The Good: Well-directed, Mary Wiseman's performance, Final speech from Michael Burnham
The Bad: Simple plot, Horrible philosophy, Glib character development
The Basics: Star Trek: Discovery argues that winning is the only philosophy in "The War Without, The War Within."
As Star Trek: Discovery rushes toward its first season finale, it has a tangled web to unweave to bring a sense of credibility back to Star Trek: Discovery to tie it back to the rest of the Star Trek franchise. The penultimate episode of the first season of Star Trek: Discovery is "The War Without, The War Within" and it returns to the forefront the war between the Klingons and the Federation. The sense going into "The War Without, The War Within" is that Star Trek: Discovery has bitten off more than it can chew; that reconciling the "prequel" series with the rest of the franchise is an impossible task that will require the events of the first season to be completely undone. As an example of why that sense exists among fans, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine established that outside the Borg incident there had not been a state of emergency declared on Earth in 200 years and that even at the peak conflict between the Klingons and the Federation, the Klingons never attacked Earth. So, with the war turned so drastically against the Federation, it is hard not to ask the question, "Why the hell haven't the Klingons attacked Earth?!"
"The War Without, The War Within" follows on the events of "What's Past Is Prologue" (reviewed here!), which put an end to the Mirror Universe plotline for Star Trek: Discovery and returned the lost ship to Federation space. Almost immediately, though, Saru and the Discovery crew recognized that a massive portion of Federation space was now occupied by Klingons. The U.S.S. Discovery, as it turned out, managed to return to our universe, but nine months after they left and in the meantime, the war has turned dramatically against StarFleet.
While repair crews fix the cosmetic changes to the Discovery, Captain Saru visits the transporter room. There, he finds Emperor Georgiou and has her beamed to confined quarters. With Burnham and the transporter technician ordered by Saru not to discuss Georgiou's presence, Saru visits Ash Tyler in Sickbay. Tyler describes what was done to him and Saru attempts to get information about Voq out of Tyler. The Discovery is borded by a nearby starship, with Admiral Cornwell taking command of the Discovery. Cornwell and Sarek detail the state of the war and how the Klingon Empire has taken twenty percent of Federation territory.
Ash Tyler is given leave to roam the ship and Tilly and Detmer go out of their way to not judge him for his crimes. When the Discovery reaches Starbase One, they find it severely damaged and occupied entirely by Klingons. Cornwell, in shock, turns to L'Rell. Hoping L'Rell knows about House D'Gor - Cornwell tries to figure out what might stop the war. The Discovery takes on a dangerous mission to leap into subterranean caves below the Klingon Homeworld, Kronos. En route, Georgiou appeals to Sarek with an idea on how to end the war definitively.
"The War Without, The War Within" is philosophically insulting for anyone who loves Star Trek. As the war with the Klingons takes a terrible turn toward almost certain defeat, StarFleet comes together. The implication is not that the Federation thrived because various species came together to celebrate their differences and build something; they huddled together out of desperation from a crushing military defeat. As the episode progresses and Cornwell and Sarek turn to Georgiou for guidance in winning the war, the philosophical implications are even more horrifying; the Federation could not survive without the brutality of a barbarian queen to guide them.
Sarek once again appears on Star Trek: Discovery in a very un-Sarek way. Sarek and Spock never mindmelded, but the moment Sarek appears, he leaps on Saru to mindmeld with him. Sarek seems like a parody of Sarek in "The War Without, The War Within."
"The War Without, The War Within" leaps to try to classify the mission to the Mirror Universe and there is some sensibility to that idea. But, as other Star Trek's have noted: you can't kill an idea (seriously, did NONE of the executive producers on this show watch Star Trek: Deep Space Nine?!) and military secrets are the most fleeting secrets of all. The idea that a whole ship full of people could abide by a gag order (especially for the decade until the events of "Mirror, Mirror") is utterly unrealistic. Hell, the Enterprise crew was given a gag order about the Genesis Planet and it took McCoy all of ten minutes to violate that (and the civilian to whom he mentioned the planet knew of the planet's existence already). Beyond that, Cornwell's viewpoint is entirely myopic; destroying information about the Mirror Universe robs our universe of any chance to organize a defense against any Mirror Universe incursions. Were it not in complete violation of the canon already, Cornwall should have - at the very least - ordered transporters retrofitted so that they could not beam people into the Mirror Universe.
Saru, while an interesting character, shows a ridiculous trust for L'Rell. L'Rell performed the surgery that saved Ash Tyler's life and in "The War Without, The War Within," it appears that his Voq personality is in - at least - remission. Believing L'Rell that the Voq personality is destroyed seems painfully naive. While it is high-minded to not blame Ash Tyler for the crimes of the Klingon personality with whom he was grafted, it is absurd to give a known Klingon spy any form of roaming privileges with which he could betray the ship or the Federation. After all, Voq was latent within Tyler for quite a bit of time before his psyche split.
To that end, Tilly manages to deliver the most enlightened dialogue of the series so far in confronting Michael about Tyler. Mary Wiseman gives the performance of the episode in delivering her character's big speech.
Unfortunately, Wiseman's moment is philosophically enlightened in an episode that strains to be anything other than simplistic. The Discovery needs more spores in order to launch the attack on Kronos. Conveniently, there is one more mycillial spore-bearing plant left. Stamets has an idea to rapidly grow a whole crop of spores. Cool. The planet he names to take the spores to is not one of the many, many planets the Klingons have conquered or destroyed. (And, hey, where was that idea when they were in the Mirror Universe and needed to get back home - once Stamets came out of the coma, couldn't they have rescued Burnham, gone to the Veda moon and grown the crop there and gotten out of the Mirror Universe without becoming super-embroiled in their politics?!) The Discovery gets to the planet and uses terraforming devices to grow a new crop almost instantly. This, despite the fact that a century from this point, terraforming still took months to years ("Home Soil" might not be the most popular episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, but it did a good job of establishing the canon mythos about terraformers in the Trek Universe). And, apparently, environmental impact can go fuck itself when expediency is a factor; the Veda moon's entire ecosystem overrun by spores . . . like Tribbles removed from their predator-filled environment.
"The War Without, The War Within" lacks serious reflection in exchange for a glib sense of plot convenience.
For other penultimate episodes of seasons of Star Trek, please check out my reviews of:
"Two Days And Two Nights" - Star Trek: Enterprise
"Jetrel" - Star Trek: Voyager
"Duet" - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
"Conspiracy" - Star Trek: The Next Generation
"City On The Edge Of Forever" - Star Trek
For other Star Trek episode, movie, and seasons, please check out my Star Trek Review Index Page!
© 2018 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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