Last Sunday’s episode of Discovery definitely builds toward this week’s coming Fall Finale, but this episode does not bridge high ideas and actual storytelling terribly well.
Discovery’s episode titles have been pretty fantastic since the first episode, and while there will always be something chilling about “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry”, this title actively calls out for war. The concept of preparing for war to ensure peace is somewhat out of place in context of the world of Star Trek. To be sure, the Federation is no stranger to violent conflict, ranging from the Klingon-Federation War in The Original Series to Enterprise’s Xindi conflict and Deep Space Nine’s bloody Dominion War, but the primary job of Starfleet as we’ve seen it is to explore and spread Federation ideals of cooperation, freedom, and peace throughout the universe. In Discovery that’s not quite true. We see a war captain (to such an unseen extent that there’s even a fan theory that Lorca may come from the Mirror Universe, which would explain the existence of his murder lab. The Discovery itself changes from a science vessel to a war ship, and now, the series moves toward the first real conflict that we’ve seen since “The Battle of the Binary Stars”.
The events that spark that conflict arise from a pit stop on Pahvo because it has an inexplicable crystal transmitter that Lorca wants to use to detect cloaked Klingon ships. In reality, while beautifully realized, the giant crystal spire is just a macguffin to get us on the planet so that Saru can fall prey (see what I did there?) to a classic space pollen story-line. Admittedly, the space pollen in this episode is not so much actual space pollen as it was in “This Side of Paradise.” The Pahvans are creatures that appear to be made out of particulate blue energy and according to Saru, live in perfect harmony with all things and wish to convey that peace to all beings in the universe. They offer Saru that peace after he begs them to make the song of the planet stop, and having experienced tranquility for the first time in his life, he becomes determined not to embroil them in the war with the Klingons. Burnham and Tyler, however, resolve to complete their mission which is to use the crystal transmitter to detect the cloaked vessels via sonar or…something…somehow.
The episode doesn’t make the whys and wherefores terribly clear because the point, of course, is the argument that pits Team Kelpien against Team Human. Saru, as a member of a prey species, desperately wants to protect the Pahvans from the war, but Tyler orders Burnham to complete the mission on the thinnest of legal arguments. Both sides make good points—Saru that bringing the conflict to the Pahvans will result in destruction of a beautiful ecosystem and Burnham that the conflict will destroy too many lives not to take every opportunity to end the war expeditiously. Disappointingly, the show doesn’t really resolve the argument one way or the other. Saru ultimately loses because the Pahvans decide to take matters into their own hands and reach out to both the Federation and the Klingons to “bring them harmony,” whatever the Pahvans believe that will entail.
Meanwhile, in the episode’s B-story on the Ship of the Dead, L’Rell offers Kol her abilities as an interrogator-cum-torturer in order to get close to the captured Admiral Cornwell so that she can defect. That goes about as well as literally everyone expected, with Cornwell potentially dead and L’Rell captured by Kol. She does take a brief detour into a Klingon closet either on L’Rell’s ship or somewhere on the Ship of the Dead full of eviscerated corpses that serves little other purpose than to indicate that Kol has been summarily executing T’Kuvma’s loyal followers. It’s a thing that happens, and it’s pretty graphic. Thanks for the nightmares, Discovery.
There’s also a C-story that if you blink, you might miss, but it features one of the best moments we’ve yet seen out of Cadet Tilly. Stamets comes out of the spore chamber disoriented and confused, calling Tilly “Captain”, and then, he blames her for his own discomfiture. Tilly tracks him down at lunch to see what his deal is, and even though he tries to brush her off, she stands her ground. It’s a great moment for her, and I really like that Stamets acknowledges her in a rare moment of emotional honesty on board the USS Dysfunction. Stamets then makes the least convincing argument ever for refusing to tell his partner that things are starting to go awry in what will no doubt be proven to A Very Bad Idea later in the season.
Overall, I loved how Pahvo is realized. While some might be disappointed by an intelligence made up of floating blue particles, I really enjoyed the idea that alien life will be alien and may not be what we expect it to be. Similarly, the Pahvans opting to reach out to the Klingons is a completely logical move for their species as they are described by Saru, and it definitely feels like a call out to the Organians, who ultimately force a conclusion to the Federation-Klingon War.
However, as intrigued by the potential of next week’s episode as I am, I am also concerned. Thus far, Discovery has proven to be far, far grittier than any iteration of Star Trek to date, and it almost seems to be the Federation-meets-Game of Thrones, which is apparently no accident. We know that at least executive producer Aaron Harberts has been heavily influenced by the hit HBO offering. Landry’s rather meaningless death seems to be part of that influence, and I worry that Admiral Cornwell’s death, if she really is dead, will fall into the same category.
Other Stray Observations:
• I really want to know more about the predator species on Saru’s home planet. Judging from that kick, Kelpiens are decent at defending themselves, and also, I’d like to take a moment and appreciate Doug Jones (or his stunt double) for landing a kick while wearing stilts.
• I’m hoping that the reference to Tilly as a captain is due to Stamets seeing something from the future.
• Tyler’s confusion over the Prime Directive seems to fall in line with him being Voq in disguise. Also, I’d really prefer that to be true because I’d like for Burnham’s first romance to be an easy one.
• The constant infighting between Saru and Burnham is starting to grate as badly as Pulaski’s baseless dislike for Data in TNG. C’mon, Saru, she gave you Georgiou’s telescope. You can start sharing the sandbox any time now.