Star Trek: Discovery – Season 1 Episode 8
“Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum”
Star Trek: Discovery brings the War with the Klingons into focus as members of the crew participate in an unusual away mission.
It’s fair to say that this episode opens with a bang. The Discovery jumps in to rescue a Federation Ship up against overwhelming odds and the episode really delivers on the spectacle. The sequence is kinetic and exciting with another clear display of Lorca’s command style. Lorca barking orders at a bridge crew clearly in over their heads adds a sense of tension to the battle that wouldn’t exist with a more seasoned crew. They all do their best but it’s clear that their lack of experience gets the better of them.
The only thing missing was Lorca chewing out the tactical officer for not being quick off the mark with firing on the Klingon ships though it is mentioned that their cloaking devices make targeting the ships impossible.
I found the silent moment once the U.S.S. Gagarin was destroyed to be really effective as it shows the cost of War on a more personal level. Lorca tells the crew that there will be a time to grieve but also reminds them that there is work to be done and full focus needs to be on the task at hand. Action sequences can be so easily rendered meaningless through the application of style over substance but this episode manages to create a more personal connection when it’s clear that the loss of the Gagarin affected the crew.
It isn’t a big part of the plot of the episode as very little time is spent on Discovery but it does serve as a reminder that the War continues to rage on and that the cloaking technology is making life very difficult for Starfleet. After recent episodes put the War on the back burner this was a much needed shot in the arm.
The strain on the people fighting the War is reflected through Stamets increasingly erratic personality shifts resulting from continual use of the Spore Drive. He has a major lapse in concentration when being disconnected and calls Tilly Captain which causes her to confront him about it.
Stamets’ reaction is to be distant and dismissive as per his characterisation in earlier episodes but Tilly insists on forcing the issue and he admits that the disorientation is getting worse for him. He’s clearly concerned at the personal cost of continuing to hook himself up to the Spore Drive but he is at a loss in terms of what to do about it. If he tells Dr. Culver then he will be duty bound to report it which will result in Stamets being carted off to a research facility to study him. If Culver chooses to keep it to himself and Starfleet finds out then his career is completely over. Stamets refuses to put his partner in that position so keeps it to himself in the hope that it won’t get any worse.
Confiding in Tilly does a lot to enhance the connection between them as she is in of a big secret he is keeping and has to decide what to do with that information. It’s a difficult choice as keeping that knowledge to herself could put the ship in danger but the conflict comes from the fact that Stamets has very clear emotional reasons for keeping it to himself so she faces betraying his trust should she report what she knows. I imagine Tilly will be faced with a crisis point at some point in the near future which will force her to decide one way or another and that’s just good drama. This show is consistently good at keeping characters at the front of everything they do.
The Klingon story is further developed with the addition of Admiral Cornwell who is being kept alive as a hostage. It’s a less than ideal situation but hope exists in the form of L’Rell who is interested in defecting to the Federation because she thinks that Kol is a lunatic. Based on what we have seen of Kol it’s difficult to disagree with that assessment. L’Rell is given added depth as a result of her intention to defect and creating different Klingon factions makes them a lot more than one dimensional villains. This show has been guilty of making the Klingons less than interesting but this internal conflict makes the scenes featuring them more compelling.
L’Rell makes it clear that her loyalty was to Voq and she only goes along with Kol because she fears for the survival of her house otherwise. Being motivated by self preservation works really well and it adds depth to L’Rell by her admission that she is afraid of what will happen if she doesn’t demonstrate loyalty. It’s refreshing to see a Klingon admit fear as it isn’t something they are typically known for and the added complexity to the Klingon side of the conflict is welcomed
That being said the Klingon scenes are still fairly frustrating to endure. The same problem of very long subtitled stretches of dialogue persists and -with the exception of L’Rell- they are all underdeveloped. Kol is especially problematic as there is a cartoonish quality to his villainy which is at odds with the tone of the show and there is very little consistency to his character. He is very much a villain for the sake of being a villain and there seems to be no attempt to improve this.
At least the situation surrounding him is somewhat interesting. L’Rell trying to kelp Cornwell escape before being forced to kill her when they are discovered to keep herself alive was a very extreme yet understandable choice that ties into L’Rell being motivated by self preservation. Her discovery that other Klingons that she was clearly close to have been killed with their corpses unceremoniously piled up encourage her to further cement her loyalty to Kol by going out of her way to prove her usefulness to him. Whether this will result in a betrayal on her part or not remains to be seen but her behaviour is fascinating to watch. It would be better if we had a better sense of the sort of person Kol is as there’s a definite gap there.
The away mission involving Michael, Ash and Saru is the most interesting thing at play in this episode. Michael’s log entry filling the audience in on the unique properties of the planet is a succinct way to get the information across and introduces a really interesting concept. A planet where everything exists in perfect harmony to the point that music is produced is fascinating. It’s alien without being monstrous and is one of the few examples this show has of showing the wonders of the universe. Not to mention the fact that the planet is absolutely gorgeous visually. The episode was shot on location which enhances the visual aesthetic along with the effects work to make the forest seem alien.
Each of the characters brings something different to this mission; MIchael wants to appreciate how unique the planet is, Ash is very much focused on completing the mission and Saru struggles with the constant noise thanks to his enhanced senses.
The mission is far from simple as it becomes apparent that the planet is alive though not in a way that Humans can understand. Curiously the Pahvans take a form similar to the Spore Drive visual effect which makes me wonder if there’s some sort of connection.
Saru’s unique abilities allow him to commune with the life forms to express the intentions of the away team as well as attempt to understand them. This takes a toll on him as he becomes progressively more insane. The episode unfortunately doesn’t allow this development to happen as organically as it needed to so the progression feels rapid from a plot point of view but Doug Jones does a great job showing Saru’s gradual shift at first before it is accelerated to the end point. The way he plays the change is great to watch such as his rational sounding request for Michael and Ash to hand over their communicators before crushing them and seeming a little more pushy when relaying his point after that.
The effect on Saru is profound because of his history as being prey on his home world. This is something that is very well established about him and has come up several times. According to Saru the reason he behaved the way he did is because he has never experienced a single moment of peace in his entire life. On his home world he was always worried about being hunted and that fear followed him throughout the rest of his life. I’ve mentioned before that Saru lacks the ability to see things from a nuanced perspective due to his binary outlook on life. He sees the Pahvans as being completely peaceful so fails to consider the bigger picture though it seems there’s more at work there considering how profound the change is.
One thing that happens but isn’t addressed is that Saru gets to experience what it feels like to be a predator. His pursuit of Michael is violent and relentless to the point that she fears for her safety and has to defend herself. It’s a significant role reversal for Saru so it’s confusing as to why that wasn’t explicitly addressed.
Ash and Michael are secondary to Saru in this episode but still have good moments. The scene where they have a discussion about what they will do when the War over is fascinating as it shows that Ash is a man of simple tastes and Michael is resigned to her continued incarceration. Ash telling her that it wouldn’t be the worst thing if the War continued so she could stay out of prison and they have a familiar Star Trek debate about the needs of the many and how they compare to the needs of the few or the one.
Ash comes at this from a soldier’s point of view with the belief that the many are worth fighting and dying for but that doesn’t downplay the significance of the individual. After all they are fighting for the well being of collective individuals so each of them are important. In this case he references Michael specifically as he feels that her remaining active in Starfleet is important. This leads to their first unerased kiss showing the comfort and closeness between them. It’s a very powerful and intimate moment that approaches a familiar subject in a slightly different way.
Some of the dialogue is hokey which is an ongoing problem for this show. The most notable example is when Michael explained the difference between the Prime Directive and First Contact protocol. It’s an unnecessary conversation as both characters should know this information. It feels clumsy and stands out.
Their approach to this mission is shown to be very different. Ash is laser focused on accomplishing the objective and getting back to the ship where Michael is more interested in this new life form and learning all she can about it. Both points of view are valid given the mission parameters and it creates a clear divide between the soldier and the explorer. Michael is there to argue the case that everything unknown must be studied and explored which is at the root of Star Trek’s overall ethos while Ash represents a different viewpoint which shows that not everyone in Starfleet is there for the same reasons.
The resolution was somewhat unexpected in a really good way. I liked the debate between Saru and Michael over what the aliens should do. Saru wanted them to not interfere because the Klingons would wipe them out once they learned of the cooperation but Michael appeals for their help as it will help return the Galaxy to relative peace. The Pahvans take their own stance on the issue and signal for the Klingons to come to Discovery’s location. Michael points out that they look at everything as harmonious and perform this course of action to force the Federation and Klingons to reconcile their differences.
It represents a broad lack of understanding of how other life forms work in the universe but it makes sense given what has been established about them. I suspect the ensuing confrontation won’t be as harmonious as the Pahvans would like it to be. This ending is very reminiscent of “Errand of Mercy” where the Klingons and Federation were prevented from fighting to force them to find another way. It’s a reference that works because the approach is very different and the Pahvans feel truly unique in the annals of Star Trek canon. I like that the episode ends with a dangerous misunderstanding motivated by the best of intentions.
An excellent episode that manages to create an action sequence rooted in the characters and how the war affects the. The growing sense of dread that surrounds Stamos as the continued use of the Spore Drive persistently changes him in ways he doesn’t understand. This strengthens the connection between Stamos and Tilly with her being in on the secret and being faced with a very difficult choice concerning what to do with that information.
The Klingon scenes are better but also need a lot more work. L’Rell is given further depth that works very well though her narrative is hampered by how underdeveloped Kol is. As villains go he isn’t engaging so there is only so interesting L’Rell’s story can be. The lingering issues with the Klingon scenes still exist as well. Saru, Michael and Ash’s away mission is fascinating for a variety of reasons as it represents a life changing experience for Saru. His shift into lunacy happens a little quickly but Doug Jones carries his scenes wonderfully and the scene where he talks about experiencing peace for the first time was excellent. The interactions between Michael and Ash are great as well as it develops their relationship as well as exploring their different reasons for being in Starfleet. The cllffhanger ending was interesting as it shows how a different alien perspective can create a dangerous misunderstanding.
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