Recap | Star Trek: Discovery S1E12 – “Vaulting Ambition”

January 22, 2018 (Last updated: January 26, 2018)
Jonathon Wilson 1
TV, TV Recaps
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Star Trek: Discovery

Season 1
Episode 12
Title “Vaulting Ambition”
Air Date January 22, 2017


What happened?

I missed last week’s recap, so here’s a condensed version: Yep, Tyler is definitely Voq, and yes, Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) is definitely the Terran Emperor. We’re pretty much caught up now. Which is just as well, because this week’s episode, “Vaulting Ambition”, didn’t just progress these pretty significant developments; it gave us yet another one to worry about.

More on that in a moment.

Is this about –

Ah, ah. We need some context first.

So, we’re still in the Mirror Universe. Burnham initially tries to outsmart Emperor Georgiou by playing her other self, but she’s s**t out of luck. Turns out that in this universe, they’re pretty close. So the ruse doesn’t hold up, and Burnham is forced to reveal her true identity moments before a potential execution. Luckily, that works out quite well. She agrees to offer information about the Discovery’s spore drive in exchange for her freedom.

No, I’m not sure that offering a xenophobic, expansionist empire massive advances in travel technology is a particularly good idea either.


Back on the Discovery, acting captain Saru is trying to deal with two big issues. The first is the Tyler/Voq conundrum. For help there he turns to L’Rell, who’s still in custody. She puts on some laser gloves and has a fiddle with Tyler’s noggin while wistfully flashing back to her memories of Voq. How romantic.

Speaking of romance: A catatonic Stamets is still bumbling around the mycelium network. He’s getting into rigorous intellectual debates with his Mirror Universe self, who’s similarly qualified but lacking in Prime Stamets’ sense of morality and professional ethics. But he also gets to have a bit of a liaison with the late Hugh Culber. Death, it seems, really doesn’t have much permanence in this show. But that’s fine, because it allows for a couple of romantic interludes which culminate in Stamets waking up with even bigger problems.

Such as?

The mycelium network is sick, or corrupted, or dying, or something – to use the technical term, it’s f****d. And I’m not entirely sure what that means for the crew. I assume we won’t be getting back to the Prime Universe without it, but that’s a quandary for next week.

So, what was this week’s big reveal?

Oh, yeah. Only that Captain Lorca is really an imposter from the Mirror Universe. Turns out that over there, he groomed Michael Burnham from childhood and creepily obsessed over her – to such an extent that when she died or disappeared or whatever, he leapt the universal transom to snag the Prime version instead. He’s incredibly committed, I’ll give him that.

You might recall that I predicted Lorca’s villainy when he first showed up, and reminded y’all he might be from the Mirror Universe only a fortnight ago. So while this reveal might not have exactly blown my socks off, what I do very much appreciate is the idea of Lorca being obsessed with Burnham. That re-contextualises a lot. Now we know why he was so willing to have a mutineer on board, for instance. What previously seemed like minor plot holes have turned out to be winking little setups – literally, in some cases, as Lorca’s eye troubles were totally a giveaway as well.

So what’s his endgame?

No idea. And I’m fine with that for now, especially because Burnham figured it all out around the same time that the audience did. We don’t have to suffer weeks of characters gradually putting together information that the viewer has had access to for ages. So, that’s nice.

Do you have a prediction?

About his ultimate goal? Not really. But I’m reasonably certain that the Mirror Universe Burnham isn’t dead, and will make her presence felt pretty soon.

So, what worked in Vaulting Ambition?

This was an episode with a real focus on relationships – and not just romantic ones. Yeah, it was nice to see Dr. Culber again, especially after his untimely demise, and the idea of his love for Stamets transcending planes of existence is a sweet one. But it was just as compelling to see Emperor Georgiou’s maternal affection for Burnham. She’s the strong, competent leader of a ruthless system of government that rejects free thinking and diversity. But Michelle Yeoh really managed to sell something deeper in the character; humanity, and an insight into how such a woman might come to be part of a brutal authoritarian regime.

Then there’s Lorca’s unhealthy relationship with Burnham; L’Rell’s with Voq; Tyler’s with Burnham; Tilly’s with Stamets. All the dynamics are different, but these small and nuanced interactions are what the USS Discovery burns for fuel.

Was there anything you didn’t like about this episode?

Despite containing a major reveal, “Vaulted Ambition” was an episode which contained a lot of setup without much payoff. It was by no means boring, and an episode like this is a mandatory part of serial storytelling, but you can always spot them. It isn’t a terrible thing, but the overwhelming feeling throughout much of “Vaulted Ambition” was that of pieces being neatly arranged, ready for subsequent episodes to make use of them.

Any stray observations?

  • Emperor Georgiou has a rotating throne. If I had a throne, mine would rotate too.
  • Are we still clinging onto hope that Tyler and Voq can be separated? Is Tyler’s affection for Burnham strong enough? Is L’Rell more devoted to Voq, or to Klingon ideology?
  • I knew I recognised the episode title from somewhere. Turns out it’s a line from Macbeth: “I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent but only vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself and falls on the other.”

Keep watching?

What, after an episode that explicitly went to great lengths in order to ensure that you do? I think you already know the answer.

Enjoyed reading this review? Then you will probably like listening to us too, so check out our podcast below.

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