Episode 8 is a welcome return to form, and is the most Star Trek episode of Star Trek: Discovery to date in story and theme.
It feels nice saying that, because I’ve said it almost every review now, which means (to me, anyway) that the writers are on the right track and the show is growing stronger every week.
It needs to be said, Kirsten Beyer wrote the crap out of this episode. Kirsten is a Star Trek novelist, and this is her first television writing credit.
You couldn’t tell.
If this episode has a flaw, it’s in its run time. There was so much story and not enough time was given to some aspects of it, but, more on that later.
Episode Number: 108
Episode Title: “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum”
Written By: Kirsten Beyer
Directed By: John S. Scott
Lorca to Rhys: “Mr Rhys, could I trouble you to fire at something?”
Stamets to Tilly: “What are you doing down here, captain?”
Michael to Ash and Saru: “We can’t touch that transmitter now.”
Ash to Michael: “General Order One?”
Michael, in response: “No, Order One restricts us from revealing ourselves to sentient beings that aren’t warp capable. We’re well beyond that. Now our duty is to follow First Contact Protocol, and we can’t borrow or alter their property without them understanding our objective, and agreeing to it.”
Michael to Ash: “The needs of the many…”
Ash to Michael: “Are worth fighting for… are worth dying for… but so are the needs of the few.”
Michael, in response: “Or the one?”
Tilly to Stamets: “Okay. What is going on with you?”
Stamets, in response: “Excuse me?”
Tilly back to Stamets: “At first, the tardigrade DNA booster seemed like a good thing, but now you’re back to your old persnickety, grumpy self. So what’s the deal?”
L’Rell to Cornwell: “What happens to those who Starfleet captures?”
Cornwell, in response: “In war? They’re imprisoned. Interrogated – humanely. Eventually, they’re returned to their people as part of any final peace settlement.”
L’Rell, in response: “So, you do not… execute them?”
Cornwell: “The Federation has no death penalty.”
L’Rell: “I wish to defect.”
L’Rell: “First, I am ensuring the end of Kol’s days. He neglected T’Kuvma’s message. He desecrated this vessel with his fetid presence. Before we depart, I will set the ship’s warp core to overload.”
Cornwell: “He really disappointed you!”
L’Rell: “He disgusts me. My only regret is that I will not be able to see his pretty painted face as he takes his final breath.”
Interesting Bits and Pieces
– “Si Vis Pacem Para Bellum” was originally slated to be the last episode of the first half of the first season. Episode 9 was made the last episode for the first half a few episodes into the current run.
– The USS Gagarin, we assume, is named for the Russian cosmonaut, Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin.
– Kelpiens can run at up to 80 kilometres per hour!
– This was Kirsten Beyer’s first professional television or film credit, as mentioned above. Prior to being recruited by Bryan Fuller to work on Star Trek: Discovery, she was (and still is) the author of 10 Star Trek novels, with two more on the way. Eight of those novels are based on Star Trek: Voyager. For information on Kirsten, see her Memory Alpha page here.
– We get some insight into what is happening to Lieutenant Paul Stamets via an exchange in the mess hall with Tilly:
“Okay. I’ll admit that something has been happening to me. One minute I know where I am, who you are, what I’m doing, and then, all of a sudden, what I know… changes… it gets jumbled…”
The Recap and Review
We kick off with a bang after another cold open (no teaser before the credits), with a brand new Starfleet vessel, the USS Gagarin, in a fierce battle with the Klingons.
Sadly, the Gagarin is getting its warp nacelles kicked.
The Discovery drops in to save the day… but can’t, and the Gagarin is blown to pieces.
It’s a demoralising moment for the crew as they engage the spore drive and jump out of the battle to safety, with Lorca (almost showing a drop of compassion) telling them there will be a time to grieve, but later.
Star Trek: Discovery throws together a nice battle sequence. The effects are always top notch, though at times there are some unusual direction choices that are made that don’t quite allow the scenes to ‘pop’ as much as they could.
I do miss the more traditional phaser fire of past series – sustained beams of light rather than the more Star Wars like bolts of energy, but that’s a small thing.
This entire opening shows Lorca in his element. He’s a dynamic captain who looks like he wants to jump through the viewer into the midst of the battle, and physically beat the Klingon ships into oblivion. This is no Kirk or Picard, calmly or with restrained intensity, commanding an engagement from the captain’s chair. Lorca paces like a caged animal, unleashing the fury of his ship on the enemy. Jason Isaacs makes you believe it’s personal and he is convincing as a man who has lost a lot to the Klingons and wants to deal them a decisive blow. He is such an excellent choice for this new Starfleet captain.
Even though Lorca doesn’t get a lot to do in this episode, every shot he’s in adds to his character – and that’s all thanks to Jason’s acting ability. Last episode he was the fall guy for Mudd’s craziness, but every line delivery imbued Lorca with personality. I love watching this very talented man work.
If Ash is Voq, Lorca is going to lose it and watching Jason Isaacs chew the scenery over that one will be an Emmy-winning moment.
After the destruction of the Gargarin, we visit with Stamets and Tilly and quickly learn that the spore-drive has more of an effect on Stamets than we were initially led to believe. He staggers out of the reaction chamber like a man waking from sleep. He’s confused, disoriented and says to Tilly “what are you doing here, captain?”
Is he jumping timelines?
Tilly has stated that she intends to be a captain. Has becoming “unstuck” in time thanks to the tardigrade DNA allowed Stamets to see or even actually visit future or alternate timelines? He’s in a chamber infused with spores… is he actually IN that chamber? Is something else mysterious going on while he’s hooked up to the machine? This brief scene was very nicely set up last episode, and you can bet this one is also planting a seed or two that will bear fruit in episodes to come.
As Paul pulls himself together, he goes from confused to snappy in a heart beat. Shroom-happy, huggy Stamets is gone. Not-so-happy and eternally grumpy Stamets is back.
We leave Tilly and Stamets to visit with Lorca and a Vulcan admiral, where Lorca once again shows his disdain for the chain of command, walking through the hologram image and speaking abruptly, even dismissively, to the Vulcan (sometimes he’s more respectful with his subordinates).
The Vulcan admiral tells Lorca that they need to find a way to defeat the Klingon cloaking technology, or all might be lost.
We quickly leave the ship and FINALLY visit a planet, Pahvo, where a Landing Party of Saru, Ash Tyler and Michael Burnham are trekking through a forest that gives a slight nod to the very first episode of Star Trek ever, “The Cage”, with blue tinted foliage and an eerie, ethereal, ever-present background musical noise that sounds like it incorporates old school Trek sound effects.
This is the first planet a Landing Party has visited since the Shenzhou Landing Party in the very first episode… and it is beautiful. Everything about Pahvo is interesting and thought provoking. I had a really visceral reaction, and was swept away and engaged on every level by the scenes on the mystical world.
The team are trekking through the wilderness in search of a giant crystal spire that ‘sings’ in the hope it can help them detect cloaked Klingon vessels. Saru is a bit annoyed, because, compared to a Kelpien, human’s are physically quite slow – also, the constant hum and vibration of the planet is doing Saru’s head in. His senses are more refined than a human’s and he’s struggling through the background ‘noise’ of Pahvo.
We eventually learn that the whole planet may be sentient, as that sentience manifests itself as a beautiful, slowly undulating and swirling cloud of blue/white energy. The manifestations/emanations choose to communicate with Saru and end up having quite an effect on the Kelpien First Officer.
More on that later!
Alongside this main plot, we have a secondary plot that involves the Klingons (with the odd visit back to the Discovery).
Yes. When I saw the Klingons I groaned and looked away, wondering if I should just hit pause and come back to the episode later or go grab a coffee while they growled and pontificated at each other, but thankfully the stilted dialogue and posturing ended quickly and we got to see Admiral Katrina Cornwell again, a character I’ve really come to enjoy.
The Klingon scenes start with L’Rell convincing Kol she can be of use to him as an interrogator, and he sets her the task of getting information out of the Admiral. She pays a visit to Katrina with a collection of nasty looking weapons in tow, and after getting the Admiral to scream, quite quickly asks to defect.
L’Rell and Admiral Katrina Cornwell need their own spin-off. Both Mary Chieffo and Jayne Brook are excellent together. The scenes between both women sparkle.
In the first exchange between L’Rell and Cornwell, we learn L’Rell hates Kol.
I mean really HATES Kol.
I believe her. I believe the character’s contempt is genuine.
Does she want to defect though? That, I’m not so certain of. I want her to. I’d love to see more of her and I’d love her to hate Kol so much she works with the Federation to destroy him, then double-crosses our heroes in an attempt to rebuild the Empire.
I don’t know if that could ever happen… but it’s a tiny little fanboy fantasy I have!
Sadly, the exchanges between these two powerful women are too brief, and eventually end with the apparent death of Admiral Cornwell. In the last half of the episode, L’Rell is taking the Admiral to her ship when they’re discovered by Kol. In that moment, there’s yet another nice exchange between both as they confirm neither is what the other expected, and then Katrina grabs a weapon from L’Rell’s belt, attacks her, and L’Rell pushes her into a power conduit after some nifty hand-to-hand combat. Being held against the conduit as it sparks and flashes seems to kill the Admiral.
I’m hoping, desperately, that Cornwell isn’t dead, but I’m honestly not sure. L’Rell’s statement to her when Kol sees them together in the corridor suggests otherwise – “At least you won’t die in a cage, Admiral.” So either she killed her, or she’s alluding to their eventual escape that is yet to come.
It is telling that L’Rell offers to get rid of the body… so, who knows?
The scenes between L’Rell, Kol and Cornwell are the best scenes to feature Klingons to date.
Back on the planet Saru gets high on sparkly happy dust and, we eventually learn, loses all fear. Sort of. He seems to maintain the fear of losing his loss of fear – if that confusing sentence makes sense?
I don’t know if Saru goes native or not, but he definitely changes. He crushes communicators, deceives his colleagues, and donkey-kicks Burnham in an attempt to stay on the planet.
Very un-Saru behaviour, and definitely not behaviour that is becoming of an officer.
Before that craziness though, we see Burnham and Tyler take a step closer in their relationship in what is ultimately an awkward scene. This was a perfect example of how this episode needed more time. A few scenes needed just one more minute each to make this entire episode something outstanding.
With Ash and Michael, one minute they’re talking about trout, the next Burnham is saying she’s probably going back to prison, and then there’s a touching exchange that evokes Suraks’ teachings (and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan), that turns into a kiss.
The scene works, and our head-canon can say that stuff has been building off-screen, but it would have been so much better to see that build. As it was presented, the scene seems wedged in because the writers thought we needed to have these characters kiss because their last kiss got wiped out of existence.
So, nice moment, then craziness. It all ends in Saru once again expressing his frustration and anger at Burnham for, in his opinion, ruining his life.
It’s a powerful moment, but not as powerful as it could have been.
This episode was touted as an immensely emotional outing, and wasn’t. While it was emotional it didn’t live up to the hype – which made me certain I’d shed a tear or two. Unfortunately, it just didn’t quite rise to the occasion.
The episode starts to wrap up with a beautiful scene between Saru and Michael that continues the theme of healing that’s been subtle but present in most of their interactions since Burnham’s invitation to join Discovery. It takes place in Sickbay and goes a little something like this:
“Saru. Please look at me. Are you alright?”
“I lied to you… and Lieutenant Tyler. I attacked you. I could have killed you.”
“You weren’t yourself.”
“But I was.” Beat. “We are born afraid, we Kelpiens. It’s how we survive. As such, my whole life I have never known a moment without fear. The freedom of it. Not one moment… until Pahvo.”
This is what I meant when I mentioned earlier that Saru found himself devoid of fear, but ultimately still acted out of fear.
This scene also makes me wonder about Saru’s suitability for command.
The last scene is an exchange on the bridge where they learn that the Pahvo have invited the Klingons to come chat… and they take up the invitation, warping in. The Pahvo are dedicated to harmony, and want to make Starfleet and the Klingons play nice together. I think we know that that isn’t going to end well!
So… all in all, a really satisfying episode.
Next week’s episode is “Into The Forest I Go.”
I don’t think Lorca and Stamets are going to make it out of the series alive. A few weeks ago I said I didn’t think Lorca would be alive by the end of the season, and now I’m no longer sure about Stamets. He’s “unstuck” in time. His story feels like it’s going to end in tragedy. He might make it into the next season, and possibly others, but we know the spore-drive doesn’t work and no doubt Paul’s fate will be tied to it.
I am now almost completely convinced Ash is Voq. Listening to Ash’s voice, listening to Voq’s. The vague similarity in facial features. The simple fact that this would really hurt Michael and writers like to torture their main characters! There would be no more cruel or shocking way to torment Michael than to have her fall in love with a representative of the race that killed her parents – AND her surrogate mother (Georgiou).
Saru will step down as First Officer. Ash will succeed him (because Lorca makes non-traditional choices, as we’ve seen). Ash will be revealed as Voq, Burnham will receive a battlefield promotion and her sentence will be commuted, and she’ll become the new First Officer.
In the wishful fanboy category… Cornwell is alive.
This was an exceptional episode, whose only weakness was in its length – it needed to be longer, and not just because I loved it.
It loses a delta for how “crammed” the story felt. The story was excellent, and by and large the pacing was good – we just needed more in some scenes because really big things happened in this episode… the possible death of Admiral Cornwell, the kiss between Michael and Ash, L’Rell wanting to defect, the exploration of Saru and the healing journey he and Burnham are on… these are all huge, and just as important, the dynamic between all of these characters, like Michael and Ash, Cornwell and L’Rell and Michael and Saru, deserved more time.
The episode was only 41 minutes long. That might be the shortest live-action Star Trek episode in history? They could have included more. I don’t know if they thought they’d bore us if they extended those scenes, but if so – hear us, oh writers room, you wouldn’t have! Trek fans love that stuff. We’re not paying to see this show to watch special effects, we’re paying to be a part of these characters’ journeys. What’s more, modern viewing audiences love character and story too. Excellent production values are important, but we want to know and walk side by side with these characters. Don’t rob us of the opportunity.
Star Trek: Discovery airs in the United States on CBS All Access, with new episodes available Sundays at 8:30pm ET. In Canada, the show airs on the Space Channel at 8:00pm ET. Outside of the US and Canada, Star Trek: Discovery airs on Netflix with new episodes dropping in the UK at 8:00am BST Monday mornings, and in Australia at 6:00pm AEDT, Monday evenings.
One more episode left before the mid-season break.
By the way, what torturous, horrible person thought up mid-season breaks? Not a fan.
Join us in a few days time for another review, the last one for a few months. Until then (and always), Live Long, and Prosper.