Conversations abound in an episode of tactical planning.
In its first season, Star Trek: Discovery has made reinvention its calling card. Paradigms have shifted numerous times, and often to great effect. But in “The War Without, The War Within,” the penultimate episode of its debut season, the show’s latest narrative shift didn’t have the same dramatic punch.
At the end of last week’s “What’s Past Is Prologue,” Discovery returned from the Terran timeline to find that the Klingons had made enormous gains against the Federation in the ongoing war between the two societies. Few substantive developments happen in “The War Without, The War Within” — something of a downer after recent, fast-paced installments.
The episode kicks off with Adm. Cornwell and Sarek boarding Discovery with questions about the crew’s motives and Lorca’s whereabouts. Sarek verifies Saru’s account after performing a mind-meld, though plenty of questions about next steps arise.
But frustratingly, the episode depicts many one-on-one conversations and backroom negotiations. In a meeting with Sarek, Saru, Stamets, and Burnham, Cornwell disseminates the Klingon cloak-breaking algorithm — the one Discovery obtained shortly before slipping into Terran space at the midseason finale — to the rest of Starfleet, but cautions that the precious information may have arrived too late. Merciless Klingon attacks have claimed one third of the Federation’s fleet, and the houses of the fractured Klingon Empire seem focused on besting each other in the damage they can inflict upon their foes. “We are fodder for their futile savagery,” Sarek observes.
The situation becomes more dire when Discovery arrives at Starbase 1 — or what’s left of it. The stronghold, which orbits Earth, has been pillaged: A facility that once held an estimated 80,000 Starfleet members and Federation civilians now only has 274 Klingon life signs. Rather than a Klingon Empire crest, the Starbase’s hull is emblazoned with the insignia of House D’Ghor.
This is where “The War Without, The War Within” gets bogged down with dialogue. Some of the conversations to transpire are crucial to the plot. For one, Cornwell visits L’Rell to pick the imprisoned Klingon’s brain about the Federation’s strategy. The Federation admiral is particularly curious why the zealous Klingons won’t cease their quest. “Conquer us or we will never relent,” L’Rell spits at Cornwell, in a statement of purpose that will surprise no one who’s watched Star Trek before.
Later, Georgiou — the Terran emperor, not her dead, prime universe counterpart — instructs Burnham and Sarek separately about how best to defeat the Klingons. After all, she successfully beat them in her universe. “The Klingons are like cancer cells: constantly dividing,” she tells Burnham. “You must destroy the tumor at its source.” But Georgiou’s instructions to Sarek go beyond infiltrating the Klingon home planet Qo’noS. “You face annihilation,” she explains to the Vulcan as she insinuates a more violent strategy. “Is it not logical to do anything you can to save the lives of your kind?”
As these strategic developments unfold, Discovery’s crew engages with Tyler — whom L’Rell purged of Voq — in predictable ways. Saru takes cautiously humanistic approach, explaining to Tyler that “Voq is responsible for your crimes, and I see no semblance of him before me.” Stamets, unsurprisingly, is less eager to forgive Tyler, considering the officer’s murder of Dr. Culber. Tilly sits with Tyler in the mess hall when no others will, and she later encourages Burnham to reconcile with her former lover. Burnham’s relationship with Tyler has been among Discovery‘s weakest aspects, and her conversation with him near the episode’s conclusion similarly falls flat. “Reclaiming life,” she says, “it’s punishing, it’s relentless, and it’s solitary.” In other words, she’s dumping the guy who tried to murder her — seems like a natural choice.
To combat the Klingons, Cornwell and Discovery’s crew devise a plan to take out the military installations on Qo’noS in a massive tactical strike. The far-fetched scheme has an odd flavor to it — who in a war wouldn’t try to strike their foe’s most vulnerable assets? — and the plan only gets increasingly stranger as the episode progresses. Discovery determines they’ll acquire reconnaissance on Qo’noS by using their spore drive to jump into a cave and subsequently launching a surveillance drone.
They’re fresh out of spores, though, which leads Stamets to direct Discovery to the Veda system and “get ready for a show.” Science provided some of the highlights of Discovery‘s early episodes and, here, Stamets leads a mission to remotely terraform an inhospitable moon. The way-cool special effects mask the outlandishness of the mission.
But the episode’s most bizarre scene is its final one. Throughout the installment, Cornwell, Sarek, and Discovery’s crew grappled with what to do with the Terran Georgiou. Their ultimate decision is a highly illogical one. Rather than keeping the threatening figure contained to quarters, they opt to make her the captain of Discovery. Cornwell lies to Discovery’s crew, telling them that Georgiou never really died and was actually found aboard a Klingon prison vessel. What exactly will Georgiou add to the mission? The show doesn’t really explain, beyond her pure, xenophobic ruthlessness. But audiences will find out come next week’s season finale.