Star Trek Discovery: “Into the Forest I Go” (S1, E9 review)

Michael decided a field trip to the Klingon Ship of the Dead would be just the thing to bring old memories (image courtesy CBS/Netflix)

 

  • SPOILERS AHEAD … AND KLINGONS BUT HEY YOU KNEW THAT ALREADY RIGHT?

“We are about to face the most difficult challenge we have ever attempted. Today, we stare down the bow of the Ship of the Dead, the very same ship that took thousands of our own at the Battle of the Binary Stars. When I took command of this vessel, you were a crew of polite scientists. Now, I look at you. You are fierce warriors all. No other Federation vessel would have a chance of pulling this off. Just us. Because mark my words: you will look back proudly and tell the world you were there the day the USS Discovery saved Pahvo and ended the Klingon War.” (Gabriel Lorca, addressing the crew of the USS Discovery)

Now that, my friends, is how you inspire the crew of a starship to go all out!

And go all out they do, in an episode that pretty much has it all – deep, percussive emotional resonance, romance and longing, blisteringly intense action sequences (including a big ass Klingon ship explosion – see ya in Sto-vo-kor Kol (Kenneth Mitchell) !), the sense of a crew reunited and one arc ended and another, altogether more mysterious one begun.

“Into the Forest I Go” barely put a foot wrong.

For a start it had all the hallmarks of the kind of ballsy, defy-the-authorities spirit that has always been at the heart of every Star Trek series.

For a franchise committed to idealism and an adherence to a set of core values, it’s captains and yeah pretty everyone onboard its ships are happy to kick the rules to the curb in pursuit of a higher calling which, rules and regs aside, is exactly what the Federation has as it founding philosophy.

Ordered back to Starbase 46, safe with Federation space while the brightest minds available figured out a way to overcome the Klingon’s cloaking technology, Lorca seems to comply, heading back at a sedate Warp 5 which will take a sedate three hours or so.

Giving the appearance of compliance gives Lorca, who let’s face it, is not exactly employee of the month when it comes to blindly toeing the rules – although when it comes to whipping the collective ass of the Klingons, he’s pretty much in a class of his own – and the crew a chance to brainstorm a way to take their enemy’s one big advantage and nullify it.

Which they, quite naturally do, in near-record time but not without a huge amount of risk, of course. (This is not your grandmother’s Star Trek people and actions have some fairly serious consequences; it’s a whole new gritty galaxy out there where the Federation may play nice but no one else really does.)

 

Love is love, now or hundreds of years from now (image courtesy CBS/Netflix)

 

For a start, Stamets (Anthony Rapp) takes some enormously big risks to execute the 133 spore drive micro-jumps needed to get the data required to make the Klingon cloak-killing algorithm, dreamt up by Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and Saru (Doug Jones) do it’s potentially war-ending thing.

It’s a huge gamble given how even one or two normal jumps can kill him – not that he’s told his partner and the ship’s doctor Culber (Wilson Cruz) that; poor dear Tilly (Mary Wiseman) is the one who lets the medical cat out of the bag – and just as you think he’s safe and clear, though more than a bit doolally gaga, the last jump to get the Discovery home safe leaves him a babbling, “I can see it all” rambling mess.

His ill-health is rendered even more poignant by his exchange with Culber, which includes the aforementioned kiss and some lovely plans to listen to opera once all the fighting is done and dusted (a big commitment by Stamets who hates the stuff but loves Culber); quite apart from the emotional impact of that beautiful shard moment, it was so refreshing, particularly as a gay man looking on, to see love between two men portrayed so naturally.

There was no fuss, no trotting out of tired old tropes, no sensationalism and definitely no glitter – just a good old-fashioned kiss between two people who desperately love each other in a galaxy where the chance to live it out is hanging in the balance.

It won’t surprise you to know that Burnham was another person who out once-besmirched life on the line.

Initially rebuffed by Lorca when she asked to transport to Kol’s ship with Tyler (Shazad Latif), she ended up on the mission after arguing passionately for the chance to prove her worth and have a reason for being there, and Lorca being a man who knows a thing or two about defying the odds, acquiesced.

You could forgive her though for wondering if returning to the ship where she lost her captain Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) – although she got back Georgiou’s combadge from a disrespectful Kol so huzzah! – and her career was such a good idea when in quick succession, they were waylaid by rescuing Admiral Cornwell (Jayne Brook), Tyler went into horrific PTSD shock after seeing L’Rell (Mary Chieffo), shutting down in mute-nightmare-wracked silence and ended up in a fight with Kol after going to the bridge to plant one or two triangulation devices.

Not quite a dream away mission but seriously when are they ever?

In the end, Burnham, triumphs, Tyler and Cornwell are saved and L’Rell is captured and they find a find to detect a Klingon cloaked ship, in this case, Kol’s Sarcophagus, which blows up like Fourth of July fireworks, not quite ending the war but coming pretty damn close.

 

Tilly has been an absolute delight from start to finish and while she has only a small role in this episode, her inherent kindness and humanity shine through once again (image courtesy CBS/Netflix)

 

What worked so well in this episode was the pleasing balance between big, brash action sequences, all-in-crew set pieces and some very tenderly intimate moments such as when Burnham and Tyler share some very real, laying-it-all-out confessions in the wake of Tyler’s traumatic breakdown on the Klingon ship.

It also drew on the darker tones that have become quite the hallmark of this grittier, very 21st Century iteration of Star Trek – the idea that while the ideals that sustain the Federation and Starfleet are uplifting, warm-and-fuzzy pieces of goodness, the people executing them are as flawed as they’ve ever been, not to mention the aliens outside of the camp who are as realpolitik-y and brutally pragmatic as they’ve ever been.

Deep Space Nine doffed its hat to that idea back in the day but Star Trek Discovery has run with it and then some, delivering up a galaxy full to brimming with inspiring idealism true but war, rampant lust for power, torture and loss.

So real life in other words; Discovery has managed in nine all-too-short episodes to set up a beguiling, involving narrative that has a finely-wrought, layered protagonist at its centre, a supporting cast of equally well-formed characters, a worldbuild that feels familiar and yet rife with all kinds of mysterious possibilities …

… and now the possibility that they have journeyed to one of those alternate parallel dimensions that Lorca and Stamets rather prophetically discussed earlier in the episode.

It’s exciting, it’s thrilling, substantial and very clever and if you’re going to go on a mid-season hiatus, and Star Trek: Discovery is, then “Into the Forest I Go” (with excellent use of tropes!) is emphatically, and brilliantly, the way to do it.

  • And the next episode is … 7 January next year! What what? Yep you’ll have months, months I tell you to boldly go etc etc … OK weeks, lots of weeks but still there’s a cliffhanger to resolve! Pass me the Tribble snacks will ya?

 

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