Star Trek Discovery: “The War Without, The War Within” (S1, E14 review)

“Why is everyone so freaking nice?” The Emperor is none too pleased about her new life in the sunny, idealistic (and now partly Klingon-occupied) Federation (image courtesy CBS)




That sound you heard, at Warp 10 with a mycelium push, is the penultimate episode of Star Trek Discovery‘s first season screaming past you, clutching a narrative list so long and involved that you best stand out of its way, lest you be trampled underfoot by zealous Klingons on a mission.

Not such a bad thing in certain respects since there is quite a bit of enemy-occupied ground / galactic territory to cover before the end of the season, assuming of course that the show, which has shown it can pivot its premise on a dime, wants to wrap things up neatly in a Tyrellian laser red bow.

It doesn’t need to; in fact, it could’ve have nicely stretched things out in the Mirror Universe without too much effort until the end of the season, arriving back into the Federation nine months after they left, Klingon ship cloak codes still uselessly in their possession, to find the war hasn’t gone all that well, thank you very much.

Badda-bing badda-boom, I present you with one humdinger of a nail-biting season finale!

But that isn’t the case – to be fair there was an elegance and a sense of the story nicely playing out as it should so kudos for not padding things out just to carve out an obvious finale – and here we are, back in the Federation to find everyone’s favourite group of idealistic humans and aliens are in a bit of a pickle.

One made to 24 different Klingon recipes, in fact.

Yes, the Klingons, who never really took to all that T’Kuvma unity guff – L’Rell (Mary Chieffo) remains a true believer for what that’s worth although it’s a fair bet that a newly de-Kliogon’d Asy Tyler, played by Shazad Latif, won’t be joining in worship anytime soon – are waging 24 micro wars, as each House attempts to gain the upper hand, grab some territory and make things thoroughly unpleasant for the Federation.


Awww they’re getting on like real friends and parents of the same person from different universes (image courtesy CBS)


How unpleasant you ask?

Why as Admiral Cornwell (Jayne Brook) and Ambassador Sarek (James Frain) aka Michael Burnham’s (Sonequa Martin-Green) make clear, decidedly, nastily, damn near fatally so.

Everywhere planets are being occupied, citizens killed and possessions laid waste by an enemy that talks a lofty game of honour etc but in the end is as grubby and dirty as any enemy.

Even somewhat idealistic L’Rell is ruthlessly pragmatic when confronted by Cornwell, all but admitting you gotta do what you gotta do to lay waste to your enemy, one that the Klingons have profoundly misunderstood, as Cornwell underscores, with inclusiveness and acceptance being mistaken for rampant erasure of differences, a common error by fascists who can’t see the inclusive, diverse community for the hate-filled assumptions.

The only option, since talking is not going to get anyone anywhere, is to beam inside one of the gigantic caverns that make up the Klingon homeworld of Q’onos – a smoking ruin in the Mirror Universe but annoyingly alive in the Federation’s slice of the time/space continuum – with the Discovery, map every last bit of the planet and take the war to the heart of the enemy.

Wait, what? Who came up with that crazy plan, which requires btw Lt Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and Tilly (Mary Wiseman) to terraform the distant moon of Veda to gather more spores for the drive, a plan that is full of ballsy disregard for the usual norms of warfare, common sense and … oh right Emperor Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) who is not thrilled to be stuck on the wrong side of the Mirror Universe/Federation universe divide.

That is, until she and Sarak have a tasty little tête-à-tête where they discuss what it’s like to raise a problem like Burnham – they’re such warm, loving, caring parents … awww … yeah, no, not really – and the extra lengths the Federation can go to kick the Klingons’ split-24-ways arse.

It’s at this point that you realise how devious logic can be; oh the Vulcans paint it as lofty and more noble and evolved that mere emotionality but that also makes it scarily utilitarian in its execution, making any idea with a sound construct, and fascistically-repulsive though they are, the Terran Empire has those in hideously-effective abundance, quite appealing.

Sarek naturally says nothing to anyone but you can bet your Andorian ushaan-tor that Sarek will pop up in the finale episode “Take My Hand” (cue Dido; if they don’t use this song it will be a soundtrack crime) and throw a massive logic-curveball into proceedings.


Hurrah! Saru has grown into a caring, compassionate but firm Captain who is … pushed aside the first chance what’s left of Starfleet gets (image courtesy CBS)


Big picture warmongering aside, “The War Without, The War Within” also found some time to explore the emotional fallout from episodes past, all of which revolved around Lt. Tyler who is now down one Voq dual personality, but alas also a Burnham too.

Encouraged by Saru (Doug Jones), who’s become a dream captain of pin-up proportions (for his warmth, firmness, understanding and empathy), to play a part in Tyler’s healing, Burnham avoids her former lover like the proverbial, only finding confronting him to give him a “Dear John” send-off.

It’s not as coldhearted as it might seem.

Granted Tyler is like a little boy lost, adrift from Starfleet and, in many ways, himself – who is he after all? The doctors aren’t entirely sure, and neither is he – and needs someone to love and believe in him, but is it Burnham who he tried to kill?

On purely logical terms, and this is where Sarek would both excel and suck big bananas as a psychologist, Burnham knows Tyler was not responsible for many of his actions.

But he was culpable for keeping the growing realisation that something was seriously f**ked up inside from Burnham, even though he’d promised he wouldn’t, which broke some major trust barriers, and then there is the small matter of him trying to take her life, a reality that can’t be ignored, if nothing else, for wholly physical reasons:

“I felt your hands around my neck and I looked into your eyes and I saw how much you wanted to kill me.”

The scene between Tyler and Burnham, masterfully and poignantly acted by Latif and Martin-Green who enjoy powerful chemistry, was utterly engrossing and deeply-touching, as was the small scene between a clearly-repentant, tearful Tyler and Stamets who simply wanted to make sure his husband’s killer was suffering all kinds of stomach-churning, existential-angst for his crime.

It wasn’t the typical “Oh well, they were possessed/controlled etc” brush-off from Star Trek but a real-world, you are guilty of your crimes couple of scenes, resonant of the top quality writing that has sustained Discovery through a first season that has balanced action, emotional introspection and social commentary with equal aplomb, and which will no doubt deliver up a scintillating, gripping finale in just under a week’s time.

  • What lies ahead in “Take My Hand”? A wedding perhaps? Haha … NO. It looks like some kickass fighting, and the biggest war – between political expediency and the upholding of principles …


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