“Is this what harmony and balance look like?” — Star Trek Discovery Review — Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum

Star Trek: Discovery, Episode 8
Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum
Posted by Clinton

Saru interacts with the Pahvans.

In this episode, Saru (Doug Jones) succumbs to the call of the Pahvans, and Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) must try to convince him to complete the landing party’s mission. Two things struck me about the story: first, the episode reminded me of another classic “Star Trek” adventure and, second, it made me ponder the likelihood of achieving happiness in the “Star Trek” universe.

In “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum,” Saru, Burnham and Tyler (Shazad Latif) beam down to the surface of the planet Pahvo in an attempt to figure out how to utilize the planet’s unique resources in the war against the Klingons. Trying to communicate with the planet’s essence, Saru has a transformative experience. He abandons the mission in favor of his his own agenda.

You might be tempted to draw parallels between this story and the classic “Star Trek” episode “This Side of Paradise.” In that story, the crew of the Enterprise is affected by spores native to the surface of Omicron Ceti III. The crew abandons ship and plans on living in virtually eternal harmony on the planet surface.

Saru is similarly affected by contact with the native entities on Pahvo. Or is he? It does not appear that Saru is actually under any type of spell. Instead, he has been freed from the genetic burden carried by every Kelpien. For the first time in his life, he is no longer afraid. Clearly he can still reason for himself. He can lie to his fellow crewmen or even attack them and destroy their communications equipment.

Burnham sets her phaser to stun and attempts to subdue Saru. This is not the same as Kirk provoking Spock in order to free the Vulcan of the Omicron Ceti spores. Burnham’s goal was to immobilize Saru. Attempting to reason with the Kelpien was secondary.

I submit that Saru’s actions are more like those of another “Star Trek” character: Dr. Tolian Soran from “Star Trek: Generations.”

Saron at the energy ribbon.

In “Generations,” Soran was exposed to a place outside of normal space-time called The Nexus. Guinan, who had been inside the Nexus at the same time as Soran, describes it is asa place of pure joy. “As if joy was something tangible and you could wrap yourself up in it like a blanket. And never, in my entire live, have I been so content.” Guinan, Soran and others were then unceremoniously ripped away from the Nexus. While Guinan realized the impracticality of attempting a re-entry, Soran pressed on. He was driven by a singular desire to regain that bliss. Eventually he devises a way to get back to the Nexus. The fact that his plan includes destroying suns and would mean the deaths of hundreds of millions of souls was of no importance to him. That was just collateral damage.

It might seem to be a stretch to equate Soran’s actions with those of Commander Saru, but is it? After all, as Tyler pointed out, if their mission on Pahvo was unsuccessful, the Klingon-Federation war would rage on. Saru was well aware of this. He purposely prevented Burnham and Tyler from contacting the Discovery, crushing their communicators and smashing the uplink device.

Later, in sickbay, Burnham tries to comfort the First Officer. “You weren’t yourself.”

“But I was,” Saru replies, with sadness in his voice.

Emotion, not infection, drove both Soran and Saru to do what they did. And Saru must now live with that knowledge.

But the second question raised here is, can anyone in the “Star Trek” universe actually be happy? Saru realizes that he cannot have both his freedom from fear and do what is needed of him to save the Federation. Likewise, Captains Picard and Kirk prevent Soran from reaching the bliss of the Nexus. The same Nexus Picard begrudgingly ripped himself from, convincing Kirk to do the same.

Kira and Odo saying their goodbyes..

This is a repeating scenario in “Star Trek” – a character or species or civilization seems to achieve peace only to have it taken from them. McCoy finds happiness on the asteroid spaceship Yonada, but loses it due to the actions of Kirk and Spock. Kirk finds happiness with Miramanee, only to see her stoned to death while carrying their unborn child. Picard finds fulfillment on Kataan, then discovers it was all in his mind. Benjamin Sisko loses his wife in the battle at Wolf 359. He finds happiness again with Kasidy Yates, but must leave her and and his son, Jake, because the prophet in the Celestial Temple still has much left for him to do. Kira loses Odo. T’Pol loses Tucker. And they both lose their child. Data also loses a child. And so on and so on.

The loss of paradise is such a recurring theme in “Star Trek,” one begins to wonder if anyone in this universe can truly be happy? So much so, that when a character does ultimately find happiness, it seems to be an extraordinary event.’

Is the lesson that the only way to be happy is to struggle towards that as an unobtainable goal? Or is it just a reminder that the human adventure is just beginning?

Maybe Kirk was right, in “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier,” when he told McCoy, “Damn it, Bones, you’re a doctor. You know that pain and guilt can’t be taken away with the wave of a magic wand. They’re the things we carry with us. The things that make us who we are. If we lose them we lose ourselves. I don’t want my pain taken away. I need my pain!”

Saru sad in sickbay.

Or was it best summed up in the musical “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”?

“For us there can be no happiness.”

“We must learn to be happy without it.”

 

Next episode: “Into The Forest I Go”

 

Random Thoughts and Observations:

  • Is Admiral Cornwell dead? A slip of the tongue during “After Trek” seems to indicate we will see the character again.
  • Was L’Rell’s interest in knowing how the Federation treats prisoners, and her desire to be brought aboard Discovery, related in ways we have yet to see?
  • Pahvo and Pandora: separated at birth?
  • We see Tyler getting a medical exam in sickbay at the end of the episode.
  • Burnham is well aware that her ultimate fate still leads her to a prison cell.
  • Is this Tyler and Burnham’s second first kiss? Time is so wibbly wobbly.
  • At first, I thought Stamets was having visions of the future when he referred to Tilly as “Captain.”
  • Several Klingon ships that survived the attack on the Gagarin have now seen Discovery simply spin and vanish. What Discovery is doing is certainly no longer a secret.

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