Star Trek: Discovery 1.13 – “What’s Past Is Prologue”

I am broken. You’re all just lucky I regained the ability to form words, or else … well:

Lorca’s gonna build a wall and make the Andorians pay for it

You know that thing? Where you meet a guy, and he seems perfectly pleasant? Complicated, but who isn’t? You develop a rapport. You could be friends.

And then it turns out that not only has he swallowed a whole lot of alt-right talking points, but while you thought you were friends, he’s put you in the firmly fuckzone.

I mean, I only wish it was a metaphor.

After a whole season of twists, turns, suspicions and speculations, Lorca’s motivations wind up being pretty simple: he wants to make the Terran Empire great again, and he wants Michael by his side.

Honestly, it’s a bit of a letdown, and I stand by my original assessment of Lorca, way back in 2017: he is much more interesting as a once-exemplary Starfleet officer eaten alive from the inside out by PTSD.

Alas, it wasn’t to be.

Chrys, of Chris Reviews, said something very wise last week:

Stanning for a theory is a path to disappointment. Yes, sure, this time I was right, however, if I had not been my entire enjoyment of the show would be in jeopardy because I had based so much of it on a reality that wouldn’t have come to pass.

I think many fans make the mistake of viewing theories as the end all be all and inevitably grow to hate what they once loved. Creators are not beholden to us, and while certain fan theories will always be more interesting than what the writers come up with -especially in a medium like television where the story is given so much time to unfold- we should all take a few steps back and theorize more abstractly. The reverse is also true. Sometimes writers make decisions you don’t agree with. If something happens out of the blue that’s understandable. However, when the writing’s been on the wall for quite some time, with many people theorizing that let’s say character X is going to die, and you refuse to accept that as a possibility your outrage is only on yourself.

(Because it’s important to be self-aware, she also adds, “That being said, being right does have its own sweet sweet joy.”)

I try quite hard to not be that fan who gets so attached to her own ideas — headcanons, we call them on Tumblr, or fanon if they become endemic — that she can’t accept it when canon turns out differently. It’s reasonable to be disappointed, especially when you’ve had the time to come up with something incredibly detailed, or which is very personal to you. But it’s ultimately a You Problem.

So, yeah, I would have done it differently. But I’m mostly okay with what we have, for reasons I’ll get into below.

But first: the bit where I’m not okay? So we have Ash, played by an actor of Pakistani heritage, who turns out to be a brainwashed radical. And we have Lorca, played by a Jewish actor, who turns out to be an infiltrator who looks like us but is secretly plotting against us.

I mean. It’s not great. But it’s also easily fixed: bring back prime!Lorca, give him the PTSD plot we thought we were getting with Lorca and Ash, marvel at how keeping Jason Isaacs around is my solution to so many problems.

Local Man Ruins Everything

What kept Lorca interesting, despite his extremely blatant Trump allegories, was his relationship with Michael. Actually, that’s relationships, plural, because there’s the one that only existed in his head, and the rather different one that’s based in reality.

Lorca thinks that Michael will eventually come around to his way of thinking and become his consort. Michael is having none of it. But he has this narrative in his mind, and even with a freaking sword through his heart, he’s trying to make her play the role and let him die in her arms.

One of the recurring motifs in their interactions, from “Context is for Kings” on, is Michael telling Lorca who she is and what her values are. And he just keeps on ignoring that in favour of his idea of who Michael Burnham is and what she needs. And this is such a familiar experience for women, especially (I imagine) for women of colour interacting with white men.

It’s great writing, and as subtle as the Trump stuff wasn’t. And the truly remarkable thing? It was intentional. Here’s episode writer/co-executive producer Ted Sullivan on After Trek:

I think what’s interesting about Georgiou vs. Lorca… is that she listened to Burnham. [With Lorca] everything was on [his] terms and I think what’s interesting about Georgiou is that she said, ‘Well, what’s your plan?’ … that’s a chance for her to actually say: Okay, I am willing to listen. I’m willing to evolve. And that’s what the journey is going to be.

I’m sorry, I’m just not used to the really clever, insightful things being there on purpose.

(It kinda sorta almost makes up for the implication last week that Lorca took advantage of his semi-paternal role to groom Michael sexually, which was thankfully dropped this week, and didn’t factor at all into how Jason Isaacs played the role.

Is it possible the writers didn’t realise what a loaded term “groomed” has become? I feel like writers should be on top of these things, but I do often watch Discovery episodes and think, “I personally would not have used that word and wonder if you were reaching for something else?” Some fans nitpick Klingon history, or starship design; I nitpick word choices.

Anyway, let’s agree to pretend it never happened, and that mirror!Lorca isn’t a sexual predator, just a run-of-the-mill incidental rapist like so many other men.)

Which brings us to Georgiou

Captain Philippa Georgiou of the Federation was the very epitome of humanist hero. Her dialogue could have been written for Jean-Luc Picard. All we needed was for Q to turn up and declare her existence sufficient justification for humanity’s presence in space.

Here are Emperor Georgiou’s redeeming qualities:

  • She sincerely loved Michael
  • She is capable of learning and doesn’t make the same mistake twice
  • Per Lorca, she wasn’t quite as xenophobic and oppressive as she could have been

Last week, I echoed SelenaK’s suggestion that mirror!Lorca could be kept around as a Dukat-style devil on Michael’s shoulder. It did not even cross my mind that Georgiou would get that fate instead. Not for a second. Complicated, dangerous, potentially redeemable villains are white men. Rarely women, never women of colour.

Or, as Pixie puts it:

Because that’s how it goes. The morally ambiguous straight white man in power gets the extended character arc and everyone else is scenery and dispensable. I didn’t want that, I didn’t like that, but I expected it. And so I convinced myself I did want it, I did like it. And I put all my effort into getting attached to Lorca and Lorca’s redemption arc so as to protect myself from getting attached to someone I was sure to lose.

I had trouble picking out just one piece of her essay to quote, so go read the whole thing.

There’s also this post from mswyrr, in response to some foolishness you’ll see quoted at the top. Key part:

And it’s COOL that a humanized/sympathetic villain gets to be a woman of color, since white male characters are overrepresented in those roles. They really are.

Overall, narratives are written with an expectation that women and/or people of color have to be better people to be deserving of audience sympathy. So it’s good to have writers assuming we should grant Georgiou as much sympathy as we would be expected to if she were a white man.

After Trek saw words like “redeemed” and “rehabilitated” being thrown around, which is fascinating. Because Georgiou is a just-deposed totalitarian dictator, a mass murderer on an unimaginable scale, and also she eats people. Can she be redeemed or rehabilitated? And, coming from a culture which despises the values of the Federation, would she want to be?

I have no answers, I’m just delighted that she’s around so we can ask these questions. For now, anyway. I suspect she’ll be dead (again) by the end of the season, probably sacrificing her life for Michael.

In the meantime, however, Saru might want to watch his back. And his threat ganglia.

Michael Burnham is the hero we deserve

There’s a very bad take going around Tumblr right now, which boils down to “I am uncomfortable with having a woman of colour as a protagonist, so I’m going to call her a Mary Sue”.

I’ve linked to a post with rebuttals so I don’t have to argue against it myself. Because it’s ridiculous, especially right after an episode which highlights Michael’s strengths, skills and weaknesses so well.

For me, a character’s weaknesses should come from the same place as their strengths. For example, Michael started out hungry for parental approval, a weakness and one of the factors which led to her betraying her Georgiou. But that same trait makes her incredibly loyal — which becomes a flaw again when she saves Emperor Georgiou.

It’s brilliant. I mean, it’s a very bad decision, driven by selfishness, made in the spur of the moment, and now everyone has to live with it. But from a characterisation perspective, it’s great. Michael has been the embodiment of Starfleet and Federation principles in the face of Lorca’s corruption — but she can’t let Georgiou die again, even if it’s what the emperor wants.

The trailer for next week promises Sarek interacting with Georgiou, which I’m sure is going to end with Michael signing up for another decade of much-needed therapy.

Saru is also great, I guess

Don’t get me wrong, I’m delighted that he’s come into his own and has reclaimed Discovery from Lorca. And his speech was great, and very much an expression of Star Trek values.

I just feel like we’ve missed a step on that journey. Once again, this is a gap that could have been filled in “Vaulting Ambition”. I’m delighted by Captain Saru being all captainly, but I wish we had just a little more detail on how he’s gotten there.

The jerk ranking!

  1. Gabriel Lorca enjoys one final week at the top.
    (Lorca in his first episode: “Of course I’m not working on biological weapons. That would be terrible.”
    Lorca in his final episode: “Hey, look, a biological weapon! Let’s try it out!”)
  2. Mirror!Ellen Landry. She didn’t get much to do, but what she did, she did in a manner consistent with being a jerk.
  3. Mirror!Stamets. Dude, the space fungus is important. Don’t mess with the space fungus.
  4. The writers, again, for not resurrecting Hugh or giving us so much as a clue about the fate of prime!Lorca.
    (And also for promising further torture for Stephanie in the form of time travel. Those monsters.)

Other observations

  • Just how much of an evil dictator is Georgiou? She has a surprise trapdoor in her throne room. For throwing people out of. You know, just normal evil empress decor.
  • I hope someone is going to foster Lorca’s tribble.
  • Maybe that’s what Ash was doing all this episode.
  • It’s so great to see the bridge crew get a bit more time, and for mirror!Owosekun to have her moment in the sun before exploding into tiny bits. I like the bridge crew, and hope to see more of them as the series goes on.
  • (I don’t think it’s a weakness that they’ve all been kept in the background. Star Trek has long had recurring background crew. Ask me how hard I side-eye people who claim Detmer should be the protagonist because she’s “so much more interesting” than Michael.)
  • I can’t believe I’ve missed all these opportunities to make a “new Lorca who dis” joke. I’m sorry. I’ve let everyone down.
  • The trailer for next week gives us Kat and Sarek in the same place at the same time, so I ship it now.

In conclusion

  • Thank you to Stephanie for proof reading and saving us all (but mostly me) from an embarrassing typo. Stephanie hasn’t even watched the back half of this season yet, but don’t worry, she’s already mad about the time travel.
  • If you are “a natural person active in fandom” 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.

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