Star Trek Discovery – What’s Past is Prologue
|Title||“What’s Past is Prologue”|
|Air Date||January 29, 2017|
In last week’s episode, “Vaulting Ambition”, we learned that squinty-eyed Captain Lorca was secretly a Mirror Universe doppelganger with a creepy crush on Michael Burnham. Stamets woke up from his psychedelic magic mushroom trip to find his lover dead and the mycelium network in tatters. And it turns out that Emperor Georgiou has a bitchin’ throne that rotates.
What happened this week in What’s Past is Prologue?
“What’s Past is Prologue” picks things up where we left them. Lorca has put together a Scooby gang of loyalists (including the revived former security chief Landry, who doesn’t even make it to the end of the episode.) He’s staging a coup for slightly nebulous reasons. And his attempt to overthrow the Terran Empire results in his death, Landry’s, Mirror Stamets’, and presumably all of his followers. We’ll come back to this in a moment.
Meanwhile, on the Discovery, Prime Stamets, Saru and Tilly pull a Plot MacGyver and invent some technobabble means of a) fixing the mycelium network and b) transporting the ship and its crew back to their own universe. We’ll address this in a moment, too.
Everything seems to be happening “in a moment”…
Yeah, well, that’s exactly the problem this episode had. Anyway, here’s what happened. Lorca’s plan didn’t work; the heroes’ did. Michelle Yeoh got to throw some high kicks in an exciting action sequence which culminated in Lorca being skewered with Georgiou’s big Emperor sword and booted into an orb of raw mycelial energy. Visually, that was a neat sequence, as was the one shortly afterwards when Stamets navigated the Discovery back to the Prime Universe through the pulsing tendrils of the space-fungus.
Of course, Burnham teleported Georgiou back to the Discovery and thus to our universe, and when we got there we were swiftly informed that our intrepid heroes landed nine months further in the timeline and the Klingons have won the war with the Federation. Yikes.
So, what’s the problem here in What’s Past is Prologue
There are a few. But whereas previously they’ve been minor niggles and nitpicks, here they coalesced into genuine issues with the show’s overall narrative structure.
I’ve always insisted, even when I was sceptical about Star Trek: Discovery, that it was visually striking, well-directed and relentlessly paced. All of this remains true. But what happens when you move at that breakneck speed and then hit a brick wall? In “What’s Past is Prologue”, we got to find out.
We haven’t been in the Mirror Universe long. But since we got there we’ve been bombarded with one major plot reveal after another. And now we’re suddenly not there anymore, so you have to ask: what, exactly, is the point of this show?
Before the mid-season break, Discovery was telling a story about a core group of individuals that we’d come to know and care about over several episodes. It was holding together. Then everything went topsy-turvy, and it got a lot more exciting, but also a lot dumber. So much was happening in such a short period of time that it felt dreamlike. Lieutenant Tyler actually containing the mind and soul of a Klingon barely piqued the crew’s interest. This week, everyone was rather blasé about Lorca being a guy from another universe. And his death, neat-looking though it was, didn’t land with any emotional weight at all. Everyone shrugged and moved on. None of the emotional beats have worked because in the Mirror Universe it’s hard to see why anything matters.
So what have we gained from the trip?
Nothing, as far as I can tell. We swapped Jason Isaacs for Michelle Yeoh. But that hardly matters; we didn’t get enough time for Lorca’s relationship with Mirror Michael to develop over a significant period of time, and when I last checked, Georgiou was the leader of a monstrous empire whose sole objective was to brutally subjugate all non-human life in the galaxy. Lorca’s mission was based on things we were only told about, not shown, and Burnham’s decision to save Georgiou is literally down to the fact she had Michelle Yeoh’s face. There’s no other justification.
This might be fine, or at least not terrible, if the overall direction of the show felt planned and cohesive, rather than as though it has been hastily rewritten at the last minute thanks to a notoriously troubled production.
Hang on, didn’t you like Star Trek: Discovery just last week?
I did – when it felt like the Mirror Universe plot was going somewhere. But it turns out it wasn’t. We drew a line under the Klingon conflict to essentially soft-reboot the show in this parallel reality, but now we’re back to the Klingon conflict and everything that has changed in that regard happened off-screen. It turns out major character deaths and plot reveals have been giving the illusion of narrative momentum, but that the show is still intent on essentially wiping the slate clean after each arc.
It’s easy to assume that a serialised show doesn’t necessarily need a core dramatic throughline as long as it keeps delivering interesting concepts and shake-ups. But the whole thing needs to be held together in order for the twists and reveals to have actual stakes. Even small things, like Stamets having time to properly grieve for Culber, have fallen by the wayside. The characters have no time to react to anything because they’re immediately thrust into a new dilemma that doesn’t have much relation to the previous one.
So what happens now?
The season is due to end, and according to the showrunners the second season will feel a lot more like “traditional” Trek, whatever that means. I guess we’ll have to see how it turns out. But I wholeheartedly have no idea where this show is going. And I suspect nobody else does either.
Well, at this point we don’t have much choice. There’s still a lot to like here; how it looks, the action, the acting, all of that stuff. It’s still an exciting hour of TV every week and that’s more than I can say for most. But not for the first time, Discovery has let me down by refusing to deliver on its promises. Whatever happens next, I imagine it could have been a lot better.
Still, though. Rest in peace Captain Gabriel Lorca. You were a bastard, and you’ll be missed. If the show itself can’t find time to give you a send-off, at least I can.
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