Star Trek: Discovery delivers an action-packed midseason finale that asks more questions than it answers and delivers an enticing cliffhanger.
The midseason finale of Star Trek: Discovery season 1 is being referred to as the end of the first chapter, and for good reason. The first nine episodes served as an effective introduction to the new series, setting up not only the necessity of what has been Michael Burnham’s redemptive arc after inciting a costly war with the Klingons, but also delivering a number of new crew members with intriguing stories of their own, not the least of which was Lt. Ash Tyler, whose late arrival has sparked numerous fan theories about his true nature that look all but confirmed at this point. There is also the question of what’s going on with Stamets serving as the Discovery’s spore-drive navigational interface and whatever it is he’s seeing so many of, not to mention the question of whether or not Captain Lorca is fit to continue commanding the crew of the Federation’s prize vessel, after his late-night run in with Admiral Cornwell left her demanding he step aside.
With so many questions swirling around the season’s core narrative like so many mycelium spores, it was often easy to forget these first nine hours were meant to depict a time of war, and that the Klingon’s cloaking capabilities (divisive though they were among Trek faithful) were a primary cause for concern for the Federation. But, taking its cue from the early seasons of Game of Thrones, Discovery largely left its depiction of that war off screen, choosing instead to focus on ancillary struggles meant to aid in the conflict, like the antennae in ‘Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum,’ an episode that also took time to give Saru some screen time that explored the question of what he would be willing to sacrifice in order to experience a life free from the constant fear he’d always known.
Episodes like that offered diversions or digressions — depending on how much you like the series, I suppose — that sometimes felt very much in the classic Star Trek vein, and other times felt like the show testing the limits of its ability to bend the Trek formula without breaking it completely. Although the series opened up with a visually impressive declaration of war, the show has often been better off exploring its characters and its storytelling options, and in doing so, the writers seem to have discovered a preference for… well, discovery over outright conflict, making ‘Into the Forest I Go’ an engaging end to the series’ first chapter and the start of a potentially more intriguing second.
A good amount of that intrigue stems from just how many cliffhangers the finale ends on, not the least of which is the area of space in which Lorca and his crew find themselves, one that, given the sightseeing tour Stamets apparently went on courtesy of the mycelium spores, suggests the ship has wound up in some seriously uncharted territory -- like the inter-dimensional kind. While speculation and semi-educated guesses of where the Discovery is will no doubt populate the internet very soon, ‘Into the Forest I Go’ attempts to amount to more than the sum of its many cliffhangers, but isn't entirely successful.
In order to do that, the show had to work to close a big part of its primary narrative. That being the war between the Klingons and Starfleet, and, to a certain degree, the redemption of mutineer-turned-Discovery-science specialist Michael Burnham. The push to see the conflict end — or at least show the audience a light at the end of what could be a very long, dark tunnel — meant delivering a surprising victory for Starfleet that didn’t feel entirely earned, in part because it required so many different obstacles to be tackled in rapid succession and to be successfully completed with relative ease, if for no other reason than to open the door for more questions. That’s saying nothing of how the death of Kol and destruction of the dreaded Ship of the Dead came without the audience gaining as much insight into the Klingon perspective as the premiere suggested the series was interested in delivering.
Much of that has to do with the location of the climactic battle between the Discovery and the Klingons. Pahvo made for a compelling setting to tell a Saru-centric story, but as the setting of a showdown eight episodes in the making, it lacked the power of a location teeming with less abstract inhabitants. Saving the planet from the Klingons was a major win for Burnham and Lorca, but without a compelling reason for the audience to be emotionally invested, the win never really felt more than perfunctory in light of how many questions the midseason finale raised in order to ensure viewers return in January.
On the bright side, killing Kol, destroying the Ship of the Dead, and cracking the Klingon cloaking device creates a reason for Discovery to double down on its focus on the ship’s crew and the growing bonds between those characters, which has been a strong suit of the series so far. As such, the midseason finale makes good with several key character moments, not the least of which is Burnham’s role mapping the Klingon ship’s technology and saving Admiral Cornwell. Some of those efforts put her in good standing with her captain, who continues to prove he has more in common with a convicted mutineer than he does those in charge of Starfleet, as evidenced by Lorca’s noticeable glower upon learning the news that Cornwell survived.
More pressing, however, are the developments in Tyler and Stamets’ threads, as the previous eight episodes have seen them changed in dramatic ways. Tyler’s PTSD when faced with L’Rell brought flashes of torture and some pretty explicit Klingon sex that may yet prove to be Tyler’s transformation from Voq — though it seems pretty much cut and dry at this point. Stamets, on the other hand, has gone from unlikable science officer to the first person to say “f***” on Star Trek to some sort of middle point between the two extremes. The obvious nod to Stamets’ connection to the mirror universe presents a few interesting wrinkles to the Discovery’s current predicament, which in turn furthers the audience’s interest in him as a character, despite the fact that his "one last jump" more or less telegraphed the midseason end point.
While ‘Into the Forest I Go’ made good on its promise of closing a the first chapter in the ongoing story of the Discovery, the episode itself felt too eager to get to what was next on the docket, when it would have been better served ending this current chapter in a way that felt more earned than it was.
Star Trek: Discovery continues in January 2018 on CBS All Access.