Star Trek Discovery midseason finale takes the show to strange new places
If you’ve been wondering whether to jump on board with Star Trek: Discovery, the show CBS is using to sell its $6-a-month All Access streaming service, Sunday night’s episode answered your questions with an unqualified yes … just in time for its long mid-season break.
When the show returns in January — spoilers for the mid-season finale follow — the crew of the Discovery will literally be in a new universe. And that’s not the only place that Episode 10, “Into the Forest I Go,” took us for the first time.
We also got what I believe is Star Trek’s first proper, full-on gay kiss, as well as its first ever sex scene. Unfortunately, the latter turned out to be a PTSD-inducing Klingon-on-human rape, one that shockingly subverted all our expectations about one character.
The crew of Discovery spent the episode collaborating on a clever way to beat the Klingons, mercifully destroying the Klingon coffin ship that has been one of the least successful parts of the new show. (If I never again have to watch a long scene in Klingon with English subtitles, while actors in indistinguishable hefty rubber masks try to emote, it’ll be too soon.)
The manner of that destruction was a worthy send-off for the whole story arc. Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) got to return to the coffin ship, avenge her former captain and hold her own against one of the indistinguishable Klingons in single combat.
Her look of quiet determination as she returned to the fight again and again was the fiercest thing I’ve seen in a while. She then transported back to the Discovery in one of the show’s coolest mid-air beam-me-up shots.
Lt. Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) got to use his weird spore drive interface to map the Klingon ship’s cloaking device, which required 133 jumps around it in rapid succession. Star Trek has always inspired science careers, and I have no doubt some kid watching this episode is going to get a job in 3D mapping because of it.
All that jumping was hugely damaging to Stamets’ health, and one of the episode’s sour notes was how ridiculously unconcerned everyone on board seemed to be about that. Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs) kept blithely insisting that “trillions of lives are at stake,” which seems about right for him, but Stamets’ boyfriend, Dr. Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz), didn’t exactly protest as much as he should’ve while he violated his Hippocratic oath with the love of his life.
Just as we the audience were afraid that the jumps might have killed Stamets, the showrunners decided to give us a long, tone-deaf slow-motion sequence where Burnham stared at the badge of her heroic former captain, who died 8 episodes ago. That’s great, guys, but what about the hero whose life is currently in danger?
Stamets survived, of course, and decided to use the spore drive one last time to jump the crew “home” — back to a safe Starbase before the remaining Klingons found them. With all the discussion about what he insisted would be his last jump, and the aforementioned kiss with Culber, this was the show rather ham-fistedly flagging that something was about to go sideways just before the credits.
The audience’s first assumption: that the last jump was going to kill Stamets. But if you were paying attention earlier when Stamets was talking to Lorca, you’d have noticed that they were talking technobabble about how Stamets’ previous jumps had mapped out what appeared to be portals to parallel universes. “You’re not just a scientist, you’re an explorer,” said Lorca, showcasing the captain’s admirable skill at sussing out what really motivates his crew.
And explorers of strange new universes are what they now are. Because Stamets, now with white pupils, made an “incomplete jump” to somewhere that’s completely off the star charts. He ended the episode on the floor, babbling about how there’s “so many of them.”
Is this an indication that Discovery is about to enter Quantum Leap territory, showing us a different parallel universe each week as the ship attempts to make the leap home? This certainly wouldn’t be out of character for the Star Trek franchise, which has long been obsessed with mirror universes and alternate timelines; heck, the whole rebooted J.J. Abrams movie franchise is set in an alternate universe.
It would also be a nice way to explain why neither the Discovery nor its superfast spore drive show up in the original Star Trek, which is set a mere 10 years in its future. (We have to keep reminding ourselves, when looking at these flashy uniforms on a state-of-the-art bridge, that Discovery is actually a prequel and that Starfleet will be full of 1960s haircuts and miniskirts within a decade.)
If the good ship Discovery disappeared forever, Starfleet would no doubt declare the whole technology too dangerous to replicate, and instead rely on good old-fashioned dilithium crystal-based warp drives going forward. Discovery the show would then become a kind of quantum version of Star Trek Voyager, another series that found success in the setup of a stranded ship far from home.
Finally, let’s talk about that scene — the one that revealed Lt. Ash Tyler, Michael Burnham’s crush, probably isn’t the Klingon spy many of us thought he was. (Or is he about to become one?)
The quick-shot flashbacks to his time in captivity for 7 months on a Klingon ship became progressively scarier. We didn’t know what happened to him, but it evidently involved a circular saw and a lot of blood.
Then Tyler revealed that he had to … do things … to survive that long. Something shameful, something that was still triggering his PTSD nightmares. And then we saw it, the scene that will haunt your nightmares: his female Klingon captor L’Rell on top of him, revealing for the first time in a non-porn context that Klingons have regular breasts.
This was rape, plain and simple, no matter that Tyler consented in order to survive.
“What did you do to me?” Tyler asks L’Rell, now herself in captivity in Discovery‘s brig. He meant that she did something else, something she said we’ll see the result of “soon,” something that may perhaps trigger some kind of Klingon sleeper cell within him.
But we may as well ask the same question of the showrunners. What, with this scene, did you do to us? And — especially in the current environment, with Hollywood in turmoil over sexual abuse — will you treat what happened to Tyler with the seriousness it deserves?
We’ll find out in January.