STAR TREK DISCOVERY Review: 1.14 “The War Without, The War Within”

Season One’s penultimate episode lets its characters have a good cry.

Star Trek: Discovery hurtled towards its finale at breakneck pace this week, dropping more wild plot turns and full-on emotion than nearly any other so far. Times are desperate back in the Prime universe, and desperate measures are called for - but some measures being taken by Starfleet right now border on the incomprehensible.

Almost immediately upon arrival from the Mirror Universe, the crew of Discovery find themselves boarded - by none other than Sarek and Admiral Cornwell. The former POW admiral wastes no time in explaining the severity of the situation. With the Klingon houses once again splintered, with only their desire to crush the Federation in common, their diverse tactics and relentless aggression have resulted in the loss of significant portions of Federation space, life, and firepower. Making things worse: it turns out Ash Tyler was only the first of many surgically-altered Klingon operatives, lending the Alpha Quadrant a permanent state of Battlestar Galactica-like paranoia. And though Discovery's return is a definite win, its findings in the Mirror Universe are immediately set for erasure - heartbreakingly, because people would panic were they to hear alternate versions of their slain friends and family existed.

Starfleet rarely gets pantsed this comprehensively.

Taking control of the ship, the Admiral immediately retreats back to Federation space, only to discover the situation is even worse than expected. The discovery of Starbase 1 - captured, defaced, and 80,000 lives lighter - is a powerful scene akin to the Enterprise discovering the wreckage of Wolf 359, largely sold by Jayne Brook's absolutely committed performance. It's amazing what one actor can do to make the audience suddenly believe in drama and stakes; no amount of visual effects budget would be as effective as the defeated horror on Brook's face. She's equally strong in her short debate with Klingon captive L’Rell, in which the two hash out the philosophical ideas of the war - the kind of debate we haven’t really seen up until now.

Meanwhile, Emperor Georgiou arrives on the ship and immediately confronts Saru, labelling him “slave” and generally making a bad impression for herself. But despite such an inauspicious introduction - and what, within Michelle Yeoh’s restrained acting style, passes for scenery-chewing villainy - Georgiou is assured that she’s Discovery’s guest. Their guest! The future truly is utopian. But in a pair of scenes with Burnham and Sarek, she manages to work herself into Starfleet’s good graces, with the promise of bringing the Klingon Empire “to its knees.” This all happens remarkably quickly, but...desperate times, I suppose.

Tyler’s storyline this episode takes some emotional turns. Apparently, the Voq side of his personality has been successfully suppressed (did I miss that happening, or did it only happen in exposition?), which means Tyler is now a sad, mopey little thing roaming the corridors of Discovery. Yes, roaming the corridors - though he’s got limited access to the ship, he’s allowed to walk free, despite having murdered the ship’s doctor and being a literal Klingon in disguise.

On one hand, that sounds like an utterly ridiculous breach of security for both the ship and Tyler himself. On the other, the show goes out of its way to present Discovery’s post-Voq acceptance of Tyler as classic Star Trek optimism. Saru and Tilly are paragons of empathy in this regard, even urging Burnham to reconnect. When she eventually does, it’s one of the series’ best and most emotive scenes, with superlative work from Sonequa Martin-Green and - in particular - Shazad Latif, whose quiet, frightened guilt is some of his compelling work yet. Poor lil’ Klingon sleeper agent.

As a side note: the suggestion that many more “species reassignment protocol” subjects exist is totally a setup for Original Series-style Klingons, right? This is all so very stupid.

And while we’re talking stupidity: the show’s big cliffhanger sees Cornwell making Mirror Georgiou captain of the ship for a daring assault mission inside the Klingon homeworld. Dumber yet, Cornwell makes the claim that this is, in fact, the “real” Georgiou, a bald-faced lie that surely can’t last. How many people aboard that ship know the truth about her? Christ on a cracker, Cornwell.

So off Discovery goes to Qo’noS, having terraformed a moon to grow new spores for the very purpose. (That this show manages to create a major effects sequence out of planting some mushrooms is a delight, regardless of how ethically dubious the decision is.) Next week’s season finale is set to be absolutely mad: numerous character arcs are just waiting to explode, and that’s not even taking into account the war whose win or loss hangs in the balance.

The major question for next week, though, is whether the Klingon war arc will be resolved, or whether it’ll continue into season 2. Either way, the show has improved to the point where I’m actually interested in more of it. I like these characters, I like the design sensibilities (in isolation, at least), and I like people unironically wearing shirts emblazoned with “DISCO.” It's yet to become "pure" Star Trek, but for what it is, it's doing well.