Warning: The following contains spoilers for the Star Trek: Discovery episode"Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum."
The latest episode of Star Trek: Discovery was seemingly the end of the line for Admiral Katrina Cornwell (Jayne Brook). Cornwell had previously been kidnapped by the Klingons after she was lured into a trap they had intended for Vulcan Ambassador Sarek (James Frain). The Klingons torture the good Admiral in an attempt to gain valuable information about the Federation's war strategy, but she proves to be a tough nut to crack. L'Rell (Mary Chieffo) volunteers to try her hand at extracting intel from Cornwell, but surprisingly she informs the Admiral that she wishes to defect to the Federation. En route to L'Rell's ship to escape, the pair are confronted by Kol (Kenneth Mitchell). Seemingly to preserve her own hide, L'Rell begins fighting Cornwell as if she was dealing with a prisoner escape. She smashes Cornwell's head into some sort of light fixture, and the admiral's lifeless body is dragged to L'Rell's ship - which is full of dead Klingons, for reasons that aren't immediately made clear. Kol suspected L'Rell's treachery all along, and has her hauled off at episode's end.
So did Discovery really just kill off its highest ranking Starfleet officer in such ignominious fashion? Probably not. The basic mechanics of the scene suggest L'Rell's intent was to simply make it look like Cornwell had died. There would be no way for her to defect without Cornwell alive, and she can clearly sense Kol is running out of patience with her. It also seems unlikely L'Rell would bother hauling Cornwell's corpse back to her ship.
From a narrative standpoint, it just seems highly unlikely that Discovery is done with Cornwell, who has emerged as a surprisingly strong supporting character with a compelling relationship with Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs), and is the rare Star Trek admiral who seems both competent and free of corruption.
Cornwell's death would also, in essence, mean L'Rell's death, as her treachery has been discovered by Kol and there's no logical reason she wouldn't be executed by the brutal Klingon commander. With the death of T'Kuvma and the disappearance of Voq, the show is burning through its Klingon cast pretty quickly, and too much time has been devoted to L'Rell to simply kill her off this early.
All that said, Discovery has displayed no qualms with dispatching its supporting female characters. The death of Captain Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) was obviously necessary, as it set up the bulk of the series' plot. Yet the demise of Commander Ellen Landry (Rekha Sharma) in "The Butcher's Knife Cares Not for the Lamb's Cry" felt cheap and mean-spirited, pushing an interesting character off the stage in an effort to prove how edgy and dark this iteration of Star Trek is willing to be. The show's producers boasted in the pre-premiere press about how they're taking cues from Game of Thrones; casual, brutal death is really not a Westerosi trope that should take up residence in Star Trek.
Discovery clearly wants the audience to think Cornwell is dead at this point, but it's a tough sell. Too many moving pieces of the plot would come to a screeching halt if the drama on the Klingon ship is so swiftly resolved. It would also be another troubling sign that Discovery is brushing up a little too closely to the realm of nihilism for the world of Starfleet. The show is actually making some strides in that regard; the primary plots of both "Magic To Make The Sanest Man Go Mad" and "Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum" are quintessentially Star Trek, telling smart, empathetic science fiction stories and largely eschewing the grimmer implications of the war with the Klingons. The show doesn't have to shy away from the latter aspect; it would be disingenuous if it did. But killing off characters like Cornwell for essentially no reason would simply be a step too far into the darkness. We'll likely find out next week if the show has actually gone that far.
The mid-season finale of Star Trek: Discovery streams Sunday, November 12th @ 8:30pm ET on CBS All-Access, on Space in Canada, and internationally on Netflix.