Star Trek Discovery: Despite Yourself

"This isn't Starbase 46."

They've been doing some serious risk-taking in this first season of Discovery. I'm not sure all of it is working out, but this episode was pretty darned impressive.

For those of you who haven't watched every version of Star Trek since childhood, here is a mini-history of the Mirror Universe. Initially introduced in the deliciously vicious original series episode "Mirror, Mirror" where Captain Kirk and three members of his crew changed places with their mirror counterparts during an ion storm, the Mirror Universe was intended to be the exact opposite of Gene Roddenberry's original vision. The Terran Empire is an oppressive, fascist government that rules the Earth through torture and fear, going back at least to the 1950s, or possibly even the Roman Empire.

While there were no mirror episodes in Next Gen or Voyager, Deep Space Nine went to the Mirror Universe well five times ("Crossover," "Through the Looking Glass," "Shattered Mirror," "Resurrection" and "The Emperor's New Cloak"). I'll admit that my memory of these episodes is dim; it's been awhile since I watched DS9. Feel free to remind me of anything about them in the comments.

But the earlier Trek that is the most important to this Discovery outing is "In a Mirror, Darkly," a two-part episode of Star Trek: Enterprise that takes place entirely in the mirror universe. It begins with an alternate scene from movie Star Trek: First Contact where Zefram Cochrane kills the Vulcan envoy instead of greeting him, and features the evil Jonathan Archer commanding the U.S.S. Defiant. What's confusing is that the Mirror Universe's U.S.S. Defiant is the sister ship of the original Kirk/Spock Enterprise; it was lost in the original series episode "The Tholian Web" and went back in time.

Confused yet? I certainly am, and I have a relatively good Star Trek memory. I don't think we need all this to follow the story, though.

So what the hell are they doing with Tyler?

Whatever it is, they are totally creeping me out. Multiple surgeries shortening his limbs and spinal chord? Is Ash Tyler supposed to be Voq, as so many fans have theorized? Those flashbacks to his "surgeries" are just too disturbing. So was letting L'Rell out of her cell and nearly kissing her. L'Rell mentioned that Tyler chose what happened to him. How could that be?

The term "overlay" is actually somewhat encouraging, along with the fact that L'Rell couldn't activate whatever she did to Tyler with the Klingon prayer code words. Maybe the real Tyler is fighting off whatever it was L'Rell did to him. Except that Saru's threat ganglia went up when Tyler entered the Bridge. And Stamets told his husband, "The enemy is here."

Not to mention that Tyler KILLED DOCTOR CULBER. I was so shocked that I actually shrieked out loud. This is terribly upsetting, because I loved Stamets and Culber as a couple. It was bad enough when Lorca told Culber he couldn't treat his own husband, even though I could sort of understand from an objectivity standpoint why.

And we're back at the Shenzhou

What a bittersweet turn of events. Burnham finally got to be captain of the Shenzhou, but like Kirk in "Mirror, Mirror," she was nearly assassinated in short order and had to kill the doppelganger of her former shipmate in the turbolift. (Cool fight scene, though. I particularly liked the cleverness of her turning off the gravity for a moment to take Connor off guard.)

Although I liked the reverse gender "Mirror, Mirror" callback to Kirk and the "captain's woman," the romantic turn with Tyler was actually upsetting. There was even a deliberate echo of the scene when L'Rell nearly kissed Tyler in the brig when Burnham kissed Tyler in her quarters. Even though Tyler still seems to be Tyler, I kept thinking he would turn on Burnham when she was at her most vulnerable. Earlier, Burnham had talked with Lorca about the emotional toll of pretending to be their evil counterparts. Add that to what's happening with Tyler, and wow, this is complicated.

Captain Killy

Usually there is something fun about the Mirror Universe episodes, like Spock's beard or Archer wrestling with a Gorn. Here, it was Tilly as Captain of the Discovery, complete with over the top costume and dyed hair. Tilly has become a favorite of mine and I could tell that part of her really enjoyed being "Killy" and wanted to stay in the captain's chair, while the other part was seriously worried that she might be damaging her career. It was perfect from a character standpoint. Loved it. (I also loved Tilly trying to reach Stamets by deliberately trying to annoy him.)


The only bit that I enjoyed more was Lorca pretending to be Tilly's chief engineer in an obvious tribute to Montgomery Scott. Lovely.

Early on, Lorca kept taking the blame for what happened to Stamets. Later, Doctor Culber theorized that maybe Lorca actually wanted Stamets to take them to where they were. Is that possible? Could be that the agony booth is the best place for Lorca right now.

Leave us with a cliffhanger, why don't you?

Throughout the second half of the episode, I kept thinking that they'd better not resolve this situation quickly – and they didn't. How long will Discovery stay in the Mirror Universe? How long do we as fans want them to stay in the Mirror Universe? They are certainly needed back in the prime universe; Discovery has cloak-breaking information that the Federation needs in order to win the war with the Klingons.

Lorca thinks that the possibly time-traveling Defiant might be the key to returning. When Tyler killed Doctor Culber, the first thing I thought was, they'd better find a way to fix this. Is time travel the answer?

Bits:

-- In the Mirror Universe, the Vulcans, Andorians and Klingons have allied to fight the Terran Empire.

-- What happened to Georgiou? Did the alternate universe Burnham kill her to move up? Could she be the Emperor, a descendant of Ensign Sato? Is that why Stamets kept saying to stay out of the Palace?

 -- I loved that they used drones to change the lettering on the ship, and added the Terran Empire logo to the floor of the bridge.

-- Are we going to see the alternate Discovery under the real Captain Killy's command?

-- This episode was directed by Jonathan Frakes. How lovely.

-- Even though I've mentioned this story before, I have to do it again. I visited the set of Star Trek: Enterprise on the Paramount lot near the end of their final season. They were filming scenes on the bridge of the U.S.S. Defiant that was mentioned in this episode, the ship from "The Tholian Web," for the two-part episode "In a Mirror, Darkly."

Quotes:

Burnham: "Isik for your thoughts?"
What's an isik? Has this been mentioned in Trek before?

Lorca: "There's no way we're asking these neighbors for a cup of sugar."

Tilly: "That's me. That's... me."
Lorca: "That's absurd."

Tilly: "What do I say?"
Lorca: "You just get rid of them as fast as possible. And you talk as little as possible."
Tilly: "That's, uh, that might be a little hard for... have you noticed I talk a lot?"
Lorca: "Defy your every instinct."

Tilly: "Hello, this is Captain Tilly. What the heck... heck... hell? What the hell? Hold your horses!"

Burnham: "And finally..."
Saru: "Captain Killy? Well, that's not very clever."

Tilly: (re: her new look) "Well, my mother would definitely approve."
Makes me curious about her mother.

Tilly: “I’m going to have nightmares about myself now.”

Burnham: "Their strength is painted rust. It's a facade."

Despite the flaws in this episode, I was impressed, and I wanted to see the next episode immediately. Four out of four references to previous Star Trek episodes,

Billie
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Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

13 comments:

Onanymous said...

Ugh, I think I might have scared the neighbours by yelling at the screen when Culber was killed (I really hope he gets better). They built up the suspense in that scene very well, but I really did not expect them to go that far, so the moment was extremely effective.

The Tyler/Voq thing was expected, they've been hinting at it for a while now, but I still don't like it. I was really hoping for a different explanation, mostly because I really like the Ash Tyler personality and his relationship with Michael.

Loved Lorca's scottish accent and I wonder if the phrasing of "Make it so we look and act like we belong here" was on purpose as well.

Juan Alberto Roche Rodríguez said...

Hi! Great review Billie as always.
I liked the episode too. It was a roller coaster of emotions for me and it seemed went to fast. A lot happend!
Im not exactly 100% sold on the concept of the Mirror Universe, mostly because I never really liked those episodes on DS9 and I find the idea of meet evil counterparts of the characters kind of silly. But the more I think about it now, the more I see the potential for Discovery to expand the concept and use it for good drama. Specially if this becomes the new default setting of the series, I wonder is the writes thougth about it, it would help solve a lot of the continuity problems of the series (Things that we never hear before, like Spock unknow step sister, the spore drive, etc. If Discovery disappeared from our universe that would explain some of it.) and it could give DIS a place in the Star Trek history (meavy they were the ones that helped defeat the Terran Empire, like it was by DS9 time, when human became the oppressed). Who knows, but I seriously doubt the showrunners would be that bold. They probaly will extend this arc only until the end of the season.

-Gotta love Captain Tilly!!!

-I kind of hate Lorca, but at the same time I kind of respect him more and more. He is so hard core! I mean seriously, smashing your own face against the wall so you dont get discover (no pun intended) and pulling a scottish accent on a fly. He at least desserves my respect. And dont tell me that the way he adapt to this situation so quick is not a red herring. He must be from this universe.

-Burnham turbo lift figth! Wow! She is so f***ing amaizing and smart and at the same time so vulnerable. Sonequa Martin-Green just nails this character. I love her.

-Tyler must be Voq, is way past time with the reveal. Come on!

-Speaking of Tyler, the scene with Culber was really shoking and unexpected. It came out of nowhere. And it was specially heartwrenching because a scene before Culber told Stamets that he wont leave him. As a gay myself it was specially sad to see the first oficial male gay couple in Star Trek been torn apart like this, it give me Tara/Willow flashbacks. But at the same time I like that the writers are willing to take this risks. If they want us to believe that Voq/Tyler is a real menace they have to show it in a very convincing way and killing someone we know and care is the perfect way. (that doesnt mean that I want this show to star killing characters alas The Walking Dead/Game of Thornes kind of way of course, if they kill Tilly Im out!) Culber was the obvious candidate. I hated it, but I understand it. Besides they can always bring back the Mirror version of Culber to the scene. In any case all of this make me worry about Michael. Poor thing, falling in love for the first time and it has to be with a crazy homicidal brainwashed Klingon in disguise. :(

-On a curious note, the "Isik" that you asked about, i thougth I heard it before, and a quick search in Memory Alpha showed it was in a DS9 episode (although when I watched it in spanish the first time many years ago it was "Isikis"). It seems to be a currency similar to Lathium. In the episode "Rivals" of the second season (1994!!!) an El-Aurian con artist operate whit it. Who ever thougth of using such a oscure reference in the Star Trek lore for this episode deserves a medall in my opinion. I love when writers do things like this. And I even more impresed when I caught them myself. Im such a geek!

In the end a liked this episode, it was not perfect (to much exposition for example...) and Im not that crazy about the Mirror Univers either, but as always all is in the execution. And I couldn't look away, and now I want more. Discovery is a diferent kind of Star Trek show, thats its weakness and its strenght. Is less about exploration of space and more about the explorations of new ideas. And seems not to be afraid of reinvent itself all the time. I like that.

Thaks again for the review Billie. See ya!

TJ said...

I was so shocked by this ep that I can only say three things:


- I love Captain Tilly
- I love Captain Lorca
- I love Billie's reviews
- I want them to be in this mirror universe forever
- Is Culber dead?? NO!!!
- Stamets will magically bring him back!
- Tyler is a Klingon
- This show will probably change mirror universes each season and finally I will have my Borg season!!??

Billie Doux said...

I am loving these comments. Thank you guys. :)

milostanfield said...

I’ve been slowly warming up to this Trek and it is getting better. At the start I was only impressed by the production design and effects. But aside from Burnham (and Tilly!) it was kind of "nice but this is no Expanse". A new Trek always seems to take a while to find its way, so I’ve been patient. Remember S01 of TNG? You don’t? Good for you!
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My remaining problems are 1) the Burnham/Tyler romance just isn’t working for me. It’s not the characters or their story (I like both). It’s the chemistry between the two actors. For me it just isn’t there. I flinch every time they lip lock.

And 2) why is all of Trek, from Enterprise and the latest movies, to now Discovery, about the time before TOS? Assuming that DS9 and VOY were the latest parts of the timeline, why not a series that is after those two? The show runners wouldn’t have to fret about messing up what we know will happen later. And they wouldn’t have to adhere to all of the established tropes. They would have a lot more freedom to take Trek where no franchise has gone before. I feel like the franchise is stuck on flypaper. I was disappointed when they said Discovery was gonna be another pre TOS deal. And so I came to this show hauling that prejudice with me. Not fair to the show but there it is.
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Thanks for the fill in on the Mirror Universe stories. I remember the "Spock with a pointy beard" one from TOS but totally forgot about the DS9 eps. Sigh. Still miss Sisko. Time to dust off those DS9 DVDs.
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I hope that TJ is right about Culber, that some timey wimey trick will bring him back to Stamets. Guess we’ll have to check if Wilson Cruz is scratched from the credits, not that that is a guarantee of anything.

Thanks BD. Keep em coming!

PS - what is a good acronym for Discovery, like TOS, DS9, VOY, etc? I tried STD but that stands for Sexually Transmitted Disease! Nope. Should we just settle for Disco? Keener minds: help me out here.

Juan Alberto Roche Rodríguez said...

I think officially its supposedly DIS, like in VOY. At least thats how it figure in Memory Alpha. Like pretty much everything about Discovery in internet its quite a divised topic among the fandom. I personally kind of like DISCO. It make me laugh thinking of the Staying Alive song playing in the ships comm system while Michael and Tilly exercise :P

Heather1 said...

I loved this episode. I am a longtime Star Trek fan and I've really liked Discovery from the beginning. I understand many fans' issues with it, but rather than break my head about that, I just go with it.

That being said, I have never been a fan of the Mirror Universe. I find it has no layers... it's one dimensional. However, I love how Discovery is treating it. It is an opportunity to see how much of yourself you lose when you are forced to act in an evil way... or how much of yourself you find? Burnham in the captain's chair looked awfully comfortable and commanding. Her situation, psychologically speaking, is the most tenuous (other than Ash for reasons that have nothing to do with the Mirror Universe). Tilly may be scarred, but this experience could actually help her round out her personality on her way to her objective of becoming captain in the Prime Universe.

I am hoping that the Emperor is actually the Empress and that we get a chance to see the always-wonderful Michelle Yeogh. This would also throw the curve ball of all curve balls at Burnham... maybe just when she's thinking she's got a handle on things.

I haven't touched on Tyler/Voq (why don't they just confirm it already?). I also hope that there is a way to fix the problem of Culber's death. Yes, because I would hate to see the Culber/Stamets couple broken up like that... but also because I foresee Tyler rejecting the Voq personality. But killing Culber is not something he can come back from.

And finally, I agree that setting Discovery before TOS is problematic. There would, indeed, be more freedom if it were set after Voyager. But I think setting Discovery right where it is allows for more growing pains in the Federation. If Discovery were set further in the future, unless something cataclysmic had happened directly after Voyager, I'm not sure if some of these morally ambiguous choices we're seeing would be credible.

milostanfield said...

So DIS (and not dis) it is. Thanks. DISCO would be cool too, just no John Travolta in the Captain’s chair please. Captain Gloria Gaynor?
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"I am hoping that the Emperor is actually the Empress and that we get a chance to see the always-wonderful Michelle Yeogh."

Oh, hell yes! That would be so awesome. We got a preview of what that would feel like for Burnham when she killed her former crew mate lookalike. That look on her face.
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Didn’t mean to sound too critical. I do like this show "despite myself". One thing I like, oddly enough, is Lorca. I like that that the show is not captain centric, that we come into it through Burnham’s eyes. And I like that Lorca is a black box. We don’t know him yet. I assumed that he was just a captain who was Starfleet to the core but willing to bend the rules more to get it done. The plain vanilla interpretation. But all the "is he a villain" "is he from the Mirrorverse" speculation has me wondering. Thank the black box for that. And who knows what he will be like after being in that torture chamber. Besides, it’s Jason Isaacs. Loved him in "Dig" and the sadly cancelled "Awake" which also had an alternate universe.
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Looks like we’ll be in the Mirrorverse a while so maybe it will get fleshed out more than previous renditions. Lots of plates spinning right now. The next ep should be awesome.

Heather1 said...

I can see Burnham, despite herself, sort of fitting in. Her character has always been able to focus, choose a path and commit to it. While pursuing her mission on the Shenzhou, she might actually be good at it!

And you are right, milostanfield, she was so conflicted over having to kill Connnor. Can you imagine how she would react to seeing and confronting Georgiou? And the fact that it would allow us the honour of Michelle Yeoh gracing us with her presence? I would LOVE it. I have loved Michelle Yeoh since Tomorrow Never Dies, when she didn't just give James Bond a run for his money in the bad ass action department -- she bested him!

Heather1 said...

Can't help myself: another theory... the Emperor is Spock. If they could be Zachary Quinto... can you imagine!! I know, he's Vulcan. But he'half human, and maybe he found a way to rise through the ranks, and that's why there aren't pictures of him; he looks so Vulcan. Again, a shock for Burnham.

Heather1 said...

Sorry for the typos above; wasn't wearing my glasses.

milostanfield said...

So maybe Sarek (James Frain) is leading the rebels? Or Voq? I hope not Voq. We've had enough of actors with marbles in their mouthes speaking Klingon. Please show runners: Klingons can only speak in the presence of a Universal Translator.

This could be an interesting game. Take a character from Prime and put em in an appropriate or paradoxical place in Mirror and light the fuse. Actors from outside Trek are welcome (except John Travolta).

Speaking of L'Rell, if she knows that Discovery has discovered a way to defeat the cloak in Prime, her vested interest will be in making sure they don't make it back. Yet another spinning plate. Oh boy. Yep. This show's getting better and better.

Juliette said...

Great review!

With the Tyler is Voq theory looking like it's the real deal, when Stamets said 'don't go into the palace!' I wondered if he meant the mind palace, like in Sherlock - as in, don't poke around in Tyler's brain. But that might just be me!