Star Trek: Discovery 1.10 – “Despite Yourself”

We’re ba-aaaaaaaaaack!

We kick off 2018 with some things which made me laugh out loud, some things which gave me so much secondhand embarrassment I attempted to become one with the Force, and some things which … well. “Ill-considered” might be the nicest way to put it.

All this, and Jason Isaacs in leather. Happy new year.

Let’s get the unpleasantness out of the way first

Ash Tyler is 100% Voq. And Hugh “no, being a pure cinnamon roll of a human being is absolutely characterisation, trust us” Culber is dead because he’s the only person, outside of the entire audience, who has figured out that Ash is maybe sorta kinda a Klingon.

AshVoq is his own separate issue, with its own separate Issues. Let’s talk about killing off (a) half of the series’ very first canonical gay couple; (b) the non-white half at that; (c) the same week Anthony Rapp and Wilson Cruz graced the cover of Attitude magazine talking about inclusion and representation.

This doesn’t seem to be a narrative choice that was made lightly. The showrunners — one of whom is a gay man — talk about the decision here, including consultation with GLAAD. And from the very minute the episode finished airing, all the official outlets and social media accounts jumped to reassure viewers that this is not the end for Culber, that Cruz isn’t going anywhere, there’s going to be some kind of twist.

None of this makes it better.

Remember back in November, when the show did a fake out with Cornwell apparently dying? Jayne Brook almost gave the game away on After Trek, so an interview was posted on the official site to make it seem as if she really was permanently gone. Contrast that with this almost frantic backpedalling on Culber’s (far less ambiguous) death.

It raises the question, what is the point? Of not just the ~twist~ that it’s not permanent — although we don’t yet know how, and I have Concerns on that front — but the death at all? Because right now, it feels like a cheap trick which exploits the emotions of fans. (I mean, storytelling is about exploiting emotion, or at least deriving an emotional reaction from the reader/viewer/etc, but there’s meant to be some meaningful payoff. We’ve seen gay characters die before. We’ve seen too many gay characters die.)

Trek is notorious for having ignored its queer fanbase. Is it now trying to have its cake and eat it, too? Are the official pride shirts an acknowledgment of a demographic it long sought to exclude, or just the most blatant pinkwashing? (I mean, either way, they’re pinkwashing. Corporations are not our friends.)

It’s difficult to judge a story that’s only part-told, but I have a difficult time picturing a twist that will justify this choice, and I don’t blame the fans who are breaking up with the series, either permanently or just for a few weeks while they wait and see how it plays out.

My own particular Concern is that Paul is going to ascend to a higher plane of existence, revive Hugh, and then the two of them are going to take off to explore the universe, non-corporeal style. This is the conclusion the het couple get in “Where No Man Has Gone Before”, TOS’s second attempt a pilot episode, and there are definitely moments where it seems like Disco might be exploring a similar plotline with Paul and the spore drive.

My objection would be this: that is exactly the ending that Doctor Who just gave Bill, and it already feels like a narrative cop-out, a means of burying your gays and giving them something like a happy ending — but offscreen. And sexless, devoid of bodies and messiness and queerness. Not just a cliche, but a cliche with a nasty subtext.

(I try not to get angry about plot developments which haven’t yet happened outside of my head. But this one makes me mad.)

Having said that … who knows? But Hugh’s death feels like the biggest misstep since Landry’s way back in episode 4 — and that was another violent death of a character of colour.

As for people who are definitely, one hundred percent, absolutely Klingons

They haven’t actually come out and said that Ash is Voq, but at this point, it’s just a formality. We know he’s undergone radical surgery to alter his appearance, we know a false personality has been implanted, we know L’Rell tried to activate his original programming, but it hasn’t worked.

Completely.

In my review of “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum“, I said:

I suspect that there was once an Ash Tyler, and his death in Klingon captivity came at just the right time for L’Rell and Voq and the unseen Matriarchs of Mo’Kai to implant his memories into Voq and do the … you know, the radical plastic surgery which has clearly taken place. A latexectomy.

I’m also inclined to theorise that he hadn’t finished cooking when Lorca came along and rescued him — maybe he was released into prison early, so that Harry Mudd could attest to his being an actual person, but work was still ongoing.

And for once, I think I got it right. “Tyler” escaped too soon, and the Voq personality is resurfacing only in pieces. When threatened, for example. And then it fades again, leaving “Ash” with a gap in his memory. Because, as Lynnenne says over on the Dreamwidth discussion:

I really don’t think that Tyler was even aware of killing him… if he were, he would have lied when Lorca asked where he was, instead of blurting out, “I don’t remember.”

But there’s no escaping the fact that Ash Is Voq is really not funny any more. He has all the normal human organs, and the scar tissue to prove it (okay, that did amuse me slightly), and we have a story about a Pakistani-American being a sleeper agent for an extremist.

Again, we don’t know how it’s going to play out. But I don’t see how it can end with Ash alive — and as much as Sonequa Martin-Green is magnificent when she suffers, my heart is going to break when Michael loses Ash.

The other bummer about Ash Being Voq Even Though I Absolutely Saw It Coming is that we’re losing a really good story about PTSD and survival. Although one of the bits which made me laugh quite hard was Ash’s conviction that Lorca would relieve him of duty if he knew Ash was suffering PTSD symptoms.

Okay, Captain Shadypants, your turn

First, let’s all take a moment to appreciate Jason Isaacs in a leather jacket and manacles, and Lorca breaking his own face.

Ahem. Moving on.

Asyouknowbob I’ve never liked the “Lorca is an infiltrator from the Mirror Universe” theory.

Until now.

What changed my mind? The USS Buran. Lorca destroyed it, along with its crew, in both universes, which pretty much guarantees that if we do swap Lorcas, the one from “our” universe is going to be just as messed up as the guy we’ve been seeing. If not moreso, if he’s spent the last few months doing what he must to survive in the mirror universe.

My hypothesis at this point, and remember I have about a 90% failure rate with predictions, is that Lorca’s fellow conspirators, possibly in league with the Rebel Alliance, swapped out our Lorca with theirs shortly after the Buran was destroyed. Mirror!Lorca set out to get (a) a powerful starship to use against the Empire, and (b) Michael Burnham.

Here’s the evidence:

  • the considerable effort expended to get Michael onto his ship, earn her trust, and to keep her alive;
  • the triangular scar on Lorca’s back, seen in “Lethe”, which roughly resembles a TOS agoniser, the handheld torture device seen in “Mirror, Mirror”;
  • going back as far as “Lethe”, and maybe even further, we’ve seen Lorca working on what turned out to be his alternate universe map
  • manipulating Stamets into making 133 jumps, which coincidentally filled in the gaps on his map;
  • manipulating Stamets, again, into making a final jump, and then changing the coordinates;
  • it’s repeated several times in this episode that Terrans don’t apologise. With one exception — after he has attacked Cornwell in bed — I can’t think of a single time Lorca has actually, in so many words, apologised. And if he’s an infiltrator, trying to deceive his old friend and occasional lover, that is the time to make an exception to the no apologies rule;
  • he really doesn’t seem all that shocked to learn they’re in an alternate universe;
  • while Tilly and Michael bully mirror!Connor into bringing the Shenzhou to meet Discovery, there’s an interesting moment where Connor remarks that there’s a rebel base near his location, and Lorca looks away, thoughtful. It’s a close-up and everything;
  • he’s just separated Michael completely from Discovery, and her only other means of support on the Shenzhou is Tyler — and he’s seen that Tyler is maybe not at his best.

Now, for all this to be true, we have to buy that Lorca is the most amazing liar since … I dunno, pick an amazing liar. And an equally good manipulator. And that he would willingly and knowingly step up to be tortured for an unknown length of time.

But … we already know that he’s that manipulative, he has a flexible relationship with the truth, and he’s spent the last few months avoiding Admiral Cornwell, who seems to be the only person who knows him well enough to guess something is off — and even she isn’t entirely certain. And he just slammed his own head into a wall hard enough to injure himself.

And it would explain a lot. It’s never been entirely clear why he’s so protective of Burnham, and even she called him out in “Into the Forest…”, when he didn’t want to endanger her by sending her to the Ship of the Dead. But if Lorca’s long-term goal is to kill the emperor, well, what better ally and tool than the counterpart to the emperor’s favourite?

The “mysterious unseen Terran emperor that no one has seen ‘cos they’re a mystery”

It’s Georgiou, right? This has to be the worst-kept secret since that time Ash Tyler was Voq.

Evidence:

TVLINE | Is it giving away too much to ask if we’ll see a mirror Georgiou?
BERG
 | I find your question very interesting, but that’s a “no comment.” [Laughs]

There’s a lot of emphasis on the emperor, the unknown nature of their identity, and the danger in opposing them, which is pretty clearly foreshadowing that we’re absolutely going to see the crew go up against the emperor.

Which means it’s someone we know, because that’s how it works. Here are the candidates:

  • Georgiou — for all the reasons I listed above PLUS it will give Michael a lot of conflicting emotions;
  • Sarek — see above re: emotions, but I’m calling it a long shot. Not just because a Vulcan emperor in a human supremacist empire seems unlikely, but he and his goatee of evil are hanging out with the rebels in the trailer for next week;
  • Kat Cornwell — possible, but she’s only really significant to Lorca at this stage, and doesn’t have an emotional connection with Michael. I hope mirror!Kat turns up, but I doubt she’ll be the emperor;
  • Amanda Greyson — human, would give Michael a lot of feelings, plus evil mirror!Amanda would be AMAZING … but why would you waste an opportunity to bring Michelle Yeoh back?

IN CONCLUSION, all hail the emperor.

The Witch of Wurna Minor

ANYWAY, let’s talk Tilly. And, of course, her straight-haired evil counterpart, the captain of the ISS Discovery.

And let’s talk ambition.

There are certain stereotypes about ambitious women, and few are positive. Frigid or sexually voracious. Single minded. Manipulative. Unempathetic. Cruel. Unnatural.

Tilly is incredibly ambitious, and she fits none of these stereotypes whatsoever. Her flirtation strategy is direct but not aggressive; she has friends; she cares about people; her sole attempt at social manipulation — trying to exclude Michael — fails, and she apologises in less than a day. She’s sincere, enthusiastic, competent but prone to anxiety.

She is, in short, extremely realistic — especially in the nerdy circles likely to attract sincere, enthusiastic, intelligent women. Go to any con, and you will meet a dozen women like her — and I guarantee that most of them will turn out to be deeply ambitious in their own different ways. I see people (men) dismiss Tilly as a Mary Sue or a Manic Pixie Dream Cadet, and I can only assume those viewers don’t meet many women, because Tilly is only unusual in that she’s rarely portrayed in media.

(She’s even curvier than most women on television in general, and in Star Trek in particular. Mary Wiseman is by no means plus-sized, but she has a bit of a belly and solid arms, like a Pre-Raphaelite model.)

And then there’s Captain Tilly.

“I’m nothing like her, Michael. She’s terrifying, she’s… she’s like a twisted version of everything I’ve ever aspired to be. I’ll have nightmares about myself.”

Who won command by stabbing the previous captain in bed (sexual) while he was recovering from illness (unempathetic, unnatural), and whose nicknames include the gendered Witch of Wurna Minor.

Tilly’s ambition hasn’t turned her into a ruthless, amoral Slytherin type. But now she’s confronted by herself as the most negative stereotype of feminine power and ambition, and she’s horrified and scared. And her first attempt at playing that role — unprepared and put on the spot — is laughable.

(Which is different from being funny. Reader, I cringed.)

But she pulls it together. Because she is, above all things, competent, and if that means she has to play the part of a sexy pirate queen, well, just like Michael, she’ll do what has to be done.

And what makes this brilliant — what makes it a neat commentary on sexist tropes and misogynistic stereotypes — is the costuming. This post is already ridiculously long, so I’m not going to spend too much time on costumes this week, but previous Mirror Universe episodes have basically put the female characters in fetishwear.

But here, although the Terran Empire uniforms are decidedly on the kinky side, everyone is dressed more or less the same. No one is wearing spike heels or pleather catsuits, no one is bare from ribcage to hipbone. The knee high boots are flats, and of a similar design to what you see women wearing to work in winter around Melbourne. The only person being objectified is Jason Isaacs.

(Tilly’s uniform is of a different cut to the others’, but aside from a few inches of collarbone and some cleavage, it actually covers more than the rest. Having a similar figure to Mary Wiseman, albeit with more padding, I’m pretty sure this is just to accommodate her bust. Some of us look a bit ridiculous in asymmetric tops.)

IN SHORT (ahahaha, nothing about this post is short), Tilly-as-her-counterpart walks a fine line between comedy and drama, commentary and exploitation, and is mostly landing in the right places.

I’d say this gives me hope that the show will pull off the Hugh and Ash plotlines equally deftly, but we all know white ladies tend to get better treatment than men of colour.

Time for the first jerk ranking of 2018!

Man, remember when it seemed like everyone on this show was going to be a jerk? Now the only person who’s consistently in the list is Lorca.

This week’s jerks!

  1. Voq, for killing Hugh. What the fork, man?
  2. The writers, for making that decision.
  3. L’Rell. HAVEN’T YOU TORTURED ASH ENOUGH, YOU MONSTER?
  4. Danby Connor, because his stupid handsome face really annoyed me even before he tried to murder my girl Michael.
  5. Gabriel “I’m just gonna leave that blood for someone else to clean up” Lorca.

Other observations

  • This post is so long, and I’ve barely spoken about Michael! With Sarek (and his goatee of evil) turning up next week, I’ll make time for her then.
  • Lorca has just discovered there are, like, rules about fraternisation and shagging your subordinates and fellow officers? He’s all, sounds fake, but okay.
  • The other bit that made me giggle: Lorca coaching his crew of GIANT NERDS on how to crash a party.
  • Imagine, you’ve popped over from an evil parallel universe to steal a ship and a person, but first you have to help these losers win a war and get a date to prom, because if you don’t teach them, who will?
  • I really hope we get Admiral Kat’s evil counterpart, and also that she’s with the rebels. Because I loved The Last Jedi and I have about fifteen Admiral Holdo jokes ready to go.
  • On a second viewing, the Tilly-as-Captain-and-Scottish-Lorca bit was over very fast. Which is strange, because the first time I watched the episode, time seemed to stretch until it lasted for an eternity, while I attempted to become one with the Force through pure secondhand embarrassment.

Other business

Author: Liz Barr

Words written. Opinions expressed.

3 thoughts on “Star Trek: Discovery 1.10 – “Despite Yourself””

    1. “Clean up on aisle three!”

      I don’t disagree, but it’s still minimising the sexual aspect, in a way that straight couples (Amy and Rory, for example) don’t get.

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