Star Trek: Discovery episode 9 review: Into The Forest I Go

This review contains spoilers.

1.9 Into The Forest I Go

Well, I think it’s fair to say that Discovery has completely found its feet. This episode had it all: character drama, plot twists, the rich tapestry of all human life on display, and a space ship blowing the hell up. TNG took three seasons to put my heart in my throat during an action sequence. Disco has done it after fewer than ten episodes.

At this point, I feel naught but pity for Trek fans who can’t engage with the show, because they’re missing out on a great experience: a progressive and optimistic show, but one which is also nuanced and subtle. Complaints from early episodes that the characters were a bit too dickish may have had some validity at the time, but those spiky relationships have smoothed out brilliantly into a crew of well-defined characters. It would’ve been easy to model a crew around existing Trek dynamics, like Enterprise and Voyager attempted to, but this show has come up with its own original formula and I could not be happier with it.

This episode, especially, gives us a LOT to chew on. The daring boarding party mission where Ash and Burnham managed to sabotage the cloaking device, rescue Cornwell AND capture L’Rell was super-thrilling, but it worked because there was character drama mixed in with the plot drama – especially for those of us who’ve been following the Voq theories. Likewise, the fact that it ended in the entirely unexpected death of Kol. That’s a HUGE development. And nothing in Star Trek has ever been as openly badass as Lorca calmly putting in his space eyedrops so that he can truly savour in the imminent firey death of his enemies.

What most surprised me was that this Klingon war plot – something I thought the show was going to be fundamentally built around – seems all but over, and we’re likely to see the crew pursuing a completely different set of troubles in the second half of the season. Clearly the Klingon plot isn’t entirely done and dusted – we’ve still got Voq and L’Rell to worry about, after all – but I can’t wait to see where else the story’s going. And whether there was anything more to Lorca’s confident pronouncement that Discovery was going “home” immediately before it apparently fell into an alternate dimension. If he’s actually from the Mirror Universe that would explain a LOT about his general attitude, after all…

Speaking of Voq – we got an interesting piece of the puzzle in this episode. Our strongest hints yet that Tyler is actually Voq, surgically reconstructed and – we may now theorise – brainwashed into believe he’s human. It seems increasingly clear that this is the situation, but it’s also possible that it isn’t, and part of me hopes not. At this point the only thing that could get in the way is how thick they’re laying it on that he might actually be Voq. Although I wouldn’t put it past Star Trek to find a way to keep him around beyond the reveal that he is.

Also interesting is the depiction of Tyler’s trauma. He clearly remembers having non-consensual sex with L’Rell, though she views it much more favourably than he did. This isn’t the first time Star Trek has had characters coerced into sex (or a thinly-veiled allegorical version of it) before, but it is the first time a male character has been the target of it in a way that removes their agency and causes genuine trauma.

Indeed, there are at least two episodes of TNG where Riker is forced into sex against his ability to consent and it’s never actually followed up on so I think it’s a good think that Disco’s treating it with a lot more seriousness that the show has done in the past. Even if it is likely to end up being revealed that he’s actually remembering stuff that happened when he was Voq and it was all above board. It’s worth noting that, intentionally or otherwise, this is happening on the same show that stars Anthony Rapp, who you can’t miss as having recently revealed his own experience of sexual assault. These are serious matters being talked about using the sci-fi framework, which is what the best sci-fi has always been able to do.

At the very least, it’s taken 22 years but at least TV is finally not portraying male rape as a subject for some lols. Anyone who (incorrectly) thinks Star Trek Discovery is putting too much attention on its women, well, here’s your rebuttal. Something that’s very much a male issue. I’m not sure I’m entirely comfortable with the implication that getting over a major sexual trauma is just a matter of falling in love with someone else, but better and more informed writers than me will probably examine that idea with greater sensitivity and understanding.

ANYWAY. Here are your last set of Trek References before Christmas:

Starbase 46 is NEW. Although its existence is, of course, implied by the fact that there’s a Starbase 47. Worldbuilding, you see. Cornwell later gets ferried to Starbase 88, so you’d better believe there’s a Starbase 87. But not a Starbase 89. That is beyond the plausibility of even the most modern science fiction.

Stamets and Culber plan to see the opera, La Boheme. Data performed an aria from La Boheme in TNG 4×25: In Theory, and the Doctor performed half of a duet from it in VOY 3×04: The Swarm. Sounds like it’s going to have some staying power.

If you’re a giant nerd (guilty) then you’ll notice that the map of alternate universes accessible on the mycelial network recalls a diagram of an inflationary multiverse, where small pockets of space that expand exponentially (through cosmic inflation) develop into separate universes within spacetime. So if you’ve previously accused Discovery of having “bad science”, you have that for comfort.

The universal translator is referenced in this episode, allowing Klingons and Humans to chat seamlessly. In most Star Trek series universal translators are seamlessly integrated into communicators with varying degrees of anyone actually paying attention to that. It was first referred to (I think) in TOS 2×02: Metamorphosis. Though I don’t think it was confirmed to actually be in standard issue communicators until VOY 2×01: The 37s. Happy to be proven wrong on any of those points.

There’s an intercom announcement for a Cadet Decker that could be a reference to Will Decker, the Enterprise’s first officer in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

DIS WTF: Star Trek has flirted with nakedness in the past – although let’s face it, clothing didn’t exactly get in Deanna Troi’s way – but this is the first time we’ve seen anything that would make a censor choke on their Raktajino. I would say that I don’t think any of us were crying out to see Klingon nipples, but let’s face it, I’ve seen the fanart.

DIS LOL: Sooo, the Discovery acts like they saved Pahvo by destroying the Klingon Ship of the Dead, but… I mean, they didn’t really, did they? Other Klingon ships are just going to bomb Pahvo flat. You could maybe assume that other Starfleet ships will now intervene with their newly-acquired anti-cloaking tech, but man, between Mudd being let go with a tonne of espionage on Discovery and this, it’s clear Lorca and co. don’t much care about unfinished business.

Time to meeting: You know, sometimes I don’t think the Discovery writers are taking this section seriously.

Mistakes and minutia: Star Trek’s first male-male gay kiss happens in this episode (I wish to strongly emphasise this does not fall under the category of ‘mistake’.) Its first (and I’m pretty sure only) lesbian kiss occurred in DS9 4×06: Rejoined, a solid 22 years ago.

Also, the title of this episode – Into The Forest I Go – is a quote by John Muir, an American naturalist of the 19th Century. The full quote is “into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.” It is, of course, a quote about the wonder of exploration and discovery, and I can think of few better ideas that embody to spirit of Star Trek.

Read James’ review of the previous episode, Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum, here.

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