I’ve spent so much time in these reviews talking about the ways that Discovery isn’t Star Trek (or at least, it isn’t what I would typically expect from Star Trek) that I might as well spend column space this week saying what the show does get right. It’s a very specific thing, but it’s important, and while “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum” isn’t perfect, it continues the show’s slow process of discovering itself. Most importantly, it has a certain kind of energy that I associate mostly with the original Trek: the crazy intense everything-turned-up-to-eleven vibe you get off a group of people struggling to survive on the frontier.
Whether or not that vibe was intentional on TOS doesn’t really matter. (It always feels mostly like the influence of science fiction at the time; punchy, big ideas, horrible sexism.) The intensity which could often border on camp gave the franchise’s first series a personality from the start: rarely subtle, intermittently absurd, it felt like a universe where anything could happen, but whatever did happen would never be quite enough to stop the crew of the Enterprise from getting bogged down in their usual shit.
The crew of the Discovery is a bit more professional, what with the war and everything, but that intensity remains prevalent. Everyone just seems like a bit much, and their decisions are nearly always made by extremes. And yet considering their situation, that has a certain logic to it. Again, it may not be intentional on the writers’ part, and it may just be a function of a short season to tell a full story in. But the effect is to recapture at least part of what made the original series such a thrill, even if it’s something that people don’t always associate with Trek on the whole.
After last week’s not bad time loop entry, “Sir Vis Pacem” (the full title translates to “If you want peace, prepare for war”) gets back to fighting the Klingons. To the bad, that means more Klingon scenes, with the apparent death of the captive Admiral Cornwell, and the also apparent destruction of L’Rell’s hopes of revenge. Of the Klingon subplots we’ve had post-pilot, this is the least obnoxious; L’Rell is an interesting character, the scenes don’t run very long, and at the very least, it all ties together in the end, with Kol’s ship heading to meet the Discovery at Pahvo. Still not sure we need this stuff, but if it’s gonna be there, it helps to keep it lively.
More importantly, much of the hour is focused on a single storyline. (There’s a bit with Stamets and Tilly that manages to isolate the show’s most abrasive characters in their own subplot, but it, too, is mercifully brief.) After an opening battle scene that helps to give a sense of how useful the Discovery is in combat, and how deadly the Klingon “invisibility screen” is, we learn that Burnham, Tyler, and Saru are on an away mission on the planet Pahvo. The planet’s organic life generates a specific frequency that the Federation hopes to use to track the unseen Klingon ships.
I still struggle a little with the science on this show, but at least the Pahvo mission continues the show’s interest in biological technology. And the actual story, with Saru making contact with the locals (glowy mist things) and being inadvertently seduced by their pure, peaceful existence, creates a strong conflict while also deepening our understanding of his character. His race lives in constant fear, and just this once, he’s given a chance to feel safe. So he tries to protect that feeling from outside influence, with predictable results.
Tyler and Burnham’s response to this is a little frustrating, although I’ll be honest: I’m not entirely sure if my frustration comes from uneven writing or just the fact that I still haven’t adjusted my expectations to what this show is trying to be. (I had the same concern last week, if I’m being honest.) But the fact that Saru destroys their communicators and they make no immediate effort to incapacitate him is odd. They seem more concerned over the outcome of their mission than their own lives or Saru’s.
Such is war, I guess. But one of the problems with the show’s narrow scope is that it’s trying to tell an epic story through a very small window. As a result, we rarely get a real feel for what the war with the Klingons is actually like; instead, we have characters making sudden, whiplash inducing choice based on their repeated reassurance that this, this is exactly what’s needed to save the day. As I said, that does create a lot of nervy energy, which I appreciate, but it’s not particularly good worldbuilding. We should be able to understand why these things are important without having people remind us.
That said, this is still a solid entry. The climax has Burnham facing off against a crazed Saru, and the sight of him racing to stop her was both silly and a bit creepy; even if Saru is under the influence, the conflict is earned, given what the two have been through before now. It’s also clever to have the Pahvans inadvertently betray the Discovery (and put themselves at risk) by sending a signal to the Klingons and Starfleet. The floating music clouds, having no experience with war themselves, think that open communication is the best way to put all the squabbling to rest. We’ll have to wait til next week’s episode to find out if they’re right. (They aren’t.)
- Another reason to appreciate the Pahvan twist: it’s like a less magical version of all those TOS episodes where super powerful beings step in to meddle with human affairs.
- I tried to write down all the names of the bridge crew that we haven’t seen much of so far: Detmer (who I think is another survivor from the Discovery), Rhys on the weapons, Owosekun on the sensors, and Airiam, the cool white-skinned metal lady. It’d be nice if at least one or two of them got some depth at some point.
- Stamets calls Tilly “captain,” so I’m assuming the spore drive is letting him see through time.
- Is the Admiral dead? It’s an abrupt death for a character who’d seemed to be fairly important, but L’Rell did leave her in the corpse room.