You know the rage-quit? The moment when you’re playing a game where everything is so stacked against you, so engineered for your failure, or just so frustrating that you suddenly decide to stop playing instead of making yourself feel miserable? That’s what everyone in Discovery should do.
All images: CBS.
Oh, we’ll get to the big “twist”. I think I knew in my heart it was coming, but denied it because I was giving this show the benefit of the doubt – that it had greater themes in mind, but couldn’t help poorly executing them. I was, in fact, wrong. There are no deeper themes, just twists. This is Star Trek by way of M. Night Shyamalan. Hell, there are even magical alien plants involved.
Let’s blow through the smaller side plots first. This is an episode about reunions, wanted and unwanted, so first up let’s tackle:
Stamets and Culber
In techno-glitter sporeland, Stamets asks Mirror Stamets if he’s dead and if Mirror him is a “narcissistic Virgil” leading him to judgement. Oh my god, Star Trek has referenced fiction other than Moby Dick or Shakespeare. Sounds the alarms. Mirror Stamets reveals himself to be just as much a dick as our Stamets, answering, “Yes, Paul. You’ve been wrong about everything. There is a god, and she is very, very mad at you right now.” He only holds onto the reaction for half a second before bursting into laughter. “You should have seen your face, I mean our face.”
For the sake of the budget, the mycelial network stops being all CGI and turns into the Discovery. Mirror Stamets explains that an accident trapped his consciousness here, too, and he is counting on our Stamets to navigate them out of it. He is the source of Stamets’ Mirror Universe visions since Mirror Stamets tried to communicate with Stamets when he was using the spore drive. Mirror Stamets warns that there’s a corruption in the network, and he was lost in it for days.
They make it to engineering, but Stamets gets distracted by a vision of Culber. Brace yourselves, because we need to get into this. I don’t care what everyone involved with this show has said; this is still “bury your gays” territory. Actually, it’s like “bury your gays” and “fridging” had an unholy union: The sympathetic partner of a gay character died, and the character was left to find their partner’s corpse and cradle it. And then this episode had the ghost of Culber show up to make sure that we knew he was actually, for real, dead. Last week, people were so upset about Culber’s death that, after the episode aired, the cast and crew starting claiming the character was coming back to stave off criticism. But Culber only came back to say that yes, he in fact died.
Worst of all, this was the best part of this episode. The acting by Wilson Cruz and Anthony Rapp (who pulled double-duty as Stamets and Mirror Stamets) was lovely. The best scene in this show was Stamets insisting to Culber that he just wanted everything the way it was, and trying to bring them back to the favourite part of both their days: Brushing their teeth, getting ready for bed, and talking about their days. Stamets asking the computer to play “that aria he loves and I hate” was heartbreaking, while Cruz asking how his day was got the perfect response: “It was awful. My partner is dead. My life’s work’s been a waste. What I knew to be beautiful is hostile, and the mycelial network is hell.”
You also feel for Stamets, who is – by his own admission and through actual character establishing moments – bad at interpersonal relationships, when he wonders, slightly desperately, if Culber knew he loved him, if he told him enough. It was better acting than this insulting treatment of one of the best parts of the show deserved. Stamets should have rage-quit this whole thing and stayed with Culber until the network carried him away. It isn’t like things are any good back home.
Oh, and plot-related: Mirror Stamets exploited the network and corrupted it, that’s why it’s dying. When Stamets gets out of the coma, he also frees Mirror Stamets (oops) and discovers that all of their spores have been infected and withered away. So they still can’t get home.
Voq and L’Rell
On the Discovery, Voq/Tyler is flipping out and yelling in Klingon. His scans match the real Ash Tyler, but his brainwaves are a mess. The doctors have no idea how to treat this. For a second, he’s back and asking Saru how Burnham is, but then he’s back to the screaming.
Saru, trying to find an answer to Tyler’s plight, seeks out L’Rell. She explains they used the real Tyler’s DNA and put it over Voq, who is a warrior and the heir to T’Kuvma. He chose this life, this pain, and she will honour his choice and let it happen. Saru points out there is no war for a warrior to win in this universe, where Klingons are decidedly losers, but it doesn’t help. (Although telling your enemy about your very weird and vulnerable situation is definitely a good and smart this to do.) So Saru drops Tyler into the cell with L’Rell, where he is apparently so pathetic that she confesses that she, and only she, can undo what the Klingons did to him by – and I think this is the medical term – shoving electricity into his brain.
Saru wanted to help Tyler, but by doing so has seemingly erased all trace of him – instead, it’s pure Voq in Tyler’s body now. How will Saru handle this? Will Voq be mad at L’Rell for ruining his mission and making his sacrifice worthless in the end? Would this entire show have been better off without this plot? Yes, for so many reasons.
Michael Burnham and the Emotional Roller Coaster
Meanwhile, Burnham and Lorca are masquerading as their Mirror selves, with Burnham having “captured” the mutinous Lorca, bringing him back to the Emperor on her space palace. Happily, it might have info on how they can escape the Mirror-verse (long version: The full records of USS Defiant, which was mysteriously transported from the 23rd-century Prime universe into the 22nd-century, Enterprise-era Mirror universe, and has been there under the Emperor’s control ever since).
This whole quest for the records of that ship is set up like a video game from hell. Get the records by going undercover. Find out you can’t transmit the records once you have them. Finally get a physical copy out, and then discover they are redacted. Figure out you have to go directly to the Emperor of All Bad Things to get the answers. They should have rage-quit.
Anyway, Burnham also injects Lorca with a painkiller to help with the constant torture he’s been under, but then Lorca comforts Burnham about what they have to do. Look, it must be tough for Burnham to see a parental figure she got killed, especially when this version is a ruthless dictator, but Lorca’s having his entire nervous system lit up with pain like mine lights up whenever someone tries to explain Bitcoin. Lorca tells Burnham that this Georgiou is just a ghost and she responds, “Haven’t you ever been afraid of a ghost?” The answer is, of course, no. Lorca has no fear, only selfishness.
Burnham walks into the throne room, where the Emperor immediately tells her to pick a Kelpian (Saru’s race), which will be important in a minute. Lorca refuses to bow to Georgiou, and Georgiou slams him in the chest and face with a mace, promising a life in an agonizer for his “vaulting ambition”. With the episode title drop, take a giant chug of the alcohol of your choice. You’ll need it for what’s coming next. The show also decides that the parental figure bit has, until now, been too subtle. So Emperor Georgiou commands her to dinner, saying that “everything will be as it was”, and calls Burnham “daughter”.
A face that screams, “Don’t vomit, don’t vomit.”
At dinner, Burnham discovers that the Kelpian she chose is the Mirror Universe equivalent of picking out your lobster at a seafood restaurant. Sonequa Martin-Green does a great job of conveying freaking out and nausea while trying to hide all of that. It gets worse; Georgiou feeds Burnham the threat ganglia with her own chopsticks because she “deserves a treat”. Burnham’s gagging pretty much conveys a general “I’d rather be in the agonizer” feel.
Life’s a bitch, and then you die. And then you are prepared as a delicacy for a homicidal dictator to serve to a visibly upset pseudo-daughter.
Burnham gamely tries to sell that she 1) had everything under control with the rebels in last week’s episode and 2) had to keep out of contact because Lorca had spies in the palace ship, too. Unfortunately for her, Mirror Burnham was something of a liar and always tried to outsmart Georgiou, so the Emperor loves her, but does not trust her. Just like every family meal, this one includes someone pulling a knife. And then we have this exchange:
“Why were you never satisfied? I knew you had become Lorca’s collaborator and you were conspiring to kill me and take my throne.”
“Oh, it’s ‘Phillipa,’ now? Not so long ago it was ‘Mother’.”
You know, I made a joke in the first episode of this second half that Mirror Lorca and Mirror Burnham had joined forces and were rebels in love. I did not expect that joke to be right.
To stop her execution, Burnham just… opens up and tells Georgiou everything about being from another universe, and shows her the dead Georgiou’s rank insignia as proof. This is an extremely bad idea, and Burnham compounds it by saying, “Our bond, it seems, is strong enough to cross universes.” Then Burnham makes it worse and tries to use to Mirror Burnham’s relationship with Mirror Georgiou to get Lorca released and get help leaving. Mirror Georgiou says Federation anything is dangerous, that’s why the Defiant records are classified. Equality, freedom and cooperation are “delusions” and “destructive ideals that fuel rebellions”. Oh, OK. Well, I guess we’re getting a Fascism 101 lecture this week.
Mirror Georgiou goes into a Trek lore deep-dive about the Defiant, but the bottom line is the original Prime crew went insane when they tried to leave the Mirror universe so the redacted info is useless. So Burnham tells Mirror Georgiou about the spore drive and is offered freedom in exchange for the schematics. When Burnham asks how she can trust this offer, Mirror Georgiou asks if the Prime Universe’s Georgiou was a person of honour. Told yes, she responds, “Then you have no reason to believe I am not as well.” Girl. Girl, don’t. This is the Mirror universe. EVERYONE IS BAD.
A captain comes into Lorca’s prison, telling him that he has a personal beef with Lorca because of something involving his sister. He’s going to give a Lorca loyalist a very horrible death unless Lorca can say his sister’s name. A Lorca not from the Mirror Universe has no way of answering that question, so the loyalist is injected with some DNA and explodes. At this point I am too tired to deal with that bit of “science”. Also, like, you’d think Lorca refusing to say the name is because he doesn’t know it since he isn’t from this universe. But we also all know Lorca is a lying, devious gasbag, so it doesn’t actually mean crap.
Stupidly, Burnham tells the Discovery to meet up with the palace ship, as part of her continually-worsening plan. And then Mirror Georgiou tells Burnham that, in their universe, Burnham having a mother in her was not enough. So she found a father in Lorca, until she grew older. And then it became something… more. In this context, Mirror Georgiou’s use of the word “groomed” makes me want to vomit forever and I will never, ever be clean. Between Sarek’s actions in the Prime Universe and Georgiou and Lorca’s actions in the Mirror Universe this show makes a very strong argument that adoptive/foster parents are horrible. This is not a great message.
Then Georgiou quotes Mirror Lorca’s words – all the stuff about destiny, choosing Burnham and so on, that Burnham recognises Lorca saying to her. When she finds out that Georgiou is sensitive to light (a genetic difference between the universes that is absolutely an arse pull by the writers), she finally groks to the fact that her Lorca is Mirror Lorca and that he manipulated everything to get here, in striking distance of Emperor Georgiou.
Back in the brig, Lorca pretends to be near death – we know he doesn’t actually feel anything because of the injection Burnham gave him – so that the guy torturing him will let him out. He refuses to let Lorca just die, not after what he did to his sister. Lorca kills him, says the sister’s name, and that he “liked her”, there was just someone better.
Discovery. Come on. You get Tyler or Lorca. Having both is ABSURD. Tilly being captain is supposed to be a joke, but screw it. She and Saru are the only people left alive who aren’t time bombs of some kind or another. People are going to say, “But you hated Lorca, you hated how bad a captain he was. You said he was everything the Federation wasn’t!” That is true. But I am so incredibly tired of this show and its producers, writers and actors just lying about things. We were told Lorca was supposed to represent a different side. At New York Comic-Con, I heard Jason Isaacs with my own ears say that we were supposed to leave each episodes thinking about his point of view and maybe agreeing. NOT ANY MORE I GUESS.
In good faith, I assumed that Lorca was meant to challenge our perceptions of the Federation. That his actions – in a time of war – were meant to draw attention to Starfleet’s inherent contradictions as a semi-scientific, semi-militaristic, semi-diplomatic organisation. No, that subtle, interesting idea was a lie to hide the fact that Lorca was actually from the universe where everyone is evil.
Between the lie and the endless, stupid posturing about Ash Tyler and Voq – first announcing that Shazad Latif was cast as a Klingon, then the CBS press release that he had been “recast”, and the fake IMDb profile for Voq’s “actor” – I’m just so tired. If you have to lie this much, if your show is this reliant on “twists”, you’ve failed. If the show itself can’t hide the twist, so you just have to lie in the press and public, you’ve failed. This is the opposite of subtle. Subtle would be the thing they used as a screen: Lorca being a good captain, just one very different than we were used to. But screw it, everyone’s a secret double-agent.
There’s no character work. No real allegory. It’s just plot. We’re supposed to drop our jaws in how the pulled it off, and go back and look at the clues. Except, of course, we all saw the clues and just assumed it was bad writing. And it was, it was just differently bad writing than we thought. In terms of average quality, Discovery is no better or worse than the first seasons of any other Star Trek show. It’s even above them, in that the style and acting tend to be leaps ahead of those shows where the chemistry between the cast was severely lacking. I even really liked a lot of the first two episodes back. I felt like there was real character work being done with the Mirror Universe.
But this show has to give up its addiction to twists. Why not deal with Tyler and Voq in the Prime Universe and end the first season with Lorca worrying that his infiltration might be discovered when new protocols are put into place because of that? And then end the season with the jump to the Mirror Universe and do this in a season alone? At the very least, that doesn’t put both reveals right next to each other. Because, right now, the overriding parallel is that the undercover agents both had affairs with various Burnhams. There are some unfortunate and very gross implications there.
I want this show to live up to its initial premise and promise: Exploring the Federation’s ideals and testing them. You can see the strands of it early in the series and you can see it in some of the Mirror Universe episodes. You lose it every time a twist forces the bad plotting in our faces, rather than the ideas.
I say Burnham, Stamets, Saru and Tilly rage-quit. Just abandon Tyler, L’Rell and Lorca and let them fight it out with Emperor Georgiou in a battle of bad plot ideas. Quit the game and just embark on an exploration mission of their own. Maybe magic back Culber, or pick up his Mirror version. This show is a damaged ship, but the bow’s still strong. It’s time to cut away the damaged areas and start rebuilding.