Previously on Discovery: A botched jump that Captain Lorca maybe caused on purpose caused the ship to end up in wreckage they don’t recognize. SurpriseIt’s the mirror universe, just like we all guessed after we were told ages ago this show was going to visit it. But of course, to everyone complaining about Discovery, it’s felt like the mirror universe all along. Ba-dum tish.
All jokes aside, this episode was a lot of exposition. There’s a lot of technobabble, a lot of people talking about themselves, a lot of people talking about emotions instead of just showing them. This was the TV show equivalent of a wall of text. And still, still, I don’t think what was going on was made that clear. But at least the direction its going is interesting.
Saru gets no development because, sadly, he only had the one awful episode to delve into his character, otherwise he’s mostly just there to be reliable and in charge when Lorca goes charging off. Actually, being terrified all the time is probably a good match for the mirror universe, where everyone actually is out to get you.
Lorca, on the other hand, is always at his best when he’s got a crisis to solve. He’s in his element, commanding his ship with no possibility of oversight. In a meta sense, of course, Lorca—always selfish, always about winning no matter what—fits the mirror universe’s Terran Empire and Imperial Starfleet better than he does the Federation and Starfleet. At least, as we conceive of them. Lorca is self aware enough to notice this, but he in no way goes mad from the revelation.
Everyone else, though? Whooo boy.
“Despite Yourself” opens with a bunch of technobabble that boils down to “we can recognize things, the maps are the same, but the ‘quantum signature’ doesn’t match our universe’s.” Also, the wreckage they’re was caused by Federation phasers, but another ship mentions they took care of “Vulcan rebels.” Also, Stamets is still non-responsive, which I find personally offensive because all I want to know is how sarcastic he would be in response to this predicament.
He’d definitely be pissed at Lorca’s description of him as “keen to chase [the theory that the spore drive was mapping alternate universes] with me after the war.” Apparently, the 133 jumps that they used to map and then take out the stealth Klingon ships also filled in the blanks in the Discovery’s mapping of the multiverse.
In addition to being trapped in a hostile alternate universe, the Discovery never transmitted the algorithm for breaking the Klingon cloaking technology back to Starfleet. So, you know, Starfleet could still lose the war now that their greatest advantages—the spore drive and the algorithm—are lost. If Lorca did do this just cause he wanted to stay captain... Lorca, you selfish shit.
In sickbay, Tilly is trying to annoy Stamets back to normal. Always play to your strengths, I guess. And then Culber has possibly the best moment of the episode, telling Till “You didn’t do this” just as Lorca enters. “Speak of the devil.” Culber, you are more right than you know. And your day is just beginning to get bad.
Lorca’s stopped by to tell Culber that he’s assigning a different doctor to Stamets. Because he thinks Culber is emotionally compromised. And he’s not wrong, exactly? Treating your loved ones is fraught with possible issues. On the other hand, no one believes this is really why Lorca’s doing this. Everything Lorca does has layers of crap, mostly to cover his own ass. And taking Stamets off the board helps him hide what he did.
Speaking of the emotionally compromised: Ash Tyler. He’s been sent to extract a Klingon data core, sending him into flashback land. It’s the procedures stuff again, which so unsettles Tyler that he goes to confront L’Rell again. She tells him, “You know what we did, we did it together, so many things, you have such an appetite.” Which, if she did assault him, is so vile I will never stop vomiting.
Of course, this episode instead basically confirms what we all knew: Ash Tyler isn’t Ash Tyler. L’Rell starts speaking a Klingon prayer, with Tyler responding in Klingon. It’s clearly a set of passphrases meant to unlock his original identity, but shit has, as usual, gone wrong. L’Rell says, “You have another name” and legions of viewers scream “WE KNOW. IT’S VOQ.”
But instead of Tyler recovering his memories and returning to Voq, he spends chunks of this episode losing time and acting erratically. Good thing he’s only in charge of security.
The data core enables Burnham to recap for anyone who doesn’t know what the state of the mirror universe is. AKA, humanity goes into space to wage war and conquer instead of explore, squashing everyone under the heel of the Terran Empire. So, of course, a bunch of planets have spawned rebel groups who’ve allied with the Klingons, Cardassians, etc. to fight back. The Terran Empire, horrible as it is, is wonderfully inefficient because the best way to advance is to conspire against and kill your superior officers. Attrition is...high.
Now, in the grand tradition of Star Trek, going to the mirror universe is a chance to explore the dark side of human nature and do some interesting what-ifs with characters we know. Discovery does the latter pretty well. It does the former with characteristic lack of subtlety. Burnham says the Empire is based on “unconditional hatred and fear of everything other.”
In the grand tradition of Discovery, there’s also a bit that’s incredibly confusing if you haven’t watched all of Trek before. Burnham says there might have been a ship from their universe that appeared here before. It’s the USS Defiant—not the one from Deep Space Nine, the one from Star Trek’s “The Tholian Web.” Which, yes, is technically in Discovery’s future. In “The Tholian Web,” the Defiant was trapped between universes, and everyone on board had gone crazy and murderous.
Enterprise further expanded this story in “In a Mirror Darkly,” to explain that the ship had actually jumped back in time and across universes. Because of its advanced technology, it was a prize that would allow the person in possession of it to declare themselves emperor. Thus began the reign of Empress Hoshi Sato I.
For the purposes of Discovery, this means that, hopefully, they can use what moved the Defiant across universes (Tholians detonating a tri-cobalt warhead in a dead star) to get home. You know, since Stamets and the spore drive are out of commission.
Burnham also says that it seems like they’ve switched places with the mirror Discovery, which is consistent with what happened with Kirk, Scotty, Bones, and Uhura in “Mirror, Mirror.” (My favorite cut in all of Star Trek might actually be Kirk contemplating in horror what the mirror crew might be doing on his ship—only for us to see that Mirror!Kirk immediately revealed himself and is being hauled off by security while he screams “I ORDER YOU TO LET ME GO.” Prime Kirk is apparently the most subtle Kirk to exist. Think about that for a minute.)
Anyway, the Discovery is hailed by another ship, and that’s when we find out who the captain is in this universe. Brace yourselves:
Oh, yeah. It’s Captain Tilly. Slayer of Sorna Prime. Witch of Werna Minor. “Captain Killy.” And that would have killed me dead, if Jason Isaacs hadn’t then immediately stepped to plate doing the voice of the chief engineer. Because Burnham says she doesn’t know who he is in the universe, he should disguise his voice. And he chooses... a Scottish accent. Thank you, good night.
Lorca orders everyone on the ship undercover. They put the Terran Empire logo all over the ship. Everyone turns in their badges for Terran Empire ones. To go with snazzy new uniforms that have so much gold on them. Tilly gets new hair.
As for Lorca and Burnham? Well, she informs the captain, “I’m presumed dead and you’re a fugitive wanted for my murder.” Lorca decided he wanted to be emperor and lead a coup—try to hold in your surprise that any version of Lorca went against authority for selfish reasons—and Burnham, captain of the Shenzhou, was sent to put down his rebellion. Her shuttle exploded and Lorca’s ship was targeted by the emperor for reprisal. And just like the other universe, Lorca escaped while his crew died.
Lorca takes this poorly, since apparently he hoped—for some reason—that the version of him in this universe would be a better man than him. And while I applaud the self-knowledge that he is nearly as awful a version of himself as is possible, come on my dude. If anything, living in this universe would have sharpened your worst instincts to a fine point. In the universe where Earth is a veritable utopia, you ended up a nightmare. That said, I bet all my money Mirror!Lorca and Mirror!Burnham actually escaped together and will proceed to freak everyone out when they show up making out.
Anyway, Lorca’s decided choice played no part in him being a dick, that it’s just destiny. Which is a fun way to avoid responsibility for all your shit, but no. I have to agree with Burnham here: “Destiny didn’t get me out of prison captain, you did that.”
While Lorca’s contemplating how big an ass he is, Tyler’s gone to Culber because he needs to know what’s up with him. Of course, he only wants to know as long as it doesn’t prevent him from being on duty. EVERYONE on this ship knows they are not okay and also refuses to stop working, even though it’s going to backfire. Stamets, Lorca, Tyler...everyone. Lorca taking Culber off of Stamets’ case is hilarious, because for all that he loves Stamets, he’s been a consummate professional and everyone else is a weeping, time losing, phaser in the back of the pants carrying, emotionally compromised mess.
Stamets has been yelling about the “palace” and not to go in there, and Culber goes to comfort him. He tells Stamets he’s not going anywhere, and Stamet’s snaps out of it long enough to tell him to be careful, the enemy is here.
Which of course he is, since Culber finds evidence that Tyler’s had his organs and bones radically altered and possibly has a whole other personality underneath this one. “WE KNOW. IT’S VOQ,” the audience yells again.
Culber telling Tyler he has to be grounded since “you’re not you” goes over about as well as you’d expect. Tyler snaps Culber’s neck, and now both members of the gay couple have, in two episodes in a row, followed a sweet moment with probably death.
In order to find out what exactly happened with the Defiant, since only the bare bones were on the recovered data core and the full records would only be accessible from an actual Terran Empire ship, Burnham is going to pretend that she faked her death to capture Lorca, who is her prize. Tyler—again, in just the best mental health possible to be undercover—will act as her guard. They’ll get aboard the Shenzhou and access the records from there.
Tyler shows up to the transporter room with no memory of why he was late—hiding Culber’s body, no doubt. On the Shenzhou, Burnham is treated to a very special hell where she gets to see the crew that died at the Battle of the Binary Stars, except they’re not her friends, they are monsters. Connor, who assumed the captaincy after she “died,” was her ops officer in the prime universe. And, of course, he attacks her because he wants to stay captain. And she has to kill him with a knife and watch the bridge crew applaud her for it.
That moment is the best moment in this episode, which is otherwise basically a wall of text. Burnham has to stay in character, while dealing with horror at what she had to do and the horror of all these people congratulating her for it. It encapsulates everything fucked up about the mirror universe and it is great. This is using the mirror universe setting to explore a character in a new way.
The stress of it all leads to Tyler and Burnham seeking solace in each other while, the viewers once again scream “HE’S VOQ. THIS IS A MISTAKE!” At the screen.
But we do end with Lorca in the Agony Booth, a moment I will treasure forever, as it’s likely to be the closest Lorca ever gets to anything like comeuppance. Listen, Burnham tried to stop it, he was the one who thought that blew their cover.
This was a hard episode to like or dislike. It was so much set up and so much explanation, that it felt more like I was reading a prologue than watching an episode. That said, it had moments I liked and I like how they’re using the mirror universe. Just...everyone needs to talk a lot less. And I miss Stamets.
- Wilson Cruz has explicitly said said that this isn’t the last we’ll see of Culber and that this isn’t a case of “burying your gays.” Well, the preview did see Stamets cradling Culber’s body. I doubt that’s what he meant.
- And here’s where I put on my tin hat: they say, over and over again, that no one knows who the Emperor is, just that he’s cruel. Add that to Stamets’ constant “don’t go in the palace” murmuring and I’m going to go with Mirror!Culber is the Emperor. (In the books, it was Hoshi and her heirs right up until Spock took over as Emperor. Yeah, that happened.)
- Culber tells Tyler that the “Manchurian Test” is good at finding brainwashing. I see what you did there, and I hope in-universe some wonderfully insensitive doctor also named it as a shout-out.
- Saru’s threat ganglia went nuts when Tyler stepped on the bridge. So that’s good.
- It now seems that Stamets calling Tilly “Captain” was not him seeing the future but him seeing into other universes.
- The circling camera movement with Lorca, Burnham, and Saru talking about the alternate universes is very reminiscent of Leverage, which makes sense since Jonathan Frakes directed a bunch of those episodes, too.