After an action-packed thirteenth episode, the latest from Star Trek: Discovery, “The War Without, the War Within,” was good but somewhat slow and action-less. The U.S.S. Discovery has returned from the mirror universe, but there’s not cause to celebrate just yet. They overshot by nine months and find themselves on the losing side of the war against the Klingons. As Burnham says, it “doesn’t feel much like home.”
We open with Captain Saru addressing Burnham and ex-Emperor Georgiou , who calls him a slave and awkwardly mentions their shared Kelpien meal the night before. To his credit, he mostly overlooks the interaction, requests that Georgiou be teleported to guest quarters, and then takes some time to speak with Burnham privately.
He updates Burnham on Tyler’s condition, explaining the emergency procedure performed and expressing his hope that she will be there as a friendly face. Burnham has other plans, however, and Saru addresses the newly awakened Tyler alone. His approach is kind as he makes it clear that Voq was to be blame for any crimes committed and that personal freedoms won’t be taken away. That said, Tyler’s rank as an officer is stripped and his privileges on the ship will be limited.
While Voq is gone, Tyler can still access his memories. Despite the trauma, he’s relatively well-put together and identifies the procedure he underwent as a Species Reassignment Protocol. Voq was the first test subject but, apparently, not the only one.
This becomes evident a short time later when the U.S.S. Discovery finally makes contact with another Starfleet ship. They’re immediately boarded and held at gunpoint before Admiral Cornwell beams aboard. She has Sarek read Saru’s thoughts to confirm he is who he appears to be.
Admiral Cornwell quickly asserts that it’s best to keep the concept of a parallel universe hidden from public knowledge. She meets with mirror-world Georgiou briefly, but brushes off the ex-Emperors requests to be sent home as likely impossible and ultimately unimportant.
The algorithm obtained by the U.S.S. Discovery so many episodes ago is sent directly to the front lines, but it’s likely too little, too late. While the Klingons still fight among themselves, they are united in their efforts to eliminate the United Federation of Planets. Under the Admiral’s command, they set course for Star Base One to regroup and rejoin the fight.
Unfortunately, they arrive to find that the base has been overrun by Klingons. Of the 80,000 people who resided there, not one is still alive. With no other option available, the U.S.S. Discovery is forced to retreat.
Distraught, Admiral Cornwell visits L’Rell in the brig. Her question is simple: “how does this war end?” L’Rell doesn’t seem inclined to betray her people, but she also admires the Admiral’s bravery. Her final response is that the Klingons must be conquered completely, otherwise they will never relent.
Burnham does some answer-seeking of her own, but with mirror-world Georgiou. She too asks how to beat the Klingons. The ex-Emperor isn’t fast to help, drawing out the conversation and accusing Burnham of weakness. She believes Burnham saved her because she hadn’t been able to save the original Georgiou. This conversation ends up being more helpful than the Admiral’s, though, as mirror-world Georgiou has actually defeated the Klingons before. Her advice is to strike them at their source and home world, Qo’noS.
It takes some persuading, but Starfleet agrees. After replenishing/cultivating more spores in the Veda system, the U.S.S. Discovery will jump into the massive cavern system inside the Qo’noS. This will allow them to map the surface of the planet and better prepare for the attack.
Mirror-world Georgiou has more to share, however, and requests a meeting with Sarek. The two discuss Burnham briefly before she explains that, while the plan will work for a time, the Klingons will never relent. Their determination to destroy Earth is too deeply ingrained. She told Burnham what she could handle, but more will be needed to end the war once and for all. Her insight isn’t free, though. For her help, she expects freedom in return.
After their discussion, Sarek decides to leave the U.S.S. Discovery. Before his departure, Burnham asks why but he redirects the conversation Tyler. She expresses that she feels poorly for making emotional decisions and, ultimately, mistakes. He gives some incredible insight here, telling her that she should never regret loving someone. Further, he explains that no “greater source of peace exists than our ability to love our enemy.”
Tilly mirrors this sentiment, predicting that Tyler will be defined by how others treat him now.
Meanwhile, things for Tyler aren’t going great. He has an unfortunate run-in with Stamets, who clearly doesn’t forgive him for murdering Dr. Culber. Tyler also has what starts out as an uncomfortable meal in the cafeteria. There’s some nice parallelism as he takes a seat alone, just as Burnham did upon her arrival on the U.S.S. Discovery. Tilly comes to his rescue, however, (as she also did for Burnham), and the rest of the crew shortly follow.
Burnham, on the other hand, just can’t move passed what happened. Their encounter is brief and despite the encouraging words from both Sarek and Tilly, she’s relentlessly harsh. Tyler gives as good as she gives, however, calling her out for the real issue at hand – “Because [her] parents were killed by Klingons and [she] fell in love with one.” He also confesses that she’s the reason the Species Reassignment Protocol failed; his love for her was too strong to let Voq take complete control. In the end, Burnham is unable to forgive him and tells Tyler that he needs solitary time to come to terms with what happened.
The episode does come to a close with a bit of a bang. The Admiral addresses the whole ship in what appears to be an inspirational speech. Things take an interesting turn, however, when she introduces mirror-world Georgiou as captain of the mission to Qo’noS. The cover story is that she was rescued, but Burnham and Saru know better and the look they exchange says just how uneasy they are about the decision.
Perhaps the journey to and back from the mirror universe created an element of detachment. While the stakes haven’t been higher, I actually find it quite hard to care about Starfleet’s plight. Hopefully the finale episode of the season brings back some of the “bang” the last two possessed. Tune in Sunday to see how the epic return of Star Trek wraps up its first season with “Will You Take My Hand?”