This week’s episode of Star Trek: Discovery, “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum,” featured a surprising reference to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan that recontextualizes one of the film’s most quotable lines in an unexpected way.
SPOILERS for Star Trek: Discovery episode eight, “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum,” follow.
This week’s episode of Star Trek: Discovery was significant in that it includes the USS Discovery crew’s first away mission and first time making first contact with a new alien race, two staples of past Star Trek television series. Of course, another staple of past Star Trek series is first contact with another alien species going horribly awry and interfering with the away team’s mission, and that trope holds true here as well.
The Discovery away team consists of Science Specialist Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), First Officer Saru (Doug Jones), and Chief of Security Lt. Ash Tyler. Their mission is to explore the planet Pahvo., which they believe ot be uninhabited, and attempt to study its unique harmonic vibrations and what they believe to be a naturally-occurring transmission tower in order to adapt them for use in spotting Klingon ships hidden by invisibility shields.
The problem is that the transmitter is not naturally occurring and that Pahvo is not uninhabited. The transmitter was created by the tiny, glowing beings that live on Pahvo but that don’t register as living organisms on Starfleet technology. This discovery means that Saru, whose Kelpian physiology makes him uniquely capable of communicating with the Pahvans, must enact first contact protocols.
While Saru is occupied, Burnham and Tyler keep busy by revisiting the blossoming romance that was hinted at in last week’s episode, “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad.” In the midst of their flirtations, Burnham is reminded that after the war is over she’ll have to go back to a Federation prison to live out the remainder of her life-sentence for mutiny.
In that moment, Burnham and Tyler flirt with the idea of purposely avoiding successful completion of their mission to Pahvo in order to prolong the war between the Federation and the Klingons and thus prolong their time together. It is at this moment that Star Trek: Discovery makes a reference to The Wrath of Khan.
Burnham states that “The needs of the many are worth fighting for.” Tyler extends the thought, saying that those needs are “worth dying for” but adds that “so are the needs of the few.” Burnham finishes with the question, “Or the one?” before the two share a kiss.
That exchange mimics one between Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner) and Burnham’s surrogate brother, Spock (Leonard Nimoy), in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
Early in the film, while discussing who should command the Enterprise on its mission to Regula I, Spock tells Kirk, “Logic clearly dictates the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few,” to which Kirk replies, “Or the one?”
Later in the film, Spock repeats this philosophy as a means of explaining why he must sacrifice himself to save the crew of the Enterprise.
It’s interesting that Burnham should bring up this same philosophy while speaking to Tyler. Does this mean that the saying is something that she and Spock both learned from their Vulcan father, Sarek? Is it a common truism shared frequently in the Star Trek galaxy? Or a specific aphorism used frequently on Vulcan? Or are Burnham and Spock simply of like minds?
Whatever the case, it is a welcome reference to one one of the most popular entries in the Star Trek canon.
New Star Trek: Discovery episodes become available to stream Sundays at 8:30 p.m. ET on CBS All Access.