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‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Review: An Intriguing Episode Readies the Crew for a Major Showdown

"Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum" went planetside for the penultimate episode of the fall. 

"Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum" -- Episode 108 -- Pictured (l-r): Shazad Latif as Lieutenant Ash Tyler; Sonequa Martin-Green as First Officer Michael Burnham of the CBS All Access series STAR TREK: DISCOVERY.

“Star Trek: Discovery”

Jan Thijs/CBS

[Editor’s Note: Spoilers for “Star Trek: Discovery” Season 1 Episode 8, “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum,” follow.]

Mission Brief

There’s a lot going on this week, as “Discovery” makes full use of its ensemble, right down to its most supporting characters. (Shout-out to Wilson Cruz for making his very brief time on screen memorable, thanks to just one or two cautious looks.) The Klingons are attacking, Admiral Cornwell is under Klingon control, Stamets isn’t handling his tardigrade DNA upgrade all that well and…

We Got an Away Mission!

After weeks of war and conflict, what a pleasure to spend an episode on a familiar narrative: Starfleet officers explore a seemingly uninhabited planet and seek to learn its mysteries. The concept of a planet that is physically in harmony with itself is a fascinating one, and not only is it cool to see Tyler, Burnham, and Saru investigate it, but also investigate it with the express intention to do no harm. Instead, their goal, especially after discovering that the planet has some sentience to it, is to seek cooperation with Pahvo (by the way, thanks to the Klingons speaking in Klingon, for the subtitles that confirm the spelling of the planet’s name).

However, what Starfleet wants — to use Pahvo as a tool to circumvent the Klingons’ cloaking devices — ends up not being what Pahvo enables. By summoning the Klingons to join the Discovery, we have an epic set-up for next week’s episode, which not coincidentally happens to be the mid-season finale. Get ready for a high-octane clash between enemies.

On the Bad Ship Klingon

Let’s be honest: L’Rell’s skills as a tactician seem a little suspect right now. While she’s clearly a fierce Klingon warrior, her efforts to take down Kol don’t seem to be working out all that well, and the hairpin turn the final scene on the Klingon ship takes — resulting in her getting accused of lying — doesn’t bode well for her future.

But there’s a lot, in general, that has yet to coalesce with the Klingon storyline. The basics seem pretty clear, in that Kol is consolidating power with the promise of a cloaking device. But how L’Rell — not to mention the long-absent Voq, abandoned on the shell of the Shenzhou — will ultimately affect things has left us with a lot of questions.

Prey, Not Predator

The concept of Saru and his people has always been an interesting one, but “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum” really showcased what it might mean if a sentient race evolved not from monkeys, but from (some sort of alien variant of) cows. We only saw his threat ganglia deploy once (with Tyler), but we did see Saru in action mode after his communion with the Pahvians, and it was genuinely a bit scary when he and Burnham went head-to-head. Saru might always live with a sense of fear, but that doesn’t make him any less scary during conflict. In fact, it might enhance that.

Quote of the Episode

“The needs of the many–“
“–Are worth fighting for, worth dying for. So are the needs of the few.”
“More than one?”
— Burnham and Tyler

Applause to “Discovery” for taking a classic “Trek” meme like “the needs of the many” and give it an air of romance. The ideas of sacrifice and duty and loyalty invoked by that expression have always been very important to the “Star Trek” films, but finding a way to use a familiar trope and give it a new meaning gave that scene a real sweetness.

(Also, in the spirit of honesty: Tyler muttering “come here” was pretty hot.)

Love Has Its Downsides

“Discovery” has shown a great deal more interest in the personal lives of its officers in comparison to other “Trek” series, not only with the burgeoning romance between Burnham and Tyler but more importantly the established relationship between Stamets and Dr. Culber. In a scene that feels more like set-up right now, we learn that Stamets is hiding his condition from his partner because no matter what Culber decides to do, the consequences will be unfortunate; it’s the sort of tough decision shows that don’t feature committed relationships can dodge. Love changes things, and as we may see very soon, can cause as much heartache as happiness.

"Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum" -- Episode 108 -- Pictured (l-r): Mary Wiseman as Cadet Sylvia Tilly; Anthony Rapp asLieutenant Paul Stamets of the CBS All Access series STAR TREK: DISCOVERY.

“Star Trek: Discovery”

Michael Gibson/CBS

On the Bridge

One of the odd quirks of “Discovery” so far is that after eight episodes (six of which have taken place on the actual ship named Discovery) we’ve come to know the core characters pretty well, but there’s a whole bridge crew that barely has names. Which is a shame, because on the surface they’re a fascinating bunch: augmented Airiam (Sara Mitich), Owosekun (Oyin Oladejo) at ops, Shenzhou survivor Detmer (Emily Coutts), and tactical officer Rhys (Patrick Kwok-Choon). Fingers crossed “Discovery” figures out how to give them more to do, because this a show that could stand to expand out its ensemble a bit more — especially given…

A Quick Note About a Fan Theory

Without going too much into detail, there is currently a very believable guess at a big twist circling online that, if accurate, will dramatically affect a number of the characters. (If you really need to know what we’re hinting at here, just Googling “star trek discovery fan theory” will pull up the answer.) While it’s a twist that may have even been obvious to some from the beginning, it’s still going to be a bummer if it turns out to be true.

Final Thoughts

As mentioned before, spending significant time on an alien planet, discovering a new alien species, was quite a welcome change of pace, one that invoked many fond memories of previous “Trek” series. However, it still had a “Discovery” feel, thanks to its many ongoing subplots that kept it grounded in the overall narrative; while stand-alone stories are welcome, the last few weeks have indicated that the show might have figured out the best approach to balancing those sorts of episodes with the ongoing narrative.

It’s been a bit of a shakedown cruise, these first eight episodes, and a lot is riding on next week’s episode, which will serve as the mid-season finale and will likely feature more than one big surprise.

For the record, “si vis pacem, para bellum” translates from Latin as “if you want peace, prepare for war.” Brace yourselves.

Grade: B+

New episodes of “Star Trek: Discovery” stream Sundays at 8:30 p.m. EST on CBS All Access.

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