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Star Trek Dis - Season 1 - Episode 14

Star Trek Dis - 1x14 - The War Without, The War Within

Originally Aired: 2018-2-4

Synopsis:
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.

My Rating - 1

Fan Rating Average - 5.47

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Problems
- Cornwell cites stardates 4789.6 and 4851.5 as having taken place during the 9 month gap that Discovery was gone, which are way off from where Discovery takes place in the timeline. Those stardates would incorrectly place Discovery during TOS season 3 or TAS.
- Stamets mentions that Starbase 1 is 100 AU from Earth and "over a light year" from their current position, as if to imply this is a long distance. Sarek also argues that making the journey at warp would be dangerous, also implying that it's a long distance to travel. But these are small distances by Star Trek standards. For reference, 100 AU is 0.001581251 light years. And depending on the warp factor they travel at, traveling 1 light year should only take somewhere between a handful of hours or at maximum a few days if they're cruising quite slowly. This is definitely not a big distance. And indeed it doesn't take them long to get there. Cornwell even acknowledges that with her later line: "The Klingons are practically in Earth's back yard!"
- There are no planets 100 AU from Earth, but Starbase 1 is shown orbiting one.
- When it turns out Starbase 1 was conquered by the Klingons, Saru orders the ship to escape at maximum warp, but doesn't specify a course. Saru then quickly asks Cornwell for orders, including, presumably, a course. Cornwell replies: "Maintain current course and speed." She wanted them to maintain their current course to nowhere in particular?
- After so much was made of the supposed danger of a single ship flying around alone for even a single light year given that Klingons could be lurking anywhere, they then proceed to romp around all over the place. They travel presumably more than a light year to cultivate spores on a dead moon and Sarek returns to Vulcan on what? A shuttle? It seems making a whole series of journeys wasn't so dangerous after all...
- Cornwell mistakenly cites Captain Archer's visit to the Klingon homeworld as being "nearly" 100 years ago. In fact it was over 100 years prior to this episode.

Factoids
None

Remarkable Scenes
- Discovery crew members restoring the exterior logos of the ship back to U.S.S. Discovery from the previous modifications made to disguise the ship as the I.S.S. Discovery.
- Cornwell seizing control of the Discovery and Sarek forcibly mind melding with Saru to ascertain what has happened.
- Sarek: "That Lorca was an imposter from an alternate universe was not the most obvious conclusion."
- Tyler regarding Tilly's olive branch: "You don't have to do this. I'm okay." Tilly: "How could that possibly be true?"
- Cornwell interrogating L'Rell to understand the motives of the Klingons in the war.
- Burnham asking for Georgiou's help in defeating the Klingons.
- Georgiou: "The Klingons are like cancer cells: constantly dividing."

My Review
This episode indulges in many of Discovery's worst instincts, once again parading around pseudo-depth in all its false profundity as though the audience is supposed to be impressed. The parallel stories of what to do with mirror Georgiou and Voq/Tyler display an array of utterly confused and often contradictory attitudes about how to deal with dangerous people, with this shallow writing masquerading as a showcase of the spirit of Star Trek.

In the case of mirror Georgiou, here we have a person who does not dispute—and in fact takes pride in—her record of genocidal behavior. She has murdered countless innocent people and brags about it. She is clearly a war criminal. While there are certainly compelling arguments to make from a moral relativism standpoint about whether or not it is fair to judge Georgiou's actions based on the standards of another universe's culture, norms, and laws, the most you can truly extract from such an argument is a concession that yes, it may indeed have been incumbent on Admiral Cornwell to devise a way to send Georgiou home as she requested.

Barring that, Georgiou's attitudes—culturally normative as they may be where she comes from—present a clear danger to everyone around her. She should not have been let out of confinement under any circumstances and most especially should not have been given command of a starship, nominally or otherwise. That Sarek and Cornwell could be so easily manipulated into this by Georgiou dramatically undermines the credibility of their characters, especially when it isn't entirely clear why Sarek couldn't just lie to Georgiou by promising her her freedom, extracting the information she was holding back, and then imprison her again. Perhaps Georgiou knew that was a possibility and refused to put all her cards on the table in order to maintain ongoing leverage, but if such a conversation took place, the episode frustratingly cut over it. It further strains credibility to assume that nobody on Discovery's crew would be at all suspicious of Georgiou's true identity having just witnessed Emperor Georgiou in the mirror universe for themselves. Wouldn't at least somebody be a bit bemused by this sudden coincidence?

Saru and Burnham seemed to possess a clearer understanding of the danger using Georgiou in this way puts them all in, but as we know from Vaulting Ambition, Saru's judgment is often faulty as well in regards to conferring undue trust on prisoners, given that he gave L'Rell permission to operate on Tyler. Indeed, Tyler's story somehow manages to be even more frustrating than Georgiou's. It is established by now that Tyler is neither conclusively Voq nor Tyler. But the crew reacts to this ambiguity in the most idiotic way imaginable, ranging from outright denial to hubris.

This absurd tale begins with Tyler declaring, quite correctly, that he belongs in the brig. Saru then idiotically replies that he sees no semblance of Voq in him any longer. Because who needs scientific evidence when you can just do what you feel? Then he lets Tyler roam free about the ship in a deeply misguided act of trust that is at least as reckless as Sarek and Cornwell unleashing Georgiou. How can Saru possibly trust that L'Rell purged Voq from Tyler if even his own doctors repeatedly insist they don't understand the science behind the surgery and can't conclusively state one way or the other whether Tyler is Voq or Tyler?

Most of the crew then adopts Saru's naivete too, quickly forgiving and forgetting despite Tyler still quite possibly presenting a danger to himself and others. Only Stamets and Burnham articulate anything even remotely resembling the proper skepticism about whether or not Voq is truly gone, but the narrative strongly implies that the only reason Stamets and Burnham are skeptical is due to the personal trauma they experienced at Voq/Tyler's hands, not because they doubt that Voq is truly gone. Both Stamets and Burnham admit in their interactions with him that they may at some point accept that Voq is gone. The narrative closes both scenes in such a way as to present Tyler as the victim of a sort of tragic bigotry towards PTSD rather than the potential danger that he actually is.

At best, this narrative choice is another lazy attempt to misdirect the audience in an effort to make another possible cheap twist out of Voq reasserting control over Tyler again more shocking down the road. At worst, the narrative is honestly trying to get us to frown on the idea that anybody should doubt that Voq is truly gone by framing Stamets' and Burnham's skepticism around personal trauma rather than a rational assessment of the evidence. Given the narrative's track record so far, we should be worried that the writers might expect both the audience and the characters to accept the idea that Voq is truly gone based entirely on Tyler's charisma and the unreliable narrator of L'Rell without any hard evidence whatsoever. And we should be worried the narrative will then hold up that misguided blind faith as an example of the spirit of Star Trek. If that is so, then the writers must not have seen much Star Trek. Given those two choices, we should, sadly, hope for another cheap twist instead. It would be the slightly less shallow outcome.

There are a few other tidbits of note as well. While it was amusing to learn that the I.S.S. Discovery was swiftly destroyed after it switched places with the U.S.S. Discovery, the exposition about the Klingon war continues to strain credibility. We now learn that despite various Klingon factions having descended into competition that is tantamount to a civil war, they have still been capable of wiping out one third of the Federation fleet and occupying 20% of Federation space even with their leadership in disarray, all thanks to the cloaking device and seemingly nothing else.

Again, while nothing in canon necessarily precludes this event, it seems a bit hard to believe nobody across hundreds of episodes and films would've mentioned that the Klingons brought the Federation to its knees at some point in the past, including threatening Earth itself. Plus, again as mentioned before, this dramatic reversal of fortunes significantly exacerbates the stupidity of not sending Starfleet a draft copy of that cloak-breaking algorithm they were working on in Into the Forest I Go before making the jump into the mirror universe. Again, it bears repeating that this entire situation could've potentially been avoided if somebody had remembered to send an email.

Speaking of attenuating continuity, this episode frustratingly both solved the Defiant problem and then undermined its own solution in the course of a single episode. Cornwell seemed to put a lid on the possibility that the Federation possessing foreknowledge of the Defiant's fate in TOS: The Tholian Web would be acted upon in any way by immediately classifying all knowledge about the mirror universe. But by the end of the episode she makes mirror Georgiou captain of the Discovery. This seems like a terrible recipe for keeping a lid on knowledge of what befell the Defiant.

Moreover, the entire rationale for classifying this knowledge was just as shallow and poorly thought-out as the rest of the story. The whole idea that if knowledge of the mirror universe became common knowledge that Federation citizens would go rogue and try to gain access to it to be reunited with lost loved ones is absurd on its face, especially given that ten years later when Kirk visits the place, nobody seems worried about that anymore and it's clear from the events of DS9 that Kirk's experience there was, in fact, made public knowledge. This entirely contrived rationale exists solely to plug the plot hole of having referenced the events of Ent: In a Mirror, Darkly, rather than to serve any useful purpose internal to Discovery's own story. This clumsy attempt to plug that plot hole just created others.

Likewise the miraculous ability to grow more spores on demand and keep using the jump drive with impunity would seem to totally undermine the closure we thought we had received in the previous episode explaining why the spore drive had ceased to be a viable technology by the time of TOS. So that solved problem was rendered unsolved once again, similar to the Defiant problem getting solved and then potentially unsolved by the end of the episode.

This episode certainly was a terrible mess by itself, but much more disturbingly it also reflects broader unfortunate trends in Discovery's overall writing style. By now Discovery has developed a deeply concerning habit of engaging in frustratingly shallow writing on nearly every level that was on full display here, but is also present to varying degrees across most of the season. The characters act recklessly, the narrative celebrates their recklessness as though it is a species of virtue, and even seems to have the temerity to act as though this recklessness is somehow in the spirit of Star Trek. The narrative routinely lies to the audience in the pursuit of cheap twists and acts as though we should be impressed. And continuity between series is repeatedly strained unnecessarily seemingly because the writers couldn't be bothered to watch the episodes of past series and understand the intent of the writers who came before them. Bear in mind, none of these criticisms have anything whatsoever to do with Discovery's editorial decision to totally disregard visual canon, which separate and apart from all these criticisms is bad storytelling for entirely different reasons.

What we appear to have here, surely to the everlasting frustration of many Star Trek fans, is a Star Trek series that for the first time in Star Trek's history struggles to be true to the spirit of Star Trek, seemingly because the writers possess only a surface-level understanding of what the spirit of Star Trek even is. What made TOS, TNG, DS9, Voyager, and Enterprise so iconic was that the writing and narrative themes were largely deep and nuanced. The characters were usually idealistic and full of vision. Their attitudes were focused, coherent, and unambiguously virtuous. While some episodes of the older Star Treks occasionally fell flat or exuded false profundity at times, those episodes were the exception, not the rule. Discovery on the other hand appears to be drawing its inspiration from the pseudo-intellectual writing of an episode like TOS: The Alternative Factor and then serializing it into a long running story with better production quality and acting. It's as if the writers think just by having better acting, cooler sets, and more impressive action scenes that nobody will notice that the story is hot mess of vapid platitudes and plot holes pretending to be deep.

Needless to say, this trend of shallow writing is toxic to a franchise most famous for its prior focus on cerebral stories like TOS: Balance of Terror, TNG: The Measure of a Man, TNG: Tapestry, DS9: Duet, Voy: Death Wish, Voy: Distant Origin, DS9: In The Pale Moonlight, Ent: Vox Sola, and plenty more. Nothing in Discovery so far even remotely compares not just to those classic episodes, but to most of its runners up too. Instead Discovery is delivering a glitzy romp that while mostly fun in the way that much of Star Trek's many past action stories are also fun, is also a stressful exercise in seeing what continuity will be crushed next with each episode all in service of yet another action romp that only pretends to be deep. This story only works if you don't think too hard about it, which is a sad thing to say about Star Trek, a franchise that was once known primarily for its optimism and intellectual rigor. Let's hope Star Trek Discovery rediscovers Star Trek's heritage soon.

The following are comments submitted by my readers.

  • From zook on 2018-02-08 at 11:18pm:
    I miss Star Trek, don't you? And I must disagree with Kethinov: the acting is not good. There is no emotional connection to the characters, who are mostly unlikeable, uncentered, and unidimensional. But you are right- the bad writing is the real culprit. The lofty ideals of the Federation are merely stated, not shown or demonstrated. The dialogue is full of cliches and flatly delivered. I cannot bring myself to care about the characters, or the plot, or the confused ideas the show is struggling to explore. I really do miss Star Trek. This show isn't it. It could have been called anything else, for all the connection it has with Star Trek. No need to drag the franchise in the mud with it.
  • From Shodanbot on 2018-02-13 at 10:55pm:
    Oh dear. By the delay between the finale air date and your review, I can imagine it will be a very fun read when finished. No pressure there.

    I groaned at the conclusion of "What's Past is Prologue." I assumed that it would involve time travel to get back the prior nine months and set everything in order, patching any holes in the cannon. It's a sloppy method to resolve this significant "lost territory" issue, and coming directly after the mirror universe episodes, wouldn't have been a welcome story to pursue. I might have given the writers too much credit.

    I hate time travel as a genre, I hate when it's used to patch a problem, but I hate being wrong even more. Especially if being right wouldn't have been to my benefit.

    But on to "The War Without, The War Within", or more appropriately: "Powder Kegs & Atom Bombs, Fools & Starfleet."

    The Tyler/Voq issue in this episode reminds me of BSG's Sharon. Adama was no fool. He knew Eight/Sharon was a potential powder keg, so letting her walk freely about the fleet would be a foolish move that could have disastrous consequences. But he also understood that she had her uses, so keeping her around couldn't hurt. And keeping her in a secure cell with an armed guard was the smart way to ensure it didn't hurt. But if this is how Starfleet is going to handle their "Sharon", then is it any wonder they lost so much territory to the Klingons? Stupid people, written by stupid writers.

    And the writers do this twice in a single episode. Does their stupidity have any limits? No matter how desperate you are, it's a monumentally stupid decision to put a figurative atom bomb like "Mirror Georgiou" in command of a literal atom bomb like the Discovery.

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