“The War Without, the War Within”
Star Trek: Discovery Season 1, Episode 14 – Debuted Sunday, February 4th
Written by Lisa Randolph
Directed by David Solomon
The fourteenth episode of Star Trek: Discovery returns the crew to the prime universe and refocuses on the overall arc of the first season, the war with the Klingons. Unfortunately, this penultimate episode is also a return to the uneven nature of the season’s early episodes, feeling a bit disjointed along with head-scratching character decisions and plot points.
“The War Without, the War Within” has some standout performances, notably Shazad Latif, whose Tyler is still dealing with the fallout of his transformation. Also guest actress Jayne Brook delivers a nicely nuanced performance and drives much of the story as Admiral Cornwell deals with the void left by Captain Lorca following last week’s eventful episode.
While it has its moments, the episode is more of a set up for next week’s season finale. Writer Lisa Randolph takes on the ongoing idea of redemption and endeavors to analyze who our characters are, but leaves the episode without providing much progress. Episode 14 feels more like a series of memes, in search of a theme.
That escalated quickly
“The War Without, the War Within” picks up immediately after the events of last week’s exciting “What’s Past is Prologue,” which had the USS Discovery return to the prime universe, overshooting their jump and arriving nine months after they left, only to find the Federation losing the war against the Klingons.
The extended teaser dips into what will be the main elements for the episode, starting with Emperor Georgiou being brought on board by Michael Burnham. Acting Captain Saru was surprised to see who he thought was the late Captain Georgiou in the transporter room, but he soon learned her true nature and quickly got a hint at her gruesome cuisine choices. After calling him “slave,” she was dispatched to secure quarters to be dealt with later.
After chiding Burnham for lying to him about the state of Kelpiens in the Mirror Universe, all is forgiven by Saru, who appreciates her heroics in getting them home. She freely admits that she saved Georgiou for personal reasons related to her regret over her actions toward their former captain on the USS Shenzhou. It’s nice to see these two characters bonding again, and returning to the chemistry – ably shown by Martin-Green and Jones – they had in the pilot, before she Vulcan nerve pinched her way into mutiny and a prison sentence.
Saru brings up what will be another major thrust of this episode, returning to the Tyler story line left hanging in episode 12. Ash has been successfully de-Voqed, so it’s time to decide what to do with him. Burnham makes it clear that she is not ready to talk: finding out your boyfriend was a Klingon who then tried to kill you apparently isn’t easy to get over.
This leaves Saru to debrief Tyler, who explains more about how he was transformed, revealing he was the test case for the Klingon “species reassignment protocol.” Shazad Latif continues to impress as he tells the story (in gruesome detail) of his painful transformation and expresses his heartbreaking awareness of what he did when he was Voq. Saru trusts this new Tyler enough that he is not being held responsible for the death of Dr. Culber and is given his freedom, with limited privileges and some kind of monitoring bracelet.
The teaser wraps up with a bit of action as the USS Discovery is boarded by a Starfleet security team including Andorian and Tellarite officers, who are soon followed by Sarek and Admiral Cornwell, who overrides the ship’s command codes to tell the computer she is in charge. Clearly something drastic has happened in the nine months the Discovery has been gone to make people suspicious, which really shouldn’t have surprised Saru and the crew as much as it did. They knew the ISS Discovery took their place — who knows what it has been up to? Good thing Sarek can use a mind meld on Saru – apparently he doesn’t need permission – to get up to speed on what happened in episodes 10-13. Now all Admiral Cornwell wants to know about is where is her ex-boyfriend, Gabriel Lorca. Awkward.
Overly attached girlfriend
The action moves to the Discovery’s briefing room with our cast of characters sitting around the table, letting us know we’re in store for a classic Star Trek exposition scene. But just to keep us on our toes, Admiral Cornwell gavels the meeting to order by vaporizing a perfectly good bowl of Lorca’s family fortune cookies – she is not happy about the answer to her question about Lorca’s location, and this is her coping mechanism for believing that she’d been tricked by Mirror Lorca, while ‘her’ Lorca was killed after he was swapped onto the ISS Buran. But since this is Star Trek, who is to say she is right about his fate? It’s a good bet we haven’t seen the last of Jason Isaacs as one Lorca or another.
It turns out the gang in the Prime Universe never figured out the the USS Discovery was replaced by the ISS Discovery, led by Captain “Killy.” Conveniently, but inexplicably, the Klingons completely destroyed what they thought was the Federation’s secret weapon. As Sarek notes, “That Lorca was an imposter from an alternative universe was not the most obvious conclusion.” The decision is made to super-duper classify all information about the Mirror Universe in order to maintain morale in the Federation, conveniently also preserving canon so Kirk and crew can be surprised by the goateed Spock in “Mirror, Mirror” a decade later.
More importantly, without the the cloaking tech data the Discovery crew picked up in episode 9, the Federation has been losing the war pretty badly. We hear about all sorts of different attacks that have taken place, with the “feudal savagery” of 24 Klingon houses competing over which one can come up with the most creative ways to attack and kill inside Federation territory.
This is all another unfortunate butterfly effect from episode 9 after the Discovery crew killed General Kol, leader of the Empire. All of what has happened sounds pretty interesting, which may make some viewers wish they got to see it instead of just hearing about it after a too-long trip to the Mirror Universe.
All your base are belong to us
The new plan is to fall back to Starbase 1 to regroup and brief what’s left of Federation leadership, but there is a wrinkle: the ship is out of spores to make the jump. They decide to head there at warp, even though Klingons are everywhere. We have some goals, some jeopardy, and are finally ready to move forward.
Later, when they show up at Starbase 1 – apparently it wasn’t so hard warping around with all those enemy ships about after all – they find the station occupied (and painted on) by the Klingons, with no sign of Federation life. This is another gut-punch for Admiral Cornwell, now in command of the Discovery, so much so that Saru has to step in to order the ship back to warp before the Klingons notch another starship Discovery on their belts.
With Plan A dead, Cornwell seeks out L’Rell, the Klingon who saved her life back in episode 8. The admiral has no time to listen to Klingon propaganda about how the Federation is out to get them, stating bluntly that “T’Kuvma was an ignorant fool.” Cornwell is desperate for answers on how to end the war, but L’Rell can see nothing short of conquering the Klingons as way to get their attention. These two women may struggle to see past their differences but they respect each other’s power and even though her time is brief, Mary Chieffo continues to impress as L’Rell.
Acting as a sort of golden armor-wearing spider in the middle of the web of this episode is Emperor Phillipa Georgiou, who impresses both Sarek and Cornwell with her physical resemblance to the late Captain Georgiou. The similarities end there. The more sympathetic version of Georgiou from the end of episode 13 is gone, with the ruthless tyrant reasserting herself and demanding to be returned to her darker home universe. Michelle Yeoh continues to dominate as she plays out a series of scenes with various people popping in to have chats with the Emperor; it’s almost like she’s holding court, despite being in alien territory.
In a moment likely meant to evoke the pre-mutiny scene between Burnham and Sarek in the pilot, Michael seeks out the Emperor to find out how she defeated the Klingons. After some goading from Georgiou about her weakness for her dead captain, the Emperor drops some knowledge about how the Klingons are like cancer and the cure is to cut out the tumor that is Qo’noS. She really is not a nice person.
Going after Qo’noS becomes Plan B for the episode, with an insane scheme involving the ship spore-jumping into an underground chamber for a gonzo recon mission as a prelude to an all out attack on the Klingon homeworld. Apparently no one has been there since the name-dropped Jonathan Archer in the 22nd century. Lucky for this crew they have someone from another universe who brought along her copy of the Travel Guide to the Klingon Empire to help out.
Things get even darker when the spidery Emperor lures Sarek into her quarters for some more monologuing about their shared Michael Burnhams. She lets him know that going to Qo’noS may score some points, but if they want to go to the bonus round to win the game, they have to completely destroy the Klingons, and of course she has a plan because the Federation are a bunch of hapless fools who can’t fight their way out of a paper bag without help from evil people from another universe. And of course like any good temptress, this devil is demanding a price: her freedom.
While all this plot is marching on, there is a good amount of soap opera-level drama related to the aftermath of Ash Tyler’s reintegration into the ship, following a “minor incident” involving killing Dr. Culber. To start things off, Ash has a run in with Lt. Stamets, who may not be ready to forgive, holding back his emotions but asking the former Klingon, “Does it gut you? Does it sicken you?”
On the other side of things you have Tilly, back to her regular hair and chipper ways and ready to hang with Tyler just like the old days. In a scene straight out of an afterschool special, she gets all the kids in the cafeteria to accept poor Tyler and have lunch with him. This group includes Detmer, in a stark contrast to the evil side eye she gave Michael Burnham when she first came on board following her mutiny.
Tyler’s arc gets even weirder when Michael Burnham chats with Sarek about how she is not ready to deal with him. The usually ice-cold Vulcan somehow finds his inner Dr. Phil, offering sage relationship advice. He gets downright sentimental, telling her “Do not regret loving someone.” Someone, check this Vulcan’s eyes, because I don’t think he is in the right universe.
Tilly joins in later by telling Burnham that she has learned from life in the Terran Empire how to hold on to her ideals and to reject the darkness. She implores Burnham to seek out Tyler, who needs her, revealing he has been stripped of all rank and may end up becoming a study subject by some Starfleet scientists. According to Tilly, how they treat this ‘new’ Tyler is a test of who they are as people.
Eventually Burnham musters up the strength to see Tyler, but it doesn’t go well. She doesn’t accept his apology, he brings up how her parents died, she brings up how he tried to choke her to death. These two are not ready to hug it out. It appears that her Vulcan-trained logic is failing her, as her hatred of Voq blinds her to her love of Tyler.
Sonequa Martin-Green and Shazad Latif are able to deliver strong performances, digging into these emotional character moments. But given her apparent trust and faith in a clearly evil Emperor, Michael’s reaction seems a bit off. Maybe she can cut this poor mind-controlled guy some slack? Maybe that is something left for the finale, and maybe this episode spent too much time on this storyline, perhaps trying to make up for no time spent on it in episode 13.
One does not simply spore into Qo’noS
Over the last few episodes, we have learned that the forest Stamets has grown onboard, which supplies the spores that fuel the ship’s spore drive, has died. Surprise! This isn’t quite as tragic as we were led to believe. In yet another one of the episode’s convenient reveals, Paul already has a back-up plan. He has the original bit of space fungus, so all they need to do is regrow it.
The action for this subplot revolved around finding a lifeless moon and doing a “mini Genesis device magic” thanks to a bank of conveniently available launchers that implant and stimulate the extremely rapid growth of a new mycelial forest. After an impressive effects sequence involving terms like “rhizomes” and “EM darts” they are back in the spore-driving business.
Deal with it
The episode ends with – you guessed it! – another twist. Sarek calls in on behalf of the Federation Council to let Cornwell know they are so desperate that they are willing to move forward based on whatever it was Sarek and Georgiou talked about off camera, leading Cornwell to make a shipwide announcement.
Cornwell’s big (fake) reveal is that Captain Georgiou is alive and well and being given command of the USS Discovery for its daring mission to map Qo’noS. The cover story is that she was never dead, but was captured by and then rescued from the Klingons. It is clear that Saru and Burnham – who watch agape as the Emperor posing as “Captain Georgiou” strides onto the bridge after waiting outside for maximum dramatic impact- were not aware this was coming. The twist is so twisty that all the other characters are kept in the dark to maximize the reaction.
Burnham accepts her orders from Georgiou with a subtly indignant “Yes, Captain,” and we fade to black, probably feeling just like her. WTF?
This episode was a bit frustrating. It starts by bringing us up to speed on a war that was supposed to be the central backdrop of the show, but apparently we continue to miss all the cool parts. And even with all the exposition, it’s still not entirely clear what’s going on. On one hand we are told that (before it was taken) Starbase 1 was the “only remaining sanctuary,” but we are also told only 20% of Federation space has been occupied — but then whenever they show the maps it looks much worse than that.
Beyond nitpicking, it is hard to imagine the Federation was in such a desperate position and yet this was never again mentioned in Star Trek canon. A lot of leeway can be given to this show, especially with visual canon. Some things can be explained, like how they made the trip to the Mirror Universe a super-secret, but the Klingons killing masses of people and taking over large chunks of Federation space seems like it should be a big deal. Worf or Kor or someone probably would have mentioned it.
And there is something more fundamentally wrong here that the show seems to be saying, which is that the Federation needs to outsource leadership in war. Sarek explicitly states that “Starfleet tactics have failed us.” Things really started going bad when Lorca (revealed to be from the Terran Empire) took the Discovery back to his home universe, and now things can only be turned around by handing that same ship to the Mirror Universe Emperor?
Yes, Star Trek has always presented the Federation and Starfleet as peaceful organizations, but they have always been able to muster the strength and ingenuity to defend themselves. It was recently revealed that Bryan Fuller’s original idea for Lorca was that he was a brilliant tactician from our universe, but the replacement showrunners’ struck on the idea of Lorca being from the Mirror Universe because it would answer the question about why he was so successful in war.
Starfleet doesn’t need to bring in ringers for its war leadership. A cursory glance at the records of Kirk, Picard, Sisko, Janeway and Archer (and many others in Starfleet history) shows that these people knew their way around a phaser bank: just ask the Klingons, Romulans, Suliban, Cardassians, Ferengi, Dominion, and Borg of their eras.
Hopefully this is all leading somewhere, but for now they seem to fragmenting canon and twisting Star Trek in order to make some point, which we will apparently learn in the finale.
Cool story, bro
“The War Without, the War Within” seems to be a step back in quality for the show and a return to the more uneven episodes of the beginning of the season. After spending so much time building these characters, many seem to be acting out of character. Combined with that are a number of confusing plot contrivances and conveniences that seem to exist only to deliver unnecessarily dramatic moments.
Episode 14 had some strong performances, cool special effects, a nice Enterprise namedrop, and it was great to see a good old-fashioned conference room briefing, which is so very Star Trek. But all of that wasn’t enough. In a way, this feels more like a coda for episode 13 and a prolonged set-up for episode 15. In the end, maybe the extension from 13 episodes to 15 didn’t serve the series as a whole and it could have been tighter and more focused by sticking to the original plan for thirteen.
With all that said, anticipation for upcoming finale remains high. The show overall has delivered enough on character, thrill and Star Trek lore to maintain a high level of excitement and mystery as to how this will all turn out.
Random thoughts, connections, easter eggs
- The Mo’Kai “species reassignment protocol” is likely the process later used for the Klingon spy Arne Darvin.
- Dr. Pollard (Raven Duada) is another medical doctor but not the Chief Medical Officer, who apparently is so busy doing Andorian tonsillectomies that he or she hasn’t been seen by anyone or even mentioned since episode 5.
- Speaking of department heads, where were the heads of engineering, science, tactical, etc during the briefing with the Admiral? People like Burnham and Stamets may have important information, but doesn’t this ship have any sort of chain of command?
- Opening teaser was quite long, last week had no teaser at all. The show seems to be embracing its streaming nature by experimenting episode-by-episode with the structure.
- The Emperor’s quarters may not be ISS Charon opulent, but were still large and lavish for Starfleet standards.
- Something about Sarek’s farewell to Michael felt final, as if he was headed somewhere very dangerous.
- The location of Starbase 1 was said to be 100 AUs from Earth, or right outside the Kuiper Belt, so why was it orbiting a blue planet? Is it Planet X?
- What does this show have against showing other ships? Most often, like when the Admiral’s ship approached and boarded the Discovery and when Sarek departed, we never see the other ships. Is this a creative choice or cost-saving?
- What are they going to do with that transporter tech who knows the truth about Georgiou. With her in charge, I would stay away from any airlocks if I were him.
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.
Keep up with all the Star Trek: Discovery news at TrekMovie.