Star Trek: Discovery closes out its first batch of episodes with an episode bursting at the seams with incident—however mixed the response may have been, this first ‘chapter’ has moved at such a clip that nobody could accuse the show of being boring.
In this episode alone, we get a few questions answered, a few big hints dropped about the future direction the show’s taking, a surprisingly hard-edged fight, what has to be the whole franchise’s first bout of Klingon nudity, and a twist ending that acts as the show’s second almost-total reset in only nine episodes. Nobody can say the writers aren’t ballsy, at least.
We kick off right after the previous episode finished, with the Discovery facing off with a Klingon ship summoned by well-meaning energy beings. As if to answer fan criticism over STD not ‘feeling’ like Trek, in quick succession we get Captain Lorca earnestly explaining to his crew why he’s about to disobey orders and a Byzantine solution to a technical problem whose technobabble can be translated into ‘putting a thing in a place.’
In this case, it’s seeing a Klingon ship hidden by cloaking technology, and the geniuses of the Discovery decide to, in essence, plant a tracking device on it — a plan that, being charitable, is elegant in its simplicity.
There’s a problem, though: in order to do this, and for reasons that are fairly vague, the Discovery has to make 133 jumps with its spore drive in quick succession — and since Lieutenant Stamets has to be jacked in for every one of them, it’s not likely to be good for his health.
This incarnation of Trek likes to revel in its edges more than its predecessors, so instead of the crew teaming up to find a way of not drastically endangering their lead engineer, Lorca instead manipulates him into it. Stamets is very much from the wing of Starfleet that’s into exploring over war, so Lorca shows him some data he’s been secretly gathering that points to the possible exploration of parallel universes using the spore drive after the war is over — it’s cynical, but it gets the job done.
So, while Burnham and Tyler infiltrate the Klingon ship to place their tracking device, Stamets straps in. All seems to go suspiciously well until Tyler’s PTSD kicks in, triggered into memories of torture in Klingon captivity — or something that seems like it.
Given the US and UK have been continuously at war for the best part of two decades, this is pretty strong stuff to include in your space adventure, and the handling of a very real condition is, in truth, incredibly clumsy — it’s depicted more like hallucinations than panic attacks, and Tyler eventually manages to snap himself out of it. Needless to say, this is not how it works — but it does offer some pretty robust weight to the theories around Tyler being an unwitting Klingon fifth columnist.
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Could he be flashing back to surgery, rather than torture? We haven’t seen Klingon extremist Voq for some time, and heavy hints were dropped about his future that were continued here when the captured Klingon L’Rell clearly knew more about Tyler than she was letting on.
STD is clearly planning /something/ for Tyler, but much of this episode was dedicated to action: Burnham’s goading of the Klingon leader into a duel was Sonequa Martin-Green’s standout moment of their entire show so far, and as referenced above, the resulting punchup was unusually bruising and elaborate for TV.
The badass-ness continued when, back on the Discovery and after Burnham and Tyler had succeeded in their mission, Jason Isaacs got the kind of cool walking-away-from-an-explosion moment every actor must dream about.
Any sense of triumph was short-lived however — after the proverbial One Last Jump, Stamets collapses, blinded and babbling. The jump itself, meanwhile, takes the ship to unknown space — they literally have no idea where they are, and are surrounded by mysterious wreckage.
So, where are we after what’s been a pretty fresh and promising first half-season? The major Klingon baddies (or the ones who haven’t disguised themselves as a human…) are all either dead or in the Discovery’s brig. Captain Lorca knows about the possible exploration of parallel universes, and seems to have taken his crew to one after talking mysteriously about going “home.” Something is clearly up with Lieutenant Tyler, whose romance with Burnham deepens with every passing episode.
This careful building of intrigue and mystery is something pretty new in Trek-land — you did always know where you stood with Picard et al. Have the people behind STD built enough to bring people back for the second chapter? In my opinion, absolutely.