Season 1, Episode 8
Written by Kirsten Beyer
Directed by John S. Scott
“I have never known a moment of freedom from fear.”
Thoreau identified that most people lead lives of quiet desperation. And he was a guy who sought refuge in a tiny cabin next to a pond to escape from the anxieties of the society in which he lived. By today’s standards, those anxieties were pretty mild. Now most people live in a state of constant fear. In addition to the normal worries of everyday life, we try to stay safe in a country in which gunmen massacre innocent people on an increasingly regular basis and our own leader seems hell-bent on starting a nuclear war. We crave peace. This week’s episode of Discovery explores what would happen if somehow we could end all the violence and live in harmony not only with each other, but with our planet. It’s an enticing thought. Right now, fear rules the day. What if all of a sudden we found peace? Would we fight to keep it? Oh, the absurdity of fighting to keep peace. The Latin name of this episode translates as, “If you want peace, prepare for war”. Maybe to be human is to be absurd.
Discovery opens with the Federation getting hammered after Kol granted cloaking technology to all Klingon ships in order to secure his position as head of the Klingon Empire. Even with the Discovery’s spore drive technology, the Klingons are destroying ships in large numbers. That’s not the only casualty of this conflict; with each spore drive jump, Stamets exhibits increasing confusion and belligerence. The Federation must find a way to disable or defeat the cloaking technology or lose the war. Lorca must also find a way to use the spore drive without sacrificing living beings, though he does not know that yet.
The Federation’s current plan to defeat the Klingons sends Burnham, Tyler, and Saru to the planet Pahvo, which possesses a huge and apparently naturally occurring crystalline structure that transmits the sounds of the planet out into space. The Federation intends to adapt the transmitter into a kind of sonar to detect cloaked Klingon ships.
The away team lands on Pahvo with the spurious idea that no sentient beings live there. A beautiful, blue-forested place, all of the planet’s lifeforms emit sounds which form a kind of symphonic music. The crystalline transmitter spreads this music throughout space. Initially the sounds overwhelm Saru’s sensitive predator-detection organs, but that same sensitivity allows him to discover that intelligent beings permeate the planet. The forest spirits show him that there is a symbiosis between all of the nature on the planet and the planet itself. Further, they act as kind of Galactic Buddhists, trying to erase discord and promote peace and harmony throughout the universe using their transmitter.
The forest fairies start with Saru. They remove his inborn and lifelong sense of danger, and replace it with bliss. In order to try and preserve that state of grace, he immediately sabotages the mission by destroying Burnham’s and Tyler’s communicators and insisting that they all stay on the planet permanently.
Once the away team discover that sentient life inhabits the planet and possesses the transmitter, they are compelled by Starfleet rules not to interfere with the culture, nor to take or use any property without permission. Saru says that the forest fairies will let them do whatever they like, but he does everything in his power to prevent them from completing their mission. He not only physically attacks Burnham but tries to destroy the computer they are using to contact the ship, until she is forced to shoot this normally peaceful man with her phaser. Twice.
Burnham presents her case to the forest fairies for using the transmitter to defuse the threat from the cloaking technology, while at the same time Saru argues that Pahvo should not get involved in the conflict. Being the avatars of peace that they are, the Pahvo think that all this situation requires is a little diplomacy. They fire up their transmitter and send an invitation to the Klingon Ship of the Dead to come and negotiate with Discovery. The Pahvo think that they are helping promote peace. They have no idea that all they have done is place a target on their peaceful planet and precipitate a potentially catastrophic battle.
The developments on the planet Pahvo are not the only things affecting the possible future of Klingon-Federation relations. On board the Sarcophagus, the Ship of the Dead, Admiral Cornwell forges a potential alliance with a most unlikely person. L‘Rell, the Klingon woman who ran the prison ship from which Lorca and Tyler escaped, reveals that she is Voq’s sister. T’Kuvma named Voq, the white-skinned Klingon, as his successor, but Kol ousted him. Kol appoints L’Rell as Cornwell’s chief interrogator.
Under the guise of her assignment to question Cornwell, L’Rell reveals that she wishes to defect to the Federation. She hates Kol for what he has done to Voq, and worse yet by Klingon standards, she doesn’t respect his totally dishonorable power grab. Together, L’Rell and Cornwell hatch a plan to escape. When they are discovered en route to L’Rell’s ship, they pretend that Cornwell is trying to escape. At first the ensuing fight appears to be just for show, but L’Rell beats Cornwell badly and seemingly electrocutes her to death. She tells the Klingon guards that she is going to dispose of Cornwell’s body, and initially it seems that she is merely carrying out their plan of escape. But then she drags Cornwell’s unconscious body not to her ship, but to some room where, to her surprise, she finds the discarded corpses of many of her Klingon comrades. Enraged by finding her murdered friends and allies, L’Rell vows vengeance on Kol. She leaves Cornwell laying on the floor with the other bodies, and it isn’t clear if the Admiral is alive or dead. It also isn’t clear if L’Rell actually intended to join forces with Admiral Cornwell or was just playing her. L’Rell pretends to pledge allegiance to Kol, but he sees through her deception. He orders his guards to seize her and they drag her off.
Kol receives the transmission from Pahvo and prepares to fight. At this point, the countdown to a confrontation between the Sarcophagus and the Discovery begins. This episode’s meditation on fear serves as the set-up for the battle which will probably act as the fall finale/cliffhanger next week.
What price peace? As Tyler and Burnham move forward with their budding relationship this week, Tyler talks about his craving to return to his peaceful place, a lakeside cabin. But because of her life sentence for mutiny, Burnham’s peaceful place lies on the Discovery, and only continues as long as the war goes on. Saru belongs to a prey species which knows no peace until death, because they are always in danger from the predators that hunt them. When he finally finds his peaceful place on Pahvo, he fights desperately to hold on to it. Wouldn’t we all, if faced with the same opportunity? If you have to fight to attain peace, is it really peace? I fear that writer Fran Liebowitz is right when she says there is no such thing as inner peace: there is only nervousness and death.