“I would give anything for a second, a millisecond, of peace but until the war is over, none of us can have it.” -Burnham
Previously on Star Trek: Discovery: Mudd (Rainn Wilson) came back to get repeated and gruesome revenge on Lorca (Jason Isaacs) and Tyler (Shazad Latif) for leaving him to rot in Klingon Alcatraz by creating a time loop that only Stamets (Anthony Rapp) could waltz his way out of, Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) started coming to terms with the fact that she has human emotions and might not end up an old maid gormagander, Tilly (Mary Wiseman) felt the satisfaction every great Admiral feels when she saw the S.S. Burner finally set sail, and Saru (Doug Jones) was… there?
We open on the USS Gargarin, running like hell from the Klingons and calling for aid. Cue the Discovery dropping out of mushroom warp like big goddamn heroes ready to kick Klingon ass. Lorca and the bridge crew pull out all of the stops, twisting and turning and firing and battling and pew-pew-pewing but unfortunately they can’t lock onto the Klingon ships when they have their invisibility screens up which makes battle very difficult.
We haven’t talked much about the bridge crew, which feels so weird because usually the bridge crew are the main characters. Detmer (Emily Coutts), Owosekun (Oyin Oladejo), Rhys (Patrick Kwok-Choon), and Airiam (Sara Mitich) TOTALLY deserve a Lower Decks-style episode so they can sit in the cafeteria and shoot the shit about what an asshole Lorca is. At this point they may not be doing much but yelling out space battle stuff but they all have a distinct presence on the bridge, and it’s super fun to watch them work together.
Unfortunately, although they definitely do their best, they are unable to save the Gargarin, managing to take one torpedo hit for them but not two. Lorca cuts his losses and heads to black alert, with Stamets getting plugged into the warp drive and ready to take a wild ride through the mycelium. Lorca reminds everyone that they can grieve later, but right now he needs damage reports. He leaves the bridge to Airiam and strides away (dramatically).
Stamets stumbles out of the spore drive looking like he took a really bad trip and accidentally calls Tilly Captain which freaks her (and us) right the fuck out. Is Stamets seeing the future? Is he confused about which universe he’s in? Is he just really, really, high but not in a groovy way? Tilly would love to get answers but Stamets has reverted back to resting bitch face Stamets and tells her to back off.
Lorca is debriefing with Admiral Vulcan (with the dulcet tones of a happy Tribble purring in the background!) and man, he’s frustrated. The Admiral lets him know that Kol (Kenneth Mitchell) has been sharing his toys with anyone who will bend the knee, which means that soon they will be completely outclassed by the Klingons in battle. This means that the mission Lorca has sent Burnham, Tyler, and Saru on is now the highest priority.
Team… um. Tyhamru? You know what? Let’s just be boring and call them the away team. The away team has landed on Pahvo, and are hiking through some pretty spectacular landscapes to make it to a natural crystal tower off in the distance. Everything on the planet vibrates in resonant frequencies, meaning the planet itself is basically singing. I dig it! The mission is to reprogram the crystal structure into a type of sonar so the Discovery can actually see what they’re shooting at and hopefully turn the tide of the war.
Burnham and Tyler are enjoying their hike on the alien planet, and damn with how gorgeous it is I don’t blame them. Saru on the other hand would like to finish up this mission and get off this rock. He’s held back by the puny humans, with their weak legs, snail paces and general uselessness. Burnham explains that Saru grew up as prey, so his senses and mile time are far superior, because he needed to be wary and fast af to survive his planet. Saru would just like it if Burnham would stop vomiting up a Kelpian biology textbook like he’s not standing right there, thank you very much. But yeah, Burnham is right. He totally rocks. Also, this planet is so damn loud it is hard for him to function.
The way Saru talks about his senses makes me think of the joys of anxiety. One of the most debilitating aspects of anxiety is being hyper-alert for danger that isn’t there. For instance, you can be petting your purring cat and eating waffles and suddenly your body reacts like someone with a giant knife has kicked down your door. I heard it once described as hearing the boss music for a video game fight, but being unable to see where the danger is. Your body is constantly telling you that you need to be afraid. It is disorienting and exhausting so I really feel for Saru. That must be tough to deal with in general, but he has chosen a career that constantly puts him in very real danger, but makes it hard for him to differentiate between actual and perceived threats.
Speaking of possible threats, an energy being coalesces amongst the trees and coos at them. It’s not registering as a life form, but it’s standing right there and wants them to follow it. I can’t wait! Energy beings, woo!
L’Rell (Mary Chieffo) has shown up to Kol’s awesome party ship rocking a brand new facial scar and a heart full of anger. She’s supposedly ready to to bend the knee, and offers her skills as an interrogator. Kol is not really having it. A dude as versed in betrayal as he is will always be looking for the play. Still, he could use help getting Cornwell (Jayne Brook) to talk and so he lets L’Rell have a shot at getting some useful information out of the stubborn admiral.
Back on Pahvo, the away team has been led by the Pahvans to a bitchin’ tent, with crystals and everything. It is unclear why energy beings would need a tent, or how tf they made it. But it’s still bitchin’. The universal translator isn’t helping with the Pahvan’s attempts at communication, so Saru gets up close and personal with the glowing light to try and figure out what their deal is. They manage to communicate that they mean no harm.
Burnham and Tyler have a conversation about what the rules are when it comes to their mission and a new species. They’ve already accidentally revealed themselves to a sentient race, but now they definitely need permission to modify the crystal structure. I wonder how quickly Lorca would ignore that rule if it meant getting the drop on Klingons and I am imagining a speed faster than light. Regardless, Burnham isn’t Lorca. She wants to do this right.
The vibe between Tyler and Burnham in this scene is interesting. Their body language and the way they are talking to each other shows that in her mind, Burnham is still the one in charge, and Tyler seems to defer to her. Burnham just can’t help acting like a leader.
L’Rell has shown up to Cornwell’s cell with a nice collection of torture implements. They look like something Louis XIV would use on French peasants, if he’d stop eating cake long enough to bother with them. She tells Cornwell to scream. Cornwell refuses, before L’Rell steps forward and straight up screams right in Cornwell’s face. Cornwell screams back. It’s awesome. This might be the first time we got a Bechdel-Wallace pass just from two women hollering in each other’s faces as a way to bond. L’Rell apparently doesn’t want to torture Cornwell, she wants to have a chat. Cornwell’s whole demeanor in this scene can be summed up as “…tf?” and I concur. What is this sneaky Klingon planning y’all? What is her game?
Back in their awesome tent of light, which looks like something straight out of Lothlórien, Burnham and Tyler are staring into each other’s eyes and having a romantic conversation about trout. No, really, I mean it. Literally about trout. Burnham spoils the mood by reminding Tyler that she’s The Mutineer, Slayer of T’Kuvma, first of her name, and he may be able to dream of trout some day, but all she has to look forward to after the war is a jail cell.
Tyler is ready to let the Klingon war go on indefinitely if it means that Burnham can stay free, exploring new planets with him and having sleep overs in beautiful alien forests. Burnham has spent her whole life subsuming her personal desires for duty, and the idea that this man would value her over the entire galaxy has her melting. At this point I’m pretty sure that Tyler is going to have a panty-dropping speech in every episode. They share the sweetest, softest, most romantic kiss.
Back on Discovery, Tilly has mustered the courage that allowed her to befriend an infamous mutineer and confronts her boss. What is going on? He’s no longer pleasantly high, and it’s not groovy. The bitch face Stamets makes when Tilly calls him persnickety is a work of art. It should be turned into a painting and displayed at the Louvre next to the Mona Lisa. Stamets really doesn’t want to discuss this shit, he wants to drink tea and ignore his problems. Tilly blinks her Disney princess eyes of doom and Stamets crumbles like he’s made out of sand.
Ok yeah, so maybe he keeps forgetting where he is and like, what is happening and stuff. No big deal. Tilly wants to know if he’s told his #SpaceBoo, and of course he hasn’t. Despite the fact that he just spent an episode explaining to Burnham that honesty is the foundation of his relationship and that you should never hide who you are, he’s scared. He doesn’t want Culber to have to be forced to choose between his duty as a medical officer and Stamets’ well being. This is frustrating, because I think we all know where Culber’s priorities lie and it’s not with Starfleet Medical. Stamets is selling his #SpaceBoo short. I have sympathy for the fact that he doesn’t want to make Culber make that choice, but guess what? It’s Culber’s choice to make, not Stamets’.
Tilly accepts all of this and says they’ll monitor the episodes and hope for the best. It’s a crap plan, and it seems like they both know it.
L’Rell and Cornwell are continuing their bonding session. L’Rell asks about what happens to POWs under Starfleet, and Cornwell outlines their entirely humane standard operating procedure. She very specifically states that there is no death penalty. L’Rell thinks this sounds not at all terrible and announces that she wants to defect. Kol is an asshole, and he’s taken everything she cares about. Why should she stick around and be a good little soldier in Kol’s army? Fuck that. She briefly mentions that Voq was “chased away” and the entire audience leans forward like, say what? Tell us more, L’Rell! She offers to help Cornwell escape in exchange for safe passage on Discovery.
I legit don’t know L’Rell’s game here. She seems sincere, but also, what happened to Voq? Does she REALLY hate Kol enough to defect to the humans, who she seemed to despise? Why would she want to be on Discovery, the ship where the person who killed T’Kuvma serves? Does she know that? I can’t help feeling that her motives are super murky and that we definitely haven’t seen her whole game plan yet.
Saru comes back to the tent to let Burnham and Tyler know that he’s still working out a lot of the specifics with the Pahvans. They are building a vocabulary for discussion, but it’s taking time. He’s found out that the planet itself and all of the life on it lives in a symbiotic harmony. It seems they may have been using the crystal transmitter to reach out to the rest of the universe since the beginning of their existence, wanting to learn more about new life. The away team calls it a night and decides to work on it more in the morning.
Saru is trying to sleep, but he is just drowning in noise, to the breaking point. He wanders outside and begs for helps from the Pahvans. Can they please just make it quiet, even for just a moment? The Pahvan surrounds him in light, and he’s thrown into flashbacks about the constant fear of his entire existence, especially over the war. The Pahvans leave him and he looks peaceful.
Bright and early, Saru lets Tyler and Burnham know that everything is cool! He reached out to the captain, using the crystal transmitter. The Pahvans are 1701% cool with their mission, and could they pretty please hand over their communicators? They do, and Saru proceeds to crush them. Burnham and Tyler react with predictable alarm, but Saru is there to soothe them. Don’t worryyyyyyyyyyyy, everything is fine. The Pahvans are going to allow them all to stay on the planet of perfect peace. If #Burner could just relax and open themselves up to the planet they will soon understand that the Pahvans have achieved the great mission of exploration and diplomacy of Starfleet. He pets them creepily, in an apparent attempt to reassure them. Yikes.
Burnham and Tyler proceed to freak the fuck out. Obviously, Saru has lost his shit. Clearly, the captain has no idea what is going on. Tyler wants to move forward with the mission, but Burnham resists. There’s no way to tell if Saru actually got the Pahvans’ permission to modify the transmitter before he drank their Kool-Aid. Tyler pulls rank. He’s a Lieutenant, Burnham is a Mutineer. He’s in charge.
L’Rell and Cornwell try to make their escape, but are caught by Kol. Cornwell and L’Rell fight, possibly for show??? L’Rell wins, beating the shit out of Cornwell before electrocuting her, apparently to death. She tells Cornwell that at least she didn’t die in a cage, which is dubious comfort. At this point, the female characters are dropping like flies. Stabbed, mauled, and electrocuted. Cool. Cool, cool, cool. Wait, no, that’s total bullshit. Discovery started out with a fair amount of female characters, but at the rate they are killing them and then replacing them with men by the end of the season who knows how many will actually be on this damn ship.
L’Rell tries to play off that Cornwell tried to escape to Kol, but it’s flimsy, obviously. Why would the admiral be out of the brig? Why would they be walking down a hallway together?
Back on Pahvo, Tyler has a conversation with Saru about how he doesn’t know how to stop fighting, the way Saru has. They actually have a conversation about the trauma Tyler endured on the Klingon ship. His assault is not mentioned, but the rage he has when he talks about what they made him suffer is striking. Saru tries to talk to him about forgiveness, but Tyler really isn’t interested in forgiveness. He’s more into making them pay. Saru has Tyler touch a magic crystal, but it merely tips him off that Tyler has been stalling for time to allow Burnham to make it to the transmitter where she plans to modify it.
L’Rell drags Cornwell’s body to a room full of bodies. Kol has been busy slaughtering L’Rell’s crew. She vows revenge, but it’s extremely unclear how she plans to go about murdering Kol and eating his worthless heart.
Burnham has managed to modify the crystal transmitter and is trying to reach Discovery when Saru hurtles out of the trees and attacks her. He manages to crush the equipment with his bare hands in a fit of rage that is on par with a pissed-off Vulcan during Pon Farr. They have a brief but furious fight, before Burnham gets the upper hand by phasering Saru.
She confronts him like, is this harmony? Where’s all that peace you promised? Saru responds bitterly that like so many things, Burnham has taken it from him. Burnham gets it, okay? She is also beset by the demons of trauma. She too would love to give it all up and live in peace. But they can’t, and hiding on this planet and trying to ignore the war isn’t going to help.
The Pahvans bring Tyler and Saru falls to his knees in front of them. He was trying to protect them. He doesn’t want the Klingons to destroy them for helping Starfleet. Burnham pleads with them to help her finish the modifications because although Starfleet wants harmony, the Klingons do not. She needs their help. The Pahvans begin modifying the transmitter, which begins to glow and pulse as the away team looks on, Saru still broken and on his knees. Lorca’s voice tells the away team to prepare for transport while Saru begs to stay.
Saru has not had much to do in the last couple episodes, but damn do they correct that with this one. Doug Jones does a tremendous job of conveying Saru’s bitterness towards Burnham, the torture of living with constant fear, the pain he has been carrying, and his bone-deep longing for just a moment of true peace. You really, really, feel for him and I can definitely relate to how much he wants to rest.
The away team is back on Discovery in sickbay, and Saru can barely even look at Burnham. He lied to them. He attacked them. He might even have killed them. Burnham reminds him that he wasn’t himself, but Saru rejects that. He was himself. He was shown what it would be like to live a life without fear, and he was willing to give up everything to keep it. It’s so dang sad.
It’s also striking how Burnham and Saru have swapped places on the whole “mutineering” thing. If Burnham got life in prison, then what does Saru deserve? He defied his captain’s orders and jeopardized the mission. I definitely think that Saru wasn’t in his right mind, even if he wasn’t being directly mind-controlled. The Pahvans essentially changed his brain chemistry for a brief time. It’ll be interesting to see if he faces consequences or if it will be forgotten in the face of bigger problems.
L’Rell is still trying to salvage her disaster, by reporting what she learned about Discovery. Kol is not impressed, so L’Rell tries to leave. He stops her, and forces her to her knees where he smears his pretentious red face paint all over her face and forces her to swear allegiance to his house. She does, but he’s not buying it and has his minions drag her away. He’s alerted to a new signal – from Pahvo. It’s described as an “invitation”. Ominous.
On Discovery Lorca is, per usual, not happy. Instead of what he asked for, the Pahvan signal is not showing Klingon cloaking, but instead transmitting an invitation to their planet to the Klingons. It appears the Pahvans thought that they could solve the conflict between Starfleet and the Klingons with harmony. The Ship of the Dead is on its way, and the Discovery is the only defense Pahvo will have against them.
To me, this episode was all about trauma. How dangerous it can be to ignore it, the various ways people deal with it, like anger, fear, forgiveness. We explored the trauma of many characters, especially Saru but also L’Rell, Tyler, Burnham, and Stamets. I hope they come back to this theme because I think it’s important, especially since the show is set during a time of war, and what could be more traumatic?
Also, having an away mission on an alien planet was a refreshing change of pace for Discovery, which up until now has been hyper-focused on the ship itself. The alien planet looked truly alien, and the cinematography was absolutely breathtaking.
The fall finale airs next Sunday, and after yet another doozy of a cliffhanger it is definitely set up to be an intense ending to the first half of the season. Bring it on, Discovery!