Star Trek: Discovery 1.12 – “Vaulting Ambition”

WELL THEN.

 

Okay, universe, I need some recognition here. On Saturday morning, my time, a gaming website accidentally posted a very spoilery review for this episode two and a half days early. It was quickly scrubbed from the internet, including Google’s cache, but not before I read it and made screencaps.

So I’ve been sitting on the reveal that Lorca was definitely from the Mirror Universe for several days, and I didn’t tell anyone. Except a couple of people who asked. And Stephanie. But I managed to restrain myself from blurting the truth out all over the internet, or posting the screencaps on Reddit, and I’m very proud.

(I did give a bunch of people a heads up about the Kelpien appetisers, because if I needed a weekend to process that, I knew others would as well. And I wish the review had mentioned the, uhhhhhhhh, twist in the mirror Burnham/Lorca relationship, because I need way more than two and a half days to come to terms with that.)

All hail her most Imperial Majesty, Mother of the Fatherland, Overlord of Vulcan, Dominus of Kronos, Regina Andor; all hail Philippa Georgiou Augustus Iaponius Centarius

I was more than a bit nervous about Emperor Georgiou, because the potential for 1930s-style Dragon Lady stereotypes was super high. I’m not qualified to say whether or not it was averted entirely, but it seems to have been mostly avoided, partially through the warmth of Michelle Yeoh’s performance, and partially because the script is quite dedicated to the particularly Roman nature of the Terran Empire.

I also can’t tell you how relieved I was that this Georgiou still regards Michael as a daughter, and, indeed, literally adopted and raised her. The mirror universe has a long, ignominious history of being full of Evil Queer People, most of whom are women in positions of power. One of the producers did say on Twitter that they wanted to move away from the “sexuality = evil” trope of yore, but I was still concerned. Georgiou as loving mother was a wonderful twist, given the context.

(Was she a¬†good mother, by the standards of a reasonable universe? Probably not. Her monologue about how much she has given Michael, and Michael’s lifelong insistence on challenging her, didn’t exactly point to a healthy dynamic. But in the upper echelons of the mirror universe, this is probably as good as it gets.)

None of this is to say that I trust the emperor, or that I think she’s sincere in her promise to help Discovery get home. And I’m definitely not in favour of giving her the plans for the spore drive. But she’s a lot more nuanced and interesting, and¬†real, than, say, DS9’s Intendant Kira.

And that’s¬†after she’s eaten a Kelpien.

Do Kelpiens taste like porg?

It turns out that mirror universe food (“food”) has been a¬†thing all through this season. Back in episode 4, we saw Lorca enjoying a solitary meal in his ready room, some kind of unidentified crustacean-looking … thing. At the time, I was struck by how much it resembled the Klingon feast we saw in the same episode.

Last week, Pixie pointed out that Michael’s evil mirror universe breakfast looked a lot like that meal of Lorca’s, and both were curiously highlighted.

So it’s consistent that mirror meals are slightly horrifying and styled like leftovers from the set of¬†Hannibal. But eating Kelpien is sliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiightly different from eating even, say, dolphin or cephalopod. I mean. They wear clothes and talk. They’re¬†people.

It felt gratuitous, in the same way that the Klingons eating Georgiou’s body was gratuitous. I¬†guess it’s a sort of narrative payback? It mostly reminded me of why I stopped watching¬†Hannibal and was pleased that Bryan Fuller left Discovery in the early days.

(…okay, it wasn’t the cannibalism I objected to in Hannibal, it was the increasing sidelining of the already-limited female characters, and then season 3 turned out to be adapting Hannibal-the-novel, which I hated so much I managed to have a whole conversation with my high school crush about how awful it was. But a lot of those female characters were sidelined by becoming meals or otherwise literally objectified.)

Georgiou feeding Michael the ganglia was interesting — it was important characterisation, highlighting the mixture of generosity and infantilisation in the mother-daughter relationship. “You deserve a treat.” But it was also the point where I really did feel the echo of a racist stereotype, those people and their horrifying food. That Georgiou’s dialogue could be written for a white American doesn’t separate us from the reality of the world we live in.

In conclusion: nope.

Anyway, Michael is vegan now, and I guess there’s an awkward conversation with Saru in her future.

Speaking of awkward conversations…

Like I said, while I was spoiled for the mirror-Lorca-all-along twist — and saw it coming besides — I was quite unprepared for the bit where he was a father figure to mirror!Michael before seducing her.

Me last week: I don’t¬†really want it to be canon, but I’m quite into Lorca/Burnham as an idea, and I’m intrigued by the way they’re suddenly all up in each other’s physical space now they’re in the mirror universe. Especially after Jason Isaacs explicitly said he was told not to play Lorca as attracted to Michael. And if Lorca¬†is from the mirror universe, I look forward to loving-to-hate his space pirate shenanigans.

Show: TA-DAAAAAAAH!

Me now:

ab2.gif

I¬†like pairings with age differences and uneven power dynamics, and mentor-apprentice relationships which turn into something else. Just … not when they’re overtly parental.

This, plus Lorca’s other remarks as Captain Angry Brother (“There were a lot of women. It’s good to be the captain.”) are not inconsistent with the mirror universe in this era, but they serve to make Lorca far less interesting than he seemed previously. Evil space pirates are one thing; middle-aged men seducing their surrogate daughters and leaving a trail of dead and abandoned women in their wake are … well, that’s an unfortunate mixture of Woody Allen and any saddo you could run into if you ever leave your house while female.

There’s a time and place for the banality of evil, but it’s never the mirror universe.

In short, I concur with my esteemed colleague:

 

 

I do, however, have to congratulate the Disco writers for giving us a universe where Michelle Yeoh leads an evil fascist human supremacist space empire, but a straight white guy is still worse.

It’s also possible that Georgiou’s version of events is not entirely accurate. For one thing, even if she’s sincere in her willingness to assist Michael, which is by no means certain, she still has motivation to drive a wedge between Michael and Lorca, even before they figure out which Lorca he is.

For another, her account is notable for how little agency it gives mirror!Michael. It’s not out of the question that Georgiou really believes that Michael only betrayed her because Lorca put the idea in her head, but from everything we know of¬†our Michael, does that seem likely? The Michael Burnham we know is occasionally prone to fits of despair and apathy, but she’s more often found at the centre of events. She’s a catalyst. She’s a driver.

And I think that Lorca knows this by now. He may have recruited her because he needed a pawn to get him into the palace, but I suspect his plans have evolved.

Or, at least, I hope so. Because it’s Lorca’s multitude of agendas and motivations that make him interesting and fun, and I’d hate for him to lose his nuance now the mask is off.

(There’s a fine line between going, “Georgiou has her own agenda and I’m taking her version of events with a grain of salt until we get more evidence”, and throwing her under the bus because she’s a woman and Gabriel Lorca has done nothing wrong, ever, in his entire life. I’ve seen rather too much of the latter on Tumblr¬†and Reddit in the last couple of days.)

Will the real Gabriel Lorca please stand up?

All this said, I desperately hope that prime!Lorca is still alive somewhere, ready to step up and be complicated, a bit shady, more than a bit traumatised by six(-ish?) months in the mirror universe. It would be kind of devastating to learn that he died months ago, especially when he could be around to throw Burnham for a loop.

And “an evil duplicate took my place and now my life, career and reputation are a trash fire” is a cool plot that you’d only see in Star Trek and a handful of other series. It would be a shame to waste that opportunity. (Fringe did cover similar ground at one point, and I’ve noted with interest that Disco shares a few writers with that series. It’s the only example I can think of off the top of my head.)

…yes, it would also be a shame to waste Jason Isaacs. Obviously. SelenaK has an excellent proposal re: bringing mirror!Lorca back to our universe and keeping him around as Michael’s arch-nemesis, a sort of combination Hannibal Lecter and Gul Dukat. I like that idea, but I have a suggestion to make: why not both?

Another shocking twist: Merkin the Tribble’s secret agenda

There have been a lot of jokes over the season about Lorca’s tribble — dubbed Merkin by Jason Isaacs, and anyone who thinks that’s canon needs to do some googling — being a secret weapon against the Klingons. Here’s a thread I enjoyed so much that I illustrated it.

But the thing is, Merkin¬†did have a purpose. And it wasn’t being deployed against Klingons.

A tribble’s cooing, Spock told us way back in 1967, has a tranquilising effect on the human nervous system. It’s … soothing. It relaxes us.

Who was hanging out, cooing away to itself, the first time Michael met Lorca? Merkin the Tribble. While Lorca was persuading Michael that he was a good guy who could be trusted, Merkin was doing a number on her nervous system.

Amazing.

(I knew it was a bad sign that Lorca had a second tribble dissected in his lab! I knew it! What kind of monster dissects a tribble? The same kind of monster who thinks Kelpiens are appetisers, probably!)

Ash Tyler and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day

I can’t even begin to figure out the specifics of how the Klingons turned Voq into Ash, let alone work out whether AshVoq is faulty because someone stuffed up (*stares hard at L’Rell*), or he hadn’t finished cooking, or because Ash loves Michael so much he almost broke through the programming. Did the House of Mokai smush a Klingon personality into a human body, or cannibalise the real Ash Tyler’s organs and memories and implant them in Voq? Is he an organic, locally sourced human, or genetically modified?

The important thing is that he’s not having a great time. Which means Saru isn’t having a great time, which means L’Rell’s not having a great time. Share the pain.

This episode ran¬†stupidly short. It was 37 minutes and 50 seconds, including credits and the “previously on”. How or why that happened, I have no idea, because this plotline still felt incredibly rushed. Michael’s plot also had several points where, rather than let her (us) sit in the moment, we pushed onto the next scene, but the Klingon business is where I kept going, “Wait, what?”

For example, how and why did Saru decide to involve L’Rell? Was that a difficult choice? Was he hesitant to step into a room with one of the galaxy’s ultimate predator species? Does he feel out of his depth, or is he more confident in command now?

All these questions are about Saru, rather than Ash, because Ash mostly just had to lie there and shout in Klingon a lot (which he did very well, bless his socks), occasionally surfacing to ask after Michael.

L’Rell’s role could have been expanded, but her conflict seems pretty obvious: she’s only helping “Ash” because she can’t stand to see Voq suffer.

Is Voq effectively dead now? L’Rell thinks so, but, ummmmmm, look, she doesn’t seem too competent at this whole memory implanting/editing business. And he did continue his Klingon prayer when she was finished — but in English.

Do we have an integrated AshVoq? And what does that mean for his relationship with Michael? Are there relationship counsellors who specialise in this sort of thing? Stay tuned, I guess.

Just say no to spores, kids

The other thing this episode could have used more of: Paul and luaP hanging out in the mycelial network. He’s a grumpy scientist! He’s his evil twin! THEY FIGHT CRIME!

Or, possibly, commit crime. According to an entity who might be the embodiment of Paul’s memories of Hugh, or maybe the mycelial network itself (or both!), something luaP has done is destroying the network. The space Quorn is dying, and with it, the best route home that won’t leave the crew violently insane.

The plot stuff is important — note that Paul cannot access the coordinates of his final jump, the one Lorca overrode — but the emotional stuff is more important. Paul was aware of Hugh’s death, and this is him, letting go.

For now. Wilson Cruz says there’s more to come, although I’m concerned about that whole “goes beyond … even the physical plane” line. (Note: that link contains a bunch of other spoilers, too.) Just say no to non-corporeal queers, guys. At least for a few years. Living, corporeal queer characters, that’s what we want.

The jerk ranking

You know, we’re in the mirror universe, you’d think we’d have more jerks.

  1. Claiming his rightful place at number one, say hello to Gabriel Lorca!
  2. Coming in second, all hail Empress Georgiou, rightful heir to the Iron Throne, rightful queen of the Andals and the First Men, protector of the Seven Kingdoms, the mother of dragons, the Khaleesi of the great grass sea, the unburnt, the maker of chains, the eater of Kelpiens.
  3. My cat, for sitting on my chest and crying as I watched the Lorca reveal.
  4. The writers, because I need a hug, a block of chocolate and a therapy dog right now, and so do all the characters not on this list.

Other observations

  1. This episode managed to run short, be rushed, and full of exposition! That’s almost some kind of achievement. It had some amazing moments, but was definitely on the weaker side.
  2. I love that the imperial palace’s whole aesthetic seems to be “’80s music video filmed in a Trump hotel”. The emperor has a rotating stage¬†and¬†a giant gold relief sculpture of herself. Your evil fave could never.
  3. The scriptwriter posted an interesting thread about Georgiou’s titles, which basically boil down to: he is a giant Roman history nerd (and it’s great).
  4. Is the USS Defiant a red herring devised by Lorca, or are we going to see it? Or … both? (I honestly assumed it would turn out to be the imperial flagship. I am very bad at predictions.)
  5. Has Lorca been planning to eat Saru all along? Because that would set a new low in captain-first officer relations, and I do not think Starfleet HR would approve.
  6. Between Michael’s dish of Kelpien soup, and that time Voq ate Georgiou Prime, there are a number of unpleasant revelations in Saru’s future, and I think it’s safe to say he won’t be inviting Michael or Ash to any future dinner parties.
  7. (Ash is also vegan now. He and Michael are doing some amazing things with lentils and tofu, you wouldn’t believe how easy it is to prepare meals without using a single animal product or friend.)

Finally

  • Thanks as always to Stephanie for proof reading, but also anti-thanks for judging my terrible shipping preferences, I mean,¬†really.
  • If you are ‚Äúa natural person active in fandom‚ÄĚ 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, or best fan writing, or any other category you consider appropriate. (You can find more information about eligible works by Stephanie and I¬†here.)
  • (And/)¬†Or you can support my work via Ko-Fi.

Author: Liz Barr

Words written. Opinions expressed.

One thought on “Star Trek: Discovery 1.12 – “Vaulting Ambition””

  1. “I do, however, have to congratulate the Disco writers for giving us a universe where Michelle Yeoh leads an evil fascist human supremacist space empire, but a straight white guy is still worse.”

    THIS.

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