|Air Date||January 8, 2017|
As we assumed before the midseason break, the USS Discovery is floating adrift in the Mirror Universe. It’s a galaxy a lot like the one we’re used to, only controlled by a tyrannical, xenophobic empire known as the Terrans, who are deeply afraid of and irrationally aggressive towards anyone even remotely different to themselves.
So, just like the Trump Administration, I guess.
Moving swiftly on…
Jokes aside, the Mirror Universe is intriguing – which is just as well considering we can expect to spend at least the next couple of episodes in it. All the usual crew get to wear bitchin’ black leather outfits. Cadet Tilly is the captain of the Mirror Universe’s Discovery. She’s a savage, take-no-prisoners warmonger in this timeline, with a variety of colourful nicknames. (“Captain Killy? Well, that’s not very clever,” remarks Saru, as wonderfully dry as always.)
Also mirrored are Burnham, who here is the former, presumed-dead captain of the USS Shenzhou, and Lorca, who’s on the run after staging an unsuccessful coup against the Terran Empire. That gives our Discovery an in. Posing as their parallel selves, Burnham takes Lorca onto the Shenzhou as a prisoner. Antics ensue, including a well-choreographed close-quarters fistfight which results in Burnham becoming the captain of her former vessel.
How does she feel about that?
She seems pretty keen. Props to Sonequa Martin-Green on this episode. She totally sold all the nuances of her character’s deception, especially the bit where, after stabbing the acting captain to death, she had to stride back onto the Shenzhou’s bridge to the applause of her new crew.
Not in a good way. Operating the spore drive has ****** him all the way up, and in amongst his weird, glassy-eyed ranting, we got to see some truly quite moving little interactions between him and Wilson Cruz’s Dr. Culber. Cruz is another actor whose performance this episode was wonderful; packed with detail and nuance, managing to communicate the depths of an established relationship in just the odd look or physical gesture.
It’s a shame he’s dead now.
Yeah, Star Trek: Discovery has done it again. Offing major characters with very little ceremony seems to be a trend in this show. And while a lot of people have an issue with that, I don’t mind it. It’s a good way of building drama and actually committing to developing storylines. And besides, is there anything more transparently fraudulent than popular characters escaping death by the skin of their teeth every week only for a minor supporting player nobody likes to be done away with as a “big moment” in a season finale? **** all that.
Is Discovery’s body count “quintessential Trek?” I have no idea. I don’t care, either. Nor should you. Fans of popular, long-running properties would do well to remember that ultimately the thing’s creators, not its fans, get to be the arbiters of what is or isn’t “right” or “real” for that thing. Not your Luke? Not your Trek? Honestly, you sound like absolute ******* babies.
But what happened to Culber?
Turns out we were right all along. Lieutenant Tyler is a Klingon double-agent – presumably Voq, although that isn’t confirmed – and when Culber discovered it during a medical examination, a panicky Tyler snapped his neck. Thing is, though, Tyler’s real identity is kind of battling with his current one. L’Rell tried to coax his Klingon tendencies with some sort of weird prayer, but that didn’t work completely. He’s able to recognise the transition, and fight it. He’s also very much in love with Burnham, whoever he might really be. He even manages to get into her knickers by the end.
I’m not entirely sure where all this is going. Is Tyler going to become our Big Bad, fighting Voq’s identity off until he just can’t anymore? Or is he going to be redeemed, his love for Burnham keeping him tethered to his current self? I guess we’ll see. Either way, with Culber’s death, Saru’s threat ganglia being triggered by Tyler entering the bridge, and Stamets ominously declaring, “The enemy is here,” I think we can safely say that we’re well beyond a “fan theory” at this point.
How did “Despite Yourself” handle the tonal shift?
The clue is kind of in the title. There were moments of levity here – Tilly impersonating her parallel self, and Lorca putting on a Scottish accent. But with this episode, Star Trek: Discovery has clearly planted both feet in much darker territory. The idea of a Mirror Universe isn’t just a gimmick. As Tilly admits, this universe has a way of showing you the worst of what you’re capable of. The central dramatic question that leaps to mind is how much the crew of the Discovery we know will embrace their new roles? Burham looks pretty comfortable in the captain’s chair already.
I have a minor writing quibble. The nature of the Mirror Universe would have been better explained through more interaction with its denizens earlier in the episode, rather than by heaps of exposition. But there was a lot of info to get across, so it’s hardly a dealbreaker that they opted for the most expedient method.
Any stray observations?
- There’s a good chance that the Terran Emperor is Michelle Yeoh’s Georgiou, which would be a nice development.
- Speaking of which, is the jury still out on Lorca actually being from the Mirror Universe? That’d be nice too.
For sure. Some people have had some weird issues with this episode – “You cannot kill a gay character!” – but as far as the actual storytelling is concerned, “Despite Yourself” was compelling, shocking, and took the show in an interesting new direction. I’m okay with that.
See you next week.
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Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.