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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Into the Mid-Season Hiatus We Go


With this week's follow-up to last week's less-than-stellar outing of Star Trek: Discovery, we move from the show's weakest episode to its strongest yet, ending the first half of the season on a high note. 

"Into the Forest I Go" picks up where "Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum" left off, with the Discovery in orbit around the peaceful planet Pahva awaiting the arrival of the Klingon Ship of the Dead. Captain Lorca seems genuinely concerned about the Pahvans, and takes pains to stay and protect them even as Starfleet orders him to retreat. What follows is a remarkably, even cinematic, sequence of derring-do that depicts the Discovery's crew coming up with a means of breaking through the Klingon invisibility screen: to wit, Michael Burnham and Ash Tyler sneak onto the Klingon vessel to plant a couple of sensors that will provide enough data for a computer algorithm to penetrate the cloak. This sequence is easily the highlight of the season, with exciting pacing, sharp editing, great moments of suspense and peril, and a victory that feels well-earned. This episode shows how important it is to get the small details right to add verisimilitude and strike the right emotional chords: the jump cuts illustrating the many spore drive jumps needed to accomplish the sequence's key tactic, for example, and the great sound design that illustrates the use of the universal translator. 

Beyond this deft action sequence, we get to see Lorca's character fleshed out a little more. There's a great moment where he puts in his eyedrops to protect his damaged eyes so that he can look right into the explosion that marks the death-knell of the Klingon sarcophagus ship, a nice callback to the origin of Lorca's disability and a window into his warrior's soul. He's also clearly relieved by the rescue and ultimate recovery of Admiral Cornwell, even though her wellbeing presents a risk to his career. 

Speaking of Cornwell, she gets a great moment onboard the Klingon sarcophagus ship, putting her medical training to use to help Ash Tyler, who's on the ship assisting Michael Burnam during the aforementioned action sequence, get through an episode of post-traumatic stress disorder. I'm not a medical professional, but this scene had the ring of truth to it. A follow-up conversation between Tyler and Burnham about the episode is sensitively handled, too. 

However, this episode pretty much confirms the very badly-hidden rumour that Ash Tyler is actually the Klingon Voq, who, you may recall, hasn't been seen since Tyler's appearance. It appears that Tyler is actually Voq, surgically altered to appear human, and that his memories of being abused by L'Rell are actually memories of the painful surgery (and brainwashing, presumably) he endured to become "Tyler." Or perhaps this is all a red herring, and Tyler is indeed a human being. We won't know until after the hiatus. 

And then there's poor brave Stamets, who navigates the spore drive through the dozens of jumps necessary to calibrate the sensors Tyler and Burnham have planted. He comes through the sequence okay, if a little dazed, but in the episode's coda, he agrees to make one last jump back into safe Federation territory...and that's when you know things are going to go wrong. While the scene went by pretty quickly it appears as though Captain Lorca sabotaged the spore jump sequence from his command chair; in any event, the ship jumps to an unknown location and Stamets goes white-eyed, flopping to the deck and babbling about " many permutations." Best guess is that the Discovery has jumped, either accidentally or through Lorca's betrayal, to a parallel universe. Given Jonathan Frakes revealed earlier this year that he's directed a Mirror Universe episode, three guesses where the Discovery crew has wound up...and the first two don't count. 

I really cannot praise the direction and editing of "Into the Forest I Go" too highly; the creatives involved delivered a very satisfying hour of television, and I look forward to seeing what the second half of the season brings. 


Jeff Shyluk said...

The more I read about this episode, the more I believe I missed something that everyone else seems to get. That Ash is brutally tortured and sexually abused in a Star Trek episode seems to be... all right? People are happy with this, somehow? Today? With all that is going on in Hollywood #MeToo?

The cliffhanger to the cliffhanger did next to nothing with the Pahvo storyline, which just peters out. Instead, it presents us with not quite fifty shades of what the characters believe is "love" for one another: Lorca's paramour implausibly returns from the dead, Burnham shares Ash with a Klingon torturess, and Stamets and Dr. Cubler blurt out the most uncomfortable "I Love You's" since That Seventies Show (I love you! I love cake!). I found it all to be powerfully tone deaf at the best and at the worst really disturbing.

If what you say is true, that Ash is indeed a Klingon spy, then... that makes it all better now? Burnham is already a mutineer and a washout from the Vulcan Science Academy with inflamed shards of vengeful Sarek smouldering in her brain, how will having her boyfriend be an enemy infiltrator make her more appealing?

Here is how I see the hole in Star Trek's swing: apart from Burnham's less-than-Tilly track record with interpersonal relationships, from Lorca's signature love'em-and-leave'em bedmates, and from sex torture scenes and alien nipples, the fundamental flaw rests with Stamets, admittedly my favourite character in this show. He has resisted medical examination after he broke Federation law by injecting himself with alien DNA. His reasoning was that if he allowed his gene modification be be part of an official medical log, Dr. Cubler would be discharged for being complicit. Stamets believes he is being conscientious, but I see it as self-preservation - he does not want to be the cause of the end of the doctor's career.

When you are in love with someone, you don't keep secrets. When you are in love with someone, you expect that if you get into trouble, the other will be there for you. Likewise, since people are fallible, you want to be there to help your loved ones when they stray into trouble. This is an inevitability, since people are prone to making mistakes.

Still, it's not as simple as rescuing someone in distress. That's simply altruism. With love, you share the predicament together with the expectation that you will resolve that issue together as well. The burden becomes shared. Kirk regularly plunges the Enterprise into perilous situations that he alone cannot resolve. He shares these problems with his friends and together they find their way out.

Definitely, the Stamets/Culber relationship is realistic enough as far as it goes, but if they or anyone else believe that they are in true love, this is a conviction that is tragically mistaken. Stamets and Culber say "I Love You" not out of adoration but out of fear - fear that the one may be responsible for the destruction of the other. It's powerfully sad that if this is the best relationship on the Discovery, that the others are only going to be worse. CONT'D

Jeff Shyluk said...

I've been frustrated with Discovery in that it hews closer to the premium-cable idea of television than it does to Star Trek. Some of the bold moves have been surprising and entertaining, and the writing has been sharp. The good parts of the show are some of the best in Trek. But the bad parts for me don't surpass the good, and my patience is wearing thin for this show. If the Discovery is lost in space and never returns, I'll be happy to go back to the TOS reruns.

Sex, violence, and blood on TV is fine by me. I enjoyed Westworld. But like any good raunchy tale, there has to be mutual consent between the parties that this is going to be okay. With HBO programming, you know what you are going to get and you sanction lurid action by choosing to view it. Trek, on the other hand, always seemed to be able to tell gripping and timely stories without resorting to graphic shock. The Klingons vaporize thousands of Organians, but you didn't need to see it. The pitiless sneer of John Colicos was enough to sell Klingon cruelty for decades until now.

Don't get me started on how inept the Klingons were in this episode, although I suppose there may be more to them than has been shown so far. Should I even care though? Only if android Dolores gets ahold of a six-gun and blows the brains out of every last gold, silver, and black badge on the Discovery (and Burnham too, since they don't give her her own badge).

susanRN92 said...

I agree with Jeff when he thinks that the episodes are too involved in war. Star Trek Enterprise did not seem as good when the story went to all the battles. I would like to see Star Trek stories involve peace, but everyone is going around packing guns. Michael, Gabriel... these are names of angels. Kinda scary to think of any significance here.

What do you think the significance of Lorca's eyedrops are to the story? Is it showing that he has vulnerabilities? Is it so that they remove him from the all powerful archetype of Captain Kirk?

We should expect a lot more out of this story writing. There is much better out there that they achieve. Jeff mentioned Westworld, but I think Star Trek Discovery would be a better match to Rome.

I hadn't heard of the Klingon spy theory. Hmm, should be interesting to think about when I rewatch the series during the hiatus. If only they could bring him into Lorca's ready room. That tribble would settle things for sure. But that is for Spock and Kirk to discover.

Earl J. Woods said...

All fair criticisms, to be sure, particularly Susan's point about the Klingon war arc; I hope and expect that this story will be resolved this season; in fact, it's possible that the war will end offscreen, as it were, as Discovery explores parallel universes. That would certainly be a new spin on Star Trek's original premise.

In my view, Lorca's damaged vision is a none-too-subtle metaphor that he's lost his way; his vision, as it were, is compromised.

As for Jeff's point about Ash Tyler - I think the point the episode is trying to make is that what happened to Tyler (and by extension abused people in the real world) is very much not okay, that encounters like this have long-lasting consequences and that the victims need compassion and help. On the other hand, the point certainly could have been made without the gratuitous Klingon nudity.

The Pahvo storyline definitely peters out; in fact, it pretty much vanishes. It's too bad the writers didn't think of having Saru reach out for some kind of coda; a short dialogue about how peace is always a worthy goal, even if it didn't work out this time, would have been welcome and in keeping with Star Trek's philosophy.

I had no issue with the Admiral's survival, maybe because I like the character and hope to see more of her; I think she shines whenever she appears, and it's nice to have a competent Admiral in Starfleet for a change.

I'll agree that the relationships are all over the place, and it strikes me that Star Trek doesn't do long-term relationship stories often; the most authentic may have been the platonic Bashir-O'Brien bromance on DS9. I do enjoy Stamets/Culber, and I'm hoping that their current buried troubles will be resolved now that Stamets' condition has come to light.

Peter Harris said...

Coming late to the party, as I catch up on TV over Christmas, but... wow, lots to talk about in this episode, to be sure.

I side with Earl on the whole torture thing; I think that the point they're making is that these things have serious long term consequences for the people who endure them. I will even give them a pass on the Klingon nudity, because without that those quick dreamlike cuts might not have made it crystal clear that it was sexual in nature -- rape -- and I think that's kind of the point too. In the action adventure genre, torture doesn't really make much of an impact anymore; like the Last Action Hero, we expect them to shrug it all off with "just a flesh wound". By making it explicitly torture and rape, it makes the audience much more uncomfortable. And they should be. It's okay to be okay with this happening in Star Trek, because it's making a point about not being okay with it in real life.

Now I kind of hope that "Ash Tyler is a Klingon" is a red herring, because (while clever, and a twist with a good payoff that makes sense of things that came before) it does kind of undercut this. And it brings me full circle back to agreeing with Jeff about not liking the Klingons. So far they're overly made-up cardboard cutouts, who can only manage to emote whatever emotion is expressed by a cat with a dental appliance coughing up a hairball. If we're talking Star Trek as metaphor, it's tough to buy that these giant expectorating rubber heads are supposed to hold up a mirror to us; if we're talking Star Trek as science fiction then why would such a clearly alien race who've managed to build up an entire culture based on their love of war necessarily suffer from anything resembling human PTSD? Which, I know, I've presumably bought into them having something resembling love and honour, so why draw the line there? But still it feels like a cheat to me.

In keeping with the discussion of "love" in this episode, I will go to bat a little for Stamets and Cubler. I do find their relationship awkward as portrayed on screen. How much of that is my cis-hetero-angry-white-male ass just not seeing enough of those kinds of relationships in TV and movies (where they just are existing happily, as opposed to being either closeted/tortured or the entire focus of the show they're in)? Quite possibly a lot. But, while Jeff has a lot of good points about what real love is and how their relationship (so far) hasn't really achieved that, let's keep in mind that all their relationship that we've seen stems from basically the one story arc those two have had -- and the central underpinning of that arc is Stamets has inflicted himself early on with actual brain damage to save the ship, after which it's perfectly good storytelling to have him making bad decisions. And Cubler really only gets to react. But that said, I know I'm only justifying it after the fact to myself; Jeff's basically right on point with his criticisms. But they won't get me to stop watching.

I think (and I'm pretty sure I'm quoting one of my friends here), that Star Trek Discovery is great science fiction, but maybe not the best Star Trek. But it's trying, and it's interesting, and I'm willing to see where it goes. At the end of the day I concur with Earl that this episode had a ton of great stuff in it.

Earl J. Woods said...

Pete makes a great point here that I missed, namely that perhaps the Klingon nudity wasn't so gratuitous because it firmly establishes that Ash Tyler was indeed raped, which adds another awful layer of trauma to his suffering. It does reinforce, though, that the writers will have to be really sensitive when it comes to this storyline, lest they inadvertently trivialize PTSD. As Pete notes, having Tyler turn out to be a transformed Voq really would undercut this very important point.

In any event, I think the debate is healthy and shows that, if nothing else, Discovery is getting people to think about some serious issues, both artistic and political. It may yet fail as both Star Trek and space opera, but the creators are clearly sincere in trying to do good, interesting work.