Star Trek: Discovery S1E8: Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum

“If you want peace, prepare for war.” That’s the English translation of this episode’s Latin title, but this installment of Discovery is less focused on war and peace, and more on friendship and enmity. When one hand is extended in friendship, how do you know the other isn’t holding a knife behind the back?

After last week’s more-or-less self-contained Harry Mudd episode, “Si Vis Pacem” gives us a little bit of everything. We get our first away mission, as Burnham, Saru, and Tyler discover life — but not as we know it — on an Avatar-like planet, bookended by a firefight with the Klingons and a followup on Admiral Cornwell, Captain Lorca’s lover-turned-boss last seen captured by the Klingons.

Both missions involve trusting new friends. L’Rell (the female Klingon last seen interrogating Tyler and Lorca) makes overtures to join Kol, offering to prove herself by interrogating Cornwell, who has thus far remained silent. There’s an interesting set of mind games here, as it’s not clear whether L’Rell legitimately wants to join Kol, or wants revenge on him for undermining her plans with Voq to unite the Klingons. And when she shows sympathy to Cornwell, is she undermining Kol? Or playing good cop to get what she wants from the prisoner, knowing, as we learned two episodes ago, that Cornwell’s prone to falling into obvious traps?

Frankly, it’s hard to tell even by episode’s end. While the setup is well done, the execution makes it hard to tell what L’Rell’s true intentions are, or whether things play out the way they do because her plan works or because it falls apart and she’s forced to improvise.

Fortunately, the A-story fares better. Planet Pahvo’s plant life emits musical vibrations, which Starfleet wants to use as a kind of sonar to detect invisible Klingon ships. But upon beaming down, Saru discovers a new form of life, which presents a problem. To complete the mission without violating the Prime Directive, Saru has to get the Pahvans to both understand his mission and approve of it. They’re welcoming enough, offering not just friendship, but peace, harmony, and balance for the perpetually fearful Saru and his crewmates. But the trio have no way of knowing whether there’s more to the offer than meets the eye.

Our first glimpse at a new planet (apart from the desert in the premiere) is a worthwhile one, as a simple CGI trick — turning all the leaves on the trees bright blue — goes a long way towards making the world seem alien. Likewise, the Pahvans — floating blue lights that coalesce into vaguely humanoid shapes — aren’t much more complicated than Next Generation‘s transporter effect, but for a franchise built on styrofoam rocks and foreheads-of-the-week, it’s a big step forward.

That Disco is part of a franchise never seems to be far out of mind. When Burnham tells Tyler they can’t be together after the war because she’ll be sent back to jail, they share a quote from Search For Spock—”the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.” The episode’s theme isone we’ve heard before too, but in a much less-loved film, The Final Frontier, and Kirk’s realization that, “I need my pain.”

Saru, Burnham, and Tyler are all confronted by their pain on Pahva, and each experience their own bout of survivor’s guilt. The Pahvans offer to help them let go of the traumas they’ve experienced during the war. But is that a good thing or a bad thing?

There are no easy answers. And there’s no tidy resolution for Discovery, just a cliffhanger that leads into next week’s “Fall Finale,” “Into the Forest I Go.”

Episode notes:
Michael and Ash reach that all-important relationship milestone: first kiss that isn’t later erased by a temporal loop.

When Stamets is loopy from the spore drive, he addresses Tilly as “Captain.” Did he hallucinate that Lorca was in the room? Or given his unusual relationship with the timeline, was he getting a glimpse of the future? We’re pretty sure somewhere on the internet, someone just stopped work on their NaNoWrimo to write Future Captain Tilly fan fiction.

This is my first time writing episodic TV reviews; after last week’s plot-heavy write-up, I tried to move away from that this time. Hopefully I’ll be able to strike a good balance in time for the show to go off the air until the New Year. Feel free to let me know how I’m doing in the comments.