In the ninth episode of the first season of Star Trek: Discovery, HELP ME, I’M STRESSED. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of PTSD, trauma, and sexual assault.
Somehow this wasn’t a season finale, but HERE WE ARE.
Stamets and Lorca
You know, I feel like the show wants me to find the Federation-Klingon war a lot more interesting than it actually is. It’s a flaw of this season, namely because there simply isn’t the same level of depth to their characters as we’re getting for… well, literally everyone else. There are moments when they feels like more of a means to an end for the Discovery characters rather than their own thing?
At the same time, I’m so thankful that the cast of characters ARE so interesting. The horrific situation thrust upon the crew in “Into the Forest I Go” pushes them into such compelling and frightening places, and I’M HERE FOR THAT. So let’s start with Stamets, whose moral conundrum in the previous episode is brought forth into the light here. Seriously, that moment of elation where I realized Lorca was going to find a way to save Pahvo? Unmatched. The way it was immediately undercut when Lorca wanted Stamets to undergo a full battery of tests? UN. MATCHED. Because that secret between Tilly and Stamets would soon no longer be a secret!
And somehow, Discovery found a story EVEN MORE STRESSFUL THAN THAT. Stamets’s story is woven into Lorca’s, since the captain puts the ship on a three-hour timeline to determine how they’ll figure out the weakness in the Klingons’s cloaking technology. Desperate times call for desperate measures, right? And the desperation is part of the reason Lorca asks something of Stamets that is… look, I don’t even know how to convey it in text. Which is part of why the tension works so well. When Lorca said that Stamets would have to complete 133 micro-jumps, it didn’t feel real. Like… okay, rapid jumps! It would be intense, but they’re small, right?
But before we even GOT to that nightmare, we had… Lorca. Oh, Lorca. I can’t quite parse his character at this exact moment, but that’s not a criticism of how he’s written or portrayed in the show. I’m trying to analyze him given his history. We know Lorca will do and say pretty much anything to get what he wants. But I now know he also doesn’t want to repeat his experience in the Battle at the Binary Stars, and that absolutely affects his choices. So… does he manipulate Stamets in this episode? Does he deliberately play to Stamets’s explorer, scientific nature in order to get what he wants? I think it’s a real possibility, but I also think you could analyze his actions as a captain desperate to save the crew and Pahvo. I DON’T KNOW. I want to give him the benefit of the doubt, but given where Stamets ends up, I also wonder if Lorca pushed him too far.
I also don’t want to ignore Stamets’s agency either. He chose those, and then he chose to hide the side affects he was suffering from his partner, too. What would Dr. Culber have recommended if he’d known that Stamets was experiencing something so erratic and concerning? But also… would any of this have been a success if Lorca hadn’t pushed Stamets? If Stamets hadn’t enjoyed this experiment? Because that’s playing a part in this, too!!! It’s so complicated, y’all, but that’s a good thing. It’s so much more interesting that way.
I would not be surprised if Burnham ended up being one of my favorite protagonists inTrek. She is ELECTRIFYING here, from her confrontation with Lorca on the bridge, to the moment where she promises Tyler she’ll complete the mission, to her INCREDIBLE fight with Kol in the climax of this episode. Y’all, she is a powerhouse, written with an intensity of action and emotion!!! I LOVE HER OKAY. I love that she is someone else’s peace. I love that when Tyler has an episode, she treats him with compassion and kindness. I love that when she realized that Kol was going to warp away from his location, she found a compelling and believable means of distracting him. I LOVE THAT SHE WAS GIVEN SPACE TO STAND UP FOR HERSELF AND ADVOCATE FOR HER ABILITIES AND KNOWLEDGE.
This whole nightmare was such an immense challenge for Burnham, and yet through it all, she never lost sight of who she was or what it meant to be a Starfleet officer. Mind you, she was the one who advocated for locating the source of the human life source rather than just completing the mission. Burnham has demonstrated an almost encylcopedic knowledge of Starfleet regulation, and I believe her Vulcan education provides her with the logic that she uses to execute that knowledge. She’s so convincing here, both when she convinces Lorca of her need to be on the away mission and when she faces down with Kol.
It was just a delight to watch her.
Well. Two episodes in a row that broke my heart over a character exploration. THANKS, DISCOVERY. Admittedly, seeing Tyler’s PTSD episode was much harder than watching the events of the last episode, particularly since this hit rather close to him. I think some folks don’t genuinely know how physical it is to deal with PTSD, especially when a person is triggered. Shazad Latif utterly nails this specific depiction, adding a weighty physicality to what Ash Tyler goes through here. I don’t have as many bigger episodes like the one we saw here—my last one was last summer during the protests here in Brooklyn—but I wanted to start off my discussion of Tyler with this acknowledgment. I’ve talk about representation and authenticity a lot over the years, and while I know some of my thoughts have evolved over time, I still can’t deny how powerful it is to feel seen.
Part of feeling seen involves compassion, and the framing of Tyler’s episode is one major way in which Discovery allows for compassion to exist. The timing of it complicated matters, but at no point does anyone shame him for it. He’s not portrayed as annoying. When Burnham approaches him near the end of the episode, she does so respectfully. And more important than anything else, both Cornwell and Burnham validate Tyler, accepting that he has PTSD rather than trying to explain it away or—even worse—denying it exists.
I have a little more complicated thoughts on what this episode reveals about L’Rell and Tyler, as well as how it was revealed. I remarked on video that while Tyler was describing both the torture and sexual assault that he experienced, I appreciated that it was not accompanied by a visual element. Yes, we had those flashes of his torture (and whatever medical procedures the Klingons did on him) when the episode was being depicted. But I found it to be a compassionate and thrilling choice for the show to have his explanatory monologue to Burnham be nothing but that: a monologue.
So yeah, I know I’m biased here because I have PTSD from sexual assault, but I kind wish we didn’t get that last montage of images of L’Rell on top of Tyler. I don’t know that it makes the storytelling any better, nor do I think the audience needed that?
I am also confused—though it’s clear I’m supposed to be—by Tyler’s actions at the end of this episode when he goes to confront L’Rell. I have a theory that feels plausible, which is that all the torture he went through has given him a sort of Stockholm Syndrone connection to L’Rell? Like, maybe he’s drawn to her because of this horrible thing that he went through? I know I brought up earlier how I didn’t really understand L’Rell’s motivation, but perhaps this episode is finally starting to give us that context. Like… why would she tell Tyler that she wouldn’t let “them” hurt him? Why does she care about him? Are we witnessing that “special interest” Tyler said that L’Rell took in him? Regardless… boy, do I want Tyler to find healing, and I don’t think he’s going to find it in L’Rell.
The video for “Into the Forest I Go” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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