"The War Without, The War Within" ends with the Mirror Universe version of Philippa Georgiou being named the captain of Discovery by Admiral Cornwell as an act of desperation to try to turn the tide of the war with the Klingons, which Starfleet is badly losing. It's yet another episode-ending WTF moment in a season awash in them.
The problem with always dialing up the crazy to 11 is that the audience becomes conditioned to the environment until an 11 just starts to feel like a 5. Making MU Georgiou the captain — in a scene that goes out of its way to make clear that none of the other characters were aware this was happening until it happened (for no good reason except to keep it hidden until the final reveal to the audience) — is surprising, sure. But it's surprising for perhaps the wrong reasons. We've reached the point where we expect some sort of last-minute episode-closing "shock" and the number of available variables in this episode seems to inevitably bring us to this conclusion. Rather, the reason it's surprising is because it's so ridiculous that this is alleged as the solution to Starfleet's war problem.
The entire war all season has essentially been a plot device that serves to put the Discovery in the position to either win or lose the entire thing (until the next week at least), usually because of the convenience of the spore drive. There's been very little philosophical thought about what the war means for Starfleet, the Klingons, or the characters. Lorca's role in it and the decisions he made have been rendered irrelevant by the fact that he was an evil impostor from another universe. But now we get an episode that tries to show how desperate Starfleet is now that the Klingons are destroying starbases in the upper command's backyard and knocking at Earth's doorstep. And Cornwell's solution is to turn to the emperor of the Mirror Universe to execute some brilliant plan — because we need a mind capable of dark, diabolical strategies to pull us out of the nosedive, I guess. Because no one in Starfleet has the sort of military competence that can fend off an enemy that has no unity and is attacking the Federation as a bunch of separate, disorganized factions.
I dunno. The plot does what the plot does. If the writers say the Federation is toast without the Discovery's magical spore drive that can do whatever the plot needs it to do to fix this week's problem, then okay, whatever. But it sure makes Starfleet look pretty useless without their magic mushrooms.
Speaking of the spore drive, it continues to persist despite the dire status of Stamets' spore crop. In this case, they manage to grow a new crop in accelerated time by using the properties of a conveniently nearby planet. Unless I missed it, which is possible, the episode doesn't even bother to explain what's actually happening to grow the crops. This planet apparently just allows the crops to be grown immediately. It's amazing how much technical VFX work goes into this sequence and how little discussion and insight. Maybe I'm missing the point and this is visual storytelling meant to replace traditional exposition and technobabble. But given how much Discovery glosses over plot points and expects us to fill in the rest, this just feels like another example.
The bizarre thing about all of this is the sheer technical confidence of the presentation somehow almost wins the day. I can't put my finger on why, but this series somehow works — at least for me — in the moment as these events unfold on the screen. It's only when faced with writing a review that I realize, in looking back over what happened, that the whole thing is so weirdly shallow and contrived. Even the episode-ending WTF cliffhangers are effective for the way they tease interest for what's coming next. I want to see Georgiou commanding the ship in the next episode even if, at the end of the day, it probably makes no logical sense whatsoever. After everything this crew just went through with MU Lorca, why would MU Georgiou be any better for the cause?
Or maybe that's the point. MU Lorca was winning the war, and Starfleet has been losing ever since he left. So I guess we need to embrace the darkness to win? Sadly, I doubt there's really even that much philosophy going into this decision on the writers' part. I think it's more about getting Georgiou back in the captain's chair because it would upset the apple cart and make for more dramatic opportunities.
It's worth noting that despite the last-minute reveal, "The War Without, The War Within" is a surprisingly subdued outing of this series that goes to a lot of effort to deal with character business (like the ones surrounding Ash Tyler), and that brings us up to speed on Starfleet's situation and even briefly tries to get inside the minds of the Klingons (Cornwell's discussion with L'Rell). It also continues the trend of realizing the Discovery has a crew beyond its main characters, and it continues to prove Saru is a great character forged in a vintage Trekkian mold.
The big piece of business we deal with here is Tyler. Apparently cured and freed of Voq (until the writers decide otherwise, I suppose), Saru releases him from custody. This feels like a possibly foolish decision: Why should we trust that L'Rell actually killed Voq, and that Voq might not come back to wreak all kinds of havoc? But it also feels like the most Starfleet decision — one of forgiveness that concludes Tyler, whomever he might be, shouldn't be faulted for Voq's actions. The scene between Tyler and Stamets, which I liked, shows that forgiveness is neither impossible nor simplistic. And the scene where Tilly sits with Tyler in the mess hall is nice — but perhaps a tad overplayed and, yes, simplistic when we see how others then slowly come and join them.
Then, of course, there's the scene where Burnham goes to Tyler (at Tilly's urging) to resolve their relationship. It's a tricky scene and I'm not sure it hits all the right notes, but it made a valiant try considering I never really was on board with the whole Burnham/Tyler romance in the first place. (It worked best in "Into the Forest I Go" when it was based on shared suffering, but I never really felt like the two had much chemistry overall.)
But even when I have doubts about this series, its messy plot and its harried nature and lack of focus, I see a show that reminds me of Star Trek. Part of the problem, I think, is the rush to reverse engineer crazy plot twists comes at the expense of a real narrative that holds together. It makes for a show that's often more fun to watch than to write about.
A few brief thoughts:
- It's interesting watching the discussion and seeing what blows up about an episode. This week it was Sarek's use of the mind meld on Saru and the questions surrounding consent. To me it was a throwaway moment used to quickly move the plot along and nothing more. I didn't even give it a second thought.
- We learn the MU Discovery was destroyed by the Klingons shortly after it arrived in the PU. This feels like a complete waste of a promisingly pulpy episode premise. Why have it cross over into the PU in the first place?
- Georgiou's daring plan is to use the spore drive to jump into Kronos and do something daring. I forget what. A real brilliant military mind wouldn't need a spore drive to carry out a war-winning plan.
- I refuse to spell Kronos as "Qo'noS" even though the latter is canon. I just won't do it. Too ridiculous, even as apostrophized Klingon spellings go.
- Saru's stint as captain was brief. Hopefully he's not done for good, but Cornwell takes command of Discovery through most of this episode, and it appears Georgiou will be leading for the season finale.
- As much ground as this episode tried to cover in getting us back into the war storyline, there's a lot to do in the finale to wrap this season up. I hope the finale is more resolution than cliffhanger, but I don't have high hopes of it being conclusive. We'll see.