Star Trek: Discovery "Vaulting Ambition"

Previously on Star Trek: Discovery: The Discovery crossed over into the Mirror Universe, where Burnham and Lorca went undercover as their Terran counterparts to get info about the Defiant, the last Federation starship to cross over. Tyler realized that he’s actually the Klingon known as Voq, Son of None. Stamets traveled to a very pretty forest in his mind, where he met the Mirror Universe version of himself. Burnham then discovered that the ruler of the Terran Empire looks a lot like her late commanding officer, Captain Philippa Georgiou.

Well, as promised last time, we’re still in the Mirror Universe. And spoiler alert: Discovery doesn’t get back to the regular universe at the end of this episode, either. That means that, instead of what seemed to be a random one-off (or two-off) jaunt into the Mirror Universe has now turned into (at least) a four-episode saga. And there’s a good chance this story line will take up the rest of the season, given how the Mirror Universe is apparently more connected to this series than previously known, as revealed in a big, fat, ludicrous twist at the end of this episode in regards to Captain Lorca.


I wasn’t that crazy about having to endure one or two Mirror Universe episodes, and I’m definitely not that thrilled about spending the rest of the season here. And this episode reminds me of why, because aside from the crazy twist and a couple of ridiculous moments thrown in for shock value, not much happens this time around. In fact, the episode is only 38 minutes long, officially making it the shortest episode of any Star Trek series (minus the animated series, of course), and it doesn’t even feel like the plot has kicked in by the time the credits roll. On the bright side, I can at least get through this recap quickly.

Burnham and Lorca are all alone on a shuttlecraft, heading to the imperial flagship, which we learn is named the ISS Charon. Burnham has received a report from Saru with the decrypted data about the Defiant, even though we were told last time around the data was too “massive” to be transmitted from ship to ship without being detected.

Unfortunately, the report has been heavily redacted, but there’s enough information left for her to figure out that the Defiant used “interphasic space” to cross over, and all they need to do is find the exact coordinates of where this happened. Lorca says they may be able to find the non-redacted report somewhere in the “Imperial Palace”, which is where they’re headed.

Burnham then pulls out Georgiou’s Starfleet badge, which you may recall she snatched from Kol just before being teleported off the Klingon Ship of the Dead. It seems she’s fearful of meeting the exact duplicate of the captain she betrayed, because “this feels like a reckoning”.

They get to the Imperial Palace, and it looks like the ISS Charon is a combination starship/palace, and it’s a ridiculously gigantic ship that even seems to be powered by some sort of miniature star hovering within the hull. Hey, when you’re in the Mirror Universe, you either go big or you go home.

Back on the Discovery, Tilly and Saru stare at a motionless Stamets in the spore chamber, and Tilly insists he’s getting better, but Saru calls it like he sees it and says Stamets is in a coma. But Tilly knows something is going on in his brain and she thinks she can “fix him”.

We journey back into Stamets’ head as he talks to Mirror Stamets. At first he thinks he’s dead, and Mirror Stamets even pulls his leg for a while by saying that God is “very, very mad at you right now!” But then he laughs and introduces himself as the parallel universe version of Stamets. And then they’re back on the Discovery, but Mirror Stamets says this is really a simulation generated by the mycelial network to make him “feel at home”. So, the mycelial network is self-aware now?

Mirror Stamets explains he was conducting similar spore drive experiments in the Imperial Palace when his mind got trapped here. In an attempt to escape, he tried to make telepathic contact with the other Stamets, which is why he’s been getting glimpses of things like Tilly being captain, and that “palace” he’s been babbling about is in fact the Imperial Palace. Though, if Mirror Stamets isn’t serving aboard the ISS Discovery, why would he be sending out mental images of Captain Tilly?

Stamets wants to go to his lab, but then the lights flicker and Mirror Stamets says there’s something “corrupted” about the network. Soon the two are running away from a quickly advancing red fungus and they take refuge in Engineering.


On the Charon, Burnham is lead into the throne room as Georgiou is introduced to the gathered crowd as “Philippa Georgiou Augustu Iaponius Centarius”, and I would love to see that on her office door nameplate. Michelle Yeoh enters, looking amazing in her emperor’s uniform. She greets Burnham, then points to three Kelpien slaves and tells her to “choose one”. Burnham picks one and he gets led away, and I can assure you that what’s in store for this guy is nothing good.

Burnham then presents Georgiou with a “gift”: namely, Captain Lorca. Georgiou promises Lorca that he’s going to live a long life, and most of it will be spent “in our agonizers”. And once again, all throughout this episode they’ll be referring to agony booths as “agonizers” and “agonizer booths”. This is severely disappointing to me for obvious reasons, but as I’ve pointed out before, there are plenty of Star Trek veterans working on this series who have to be very familiar with “Mirror, Mirror” and Mirror Spock’s line about the “agony booth”. So what’s the reason for the change? Lorca is taken away, and then Georgiou invites Burnham to dinner, while calling her “dear daughter”.

On the Discovery, Tyler/Voq is in Sickbay, fighting the doctors and yelling in Klingon that he’s going to kill them all. Saru enters and is told that Tyler is claiming to be Klingon, but he says that’s impossible. Tyler then has a moment of lucidity where he asks if Burnham is okay and begs for Saru’s help. And then it’s back to the screaming and thrashing around and promising death to all humans.

Cut to Georgiou and Burnham having dinner, and Burnham says the food is excellent. To which Georgiou declares, “No one prepares Kelpien like the Imperial Chef!” Burnham looks ill. Okay, that’s funny. This means that when she was asked to “choose one”, she was actually choosing which Kelpien they would have for dinner. Georgiou then offers up a piece of Kelpien on chopsticks, saying, “Here, have my ganglia!” And Burnham has no choice but to choke it down.

Mmm… tastes like sheer terror.

We learn that in this universe, Georgiou is the one who raised Burnham after her parents were killed, instead of Sarek. Georgiou wants to know why Burnham hesitated in destroying the rebels in the previous episode. Burnham makes up some excuse, so Georgiou puts a knife to her throat.

It seems that before she went missing, Mirror Burnham was actually collaborating with Lorca, and Georgiou can’t figure out why Burnham dared to show her face here again. Georgiou calls for the guards to take Burnham to the throne room, where her “council” will gather to watch Burnham get executed for treason. Why didn’t she just execute Burnham as soon as she came aboard? Why did she treat her to dinner first? Oh, right, because otherwise we wouldn’t have gotten the scene where Burnham is forced to eat Kelpien. Which… was totally worth it, actually.

Meanwhile, Stamets and Mirror Stamets are in “Engineering”, and working together to figure out how they can both escape from the mycelial network. Mirror Stamets then shows off a strange growth on his arm which is happening because he’s been in the network too long and it’s “taking [him] over”. Suddenly, Stamets caches sight of Dr. Culber wandering around inside the simulation and goes running after him.

In the throne room on Charon, Georgiou is about to execute Burnham, but then Burnham reveals that she’s not the Michael Burnham from this universe. As proof, she shows off Captain Georgiou’s Starfleet badge. It turns out Georgiou is already well aware of the United Federation of Planets, thanks to the databanks on the Defiant.

To make sure this information stays secret, Georgiou whips out an absurd glowing ninja throwing star that travels in a circle and slices through the heads of everyone in her council, except for one guy, and that’s apparently only because she needs someone to clean up afterwards.

In the Discovery’s brig, Saru pays a visit to L’Rell, and tells him about Tyler’s condition and asks for her help. L’Rell is defiant, saying that Tyler/Voq is a strong warrior and he’s going to win the war. And Saru’s like, hate to break it to you, sister, but we’re in a different universe where the humans have already won the war, and all that’s at stake here is helping Tyler/Voq.

L’Rell explains that the real Ash Tyler was captured at the Battle of the Binary Stars, and they took his DNA and consciousness and used it to turn Voq into a human. She says if Voq is suffering, that’s only due to his own choices, and she refuses to help.

Back in Stamets’ mind, he’s still chasing after Dr. Culber. He follows him into a replica of their quarters, where Culber breaks the news to Stamets that he’s dead. And this means, somehow, that his soul is now trapped in the mycelial network.

On the Charon, Burnham says she only wants Georgiou’s help to get back to their own universe. Georgiou laughs at the idea of helping her, and mocks the entire idea of a “Federation” and cooperation between species.

Georgiou says the unredacted data about the Defiant won’t be of any use to Burnham, because the Defiant passed through “interphasic space” to get to the Mirror Universe, which drove the entire crew insane and they all killed each other (as originally seen in “The Tholian Web”). This makes Georgiou wonder how the Discovery crossed over, and Burnham at first claims there was a malfunction in the engines. Georgiou says, “Warp engines do not breach the barriers between universes!” Well, sure, unless you happen to be Kira and Bashir on a runabout and you get a “plasma injector leak” while traveling through a wormhole. But other than that, totally impossible.

Burnham finally admits to the real way they crossed over, and now Georgiou wants to know more about this “spore hub drive”. And she says Burnham can exchange this data for their freedom.

In the Discovery’s brig, Saru goes back to L’Rell’s cell, and shows her video of Tyler clawing at his own chest. Are they not restraining him anymore? L’Rell again refuses to help, so Saru has Tyler beamed into her cell. She finally agrees to help, but she has to be the one to personally treat him.

In the brig of the Charon, Lorca is still being subjected to the (cough) “agonizer booth” when Captain Maddox enters to personally take over his torture session. Maddox says, “She was my sister,” and I’ll just hazard a guess that Lorca had something to do with the death of this man’s sister. He loads up a hypospray full of a “Comtaxan parasite” and then drags in some random guy who was one of Mirror Lorca’s crewmen on the Buran. Maddox threatens to inject the crewman with the parasite unless Lorca confesses to what he did to his sister.

Maddox says, “Say her name,” and Lorca doesn’t know it, of course, so that’s the end of Random Crewman, who disintegrates into ashes.

In Discovery’s Sickbay, L’Rell treats Tyler/Voq, who’s still screaming in Klingon. L’Rell shoots some laser beams into his head, and Tyler/Voq gets calm and then we get some random flashbacks to Voq and L’Rell falling in love in previous episodes. And then L’Rell lets out a loud wail. And that’s the end of the L’Rell/Tyler subplot for this week, so that was time well spent.

Back in the Mycelial Matrix, Stamets and Culber sit together, and Stamets remembers seeing Culber get killed, but he thought it was a dream. He wishes for things to be the way they were, and instantly the two of them are brushing their teeth together once again.

The ghost of Culber then unleashes all sorts of exposition about how the other Stamets is evil, and he’s the one who corrupted the network. Wait… what the hell? The real Culber didn’t even know all this stuff when he was alive! Culber’s ghost shows that he has that same growth on his arm, and he warns Stamets that he has to save the network, or else, “Eventually everything, everywhere will be exterminated!” Well, that sounds pretty serious.

Culber tells Stamets he’s still on the Discovery and in a coma, and all he has to do is open his eyes. Culber then implies a part of him will always be here in the mycelial network. Which I think means this is going one of those poorly-defined metaphysical spaces like the Nexus in Generations that always contains an “echo” of Guinan, and presumably this is how Culber will be showing up in future episodes.

They have a goodbye kiss, and Culber tells him to “look for the clearing in the forest”. And with that, both version of Stamets open their eyes. And while our Stamets is in Engineering with Tilly hovering over him, it appears Mirror Stamets was catatonic all by himself in Sickbay on the Charon. I guess doctors in the Mirror Universe don’t waste too much time checking up on their comatose patients.

On Discovery, Stamets is now up and around and Tilly starts to tell him about what’s been happening, but thanks to the Ghost of Exposition Past, he’s fully up to speed on everything. He has Tilly come with him to that same terrarium where they’re growing trees to make more spores. But once they get there, they find that all the trees are dead.

Lorca is still getting tortured in the booth, and Captain Maddox is still demanding that Lorca say the name of his dead sister and “beg for forgiveness”. This is intercut with Burnham and Georgiou talking about Mirror Lorca. Georgiou says he had some sort of statutory rape-y relationship with young Mirror Burnham and that he “groomed” her, and “chose” her, and we cut to a flashback of regular Lorca saying he “chose” to bring Burnham onto his ship. Mirror Lorca also talked a lot about “destiny”, which is followed by a flashback to regular Lorca talking about destiny.

Then Georgiou opens a window on that miniature star for some reason, which reveals the previously unknown detail that humans in the Mirror Universe are allegedly more sensitive to light than humans in the prime universe. Which then leads to flashback clips of Lorca being sensitive to light.

If you haven’t gotten it by now, the big twist being revealed here is that Captain Lorca is really Mirror Lorca, and has been all along. And by “all along”, I mean the entire series. This is confirmed when Lorca feigns being near death to escape from the “agonizer” booth, and then he turns the tables on Captain Maddox and says, “Ava. Her name was Ava.”

Burnham realizes that her captain is not from her universe, but rather from the Mirror Universe. End episode.

So that’s the big twist, and I really have to wonder if this is what they had in mind when this series started back in September. Because it feels a lot like the writers saw all those Facebook memes and jokes about Discovery taking place in the Mirror Universe (you know, due to some of the characters’ dark motivations) and decided, “Hey, let’s do that for real!”

I have no idea if this is a huge retcon or something they were planning the whole time, but either way, they’ve nullified what I’ve always felt was this show’s boldest choice, to have a morally conflicted antihero as the captain for the first time in the franchise’s history. Here I thought I was supposed to occasionally sympathize with Lorca as a wartime captain taking desperate measures to defeat the enemy; turns out he’s just from a place where everybody’s evil.

But more importantly, without Lorca at the helm of Discovery, what will we get? Week after week of Captain Saru? He’s an okay character, but who wants to see that? I fear that this is the beginning of this show becoming a much “safer” series that falls in line with what people expect from previous Star Trek shows, and much like Voyager hitting the reset button in the final two minutes of every episode, Discovery will become a series that eventually undoes all of its risky moves with silly twists like this one.

Next up: Rekha Sharma lives again as Mirror Landry appears, and Lorca frees his old crew from the brig to take over the Charon. On the Discovery, Saru declares that Lorca is no longer in command of the ship, and a grinning Lorca has some reason to say, “Welcome home, Michael.” Please, Discovery, don’t get my hopes up that we might be leaving the Mirror Universe any time soon.

TV Show: Star Trek: Discovery

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