Spoilers are coming toward you at warp speed, so you’d better have deflectors on full
Previously on Star Trek: Discovery: Episode 1: “The Vulcan Hello”; Episode 2: “Battle at the Binary Stars”; Episode 3: “Context is For Kings”; Episode 4: “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not For The Lamb’s Cry”; Episode 5: “Choose Your Pain”; Episode 6: “Lethe”; Episode 7: Magic To Make The Sanest Man Go Mad
Cast: Sonequa Martin-Green (Michael Burnham), Doug Jones (Saru), Shazad Latif (Ash Tyler), Anthony Rapp (Paul Stamets), Mary Wiseman (Sylvia Tilly), Jason Isaacs (Captain Gabriel Lorca), Emily Coutts (Keyla Detmer), Wilson Cruz (Dr. Hugh Culber), Kenneth Mitchell (Kol); Guest Cast: Kenneth Mitchell (Kol), Mary Chieffo (L’Rell), Jayne Brooke (Admiral Cornwell); Written by Kirsten Beyer; Directed by John Scott.
Let’s get one thing out of the way from the outset: Star Trek Discovery should not let staff writer Kirsten Beyer go. Cutting her teeth in the final frontier on a series of Voyager novels, her teleplay for “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum” is without a doubt Discovery’s strongest episode to date. And the one that has successfully managed to obtain the previously seemingly untenable marrying of classic Trek philosophy with modern storytelling. As such it gets the show’s serialized story back on track (following roughly an episode and a half of a more standalone approach) and pushes quite a number of storylines forward.
With Klingon cloaking technology spreading through the rapidly unifying Empire, the Federation is taking more and more hits from sneak attacks. As stealth as Discovery is, Klingon Birds of Prey decloaking and ambushing their enemy’s vessels is a move becoming more common, so the starship is ordered to find a solution, which could be on the planet Pahvo. It’s a living world of sorts with trees, rocks and plants emitting tones that are fed into a crystal transmitter. The belief is that a modification of its frequency will give Starfleet the ability to detect cloaked Klingon vessels.
Burnham, Tyler and Saru head down to the planet as an Away Team. There they come to the conclusion that the sounds and lights on the planet represent sentience, which means that they must be communicated with and permission given for their transmitter to be utilized. Allowing himself to be immersed in the light, Saru is able to communicate with them, though he realizes it will take some time for them to understand each other’s language. He eventually comes to discover that this race is actually desperate to make its presence known to the universe in the hopes of spreading peace and harmony.
While Saru is off communicating, the burgeoning romance between Burnham and Tyler is pushed forward in a natural, non-contrived way that also manages to offer up a nice variation of the Wrath Of Khan trope of the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few.
The next morning, Saru, who seems livelier than we’ve previously seen him, comes to Burnham and Tyler and tells them the Pahvo have given them permission to use the transmitter, but asks the duo for their communicators… which he promptly crushes, telling them that they’ve been invited to remain on this world. In time, he says, they will experience things as he does. The man seems positively Spock-like from “This Side of Paradise,” the impression being that his mind has been corrupted by the influence of the Pahvo. What follows is Burnham and Tyler’s desperate attempt to get around Saru to use the transmitter and contact Discovery, which Saru is determined to prevent — through violence if necessary (how’s that peace and harmony thing working out for you, guy?).
The result is a tense struggle on both sides, the ultimate revelation (after being beamed aboard Discovery) that Saru was not possessed. Rather, that literally for the first time in his life he has not been feeling fear and that relief is what he gave in to, no matter the cost. It’s an important character turn, and you can feel his pain when Burnham does get that signal to Discovery, as he cries out to her that she has stolen this from him, too. There seems to be no end to the resentment he feels toward her.
In the end, the Pahvo, having come to understand the situation from Saru’s mind, and listening to Burnham’s pleas and explanation of the situation that they, too, seek peace but have an enemy who does not share this sentiment (sounding positively Kirk-like in the process) sends out their coordinates in a signal to the Klingons, which will bring Kol’s vessel to this location so that they and Starfleet can work out their differences. Yeah, right!
Throughout the episode, on Discovery a toll is being taken on Stamets from serving as the conduit for the spore drive, with him admitting to Tilly that one minute everything is beyond clear, and in the next he’s completely disoriented. And he can’t tell the doctor, because the result will be him being shipped off to a Starfleet research facility or, if the doctor doesn’t report it, his career ending. The assumption is that things will only get worse for him as things move forward.
On the Klingon side of things, Kol wants L’Rell to prove herself by having her interrogate the captured Admiral Cornwell for information. She proceeds to do so, but when the two women are alone, the Klingon admits to the admiral that she wants to defect; there is nothing for her there. They attempt to make their way to her ship, but are seen by a pair of Klingons, resulting in L’Rell, in a desperate bid to stay alive, actually engaging the admiral in battle and killing her in the process. This doesn’t exactly have the desired result, as Kol has her taken away, obviously not trusting her and seeing through her deceit.
The Klingon sequences are more effective than they’ve been in the past on this show, largely because they’re presented in shorter segments and therefore have a quicker pace than the way they’ve been more ponderously staged previously. Also, Cornwell’s death raises a number of questions, not the least of which is what Lorca’s responsibility is in it. After all, back in episode six, “Lethe,” she threatened to take Discovery away from him just before she was taken prisoner by the Klingons, and he did nothing in a bid to maintain his captaincy. That says a lot about the character, and it will be interesting to see if there are repercussions (and there should be!).
This is such an important episode for Saru, providing us tremendous insight into the mindset he must walk around with during every moment of his life; his continued animosity towards Burnham (though we hope they will start working past that), and also a bit more insight into his mental and physical acuity. And the beauty of Doug Jones’ performance here is that he gives us an unbridled Saru, conveying the character’s emotional desperateness but also a strengh that we haven’t witnessed before.
And high praise for the opening sequence that has Discovery attempting to save a Federation vessel from attack by numerous Klingon ships. There have been literally hundreds (if not thousands) of space battles in the history of Star Trek and most of them play out pretty similarly, but this one has an added intensity, playing cinematically in terms of scope and tension as strongly as anything presented in the J.J. Abrams-produced films. There is a genuine sense of danger here that plays beautifully. Added to this is Jason Isaacs’ authority as Lorca — no question this man is in charge.
One more episode of Discovery before the show ends its so-called Fall run, but the set up for next week is pretty high and it will be interesting to see where things end up before hiatus. The question is whether or not subsequent episodes will be as well-balanced as this one is. If they are, Discovery could be on its way to (finally) living up to its potential as a Star Trek series for the 21st Century.
And not to belabor the point, but keep Kirsten Beyer writing!