Mid-season finales are a weird idea. Arbitrarily forcing not just one but two bigger-than-average cliffhanger moments into a season can disrupt pacing and force writers into corners. Thankfully, Star Trek: Discovery has already demonstrated its willingness to go to extremes. There are multiple episodes before this one (including last week’s) with conclusions that would’ve worked just fine as a temporary stopping point. But “Into the Forest I Go” pulls out all the stops. Space battles! Explosions! Dead Klingons! PTSD! And a not-at-all-terrible ending that leaves plenty of things to chew on during the two-month break ahead of us.
I talked last week about how I admired the show’s energy even when I questioned some of its results, and that goes twice as much here. While I still wish the show had a chance to breathe more, and give us a sense of the Discovery as a place, and not just a series of sets, the momentum here is impressive. The episode’s climax has poor Stamets making 133 spore drive jumps while Burnham fights General Kol, and the rushing music and rapid-fire editing make for a memorable, thrilling sequence. When the show hits its marks, it’s fun to just go along for the ride without asking too many questions.
Of course, questions are sort of what I do, so I have a couple. Or if not questions, then at least concerns. “Into the Forest I Go” has Tyler going into shock when he finds L’Rell still alive on the Klingon ship. It’s a corny sequence that namechecks PTSD without really being interested in telling a story about the condition; the attacks are essentially a plot device to force Burnham out onto the bridge alone. It’s also more than a little annoying that Lorca immediately chose Tyler for the mission but resisted his selection of Burnham—the fact that no one thought a guy who’d been held captive and tortured by Klingons might not deal well with facing Klingons again is about as weird as the fact that Lorca made Tyler head of security before the dude even had a chance to take a vacation.
All of this may sound like nitpicking (okay, it probably is), and it’s clear that Tyler’s trauma is going to be a major plot concern going forward. The scene with him and Burnham late in the hour at least tries to give his problems some definition, although his visions of Klingon sex are more campy than legitimately unsettling. But I point all of the above out because it’s one of the main problems with the show’s approach to storytelling and serialization in general: the ends justify the means structure.
Tyler has to be on the mission because he has to see L’Rell and freak out. Not only that, but the writers wanted Tyler to be a recurring character, so that’s what he is. Lorca’s “I don’t play by the rules but I get results” style (which is again explicitly referenced here) covers a wide variety of plot sins, a necessary evil in order for the show to deliver the amount of story it wants to deliver in the episodes allotted to it. The result is something that is often thrilling in the moment, but struggles to have a sense of cohesion and consistency.
Still, nine episodes is at least enough to build some sense of shared history, and if not all the big moments on “Into the Forest I Go” are entirely earned, few of them land entirely dead. Burnham taking on Kol in single combat is absurd but also pretty dang exciting; her getting back Captain Georgiou’s Starfleet badge is more a reminder of how cheaply the show discarded the character, but it at least offers a moderate sense of closure. And it is deeply satisfying to watch the crew of the Discovery successfully plot out the location of the cloaked Ship of the Dead before blowing it to hell. Kol is not a very interesting villain, so this was as good an end for him as any.
Really, though, considering how much time the show spent on the Klingon threat, it’s a shame that none of the Klingons introduced on the seem all that developed or compelling. There’s precious little personality in any of them, just a lot of snarling and double-crosses, as though the writers just summed up what they assumed Klingons were and didn’t bother to think any harder about it. At their best, Klingons are ridge-faced Vikings, all bluster and ass-kicking and having a blast doing it. There’s no sense of humor to any of these characters, and, stripped of their thin layer of pre-established culture, nothing to distinguish them.
As for the crew of the Discovery, the big project to use sensors to find the cloaked Klingon ship is one of the first times that it’s felt like everyone has come together for a clear purpose: using the magic of science to kill a bunch of aliens. And while it’s not exactly the most optimistic of team-building exercises, it was great to have a sense of the ship working as a team, and not just a loose conglomeration of ideas.
It’s good to have Admiral Cornwell back from the presumed dead (what is it with Klingons dumping live people in the corpse room? Slow torture?), although it’s odd that the show seems to have dropped the whole “Lorca keeps disobeying and should be fired” angle. Maybe the offer of an award was a thinly veiled attempt to get him to lower his guard. Jason Isaacs is still strong in the role, but it’s frustrating to see him take more and more focus away from Burnham, the nominal lead. Who knows what’ll happen in the back half of the season, though. With Stamets lost in the white, and the Discovery transported to an unknown location (although they’re surrounded by the wrecks of Klingon ships), who knows what comes next.
So where does Star Trek: Discovery stand at this point? It still feels too soon to say anything definitive, but while the show has yet to deliver on the promise of its first two episodes (and its franchise roots), there’s still potential here. The longer it goes on, the greater the chance that the people working behind the scenes will get a better sense of how to tell the stories they want to tell, and the easier it will be to judge the show as its own thing, and not simply as a failure to reflect what we were expecting back at us. There are considerable problems, and many of those problems seem more or less baked into the premise (is there a single premise?), but I continue to have hope. See you next year.
- Okay, if you’re going on a secret spy mission aboard an enemy ship, maybe disable the speakers on your space probes.
- I appreciate the show’s efforts to make Culber and Stamet’s relationship more than just a concept.
- “There’s a clearing in the forest. That’s how they go.” is what I think Stamets said while in the spore drive.
- Klingon nipples. You see something new every day, I guess.
- Something has been done to Tyler. L’Rell’s “Soon” didn’t come off as a casual threat.