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Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Star Trek: Discovery 1-11: The Wolf Inside (Quick Review)

Episode:11|Writer:Lisa Randolph|Air Date:14-Jan-2018

Today on Sci-Fi Adventures, I've finally managed to get a review to land on the correct day! Or at least that's what it'll look like after I mess with the post date to shave a half-hour off. It was more luck than planning this time, as I didn't realise until the last minute that I was writing this on 17/01/2018; a perfect day for a Star Trek post in my opinion.

Unless you're in a country which flips the date to 01/17, in which case it's not.

But I'm not writing about Kirk's crew, I'm writing about Star Trek: Discovery again, as I have done 10 times before. Well, 12 times if you count those trailer reviews, in which I blessed the internet with my hot take on the first draft USS Discovery's boxy ass. This time I'm giving you my reaction to The Wolf Inside, which according to IMDb is the title of exactly zero werewolf movies. I thought I remembered it being a Telltale adventure game at least, but I just checked and the game's actually called The Wolf Among Us.

This is one of my (relatively) quick reviews, which means that instead of a long tedious scene by scene commentary I'll just be sharing my tedious opinions. There will however still be SPOILERS; mostly just for this episode, but I may mention a thing or two about events in earlier Trek episodes.



I might have to retract what I said in my Despite Yourself review about directors not having much influence on their episodes, because this story looks and feels so different to the last one and that's apparent right from the first shot of a dark Discovery corridor illuminated by sparks. It's a great look for the ship, but the conspicuously stylish direction exaggerates the situation so much that it looks like we're witnessing the aftermath of a disaster. It had me expecting them to pull a '6 hours earlier' thing to show how the ship got so utterly wrecked, but it turns out that it was just a bit of faulty wiring that needed fixing.

It wasn't a huge surprise when I looked up the director, T.J. Scott, on IMDb and discovered he was the one who put the dark into Dark Matter by directing the first episode and setting the tone for the series. He also directed some episodes of Cleopatra 2525, which is a series I know absolutely nothing about. Thankfully.

The episode doesn't get any more joyful when it leaves the fake crisis behind and moves on to shots of gruesome surgery and people getting beamed into the vacuum of space. If Despite Yourself was like a party, this is the hangover. The Discovery crew aren't on a fun caper in a comic book world anymore, this is an ordeal, with Burnham being tortured by who she has to be, Tyler being tortured by who he might be and Lorca being tortured by actual torture. The only person having fun this time around is whoever it is who keeps adding 'the camera pans across the ship's hull and then passes through the window!' into every script. Discovery is as in awe of spaceship windows as The Orville is with spaceships docking (I am not complaining)

The episode's split into two distinct stories: Burnham and Tyler's A-plot with them still undercover aboard the moody ISS Shenzhou, and Tilly and Saru's B-plot with them trying to cure Stamets aboard the moody USS Discovery, and I'm going to talk about the Tilly story first to get it out of the way.

I was really able to sympathise with Stamets this episode, because whenever the characters started talking about spore issues my brain began to retreat into itself as well, shutting down everything but the most critical functions. I've whined about the mushrooms enough already, I don't want to keep whining about the mushrooms, but when Tilly started talking about transdimensional portals in the brain and how fungi has the biological aptitude to link death with life, I found myself wanting to skip ahead to the next Burnham scene.

It doesn't help that the B-plot is just a series of scenes of Tilly and Saru standing around a catatonic Stamets and talking about his brain. It starts off with him being unresponsive due to spore-related brain weirdness, but they do some stuff and it ends with him being unresponsive due to slightly different spore-related brain weirdness. My understanding is that his wi-fi link was monopolising all of his CPU cycles, so they had to plug in a LAN cable, and now he's got a direct link to the forest of the Mushroom Matrix his mind ended up semi-stuck inside after the last jump in Into the Forest I Go. Wow, that title suddenly makes a new kind of sense.

Oh plus he died for a bit during the procedure, in a scene that was the exact opposite of Culber's death last episode in how expected it was and how much I cared. There was zero chance of Stamets dying permanently and no reason to be curious about how he was going to come back (spores did it). Also, I'm thinking that maybe we don't need to see people trying to defibrillate someone flatlining again on television anymore.

Basically, they could've cut this entire plot from the episode except for the scene in the forest at the very end and nothing of value would've been lost. Though I did like how it gave Tilly a chance to take the lead and show some of that confidence she's gotten by roleplaying as her Mirror double. It helps that the disguise she's wearing gives her a more commanding presence. It didn't seem like a great idea though to let her do a risky procedure on her own without any medical officers involved, especially as there was no reason for it. Also, Tilly tries using her engineering and science skills to cure a medical problem and feels that this proves to Saru she's good enough for the Command Training Program? Uh...what? I dunno, maybe she feels that she's impressed him with her new-found ability to be assertive and talk without babbling.

Meanwhile, over in the Burnham/Tyler A-plot, we actually get to visit a planet!

It's a bit of a craphole, but at least it's not Brosnon Canyon again. It's an entirely different barren rocky wilderness somewhere in Canada. I believe this is the first time we've ever set foot on the surface of a planet in the Mirror Universe by the way, and only the third time Burnham's been out and about like this. I guess they had no money left over after all the window zoom-in VFX shots to afford location shoots.

I didn't see a problem at first with Burnham and Tyler's mission to infiltrate the rebel base and steal intel, they're both highly trained Starfleet officers and they know how this works. But then they beamed down in the open right in front of inexplicably undetected sentries with rocket launcher ray guns and I realised that maybe saying the two of them could do this wasn't the most convincing lie she's told the Shenzhou crew. I feel like we should've gotten a line from Burnham to her first officer explaining how she expected to pull this miracle off, followed by a second line to Tyler telling him that was all bullshit and they're just going to surrender. Because as it is, the Shenzhou crew seem too gullible and Burnham seems utterly unprepared.

But they just put their weapons down, say "I seek an audience with the one you call the Fire Wolf. We come in peace," and that's that problem solved. I have a few problems with the dialogue in this episode, by the way; it's kind of unnaturally formal and cheesy. I know it's Burnham and that's how she talks, but they all seem to be at it this time. It's Planet of the Burnhams. Anyway, Burnham and Tyler are taken straight to the Fire Wolf, the General Leia of this resistance, who turns out to be the Mirror Universe doppelganger of the Torchbearer! So we've got two Voqs in the same place, and Mirror Sarek's there as well to test Burnham's intentions with a mind meld!

Even better, he's got a goatee just like his son! Man, imagine how big the rift between him and Spock must be in this universe, with Spock serving as an officer on a Terran ship. The mind meld gives Sarek a glimpse of how a clean-shaven version of himself raised Burnham in another universe but decides to keep that revelation to himself. He's entirely in her corner from that point though, giving her the praise that regular Sarek couldn't bring himself to do.

Burnham's come here to give the Fire Wolf a warning that the Terrans have found them, but she's not giving it for free. In exchange, she wants information that could help her find a peaceful solution to the Federation-Klingon War back in her universe. Specifically, she wants to know how he managed to not be an asshole long enough to make an alliance with other non-Klingon races. He's brought Vulcans, Andorians and Tellarites together here (who just happen to be the founding members of the Federation brought together by the humans in our universe), and to my shock they didn't screw with the makeup too much this time! The Andorians look more or less like they did last time we saw them in Enterprise, except with extra eyebrow horns, and the Tellarites... probably look mostly right. We've had Klingons as main cast characters in 400+ stories so far so it's painfully obvious to me how wrong the new ones are; the Tellarites, on the other hand, have appeared in like 3, so to be honest as long as they look like pig men that's close enough for me.

Speaking of Klingons, Burnham has no idea she's brought a surgically altered Torchbearer Voq down to the planet as her backup and neither does Tyler, until Fire Wolf Voq begins to answer her questions. It's a bit hard to pay attention to what he's saying while Tyler's freaking out and having distracting flashbacks, but Voq gives her two pieces of information to help her end her war: the Klingons made allies with aliens out of necessity to fight a common enemy (which Burnham obviously knew already) and they were able to bring others in because they'd unified the Klingon houses in this universe. That seems like the key to fixing the mess T'Kumva started: unify the Klingons around a cause that doesn't involve a fanatical dislike of anything not Klingon.

This was followed by an immediate demonstration to prove Mirror Voq's point, as all the talk of Klingons getting dragged into the muck with the filthy Andorians flipped Tyler's 'Voq switch' and let loose the Fire Wolf inside him... who then went after the rebel leader with a bat'leth! All that planning, the ridiculously horrific painful surgery, the implantation of another person's personality... Voq made it all pointless in one moment of anger as he blew his cover just to get his ass thoroughly kicked by Mirror Voq! Back in my Choose Your Pain review, I wrote "Tyler is likeable, competent and skilled in a fight, which is entirely unlike Voq," so I guess it makes sense that Mirror Voq would have all those virtues too.

Trek fans know all about Klingons, they've been around a while now, but Burnham only knows them as the assholes who killed her parents and stabbed her captain, so being able to have a reasonable conversation with a heroic Klingon leader while she's wearing the uniform of a cruel human aggressor has to be flipping a lot of assumptions in her brain. Meanwhile, we get confirmation that being part of the crew hasn't changed Voq's beliefs one bit, along with a reminder of his philosophy and stupidity.

I should really like the whole situation on the planet, on paper it's amazing, but I was still put off by how unnatural everyone's lines and reactions were. Burnham's guard actually yelled "REMAIN KLINGON OR DIE!" in a crowded room, in Klingon, and then tried to assassinate the rebel leader, and afterwards everyone's like 'Well that was a bit weird, I guess we'll just get back to what we were doing then.' No one even suggests a mind meld to see what's up with him; they just give them a data pyramid from the intel dispenser machine and send the two of them on their way. It's bizarre.

Speaking of two Voqs hanging out in a Mirror Universe rebel base, how come this guy didn't get a goatee in his Deep Space Nine cameo? The Original Series had Mirror Spock, Enterprise had Mirror Soval and now Discovery has Mirror Sarek. He's the only one letting the franchise down.

Though considering what Mirror Spock did after Mirror, Mirror, I guess the Vulcan goatee might have gone the same way as the Hitler moustache.

You know what else DS9 didn't have? Shots like this. Even scenes of two people talking in a room are lit in a ridiculously dramatic way this episode. It's like the director took the line "Even the light is different," and decided to run with it. He's definitely gotten a lot of use out of the shiny reflective flooring on these ships that I was barely aware of until now.

Burnham and Tyler manage to put off their confrontation about the assassination attempt until they're back in her quarters but it finally all comes out here. Well almost; Tyler doesn't mention the part about eating Georgiou. But he does admit everything he's consciously aware of, that he's drawn to L'Rell... then Voq begins to take over to fill in the rest. Because Voq is an idiot. He blows his cover entirely here and then tries to get his revenge on the human who shot T'Kuvma, despite the fact that they're currently both undercover on a Mirror Universe ship, in the Mirror Universe, and he needs her to get back to his war! With agents like this, it's no wonder all of L'Rell's plans fail.

Voq didn't even last long enough undercover to be outed by Lorca's tribble... assuming it's not a Mirror Universe tribble he brought over that likes Klingons. I guess there's a lot of question marks surrounding everything to do with Lorca at this point. Like, security chief Tyler was Burnham's tether in the Mirror Universe... so was security chief Landry secretly Lorca's tether in the Prime Universe? Of course, I'm only assuming that Lorca's from the Mirror Universe, it's still not a sure thing, but the clues are starting to pile up now. And it's very interesting how Burnham's ready room with the weapons all over the wall looks a lot like Lorca's secret lair on Discovery.

If Lorca is from the Mirror Universe, he's certainly doing as good a job of hiding his true purpose as Burnham is. She got her wits together almost implausibly quickly after not-Saru saved her from a murderous Voq. I'm really glad she did the research and has been passing almost every test the Shenzhou crew throw at her (with the occasional slip like saying Saru's name), as it'd strain credibility if she'd gotten away with giving them any reason to doubt her. In fact, she even strengthens her cover this episode, despite her unauthorised mission, as an assassination attempt from the officer she brought over certainly ends any suspicion that they've been scheming together against the rest of the crew. And Voq doesn't even try to give her away even as she's in the process of executing him/secretly smuggling data across, which is surprisingly honourable of him. I guess even after changing he was still protecting her in a way.

By the way, I love that their plan to get back and save the Federation relies on her sending over one of those floppy disk-looking microtapes from the Original Series. I was also very relieved when it turned out that Burnham had the sense to stash the tape on Voq before beaming him over, because if he'd materialised on board the Discovery tape-less I would've had my face in my palm for the rest of the episode. It's a bit strange how Discovery managed to get into transporter range without being detected by the Shenzhou's sensors though.

So the episode ends with Burnham and Saru sparing Voq's life and upholding the ideals of the Federation even in the bleakest of situations... followed by Mirror Georgiou appearing out of nowhere to annihilate the resistance and make things just a little more bleak. Yay. On the plus side we finally got to see General Order 4 in action! I sure hope one of the rebels escaped to spread the word to make that intel Burnham took inactionable, or else she just gave the Terrans the location of all of their listening stations.

Oh right, turns out that Georgiou is the Emperor, which has to be the biggest shock of the episode since Stamets came back to life and Tyler turned out to be Voq, sarcastically speaking. My sympathies to all the people who were still holding out hope for Emperor Ripper. Nice coat though.

But I was genuinely surprised that the 'man in the forest' Stamets was talking about was actually Mirror Stamets, apparently confirming that the other Discovery also has a spore drive. Maybe the two Stamets will both have to initiate a spore jump simultaneously to get their ships back to where they belong. Or maybe the Discovery will get back in a similar way to the Defiant and end up in the past, with enough time to prevent the Battle of the Binary Stars and undo the existence of the spore drive! Please please can they undo the spore drive?

The legit biggest surprise in the episode for me though, was when the opening credits came on 14 minutes in! I'm not going to go check all 700+ episodes to confirm this, but I'm pretty sure that has to be the longest teaser in the history of the Star Trek franchise. Plus Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad didn't have a cold open at all, so Discovery has hit both extremes in just its first season. I guess that's one way to shake things up and push boundaries.

Overall this was a weird episode for me, as it's packed full of interesting events, it looks fantastic, and it pushes the plot forward in a big way, but the ingredients didn't quite come together properly. In fact, I'd put it down near the bottom of my episode rankings for the season. I think the problem might be in the script, as scenes often left me feeling like they really should've gotten a human to check over the dialogue. It's all very poetic and formal and detached from reality, even Tilly's awkward charm has been bypassed, and I found myself desperately wishing that someone would talk and react like a normal person already. Like they did in that last episode that everyone loved for instance. Also, the title is just one letter away from being The Worf Within and that would've been so much more interesting.

I can't complain about the acting though, especially as Doug Jones is playing two characters and Shazad Latif is basically playing three, while Sonequa Martin-Green has the thankless task of downplaying the emotional roller coaster she's going on as she tries to understand a friendly version of her worst enemy, meets a supportive version of her dad who is then annihilated by a genocidal version of her dead mentor, and learns that her boyfriend is actually a Klingon fanatic who wants to kill her. Plus Jason Isaacs always impresses, but he's especially convincing here as a guy who's been through hell and knows there's more come... and yet seems like he's exactly where he wants to be.

There's only four episodes left now for them to escape the Mirror Universe and end the Federation-Klingon War, so going off the titles I'm thinking Vaulting Ambition might be about Lorca making a move against Emperor Georgiou and What's Past is Prologue may explain his motivations and explain how he came to be in our universe. Or I could be way off! I'm hyped to find out.

SHUTTLE CRISIS OF THE WEEK:
Mirror Voq's resistance presumably had a whole bunch of shuttles and they got General Order 4'd before they had time to evacuate.



COMING SOON
Discovery will return with Vaulting Ambition. But next on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'm writing about Babylon 5's There All the Honor Lies.

Leave a comment if you're in a commenting mood, or just want to complain about my 'two Voqs' pun. I stole it from someone else if that makes it better... it doesn't does it?

5 comments:

  1. For what it's worth, Memory Alpha backs you up on the teaser length.

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  2. it was just a bit of faulty wiring that needed fixing

    They should probably pull someone off buffing duty to fix that. I think the ship can survive for a little while with a smudged wall or floor.

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    Replies
    1. Sure, but with cameras flying around through windows all the time they're under pressure to keep the place shiny.

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  3. At first, I thought they'd forgotten the opening credits, like in Robocop 2.

    I've changed my mind about Lorca. I think he is from the Goatee Universe and I think he did indeed try to assassinate the Emperor and did kill Mirror-Burnham but got shunted into the main universe somehow. He's been trying to get back to finish the job and realised that he could do it through Burnham, because she'd get him close to the Emperor; that's why he's smiling when the Emperor appears.

    I couldn't think of a reason why he'd want to return to his own universe, but killing the Emperor makes sense. I also think -- and this isn't supported by anything we've seen yet -- that it wasn't a coup but rather he works for the resistance, which explains why he's a more ruthless than the usual main universe captain but not a complete bastard as you'd expect from the Bastard Universe.

    I also think -- and it's also not supported -- that he worked with Mirror Voq, and that's why he got on so well with Tyler but couldn't explain why.

    My main question at this point is how Lorca got into the main universe in the first place. I think maybe the destruction of Buran had something to do with it and in fact there were no actual survivors.

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    1. Yeah that smile of his says a lot.

      I also caught him reacting to someone mentioning that rebels were in the area in the last episode, but then in this one he was all for Burnham General Order 4ing them so I'm thinking now he's probably not on Team Fire Wolf. I think he just wants to be king.

      Plus if he really is a Mirror version of Lorca, then I think you can likely explain a lot of his behaviour and choices by looking at what Burnham's doing right now. She murdered the previous captain, she allowed them to put a prisoner in an agony booth, she has a slave who gives her massages with his weird hands, she went out of her way to get intel to crush the rebels, she beamed her lover into space, and she's really rude. But Not-Saru has noticed that she's weirdly kind for a Mirror Universe captain. Take all that, mirror it, and you've got Lorca on the Discovery.

      Also I think you're likely right that the Buran is what brought him over, and I read something a while back that has me wondering if that ship had a spore drive too. Discovery was named after the ship in 2001: A Space Odyssey but also the US Space Shuttle. The Soviets made their own Space Shuttle as well and it was basically a mirror image of the US version, only they called their version 'Buran'.

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