts and I've got exactly the same disappointment. We've been getting the traditional bridge scenes too, with recurring characters manning the stations, the main difference is that we still don't know any of them and they rarely say anything. It's frustrating to me that the same people keep showing up, getting close ups, and pressing the buttons to save the day, but the series doesn't seem to consider them to be part of the story. I wish the series would either make them actual people already or quit focusing on them!

      And there's no way this isn't getting a moderately revealing 'making of' book after a couple of years. Then a few decades later we'll get the 'Chaos on the Bridge' style full story, which may or may not be true. We've already been told bits and pieces about how early production was a mess, and how they didn't even have a finished script to show Jason Isaacs when they were offering him the role because they were busy rewriting everything, so it's going to come out sooner or later.

    2. Hey, yeah. Good point. I suppose it's unfair to demand it after only a dozen episodes, but c'mon, Discovery. Give us our Zack Allan, or at least our David Corwin.

  2. The shuttle crisis is particularly egregious given Discovery seems like it was originally designed to be a shuttlecarrier, so it's a bit like carrying cargo on the deck of an aircraft carrier.

  3. The pre-credits sting was a bit weird; I would have stopped with Cornwell and Sarek beaming aboard, guns drawn, not with "Lorca is dead", which wasn't a huge shock given that we've seen it happen.

    I liked the ittle nod to the Borg in what Georgiou was saying about the Federation "assimilating" other cultures, but then I started to worry about them trying to shoehorn the Borg into this series at some point, like they did with Enterprise.

    I hadn't considered that Georgiou has information from the future and so knows exactly how the Klingon war ends. That's clever.

    I loved the scene in the mess hall. For all that some people are saying that Discovery isn't proper Trek, that scene of unconditional acceptance is what the franchise has always been about deep down.