STAR TREK: DISCOVERY Review: 1.09 “Into The Forest I Go”

DISCOVERY hits its fall break with no clear roadmap in sight.

Here we are: smack-dab in the middle of Star Trek: Discovery’s first season. At this point, the show has demonstrated its characters, concepts, and storylines. Discovery has shown its hand, and it’s time to do some hard assessment.

But first: some plot. “Into The Forest I Go” follows directly on from last week’s episode, with the Klingon flagship bearing down on Discovery and the peaceful plant-planet of Pahvo (which curiously has zero impact on the story this week). Captain Lorca is ordered to rejoin Federation forces away from the front to assist with research into foiling the Klingons’ cloaking devices, but Lorca subtly disobeys, ordering his crew to come up with their own solution en route so they can jump back and fight. But the proposed plan involves forcing the increasingly haggard Lieutenant Stamets to make 133 rapid spore-drive jumps, and sending Burnham and Tyler to plant sensors on board the Klingon vessel...

Stamets’ story is by far the most interesting at this point, and fittingly, the episode title refers directly to his worsening mental condition as a result of his brain being rewired by the mycelial network. Initially unwilling to comply with his orders, Stamets changes his mind when presented with the suggestion that the network could grant access to wholly new regions of space and even other dimensions and planes entirely. That’s a big concept to drop as casually as Lorca does, and it’s unclear whether it’s just a manipulative bluff, but it’s an interesting door the show could walk through. By the end of the episode, Stamets has completed his jumps, but at a clearly significant cost, his final jump incapacitating him entirely. At least he got a nice kiss with his boo Doctor Culber - a progressive move for the show that would have seemed unfathomably progressive in the ‘90s, and is weirdly played exactly that way in the show. Gay relationships aren’t weird on TV now, though. Or maybe they are, and it’s just me.

Meanwhile, on board the Klingon ship, Michael Burnham and Ash Tyler beam in to complete their video-gamey mission of planting MacGuffin sensors in two arbitrary locations. Burnham gets to fight Kol, getting a little bit of revenge juice over Giorgiou’s death, and - THANK GOD - uses a universal translator to converse with the Klingons, meaning we finally get to hear the Klingon actors actually act, as opposed to expending all their energy spitting out the Klingon language.

But it’s what happens in the lower levels of the Ship of the Dead that’s more dramatically interesting. Breaking into the ship’s detention centre to rescue the captive Admiral Cornwell, Lieutenant Tyler catches sight of the also-captive L’Rell, immediately falling into a PTSD-esque state of shock. I say “PTSD-esque,” because while his flashbacks are played as memories of his torture (and sexual assault?) at the hands of the Klingons, and Cornwell diagnoses him with PTSD (how cool is it that there’s a psychologist Admiral, anyway?), by the end of the episode they seem more likely to be implanted memories. A late-episode interaction between Tyler and L’Rell seems to confirm the theory that Tyler is, in fact, the surgically-altered Voq, adding the additional wrinkle that his brain has apparently been reprogrammed. Tyler believes he’s the human Starfleet officer named Tyler, regardless of his actual origin; if L’Rell is set to activate him as a sleeper agent, that could present some terrific drama. Hopefully Tyler’s romance with Burnham gains a little more depth and chemistry, because that’s sure to be a major issue for him.

In terms of story, Discovery’s in uncharted territory now - literally speaking. Saru doesn’t know where the ship even is, having jumped into an area littered with mysterious wreckage. The Klingon flagship has been destroyed, and military leader Kol along with it. There’s a Klingon sleeper agent on board Discovery, although we kind of worked that out weeks ago. Stamets has gone Full Coloured Contacts in his transformation into a multidimensional mushroom-man. To me, it seems we’re headed towards some kind of parallel universe or alternate reality storyline, which frankly is a little disappointing. Such stories have provided some of Trek’s finest hours, but also offer all-too-easy narrative resets. We’ll see, I guess.

This half season has been rough, folks. Full of clunky character development, demonstrative and expository dialogue, the drama hasn’t exactly been as absorbing as it should’ve been. The cast has done valiant work, saddled with two-dimensional character motivations and a plot that forces them to always, always, be at their most intense. We’ve seen interesting science fiction ideas pop up from episode to episode, including some genuinely new concepts that I haven’t seen elsewhere on television. But they’ve only popped up in service of a galaxy-at-war storyline that just doesn’t have much cause behind it. Inevitable comparisons arise between this Klingon war and Star Trek’s other serialised war storyline, Deep Space Nine’s Dominion War, and nothing we’ve seen so far on Discovery - on the Starfleet or the Klingon side - has even approached the multi-layered politics and wartime drama of that show. It doesn't even have the depth of Enterprise's Xindi arc.

All that said, I’m still interested to see where this show goes. I’ve started to like some of these characters - at least, the versions of the characters into which I could see them developing - and the whole show has a dumb sense of momentum that I can’t help but buy into, despite myself. Plus - and this is totally irrational - it’s Star Trek. I can’t not watch Star Trek, no matter how bad it gets. This is Star Trek fans’ blessing, and it is our curse.