Sunday, November 12, 2017

REVIEW: 'Star Trek: Discovery' - Michael and Tyler Sneak Aboard a Klingon Ship in 'Into the Forest I Go'

CBS All Access' Star Trek: Discovery - Episode 1.09 "Into the Forest I Go"

Bypassing Starfleet's orders, Lorca uses the U.S.S. Discovery crew's ultimate asset, the ship itself, in an effort to end the war with the Klingons once and for all.

Star Trek: Discovery opened with a conflict between Starfleet and the Klingons. And now, the first half of the season concludes with another clash between the U.S.S. Discovery of Starfleet and the Klingons' ship of the dead with its cloaking technology. There is a lot of symmetry to these stories. Michael returns to the ship that started this war and where her mentor and captain was killed right in front of her. It was her actions on the ship of the dead that set so much of this story into motion. She has returned with an opportunity to end this war by cracking the mystery of the cloaking technology. It's empowering that the show embraces science as the reason for why the protagonists emerge victorious in this battle. Of course, the show doesn't provide much nuance in the situation either. Kol isn't that entertaining or well-defined as a villain. He's simply the latest one-note Klingon who is talking about bringing the death and destruction of all that Starfleet represents. It's thin rhetoric that doesn't amount to much or change the outcome of this war. But Kol is never the chief focus of this story. The show itself hasn't spent too much time focusing on the actual details of this war between the opening episodes and "Into the Forest I Go." Instead, it has focused on the Discovery and how everyone believes the technology onboard will ultimately be the deciding factor in this war. That may ultimately be the case. But the show is proving in this episode that the spore technology will have major consequences for everyone aboard the ship because of the frequency with which it is used.

It was clear heading into this episode that the side effects Stamets was experiencing would compromise the Discovery in some way during its big battle with the ship of the dead. Those side effects are still ill-defined. They aren't kept a secret for very long though. Lorca and Culber do find out about them early on in this episode. But it's ultimately a story about service. Stamets is making a personal sacrifice in order to serve this ship. He is the only one who can navigate the spore drive. He's the one needed in that chamber to solve these mysteries in the universe. He's the one making the personal sacrifice. He's the one dealing with the unknown side effects. The other characters are seeing the effect they have on his body. But they are still asking a lot of him. In order for the Discovery to make sense of the data that is being collected about the Klingons' cloaking technology, Stamets has to make 134 jumps. That seems insane and it is in execution as well. They are small jumps in the same vicinity. But the show does a wonderful job in highlighting the stress and uncertainty of that sequence. Stamets is doing this for the organization he joined and whose ideals he wishes to uphold. But it's strenuous and destructive as well. He may emerge as a different person once all of this is over. So, it's sensible for him to want to walk away after all of it is done. But the show can't make things as easy as that.

And so, everyone in this episode is motivated by plot concerns instead of character. It's been a consistent criticism of this show. Yes, the characters all still have individual character moments that are great. The actors have settled into these roles nicely. However, there still really isn't a sense of the Discovery as a place with a unified crew. It's just a small handful of characters who are potentially saving the world. That number becomes smaller still because Stamets is the one making all of these jumps while Michael and Tyler are the ones onboard the Klingon ship planting the sensors. That's a story that is soon compromised because Cornwell is revealed to still be alive. That's not all that surprising nor is it all that exciting. Her "death" scene a week ago was very misleading and untrustworthy in the moment. But it's not some rousing revival of a beloved character. She's just been the face of Starfleet who has shown some concern for the way that Lorca has commanded his ship. In the end, he still hasn't changed his tactics in battle. He's still doing whatever is necessary in order to win this war. He betrays a direct order. And then, he gets rewarded for it in the end. That's a messy signal that prove that the show doesn't really have any sense of consistent storytelling.

But it is important that the show is finally showing an interest in tackling the trauma Tyler endured when he was a prisoner of war. Of course, it's just a plot device in order to get Michael alone on the bridge of the Klingon ship during the big final set piece. It's the show using PTSD as a trope to sideline a character for a little while. That's not great at all. He is only able to power through it because of memories of hope with Michael. It's the show playing it as literal pain for him which is a little weird in the moment while making a little more sense later on. However, it's more than just a plot hindrance during that moment on the Klingon ship as well. Tyler stops because he sees L'Rell again. That means Michael needs to forge ahead with the mission by herself. It's a solo adventure that could easily get her killed because she needs to make her presence known in order to distract Kol and his Klingon soldiers. But it's much more fascinating when the show takes the time to address Tyler's stress after the battle is over. That moment where he is just talking about what happened to him because of L'Rell to Michael is wonderful. It forms a genuine connection between them that highlights how troubled Tyler's mind really is. Sure, it's questionable why Lorca allowed Tyler to go on this mission on a Klingon ship in the first place knowing the trauma he endured. It just sets up the later twist during the mission. But all of this is building to a much more sinister reveal as well. It appears that there is more to his pain and trauma than there initial seems. He confronts L'Rell about it and she claims that she'll protect him and tell him about what she did in time. That's ominous and suggests that the audience really shouldn't trust Tyler right now at all.

And yet, Tyler and Michael are successful in the field. Stamets is able to complete the spore drive jumps. The Discovery is able to break through the Klingons' cloaking technology in order to destroy the ship of the dead. The Klingons have lost their new leader as well as the main ship of their army. This is a devastating blow to this war. The show also makes it a personal victory for Michael. She is able to win back Philippa Georgious' captain badge that was lost during the first battle on this ship. It's a thrilling sequence to watch Michael fight Kol while Stamets is making all of the jumps. Sure, it's a little empty as well because Kol is not much of a nuanced villain. But it's still exciting to see Michael, Tyler and Cornwell be beamed to safety and for the Discovery to then blow up the ship of the dead. It's a thrilling conclusion. It happens with just enough time for the show to touch on the fallout for all of these characters. Stamets is the one who truly made a sacrifice. It really felt like the show was signaling his death because he agreed to do one last jump for his ship. He would continue his service to the crew one last time. That phrase being repeated over and over again made it pretty clear that something major was about to go wrong. In fact, that's exactly what occurs. The Discovery makes an incomplete jump that leads to Stamets being lost in the white of the spores while Saru proclaims that the ship has no idea where it is anymore. It's the show perhaps pursuing a new direction with its main story. The war with the Klingons was just an introduction of this world and these characters. And now, the show can actually be about its true story. It may include parallel universes because Lorca made that tease early on in this hour from the information collected from the spore drive. He showed a desire to explore them alongside Stamets. Meanwhile, Stamets was content with spending a life in one place with Culber. That reality doesn't seem possible anymore. Stamets is still alive. But the spore drive has sent them to someone else in this grand universe. That's an enticing idea that leaves the future of the show in a very open place.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Into the Forest I Go" was written by Bo Yeon Kim & Erika Lippoldt and directed by Chris Byrne.
  • Lorca is the one Starfleet wants to give a medal to for his actions in defeating the Klingons in this battle. However, he's the one who does the least amount of actual work in this story. Michael and Tyler sneak onto the Klingon ship while Stamets makes the jumps. Lorca made the decisions to carry out this mission. But it easily could have gone awry for all of them. He took a risk and it paid off. This has emerged as a pattern of his.
  • The show hasn't really done enough with Stamets and Culber as a couple. Of course, the show really hasn't done enough with the personal lives of all of these characters. So, it's about as good as one can expect with Stamets and Culber right now. But the visual of the two of them kissing before the big jump sequence is so powerful and poignant. They have their big romantic moment where they are risking it all for the greater good. It's important to see that.
  • Michael and Tyler go to the Klingon ship on a mission but return with Cornwell and L'Rell. That should mean two more characters of note on the Discovery. And yet, there's a throwaway line about Cornwell being medically evacuated to a base. But L'Rell is still a prisoner aboard this ship. That basically confirms that L'Rell is going to be more important than Cornwell in the future.
  • Pahvo is the planet that brought Starfleet and the Klingons together for this conflict. They are the species that wanted to pursue a peaceful resolution between these two warring factions. It was their first experience of interacting with the outside world. And yet, they are completely inconsequential to this story. They need to be protected. That's why Lorca stays and fights. But they do nothing to try to facilitate a dialogue between the two sides. They just invite them to the same orbit and then do nothing.
  • This is the final episode of Star Trek: Discovery for 2017. The show returns with six more episodes for its first season starting January 7. It's just a little hiatus for the show. But it's enough for the audience to start speculating about what is going on with the various twists that have occurred. Where is the Discovery? What is going on with Tyler? What is going on with Stamets? Those are the three major concerns at the moment.