Sunday, February 4, 2018

REVIEW: 'Star Trek: Discovery' - The Discovery Returns to the Klingon War in 'The War Without, the War Within'

CBS All Access' Star Trek: Discovery - Episode 1.14 "The War Without, the War Within"

Back on the U.S.S. Discovery, Burnham and the crew are faced with the harsh reality of the war during their absence. In order to move forward, Starfleet must use unconventional tactics and sources to take their next action against the Klingons.

"The War Without, the War Within" mostly feels like a table-setting episode of Star Trek: Discovery. The season gave itself these final two episodes of the year to find conclusion with the Klingon war in the Prime universe. The U.S.S. Discovery has returned to its regular universe. It made that jump after Lorca's betrayal but returns with Emperor Georgiou. Both had the potential of being fascinating complications for the endgame of the season. This hour is mostly re-establishing this main conflict and getting the characters up to date on what has been happening in their absence. Nine months has passed since they were last seen in this timeline. The Klingons are no longer united under one house being led by one leader with a significant strategy against the Federation. Instead, they are 24 houses just competing with one another to see which can do the most damage. It's a far cry from the mission that T'Kuvma and his followers laid out in the premiere. And yet, the show has never been all that fascinated with seeing things from the Klingon perspective in this war. Yes, Voq and L'Rell have been significant characters to the season. But their character arcs have been so inconsistently written. And now, they have a renewed sense of focus because this war is now the major story that the Discovery is dealing with. The time in the Mirror Universe was a lot of fun and pushed the show to find a new drive to propel itself forward. It was defined by a lot of character-based twists that needed to pay off immediately. But now, it seems like the show is struggling to find an identity at the end of its season. And so, it's pulling twists out of a hat of sorts.

The big reveal that Tyler was Voq was treated as a serious surprise. The show teased it for a couple of episodes before confirming it to be true. Tyler/Voq tried to kill Michael after seeing her sympathies lie with the rebellion forces in the war with the Terran Empire. He was a confused individual with two very different personalities struggling for control. Tyler was a Starfleet officer in love with the most important character in this story. Voq was a one-note complication whose ideologies and strategy were ill-defined at the start of the year. Seriously though, this story just doesn't make a whole lot of sense. It plays as if the writers outlined the plan but then had to course correct after seeing how passionate Sonequa Martin-Green and Shazad Latif were onscreen together. It was teased that L'Rell's procedure on Tyler/Voq led to Voq's death and Tyler's survival as the sole personality in that body. That is finally confirmed here. It needed to be in order for there to be any kind of emotional payoff to this story. There was no point in Voq continuing to be a character. But there is still emotional residue to Tyler's actions. He still has to pay for his betrayal of Michael and killing Culber. And yet, it feels weird that Saru just allows him to wander the ship - with limited access. He is not human nor klingon. He's a hybrid that no one else really understands. The show wants the audience to sympathize with him now.

It's just all so complicated and the execution makes it difficult to really understand what exactly feels right and earned. Tyler definitely should not be given a free pass for his actions in the Mirror Universe. Yes, it was Voq who killed Culber during a brief moment of freedom. He was apparently the first willing klingon to undergo this procedure. That serves as an explanation for how L'Rell's attempt at implanting a double agent in Starfleet failed so spectacularly. He needed to have awareness of his environment and knowledge that he's a double agent in order to be effective in turning the tides of the war. Plus, the recent events prove that it wasn't necessary in the slightest. All the klingons needed to do was remove Discovery from the war. They weren't even responsible for that. Lorca and his need to return to his universe to defeat the Emperor was. But now, L'Rell feels defeated because the idealism of this war has been perverted and lost all meaning. She just knows that it will never end. That's not optimistic. It paints a pretty bleak world. That establishes the main threat of this hour. But it's through the character relationships that the drama needs to work and be entertaining. There is power in seeing Tyler bump into Stamets and not be able to justify his actions at all. But it's still awkward because no one knows what to expect from Tyler. He's a character without purpose. He's adrift. That's an odd thing to include in a penultimate episode where everything should be collectively building to a stunning conclusion. Instead, the only resolution he seemingly has is with Michael who no longer sees the man she once loved. But it feels weird that Tyler is criticizing her for not wanting to be with him because he's a klingon. That's just not accurate. But Michael claiming that she only sees Voq in his eyes isn't a much better explanation - unless it's eery foreshadowing that suggests this story isn't as over as it seems. Either way, it just seems like a waste of time.

It's much more interesting to see what has become of Starfleet in the months since the Discovery went missing. Cornwell and Sarek are the faces of that story. They are the only familiar faces who could possibly show up and have it be meaningful. They beam onto the Discovery incredibly skeptical about the leadership of this ship. To them, the Discovery was destroyed by the klingons nine months ago. That explains what happened to the Discovery from the Mirror Universe. That's a little too neat and easy. But that's okay because the show is much more invested in the personal stories of those on this Discovery. And right now, they still have their ideals. They've been through so much over the course of this season. They've been the star ship in the war with the klingons and were taken to another reality. They had to find a way to survive. They did so through science and Michael's morality in the face of adversity. Yes, Michael had to do some horrible things in order to survive in the Terran Empire. But she did because she had a clear sense of her own identity and what was morally just in the world. She blended into an oppressive regime that aimed to wipe out all alien species in the universe. She brought its Emperor back to this universe which seemed like a mistake the moment it happened. But she returns to a universe where Admiral Cornwell and Sarek are willing to do whatever it takes to win this war. They now embody the mentality that has defined the leadership of so many this season. The Discovery crew now stands in stark contrast. They are a crew that promotes the idea that science can lead to victory no matter what.

As such, the most beautiful and mesmerizing scene of this hour is when Stamets launches the probes to terraform a planet and grow the spores necessary to continue making jumps in this universe. The Discovery used up its supply in returning to the Prime world. They need more because they once again have to be the star ship in this war. They are Starfleet's only hope. Michael formulates this strategy because she asks for guidance from Emperor Georgiou. The leader of the Mirror Universe is the only one who knows what the Klingon home planet is like. She conquered them there. And now, she has the possibility of doing so again here. The big twist of this episode heading into the season finale is that Emperor Georgiou is now pretending to be her Prime universe counterpart, Captain Georgiou, in order to take command of the Discovery. She does so with the blessing of Cornwell and Sarek. They believe this is the action that must be done in order to ensure victory that wipes out the threat from the Klingons. Emperor Georgiou is doing this in order to earn her freedom. It also affords the show the opportunity to have Michelle Yeoh back in the captain's chair. That's an image that the show may regret. It's a great final sight. But it also plays as one last twist in order to keep things interesting because the show relied on twists in order to seem important. Emperor Georgiou is the one leading the mission to the Klingon planet because Starfleet needs her ruthless command. At least, that's the world as Cornwell and Sarek see it. Michael, Saru and everyone else on the Discovery may see things a different way. Of course, not everyone knows about Michael saving the emperor from destruction. So, it's clear that things are going to be very dramatic in the finale next week. It's just going to be more memorable if the show focuses on the character relationships instead of trying to force some big dramatic event into happening that will stun the audience.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The War Without, the War Within" was written by Lisa Randolph and directed by David Solomon.
  • Michael does explain to Saru that she saved Emperor Georgiou at the last possible moment because she couldn't bear watching her die in front of her again. That's a reasonable explanation that makes sense based on all the guilt she's faced on that past decision. But again, it's reckless and has consequences immediately because of just how cunning and crafty the emperor is at exerting her influence in this new world.
  • Cornwell and Sarek are made aware of all that has happened to the Discovery through Sarek doing a mind meld with Saru. That's convenient and ensures that there isn't another monologue explaining everything that happened with Tyler/Voq, Lorca, Emperor Georgiou, etc. And yet, Michael was the one actually pushing the story forward in the Mirror Universe much more so than Saru was - though he was still important.
  • Tyler has all of Voq's memories. He can remember everything that happened to him and everything that he did while in control of this body. Again, Tyler has to be blamed for some of that because he knew he was experiencing issues but chose to remain in action and avoid listening to medical advice. He's still responsible. And yet, Tilly wants us to feel bad for him because he'll likely be a science experiment for the rest of his life.
  • And so, the Discovery is leading a mission to attack the Klingon home planet by stealthily landing on its volcanic surface and scanning for all of its military outposts and bases of operation. They are doing so in the hopes of launching a full on attack that will force the Klingon ships to retreat back. That doesn't seem like a strategy that will end this war though. So, something is bound to go wrong or change somehow.
  • Will this entire season be building to Michael once again having to kill Philippa Georgiou? She couldn't bear to do it last week. But now, the Emperor is exerting her control and taken over as captain of the Discovery. She has done so with Starfleet's blessing because it's the only logical idea to Sarek and Cornwell. But it also serves as a betrayal to the ideals that Starfleet upholds above all else. And so, it's up to Michael, Saru and company to preserve that no matter what.