Jan 24, 2019
Star Trek: Discovery "What's Past is Prologue"
Previously on Star Trek: Discovery: Discovery crossed over into the Mirror Universe, where Georgiou is the Terran emperor. Stamets met Mirror Stamets, who’s evil and he’s somehow corrupted the mycelial network. The Discovery is on its way to rendezvous with the imperial flagship Charon for reasons I can’t quite recall. Burnham learned that Mirror Georgiou is sensitive to light, and remembered that Lorca is sensitive to light, and logically concluded that Lora has really been Mirror Lorca all along.
Well, here’s one positive about this week’s episode: The Discovery leaves the Mirror Universe at last. I don’t really know how most viewers feel about the past few weeks, but for me, just about every Mirror Universe episode in this franchise (with the exception of the original “Mirror, Mirror”, and maybe one or two from Deep Space Nine) has ranged somewhere between mediocre and awful. I’m constantly reminded of Andrew Robinson’s comments about how he hated playing Mirror Garak on DS9, because our universe’s Garak was multifaceted and multi-layered, whereas Mirror Garak was just an evil, brainless toady. That neatly sums up my feelings about the Mirror Universe; all notions of complexity and subtlety are lost when you’re dealing with an entire cast of characters who are apparently genetically predisposed to being mustache-twirling villains.
And the title of this episode is obviously a quote from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, but I guess we’ve got another “Muse” situation here where the writers forgot that the quote was already used in the title of an episode of Deep Space Nine that just happened to be—what do you know?—the first appearance of Garak.
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After the credits (there’s no cold open this week; it’s right to the opening credits after the previouslies), Mirror Lorca is freeing his old crew from stasis, or agonizer booths, or whatever these things are, including the mirror version of Commander Landry, who in the prime timeline died when she released a monstrous alien killing machine from captivity for reasons that remain unclear. Sadly, she doesn’t come off as much brighter in this universe.
Lorca hands Landry a rifle, but she’s still disoriented and surprised at seeing him alive. She suggests they withdraw and regroup, but Lorca has a plan.
They enter a science lab looking for Stamets and find no trace of him. But then Lorca is able to intuit that Stamets is hiding behind some sort of personal invisibility screen, and grabs him by the throat.
Lorca reminds Stamets of how he snitched on him to the emperor, when Lorca was down on a planet trying to rally some of his allies. We get flashbacks to the ISS Buran fleeing from the imperial flagship and getting hit by photon torpedoes. Lorca says he beamed back to the Buran right at that moment, when the Buran just happened to be passing through an ion storm, which is apparently what allowed him to cross over into the prime universe, OG “Mirror, Mirror”-style. But in “Mirror, Mirror”, the crossover only happened because Kirk and his Mirror Universe counterpart were both beaming up from the same planet at exactly the same time, so I assume this means Prime Universe Lorca died on the Buran when it was destroyed by Georgiou.
Lorca then demands the “bioweapon” that Stamets was developing for the emperor, and we cut to a mist being released on a few decks, causing several members of the crew to collapse in a drooling mess and some of them even start smoldering? This is quite the bioweapon.
In the throne room, Georgiou detects this attack and tries to determine Lorca’s location. Burnham says she’s observed Lorca up close and warns Georgiou that he’s just “baiting” her. And Georgiou’s like, duh, I’ve known him for years longer than you, and Georgiou knows exactly what he’s doing. She orders Burnham taken to the brig, but then Burnham is able to immediately take out her guards and make her escape through a random vent or something. Georgiou tells one of her crew (actually, the Mirror version of a member of Discovery’s nameless bridge crew) to take a team and go after her.
Back on the Discovery, Saru gives a captain’s log about being en route to the Charon, and how the spore drive is working again thanks to Stamets’ revival. Unfortunately, Stamets wasn’t able to save the trees that make up the ship’s “mycelium crop”.
On the bridge, Stamets and Tilly explain that the miniature star inside of the Charon is actually powered by the mycelial network, and this is what’s corrupting the network. Stamets says that this corruption could spread across the entire multiverse, which means “Life as we know it will cease to exist.” Which could totally happen. I’m on the edge of my seat here wondering if this episode/series will end with the destruction of the entire multiverse.
On the Charon, Lorca delivers a ship-wide broadcast accusing Georgiou of allowing other races to threaten Terran supremacy. I know there was some fan speculation that Mirror Lorca would turn out to be a “good guy”, at least compared to the rest of the Terrans, but nope. In fact, this formerly interesting character completely transforms into a racist, lecherous comic book villain over the course of this episode. He tells everyone listening to his announcement to renounce Georgiou, but orders them not to touch Burnham, who’s “integral to our future plans” where they shall “make the Empire glorious again” (gee, I wonder what current politician’s slogan that line could be alluding to). Georgiou homes in on Lorca’s location, and gathers up a crew, saying she intends to “take the fight to him”.
Georgiou and her team enter a corridor, but all she finds is that one crewmember who says her team was ambushed, and only she was left alive to say “he was here”. She then immediately gets disintegrated by phaser fire from behind, so I don’t really know what the point of leaving her alive was. A firefight breaks out in the corridor between Georgiou’s people and Lorca’s people. After lots of shooting, Georgiou’s men are slaughtered, so she calls for an “emergency transport” and beams away.
Burnham is in a tunnel somewhere getting in touch with the Discovery. Saru answers and Burnham breaks the news that Lorca is really a Terran, and Stamets (who’s conveniently on the bridge for this call) immediately realizes that Lorca is the one who altered the coordinates of their last jump to bring them here. Burnham says the Discovery should not approach the Charon, because Lorca no longer has any use for Discovery’s crew and might just kill them all. Then Stamets tells her that the Terrans have a “super-mycelial reactor” that could destroy all life in all universes. He says they need to destroy the miniature sun that powers the Charon, which they’re calling the “orb”, but they need Burnham to take down the containment field protecting it.
In the throne room on the Charon, Lorca says there’s no need to keep Mirror Stamets alive, and he unveils a trapdoor that can drop people directly into the orb. Lorca calls it “poetic justice” that Stamets is about to be destroyed by his own creation, but then a moment later he says he’s only kidding. “I hate poetry.” Landry blasts Stamets and disintegrates him. But you should remember this trapdoor, which is surely a Chekhov’s Gun, and I don’t mean Pavel.
Lorca then contacts Burnham, who’s roaming around somewhere on the ship, and tells her that she belongs here in the “real world” with him, and the Federation is a “social experiment” that’s doomed to fail. He wants her to help bring peace to the Mirror Universe instead. And during this, it looks like Landry is closing in on Burnham, but Michael pulled a switcheroo with some gizmo and is nowhere to be found.
Burnham then turns up in some place where Georgiou is sitting at a table, and I have no idea how she knew Georgiou would be here. But she’s holding Mirror Michael’s imperial badge, the same way Burnham hangs onto the other Philippa’s Starfleet badge. Burnham talks about how she allowed her own Georgiou to die, but she won’t let that happen again, so she’s going to stop Lorca. She formulates a plan to get into the throne room and disable the orb’s containment field.
Back on the Discovery, there’s lots of technobabble in Engineering where Stamets explains to the entire crew that they’ll have to load up their photon torpedoes with spores to destroy the orb. This will deplete their entire supply of spores, and since their mycelial crop is dead, this means they won’t be able to jump back home. Oh, but it gets worse: Tilly explains that the Discovery’s shields won’t be able to withstand the energy released by the destruction of the orb, and they’ll probably all die.
Saru tries to reassure the crew by reminding them that his species can “sense of the coming of death”, which still makes no sense, but he doesn’t feel it coming on now. Saru says this ship is no longer Lorca’s ship, and it’s their ship now, and they should consider today to be Discovery’s “maiden voyage”.
In Charon’s throne room, Burnham enters with Georgiou. She tells Lorca that in exchange for letting her crew go, she’s willing to offer up not only Georgiou, but also herself. “That’s very Terran of you,” Lorca says, presumably as a spin on the old racist saying “that’s mighty white of you”. But then she sees Lorca getting all hot and bothered and says she’s only offering her “mind” and nothing else.
And then a defiant Georgiou promises she’s going to kill Lorca, and I don’t think they could be telegraphing the end of the episode any clearer.
On the Discovery, Tilly’s back in her cadet’s uniform (and her hair is curly again?) as she tells Stamets that she’s run some simulations, and she realizes that when they destroy the orb, they can ride the shockwave of mycelial energy and trigger another spore jump that will get them back to their own universe. There’s a lot more technobabble than that, but that’s the gist of it.
Discovery reaches the Charon and gets a call from Lorca, who admits to being Mirror Lorca and says he nonetheless admires the crew of the Discovery and was happy to lead them. And Lorca’s (Texan?) accent, which seemed to come and go throughout the series, is especially pronounced here. Lorca then puts Burnham on screen, and she tells Saru she’s decided to stay in this universe, and this is where she belongs.
Saru takes this as his cue to open fire, while a big brawl breaks out in the throne room between Lorca, Burnham, Georgiou, Landry, and various nameless crewmen. Eventually, Burnham fights Landry one on one, while Lorca fights Georgiou, and Michelle Yeoh finally gets to go all Michelle Yeoh on his ass, even throwing a leg up over her shoulder to kick him in the face. There’s an odd moment where Lorca stabs Landry, taking her out of the fight, though I’m not sure why. Eventually, Lorca knocks Georgiou out, leaving Burnham and Lorca as the last ones standing.
She defeats him with Vulcan Fu and grabs a phaser and is about to shoot him. Instead, she says they would have helped him get back to his own universe if he had only asked. She adds that she’s not going to kill him, because that’s not what Starfleet does. But then Georgiou comes around, and not being Starfleet, she runs Lorca through with her sword. She then opens up that trapdoor overlooking the orb.
Lorca gets an overblown Bond Villain-style death as he’s incinerated in the orb. So that’s the end of Lorca, I guess. Though the fact that he gets burned up in a mycelial-powered energy source probably means that, just like Dr. Culber, some part of him will always remain alive in the network.
Burnham then lowers the containment field, just as more of Lorca’s “troops” enter the throne room. Georgiou grabs a rifle and says she’s going to buy Burnham some time to get back to her own ship. She knows she’s a defeated emperor and her time is up anyway, so she intends to die on her feet.
Discovery gets a lock on Burnham and is about to beam her out, but then we get another Gillian Taylor moment when Burnham jumps on Georgiou so they both get beamed up together. And it really doesn’t seem like this should even be possible, at least not without the two getting genetically merged Brundlefly-style. In the transporter room, Georgiou is none too happy with Burnham for bringing her here.
Discovery then changes course, heading directly for the orb. Landry, who’s still alive apparently (for the next few seconds, at least), wonders what the hell Discovery is doing. Discovery blasts the orb with its spore-torpedoes, destroying the ship.
As promised, they’re able to ride the shockwave and re-enter the mycelial network, and Stamets sees a big light show unfolding before his eyes and is not sure which way to go to get home. But then he flashes back to Deus Ex Culber in the Mycelial Matrix telling him to look for the “clearing in the forest”, and this helps him bring everybody back to their own universe.
In Engineering, all the spores make a pretty show for everyone to see, and then they all disappear, which I guess is meant to imply that Discovery has made its final spore-powered jump. Though, there is a conspicuous closeup on one spore dissolving into Tilly’s uniform that might mean something. Regardless, I assume this is the end of the spore drive and our explanation for why no other Star Trek series taking place after this one has ever heard of or used one.
On the bridge, Saru learns they’re back in their home universe, but they overshot the mark time-wise, and ended up in the future. And I’m sure that like many, I briefly hoped they had jumped decades/centuries forward to explain why no one in Captain Kirk’s time had heard of the Mirror Universe, despite the leader of the Terran Empire being brought to their universe just a few years prior. But it turns out it’s just nine months after they left.
Saru tries to hail Starfleet, but there’s no response. He then asks for a “war status” map up on the viewscreen, and it seems that in their absence, the Klingons have won the war, and have taken over large parts of Federation territory. And presumably, they’ll be spending the remainder of this season inventing some method of time travel which will also get forgotten by the time TOS rolls around, so they can go back nine months and win the war.
As far as positives go, I enjoyed the action scenes in this episode, and they’re easily some of the best action scenes ever seen on Star Trek. But ultimately, it’s just empty spectacle. The revelation that Lorca was just a standard villain the whole time has robbed Discovery of a big chunk of what made it intriguing and full of potential. Without him, where does this show go?
There are only two episodes left to the season, and frankly, I still have no idea what this show is supposed to be about. Go ahead; pretend you have a minute to pitch this show to the suits at CBS, and give your two sentence explanation of the premise of Star Trek: Discovery. Honestly, I wouldn’t even know where to begin.
Next up: Now that we’re done with the Mirror Universe, it’s right back to the slightly-less-tedious Klingon War arc. Admiral Cornwell and Sarek come aboard, and Burnham again says that she started this war and she needs to end it. And it looks like Mirror Georgiou will show them how to defeat the Klingons, while L’Rell (hey, remember her?) says that the war, much like this season, will never end.