Okay, first of all, hands up everyone who’s relieved this didn’t turn out to be a prequel to “Wolf in the Fold”, the TOS episode where Scotty is possessed by a non-corporeal serial killer and brutally murders a bunch of women? This was a lighthearted romp by comparison.
Secret Klingon! Secret Klingon! Bringing heartbreak! Secret secret secret secret Klingon!
(I’m sorry, I woke up at 5 am on Tuesday morning with this in my head, and this has been my life ever since. You’re welcome.)
To the surprise of absolutely no one, Ash is Voq, “Javid Iqbal” was Shazad Latif all along — he chose the pseudonym in honour of his father — and Michael is more isolated than ever before.
Certain friends like to tease me for the fact that I like being spoiled for old media, but sometimes it’s less about The Twist than being able to appreciate the execution of The Twist. And while it’s reasonable that the showrunners are disappointed that this one was so easily predicted, if the whole story turns on the twist alone, there’s very little joy in rewatching.
So good news, the execution so far has been solid. (As opposed to Michael’s “execution” of Tyler, which … look, I was going for a joke here, just smile and nod.)
Problematic? Yes. There’s the racial aspect of Ash Tyler, apparent human of Middle Eastern descent, actually being a radicalised extremist and spy.
And there are complexities around the issue of consent in the L’Rell/Voq/Ash/Michael relationships that I’m not confident the show will address well — not just Ash’s memories of L’Rell’s abuse, but the fact that Michael has been thoroughly deceived about her lover’s identity. It would be nice to think that the presence of multiple women on the writing team means we can be sure these will be addressed, but … this is 2018, the year of low expectations.
But despite these concerns, it’s working for me so far. For one thing, it keeps the war — the series’ A plot — at the front of the story, despite all the shiny mirror universe distractions. Introducing mirror!Voq, the enlightened leader of the anti-Terran rebels, was a neat way of integrating all the threads.
Speaking of integration, we now have the question of whether Ash is entirely Voq, or whether we’re going to end up with a merger of the two, a metaphor for the eventual peace between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. A torchbearer, if you will. That, to me, would be the ideal conclusion for this storyline — Voq and L’Rell being effectively deradicalised and allowed to return to the Empire to unite it, reform it, and basically let the Klingons occupy themselves with internal politics for a few decades, while the relationship with the Federation moves onto its Cold War phase.
(This is not an unproblematic solution! It’s effectively a metaphor for US interference with rival and enemy states in the twentieth century, and a clear violation of the Prime Directive. That’s … kind of why I like it, actually. Bring the franchise full circle, if you will. Call me, CBS!)
All hail Captain Burnham
In my review for “Into the Forest I Go”, I remarked that we saw Michael making peace with her mistakes and with Captain Georgiou’s death, and with her place as the woman who killed T’Kuvma.
She’s had a whole new confidence over the last two episodes, and not just when she’s playing the role of Captain Michael Burnham of the ISS Shenzhou. She wasn’t exactly diffident in her early weeks on Discovery, but she was more cautious about expressing her opinion, and reluctant to take up space.
Consider, for example, her very first scene with Lorca: he stands behind his desk, but his body language is open, inviting. But Michael keeps her distance, physically as well as emotionally, and stays right back against the door. Last week, we saw her cross that barrier to join Lorca at his window, and to respectfully call bullshit on his claim that “destiny” brought them together.
This week, she’s not just commanding a ship, but she’s arguing with Lorca that Starfleet’s ethics are integral to her identity, and that the ends don’t justify the means. This has been a key part of her personality all along — consider the Tardigrade — but it’s only the second time she has disagreed with Lorca himself since he persuaded her, way back in “Context is for Kings”, that Discovery’s mission was worthy.
Command — even the pretense of it — suits her. And on some level, as much as she hates the situation and fears what she could become if she stays too long in the mirror universe, she knows it.
Naturally, this wasn’t going to last. By the end of the episode, she’s lost her lover and most effective ally on the Shenzhou, and she’s face to face with a monstrous parody of the captain she idolised and failed. And the person she trusts most right now is Lorca, which is surely going to go badly.
(Bad things do come in threes! Ash has betrayed her, Philippa’s memory has been betrayed. Lorca, you’re up.)
It’s kind of great.
I mean, it’s a terrible place to leave the audience hanging for a week. I don’t know about anyone else, but I am extremely anxious.
But Michael started out competent but overconfident. She seemed ready for command, but her judgement was flawed. Even the premiere’s teaser demonstrated that, with her miscalculation of the desert storm and readiness to give up when they were unable to beam back to the Shenzhou.
She’s stronger now than she was then, and each challenge makes her better. And it’s important that she be challenged, because her errors were so grievous, and her eventual reinstatement to Starfleet needs to be earned.
This doesn’t feel like gratuitous character torture. Michael is one of the most interesting people in the whole Star Trek franchise, and it’s rewarding to watch her grow through adversity. Especially since that adversity is largely ungendered — even the lover-who-will-eventually-betray-you is a plot we’ve mostly seen given to men. (Ash Tyler as homme fatale: think about it.)
But seriously, don’t trust Gabriel Lorca
“Universal law is for lackeys. Context is for kings.”
“Rules are for admirals in back offices.”
“The ends justify these means.”
I really do wonder about the Lorca family’s fortune cookie business.
It’s quite possible that Lorca is a regular guy from a regular universe, who is suffering from psychological trauma and really shouldn’t be in command of a starship. Star Trek‘s full of those guys. They go off and declare themselves gods, or endanger the Enterprise to avenge their lost crew, or try to single-handedly restart the Federation-Cardassian war. Or they get promoted and become admirals. It happens all the time, apparently; we just never get to see them up close for more than one episode.
This is all possible, but I really think the Gabriel Lorca we know has been from the mirror universe all along. In addition to the evidence I compiled last week, there’s this:
- The emperor’s flagship is close enough to the Shenzhou to bombard the rebel planet with photon torpedoes, but doesn’t show up on sensors. Almost as if it’s cloaked… hey, who do we know who just risked his ship and crew to crack a cloaking device and then took off for another universe without sharing that intel with the rest of Starfleet?
- Lorca’s expression as Michael recognises the emperor. Is he smirking? Planning his next move? Really impressed by Georgiou’s pirate queen outfit? I’m going with “smirking”, albeit with memories of that time we all THEORISED WILDLY about a single facial expression in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire which came to nothing.
- Anyway, if you needed to study his expression, Tumblr is here for you. You know. For science. (Skience!)
I think the truth about Lorca turns on the USS Buran. Where he’s from, how he still has a command after he destroyed his previous ship with all hands, and why he has worked so hard to keep Michael alive and close, and to win her trust.
If I had to guess — please note the usual caveat about my predictions, ie, they’re terrible — I’d say that next week’s episode, “Vaulting Ambition”, will reveal that Lorca has been an imposter all along, and the one after that, “What’s Past is Prologue”, will finally give us the truth about the Buran, and will also see the Discovery return to our own universe with the tools to end the war with the Klingons. Whether they get back with Lorca, or with a Lorca … who knows?
(I’ve seen an assumption around that prime!Lorca, if he’s not the guy we know and love-but-fear-a-little, will be a perfectly well-adjusted, nice human. And I have to say, I hope not, but I doubt it. Imposter!Lorca is apparently close enough to the original that Kat Cornwell, who knew him intimately, is concerned but not doubtful right up until he pulls a phaser on her in bed. And a guy who can, theoretically, survive for six months in the mirror universe is probably not that healthy. I mean, he might have been going in, but he’s probably not now.)
Hey, maybe someone on the Discovery will finally take five minutes to look at the navigation logs. Terrible Realisations In Parallel are (one of) my jam(s).
Don’t you bow before your emperor?
We knew it was coming, but it was still great.
(I got spoiled very quickly by an untagged gifset, which would normally annoy me, but in this instance, I just grabbed my phone to let Stephanie know that Michelle Yeoh was back, and wearing an evil fascinator. #priorities)
I do have Concerns. The potential for racist dragon lady stereotypes is high, and I don’t want to see Georgiou die again — especially not at Michael’s hand. Even if she is evil.
(I’m also not up for Lorca killing her, because white men killing Asian women is really not something we need more of in the world.)
BASICALLY, long live the emperor. Please. And also let’s consider Evil Space Pirate Queen themes for the Spring Racing Carnival this year.
Meanwhile, back on Discovery…
Hugh Culber remains dead, which is tragic, but also … killing him, then bringing him back one episode later would be cheap. Even cheaper than killing him and bringing him back eventually.
We need to earn that, and to restore some of Paul’s agency by letting him do the work himself. Which is apparently going to happen, with the prime! and mirror!Pauls (Paul and luaP, thanks to the commenter at spacefungusparty who coined that) teaming up in the space fungus dimension to wreak mycelial havoc. I assume. Let the shenanigans begin.
Luckily we don’t spend too long on the misguided belief that Paul killed Hugh. I mean, any time was too long for my heart, but Tilly’s defence of Stamets, and attempt to bring him back, helped.
Having said that, I think that if you’re going to subject your semi-catatonic colleague to experimental fungus treatment, you should at least keep the medical team informed and briefed, and maybe run some simulations so we don’t all panic and stop mid-treatment just because someone’s gone and died a bit. Just my two cents.
More about Tilly
I need to stop reading reviews and recaps by men, because I keep seeing surprise and even outrage that she’d describe herself as the ship’s space fungus expert next to Stamets himself. I mean, we’ve only seen her working alongside him all season long, right? That is exactly the same as Wesley Crusher being made an acting ensign at fifteen.
Likewise, her asking to be recommended for the command training program is apparently quite inappropriate and unacceptable. Real future captains just sit around and wait for opportunities to be handed down!
Well … the male ones probably do. Because here’s something I’ve realised about Sylvia Tilly:
She’s James Kirk.
They’re roughly the same age, and in this timeline, young Cadet Kirk was an earnest, overachieving nerd. “A stack of books with legs” is the term used. Cadet Kirk, Underachieving Womaniser, was an invention of the reboot movies, a product of cultural osmosis. Tilly is Kirk, But A Woman, which makes the double standard to which she’s subjected all the more depressing.
Things I’ve decided not to think too hard about
1. If Sarek is a rebel, and the Empire is super xenophobic, how is it that Spock will be a respected officer with an army of Vulcan minions in a decade’s time?
“The Terran Empire is, like, super xenophobic” is a retcon from Enterprise, and while it makes sense overall in terms of worldbuilding, there is the problem of Spock. Was Sarek at one point a collaborator? Is Amanda so powerful she could get away with having a half-human son and retain enough influence to get him into Starfleet?
This isn’t a dealbreaker, just an interesting set of questions to ponder.
(Terran xenophobia is a possible argument against the mirror!Lorca theory — he doesn’t seem to have a problem working with non-human Starfleet officers, and went out of his way to save the Pahvans.)
Okay, now I’ve thought too hard about it.
2. How on Earth did Discovery manage to beam “Ash” on board from wherever the Shenzhou is to wherever they are?
I’m generally in favour of Disco’s technobabble-lite approach, but I have questions.
In fact, I’m a bit confused about the whole … geography of this arc. The plan was for Team Michael to beam over to the Shenzhou, get the Defiant info and beam back, but the next thing we see is the Shenzhou taking off, while the Discovery hangs around in the debris field where they arrived. Then the Shenzhou is ordered to wipe out the rebel base, and they’re apparently already within photon torpedo range?
I know it’s hard, but sometimes we do need just a tiny bit of exposition to smooth things over. If we have time for Michael to explain Terran rules and the identity of the Fire Wolf to people who should already know, we can spare fifteen seconds to put all the pieces in the right places.
The jerk ranking!
This week’s jerks are…
- Voq-as-Ash. We’re not angry, we’re just disappointed.
- Prime!Sarek. He makes it to the list without even being in this episode, because in five minutes, mirror!Sarek was a better dad to Michael than Sarek has managed ever. (It’s so great, I love it.)
- Lorca, that smirky, stubbly motherfucker. No particular reason, I just feel better knowing he’s on the list, where I can keep an eye on him.
- I guess I should put Emperor Georgiou on the list, because she’s upset Michael and I cannot be having with that, but I’m just so happy to see her!
- Eleven episodes in, and we finally get to see Saru being confident and competent and not sidetracked by his Michael Issues. Show, that is way too late. On the other hand, apparently Saru’s cool now.
- That alien planet was definitely a Canadian quarry, and as a Doctor Who fan, I approve.
- Congratulations to mirror!Voq for fooling people into thinking his DeviantArt username would be a cool pseudonym for a rebel leader.
- We really did not need to see L’Rell’s latex breasts again. Discovery seems to veer wildly between “thoughtful handling of sexual assault” and “weirdly gratuitous”, and the especially awful bit is that it happens in the scripts written by women.
- Related, I think I mentioned a while back but it bears repeating, if Lorca is from the mirror universe, then his encounter with Kat Cornwell is rape by deceit, consensually problematic in a similar way to Michael and Ash-Voq. (Moreso, in fact, because “Ash” wasn’t deliberately deceiving Michael.) And we were already past peak rape. Again, I think this could be handled well, I’m just not even sure the writers are aware of it.
- (Once again, I am getting annoyed by things that haven’t happened yet and may not happen at all, IDEK.)
- Last week, for the first time, I watched the Enterprise two-parter set in the mirror universe, which sets up the whole thing with the Defiant. It was quite terrible and I have some regrets. This is how heroin addicts feel about methadone, I assume.
- Thanks as always to Stephanie for confirming that this mostly made sense, and also for giving me someone to shout at about evil fascinators.
- If you are “a natural person active in fandom” (sorry, “Ash Tyler”, that’s not you) or a member of Swancon43, and you enjoyed my Discovery reviews at No Award last year, please consider nominating them for the William Atheling Jr Award for Criticism or Review. (You can find more information about eligible works by Stephanie and I here.)
- (And/) Or you can support my work via Ko-Fi.