Star Trek: Discovery – Season 1 Episode 9
“Into the Forest I Go”
Star Trek: Discovery stages a showdown with the Klingons and establishes a new problem for the crew to deal with when the show returns after a winter hiatus.
The previous episode ended with the promise of a long delayed one on one between the Discovery and the Klingon Ship of the Dead. This episode picks up immediately afterwards as Lorca decides how to approach the situation. He is in agreement with Saru and Michael on the subject of defending the Pahvans but Starfleet have other ideas. Lorca is ordered to bring Discovery to a Starbase and he follows them but in his own disobedient way. He is specifically ordered to jump to the Starbase but Lorca decides to head there at warp 5 which gives them time to consider their next move.
Lorca does everything he can to make sure his disobedience is as above board as possible. He orders Stamets to undergo a thorough examination so that a justifiable reason for the delay can be submitted to Starfleet to excuse the use of warp drive instead of the spore drive.
This decision is important from both a plot and character point of view. It clearly shows Lorca’s ability to manipulate protocol to get what he wants and presents a reasonable opportunity for the side effects to become known. This affects him and Dr. Culver who is understandably concerned about the cumulative effect the continued use of the spore drive has and Stamets risks suffering permanent damage as well as losing huge parts of himself in the name of science.
A complicated technobabble ridden plan to circumvent the Klingon cloaking technology requires Stamets to be complicit in 133 small jumps to gather data for the algorithm. The conflict comes from the fact that Stamets realises how dangerous a single jump is for him so 133 is unimaginable. Dr. Culver naturally doesn’t want him putting his brain at risk so it comes down to Stamets making an informed choice once he knows the risks.
Stamets and Dr. Culver’s relationship is given room to breathe here as well. There is a lot unspoken between them when Tilly accidentally reveals that Stamets has been experience side effects. It’s clear that it’s an argument to be had later with full focus on the task at hand for now. There are a number of sweet moments between them such as the promise to spend some time together once Discovery gets back to the Starbase and their passionate declaration of love.
Lorca takes the opportunity to manipulate Stamets into agreeing to the plan. He does this by appealing to the scientist and explorer within him. It begins by teasing him with data that has been gathered from all of the previous jumps. The data suggests the existence of multiple parallel universes connected through the Mycelial network and Lorca promises that once the War with the Klingons is over the focus will be on unlocking the secrets of the universe.
The beauty of this scene as it can simply be read as a Captain excited about the prospect of returning to an exploratory mission. In the time of War Lorca may be completely focused on winning but not actually be comfortable with the situation as a whole. It’s a possibly reading of the scene but based on what has been established about Lorca there is so much more underneath that. We already know that he is able to manipulate people to cover up the truth thanks to the reveal that he lied on his psychological evaluations, we also know from this episode that he is able to creatively engineer the disobedience of orders so it seems pretty clear to me that his interest in exploration is another fiction designed to dangle a carrot in front of Stamets. This is backed up later when his words are chosen very carefully to make it seem like Stamets came up with the idea to facilitate one more jump on its own. Both scenes have layered readings but I look at them as if Lorca knows how to play people.
Lorca’s manipulation also seems to extend to Michael when he forbids her from going on the away mission to the Klingon ship. It leads to Michael making an impassioned speech about using resources properly and reminds him of her being on borrowed time but still wanting to have a purpose. It seems like Lorca manoeuvred her into pleading with him to be assigned to the mission but what I can’t figure out is why. My best guess is that it’s a test of loyalty since this particular mission count be instrumental in deciding the outcome of the War which means that Michael will be aware that returning to prison could be in her near future. It makes sense that Lorca would want to ensure that he can count on her to commit herself to the War effort. It could also be that he doesn’t want her to go on the mission for his own reasons; again there are different readings of the situation.
The different moving parts of the mission itself come together well. Frenetic cutting between Stamets in clear pain as Discovery jumps around the Klingon ship gathering the information is really impressive and the slowly growing numbers indicating how many jumps have been accomplished keeps the tension running consistently. Highlighting that there are complications very early on in the process builds the sense of urgency even further and the whole thing is very character driven rather than focusing on the technobabble aspect that likely doesn’t hold up if much thought is applied to it. It makes sense as far as producing an energetic action sequence and the potential consequences for the people involved are clear which is ultimately more important.
Ash and Michael’s away mission is less engaging in the beginning. It does work as part of the intricate tapestry that makes up the overall sequence but there are some bizarre choices that make it feel somewhat clumsy. The first is that they don’t seem to have any trouble wandering around the Klingon ship. It’s fair to assume that they are highly trained and competent but the fact that they sneak around completely unnoticed for a long time is nonsensical. Another issue is the probes they place in the two locations. I have no problem with their being a device required to make the whole thing work but these devices aren’t exactly subtle considering how noisy they are and how clear the lights are. Hoping that they wouldn’t be discovered is a bit of a stretch and the fact that they aren’t noticed is laughable.
The away mission does work really well in the characterisation. Ash comes across L’Rell and is immediately hit with every painful memory he has from his 7 months in captivity. The shock is so powerful that it renders him almost catatonic forcing Michael to finish the mission alone. This is something that has been bubbling for a while as there have been repeated references made to the fact that it’s unusual for Ash to be so well adjusted after such an experience and it unsurprisingly turns out that he has been kidding himself while projecting an aura of confidence. It’s all a fiction and his lack of willingness to process what happened to him contributes to the breakdown he experiences here.
Fortunately Admiral Cornwell -not so dead as we were led to believe- is able to do what she can to help him thanks to her background as a therapist but the damage inflicted is deep into his psyche so there’s only so much she can do. He does snap out of it to save their lives but there’s clearly a lot of healing to be done there.
He’s finally able to be introspective about what he experienced and opens up to Michael towards the end of the episode. The first stage in recovery is admitting that there’s a problem so we saw an important step forward for this character. This episode isn’t about a study in PTSD; it’s more about setting up how Ash’s narrative will play out in the coming episodes.
Thanks to quickly edited flashbacks we get some sense of what Ash went through during his incarceration and particular attention is given to L’Rell’s treatment of him. He is both raped and tortured for her pleasure and his reaction tells us how violating this was. I was particularly shocked at the brief flashes of forced sexual contact. Ash mentioning that he took it upon himself to do whatever it took to survive adds further anguish to the situation.
I would be lax if I didn’t reference the fan theory that Ash Tyler is actually a surgically altered Voq or otherwise some kind of Klingon spy. Based on this episode I’m inclined to think that this is likely considering what happens here. The torture flashbacks could be seen as some form of surgery being done though admittedly his PTSD memories aren’t the most reliable source of information. L’Rell’s cryptic remark about not letting them hurt him and the utterance of the word “soon” suggests that she has a plan for him that was put in place during his incarceration. I’m not convinced he’s a surgically altered Klingon though I do think he might be a sleeper agent of some kind and the presence of L’Rell on Discovery was calculated to make use of that in some way. Time will tell but that’s my current theory.
Michael’s role in the episode is all about catharsis. Her first encounter with the Ship of the Dead dates back to the first episode and decisions she made in the second episode led her to where she is today. On some level she blames herself for Captain Georgiou’s death so this is an opportunity for her to avenge her in some way as well as play a part in putting an end to the War that she had a hand in starting. Her decision to confront Kol is about buying time for Discovery to finish the calculations in terms of what the plot requires but it’s a personal thing for Michael who gets to somewhat make up for the mistakes she has made. Retrieving Georgiou’s badge is the obvious symbol of that and the destruction of the Klingon ship is a metaphor for her letting go of the past while finding a way to move on.
Her dialogue with Kol is about as clumsy as it gets on this show but also reminds the audience of the Federation ideals. The use of the Universal Translator as a focus for that is a clever idea as two perspectives are raised. Kol sees it as yet another attempt by the Federation to stamp out individuality by homogenising language. It offends him that losing the Klingon language is a possibility but Michael points out that it allows for communication; it brings two different things together in common cause. Kol mentions that Michael is speaking Klingon and Michael hears him in English so arguably nothing is lost here though it could be seen that no effort was made to learn Klingon and therefore understand the people.
Michael’s handling of the situation shows how skilled and intelligent she is as a character. She goes with diplomacy until it’s clear that it won’t work and then goes for the H word -Honour- to get a reaction out of Kol. This results in a really exciting duel followed by a really cool beam out sequence. As action beats go it was well earned as plenty was done to allow the characters to discuss their values.
I personally appreciated using the Universal Translator to get rid of the laborious spoken Klingon that often drags down these episodes. Being able to speak in English greatly enhances his performance and improves his presence in significant ways. Many of the actors have been limited by having to speak Klingon in pretty much all of their dialogue so it was refreshing to see the actors given the opportunity to really inhabit their characters. Kol himself is still poorly developed and his fate is probably the best we could have hoped for given how poorly handled he has been overall.
The cliffhanger ending is compelling because there’s so much to unpack from it. Stranding the ship in an unknown place is interesting enough on its own and eerily reminiscent of Star Trek: Voyager but that isn’t even the most interesting part. I’ve already mentioned that Lorca appears to manipulate Stamets into doing one more jump to safeguard the crew. it appears that Lorca himself does something to interrupt the jump which is definitely shocking though not entirely unexpected for Lorca. It comes just after he is ordered to bring Discovery back to be benched which clearly doesn’t sit right with him so it stands to reason he would do something to mean that he can remain in command. The return of Admiral Cornwell backs this up as Lorca must be feeling that his time before losing his command is running out.
Discovery’s final jump sequence seems to have some manual intervention from him to interrupt him so we shall see how this plays out. The region of space is certainly enigmatic with Discovery surrounded by destruction. As for where they are my guess is a parallel universe of some kind considering the earlier mention of it but we won’t know for a while so roll on January I say.
An excellent episode that wraps things up nicely going into the winter hiatus. Lorca’s characterisation is as always on point and the way he appears to manipulate Stamets into doing exactly what he wants is very sinister. The stakes are carefully outlined with the personal danger to Stamets coming across clearly. The action is very character driven as shown by the connection between Discovery’s jumps and Stamets’ pain. Keeping the action character driven is definitely much better than empty spectacle. The away mission was mixed in execution though nicely grounded in the characters and presented an important step forward for Ash.
The use of the Klingons was better than it has been previously thanks to allowing them to speak in English. Michael’s interaction with Kol was a good mix of discussion about values and exciting action. This also allows Michael to close the door on her mistakes after somewhat atoning for them. The cliffhanger ending was compelling as it seems clear that Lorca had a part to play in Discovery being stranded which makes sense given how tenuous his position is now that Admiral Cornwell has safely returned so it’s believable that he would take matters in his own hands. All will become clear in January.
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