Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Keep on Jumping: S1 E9: Into the Forest I Go

Ted Sullivan's prediction that the mid-season finale of Discovery was going to be "Balance of Terror good" was perhaps a little over-stated but still the fledgling Star Trek show managed to pull off a damn fine bit of drama to bring this first chapter to a close (or at least a suitable stopping point).

Kicking off virtually from the end of Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum, Into the Forest I Go is a neat way of bringing a lot of these first half season elements to a tidy conclusion but, as you would expect, also kicking off some right crackers at the same time.

Where to start - well, Lorca is ordered to take the Discovery back to Starbase 46 but being the dedicated warmonger he is, leaving a potential fight at Pahvo is out of the question and miraculously, he's up for saving a peaceful planet (which, on a side note we barely see at all in this installment). I think that's just an excuse so he can load the torpedoes one more time and instead of using the spore drive to zip them home in an instant he chooses to take a leisurely three hour warp five journey back to give the crew time to work up some form of solution to combating the Klingon invisibility shield.

The solution is just mad enough that it might work - install sensors at the front and back of the Klingon Sarcophagus Ship and then map the ship to create an algorithm that will allow Starfleet to see their cloaked enemies. Oh - and to speed up the process and get the Klingon flagship mapped more quickly he asks Stamets to perform 133 consecutive micro-jumps with the spore drive around the Klingons.

All well and good but Stamets is suffering from the overuse of the drive but Lorca wants to push on especially when he reveals he's been tracking all of the jumps the Discovery has made and that there could be the potential for crossing into alternative universes using it (no spoilers there then...!). 

Burnham and Tyler take on the task of placing the sensors once they had spore-jumped back to Pahvo and enticed the Klingons into a firefight. The first one is a breeze but before placing the second on the Klingon bridge, the pair locate Cornwell...and L'Rell. Both are worse for wear but seeing L'Rell again spins Tyler into PTSD and he's left a wreck with an immobile Cornwell as his defender for the time being.

Burnham manages to place the second transmitter but has to engage Kol in direct combat to bide time for the Discovery to complete its 133 jumps and match the algorithm to defeat the Klingons. 

Of course it's success seeing Kol and the Sarcophagus Ship vanquished and Cornwell back home for treatment. However, the Discovery takes one final jump to get home - and ends up...somewhere....

What a damn fine piece of work that Erika Lippoldt and Bo Yeon Kim have created here to round off the first nine episodes of Star Trek's return to its rightful home on the small screen. Everyone has their moment here but for me this is Burnham's hour as she is left to single-handedly deal with the transmitters to assist Discovery but then faces off against Kol. The link back to Georgiou in that Kol has kept her delta badge as a toothpick/momento is interesting since he was never there at the moment of her death and has swept into T'Kuvma's position with the greatest of ease. He sees himself as the new Klingon saviour and his abrupt fall from grace here is deserved. 

Burnham's journey has certainly been expansive giving Sonequa Martin-Green more than enough material to get her teeth into and prove she's more than a zombie-killer. From being a reluctant passenger on the Discovery back in Context is for Kings she now places herself in danger to ensure the completion of the mission and help to make right her errors on the Shenzhou which started the war. Martin-Green is brilliant here getting to play through some genuinely fraught emotional moments with Tyler (more on all that very soon) to full on hand to hand combat with an in-form Klingon warrior on his own ground. I think her work in this show has been phenomenal from the get go.

Lorca is very much our man of action here getting to take command of a battle situation once again as well as having some key scenes here with Stamets around the effects of the spore drive and his choice to transfer the award from Starfleet to the mycologist because of his strength to complete the arduous number of jumps. Stamets is pushed to the edge in Into the Forest I Go as the continuous and heavy use of the spore drive nearly claims his life. Anthony Rapp is even closer to the precipice here than he was in Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad time-looping around for an age but it's in a different way as the drive is pushing his mind to its very limits and - as we see at the end - beyond perhaps even that.

The main story with the USS Discovery jumping around the Klingons to match and defeat them is wonderful to watch and the more I see the ship the more I fall in love with the sleek retro design and the amazing work that we are seeing from the CG in every episode. 

While the A story is thoroughly gripping, Bo Yeon Kim and Erika Lippoldt have also dropped some seismic stuff into this story. Aside from the first ever male/male kiss which should be applauded (and it didn't feel forced) and the emotion behind Culber watching his partner go through spore drive hell, the confrontation between L'Rell and her one-time prisoner/plaything Ash Tyler is Trek-breaking.

We all remember Picard's torture at the hands of Gul Madred in Chain of Command but the flashbacks here take pain to a whole new level with blades, screams and blood dripping from tables all intimating the excruciating treatment that Tyler suffered for seven months. It's burned so deeply he totally shits down and hats off to Shazad Latif for playing this trauma for the darkness it descends upon the lieutenant. Graphically the production team have gone all out on these sequences and it's hard not to include them extensively in any review of the episode. As we discover through his heart to heart with Burnham and by fairly explicit flashbacks torture wasn't the only thing she was getting out of him. 

As the episode closes Tyler visits L'Rell begging to know what she has done to him but all she reveals is that it will become apparent "Soon.". I think we all know what our money is on for that reveal.  The L'Rell and Tyler sequences were not hard to watch but for Star Trek they were a first. We were warned there would be more violence and possible sex scenes but this was much more brutal than I expected. Again, applause to the writers for pushing the story and what Star Trek could do this far. Brave and that's what this show should be about just as The Original Series was. We should be talking about it and what it has done that is different.

In fact I might go as far as to say that this is the most original Star Trek episode since Living Witness or Blink of an Eye in Voyager's later years. Enterprise just didn't cut it when it came to really "making a difference" but it feels here with the ninth episode of Discovery that we have finally recaptured that brilliance and uniqueness that made Star Trek such an exciting and innovative prospect. More importantly I came out of this episode realising that I really have started to invest in these characters and their stories. 

The majority of the character background with our cast comes from the depth of the arc - Stamets and the spore drive, Burnham and the Shenzhou, Tyler and the Klingons, Lorca and Cornwell with seemingly Tilly dropping into each of these characters arcs at some point almost as the audience perspective character dipping into each storyline and opening up each person to the viewer.

If a screenshot from the episode is to be believed then Lorca really is the darkest of Starfleet captains because it seems he might be responsible for that final, fateful jump rather than it being a quirk of fate. However, wouldn't it have been jump 134 into the "unknown" or jump one of a new cycle? Was this all part of his plan and if they do get back to the Prime Universe then what of the spore drive? I mean, this guy is the perfect salesman and properly sells Stamets down the river with the "one last time" promise. Will it continue to be used or is this the end of the (first) Great Experiment?

A mid-season finale is an odd one for a Star Trek series which didn't even attempt such a thing when it used to take the Christmas break on network TV. To plant a cliffhanger - and a damn good one - right there is credit to the new writing team and the fresh outlook on the show that has been brought aboard in the Harberts era. There are still haters and there will be fans who won't be happy with this but damn, this has been a mighty strong and consistent first season - is Discovery possibly THE best planned and plotted Star Trek series of all time? Is this the best opening year since the 1966/67 season?

I will be harsh and say that the serialised nature of the show has meant that a few points have melded together and I really can't say that there's anything in this batch that would break into my Top 50 but it's transparently heading in the right direction and I would be shocked if, by the time this show closes out, there aren't a batch of stories which have become Star Trek classics in their own right.

Well you have two months of theory spinning and conspiracy building to abide before Discovery returns with its final six season one episodes which, we know for definite, will see the end of the Klingon war.

A worthy cliffhanger? What are your expectations from Chapter Two?

Read all our season one reviews for Discovery right now HERE

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