WARNING: This article contains minor spoilers for this week's episode of Star Trek: Discovery, "Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum," which premiered Sunday, Nov. 5, on CBS All Access.
Aside from James T. Kirk's shouted "Khaaaaan!" perhaps no dialogue from the 1982 classic Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is more frequently quoted than Spock's dictum, "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few." The line, which foreshadowed his sacrifice to save the Enterprise, was revisited later in the film as well as in its sequel, where the straightforward statement of logic is turned on its head. And in this week's episode of Star Trek: Discovery, it's evoked yet again.
Or, technically, for the first time, as Discovery is set a decade before the events of Star Trek: The Original Series.
The episode, "Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum," is perhaps most notable for being the first in the series to depict an away mission by the crew of the USS Discovery. In hopes of finding a way to make cloaked Klingon ships visible to Starfleet sensors, Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif) and Saru (Doug Jones) are sent to the seemingly uninhabited planet Pahvo to adapt what appears to be a naturally occurring crystalline transmitter to their own needs. However, it turns out the idyllic world is inhabited, by swarming, glowing beings that don't register on tricorders as lifeforms. That complicates the mission dramatically because, for starters, the away team has to initiate first-contact protocols, and then secure permission to use the transmitter -- that is, if a way can be found to communicate Starfleet's intentions and needs.
"Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum," a Latin adage that translates as "If you want peace, prepare for war," serves primarily to move the key pieces into position ahead of next week's midseason finale. However, it does include some noteworthy character moments for several characters, most notably Saru and the Klingon L'Rell (Mary Chieffo), as well Burnham and Tyler; the latter is where "The needs of the many" comes in.
Discussing what their lives will be like after the end of the war with the Klingons, Tyler and Burnham realize their paths will diverge dramatically: He imagines returning to his secluded cabin to fish for trout, but she knows peace means only a return to prison; after all, she received a life sentence for committing mutiny. Tyler's solution is simple, if not necessarily practical. They won't attempt to harness Pahvo's transmitter, thereby prolonging the war.
"The needs of the many --" Burnham replies. "-- Are worth fighting for," Tyler counters, "are worth dying for, but so are the needs of the few." "Or the one?" Burnham concludes with a smile that ends with a kiss between Discovery's favorite new romance.
It's a tender moment that, like Kirk's insistence in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock that “Because the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many," undercuts the logic of the underlying statement, imbuing it with a few human (and thereby flawed) quality. Tyler's twisting of the adage of course underscores that lengths he's willing to go to (although probably not really) to spend more time with Burnham.
However, it also makes us wonder where the dictum originated. Because both Spock and Burnham use the adage, we might assume it's a logic exercise taught at the Vulcan Learning Center. But Tyler's play on the expression would seem to suggest it's more universally known in the time of Discovery. That, or the young security officer is really quick with a turn of phrase.
Airing Sundays at 8:30 p.m. ET on CBS All Access, Star Trek: Discovery stars Sonequa Martin-Green, Doug Jones, Jason Isaacs, Anthony Rapp, Shazad Latif, Mary Wiseman, Wilson Cruz, Mary Chieffo and James Frain.