Star Trek Discovery: 1.08 Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum
Good sci-fi is all about exploring some aspect of the human condition through means or a scenario which otherwise doesn’t exist. This week’s Star Trek: Discovery featured a story about one thing but was really about another. Opening with the failure of a rescue mission by the Discovery, to really hammer home the consequence of their failure to bring the war to an end, we found out that Michael Burnham, Ash Tyler and Saru had already embarked on an away mission to the mysterious planet Pahvo. On this otherwise undeveloped world, all life emitted some kind of interconnected bio-field that resonated through a naturally occurring crystalline structure, that Starfleet thought they might use as a way of detecting cloaked Klingon ships.
In true Star Trek fashion however, the bio-field had some sort of consciousness and revealed itself to be a new form of life. This however wasn’t a first contact story, but a story on the themes of violence vs pacifism, as hinted at the episode's title which translates to 'If you want peace, prepare for war'. Up until now Saru, with his heightened sense of awareness of impending danger due to how life evolved on his world, had been the walking definition of a pacifist, or if you wanted to be cruel, his over-cautiousness could be construed as cowardice. Due to the effects of the bio-field overloading his sensory inputs, he was overcome with the intoxicating freedom from the sensation of fear, giving us a neat sci-fi means by which to drive the plot forward.
Seemingly gone mad at the prospect of living free of fear, Saru conspired to trap the away team on Pahvo, isolating them from the war. Thankfully Michael and Tyler, who shared a brief kiss but were never really allowed to develop their relationship further, were wise to Saru's intentions and managed to utilise the crystalline structure to signal the Discovery to pick them up. Once free of the planet and its influence Saru would surely return to normal and resume his duties as First Officer. But what the episode was really about, was the story of a pacifist finding a little pocket of safety amidst a war and falling a little too much in love with it; ignoring the truth that in reality, there can be no such thing as a true and complete pacifist. Eventually you have to stand and fight.
This episode really showcased Doug Jones' acting ability, even behind all those prosthetics, as well as some of Saru's physical prowess which up until this point we weren't aware of. It seems Kelpians, even the prey branch of their evolutionary line, are a hell of a lot stronger and faster than humans. Hopefully having grown from his experience on Pahvo, we might see Saru cut loose. I even dare say he could easily have a Klingon in a fight if he really wanted. Perhaps it's time the prey became the predator?
Whilst I enjoyed the main story, the subplot revolving around the captured Admiral Cornwell and L’rell felt like a complete misfire to me. Offering her services as an interrogator to General Kol so as to get information on Starfleet operations from the admiral, L'rell instead turned the second any Klingon was out of earshot, telling the admiral she would help her escape in exchange for facilitating her defection.
I spent the entire episode convinced that L’rell was pulling some scheme, that she was just going to betray the admiral due to all previous examples of her duplicitousness; when the admiral died, killed during their fumbled escape attempt, it didn’t even register with me that it was an actual death I had witnessed, so much did I believe that it was all part of L’rell's twisted plan. But no, this whole sub-plot played out very straight forward. So much so that, when they did put a twist on it right at the very end, it didn’t feel right or earned at all. Turned out Kol was wise to L'rell's flexible loyalties and had her locked up after all? What are they doing with these Klingon characters?
The episode felt oddly paced, which suddenly made sense in the final minutes of the episode as it was revealed to be the first of a two-parter. Misunderstanding Starfleet's desire to end the war, the Pahvo lifeforms augmented the signal from their world to call the Klingons to to the planet in a misguided attempt to promote harmony being the two races. This sets up for a battle which will presumably be the bulk of next week's episode. I couldn't help but feel that if they had just advertised this as a the first half of the larger story, the episode would have sat better, but oh well.
One little tidbit in this week episode that I loved; Aboard the Discovery, after unplugging from the spore drive, a disoriented Stamets referred to Tilly as Captain and questioned why she was engineering. They largely glossed over it, but surely this is proof Stamets can and will see into the future, a future where my beloved Tilly made it as a Starship Captain. Hopefully that's something they explore In the near future.
His perception of time already helped in one tactical situation, maybe it can again. But the implications of knowing things that are yet to be, mean that Stamets might actually spoil or put an interesting spin on a few of the surprises this show still has up its sleeve, depending on your point of view. Without going into detail there's something been set up, that it turns out to be true, is something that Stamets could very easily 'spoil'. We'll have to wait and see.