Where last Sunday’s “What’s Past is Prologue” concluded the Mirror Universe arc with a vibrant action-packed, thriller of an episode, this week’s “The War Without and the War Within” highlighted the deep introspection and intimacy Discovery does just as well. The penultimate episode of the season took a breather from last week’s adrenaline-fueled caper and saw the crew and their newest guest, Emperor Georgiou, set the stage for the final act. What followed was a series of gripping interactions that actually proved as satisfying on rewatch as Georgiou kicking Lorca out the Moon Door.
Michelle Yeoh’s nefarious Terran Emperor proved she has no immediate plans to adapt to Federation culture, demanding from the beginning that she wants to be returned to her universe as quickly as possible. Once Admiral Cornwell explains that getting Georgiou back to the Mirror Universe ranks somewhere below Betazed Fashion Week on the Discovery’s list of priorities, the Emperor takes matters into her own hands. Not content to sit in guest quarters and wait for the Federation to figure out what to do with her, Georgiou begins manipulating everyone around her from Burnham to Sarek to Cornwell until, at the end of the episode, she’s literally been promoted to captain.
For as authoritative and aggressive as she was last week, the Emperor proves equally cunning and sophisticated this week. She cunningly sniffs out the relationship between Burnham and Sarek and then subtly uses it to manipulate both of them. She already knows Burnham’s judgment is clouded when it comes to her, and she manages to gain Sarek’s ear by deftly embodying the same mentor role she knows Prime Georgiou did. Her knowledge of Burnham and the plausible affection she can show for her daughter’s Prime counterpart appears to make her more credible to the ever-pragmatic Vulcan ambassador.
Sarek’s generally the smartest person in the room at all times, but the Emperor effectively plays on his feelings toward Burnham when attempting to convince him that more drastic measures will be needed to defeat the Klingons – measures that no doubt necessitated her leadership. When he and Admiral Cornwell install her in command at the end of the episode, it feels like the Emperor’s victory, not theirs.
Outside of official business and Georgiou’s machinations, Burnham and Sarek, fortunately, get a little time to reconnect. Their farewell scene before Sarek heads off to discuss Georgiou’s mysterious suggestions was pitch-perfect. Burnham’s presumed death and the acceleration of the war have erased whatever animosity remained between the two, and what Sarek saw of her recent travails when he mind-melded with Saru seem to have raised her in his estimation. Instead of admonishing her for the fallout of her romantic relationship with Tyler, he gently tells her not to be so hard on herself – that love is never a mistake.
It’s a sentiment that feels almost out of character for the Ambassador, except when we remember just how much he’s cost himself and his family for his choice to marry a human woman. Their exchange was beautifully reminiscent the telepathic one they had after Burnham was confined to the brig in “Battle at the Binary Stars.” In both cases, Sarek bolsters his ward in a measured fashion, acknowledging her mistakes without judgment and encourages her to use the knowledge she’s gained from failure to fight on. This exchange served to remind us that while Burnham’s attachment to Georgiou might be a weakness, her relationship with Sarek is a stabilizing force that the Emperor probably can’t understand, and, as such, cannot exploit.
Finally, one of the most interesting relationships on the show finally got some long overdue attention. After the destruction of Starbase 1, a desperate Admiral Cornwell fires a shot in the dark and appeals to L’Rell in the blind hope the prisoner will do (or even can do) something to help. Despite standing on opposite sides, the women do share a mutual respect for one another, and the result is a brilliant microview of the impassable values at odds in the war. Cornwell points out to L’Rell that T’Kuvma’s vision of a united Klingon Empire isn’t happening, that the houses are warring on a greater scale and butchering thousands in their wake. L’Rell isn’t ecstatic about that, but she still believes that the Federation’s endgame of peace is actually an insidious way to homogenize the galaxy, so any Klingon victory, despite how fragmented, still aligns with her beliefs.
The thing is, L’Rell isn’t totally wrong – when Cornwell argues that the Federation is founded on equality and that no one is trying to change Klingon culture, she can’t escape the fact that in order to coexist with them, the Klingons would have to fundamentally abandon their nature as conquerors. L’Rell matter-of-factly tells Cornwell that they will not stop until the Federation is eliminated. Jayne Brook was the MVP this week and not more so than when we see the weight of L’Rell’s words hit her in this moment – any hope she had for a diplomatic resolution melts away, and you can see her resign herself to the fact that the war will only end when one side completely destroys the other. From this perspective, her… risky decision to give Emperor Georgiou command of the Discovery on its most vital mission to date becomes understandable – now’s the time for a Hail Mary pass.
“The War Without and the War Within” laid the groundwork for a season finale that will be just as gripping inside the Discovery as it will be without. The complex network of relationships that already existed on the ship just got doused in gasoline, set ablaze and thrown at a hornet’s nest. See you next week…
Writer: Lisa Randolph
Director: David Solomon