Star Trek: Discovery – The War Without, The War Within (S1E14) Review

*SPOILERS*

Oh man, have you seen “The Cloverfield Paradox”? No, of course not because Monday night is “Star Trek: Discovery” night! As we learned last week, the USS Discovery has been missing for nine months and the baby of destiny that’s gestated in that time is an imminent Klingon victory. While they wait to make contact with whatever is left of Starfleet, Burnham reflects on the possibility that she’s made yet another grave error in judgement by rescuing Emperor Georgiou and Saru finds out that there were Kelpians in the Mirror universe, as long as you knew where to look (e.g. the Specials board).

With time to kill, we finally catch up with Tyler and learn that L’Rell did indeed perform a Voq-ectomy, leaving Ash Tyler behind but is he Klingon or Human? Turns out he’s kind of a Kluman, I guess. Maybe he’s Star Trek’s second trans character, after “Deep Space Nine“’s Dax even if his ‘species reassignment surgery’ sounds like it was lifted directly from the “South Park” episode “Mr. Garrison’s Fancy New Vagina”. He’s also, effectively, an artificial life form, one of Trek’s most well-worn tropes given he’s basically L’Rellenstein’s monster with a synthesised personality.

the fever dream of a religious nut job. He’s also, effectively, an artificial lifeform, which is a well-worn path in Trek. Tyler’s actually at the heart of a lot of the problems with this episode, especially the toe-curlingly tone-deaf school-canteen style cool-girl forgiveness scene led by Tilly. Even murdering double-agents shouldn’t have to eat alone. Only Stamet’s reaction to Tyler feels authentic and demonstrates the principles of Starfleet and the Federation without giving him a ‘get out murder/ attempted murder/ espionage free card’.

Eventually, someone from Starfleet does make contact but when they arrive, it’s with shields up and phasers armed. When they beam over, it turns out to be Admiral ‘not dead after all’ Cornwell and Sarek, hunting for Lorca. Sarek forcibly mind melds with Saru to catch up on the episodes he’s missed (remember when forcible mind-melding was a shocking and controversial thing? Ah, good times.) and we get the most disappointing cop-out explanation of the fate of the ISS Discovery: it was destroyed by the Klingons the moment it arrived in our universe.

As it turns out, the war that Burnham started by killing T’kuvma instead of capturing him as planned has been made exponentially worse by Burnham deciding to kill Kol and fracturing a united Klingon enemy into dozens of competing factions, each hoping to snag the coveted title of ‘Most Federation Kills 2256’. We keep being told that Burnham has unique skills and abilities but all we’re ever really shown is her unerring ability to make things much, much worse than they already are.

Written by Lisa Randolph, who also scripted “The Wolf Inside”, this is another story lumbered with false promises and twists which are as obvious as they are underwhelming. Much is made about the precarious state of Federation space and how the journey to Starbase One will be fraught with peril, so it comes as something of a mild irritation that the voyage there passes entirely without incident. Of course, when we arrive it’s another matter because the station has – shock! horror! – fallen to the Klingons, or at least one of the variety pack the Federation is currently fending off. It’s probably the Corn Flakes one. The overwrought and over-written script is peppered with a florid verbosity that’s ill-suited to the mouths it springs forth from with undeserved confidence. It sticks in the throat that a famously taciturn and logical Vulcan as Sarek would be bemoaning his lot as ‘fodder for their feudal savagery’. There’s an attempt to imbue the scenes between Burnham and Emperor Georgiou with the cat and mouse frisson of the Lecter/ Starling confrontations to such a blatant degree I was counting the seconds until Georgiou said ‘quid pro quo’ but alas they stop just short of that. With the Discovery back under authentic Starfleet command, no reason is given for Burnham not being immediately placed back in a cell given Lorca was the only thing keeping her out of jail. But no, she’s now dictating Federation battle strategy with a plan she was given by easily the evilest and most untrustworthy person on the ship. Starfleet’s reaction? Izzy whizzy let’s get busy! No wonder they’re losing the war: they’re idiots.

Burnham’s plan is to unify the various Klingon factions into a joint retreat by attacking the Klingon homeworld in a devastating shock and awe strike. Seems legit, right? And in no way likely to unite your disparate enemy forces in a common cause of furious vengeance? Anyway, there’s a massive snag. In order to carry out the plan, Discovery needs to spore jump inside the planet Qo’noS where there are conveniently huge volcanic chambers called ‘plot holes’ but they don’t have enough spare spores to make the necessary jump. Fortuitously, Stamets has a solution for their mycelial dearth: Veda.

Apparently, Stamets has kept a secret sample of space fungus, along with the location of a suitable moon (Veda) and all the equipment necessary to spontaneously regrow a mycelial forest. It’s not really clear why he can’t use the supplies and techniques to regrow the arboretum on Discovery but then we’d miss being treated to a fungal ‘genesis devicing’ of the planet Veda which miraculously sprouts an entire globe’s worth of spores. It’s a literal deus ex mycelia, quickly and all too easily resolving one of the ongoing story’s key drivers of drama.

With the McGuffin drive fully restored, the episode pulls out its boneheaded coup de grace, the ridiculous, nonsensical twist that pushes “Star Trek: Discovery” from flawed but enjoyable perilously close to “Star Trek: Nemesis”-level what-the-fuckery. Having literally been prepared to kill everyone on the ship in case they were vicious Terran interlopers, and recoiling at the horror at the thought of having a Mirror Universe miscreant in command of the Discovery, Starfleet’s stupidest admiral decides the best course of action is to place another genocidal Terran – one whom the last guy (who was unable to win the war) comprehensively outwitted – in charge instead. Dun dun dummmmmmmb.

It’s by far and away the closest I’ve come to just quitting “Discovery”. How can there not be a massive cop-out reset coming, something to dwarf anything that “Star Trek: Voyager” ever did? This is a mere nine years before Kirk takes command of the USS Enterprise yet the Federation is on its knees and the Klingons are in the ascendancy across the Alpha Quadrant. If there was a strong, cohesive narrative, it would be a different matter but this episode feels cobbled together from leftovers; bits and pieces trimmed out of other plot lines and episodes and bound up here in a kind of narrative bubble and squeak, a meagre meal to tide us over until the banquet of the season finale.

The writing is terrible, the emotional beats are all misfires (although it has to be said the cast continue to deliver the goods performance wise and the special effects were pretty spectacular) but the plot and character decisions are transcendently ludicrous. If last week was “Star Trek: Discovery” at its best, this was it at its worst.

3/10 

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