REVIEW: “The Wolf Inside”
Star Trek: Discovery Season 1, Episode 11 – Debuted Sunday January 14th
Written by Lisa Randolph
Directed by T.J. Scott
“The Wolf Inside” deftly continues the story arc that began in episode 10, while also delivering on some of the longer character arcs being built throughout the first season. Shazad Latif stands out as he is tasked with carrying much of the heavy lifting in the episode and delivers what may be his best performance so far on Discovery. And the production designers, costumers, creature and makeup designers all shined, bringing new and renewed imagery to the screen.
Apropos of the setting, everything feels a bit different and even a bit unsettling throughout the episode. At the same time, the episode has some satisfying classic Star Trek feels along with introducing some classic Star Trek elements, which were nicely renewed for Discovery.
It’s like a classic song you know and love, made new by a band you are just finding out knows how to rock.
Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
“The Wolf Inside” picks up on the story of crew of the USS Discovery finding themselves trapped in the Mirror Universe, with no clear way to get home. While the episode continues the plot from “Despite Yourself,” right off the bat it sets a different tone. From the start, we are drawn into the darker atmosphere of the mirror universe as we bounce between storylines on the USS Discovery and the ISS Shenzhou. Everything about “The Wolf Inside” feels quieter, moodier and more introspective. All of this enhances the fact that things are different here, in this very different universe.
Even the intro segment feels out of place, lasting 15 minutes and bouncing around between characters instead of the usual short and focused pre-credits teaser. During this intro we pick up on what are going to be the three big things for the episode. First, the discovery of Lt. Stamets in a damaged section of the ship, cradling his beloved Hugh Culber’s lifeless body. After the spooky find, Saru and Tilly focus on this side-mission starting with the assumption that it was an addled Stamets who killed Culber.
On the ISS Shenzhou we find Michael Burnham struggling with the impersonation of her ruthless counterpart. Being captain was always her dream, but here we find Michael hauntingly narrating her Mirror Universe “nightmare” to Lt. Tyler who reveals the only thing holding him together is the “tether” of their love. We can see how both of these characters are having epic identity crises.
And lastly we have the main plot progression with Burnham trying to figure out how to fulfill the mission of getting the USS Defiant data files back to the USS Discovery. In addition to circumventing the paranoid IT infrastructure of the Terran Empire, as Captain Burnham she has to maintain her cover, including dealing with the genocidal orders from the Emperor.
There must be some way out of here
Burnham’s orders – direct from the Emperor – are to go to the planet Harlak and destroy the rebel base and leader known as The Firewolf. Consulting with Lorca, who is clearly feeling the effects of his time in the agony booth, Burnham struggles with maintaining her cover by following these orders. It’s no surprise that Lorca doesn’t see the issue. If you have to drop a few photon torpedoes on some rando mirror people to complete your mission, no big whoop.
In a simple, yet powerful scene with Sonequa Martin-Green and Jason Isaacs, once again it falls on the convicted mutineer to point out Starfleet’s core principals to her captain, and remind him of the bigger picture. Burnham is able to see past the mini-arc to the season arc, noting that the head of the alien rebellion is a Klingon.
If she can find out how this Federation-like group has come together, maybe she can get the key to the ending the war with the Klingons back home. After having to witness executions by transporter and getting bathed by Mirror Saru, who is her personal slave, Burnham seems desperate to do something that upholds the ideals her Federation before she loses herself in this dark place.
Director T.J Scott and cinematographer Glen Keenan are able to draw us into the unease Burnham feels by shooting and lighting this world differently compared to the rest of the series. The mood is punctuated by composer Jeff Russo who gives the music a subtle ominous tone throughout.
Rebel rebel, how could they know?
Following the advice of Lorca to only bring Tyler with her – which seemed like a good idea at the time – Burnham heads down to Harlak where she quickly surrenders to the rebels, eschewing her Federation’s favorite line, “We come in peace.”
We then get introduced to this burgeoning little “Coalition of Hope,” complete with our first looks at Discovery’s versions of the other founding Federation members, the Andorians and Tellarites. Any concerns that Discovery was going to radically redesign these two classic Trek races were put aside by impressive updates. Kudos to designers Glenn Hetrick and Neville Page for their nicely detailed work, which also honored what has come before.
Even more importantly, the “Firewolf” was revealed to be the mirror version of Voq, counterpart to T’Kuvma’s torchbearer who hasn’t been seen since episode 4. While Burnham does her best to convince this Klingon that she is a “new” Michael Burham and not the “Butcher of the Binary Stars,” we can also see that Tyler is having a bit of a freak out. And the hits keep coming as we are soon introduced to Mirror Sarek – a properly goateed James Frain – who is some sort of prophet for this ragtag band of aliens.
Burnham doesn’t flinch as Sarek comes in for the mind meld, something she has experienced before. After Mirror Sarek watches an inter-dimensional clip show of his counterpart’s past with Burnham, he is convinced – if not a bit perplexed – by her sincerity. This leads to a quick negotiation between Burnham and Voq to help the rebels escape in exchange for Voq explaining just how he is able to work with these different aliens.
As Trek fans it is easy to forget that for this show, Klingons are very much not the type to be casually hanging out with anyone but other Klingons. Voq reveals that in this universe the Klingon houses are united and that having them in order and fighting a common foe is the key to their inclusiveness. While the moment seemed to fly by, this insight may become important later in the season. But before we can take in any of this discussion and its possible implications, all the talk about Klingons seems to finally break Tyler’s tether as he attacks Voq while screaming in Klingon. The pair square off but Voq easily puts Tyler down.
The entire segment in the alien camp has so much going on with so many layers between the designs and the actors that you really need to watch it a couple times to take it all in. It is even more impressive when you realize that one of the actors is playing two of the parts.
You can’t hide your lyin’ eyes
Since episode 5, just about everyone has picked up on the fact that Lt. Tyler had something to hide about his time as a Klingon prisoner … well, everyone (with the exception of the late Dr. Culber) not on the USS Discovery. But seeing Mirror Voq finally set off the trigger that L’Rell tried to pull last week. This was the episode that we finally and definitively learn that Tyler is actually Voq, surgically altered to look human with Tyler’s personality implanted on top. Even if you knew it as coming, how the reveal was played out was still both satisfying and impactful.
In a devastating scene back on the ship we have Michael Burnham realize her lover is actually the Klingon spy she fought on board the Sarcophogus ship. And that same re-awakened Klingon realizes his alter ego has been getting very up close and personal with the woman who killed his Lord and the Klingon messiah, T’Kuvma. So yeah, it was a bit awkward.
Both Martin-Green and Latif deserve all the accolades for the heartbreaking moments as they slowly peel away the layers of deceit. The pair then pick up where they left of, fighting to the death. To the show’s credit, they didn’t get sappy by having the tether of love break down the raw hate. The re-Voqed Tyler was ready to kill and was only stopped by Burnham’s loyal Kelpien slave. Maybe giving him the name Saru inspired some extra loyalty, as he picked Tyler up and tossed him aside like a rag doll.
Tyler soon finds himself beamed into space as the Terran Empire has a very efficient criminal justice system, only to be saved by the other Saru and the USS Discovery, revealing that his execution became a convenient way to get those USS Defiant data files (remember those?) off the Shenzhou.
Shine on you crazy diamond
While most of the action is over on the ISS Shenzhou, there are still some goings on with the crew of the USS Discovery. With the situation with Stamets losing his mind to the mycelial network becoming dire, Tilly is able to convince acting captain Saru to let her take over his care, which is pretty amazing being that she is only a cadet and not a medical professional. Desperate times, or perhaps he was simply dazzled by her impressive display of technobabble.
Gone was all the fun of last episode’s “Captain Killy” dealing with playing Mirror dress-up as both character and actress pivoted to the life and death situation with Lt. Stamets. Tilly – true to the character – continues to show her ambition as she plies Saru for a recommendation to the Command Training Program while she has poor Lt. Stamets’ life in her hands.
Mary Wiseman continues to show an impressive range through a series of scenes leading up to Stamets being put back into the reaction cube and hooked into the mycelial network which apparently can “link death with life.” And it’s not too long before Stamets actually dies, which would have been devastating except for the way the scene was played out. You almost expected one of the medics to say, “It’s Star Trek after all, don’t worry.”
So, to no one’s surprise, in the final act, Stamets pings the monitors with signs of life. What was a surprise was seeing Paul (presumably where his real consciousness has been hanging out) in a mycelial forest, running into Mirror Stamets, who asks him if he is ready to get to work.
There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold
The last big “surprise” that you probably saw coming was the late reveal of the Emperor, who is really more of an Empress, in the form of the Mirror Phillipa Georgiou. Michelle Yeoh is back again, and now she has a sword too. She didn’t have much to do in the late tease, but the actress chewed things up with some menace.
As if Burnham’s day wasn’t bad enough with her boyfriend turning out to be a Klingon, now she has to deal with the evil version of her beloved dead mentor. And this Georgiou was not happy that Captain Burnham was dragging her feet on destroying the rebel base so she had her flagship handle it in an impressive display of destruction.
And would it be reading too much into things if Lorca’s subtle little smirk after seeing the Emperor was telling? Jason Isaacs’ performance all season long has been keeping us guessing at Lorca’s character and motivations and this is just another delicious moment to add to the list.
No one knows what it’s like to feel these feelings
Last week’s episode reveled in the fun and camp of the mirror universe and even found time for some humor, but this week things got serious and more personal. Writer Lisa Randolph took her time with “The Wolf Inside,” drawing out character moments and playing on their emotions. The major plot beats mostly flew by, and sometimes almost felt incidental to the more important stories about the trials and tribulations our crew is going through.
This was an especially big episode for Michael Burnham. She is being tested by the Mirror Universe. And in the face of all this evil, she is able to hold on to hope and her ideals. Lorca, like the proverbial devil on your shoulder, tells her that the ends justify the means – the same Vulcan-trained logic that resulted in her mutiny. But this Burnham appears to have grown past that. In the face of all that she lost and even dealing with another version of her surrogate father Sarek, she is able to draw strength from her new family, including Tilly as well as Lorca and Saru, both of whom call her “Michael” for the first time. Although, this trip to the evil universe also saw both Burnham and Saru lie to each other, so they aren’t entirely pure and I have a feeling those fibs may have repercussions.
We also see this heart of idealism shine through as Saru explains to Voq/Tyler why he wasn’t left to die. The speech espousing the rule of law of the Federation was preachy, yet the perfect moment of Star Trek in this otherwise bleak universe. This was punctuated with how these two universes dealt with criminals dovetailed together.
It’s more than a feeling
“The Wolf Inside” was a strong, provocative and emotionally charged episode. We may have known what was coming in some cases, but the journey there was entirely satisfying. Being that this is the middle of what appears to be a multi-episode Mirror Universe arc, it had time to spend with developing characters, especially Michael Burnham.
This is one of those episodes where upon reflection you find yourself asking questions like: why doesn’t the Shenzhou crew find it odd that the Discovery is following them at transporter range? Where is Mirror Tyler and why didn’t anyone make a note about how he was talking in Klingon before being executed? Why is a cadet the only other person on board who understands how the spore drive – the most important thing about the ship – works? How did Burnham know that the rebels wouldn’t just kill the “Butcher of the Binary Stars” on sight?
But, really, none of that matters. The episode delivered a series of emotional punches while setting up some key plot points to move forward both the MU mini-arc and likely the entire season’s Klingon War arc. It also satisfied by delivering some classic Star Trek elements, but more importantly, fundamental Star Trek themes. And what else can you ask for? Rock on, Discovery.
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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