Star Trek: Discovery – The War Without, The War Within Review
Here's a lesson for any aspiring television writers out there: Once you have spent thirteen episodes building a world and characters, you don't need puzzle box plot devices, twists and turns in identity, or jumps between universes and through time. You can just let the characters live and breathe in a story that furthers the plot and remembers how to have some fun. Which is exactly what "The War Without, The War Within" did. And, in doing so, gave us the best episode of Star Trek: Discovery
since the pilot. The story was engaging without relying on tricking us with unearned twists, it brought back some of the show's most interesting supporting characters (always a joy to see Jayne Brook's Admiral Cornwell and James Frain's Sarek, both of whom lent a feeling of the adults finally joining the party and calming down the out of control kids), and the plot moved forward in a meaningful way (we finally found out just what was going on with the Klingon Empire!). Why it took so damn long to get to the point where the writers decided to focus on substance over flash is beyond me, but I'm glad it happened prior to the end of the season. This gives me hope that things might be different in season two. Onto the spoilers.
Since so much of what happened this episode was of the good, I want to briefly touch on the one major lingering issue in the series before moving onto the positives. And that issue is Ash Tyler. By having everyone chorus to the audience that this isn't the same Ash that killed Culber (something I can't see the character ever really recovering from in the eyes of some audience members, no matter what happens), it felt as if we were expected to take the Tilly route and let it go. Sure, Stamets isn't going to be able to do that any time soon (and thank goodness we didn't get a simple forgiveness there). And I'm thrilled the writers aren't letting Burnham let him off the hook as well. But I don't see how this character can be redeemed (which you know is what the writers ultimately want). The easy way out is to let him die a valiant death saving someone (probably Burnham, but Stamets would be the better option). Putting him on a redemption arc is the harder option, seeing as how some of the pain he caused will never truly heal- something many shows are afraid to accept in a major character. I don't trust this writing staff to pull off this delicate story arc without bungling things and letting Tyler off easy. But if they can manage a nuanced and complex story that doesn't lead to Tyler being universally forgiven, but allows him to build up enough trust to keep the character working towards a redemption that will never truly be achieved, I'm here for it. Time will tell on this one.
Outside of my lingering worries about the Tyler storyline, I don't have any complaints about the rest of the episode. My biggest piece of praise is that the show remembered how to have some fun again. So often throughout this season, it seemed that the writers thought the show could only be dark and dour or an hour littered with puns and lighter fare. But, as was proven time and again through the best Trek series (Deep Space Nine
), and the best sci-fi series ever, Battlestar Galactica
, brevity can coexist with a hard-hitting war arc. In fact, it's necessary for the show to survive. And, most importantly, the good guys need wins every once and awhile. Seeing that planet start pumping out spores made me smile. It was great to see the crew working together to solve a problem and help the Federation live to fight another day. It was a small victory, but a much needed one. Action is all well and good, but human victories are just as important to the story and characters.
To that end, seeing Sarek and Cornwell figure out a way to use the Terran Georgiou to lead the mission to Qo'noS was another instance of smart plotting. Aside from the requirement that if you have Michelle Yeoh available, you must use her . . . because why wouldn't you . . . this also allows Starfleet a means to get Burnham out of her Court Martial and back in the game (as I suggested last week, an alive Georgiou means one less charge against Burnham). Another point I enjoyed: Cornwell is the ranking officer on the ship, yet she's perfectly content to let others command- it's nice to see a Starfleet admiral who is ok not being on the bridge of a ship and who actually enjoys her less adventurous job of keeping the Federation running. This current version of Discovery is the one I envisioned when the series began: a story of a diverse team fighting against all odds to defeat a vicious enemy and save the Federation. This is the show I hope continues throughout next week's finale and into season two. And if we never see Lorca again, I won't shed a tear (and don't think I didn't notice that throw-away "A Federation officer like Lorca would never survive in the Terran universe" line- I know that means he's probably still alive there and will show up at some point).