Star Trek: Discovery: Season 1 – Episode 14 ‘The War Without, The War Within’ REVIEW

Discovery gears up to fight the Klingons again.

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Now that Discovery’s back in the normal universe, it’s painting itself in Starfleet colours again – and of course, evil Georgiou is along for the ride. Before she can be safely locked away, she spots Saru casually mentions how she and Michael were dining on Kelpian entrails only hours ago. Saru takes this on the chin – as a member of what was not that long ago a prey species it must surely sting, but then, he knows as well as anyone that anything goes in the evil universe.

Michael openly admits that she saved evil Georgiou because she couldn’t stand to see any version of Georgiou die again, although does throw out any number of better reasons to do so, like destabilising the Terran empire. Saru still reckons it was a bad idea, but chalks it up as a wash because they got back to their universe alright. Then he mentions how Ash has had Voq surgically removed from his head, and would probably appreciate seeing a friendly face, to which Michael is all like ‘too soon’ and ‘hell no’. If you’re counting, that’s two decisions in a matter of minutes she’s made based purely on emotion – so if nothing else, she’s really being a terrible Vulcan.

While Michael can’t deal with seeing Ash right now, Saru can, and hears out his harrowing tale. Doubly harrowing, given as he now has Voq’s memories, and has a much better idea of what was actually done to him. As they’re still not completely sure what’s going on in Ash’s head, especially since it was L’Rell who did the surgery, Saru gives him a tracking bracelet to keep tabs on him – but categorically refuses to hold him responsible for Culber’s murder.

The other big shock last week was that the Klingons have more-or-less won the war, and that Starfleet’s been shattered, so on getting back to the bridge, they have a look to see if they can find any remnants of Starfleet. Conveniently, though, the remnants of Starfleet almost immediately find them – a boarding party beams into the bridge, then Sarek and Cornwell join them. Sarek does a quick mind-meld with Saru to be sure he is who he says he is. Now, forcible mind-melds are something Star Trek generally depicts as analogous to sexual assault – but this is war, and lord knows somebody out there ships it.

Anyway, Saru’s mind checks out, and Sarek is now filled in on Discovery’s wacky misadventures in the evil universe – including how they brought back emperor Georgiou, and how Ash turned out to be an undercover Klingon. They hot-foot it back to the only remaining Starbase, but the Klingons have got there first, wiping out its thousands-strong staff, slinging graffiti up the side, and probably turning it into some sort of Klingon vice den.

The graffiti is the symbol of one of the Klingon great houses – not of the unified empire. Since Discovery took out Kol, they’ve been split up into basically independent factions, who are all having a go at the Starfleet. And a go is certainly what they’ve had, since Starfleet are now pretty much pushed back to Earth, and the few remaining ships have resigned themselves to one great last stand of defiance.

Curiously, Ash mentions (per Voq’s memories) that he was the prototype of surgically turning Klingons into humans to act as spies, which obviously worked. And this is presumably what Sarek was worried about when he mind-melded Saru, but this isn’t mentioned on the laundry list of Klingon atrocities we now hear about from Cornwell. Which is a surprisingly subtle touch from the show that was worried it hadn’t made the Klingons sufficiently evil and so had them eat Georgiou.

And speaking of the cartoonishly evil, as Michael notes, the Terrans destroyed the Klingon empire, so they ask evil Georgiou for some advice. Showing all the military acumen you’d expect from an evil emperor, she suggests that instead of waiting for the Klingons to attack their homeworld, they attack the Klingons’ homeworld instead. The consensus is that it’s just crazy enough to work.

Of course, to actually get over to Kronos they’ll need the mushroom drive, and they’re running perilously low on spores. But while they don’t have enough to make the jump, they do have just enough to seed a convenient moon and turn it into a mushroom world. An elaborate, spectacular sequence of pods full of mushroom descending on the moon and quickly taking root is unfortunately intercut with shots of the bridge crew looking all pleased by a process they cannot possibly make out happening from up in orbit.

Over the course of these preparations for mushroom-based battle, Michael gets a brief reunion with Sarek, which is about as curt as their relationship always is. He also notes that she’s not exactly been a brilliant Vulcan, but that it’s unfair to expect much different from a human. While evil Georgiou pegs him as Michael’s foster father, this is unfortunately after he’s left, so there’s no opportunity for Sarek and evil Georgiou to get into an icily polite battle of the helicopter parents – at least, not yet.

Elsewhere, the crew are acting all suspicious of Ash, with the canteen all hushing up when he walks in. Tilly immediately breaks the deadlock and goes to sit with him, which apparently prompts everyone else there to realise they’re not in a tedious high-school drama about wealthy children. Later, he apologises to Stamets, understanding completely why the guy doesn’t take it well – but given his pre-existing relationship with Michael, when they finally come face to face, he somehow doesn’t understand what she’s so upset about, somehow he brings up her dead parents, really it’s amazing it doesn’t turn into a screaming match.

Poor old Saru, who shepherded the Discovery back out of the evil universe , only had about five minutes in command this episode before Cornwell turned up to hijack the show. Obviously for Discovery’s vital mission over to Kronos, they need someone they can trust completely in command, someone who knows the crew and has a solid track record with them, so they…put evil Georgiou in command and claim that she’s the normal universe Georgiou, who they’re pretending never died. The best explanation I can think of is that, after an episode that’s heavy on people in rooms talking, the writers remembered they needed a twist.

 

The Trek essentials

The Terran empire rides again.

to explore strange new worlds‘: With the mushroom moon, they’re going so far as to create a strange new world. Sure, they don’t explain how the mushrooms can grow there, or how they grow so fast, but it certainly looks very nice.

to seek out new life and new civilisations‘: The Klingons continue their slide into being ersatz space orks by splintering into tribally aligned warbands – who have somehow still brought Starfleet to its knees via suicide bombings. Topical!

to boldly go where no one has gone before‘: One criticism I saw of the revelation that Lorca had been evil all along was that it flew in the face of everything the cast and crew had said about Lorca’s gung-ho attitude being, at bottom, a nuanced take on a more warlike philosophy than we’d previously seen in Starfleet captains (even Archer). Now that Cornwell’s installed evil Georgiou as captain of the Discovery, it seems that they’re trying to present the ethos of the Terran empire – in all of its utterly amoral, slaving, backstabbing, Saru-eating glory – as a serious moral alternative to Starfleet’s soft-liberal-democratic expansionism.

(Ironically, the creators have claimed it’s the Klingons, not this Lorca/evil Georgiou school of thought, who are an analogy for the modern populist right.)

Previous captains, most prominently Sisko, have gone to some fairly extreme lengths when their backs were to the wall, but there was always an awareness that the ends do not necessarily justify the means, and that what they were doing was fucked up. So yes, by any measure, this is somewhere Star Trek really has never gone before.

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