“Everybody comes home” — Star Trek Discovery’s “Into the Forest I Go”

And so Discovery reaches its “mid-season finale,” a recent phenomenon of television to make sure that people tune in for the last episode before a break, and also to reassure folks that yes, we’ll be back in a few months, don’t go away and never come back, pretty please. While it’s true you never saw this in the old days, said old days involved somewhere between three and ten sources of new programming at most. Now there’s hundreds. One can’t really blame the producers for being gun-shy about losing viewers because they took a few weeks off.

Anyhow, the storyline comes full circle, putting Burnham back on the bridge of the ship of the dead, with a chance at redemption for getting her captain killed. And it’s quite a ride.

First of all, though, mea culpa: I was wrong, and every single person (practically) in the comments was right last week. Admiral Cornwell is, in fact, alive. Derp.

This is one of several things that thicken the Klingon part of the plot. It’s very unlikely that L’Rell didn’t know that Cornwell was still alive, since she was right there in the room with her. So she kept her alive for a reason. And her response to Tyler in the brig was not what you would expect a prisoner to say to one of her jailers, to wit, that she’ll protect him.

Just in general, it was good to see that there was an impact on Tyler being a Klingon prisoner for seven months. His recovery always seemed way too easy, and now we know that it was all one big-ass bit of denial. Just one look at L’Rell, and he’s catatonic. That’s someone who was very good at fooling himself and whatever doctors talked to him after Lorca rescued him, but who is also very much not recovered yet. (There’s also the casting issue that hangs over everything—is Tyler really Voq?) But since Discovery never makes it back to base, he won’t get the help he needs right off…

And yes, let’s talk about that ending. Sigh. Could they possibly have telegraphed it more? Stamets declares it’s his last jump, he will never do it again, he declares his love for Culber, so of course, it’s going to go horribly wrong. (“Just one last case before I retire,” said the cop right before he got shot……) Besides, we need to make sure people come back in January (see first paragraph of this review), so we desperately need a cliffhanger!

How we got there is fascinating, as we see Lorca inputting a new course at the last minute rather than calling one out. We already know that Cornwell has it in for Lorca, and she’s now back at starbase recovering from her wounds, and she’s likely to be talking to some other admirals once she’s walking around again. Lorca has already refused to mount a rescue mission on his own—pretty much the only time in the seven episodes he’s been in when he could be bothered to wait for orders or pay attention to them when he got them, up to and including this episode—and now he’s facing the consequences of that.

This is particularly amusing because, prior to this, Lorca’s been acting like an honest-to-gosh captain instead of a devious person with an agenda. He’s actually very earnest-sounding when he convinces Stamets to do the 136 jumps that will enable them to get enough sensor readings to penetrate the Klingon cloak. You start to believe that the war is an aberration, and Lorca really wants to get Discovery back to its proper purpose as an explorer. And yet, there he is at the end sabotaging their return to base.

Not that he isn’t willing to disobey orders to serve his own ends and hope that those ends justify his rather dodgy means. He does so earlier in the episode, but that’s a more standard Trek-ian disobeying of orders. They need to save the Pahvans, they have a chance to penetrate the Klingon cloak, so Lorca hedges his bets by warping to the starbase rather than use the spore drive. Once they figure it out, back to Pahvo they go.

Of course, yes, they do need to save the Pahvans, but here’s the thing, and it’s something the episode maddeningly does not address: the Pahvans are the ones who set this up in the first place. They called Kol there and pretty much forced the confrontation. So why did they do it? What do they get out of it? And why weren’t they involved in what happened next? Aside from a quickie mention by Saru, the Pahvans’ nature and needs and personality weren’t even addressed. They’re just straw victims for our heroes to save, but there has to be more to it than that. That was a plot ball that was rather aggressively dropped.

What I liked best about this episode, though, is that our heroes were clever, and they triumphed for that reason, not because their enemy was stupid. Kol’s actions in the episode were completely in character, but they weren’t idiotic. His tactical decisions all made perfect sense in context, he just didn’t do as good a job of predicting what Lorca would do as Lorca did predicting what Kol would do.

The fight between Burnham and Kol was kinda standard-issue climax-y stuff, but it worked. It takes a while to do 136 jumps, and Burnham needed to do something to keep the Klingons busy, and challenging Kol would do it. Getting to retrieve Georgiou’s insignia was a nice touch. (I also like the idea that the insignia also serves the same function as dogtags do in the contemporary military.)

My favorite moment, though, was Kol’s response to the universal translator. Klingons are offended by a translator as it’s another example of the Federation subsuming Klingons’ identity and uniqueness into a homogenous whole. It’s a nifty little low-key retcon. Very often, the only language that never seems to translate is Klingon—see, for example, DS9‘s “The Way of the Warrior,” where Worf is constantly translating bits of Klingon for the rest of the crew, not to mention the scene of Uhura frantically trying to fake the language in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country—and that one line of dialogue from Kol explains why. It makes sense that Klingons have resisted allowing their language to be assimilated into the UT, even when they later become allies of the Federation.

I also liked the fight choreography, because it was perfectly done for what it was: a delaying action. Kol’s fighting style was very much that of a toddler playing with his food: he has no expectations of defeat, and he’s in no rush to finish it, as he’s enjoying the duel, like a proper Klingon. Burnham, meanwhile, is fighting defensively. She has no expectations of victory, but she doesn’t need to win the fight, she just needs to prolong it until Discovery finishes its cloak-penetrating mission.

At the very end, Saru and Burnham exchange a couple of nods, and to my mind that wasn’t nearly enough. The lack of any kind of addressing of the effect of the events of “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum” on Saru (beyond that one quickie mention) is glaring, and he and Burnham have a lot more baggage between them that this mission isn’t anywhere near enough to have dealt with.

I do like how Stamets and Culber’s relationship is handled. Lorca’s order for Stamets to get a physical—meant only as a way of excusing their not using the spore drive to get to Starbase 46—means that Culber now knows exactly what the spore drive is doing to Stamets. More to the point, Culber know exactly how much Stamets has been keeping from him (aided by yet another bit of word vomit from Tilly, who reveals that there have been side effects also). Anthony Rapp and Wilson Cruz play it perfectly.

And now Discovery is—lost in space! Sigh. Let’s hope they don’t overplay the trying-to-get-home theme, as we had enough of that for seven years on Voyager. But we have to wait until January to find out.

Keith R.A. DeCandido will be the Author Guest of Honor at AtomaCon 2017 in North Charleston, South Carolina this weekend. Among the other guests are fellow authors Gail Z. Martin, Misty Massey, John Hartness, Windfield Strock III, Alex Matsuo, Leona Wisoker, Marcia Colette, Melissa McArthur, Samantha Bryant, Tally Johnson, Alexandra Christian, SL Figuhr, William Fripp, Kyle McNeal, Gray Rinehart, Darin Kennedy, Margaret McGraw, Bill Ferris, Leann Rettel, and James McDonald; performers Noise Complaint, Dimensional Riffs, Forest Path, and Nefarious Filkferrets; costumer Cheralyn Lambeth; artists Christine Brunson and James Christopher Hill; paranormal expert Tina McSwain; and bunches more. Keith will have a table to sell and sign books, and he’ll be doing a bunch of programming. See his schedule here.


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