Star Trek Discovery: “The War Without, The War Within”

The latest episode of Star Trek: Discovery has so much about it that is fantastic, from its earliest moments to its final seconds. Much of the story focuses on the presence of the emperor of the Terran Empire in the mirror universe, who is having trouble adjusting, as she refers to how recently she and Michael dined on the entrails of Saru’s brethren, but now she defers to one. But the heart of the matter will persistently be whether those in our universe want her to adapt, or would prefer to learn her ways and follow them to victory. The title of the episode is thus a perfect one: “The War Without, The War Within.”

Another central storyline is that of Ash Tyler. When Saru asks a Starfleet medical officer whether he is now human or Klingon, she says that it is impossible to say without understanding the reassignment procedure. Ash says that he can access Voq’s memories, but it is like watching someone else’s life. He speaks of how Voq and L’Rell were the only true believers left. They were in love, and believed that taking the Discovery would bring followers back to the house of T’Kuvma. Ash says frankly, “I belong in the brig.” But Saru puts a security bracelet on him and says that, while Tyler’s privileges aboard Discovery will be limited, he will not take his freedom.

Admiral Katrina Cornwell and Sarek board the Discovery looking for Lorca. She overrides the computer, while he mind melds with Saru. They learn (as do we) that the two Discoveries switched places, and the Terran one was destroyed in our universe.

As we learn about the unfolding war that has ensued in the intervening months, we hear of suicide missions carried out against Starbases, and that as the houses are disunited, they are fighting 24 enemies instead of one. Yet they have something in common, competing for dominance over each other precisely by trying to destroy the Federation.

Theologically, the discussion of the mirror universe as a source of hope for those who are grieving is something that I have blogged about before. The knowledge that versions of one’s dead loved ones might be alive in a parallel universe must therefore be buried.

When Ash runs into Stamets, the former apologizes, and the latter says to him, “You killed a good man, a man that I loved…Does it gut you, sicken you?” When Ash nods, Stamets says, “Good – then maybe you’re still human after all.” Later, when Ash enters the cafeteria, it grows quiet, and Ash takes a table by himself. But then Tilly goes to sit with Tyler, followed by others who follow her example. (See the recent IO9 article written by a fan who has gone from hating Tilly’s character to loving it).

The Discovery heads to Starbase 1 – only to find it has been seized by Klingons. The admiral is frozen and so Saru orders them to speed away at warp. Later the admiral goes to talk to L’Rell, who says that T’Kuvma was wrong when he said that humans are without courage. The Admiral says (among other things) that T’Kuvma was an ignorant fool. Asks if the murder of innocent people is what their messiah wanted. Asking how the war will end, L’Rell says it won’t: “Conquer us or we will never relent.”

Michael Burnham says that the time for peace is past. “I started this war, and I need to finish it.” The Emperor says that the Klingons are like cancer cells, constantly dividing. And so their only course of action is to destroy the cancer at its source – Kronos. Sarek says that logic shows that federation tactics are not working, and we must adapt. And so the makings of a plan begin to come together. The Discovery can jump inside subterranean caverns on Kronos. They need to grow spores to accomplish this, however, and so they head to the Veda system. Meanwhile, Sarek and the Emperor discuss victory, methods, morals, and logic.

Later, Sarek speaks to Michael of her love for Ash, and says there is grace in that, for what is greater than to love our enemy? He tells her not to regret loving someone. Tilly has similar advice for Michael, saying that “The way we treat Tyler is who we will become…Say what you have to say, even if it is goodbye.”

On a moon in the Vega system we get to see terraforming with spores – something that seems out of place, as though it is more developed than what we see in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan’s Genesis Project. Michael is moved to make comparisons with her own experience, as she finally speaks with Ash Tyler. “We created something beautiful today in a desolate wasteland that had never seen life.” She describes the work of reclaiming life as “punishing” and “solitary.”

The episode turns its focus onto our own context when the admiral says, “The acts of violence against us are the acts of a foe without reason without honor.” She speaks of them as a threat to our way of life In talking about their mission to Kronos, she mentions captain Archer and the XL-1. The admiral then finally introduces Captain Philippa Georgiou, whom they “rescued” (not revealing that it is a different person from a different universe), as the one who will lead the mission to Kronos.

Star Trek: Discovery has evolved over the season into a truly wonderful show, one that addresses social issues in a manner that seems to me both more direct, and yet less heavy handed and blatant, as much of the Original Series. The snippets of scenes from next week highlight where it is headed, which we could already see: the end of the season is all about testing our values, and whether we are willing to compromise and even abandon them in order to “win.” The way the admiral “dehumanizes” and misrepresents Klingons has direct application to enemies who have carried out suicide attacks against us in our world today, and who are regularly presented as without reason or honor, merely a threat to our way of life that must be wiped out completely before it can do the same to us. But if we become a society without reason or honor, bent on destroying our enemy at all costs, we have become precisely that which we claim to be opposing. And so in an effort to “win,” we have lost anything that might have made it desirable and a positive thing for us to win, when viewed from the perspective of morality and of human existence as a whole.

Are you loving this series as much as I am? Why or why not?

"None of that personal information about me is relevant. There is no reason to conclude ..."

Faith in God without Fear of ..."
"Here is a survey which finds that the anti-scientific attitude of the modern American Church ..."

Faith in God without Fear of ..."
"I like the article but perhaps you should discuss the science and show that science ..."

Faith in God without Fear of ..."
"Thanks for all the urls on this topic."

Faith in God without Fear of ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • John MacDonald

    The Klingon religion is fascinating! It’s interesting that in “TNG” The Klingons engaged in a “Noble Lie” type of scenario to bring back Kahlesse for the good they thought it would do for their society: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I3wZAp0ELjY

  • Josh Blair

    What do you think of all the talk about the number of Pedophiles who are found out to be into Star Trek?

    And are you aware of George Takei’s remarks in that regard?

    • What a bizarre comment. When so many people around the world are fans of a franchise, you are bound to find overlaps with every category, positive or negative.

      • Josh Blair

        Google Star Trek and Pedophilia. Note especially the Huff Post article on the issue…the connection may well be more than just an overlap or coincidence.

        • This is simply a bizarre follow-up to a bizarre orriginal comment. If you Google anything – Holocaust denial, Jesus mythicism, young-earth creationism – you will find it well represented on the internet, but that does not mean that the ideas have depth or substance to them that would merit their being taken seriously. So please talk about substance. What in the details of Star Trek episodes, films, novels, videogames, and/or role playing games seems to you to encourage criminal activity against children? Merely finding overlap between Star Trek and pedophilia, or Republican politicians and pedophilia, or Catholic priests and pedophilia, does not automatically indicate that there is causation rather than coincidental correlation. It may be present, but that involves analysis and argument with evidence of a sort that you are not even attempting to provide.

          • Josh Blair

            Read the Huffington post article on Star Trek and pedophilia for the details that answer your question. Or just evade it if you prefer.

          • Me not going elsewhere to read a source that has no particular authority on this or any matter, on a topic with no connection to the content of this episode or my blog post about it, is not evading. You refusing to provide evidence and discuss relevant details, on the other hand, most certainly is…

          • Josh Blair

            I have told you about the article that explains their evidence and arguments. You refusing to even look at it is what is clearly evasion. Obviously it is something you can’t face.

          • I am not refusing to look at anything. I am telling you to present the evidence, rather than merely asserting that it exists somewhere online.

  • This show has been such a delight. I’ve been loving it more with each new episode. I love how they are tackling the tough issues and not shying from looking at the dark side and how to stay true to principles. Klingons have always been used to make wonderful comments about being human. DS9 used Klingons to talk about marriage and religion.