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Star Trek: Discovery Riffs on an Original Series Episode With Muddled Results

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Last night’s “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum” ended on a cliffhanger that sets up a big showdown for next week’s finale. Meanwhile, everyone, save Burnham, is wandering around acting suspicious as hell. And for some reason, the show seems like it’s doing its own version of a classic Klingon-Federation moment from the original series.


The tides in this war have turned again—and at some point this show is going to have to explain what the timeline is between the various episodes, if only because we keep being promised that this show is going to sync up with the original series and they’re eating up time by jumping so much within this season. Kol of House Kor has got T’Kuvma’s ship and his stealth technology up and running, and he’s shared the “invisibility shields” with the houses that swear fealty to him. On the other side, the Discovery is the only ship with Starfleet’s secret weapon.

In a move to counter the Klingons, the Discovery dispatches a team to the planet Pahvo. Everything on the planet vibrates in a specific tone, with the whole planet singing “music,” and there’s also a giant crystal jutting out into the sky, which Starfleet wants to use it as a natural transmitter for a type of sonar to find cloaked Klingon ships. The team consists of Saru, Burnham, and Tyler, so the first officer, the mutineer specialist, and the chief of security. There’s not even a redshirt there to die dramatically—it’s just these three important officers.


The team encounters floating bits of energy that are “indistinguishable from the rest of the planet.” The floating blue stuff—which my god, looks so much like the spores it’s distracting—takes the team to a hut. Saru is all for talking, Tyler is all for just shooting, and Burnham is... there.

The sound of the planet is painful for Saru, because of his fine-tuned prey senses. We get a whole speech about Saru’s people, the Kelpians, to remind us that they’re built to detect predators and run away. It’s a nice bit of misdirection, making it seem like maybe the sound of the planet is messing with Saru. Because after he asks the planet to make the sound stop, the blue stuff invades his mind and basically gets a recap of the entirety of the season so far.

Saru emerges from that experience feeling the unity and peace of the planet—which is apparently all one giant organism with a hive mind, basically—and refuses to let Starfleet profane it. He destroys Tyler and Burnham’s communicators and says, basically, that they’ll thank him one day. Saru’s addled mind lies and says that the Pahvans are granting them “anything.” It’s clearly a lie, but Tyler’s willing to pretend it’s the truth and tells Burnham to alter the tower. Burnham, for the first time ever, obeys an order from a superior officer, even though this time she properly notes that it’s counter to the letter and spirit of Starfleet’s rules.


Now, the show has tried to build up Saru’s whole change as a sort of mind control from drinking the Pahvan Kool-Aid, but his confrontation with Burnham belies that.

Instead, Saru beats the hell out of Burnham as she tries to use the transmitter to call to the Discovery. Saru says she “won’t stop taking,” and says she’s going to take the peace and harmony he’s found here. “You will not take this away from me, too,” he concludes. Basically, Saru has taken it upon himself to save the Pahvans from making themselves a target for the Klingons. The Pahvans change the crystal tower anyway, and Saru weeps for what they’ve done.


Back on Discovery, Burnham says to Saru that he wasn’t himself on the planet, to which he counters, “But I was. We’re born afraid, we Kelpians, that’s how we survive. My whole like I have never known a moment without fear. The freedom of it... not one moment. Until Pahvo.” And all of this would be great if we had any sign previously of the burden that Saru holds being afraid all the time. The part where he blames Burnham for all he’s lost was tackled earlier in the season, but not this. In fact, we last saw Saru’s character growth when he was using his gifts as a Kelpian to become a better leader and captain. I wish this scene had been earlier in the season, because here it just becomes a weird cul-de-sac in Saru’s personality. The character who had previously seemed like one of the only stable people on this ship of lunatics, is now just as unstable, and with very little foundation for it. So, don’t trust Saru, I guess?

Plus, the change the Pahvans did to the crystal had nothing to do with tracking invisible ships. Instead, they’re transmitting a giant fucking signal to both Starfleet and the Klingons; basically as a planet all about unity and peace, they’ve decided to try to bring some to this war. Burnham says they have to protect the Pahvans from the warship that’s just popped up. Dum, dum, dum, CLIFFHANGER!


In addition to not trusting Saru, we’ve once again stumbled into the question of who the hell Ash Tyler is.


First, there’s a bit on Pahvo where Burnham and Tyler chat, with Tyler talking about how he wants to go camping and fishing after the war is over, because he is in no way a spy. He knows about lakes! Anyway, Burnham drops a ton of cold water over Tyler’s definitely true statements about his preferences on Earth and says that she’ll go back to prison after the war. Tyler’s like, let’s just keep the war going then. And the two engage in a wonderful butchering of “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one” right before making out and I hate everything. It looks nice, though. This whole relationship is being raced through so that Burnham can have a “Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!” moment during the finale.

Second, Tyler has a whole bit this episode about how he doesn’t want to defeat the Klingons as much as he wants to hurt them for what they did to him. It’s, uh, very much about Kol and what he did. And even if Tyler’s not a spy (and he’s totally a spy), everything he says should be a huge red flag. Everyone on Discovery should be shipped off to a therapy planet.


Third, when Saru’s all plugged into the Pahvans, he holds up some jelly and asks Tyler to try to find harmony. Saru then says he’s been deceitful, and goes after Burnham. Tyler’s “oh shit” face feels like he was afraid Saru discovered more than what he sent Burnham to do.

Fourth, when Saru and Burnham are fighting, Tyler appears out of nowhere, transported by the Pahvans. I doubt he just explained what was going on—maybe the giant transmitter change was something he convinced the Pahvans was a good idea? Like, “Hey, why not call the Klingons here, too? For... peace?” It denies Starfleet a way to defeat the Klingons and doesn’t blow his “cover.” He certainly seemed to jump on saying it wasn’t Burnham or the Starfleet tech fast when Lorca questions them about it.


Fifth, L’Rell description of Voq is “I had like-minded brothers and sisters. Even the one chosen by Lord T’Kuvma to be his successor. But he was chased away. Forever gone.” That “chased away” bit tracks with Tyler wanting to make them pay and is nicely ambiguous about where he ended up.

Anyway, don’t trust Tyler.


Meanwhile, back at the Klingon farm...

In other delightful “don’t trust anyone” news, we’re back to spending time with the Klingons. L’Rell—sporting a scar from when “Tyler” “escaped”—shows up to congratulate Kol, who explains that he doesn’t want unity as much as he wants Klingon supremacy under his rule. L’Rell offers her house’s loyalty, which Kol does not trust and she offers her skills in interrogating a stubborn prisoner. Three guesses who that is and the first two don’t count.


Yes, it’s Cornwell. L’Rell claims she wants to defect, since “everyone” on her side is gone. She says she can get Cornwell to Discovery, and gets the admiral to basically confirm how important that ship is. OH GOD. THE PEOPLE IN STARFLEET ARE MORONS.

L’Rell says she’s going to detonate the ship so that Kol’s lies will end, and then she and Cornwell get confronted by the Klingons. They fight and the admiral is “killed,” and L’Rell says she’s going to “dispose of the body.” I honestly cannot tell if the admiral really died or not, since L’Rell later says “before the admiral escaped” and I don’t know if that means she actually did or if she means the faked escape attempt. This plot had so many twists that I assumed they faked the admiral’s death, but maybe not. Maybe so! I guess L’Rell dragging her is a sign she’s really dead.


In the bowels of the ship, L’Rell finds the bodies of Klingons she knows and vows vengeance. Which I thought she already had, but I guess now it’s personal vengeance. Then the admiral “escapes” and L’Rell tells Kol that she confirmed the Discovery had great technology. Which I swear the Klingons already knew? But whatever. Anyway, Kol saw through L’Rell regardless and has her hauled away.

I can’t stress enough how confusing this week’s episode was. Saru’s change came so out of nowhere, given what we actually know about him, that it felt like it had to be the Pahvans that caused it. The “twist” that it was just him was unearned at best and, if we were going to do this with Saru at all, needed to be earlier in the season. And the Klingon bit had a thousand twists with L’Rell. I knew she wasn’t really on Kol’s side, but that was pretty much it. She said she was on his side, then she said she wanted to defect to the Federation, then she attacked the admiral and said a line only that woman would hear which certainly sounded like she intended to kill the admiral, then the admiral wasn’t dead, but escaped without L’Rell’s help? Or she was really dead? And L’Rell decided to stay and attack Kol from the inside after she saw the bodies? Or maybe she always intended to stay and was lying to the admiral? I lost track.


First verse, same the second

I also want to point out that the Pahvans appear to be a dry run for the eventual Organian Peace Treaty, .a.k.a. a thing that actually prevented Federation-Klingon war in the original series.


Like, last night’s episode of Discovery is 100 percent just a re-tooled version of the original series episode “Errand of Mercy,” with the Pahvans standing in for the Organians. “Errand of Mercy” has the Enterprise speeding along to a planet in disputed territory, determined to prevent the planet from being used as an outpost for the Klingons. There, they talk with the locals and beg them to let the Federation protect them—basically what Saru does near the end of this episode.

The Klingons arrive, the Enterprise leaves, Kirk is eventually caught by the Klingons, he’s released by the Organians, who, it turns out, are not naive primitives. They’re beings of pure energy and not fans of disharmony or violence. They’ve decided that it’s time for the war to end, so either the two sides stop fighting, or the Organians will stop the fighting for them. Also, Kirk and Kor’s discordant emotions mean they have to leave Organia. Hmmm, shapeless beings of pure energy who prefer unity to fighting? Yeah, the Pahvans are not as powerful—nor as able to speak—as the Organians, but they sure are playing the same part in “Si Vis Pacem.”


Plus, there’s the bit where the Klingon commander in “Errand of Mercy” was named Kor, and Kol, the Klingon grabbing power in this series, is from the “House of Kor.” Man, they’re racking up these parallels on purpose, aren’t they? I bet Lorca and Kol are even less inclined to believe the Federation and the Klingons will one day be great friends than Kirk and Kor were.


Assorted Musings:

  • A third, minor thread of this episode was that Stamets is losing grasp on reality the more he uses the spore drive, evident when he calls Tilly “Captain” and then snaps at her about it. He tells Tilly that sometimes, when he gets out of the spore network, he sometimes doesn’t know what he knows anymore. Okay, cool. Totally trust anything he says, then.
  • Stamets also refuses to go medical about it because it puts Culber in a bad position: Either report it and Stamets goes to a lab to be poked and prodded or hide it and ruin his career. Culber gets hurt either way, and Stamets is not okay with that.
  • Have you ever counted the executive producers listed during the credits sequence of this show?
  • Man, some of the episode titles of this show are designed to eat up a lot of characters.
  • Welcome back to “p’tak,” the all-purpose Klingon insult.