Warning: This review contains spoilers
Directed by TJ Scott
Episode 11, The Wolf Inside, continues right where we left off last week.
Burnham struggles with the fact she is fitting into her new environment a little too well. But when Lorca seems all too willing to let the ends justify the means by taking out the resistance, Burnham makes a good case for acquiring the Defiant data while advancing an agenda of peace to end the war against the Klingons in our universe. To do that she must learn the secrets of how the resistance not only peacefully cooperates with Klingons but has Klingon leadership. Burnham opens a dialogue with mirror universe Voq and Sarek – both Resistance leaders – who have what Burnham seeks, and reveals details of an imminent threat from the Sovereign Terran Empire. To save them, Burnham must go directly against the emperor’s orders.
Tyler continues to struggle with who he is through most of the episode, but ultimately gets triggered and the Voq personality finally consumes him.
Stamets continues to fight for his life while Tilly takes a technical approach rather than medical to his health.
My quick take on the episode
It’s rare that an episode of Star Trek exceeds my expectations. Perhaps it’s because I have higher standards for the show than just about anything else. But every now and then I watch an episode that’s so enjoyable I get a feeling of glee. The Wolf Inside was one of those wonderful rare exceptions delivering a story- and dialogue-driven episode so intense it hit me like an action film.
My emotions and adrenaline were both running high, but not at the expense of my intellect or Trekkie-senses (that’s kind of like a spidey sense but for Trekkiness).
Sonequa Martin-Green delivers her best performance of the season, helped by fantastic storytelling and dialogue.
Early into The Wolf Inside, Burnham’s monologue delivers a good discussion of self-discovery. She’s feeling the negative effects of her environment after just two days. Her concern; she may lose control ethically in order to maintain control of her command. But she must maintain command to achieve her objectives. There’s a question of whether Burnham can hold on to her identity, or disguise it, in the face of unsympathetic surroundings. “Can you bury your heart? Can you hide your decency?” she asks.
Holding to an ethical code, internal or external, when placed in a destabilized and antithetical environment is explored very well in The Wolf Inside. Episode 11 is one of the few times I felt a multi-episode story arc has been helpful in progressing the plot in Star Trek Discovery. Before now I’ve found it mostly to be a hindrance, and much preferring episodic. But with more time to explore the human condition we get a much more rich story.
Sonequa Martin-Green really shines throughout The Wolf Inside. She perfectly delivers Burnham’s thoughts, emotions, turmoils, and motives. Unlike in many previous episodes, I didn’t find myself guessing at why she was doing what she was doing, or what her end goal was. Instead, it’s perfectly clear throughout the entire episode. The subtlety of her facial expressions and use of inflections show that Martin-Green is a seasoned actress able to play drama with the likes of Patrick Stewart’s Captain Picard – often held up as a pinnacle of Star Trek royalty.
There’s hope for Captain Lorca yet as Burnham convinces him of alternatives to ends justifying the means.
We’re finally exposed to a Lorca that actually seems ok with doing the right thing and seemingly without ulterior or nefarious motives – even if it took Burnham a moment to convince him. Lorca initially wants Burnham to proceed with the Emperor’s plans to maintain control of the Shenzhou – ethics and resistance member lives be damned. But Burnham envisions a peaceful alternative that furthers their short-term goals and may help end the Klingon War. I really enjoyed this scene because Lorca’s character, his Starfleet captaincy, has never sat well with me. He’s just not a good person. But there’s a ray of hope feeding my eternal optimism again and Burnham’s plan fits right in with my understanding of the Star Trek universe.
The plan of action is set into motion and Burnham will attempt to open a dialogue with the leaders of the resistance to warn them of an imminent Terran attack. In exchange Burnham needs an understanding of how Vulcans, Tellarites, Andorians and, most importantly, Klingons have formed an alliance in this universe. If Burnham can understand the Klingons here, she may be able to broker a peace with them back home. It’s a very noble goal.
Upon arriving at the Resistance, we get to see Discovery‘s version of Tellarites and Andorians. Neither is as dramatic a shift as the Klingons were but there are subtle differences. Enhancements really, and yet easily recognizable. Turns out the leader Burnham seeks is Voq. Voq’s trusted advisor, none other than Sarek, learns the truth of the two universes through a mind meld with Burnham. The meld is a story device that makes sense here.
It’s all very believable and certainly has a traditional Star Trek feel in story and strategy. Discovery may finally give us the optimism it promised but as yet is sorely missing. More importantly, if the strategy works, we may be seeing the beginnings of a prime directive where an ethical strategy is a legitimate way to peace over war and brute force. The ends don’t always justify the means. And that’s what Star Trek is about at its heart! Will the series turn from its dark beginnings and enter a more optimistic future? I think we may be headed that way.
Burnham left with little support for the emotionally-challenging times ahead, but may be reconnecting with Saru.
Throughout all of this, Tyler sees Burnham as being his tether – Burnham sees Tyler as hers. But when the Voq personality within Tyler usurps his own, Burnham is left with no one except the imprisoned and morally-questionable Captain Lorca as a lifeline and link back to her reality. Will she continue to bring Lorca up to her ethical high ground or will he drag her down to his? It could go either way but I certainly want to see the former. Complicating that are a few mindfucks – Burnham has already had to kill Connor, a friend from the Shenzhou. And she had to do it in a very personal way; with a knife.. to the chest. Her humanity will continue to be challenged when forced to face the consequences of disobeying Emperor Georgiou. The Georgiou from our universe was Burnham’s mentor and mother figure – her space mom. The turmoil within will be immense and Specialist Burnham will have to rely on her logical side to get through this while using her heart to guide her. She will need to strike a balance like never before and not loose herself in it all.
Speaking of mother figures and space moms, what I like about the mirror universe episodes are the interesting discussion they present in the age-old nature vs nurture debate. Star Trek‘s position appears to be that we are all a product of our circumstances. It’s the only way the mirror universe versions of ourselves can be so different than those from our universe. It’s a position I agree with. While I’m not generally a huge fan of mirror universe episodes, so far chapter 2 is presenting it very well.
The Wolf Inside has an interesting sequence of events fairly early in the episode where Burnham lies to Saru. When the commander asks Burnham if she has encountered any Kelpiens, she’s quick to say no even though the mirror universe copy of Saru himself is slave to the humans. Burnham’s slave actually. During that same conversation, Saru hides the death of Dr. Culber from Burnham. Both Burnham and Saru are attempting to lessen the burden of the other. To me, that indicates the relationship is on the mend which I’m happy to see. I found the Saru/Burnham interactions in the first two premiere episodes to be some of the best character interaction of the show and would love to get that dynamic back.
Some final thoughts.
Overall, I really liked the 11th episode of Star Trek Discovery. It felt like it moved the story along nicely and delivered some of the best acting of the series yet. It felt like a “full” episode, thick with story where a lot happened, and it was all paced wonderfully.