Star Trek: Discovery’s “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum” is another excellent entry into the Trek continuum, featuring a classic standalone plot of first contact and exploration that fits neatly into the larger story of the season. The characters have to confront their own shortcomings and resolve their issues while adhering to Starfleet protocol in a challenging situation.
This episode is a bit like last week’s in that the main plot functions as a standalone story while still being tied into the serialized plot. Michael, Saru, and Ash Tyler are sent on a mission to the planet Pahvo which vibrates with constant unknown frequencies, sending sounds far out into space. They’re confronted by clouds of glowing blue dust with clear consciousness and led to a little hut. Saru is more capable of communicating with the dust and is also more susceptible to the constant noise the planet makes. It turns out that the dust is a manifestation of the plant’s life force and everything on the planet is connected. (There’s a great Ursula K. Le Guin novella sort of like that which only pleases me more.) The basic problem they are trying to solve in the plot is that they’d like to use the frequencies of the planet to make a kind of sonar that can detect cloaked Klingon ships. The complication becomes that Saru is assimilated into the planet’s culture of peace and is willing to defend it at all cost. (The title of this episode is a Latin adage that translates to “if you want peace, prepare for war” which is very apt.)
Saru decides to strand the three of them on the planet to keep the planet safe from outside forces. He ends up viciously attacking both Tyler and Michael to keep them from contacting Starfleet for retrieval. In true Star Trek fashion, Michael is concerned with protocol, Tyler is concerned with the mission and winning the war, and Saru loses himself to his weaknesses. It’s very well done, keeps everyone sympathetic, and explores important themes of humanity, exploration, and dire circumstances. The best part is that the blue dust isn’t nefarious in any way. It didn’t put Saru up to harming anyone, and its ultimate goal is to seek out new life and new civilizations. It’s basically a huge lonely creature that wants to be noticed. In the end, it chastises Saru for causing conflict and readily helps Michael contact the Discovery. I love that all she really has to do is explain that Starfleet’s ultimate goal is also the planet’s exact philosophy of peace and contact and it’s immediately on her side. Then, because its whole existence is a search for harmony, it takes it upon itself to send out a massive signal that calls the Klingons right to the planet and Discovery itself. It’s such a simple, gentle, benevolent entity that it truly believes getting two opposing forces to meet will result in peace. It’s adorable, if misguided under the circumstances. I’m kind of in love with a whole planet now. Saru’s guilt and repentance for his behavior in the end is also in line with the rest of this series which allows conflict between the crew but always allows the characters to resolve the conflict and work through their problems together. Saru explains himself and Michael and Tyler forgive him. It’s lovely.
Saru and the ground mission took center stage but a few other things of import were peppered throughout this episode. Tilly confronts Stamets about his odd behavior and, since this is Tilly we’re talking about, of course he confides in her. Stamets keeps switching between his old stuffy self and his more loose and loving side. I’m thinking he’s losing grip on what part of reality he is in and possibly is waffling between universes. It’s a nice little side note to thread through this episode because Stamets’ issues will clearly have consequences in the future but it’s not the central focus of this particular story. Even so, Tilly and Stamets are given enough space to have a bit of character development even when the focus isn’t on them.
The other side story is Admiral Cornwell’s time with the Klingons. It’s been two weeks since Cornwell was kidnapped and, honestly, I almost forgot about her. L’Rell, the female Klingon we’ve been following since the beginning, offers herself as an interrogator to the new Klingon leader Kol. L’Rell is such a great character. She claims that she’s going to break Cornwell who won’t give up any information. The wrinkle is that L’Rell hates Kol who she believes is without honor and perceives his presence as defiling to the Klingon death ship. Rather than torturing her, L’Rell strikes a deal with Cornwell, claiming that she wants to defect to Starfleet in exchange for helping her escape. It’s unclear if L’Rell was genuine about wanting to defect because, as they’re escaping, they’re discovered by Kol and his guard and L’Rell kills Cornwell to cover herself. What is clear is that L’Rell genuinely hates Kol and vows to get revenge on him for killing all of her comrades. After Kol demands her allegiance and initiates her into his House, he tells her that she knows she is lying and she’s presumably dragged off for torture. I love L’Rell because you can never tell if she’s genuine, manipulating people, or genuine but also manipulating people. She’s very tricky and I enjoy watching her play Klingon politics so masterfully. She gets to be ruthless and strong without the additional burden of needing to be “likable.” To my mind, she’s the smartest Klingon we’ve seen and easily holds her own.
Star Trek: Discovery continues to be a wonderful modern sci-fi show that perfectly captures the original spirit of the universe that it’s playing in. This episode strikes and excellent balance between standalone and serialized storytelling with a compelling main mission and enough subplot to keep the overall arc moving forward.
Season 1, Episodes 8 (S01E08)
Star Trek: Discovery is currently streaming in CBS All Access
Dana is a digitization archivist by day and a masked pop culture avenger by night. She spreads the gospel of science fiction and fantasy wherever she goes.
Follow Dana on Twitter: @DanaLeighBrand
Keep up with all of Dana’s reviews here.
Dana Leigh Brand | Contributor