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In the mid-season finale, Star Trek: Discovery finally coalesced for me into a show that I genuinely like, and that I’m going to miss for the next couple of months. After several one-off episodes that toyed with characters and ideas without really furthering the main arc of the season, “Into the Forest I Go” managed to tie together all the disparate plot elements into a great episode that answered some questions, posed a lot of new ones, and capped off the first half of Discovery’s debut season with a well-earned bang.
Following on directly from last week, the Discovery is ordered to retreat now that the botched mission on Pahvo has lured the Klingon Ship of the Dead. Lorca, refusing to abandon the planet (although really not wanting to back down from a fight), hatches a scheme that gives the Discovery three hours to figure out a way of subverting the Klingon cloaking devices.
Three hours to figure out something they’ve been worried about for months?
Yeah, it’s a contrivance. And it gets worse. The plan involves not only an away team boarding the Ship of the Dead to plant hilariously conspicuous sensors, but also Stamets making 133 spore drive mini-jumps so that the Discovery can map every aspect of the Klingon vessel. What this means, realistically, is that we get an episode which incorporates Tyler and Burnham in action mode, the fate of Admiral Cornwell (who is still aboard the ship), development of Tyler’s weird relationship with L’Rell (who is also still aboard the ship), and the logical conclusion of all the physical and mental turmoil that Stamets has endured thanks to his near-constant warping through time and space.
That sounds like too much stuff.
Sounds like it, yeah – but it isn’t, really. Thanks to eight prior episodes with varying focuses on different characters and ideas, what was previously inconsistency has laid the groundwork for an episode that neatly uses all the bits of accumulated information to light fuses all over the place. We’ve seen Captain Lorca’s disregard for other forms of life (the tardigrade, the space whale). His sudden compassion for the peace-loving entities on Pahvo seems disingenuous. And so it should. We know he’s up to something. You can see it in how he appeals to a reluctant Stamets by showing that he cares about exploring the cosmos. (He doesn’t.) He’s obviously looking for a scrap. Even if it isn’t the smartest thing to do for his crew or the broader war effort.
Elsewhere, we know about Cornwell and L’Rell still being on the Ship of the Dead. Running into them makes sense. We know L’Rell’s history with Tyler; his sudden PTSD-inducing flashbacks might be a sloppy way to force Burnham into a fight on her own, but they, too, make some kind of sense. We know how much of a toll the spore drive is taking on Stamets. We know how his relationship with Dr Culber is being affected by it. This is a lot of stuff, but it doesn’t feel crammed together awkwardly. We have enough information from previous episodes that it finally coming together feels earned and exciting.
And how does it come together in episode 9?
It involves Burnham swordfighting Kol on the ship’s bridge, Stamets making one last (seemingly ill-fated) jump, and Lorca pretty obviously performing an act of sabotage. Some of this is speculative, or the implications are a bit nebulous. What matters is that Kol (a boring villain) is dealt with, Stamets is in a bad way, and the Discovery is stranded somewhere in the furthest reaches of space. That’s where we’ll pick up after the mid-season break.
So, aside from the obvious, what worked in Into the Forest I go?
There were some tremendous action sequences here. Not just the close-range fisticuffs, although Burnham’s one-on-one with Kol was nicely choreographed, but also some great scenes of the Discovery warping in and out of shot as it engaged the Klingon ship. Intercutting the space battle with scenes of Stamets in the spore chamber kept the stakes high. As did juxtaposing Burnham’s heroism with Tyler’s breakdown. I’ve had quibbles with some of this show’s characterisation and storytelling, but never with its production, and those technical elements (bonus points for the swelling, climactic music) did a lot of heavy lifting here.
There were also a lot of small details that helped to enhance the drama and set the tone. Kol picking his teeth with Captain Georgiou’s Starfleet insignia was a great touch, as was Burnham’s use of the universal translator, and the nifty device that masked the boarding party’s tell-tale biological signatures. It might all be technobabble bullshit that may or may not gel with established continuity, but I don’t particularly care. It made for some cool scenes.
What didn’t work in the mid-season finale?
As always, there’s an element of contrivance here. Not just to the broad plot elements but also in smaller exchanges between characters. It is a huge stretch that it takes the Discovery’s crew only twenty minutes to come up with the solution to a problem that has eluded them throughout the entire war. It’s also absurd that Lorca would argue with Burnham about her being part of the away team. That is literally the kind of thing she was brought on board to do. (And has done often since being there.) Tyler’s dream late in the hour of him having slow-motion sex with L’Rell was campy and silly rather than horrifying, and really, that he had no problem beating the brakes off L’Rell when he escaped Klingon captivity a few episodes ago makes it weird that he’d be suddenly incapacitated when encountering her again.
Your mileage is going to vary. Most of these are nitpicks, though, and I can’t say that any of them particularly bothered me when taken in the broader context of the episode.
How’s the Tyler theory holding up in Star Trek: Discovery?
Better than ever. His exchange with L’Rell in which she promises not to let “them” hurt him, and that she’ll reveal what she has done to him “soon”, sounded more like promises than ominous threats. I think we can assume that Tyler’s memories of torture are flashbacks to some kind of transition surgery, or at least a weakening of his body for Voq’s identity (or soul, or whatever the Vulcan word for that was) to be embedded inside him. I don’t think Tyler is knowingly Voq; he’s a vessel, not a spy, and L’Rell’s job now is to coax Voq from within him. This would explain why she grabbed Tyler as he was being beamed off the ship, and why she inquired with Admiral Cornwell about defection. She has been trying to get close to Tyler.
This poses an interesting question about whether Tyler’s memories of L’Rell “raping” him are even real. Or are just Voq’s memories proving incompatible with his own. He might be imagining the relationship between Voq and L’Rell as his own torture because his mind can’t reconcile the conflicting identities. Who knows? I guess we’ll have to wait a while to find out.
Keep watching Star Trek: Discovery after the break?
For sure. Early on, this show kind of confused and alienated me. (You can check out all my recaps here.) But as it has progressed I’ve come to enjoy it very much. It finds itself now in a very interesting place. I never thought I’d see a Klingon doing the no-pants-dance. Now I have, I can’t say it ruined my day. This is a weird show, but one full of imagination and excitement. I’ll be back here next year to continue to journey into the cosmos.
Join me, won’t you?