As Star Trek Discovery nears its mid-season finale the war with the Klingons is ramping up and it’s not looking good for the Federation. Episode 8, Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum - which means “If you want peace, prepare for war” - has a sound story and some interesting elements but it’s mainly used to set up the big battle that is obviously coming in episode 9. While it’s certainly an enjoyable hour of TV, it’s fairly forgettable and is only really unmissable because it follows up with some characters whose fates were previously unknown. Read on for a more indepth breakdown, with spoilers.
We rejoin the Discovery in the thick of war and quickly realise that it’s not going so well for them. Despite the fact that Discovery has the DASH drive, it’s not been replicated on any other Starfleet ships yet, whereas the cloaking technology Kol stole from the Sarcophagus ship has been quickly spread throughout the Klingon fleet. Unable to detect enemies ships, the Federation is in trouble which is why Lorca has sent an away team to the planet Pahvo to try and utilise some natural resources which could help. Everything on the planet's surface vibrates giving off an electromagnetic frequency, which the Federation believe they can adapt to help detect the invisible Klingon ships.
After spending much of the season establishing itself as definitely not traditional Star Trek, Discovery now seems comfortably enough to introduce some more familiar TV tropes from the sci-fi franchise. Episode 7 saw the classic time loop storyline utilised, while episode 8 sees a Starfleet away team actually make first contact with an alien species. While Burnham, Saru, and Tyler’s mission still weaves into the overarching storyline of the war, seeing them as the explorers they were meant to be will make you feel warm and fuzzy inside. Having established what the new (or old if we’re going off the timeline) Trek looks like, we’re now getting to see the blend of old and new proving that there’s a place in the franchise for both.
The alien species the away team come into contact with on Pahvo are all about harmony and after some ‘conversations’ with Saru, he comes around to their type of peace, so much so that he’s ready to settle down and start weaving his own wheat smock. Naturally, Burnham and Tyler are a little concerned about this drastic change in behaviour and when they set out to complete their mission, despite Saru’s insistence that they give into the peace of the planet and start making their own wheat smocks, he turns violent. Everything up to this point, while predictable, is a lot of fun because it’s like old school Trek so comforting and familiar, but where the episode falls down is that it never really explains why Saru acts this way. Sure, when he’s back on the ship he feels bad about his behavior and no longer wants to leave Starfleet and set up a commune on the planet, but it’s never explained how the natives affected him so much. I waited for the Doctor’s revelation that he was possessed or biological drugged, but it never came and when a character changes so drastically in the space of an episode, we need an explanation. (I’m looking at you Stamets!)
The secondary storyline of the episode sees us rejoin the Klingons and Admiral Cornwell. L’Rell - that’s Voq second-in-command who pretended to side with Kol to save him waaaaaaaaay back in episode 4 - tries to get in with Kol under the pretence that she’s an expert interrogator. She uses this to get in a room with Cornwell and then tells her that she wants to defect to the Federation and will help her escape if she can ensure her safety. The performances of both Mary Chieffo and Jayne Brook are impressive and fun to watch, but the storyline itself leaves a little to be desired. It’s just too straight and narrow and not for a second did I think L’Rell was being honest with Cornwell, so when it’s revealed that she is, it felt a little obvious and fell flat. Add to that that Cornwell was killed off on a technicality and without much consequences, and that Kol imprisons L’Rell without explanation, and you have a sloppy storyline which is nowhere near as clever as previous ones we’ve seen.
The fact that the episode ends with the Pahvo natives bringing the Klingons to their planet and face to face with Discovery just proves that the majority of this episode is merely a setup for the mid-season finale, which will no doubt be full of epic explosions and intense action set pieces. Oh well, they can’t all be franchise-redefining episodes I guess and while you could definitely skip this one (as long as you know who lives/dies), there’s nothing terrible about it at all. It’s all just a bit meh.