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Josh Catches Up with Star Trek Discovery’s Journey into the Mirror Universe

It’s a sign of how mediocre I found the first half of Star Trek Discovery’s first season that I didn’t rush to jump back into the show when it returned a few weeks ago.  But I’m caught up now.  Has the show improved?  Read on…

Despite Yourself — This episode doesn’t waste much time in confirming that, as almost every Star Trek fan had already guessed, Discovery has journeyed into the Mirror Universe.  Once again, I find myself confounded by the choices made by this show.  The first question is: why didn’t they give us this reveal at the end of the previous episode?  That would have been a fun way to end the first half of the season, instead of the lame pull-back-to-nothing that we got at the end of episode nine.  Since this episode spilled the beans on the Mirror Universe almost immediately, it seems to me they should have given us that reveal as the final moment before the mid-season break.

But the bigger question is: why is this where the show is going in the back half of its first season?  Look, I love the Mirror Universe.  But 1) it’s another huge continuity bungle for this prequel show to have Discovery discover the Mirror Universe BEFORE Kirk and co. did (yet again, this wouldn’t be an issue if the show was set AFTER the pre-existing Trek shows rather than before), and 2) for a show that feels like it is designed to expand the appeal of Star Trek beyond pre-existing fans (something I support, by the way), why are we already digging into this pre-existing Trek concept only 10 episodes into the new show’s run?  It’s a bizarre choice, in my opinion.  Then they go and bring up the U.S.S. Defiant, which is a VERY deep dive into Trek continuity.  (The Defiant was lost in the Original Series episode “The Tholian Web,” and then decades later the Enterprise two-parter “In a Mirror, Darkly” revealed that the Defiant had wound up in the Mirror Universe, a century earlier.)  I certainly loved hearing about the Defiant, but for a show that has shown a complete disregard to Trek continuity, why this deep-dive reference?  It will totally confuse non-fans, and seems like a weird bone to throw to long-time Trek fans who would have already been very turned off by Discovery’s disrespect of Trek continuity.  I just don’t get it.

What’s good in the episode:  The Mirror Universe remains a pleasingly fun concept.  I enjoyed the Mirror Universe version of the Discovery’s uniforms.  I enjoyed Captain Tilly.  It was great to see the Shenzhou back, in Mirror Universe form, and to see many of her crew who’d gotten killed off in back in episode two.  I loved the show’s cool-as-hell depiction of the Mirror Universe agony booths.

What’s not good: I don’t understand how the Vulcan rebels’ ship is destroyed right in front of Discovery… by a Mirror Universe starship that then doesn’t show up until much later in the episode. Sweaty, shaky, late-to-the-transporter room Lt. Tyler is so laughably unfit for duty that it’s ridiculous that he is allowed to go on the dangerous mission.  Tilly’s being a Captain in the Mirror Universe only makes it more crazy, as I have mentioned before, that she’s only a cadet on Discovery, not even an ensign, and yet she somehow seems to be involved in everything that goes on on-board the ship; she seems to be the #2 engineer!!

But the worst aspect of this episode is the death of Lt. Culber.  The show goes for a cheap shock and loses a great character who was important as a part of Trek’s first gay couple.  Having Culber and Stamets as a happy, committed gay couple was important, and I am angry the show has broken them up.  (I think there’s a decent chance this will get undone, somehow, by the end of the season, which would be good in the long run though it would make Culber’s death here even more of a cheap trick.)  I also hate that, like poor departed security chief Landry (remember her ridiculous death in episode four?), Culber died so STUPIDLY.  He’s discovered that Tyler has been compromised by the Klingons, and doesn’t bother to alert the captain and/or security, and instead confronts him, alone, in an empty sickbay?? So dumb.  Ugh.

Two final comments: 1) I predicted to my wife that the mysterious “emperor” mentioned repeatedly in the episode would have to be Georgiou (which was confirmed in the next episode).  2)  The fan theory that Lorca is from the Mirror Universe seems to be getting closer and closer to reality, as the camera cuts to him flinching when the rebels against the Mirror Universe Terran Empire are mentioned.

The Wolf Inside — The fan suspicion that Tyler is in fact a “Manchurian candidate” version of Voq is finally confirmed.  Discovery is suffering from the same problem as Westworld season one, in that the show is based around a number of mysteries that the fans figured out way before the showrunners wanted us to.  Both shows would have been better served had the whole season been released at once (as is the case with many streaming shows these days); because the weekly release pattern means that the fans have figured out these mysteries, thus dramatically diluting their impact.

What’s good: While I still think it was a big mistake for Discovery to visit the Mirror Universe this early in its run, this episode makes it appear that we’ll be in the Mirror Universe for quite some time, and I enjoy the way the show’s embrace of serialization means that we can dig more deeply into this storyline rather than having it all resolved in a single episode.  I loved everything we saw of the Mirror Universe rebels.  It was a nice twist for Voq to meet Voq (in the form of Lt. Tyler), as well as bringing the story back around to Burnham’s having met Voq back in episode two.  I loved the look of the Andorian and Tellarite in the rebellion.  Both aliens had a nice, slightly tweaked/updated look that looked great while still being respectful and consistent with what we’d seen before.  (I wish the Discovery‘s Klingons had been realized in a similar manner.)  I enjoyed seeing Mirror Sarek (with a goatee, of course), and his mind meld scene with Burnham made excellent story sense and was also a powerful moment.

I continue to enjoy the look of all the Mirror Universe sequences.  I love the reworked sets and costumes.  (My eyebrows were raised by Burnham’s sexy Mirror Universe black lingerie, but I am not objecting!)  I enjoyed Mirror Saru and his nick-of-time rescue of Burnham.  I am intrigued that Mirror Stamets also seems to be lost in the mycelial network, just like “our” Stamets is.  (But I thought there was a line in the previous episode that the Mirror Discovery did NOT have a Spore Drive?)  The planet on which the rebel base was set looked gorgeous — great visual effects there.  I enjoyed the final-minute revelation of exactly how Burnham managed to get the secret files on the Defiant off of the Mirror Shenzhou and into the hands of her friends on the Discovery.  

What’s not so good: Once again, why is Tilly — who is a CADET, not a Starfleet officer with any rank — placed in charge of the effort to heal Stamets and repair the Spore Drive?  Shouldn’t the Discovery have at least fifty more qualified, experienced officers to do this?  I like the character of Tilly, but the show made a huge mistake by making her a cadet.

While I enjoyed the emotional moments given to Burnham in the episode, it seems a little silly to me that 1) she’s already having such a major emotional crisis about holding onto her ideals after only two days in the Mirror Universe, and 2) that she seems to have so much time on her hands to get it on with Tyler while they are on this super-dangerous mission.  (Still, I did enjoy the way Ms. Martin-Green played Burnham’s horrified reaction that her friend and now lover Tyler was actually a Klingon.)  Burnham and Tyler’s taking a break for sexy-time feels especially silly when you realize that Lorca has been getting tortured in the agony booth the entire time.  (Which seems a little over the top — wouldn’t he be dead after all that?)

Vaulting Ambition — For the most part, this was one of the best Discovery episodes so far.  Though this Mirror Universe saga has a lot of problematic baggage, as I have detailed above, I am thoroughly enjoying this multi-episode arc (Star Trek’s longest prolonged visit to the Mirror Universe so far).  This was a fun episode, filled with some surprisingly dark turns (the bloody death of one of Lorca’s rebels in the agony booth room, Emperor Georgiou’s Yondu-style murder of all of her advisors, and the meal of Kelpian that Georgiou served to Burnham — after making Burnham unwittingly choose which Kelpian would get cooked and eaten, no less!!  Yowza!!).

The most notable aspect of this episode was the confirmation of the fan theory that Captain Lorca was, in fact, from the Mirror Universe.  I have mixed emotions about this.  On the positive side, I think this was a neat concept, and I am happy that the cruel, militaristic Lorca, who I have found to be so un-Starfleet, has been shown to not in fact have been a part of Starfleet after all.  On the down side, like most of Discovery’s secrets, it’s a shame that we were able to guess this so long ago.  Had this come as a true surprise, it would have been shocking.  A Star Trek series regular secretly revealed to be from the Mirror Universe?  That should have blown our minds, but because the show telegraphed this reveal so long ago, it lost its impact.  I’m also forced to ask, yet again: what is this show supposed to be about?  Making it all about the Mirror Universe seems like a truly bizarre choice for a show meant to appeal to new fans, and that has done so much to alienate the core Star Trek fans who would be the ones who would get excited about a lengthy Mirror Universe saga.

What’s good: As I noted above, I’m quite enjoying this three-episodes-and-counting saga in the Mirror Universe.  I loved Emperor Georgiou’s massive starship/palace, the Charon.  I love having Michelle Yeoh back on the show; her scenes with Sonequa Martin-Green’s Burnham are terrific.  I liked that we saw Saru being both tough and smart, cleverly figuring out a way to get the Klingon prisoner L’Rell to help the unraveling Tyler/Voq.  I enjoyed all the stuff with the two Stamets in the mycelial network; that was really creepy.  I loved all the scenes between Stamets and Culber; that was an emotional high-point of the show so far, with terrific work by both actors.  (But I am still very angry that they have killed off Culber.  I think that was a huge mistake.)

I liked the way they played the sequence in which Burnham realizes the truth about Lorca.  And boy, the implication that Mirror Lorca had a relationship with the Burnham of his universe is creepy stuff.  I did not expect the show to go there.  That was good.

What’s not so good: I’m unclear on how L’Rell’s brain-massage (“Smithers, massage my brain!”) was able to so quickly fix Tyler/Voq.  (Was her death scream meant to indicate that she had chosen to restore Tyler’s mind, over Voq?  Why would she do that?). And just what was L’Rell & Voq’s plan, anyways??  How would turning Voq into a human advance Voq/T’Kuvma’s strident “remain Klingon” beliefs?  None of this really makes much sense to me.

Burnham’s willingness to come right out and tell Emperor Georgiou all about her being from an alternate universe, and about Discovery’s spore drive, seems the height of foolishness.  (Though I liked that we learn that Georgiou already knew all about the alternate universe and the United Federation of Planets.  I hadn’t thought of that, but of course she would know this already, because the Defiant has been in the Mirror Universe for a century.). I sure hope that Burnham has a plan up her sleeve, because she seemed to be acting very foolishly towards the end of the episode, seeming to trust Georgiou, who as the Emperor must be the least trustworthy Terran of them all.

While I loved the way this episode chose to reveal the truth about Lorca, they had to go one step too far and ruin it with that nonsense about the Mirror Universe humans being sensitive to light.  Ugh.  That’s a stupid idea and it completely contradicts all the previous episodes in which Mirror Universe characters came into the prime universe without that ever being an issue.  (It also means that the story Lorca told Burnham about how his eyes were damaged, which I thought was one of the best character beats of that character so far, was bullshit, which is a shame.)  Why did they have to throw in that extra bit of nonsense?  It was totally unnecessary and another flagrant disregard of pre-existing continuity.  Sigh.

The reminder in this episode that the Defiant traveled through time when it went from the Prime Universe to the Mirror Universe makes me wonder if, when the Discovery gets back to the Prime Universe at the end of this season, they’re going to wind up in the future.  Is this going to be the show’s way of addressing all the continuity problems?  (It wouldn’t, by the way.  Yes, it’d explain a few things, like why no future Federation ship has a spore drive, or why Kirk and co. didn’t know about the Mirror Universe when the Discovery has already discovered it, but it wouldn’t explain away the million other continuity issues in which the show has depicted a pre-Kirk universe that is hugely different from that depicted in the Original Series.)  We’ll see…

So, as you can see, I still have a boat-load of problems with this show.  I can say, at least, that I have enjoyed the ride of these three post-hiatus episodes.  These have been fun, exciting episodes, and as always the show’s production values are incredible, the best Trek has ever looked on TV.  I just wish I understood any of the behind-the-scenes creative choices.  I am interested to see how this all wraps up in the final three episodes…

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