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

Star Trek Discovery: “The War Without, The War Within” February 6, 2018

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?

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