A white-knuckle cliffhanger ended the first half of Star Trek: Discovery's first season. Frenetic, fascinating, and sometimes shocking, "Into the Forest I Go" raised more questions than it answered. There are conspiracies wrapped in conspiracies, and we've got the entire mid-season break to mull them over.
Spoilers ahead! Yes, I mean it! If you read past these sentences and complain about spoilers in the comments, you will be turned into a newt.
Algorithms in spaaaaaaaaace!
I'm starting to feel like every episode of DISCO has to have a Fringe-like element of mad science. Last week we had the Avatar-esque sparkleplanet, with the (sentient?) antenna rising inexplicably out of its inexplicable ecosystem. This week, we got a mission to build an algorithm that will allow Star Fleet to calculate the location of cloaked Klingon vessels.
To get data for the algorithm, our intrepid crew must do two things. Tyler and Burnham have to sneak two sensors aboard the Klingon Ship of the Dead. (I love that when Burnham activates the sensors—which are supposed to be stealth tech—they have a UX that talks loudly and flashes a bunch of lights. Great job, Star Fleet security engineers.) Meanwhile, Stamets has to make 133 jumps through mushroom space to get "readings" on the Ship of the Dead. Which means he's in grave danger, since we know the dozen or so jumps he's made so far are causing him to hallucinate and spawn alternate mirror selves.
As the crew braces for these missions, Lorca delivers this supposedly morale-lifting line: "When I took command of this vessel, you were a crew of polite scientists. Now I look at you; you are fierce warriors, all." At first it sounds great, like "hey, you guys are all winners!" But when you think about what he said for even one second, you realize that it's one of the darkest moments in the series so far.
The horror that lurks at the heart of DISCO is that a ship of peaceful scientists has been forcibly converted into a warship, twisting its highly speculative experiments into weapons. Early in the season, we see that another science ship has been completely destroyed by this process of weaponization, its crew mutilated by a teleportation attempt gone wrong. There is nothing awesome about going from scientist to warrior. It is often, as our characters demonstrate in episode after episode, a fate worse than death. Especially when their lives are in the hands of a crazypants liar with a death wish who tried to get his ex-girlfriend/boss killed.
Oh, and also? This is yet another mission that Lorca is imposing on his crew against Star Fleet orders. The circumstances are superlatively cruel. Lorca makes the Discovery's doctor keep watch as his husband Stamets does 133 jumps that may kill him. Then Lorca orders Tyler to go back to the ship where he was raped and tortured for nine months. Ultimately, when everybody succeeds, Lorca will order his crew to fire repeatedly on the now-vulnerable Ship of the Dead, killing everyone in it.
This is DISCO at its most dystopian, with our characters' acts of "heroism" looking a lot like war crimes.
Can the ethical acts of Burnham and the crew make up for Lorca's madness and bloodlust? That's the question that haunts this entire episode, and it will likely shape the second half of the season. When Burnham and Tyler arrive on the Ship of the Dead, they're immediately delayed by good guy stuff—Burnham has picked up Cornwell's life signs and wants to rescue her before they get beamed out.
Unfortunately, finding Cornwell in the prison also means finding L'Rell, the female Klingon who raped and tortured Tyler. Seeing her sends Tyler into a massive PTSD breakdown, unable to stand or speak. We see disjointed flashbacks to all kinds of weird torture, and Burnham is forced to leave Tyler with Cornwell while she places the final sensor and distracts Kol with a knife fight. (Why doesn't she use the Vulcan nerve pinch on him?) Eventually, everybody makes it back to the Discovery—including L'Rell, who grabs Cornwell when they're beaming out. Don't get me started on how this isn't the way transporters should work. Whatever.
When everybody is safe and back on the Discovery, we delve into Tyler's PTSD, and it provides more fodder for the fan theory that Tyler is actually Voq in disguise. Tyler confesses to Burnham that he "encouraged" L'Rell to rape him because he knew she would spare his life as long as he played into her "sick obsession." It's a moving, intense scene. I thought the show handled the realities of trauma and recovery relatively well, with one horrible exception: the inappropriately titillating rape scene with L'Rell, where for some reason we're treated to Star Trek's first-ever representation of a naked female Klingon. Ugh. Alien cheesecake does not belong in a traumatic memory of violence.
Though these scenes with Tyler allow us to see into his character, they also dovetail into fan theories that he's actually Voq in disguise. The flashbacks to torture could easily have been his fractured recollections of being transformed into Tyler. If that's true, then it seems likely that he's a sleeper agent whose memories of his Klingon identity have been suppressed. That would explain why he finds himself drawn to L'Rell's prison cell and why she promises him that everything will make sense "soon."
These scenes also raised the possibility that Voq wasn't transformed into a human but actually, somehow, transplanted into one. Perhaps Voq's memories are actually inside Tyler's mind, and the two of them will, at some point, vie to control Tyler's body.
That would mean L'Rell is doing some kind of creepy thing where she's put her Klingon boyfriend's brain into her human rape victim's body. Sick but possible. Even likely.
Mysteries of the mycelial network
Alright, let's not think about that anymore. Instead, let's focus instead on the shimmering mycelial threads of a multiverse in which macro-tardigrades roam free. We found out last night that Lorca has been using Stamets' jumps to map some kind of alternate universe(s) or subspace or something. He shows Stamets a hologram full of blue and red trajectories that are supposed to represent real space and ??? space, and Stamets is suitably impressed.
After doing those 133 jumps pretty much wrecks Stamets, however, he decides to leave Discovery to get medical help. He says he'll do "just one more jump," to say goodbye to the wonders of it all. Then, just as the ship is about to go Black Alert, we catch a glimpse of Lorca fiddling with some controls (over at io9 there's a detailed breakdown of the "override" command we see him issue). Then the ship seems to split in two, Stamets freaks out, and Discovery arrives in the middle of a starship debris field in unknown space.
Down in engineering, Stamets' eyes have gone white and he's screaming about how he can see everything, "all the possibilities." I think we can safely assume that he's seeing infinite universes with infinite permutations of reality. The ship has likely jumped into one of the alternate universes Lorca showed Stamets before—or, perhaps, it has jumped impossibly far, though that wouldn't explain the doubling ship. Unfortunately, no cuddly, giant tardigrades are around to make everything alright.
This is more-or-less the definition of an awesome cliffhanger. First, there's the basic WTFery of it, like where they've gone. One very real possibility is that they've teleported to the Mirror Universe. Fans have speculated about this ever since the episode where we saw a different version of Stamets looking out of his bathroom mirror.
If we accept the Mirror Universe idea, it forces us to ask the obvious question. Has Lorca actually been Evil Lorca for some time? Did he make this jump in order to bring the ship back to his "home" universe? And, if Lorca is really Evil Lorca, how many other crew members are actually stowaways from the Mirror Universe? Also, does the Mirror Universe contain a poor, abused Good Voq whose mind has been colonized by Evil Tyler?
The mind boggles at all the possibilities, the way it should when watching an excellent Star Trek story.
Star Trek: Discovery doesn't return until January! All I can say is that, if anything bad happens to Stamets (other than the "I can see everything" eyeball situation), I'm going to be very, very upset.