Warning: This recap includes spoilers for Episode 8 of "Star Trek: Discovery."
We haven't seen enough of the Klingons in this first season of "Discovery," so it was great that the show once again spent a lot of time with the group that is led by Kol, the Klingon who is uniting the various houses to fight Starfleet, and the conflict itself.
Let's focus on Starfleet first. The episode opens with the USS Discovery executing a failed rescue of the USS Gagarin, which was under attack by six Klingon ships that were all using cloaking technology. Discovery fails, in part, because it's hard to figure out where to fire, since every Klingon ship is invisible. [15 of the Most Bizarre Alien Species Featured in 'Star Trek']
To stop this problem in its tracks, star Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), human security officer Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif) and the Kelpien alien Saru (Doug Jones) beam down to the surface of a planet called Pahvo. The planet is said to be uninhabited, and emits natural audio signals. Starfleet reckons that a huge tower on the planet could be modified to disrupt the Klingons' cloaking devices and win the war.
That mission gets derailed by the Prime Directive, a Starfleet rule that comes into play whenever the crew encounters a new species. The trio quickly discovers that Pahvo hosts wispy, powder-like blue beings that communicate in chirps and trills, and talk about living in harmony with all beings. As Burnham explains, Starfleet now needs to get the beings' permission to use any technology that belongs to them. Saru tries to communicate with the beings and falls under their spell; soon, he also speaks in optimistic terms about eternal peace (despite the imminent Klingon problem).
So Burnham and Tyler — in between sharing a first kiss and a first fight (in this timeline) on the picturesque planet — set out to defy Saru. Burnham dashes off to the tower to set up the disruptor, while Tyler tries to distract Saru, with little success. Saru reaches the tower; then, he and Burnham have a great fist/phaser/stick fight as Burnham tries to reason with him. Finally, the Pahvans intervene and make the tower start sending out a signal.
Unfortunately, the signal is not meant to disrupt the Klingon shielding devices. Instead, it's intended to send a communications signal to both the Klingons and the Discovery, to have them meet above the planet. The Pahvans want the two sides to meet and broker a peace deal, which we (as viewers) know is probably next to impossible — but the Pahvans don't. The episode closes with the crew on Discovery wondering how to handle this situation and the Klingon sarcophagus ship warping into view nearby.
As "Discovery" matures, it's so great to see it bringing up moral dilemmas in the fashion of past "Star Trek" series. In fact, we're even starting to see this with the Klingons — more details below. [How 'Star Trek' Technology Works (Infographic)]
Klingon loyalties questioned
As a break from the planetary action, we catch up with Adm. Katrina Cornwell (Jayne Brook), whom the Klingons took prisoner a couple of episodes ago. She's being interrogated (we presume harshly, given the Klingon torture scenes a few episodes ago) and is not talking. L'Rell (Mary Chieffo), a Klingon we've seen in previous episodes who appears to be secretly playing Klingon factions against each other, offers to try making her talk.
Instead, L'Rell has a private chat with Cornwell and promises to help her escape, as long as Cornwell offers amnesty and brings L'Rell safely on to the USS Discovery. But that plan goes sour when L'Rell and Cornwell are caught in the corridor; under the watch of other Klingons, L'Rell smashes Cornwell against an electronic-looking device and either kills Cornwell or knocks her unconscious — we'll have to wait until a future episode to see what happened. L'Rell then drags Cornwell into another room and discovers a pile of dead Klingons in it — Klingons she cares about.
L'Rell subsequently meets with Kol and offers to help as a "skilled interrogator," but Kol says L'Rell has been lying. The head Klingon orders that L'Rell be seized: "Show her how House Kor treats liars," he says to his soldiers. It's just then that the Klingons receive the signal from Pahvo, and warp into position.
Also, some random observations and thoughts from this week's episode:
- That spore drive continues to be nasty business. Lt. Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) is experiencing wild personality swings and confusion after repeatedly being hooked up to the drive to get it to work. But as he tells Cadet Tilly (Mary Wiseman), Stamets is in a dilemma. If Stamets fesses up, his doctor and romantic partner (Hugh Culber, played by Wilson Cruz) will have to stop using the spore drive so Stamets can be examined in a Federation lab. If Stamets says nothing and he gets hurt, Culber's career will be ruined. What to do? I'm certain Stamets' condition will deteriorate in future episodes, given how beat-up the tardigrade creature was when it was using the drive, so expect some conflict here.
- It's still great to see so many references to past "Star Trek" series and movies. We got a variation of the famous "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few … or the one" conversation that Spock and Kirk had in the excellent 1982 movie "The Wrath of Khan."
- Has anyone noticed Tyler's weird little speech about going to a quiet cabin and fishing for trout in the middle of the Pahvo mission? Often, when we see characters talking about a peaceful future in a movie or TV show, they end up dead. I really hope that won't be the case this time, because he's such a nice person. But even if he makes it there safely, we don't know if Burnham can go with him. "My sentence was for life," she reminds him. She's just on temporary assignment with Discovery to win the war.
- What a sad speech that Saru had near the end of the episode, in which he says that, on Pahvo, he lived without fear for the first time in his life, when the Pahvans temporarily put him under a spell. "We are born afraid, we Kelpiens," he tells Burnham on the USS Discovery. "It's how we survive. As such, my whole life I have never known a moment without fear — the freedom of it. Not one moment. Until Pahvo."
The next episode of "Star Trek: Discovery" airs Sunday (Nov. 12) on CBS All Access.