REVIEW: “Into the Forest I Go”
Star Trek: Discovery Season 1, Episode 9 – Debuted Sunday November 12th
Written by Bo Yeon Kim and Erika Lippoldt
Directed by Chris Byrne
The midseason finale for Star Trek: Discovery was an action-packed thrill ride that still found time to wear its heart on its sleeve. Everyone upped their game with top-notch acting, designs, music and more to leave the audience anticipating the return in January. Anthony Rapp was a particular standout with so much of the story and emotional punch of the episode falling on Lt. Stamets. With a lot of plates spinning, writers Kim and Lippoldt were able to resolve and reward a number of character and story lines for the season while still finding time to introduce some more.
A cunning plan
“Into the Forest I Go” didn’t waste any time, jumping right into the Lorca-being-insubordinate scene of the week, to set up our ticking clock. No one, well maybe Saru, bless his terrified Kelpian heart, was surprised when Lorca revealed he was going to defy orders and not abandon the planet Pahvo to the Klingons. Unlike other Star Trek captains, Lorca didn’t waste any time letting the squeamish enter protests or opt to sit out the mission.
And in another classic move, he tasks his crew to do in three hours what the best minds of the Federation haven’t been able to pull off since the war started – namely defeat the Klingon cloaking device. After a round of technobabble – which continues to be Sonequa Martin-Green’s kryptonite – we soon have an insane plan to board a Klingon ship to plant some sensors, followed by spore-jumping 133 times, all to gather some data. So very Star Trek.
The last temptation of an astromycologist
The plan requires some convincing on Lorca’s part to get Stamets on board and it’s wonderful to hear a Starfleet captain again talking about the boundless possibilities of exploration. They even throw in the line “you chose to go where no man has gone before,” but it fit so organically and was delivered so seamlessly that it didn’t feel (solely) like fan service.
Part of the beauty of this scene is that we have no idea if Lorca is sincere, as once again, the writers and Jason Isaacs, leave us wondering what his true motivations are. But, it is clear Lorca knows how to get Stamets to go against the will of his partner/doctor and “play roulette with his brain.” Oh, and if you focus too much on the drama and fine acting at hand with Rapp and Isaacs, you may miss the mention of “other, alternative universes,” which feels like a bit of foreshadowing.
With Stamets on board, Lorca gives his St. Crispin’s Day speech to the crew (which was pretty awesome, to be frank), and back to Pahvo we go.
Back to the scene of the crime
As for our main character, Michael Burnham wields logic like a knife as she convinces Lorca into letting her join Lt. Tyler on the boarding party. Sporting some enhanced outfits that allow them to roam the Klingon sarcophagus ship undetected, they set off to plant some obnoxiously loud and obvious sensors on their clandestine mission. Seriously, what’s the point of masking your life-signs, when your giant glowing Starfleet-branded sensors literally announce themselves?
The sensor planting really becomes a side show for Burnham’s return to this ship where she lost her captain and mentor in episode 2. We soon find out Kol is holding Admiral Cornwell (apparently not dead) although it is a bit odd that Tyler was surprised Kol had any human prisoners. It’s a war, and of course Cornwell was MIA. In addition, they find L’Rell, also not dead, and as soon as Tyler sees the Klingon he says held him captive since the war began, he checks out, lost in terrifying flashbacks.
Leaving Tyler behind allows for Burnham to fittingly face her demons alone as she returns to where her world fell apart, on the bridge of this Klingon ship. In order to keep the ship from leaving, she reveals herself to Kol and uses her knowledge of Klingon culture to goad him into a challenge.
This is when Martin-Green is in her element, fighting with words and weapons. And finally freed from the burden of speaking Klingon – thanks to the universal translator – Kenneth Mitchell also shows some chops as Kol. Their fight scene was the best choreographed and directed of the series so far. And Burnham’s last-minute jumping beam-out was epic as she drops the mek’leth like a rapper dropping the mic.
Klingon love triangle
As has been noted before, there are a number of parallels with L’Rell and Burnham and this episode took that to 11, with both of these women tugging on the emotions of Lt. Tyler. What was only implied before became explicit as we learn Tyler survived so long in prison because he encouraged L’Rell’s affections for him.
In his best episode yet, Shazad Latif makes us believe he was not only the victim of torture, but also sexual assault. Who would have guessed the first nude scene on this show would be a Klingon rape? And Martin-Green also deserves credit here. Unlike the previous episode, this time the emotional dynamic between Burnham and Tyler felt organic, necessary and genuine.
Dammit, Stamets, I love you
However, when it comes to range and raw emotion conveyed in this episode, the award has to go to Anthony Rapp. He both drove the plot, and delivered the emotional heart as Stamets went from reveling in the science, to struggling in the reaction chamber, to quipping about seeing “La Boheme” with his partner. Speaking of which, Wilson Cruz continues to be a surprise, as he struggles to keep his man alive.
The chemistry with these two is so compelling and so authentic, you don’t even notice Star Trek history going by as they kiss. And even though Kim and Lippoldt telegraphed it – Stamets’ last jump turning him seemingly blind and lost in the strands of his mycelial network – was still a gut-punch.
Boom goes the Klingons
The success of the mission on the Klingon ship quickly resolved to a rather brief and one-sided battle. After prepping his eyes for the flash, Lorca watches the Sarcophogus ship go up in a puff of photon torpedoes. Knowing that his light sensitivity came from watching the destruction of his last command at the hands of the Klingons makes it all the more satisfying, and that is just one example of how Kim and Lippoldt add subtle character and lore layers throughout the episode.
Of course, the mission to that ship was also a big moment for Burnham’s redemption arc as well as she literally brought home what remained of her lost Captain, getting a needed nod of approval from her Shenzhou shipmate, Saru. Maybe it would have been too much for her to give Saru the badge, but it could have been a nice callback to the last episode when Saru laments to her “You keep taking things from me.”
We are led to believe that this is the beginning of the end of the war with the Klingons, a war that is said to be the focus of the first season. And to be honest, it won’t be missed. The show has never really sold us on this war. Sure there is some lip service to the “trillions of lives” that are at stake, but Discovery in general has failed to make the war seem real or relevant. It has served to further some character moments, but it is time to move on.
Guys, where are we?
“Into the Forest I Go” was not the best episode of the season (in my book that is still “Lethe”) but it is possibly second best and certainly fits in with what has been a surprisingly strong mid-season for Discovery. It is almost inconceivable that this show would have ended its first chapter (as originally planned) with last week’s episode which was a good stand-alone, but left too many things hanging. Episode 9 offers a much more satisfying finale feeling. However, there is an irony that Pahvo, last week’s strange planet that called the Klingons and Federation together, played absolutely no part in this episode except for being a giant damsel in distress.
And of course once this episode settled you in with that “finale feeling” by having just enough resolutions, it opened up a whole new set of things to explore for the second chapter of the first season. Stamets final jump with the spore drive didn’t go so well for him, or the ship, as the Discovery ended up in a mysterious place. Although, with Captain Lorca, one has to wonder if he knows more about where they are than he is letting on. And that is as good as any cliffhanger to keep you interested until January 7th, when Discovery warps back into action with six more episodes.
Random thoughts and easter eggs
- Cadet Decker gets another shoutout, will we ever meet him and is it Will Decker?
- We finally got to see the little shoulder lights in action on the tactical vests.
- The life-signs pattern simulators seem really handy. Is this another piece of Trek tech that lives only in an episode only to be forgotten?
- In the future, people really need to figure out locks that can’t be picked by prying off the panels and fiddling or cutting the wires.
Star Trek: Discovery is available on CBS All Access on in the US and airs in Canada on the Space Channel. It is available on Netflix outside the USA and Canada.
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