Thursday, 9 November 2017

Scream for Me: S1 E8 Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum

There’s a sense of desperation in this week’s Discovery with our motley crew seeking solutions in every corner to defeat the surging Klingon war machine.

As it goes there’s not a lot of war war in this story besides the opening few minutes but it’s certainly one of the most energetic bridge combat scenes I think there’s ever been in Star Trek. We even manage a little touch of ascerbic Lorca in there as the Discovery jumps into the middle of a battle between the Shepard Class USS Gagarin and it’s overpowering Klingon adversaries. This scene get busy, anxious and right at the edge helped by sharp cutting of camera angles and brisk no nonsense dialogue. It also contrasts starkly against the rest of the episode which is, for the most part, quite sedate.

The bulk of this week takes us to the idyllic forest planet of Pahvo. A world where everything is peaceful and in harmony so much so that the world has its own melody that fills the air due to the natural vibrations given off by every element. It all sounds perfect but as you would guess, it isn’t quite so.

The reason we are here is because there’s a crystalline structure which radiates this melodic signal into space and Starfleet believes that it might give them the upper hand against the cloaking technology employed by the Klingons. Indeed, the tech that Kol has stolen from T’Kuvma’s Sarcophagus Ship is now being replicated across all the ships of his allies and is undetectable by the Starfleet vessels.

So it falls to Saru, Burnham and Tyler to investigate but their trip to the seemingly uninhabited turns up some kind of lifeform which turns it into a first contact situation led by the Kelpien first officer. Trouble is he gets a little too involved and the planet seems to take control. His inate skepticism and fear as a prey species vanished and we have a more confident and relaxed Saru who appears incredibly at peace with himself which puts him at loggerheads with his companions. He wants to stay and Burnham and Tyler are more than prepared to leave but Saru’s connection makes this seemingly impossible. 

Doug Jones rules this episode from the very start whether he’s dealing with the inner conflict resolution thanks to the Pahvans, crushing communicators or speeding at up to 80mph through a forest, we learn so much about Saru in this episode and makes up for his sparse appearance and use in the last couple of weeks. It’s an emotional journey here as he finally feels - for a short time - free of fear - to the point where remaining on Pahvo becomes more important than completing the mission and helping to save the Federation. 

At moments it does come across as Saru has received enlightenment and at the conclusion his desire to stop Burnham from contacting Discovery sizzles off the screen as he races to halt communication. His relationship with Michael is put under even more stress since it is she whom wants to put a stop to his choice to remain and contact their ship.From the beginning their one-upmanship has been a staple of the story with each playing off the other and genuinely getting under the skin of their colleague/superior/former superior where possible. Here it is a much more confrontational and direct issue that hasn't been seen before due to Saru's prey species nature. It also echoes that already this character has been on an extensive journey in just eight episodes from a promotion, change of ship, being placed in a difficult command position and now leading a crucial away mission. His development has been more under the radar than others but in Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum all of these elements come together.

The relationship between Burnham and Tyler also rises to the surface here if only briefly. Last week they forgot their first kiss from one of the multiple 30 minute timeloops and get to live it again (for the first time?) providing Burnham the perfect opportunity to recite a bit of classic Star Trek dialogue about needs of many (or the one). It's an even more relaxed moment in the episode that parallels the seemingly paradisaical nature of the harmonious planet. I'm convinced this is a doomed relationship the more I see it - it's too good to be true.  

Stamets and Tilly only get a little bit of screentime this week (boo!) yet it remains relevant to the arc with the mycologist beginning to return to his normal "grumpy" self following his DNA restructuring. We do get to see how he "logs in" to the spore drive which has been made a lot more comfortable however his conversation with Tilly in the mess hall reveals that he's losing cohesion with the world around him the more he's using the drive - something isn't quite right and it's getting worse. Prediction on this one - at some point this is going to cause a bit of dimension hopping which will, of course, bring us into line with the Mirror Universe as has already been hinted. 

As this seems an episode significantly about double acts (and then Saru acting alone), there's one more that really sets this story alight and for me eclipsed the A story. L’Rell and Cornwell are electric here and leaves a lot of questions hanging for the mid-season finale. Jayne Brooks and Mary Chieffo are definitely the highlight of this episode as both come to realise that there is more to the other than they first thought but L'Rell's carefully laid plans are shattered forcing her to take an alternative path - that equally doesn't look like it was a good choice. 

Her foil in Kenneth Mitchell's Kol is the perfect nemesis being just as devious as L'Rell and both of them in fact being uncharacteristically underhand as Klingons. At least with L'Rell she can account for that being due to her heritage as part of the House Mokai who were described as spies and liars back in Battle at the Binary Stars. Side point - we do have mention that Voq has abandoned her however given that this episode covers quite a bit of deceit and more than meets the eye when it comes to more than one of the duos we are observers to it seems that this might need to be taken with more than a pinch of salt.

Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum is a good episode although I did feel that there was a significant weight of overhype due to it being written by Voyager novelist Kirsten Beyer. Did it live up to the emotional sledgehammer that we expected? No. It was good and it's a lot of "middle" to set up the mid-season finale which is coming next week. What I would say is that every part of this story contributes to the whole and there's no filler present which I believe has been shaved away thanks to the reduced season length (26 to 15)Doug Jones is great here taking centre stage as Saru giving his a lot of depth to himself and his species but that Cornwell/L'Rell partnership really does resonate more after the credits have rolled. As character pieces go I still prefer Lethe and after some of the higher octane episodes so far it did feel a little more relaxed even at the more intended moments of tension. Not Discovery's finest hour of the season but not terrible.

How did you rate Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum?

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