Sunday, January 14, 2018

Ash Tyler Is The Winter Soldier In "The Wolf Inside!"

The Good: Performances are all right, Good direction/effects
The Bad: Terrible character work for most of the episode, Continuity issues, Simplistic and somewhat ridiculous plot progression.
The Basics: "The Wolf Inside" progresses Star Trek: Discovery in the Mirror Universe as Michael Burnham tries to extract critical data and survive as Captain of the Shenzhou!

Last week's Star Trek: Discovery, massive fuck yous to franchise continuity aside, was a fairly decent episode. Sticking the crew of the U.S.S. Discovery in the Mirror Universe from "Mirror, Mirror" (reviewed here!) allowed Star Trek: Discovery to make an episode that was marginally interesting and reveal a few aspects of the characters that had not yet been dealt with. The Mirror Universe is a fun place for Star Trek writers and directors to play around and it gives the actors a chance to try some new things. Unfortunately for Star Trek: Discovery, viewers are still in the process of getting good characterization for most of the main cast to make the novelty of the Mirror Universe truly engaging. But, "Despite Yourself" was a two-parter and its second part is "The Wolf Inside."

"The Wolf Inside" picks up right after "Despite Yourself" (reviewed here!) and it is impossible to discuss the new episode without some references to key events in the prior one. After all, "Despite Yourself" had the death of a key character - the Chief Medical Officer - at the hands of Ash Tyler and Tyler was revealed to be a memory engram implanted atop the memories of a Klingon spy whose physiology was altered. So, while Michael Burnham, Lorca and Tyler are impersonating their alternate universe selves aboard the I.S.S. Shenzhou, the key plot events of the prior episode resonate into "The Wolf Inside."

Aboard the U.S.S. Discovery, Stamets cradles his partner's body. On the Shenzhou, Burnham meets the Mirror version of Saru, who is her personal slave. Burnham keeps Tyler close and she lies to Saru when he contacts her about her lack of contact with her doppelganger. Saru has Stamets restrained during the investigation into Culbert's murder. Tilly advocates to take over Stamet's care while Burnham tries desperately to find a way to break the Imperial firewall to be able to transmit data on the U.S.S. Defiant to the Discovery. When Burnham is tasked with hunting down the Fire Wolf, the Klingon leader of the Resistance, she decides to personally infiltrate the Klingon base.

After meeting with Lorca, Burnham beams down to meet with the Fire Wolf. On the Discovery, Tilly floods Stamets's body with spores in order to try to restore Stamets's brain. Meeting with the Fire Wolf, Tyler is shocked to recognize Voq. Burnham is equally shocked when Voq brings out Sarek to determine her honesty. While Sarek is able to determine that Burnham is telling the truth about her peaceful intentions, Tyler snaps and attacks Voq. Returning to the Shenzhou, Tyler's conditioning unravels and he reveals his true nature to Burnham. Tilly manages to treat Stamets in such a way that he encounters his Mirror Universe counterpart. And as Burnham prepares to complete her mission, The Emperor arrives!

The essential conflict within Michael Burnham in "The Wolf Inside" is a problematic one for her established character. Burnham monologues early in the episode about having to supress her emotions and adopt what is needed to survive in the Mirror Universe. The issue with this conflict coming from Burnham is that she was raised as a Vulcan and has been supressing her human emotions almost the entire series so far. If anyone could repress their natural instincts without discomfort, it seems like it would be Burnham. So, the sudden conflict with her emotions feels forced. As the episode progresses, there are key moments when Burnham's upbringing as a Vulcan would seem to allow her to compartmentalize when she is left to make difficult decisions.

The positive aspect of Burnham's character in "The Wolf Inside" comes in her advocacy for the Resistance. Burnham argues that the Resistance in the Mirror Universe represents the closest to the Federation that the Mirror Universe is likely to get. She argues to interact with the Fire Wolf because it might give her the clues on how to interact with Klingons that she might be able to take back to her native universe to make peace with the Klingons. That is an honorable goal and a clever twist from the somewhat mundane direction of the rest of the character arcs in "The Wolf Inside."

"The Wolf Inside" seems to be predicated on the idea that only the main characters are at all competent. Tilly is a cadet, yet is the only member of the science, medical and/or engineering staffs who is able to treat Stamets?! Tilly is decent at solving a scientific problem, which she tries to parlay into a role in command training with Saru?! The Resistance includes most Federation races, but has Klingons swapped in for humans, which is terrible continuity with the established Mirror Universe of Star Trek and Star Trek Deep Space Nine. And when The Emperor is revealed, the character is hardly a surprise given how the show has stuck with established characters - Sarek, Voq, etc. - for the big reveals.

Tyler is arguably the least-competent spy the Klingons have ever put in the field (presumably, had he witnessed any library footage of his Klingon self, his training would have similarly unraveled). The Mirror Voq is strangely spineless and "The Wolf Inside" misses a critical opportunity to use the Mirror Sarek to reveal - and possibly mentally stabilize - Tyler's true nature.

Ultimately, "The Wolf Inside" springs a number of narrative traps laid in the early episodes, but it does so in defiance of the established character traits or in an interesting way. Even the episode's final two reversals are unsurprising and they fall flat as the music telegraphs that they are Big Moments. The result is a middle episode in the Star Trek Discovery Mirror Universe Saga that is simplistic and surprisingly dull.

For other Mirror Universe episodes, please check out my reviews of:
"In A Mirror Darkly, Part 1" - Star Trek: Enterprise
"Crossover" - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
"The Emperor's New Cloak" - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine


For other Star Trek episode, movie, and seasons, please check out my Star Trek Review Index Page where the works are organized from best to worst!

© 2018 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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