After the destruction of the USS Gagarin at the hands of the Klingons, Starfleet is finding itself at a critical point in the war: the losses are mounting and Starfleet needs a way to combat the Klingons’ cloaking technology, which is giving the Klingons an advantage in the ongoing fight. The answer, ostensibly, lies on planet Pahvo, which is being visited by an away team made up of Burnham, Tyler, and Saru.
Every object on Pahvo vibrates with a unique tone and a kind of harmonized energy. It also has a towering crystal transmitter that the away team believes can be modified into a sonar device to detect cloaked Klingon ships. While on the surface, however, Saru is overcome by a seemingly benevolent energy life form.
Consumed by the planet’s harmony and peaceful existence, Saru immobilizes the away team to keep them on the planet, forcing Burnham to defy Saru and use the crystal transmitter to contact the USS Discovery for an immediate rescue.
Meanwhile, the imprisoned Admiral Cornwell is paid a visit aboard Kol’s Klingon ship by L’Rell, who expresses her desire to defect after suffering her own personal losses at the hands of Kol. She offers to help Cornwell escape if she will allow her passage aboard Discovery.
In what may or may not have been a completely staged fight, Cornwell is incapacitated by L’Rell after they are caught during their escape. Kol places L’Rell under guard for deception and the ship is summoned to Pahvo by its inhabitants to confront Discovery in what Burnham suspects is an attempt to get the two warring races to end their fight.
Kudos to all involved for delivering, at the very least, a visually stunning episode. “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum” begins with an exciting battle sequence that improves upon the more choppy and awkwardly directed war scenes from the show’s inaugural episodes. The days of cardboard rocks and obviously-painted backdrops on the reviled “Planet Hell” faux-location sets of earlier Star Trek series are long gone.
The episode offers the kind of scope, art direction, and special effects work to place it alongside familiar theatrical productions, filmed on location in various locations around the Toronto area.
What we also get again from “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum” is another episode the moves the series’ continuing story of the Klingon war along while operating as an almost-standalone episode. It’s a welcome Saru-focused story after several earlier entries that have offered little in the way of development for his character. Even in this episode, Saru finds his ambitions –- however compromised they may be — ultimately undone by Burnham, something he has grappled with on-and-off since he began working with her.
In the end, however, he comes to realize that her choice to pull them off the planet was necessary in a larger sense. Coincidentally, Saru’s last-minute beam-up from the Pahvo and despair on the transporter pad closely echoes Burnham’s fate and reaction when she is beamed back to Discovery by Saru before she can help the slain Capt. Georgiou on T’Kuvma’s ship. The two definitely have a complicated relationship.
Despite the episode’s scope and a refreshing planetary visit, Discovery as a show is starting to feel a bit claustrophobic, if that can even be leveled as a criticism for a focused war story. We haven’t gotten to know other character on the ship other than our core group, and our alien encounters have been largely limited to the Klingons and swirling masses.
As much as I’ve come to like our core group (and Lt. Tyler is proving himself to be welcome addition to the ship and series), it would be nice to get some character scenes with other members of the crew. That may hard considering Discovery has been a pretty lean, fat-free show intent on getting its primary storyline from Point A to Point B.
As has been the case so far, Discovery isn’t quick to answer certain lingering mysteries – at least not in an obvious sense. We finally get to see Stamets hooked up to the tardigrade DNA manipulator again, but no answers are given as to why his personality charged or why it reverted back to being crusty and argumentative. The scene between Tilly and Stamets discussing his personality changes also feels a bit disposable; this subplot could have merited its own episode, or half-episode at the very least.
Also, we still don’t know what happened to Voq. L’Rell says to Cornwell he was pushed away, but we know his exile was at least orchestrated by her for a much larger objective. And is Cornwell dead? It seems likely that their fight may have been staged to deceive Kol. And if she’s not dead, what role will she play going forward?
Naturally, “Si Vi Pacem, Para Bellum” can be appreciated for its self-referential moments, including a well-written and performed scene between Burnham and Tyler in the alien hut where they consider the needs of the many versus the needs of the few, or one. In terms of story, the episode also closely mirrors Original Series episode’s “Errand of Mercy” and “This Side of Paradise.”
To be sure, having a character ‘brainwashed’ by alien forces that quiet some kind of internal turmoil in that character through an offer of utopia is a Trek cliche as old as time itself. We saw it with Tam Elbrun in The Next Generation’s “Tin Man,” with Sybok in Star Trek: The Final Frontier, and – dare I say (and this could be a bit of a stretch) – Dr. Crusher in TNG’s “Sub Rosa.” In the case of Saru’s brainwashing, it works, given what we know about his character and his upbringing of consumed fear.
Overall, “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum” is a satisfying entry that, despite its multiple subplots and rushed feel, delivers on all fronts. Even the Klingon portion feels satisfying and less distracting as it had in previous installments.
“Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum” is clearly a setup for next week’s fall finale, which certainly promises its own weighty cliffhanger. However successful next week’s episode will be, it certainly can be said that Discovery has found its footing and identity in the larger canon.