Burnham suffers a major betrayal while navigating among the Terrans.
“The Wolf Inside,” Star Trek: Discovery‘s second episode following a midseason hiatus, was messy, confusing, and often thrilling — sort of like the Terran-dominated alternate universe in which the show’s titular crew find themselves stranded.
Multiple strands of Discovery‘s plot converged Sunday night, aided by the surprise returns of initial series fixtures — albeit, as their mirror universe selves — including Voq, Sarek, and Philippa Georgiou. After Burnham tamped down insurrection by killing acting I.S.S Shenzhou captain Danby Connor at the conclusion of last week’s episode, “Despite Yourself,” Burnham seemed capable of masquerading as a vicious Terran leader long enough to transmit crucial data back to Discovery to ensure the ship’s return to its universe. But numerous curveballs and a key betrayal in “The Wolf Inside” cast her aptitude into doubt.
For better and for worse, the episode revolved around Lt. Ash Tyler. When Tyler was rescued from Klingon captivity in “Choose Your Pain” and subsequently appointed Discovery’s chief of security, he provided a boost of roguish flair to Discovery. But recent episodes have excessively emphasized his Klingon allegiances — prior to “The Wolf Inside,” viewers knew he was sympathetic to the Federation’s enemies in some way — and his romantic relationship with Burnham.
Early in “The Wolf Inside,” Tyler tells Burnham a gooey story about how she’s his tether, as they cuddle in her Shenzhou quarters. When Saru and Tilly contact Burnham through a secure channel from Discovery and omit the news that Dr. Culber was murdered — at the hands of Tyler, we know — the episode seems destined for more inconclusive meandering. Tyler’s compromised, Discovery trusts him, Burnham’s still his lover, and so on.
Thankfully, “The Wolf Inside” ends this tedious dance. After discussing with Saru that she hasn’t yet found a way to transmit critical data back to Discovery, Burnham visits the Shenzhou’s bridge, where she receives intelligence from a Terran leader: The regime has tracked down the Klingon leader of the anti-Terran resistance. Known as Fire Wolf, the Klingon and other rebel forces are situated on Harlak. “Terran General Order Four,” a studied Burnham says upon hearing the news. “Any exotic species deemed a threat to the Imperial Supremacy will be extinguished without prejudice.”
Though Lorca emphasized the imperative to abide by Terran customs in “Despite Yourself,” Burnham’s troubled by her mission to obliterate the rebels. She visits Lorca in the brig, where the Discovery captain reiterates himself: “You have to do it,” he says. “Sometimes the end justifies terrible means.” But Burnham isn’t only fixated on the humanitarian aspect. Seeing the resistance’s “unshakable union of species” has inspired her to meet with Fire Wolf to learn how the Klingons bonded with other species — perhaps yielding lessons for how to make peace with the race upon Discovery’s return to the prime timeline. When Burnham implores Lorca to not “force [her] to slaughter this coalition of hope,” he relents — on the condition that when she beams down to Harlak, she brings Tyler and no other Shenzhou crew.
Lorca’s order proves fateful. Resistance forces predictably attack Burnham and Tyler upon their arrival on Harlak’s surface. What follows Burnham and Tyler’s surrender, though, is less predictable. The duo is taken to a cloaked encampment, where they’re greeted by Fire Wolf — who is the mirror version of Voq, the eventually disgraced Klingon Burnham fought by hand in Discovery‘s premiere. Fire Wolf recognizes Burnham as the “butcher of the Binary Stars” — she apparently precipitated a bloody conflict with the Klingons at the Binary Stars in both timelines — and calls for “the prophet” to discern her true intentions. The prophet, it turns out, is Sarek, Burnham’s adoptive Vulcan father in the prime universe. Sarek mind melds with her, sees memories between his mirror self and Burnham, and subsequently vouches for her credibility. “I see a world bursting with potential and a child molded by wisdom and a seemingly impossible depth of human compassion,” he says. “She means us no harm.” (Recap continues on page 2)
The plan goes awry when Burnham tells the resistance leaders her price for sparing them Terran annihilation. In return for giving them time to evacuate their base, she’d like to know how they’ve maintained their diverse coalition. “The light of Kahless guides me in all things,” Fire Wolf explains, and a pall immediately comes over Tyler. The lieutenant flashes back to T’Kuvma’s death in Discovery‘s premiere before shouting “Remain Klingon or die” in Klingon, grabbing a bat’leth, and attacking Fire Wolf. “The darkness of a Terran soul can now suppress the powers of a Vulcan mind meld?” Fire Wolf furiously asks Burnham after neutralizing Tyler. Sarek stands by his assessment of Burnham’s purity and she completes her objective — but Tyler’s blown his cover.
Upon returning to the Shenzhou, she confronts Tyler in her quarters and accurately notes that “this erratic behavior, it’s not because of the new universe.” With disorienting cinematography and gratuitous Klingon flashbacks, the scene’s an unpleasant watch, but it rapidly moves along the plot. “I don’t think I’m Ash Tyler, Starfleet lieutenant,” the officer says. Tyler then reveals an unexpected twist: Not only is he compromised by the Klingons, he’s Voq. In “Despite Yourself,” Culber posited that Tyler underwent intense experiments while in Klingon captivity, and the result seems to be that now Voq’s essence has somehow been fused with Tyler’s body. Tyler — or Voq? We’ll keep calling him Tyler, for now — immediately cops to killing Culber and then decides to kill Burnham in T’Kuvma’s name.
Burnham’s rescued by Saru’s Terran mirror, who serves as a nameless Kelpien slave aboard the Shenzhou. The ship’s crew subdues Tyler and the mirror of Lt. Keyla Detmer, who serves as Shenzhou’s first officer, reminds Burnham that they’ll have to execute the traitor. “Kahless, give me the light to see forever,” Tyler speaks in Klingon before Burnham beams him to his death in space. The sentence isn’t a final one for Tyler, though, whom Discovery immediately beams aboard. “We are stranded in a cruel, anarchic world,” a waiting Saru tells Tyler, “but we are still Starfleet and we still live and die by Federation law, no matter how heinous your crimes.” As with so many other aspects of “The Wolf Inside,” however, beaming Tyler aboard served a second purpose: Burnham hadn’t been able to transmit data from the Shenzhou covertly, so she stealthily tucked a physical drive containing the information into Tyler’s uniform.
Saru, meanwhile, has had his hands full aboard Discovery in Lorca and Burnham’s absence. The first officer’s plot in “The Wolf Inside” necessarily takes a backseat — ham-handed toggling between the two story lines doesn’t help — but his quest to revive the incapacitated Lt. Stamets with Cadet Tilly seems like it’ll bear fruit in future episodes. As Stamets’ cohort in mycelial expertise, Tilly tells Saru that the chief engineer needs treatment from her, not Discovery’s medical staff. (No matter that both of them hypothesize that an altered Stamets killed Culber.) In earlier episodes, Discovery made at least passing efforts to make its science parseable; here it’s gobbledygook, but Tilly essentially explains that an infusion of fungal spores into Stamets’ brain could reverse the neural damage he’s undergone. “A scientist saved by his own specimens,” Saru quips.
Naturally, Tilly’s procedure backfires. As she uses her supposed ingenuity as a pretext to request Saru’s recommendation for Starfleet’s Command Training Program, Stamets goes into a cardiac episode — and appears to die. We then see a mysterious scene of Stamets and his Terran mirror wandering through Discovery’s spore forest. Coupled with the episode’s opening scene depicting Stamets wandering through flickering lights with Culber’s corpse and muttering “The forest is dark, but I can see him through the trees,” the engineer has some compelling plot ahead.
So do Burnham and Lorca. At the episode’s conclusion, the two are engaging in a “private interrogation” in Burnham’s ready room. But they’re called onto Shenzhou’s bridge as a Terran vessel arrives and begins to bomb the rebel forces on Harlak. Burnham’s initially shocked because the resistance forces haven’t had time to evacuate. Her astonishment grows when the ship initiates a communication. “When I give an order, I do not expect to be ignored,” the Terran emperor tells her. And, in the mirror universe, the Terran emperor is Philippa Georgiou — Burnham’s late mentor in the prime universe.