Star Trek Discovery S1.9, “Into the Forest I Go” (midseason finale)

 

Well, we’ve reached the halfway mark of the first season of Star Trek Discovery, and tonight’s episode packed the sort of emotional wallop that, to be honest, has been distributed somewhat unevenly throughout the season so far.

******* KLINGON WARSHIP SIZED SPOILERS AHEAD! *******

The story:

Continuing from last week’s episode (“Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum”), Capt. Lorca is ordered by Starfleet Command to leave the planet Pahvo and spore-jump to a nearby Starbase.  Lorca uses the ship’s slower warp drive instead, giving his crew a few hours to device a way to nullify the Klingon cloaking advantage and jump back to save Pahvo.   The crew comes up with an idea; to beam a two-person team aboard the Klingon “Ship of the Dead” (the same sarcophagus-laden ship we saw in the pilot), plant telemetric sensors, and do multiple spore jumps (133, in fact) to confuse the enemy vessel whilst accumulating sensor data to make ‘outlines’ of cloaked Klingon vessels that can be forwarded to all the starships in the fleet; thus nullifying the Klingon cloaking advantage (or at least this version of it).  Downside is that Lt. Stamets, the human creator/link to the spore-drive, is suffering increasing side effects from the use of the drive.  

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Stamets’ partner, Dr. Culber, makes an impassioned plea for Lorca not to put his partner through such extensive trauma but Lorca is adamant; the war could cost trillions of lives.  Stamets, and a very reluctant Culber, agree to the mission.   

Arriving at Pahvo, Discovery encounters the Klingon SOTD, and Tyler and Burnham beam aboard with the sensors.  Aboard the ship, they find the kidnapped, wounded/immobile Admiral Cornwell (Jane Brooks) and plan to rescue her.  Tyler, who was a Klingon prisoner-of-war (unless you subscribe to my theory; more on that later), seems to suffer a massively debilitating PTSD episode.  

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Burnham is forced to complete the mission alone.  She successfully plants the sensors, and confronts Klingon commander Kol; with whom she engages in hand-to-hand combat (Klingon style) in an effort to buy time for Discovery to complete the multiple spore jumps and beam her, Tyler and Cornwell out when the Klingon ship cloaks (and lowers her shields).   During the battle, Burnham reveals to Kol that is was she who killed the martyred K’Tuvma, but that she regrets inadvertently starting this conflict.  Kol, wielding the late Capt. Georgiou’s old Starfleet badge as a spoil of war, thanks Burnham for paving the way to his ascendency to power.    

Discovery performs her multiple spore jumps; Culber, fearing he might lose his partner, tells Stamets he loves him.  

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As the personal battle between Burnham & Kol rages,  Discovery successfully acquires the necessary telemetry; nearly killing Stamets in the process.   Discovery beams its landing party aboard; Burnham manages to snatch her late captain’s badge from Kol’s clutches as she is beamed away.   As the admiral and Tyler are beamed out, K’Tuvma-following Klingon L’Rell grabs the dematerializing Tyler mid- transport; thus becoming a Starfleet prisoner.  With his team aboard,  Lorca destroys the Klingon vessel in orbit over Pahvo, thus saving the planet and turning the tide of the war.

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After the battle, Burnham and Tyler seek solace in each other’s company.  Later on, as Burnham is asleep, a seemingly traumatized Ash Tyler goes to the Discovery brig to confront his former Klingon captor/tormentor L’Rell who assures him (from behind a custodial forcefield) that she won’t allow him to come to harm.   Hmmm….

Observing Pahvo from the serene view of the shuttle bay, Capt. Lorca tells Stamets that his spore drive has opened up the universe to Starfleet, and that the Discovery crew may use it to someday get back to pure exploration.  Stamets confides to a grateful Lorca that he can only do ONE more spore jump, as the side effects are becoming too difficult.  Lorca agrees.    The ship prepares to jump, and something goes very wrong.  Stamets’ eyes go white, and the ship arrives somewhere unrecognizable by the ship’s navigation equipment…

To be continued in January. 

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Um…wow.

There was more emotion in this one episode than in most of the season so far (save for Capt. Georgiou’s heart-wrenching death in “Battle at the Binary Stars”).   The characters really seemed to be coalescing into a genuine crew at this point.  And the promise of a near-end to the Klingon war gave some of us longtime Trekkies the hope that the show won’t be in “Battlestar Trek”-mode for too much longer.   In fact, the war arc’s purpose seems a bit more clear to me now; to open the series with the characters under maximum stress and duress to show who they really are, right up front.    It may be a bit less science fiction-y than say, a water molecule that acts like alcohol (see: TOS’ “Naked Time” and TNG’s “Naked Now”) but arguably it still works.

Before I ramble on for too long, let me break it down here (as much for myself as for my readers; to whom I’m always grateful)…

 

Things I Really Enjoyed About “Into the Forest I Go”:

 

*  Capt. Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs).

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Once again, Jason Isaacs’ steely-eyed Captain Lorca continues to amaze.  He is shedding a tiny bit of his earlier gruffness, yet retaining just enough of it to keep him nicely salted.   He clearly has a lot of affection for his crew, whom he once saw as a gaggle of Caltech-type scientists who’ve now become his razors.   He admires them.  They’ve earned it from him.   And this episode, more than any other, really showed just how much he cares for them (his intercom address to the crew, his final scene with Stamets), and it was touching to see.

I enjoyed the uniquely-Lorca moment near the end as he prepares his overly sensitive, war-damaged eyes for the Klingon ship’s imminent destruction (like putting on sunglasses before a nuclear blast).   A great bit.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I was going to like Lorca at first; and now I can’t imagine the ship (or show) without him.   I realize DSC was not intended to be a captain-centric series, but damned if Jason Isaacs isn’t making it happen anyway.

*  Lt. Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and Dr. Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz).

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The first (and long overdue) male-to-male kiss in the history of Star Trek happened tonight.  And Culber finally got to show a bit more of himself, as he begged his captain not to put his partner through hundreds of tortuous spore drive jumps.   Culber’s tender “I love you” to Stamets as he entered the spore chamber reminded me of Princess Leia watching Han Solo being lowered into carbon freeze in “The Empire Strikes Back”; yes, it was that emotional.

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While it took ST an embarrassingly long time to show a loving gay couple living aboard a Federation starship, it’s nice to see it done thoughtfully and with the talents of Rapp and Cruz.   Better late than never.   Gentlemen?  Take a deserved bow.

*  Lt. Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif) and his post traumatic stress disorder.

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Nice of ST to address this in a much more realistic fashion for a change.  The last times ST showed anything close to the effects of PTSD were in TOS’ “Doomsday Machine” (Commodore Decker), TNG’s “Family” (Picard’s lingering effects of his Borg assimilation) and ENT’s 3rd season (which dealt with Trip Tucker’s sister’s death in a 9/11-style attack on Earth).

Lt. Tyler’s PTSD effects are far more pronounced and debilitating (and much more realistic).  He is literally frozen in the grip of his trauma; but (and this is VERY important) he is never once shamed or ridiculed for it (bravo, Star Trek!).   PTSD is very common among high stress occupations (soldiers, cops, etc), as well as victims of abuse (sexual, physical and even verbal).  It’s a very natural and normal way that we human beings deal with such horrific sensory overload, and it was nice to see it addressed a lot more realistically in this new incarnation of Star Trek.

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Even if Tyler truly is eventually revealed to the surgically altered  Klingon albino Voq (as I believe he will be), I suspect that he Tyler/Voq is also a sleeper agent; unaware of his true identity (thus making him a more effective mole).   His doubting of himself could lead to other psychological issues down the road, including issues of identity, memory and loss.  Parallels to Battlestar Galactica’s “Sharon Valerii” (Grace Park) come to mind.

Frankly, if Tyler isn’t a Klingon sleeper agent, I’d be very disappointed; as it could prematurely rob the series of some great potential conflict later on (especially with the burgeoning romance between he and Burnham; as well as his lingering sexual issues with Klingon L’Rell).

*  Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green); kicking ass, taking names, and earning serious redemption points.

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I’ll admit, there were times when I doubted if Burnham was as solid or interesting a character as I’d been led to believe she would become, but tonight changed much of that.  She completed the dangerous sensor-planting mission solo (due to Lt. Tyler and Admiral Cornwell’s joint incapacitation), gave Klingon Kol (Kenneth Mitchell) a serious run for his money in hand-to-hand combat, confessed to killing K’Tuvma, and even managed to steal back her late captain’s Starfleet badge in the process.   They even managed to throw in a  lovely moment between Burnham and Tyler in his quarters after the battle.  She had a real emotional workout tonight.   While I admit the show may not be as Burnham-centered as its creators initially hoped for (to me it’s evolving into more of a TNG-style ensemble; and that’s not a bad thing either…), the character and actress really proved their respective mettles with this exciting midseason finale.  Burnham exuded more raw passion and spirit in this episode than I’d seen all season.   Her earlier Vulcan-esque stiltedness was gone.  This episode also clearly puts her on the path to redemption by having her revisit the ’scene of the crime’ (the Klingon Ship of the Dead), and try like hell to set things right.  Kudos to Sonequa Martin-Green for an awesome job.

*  Cadet Tilly (Mary Wiseman), accidentally spilling the beans to Dr. Culber about Stamets’ side-effects.

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Her innocently mouthing “Sorry” to Stamets as he shoots her a dagger stare was a funny little moment.  A confidence innocently violated.   Tilly is adorable, even when she screws up; for me, the character is utterly hate-proof.   She is goofy, nerdy and most importantly, one of us.

*  The Klingons Kol and L’Rell (Kenneth Mitchell and Mary Chieffo)

Typically the Klingon-heavy moments of DSC, with their “Game of Thrones”-ish aspirations/pretenses, were the least interesting scenes for me overall.   Tonight that changed a bit .   The Kol-Burnham combat was downright exciting to watch, and L’Rell’s moments with Tyler (the traumatizing sex/torture as well as her appearance in Discovery’s brig) were very interesting as well.

To be honest, I was never a huge fan of Klingons (in any version of Star Trek), and Discovery’s Klingon moments have been occasionally taxing on my patience, but I was genuinely intrigued with some of the threads pulled in this episode.   Don’t get me wrong; I will cheer loudly when the Klingon war arc is finally over, but I also look forward to the exact nature of the relationship between L’Rell and Tyler (a deeply repressed/surgically-altered Voq, in my opinion).   A Tyler/L’Rell/Burnham triangle could get complex and even a bit ugly; as it may explore the nature between abused and abuser, and how that informs/affects the abused’s present-day relationship.

Looking forward to how this plays out, and if the writers have the courage to go to those dark places…

 

Things I didn’t care for as much with “Into the Forest I Go”: 

 

*  The lack of strategic value of the planet Pahvo.

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Turns out that Pahvo, the Pandora-ish planet explored in last week’s episode, really wasn’t important at all.  The Discovery crew worked out a way to nullify the Klingon cloak on their own; without the planet’s giant crystalline towers that were supposed to aid in de-cloaking Klingon ships (somehow…?).  Makes last week’s distinctly weaker installment even less important.   One wonders if a few more hours better spent brainstorming on the physics of the cloak itself might’ve made that whole first part of this two-part episode utterly unnecessary (which, in hindsight, it was; other than a flimsy excuse for Saru to go a bit “This Side of Paradise” on everyone).

*  Admiral Cornwell (Jayne Brook).

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^ Admiral Cornwell (Jayne Brook) is easily duped, and later manipulated, by Capt. Lorca in S1.6’s “Lethe”…

A few weeks ago, she was easily deceived and manipulated by Capt. Lorca.  This week, she’s partly paralyzed and unable to assist either Tyler or Burnham aboard the Klingon ship.   Jayne Brook (“Gattaca”) is a fine actress, but I wish they’d write her character as someone a bit smarter or snappier.   I don’t really see any ‘fleet admiral’ authority or power in the way she’s written; she comes off as more of a Dr. Crusher clone.   As I was never a big fan of Dr. Crusher, that’s not a plus in my book.   Brook deserves better.

*  Just hoping the episode’s final moments don’t turn the rest of the season into a re-hash of Voyager.

The USS Discovery is lost…but where?  Another quadrant of our galaxy?  Please, let it not be that.  We’ve had seven seasons of that scenario already with the somewhat average ST series “Voyager.”   Or maybe it’s the savage, ‘mirror universe’ seen in TOS’ “Mirror Mirror” as well as several episodes of “Deep Space Nine” and “Enterprise”?  There have been rumors of this universe making a reappearance in DSC, and while it is a more interesting premise than a rehash of VGR, it too, has been done before… a lot.

Would it be too much to hope that Discovery is lost in a place or universe that we’ve not seen yet?   As in, ‘boldly going where no one has gone before’…?

*  I realize that this series was supposed to be Burnham-centered, and she’s wonderful in this episode, but…

…like it or not, this show IS turning into a TNG-style ensemble show, whatever the initial intentions were.   Yes, Michael Burnham had some terrific moments in this outing, but it wasn’t just a Burnham episode; it was a Tyler, Stamets and Lorca episode as well.  While I initially applauded since-departed producer Bryan Fuller’s intention to try something new and make a series around a first officer (not technically true, since Burnham no longer holds that rank), it just didn’t work out that way.

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Part of the problem may have been in the concept; making Burnham a Vulcan-raised human slowly awakening to her innate emotions immediately put her at an arms’ length to the audience.   Unlike the conflicted half-human Spock of TOS, Burnham comes off as somewhat standoff-ish.    And while she has gradually warmed up during the season, all of the other characters have come to shine as well.    The earlier ’sinister’ Captain Lorca has actually become a beloved curmudgeon rather than a creepy would-be “Governor” (see: “The Walking Dead” season 3).   Even the Sheldon Cooper-ish Stamets has gained a following, as his own spore drive has eroded his previously sharper edges.   Yes, it was supposed to be Burnham’s series, but I’m afraid that’s not the way it’s turning out; and as a Star Trek fan, I’m totally okay with that.

Star Trek has always worked best with a strong ensemble.

 

Conclusion:

“Into the Forest I Go” is an exciting episode, fitting for a midseason finale of a series that has been both intriguing and a little inconsistent in the first half of its first year.  And that’s okay; most (if not all) Star Treks have started off a bit coltish.   But the promise of the midseason finale bodes well for the rest of the season to come.  The crew is finally coming together as a cohesive whole (this might’ve been better facilitated if the show actually began aboard the titular ship…), the chemistry within the ensemble is growing, and the resultant series is becoming stronger for it.   It took a while, but the series might finally be firing on all thrusters soon.

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I look forward to the return of Discovery in January…

 

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. Kibbin says:

    Not seen this one yet, hoping to catch it tonight. Glad the series is going out on a high

    Like

  2. I’m about 99.9% sure Discovery landed in the Mirror Universe. We know they’re doing a Mirror Universe episode at some point. and Stamets’ rambling at the end seemed to refer to the infinity of alternate universes.

    Anyway, I wish I could have enjoyed this episode as much as you, but it still doesn’t quite click for me. There are a lot of individual parts of it I liked; you’re right that Burnham hit it out of the park this time, and I think she may have finally won me over. But there’s a lot of other things that don’t sit quite right with me. Too many plot holes, too many leaps in logic.

    Eh, I need to mull it over some more.

    Liked by 2 people

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