Sunday, November 12, 2017

Themes And Lack Of Character Realism Kill "Into The Forest I Go"

The Good: Ash Tyler realistically embodies the effects of a (modern) rape victim, Latif's performance in the last half
The Bad: Every character in the episode is horrible. Seriously, every character. Very basic plot, Troubling thematic issues, Some stiff performance moments
The Basics: "Into The Forest I Go" might not be, objectively, the worst episode of Star Trek: Discovery but it is the most unpleasant hour yet produced within the entire Star Trek franchise.

For the bulk of the Star Trek franchise, midseason finales have not been a thing. Midseason finales are, however, a big deal in the television industry now and Star Trek: Discovery arrives at its midseason finale with "Into The Forest I Go." It is hard to rate which is a more audacious move: CBS hoping its All Access clients won't jump ship and unsubscribe from their service during the hiatus of Star Trek: Discovery or just where Star Trek: Discovery leaves the show at the end of "Into The Forest I Go." One of the keys to a midseason finale is to end the plot at a point where the viewers will be eager to return to the show after the hiatus and "Into The Forest I Go" does that. But herein, Star Trek: Discovery comes into conflict with making great television: characters on great shows make the viewer want to tune in to see what happens to them. So, "Into The Forest I Go" might end at a point of intriguing peril for the crew of the U.S.S. Discovery, but by this point - 9 episodes in - it's virtually impossible to muster up the enthusiasm to watch because the characters are so universally unlikable and miserable to watch.

"Into The Forest I Go" picks up right after "Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum" (reviewed here!) and it is impossible to discuss the midseason finale without some references to the prior episode. After all, Discovery was most recently at the planet Pahvo where Saru was altered by the living planet and the life forms there sent a signal out to call both the Klingons and the Federation. While the Discovery once again found itself staring down the barrels of Klingon weaponry, L'Rell found all of her allies killed by Kol.

The Discovery is contacted by an Admiral who orders the Discovery to retreat from Pahvo. As Lorca appears to comply to the order, he tells his bridge crew that he intends to return to Pahvo once the crew has a solution to defeating the Klingon cloaking device. Michael, Saru and Tyler figure out that they can beat the cloaking device by placing transmitters on the Klingon Ship Of The Dead. Lorca orders Stamets to get a medical exam and Dr. Culber discovers the damage to Stamet's brain. Lorca orders Stamets to perform 133 jumps in order to calibrate the devices Tyler and Burnham will place on Kol's ship.

With a plan and Stamets prepared, the Discovery returns to Pahvo. Tyler and Burnham beam to the Klingon ship with the sensors. After the first sensor is placed, Burnham detects a human life sign elsewhere on the ship. She discovers Admiral Cornwell alive and revives her, but Tyler - having seen L'Rell - goes into shock. While Burnham confronts Kol on the bridge, Cornwell tries to inspire Tyler to resist the Klingons who are coming to kill them. With the mission a success, the crew reflects upon the horrors they have encountered.

"Into The Forest I Go" introduces the idea, quite casually, of alternate universes. Stamets is thrilled by the idea, but given that the concept was still fairly fresh when Kirk reasoned out where he was in "Mirror, Mirror" (reviewed here!), it is yet another issue with continuity in Star Trek: Discovery. The idea seems to support the fan favorite theory that Star Trek: Discovery is set in an alternate universe relative to the Prime, Kelvan, or Mirror Star Trek universes.

Those who truly love Star Trek will find Captain Lorca to be utterly reprehensible in "Into The Forest I Go." While there have been many great acts of sacrifice in the Star Trek franchise, usually those acts are also acts of defiance against the orders of the Captain. Lorca demands, then entices, Stamets into acting as navigator for the dangerous maneuver with the Spore Drive . . . despite the fact that his life is being put at serious risk. Moreover, putting Ash Tyler back in jeopardy among the Klingons shows a severe lack of judgement on Lorca's part.

Similarly, Dr. Culber now stands as the worst doctor in StarFleet history. Not only is he willing to allow his partner to be absolutely tortured, Culber has completely failed to recognize the damage done to Ash Tyler. In a similar way, Admiral Cornwell loses serious points in "Into The Forest I Go" for recognizing Ash Tyler is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, but not having the clinical skills or taking the time to get him to admit to his rape.

Here's the thing, "Into The Forest I Go" actually manages to characterize realistically the effects of rape. Ash Tyler is a rape victim and while I was incredibly bothered by the fact that no one has yet explicitly said he was raped (Lorca must have figured this out when they first met by Tyler telling him that L'Rell had paid special attention to him and yet he had no real external damage), the fact that he is doing things that many rape victims and survivors do - jumping into new sexual relationships, having flashbacks, etc. - is realistically portrayed.

But that leads to two incredible and severe issues with "Into The Forest I Go." First, in the Star Trek universe there is something utterly disturbing about the lack of medical/psychological progression. In two hundred years, rape victims are not treated any better by health care providers than they are in 2017?! In fact, we have regressed in a disturbing way; I was raised with rape education that stressed that the victims were not to blame (which is why it was important to come forward if one was abused). "It is not your fault" is not just a catchy mantra for victims, it's a fact and the circumstances of Ash Tyler's rapes make that statement absolutely undeniable. Captured, starved, and cut open repeatedly, Ash Tyler had absolutely no physical ability to resist being raped by L'Rell. It was not Tyler's fault. His unwillingness to disclose to any of the many people he has encountered since his rescue assumes a very now (2017) sensibility about his victimization.

Second, the producers of Star Trek: Discovery should be ashamed of their approach to sex in the show. Thus far, the most nudity and on-screen sex in Star Trek: Discovery was featured in "Into The Forest I Go" . . . and it was a rape scene.

The idea of the Klingon cloaking device in this era of Star Trek has been problematic; the solution to the Klingon cloaking device is equally troubling. While "Into The Forest I Go" is all about the Discovery finding a way around the cloaking device and cloaking technology might get altered in the future, the fundamentals for getting around the device are solidly created here and yet cloaking technology continues to be a major problem for the Federation for more than a hundred years after.

It's hard to bitch about any of these sorts of technical details after acknowledging that Shazad Latif portrays well a (modern) rape victim and that "Into The Forest I Go" absolutely fails to deal with rape in a forward-thinking or progressed way. "Into The Forest I Go" was easily, by a decent margin, the least-enjoyable hour the Star Trek franchise has thus far produced and it makes it virtually impossible to ever want to return to Star Trek: Discovery.


For other Star Trek episode, movie, and seasons, please check out my comprehensive Star Trek Review Index Page!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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