Sunday, January 14, 2018

REVIEW: 'Star Trek: Discovery' - The Truth About Tyler is Finally Revealed in 'The Wolf Inside'

CBS All Access' Star Trek: Discovery - Episode 1.11 "The Wolf Inside"

As the crew continues their guise, Burnham undergoes a merciless mission in hopes of helping the U.S.S. Discovery return home. Tilly works on restoring Stamets' neurofunction.

At times, I wonder if being a TV critic hinders my ability to enjoy and be surprised by television. Because I watch and write about so much content, it makes me more aware of certain tropes and storytelling decisions than the average viewer. So, I may pick up on something that the average viewer may not. But then again, I'm reminded that we live in the age of Reddit - where every single detail of every episode is analyzed again and again looking for clues. The world is so connected now that it allows for audiences to crowdsource information and theories in the hopes of figuring out twists before they occur. That's become much more apparent throughout the industry over these last few years. So again, I have to question the effectiveness of the big twist at the heart of "The Wolf Inside." The show finally confirms that Tyler is indeed Voq. It doesn't feel like something the show was hiding all that well - especially considering Culber's big speech about the procedures done on Tyler's body last week. But it's also given this big sweeping proclamation throughout this episode. It's not a twist that is revealed in a matter of seconds. It's still drawn out so that it can be as dramatic as possible. That infers to me that the show perhaps doesn't have the awareness that everyone figured out this twist long ago. But then, I also have to question if it was super obvious to everyone or just to me because of my profession and my usage of the internet. These are very complex thoughts that do shape my viewing habits. It's a twist I saw coming. As such, my review will reflect that as it already clearly has.

But does knowing a twist is coming lesson its effectiveness? Does the fact that many in the audience could tell that Tyler was going to be revealed as Voq dampen the surprise of it all? There's the twist itself. And then, there is the reaction to it within the show. On the surface, it plays as the creative team believing they needed a big twist in the season that would completely re-conceptualize the audience's perception of events because that has become typical in serialized hourlong stories. It once again makes it seem like these writers aren't as progressive as they claim to be with their story. But again, does that matter? This season has really built up the dynamic between Michael and Tyler. They have become a central romance in the story. The season now has to determine if Tyler and Voq are two completely different personalities living within the same body or if they're the same and have changed based on recent events. This episode certainly plays things one way with Tyler compromising Michael's new mission because of Voq's one-sided beliefs that Klingons are the superior race and must remain completely pure. But it's more important to see the personal cost of this twist. How it affects Michael needs to be seen right away. She's the character who will be changed the most because of this knowledge.

And so, it's a very good thing that the show doesn't drag this reveal out any longer. It was already clear that this was the direction the show was pursuing since the midseason finale. As such, it shouldn't have been shrouded in mysterious teases for too long. In fact, waiting until the second episode back may have been a mistake. It may play better once a viewer watches the whole season in a binge. The audience watching it live had a couple months to ponder these twists and consult the internet for clues they missed along the way. It's clear that this was the direction the show was always going in with Voq and Tyler. It certainly explains why Voq completely disappeared early on in the run. And that basically becomes the biggest problem with this twist. Voq just wasn't a character of substance. He was only seen in those all-Klingon scenes that were so agonizing to watch early in the season. He was a character quickly shuffled off to the sidelines. He was important until he just disappeared. Now, the audience knows why that happened. But Voq's personality coming out during this moment mostly just confirms how one-note he is and how unnecessary this twist is in the context of when it's revealed. It keeps things tense when Michael makes this contact with the rebel forces. But in the end, she is able to play it to her advantage.

This episode mostly succeeds because of the intimate focus on Michael and how she is being challenged by this undercover mission. She has infiltrated this ship in the Mirror Universe and has really been struggling with the decisions that must be made as captain. This hour opens with a voiceover monologue that is so completely effective and harrowing because she details just how far one can go with this new identity before they break. She is pushed to the extreme because the Discovery is counting on her. She needs to find a way to get this crucial information back to the ship without being detected. Lives are at stake. It's up to her to protect them and get them back home safely. All the while, Lorca is being tortured. His counsel only reveals just how horrendous and twisted his views have always been. He's always operated under the belief that the ends justify the means. He carries that mentality with him on this mission. He believes Michael can just carry out this order to eliminate the rebel base because it will keep her cover intact for the mission. But it's much more personal for Michael because she sees this world and understands the fight that is happening. She believes in the rebellion and needs to protect that voice as a member of Starfleet. That's what she ultimately decides to do even though it carries with it the destruction of her tether to reality.

And so, Michael makes it to the rebel leaders. She proves herself as an ally. But it's all compromised by Tyler acting irrationally. He finally becomes aware of his true identity. He is now willing to kill Michael for killing T'Kuvma. He sees the world clearly for the first time in awhile. But that also just highlights how ill-conceived this grand plan actually was. He was tasked with infiltrating the Discovery and learning crucial details to send back to the Klingons. And yet, he had no awareness of that mission whatsoever because he was brainwashed with this new identity as Ash Tyler. Only upon learning the truth again does he reveal himself to others. That reveals that Voq really isn't the Klingon for a stealth mission. He's not really a leader. That mostly just makes all of this lame and really non-essential. Of course, he has importance because Michael sends him back to the Discovery with the information they need. She found a way to complete her mission. It just comes at the cost of having to stay undercover until Saru can crack the encryption. That mostly feels like an excuse to stay in the Mirror Universe for a little while longer. But that comes with a powerful twist as well. Again, it's not surprising to see Philippa Georgiou show up as the infamous Emperor. There is only so many familiar faces for the show to choose from. But it's such an exciting twist because that character had an immediate impact on this world and Michael while boasting a strong performance from Michelle Yeoh. She shows up and immediately ruins Michael's alliance with the rebellion. That's a major complication that will make things even worse for Michael moving forward. And thus, that makes things more exciting to watch because she has lost that personal connection to her reality in Tyler.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Wolf Inside" was written by Lisa Randolph and directed by TJ Scott.
  • When did Michael contact Saru to let him know what was going on with Tyler and that he should be contained? Tyler tries to kill Michael and is then promptly sentenced for execution. It doesn't appear as if she has time to make that call - even though the audience knows that this won't be the end for Tyler because that personal connection was just too important. It just mostly seems like something that needed to happen.
  • Saru decides that Michael, Tyler and Lorca don't need to know about Culber's death because it could distract them from their mission. Of course, he also assumes that it was Stamets who killed him because he's out of his mind right now. That's a false assumption. Hopefully, Michael also let Saru know the truth about Culber's death so that Tyler could pay for that crime too.
  • Back on the Discovery, Saru and Tilly team up in order to save Stamets from his worsening condition. Tilly believes the cure to his problem lies in the biological understanding of the spores instead of in the medical field. She manages to impress Saru with her knowledge of the technology and its applications as well. But it still leads to the belief that they have killed Stamets in the process because they pushed his body too hard.
  • Of course, the audience quickly becomes aware that Stamets isn't really dead after all. That would have been really unfortunate coming a week after Culber was disappointingly killed. Instead, Stamets is trapped in the spore network and meets his Mirror Universe self. That's an intriguing tease that should become much more important very quickly. Stamets will probably be necessary to get out of this universe. His current condition mostly creates a reason for why the Discovery is still trapped here.
  • The Mirror Universe's Saru is also serving aboard the Shenzhou. In this reality though, he's a slave who has no name. It pains Michael to see her friend in this position. She has to continue putting on her cover even with him. She only slips up with him and is able to toss it aside. But he's also the one who stops Tyler from killing her. That forms an interesting bond that should be valued in the future as well.
  • The rebellion is led by the Mirror Universe's version of Voq and Sarek. That wasn't all that surprising either. Again, that's because they needed to be played by familiar faces. It allows the story to be more immediately personal. The show is spending a lot of time in this universe. But it also doesn't have the time to introduce new characters and make them important in this conflict.