Season 1 / Episode 12 / CBS All Access
I’ll say one thing for Star Trek: Discovery, they don’t play around with these plot twists. Last week, we got confirmation that Ash Tyler was Voq, Son of None and that in the Mirror Universe, Phillipa Georgiou is The Emperor. That’s a lot for a 49 minute episode. This week, “Vaulting Ambition,” with its short run time of not even 40 minutes, still packs in the surprises. The twists are coming fast, one on the next, some predicted, but some not. This does two things: 1) We watchers are constantly being reminded that while we think we know this world, we really don’t know anything. 2) This keeps giving the actors chances to bring something themselves to their roles. Disco is playing in a 50-year-old sandbox, which should be pretty messy, but these twists keep the story feeling fresh and unexpected.
Let’s get to it.
Going to See the Emperor
Burnham and Lorca alone on the shuttle, they review what that know: The U.S.S. Defiant used “interphasic space” to get to the Mirror Universe. How did they do it? Where is this “interphasic space”? Who can say. Lorca charges Burnham with finding the real Defiant records, then tries to reassure her that they are together on this. Then he gives her that arm touch that is getting a bit too creepy for my tastes.
Stamets is in Mushroom Heaven
What’s going on in with Stamets?
Well Prime Stamets thinks he’s dead and, against all his scientific expectations, that he’s on his way to The Judgement. Mirror Stamets, being exactly as much of an ass as Prime Stamets, shines that on for a whole minute:
Let’s be honest, this is like a White man’s greatest fear — that God is a (Black) woman and she is pissed. (This is my expectation of the afterlife.) I wish Mirror Stamets hadn’t come clean so quick and had let Prime Stamets sweat.
Turns out that Mirror Stamets is ALSO stuck in Mushroom Heaven, though he’s reticent to say how. He’s relying on Prime Stamets to help him get out. Mirror Stamets explains Prime Stamets’ visions; the facts start to fall into place. There’s a threatening presence here — The Enemy in the words of Prime Stamets. The two Stamets’s have to avoid it. Let me tell you, the Enemy is everywhere in this episode friends. EVERYWHERE.
Mother of the Fatherland
Note the Court Herald/Announcer in this scene, Captain Maddox (the good looking Black dude, Dwain Murphy), who announced the Emperor when she rang up Butcher Burnham on the Shenzhou. Remember him. He becomes important later.
Let’s just roll this clip.
The Kelpian? That’s for a bath later. Its Cool. And Lorca? He’s used to Agonizers by now. No sweat. He’ll be outta there before you know it.
Of note here, Michelle Yeoh designed her robe and her sword for this role, because that’s a woman who knows what the hell is important in playing an evil Emperor. The cape is everything. She is a wonderful, sneering baddie. Watching her stomp, touch, and purr her way through the scenes is the most fun Disco has given me in a few episodes.
Son of None
Voq is cycling through his Ash persona and his Voq persona at whiplash speeds. He seems to unable to be 100% one or the other, so he is 100% losing his shit. Saru is 100% confused. Burnham was only able to give him the slimmest information and dear Dr. Culber had no notes to pass on to the new attending doctor (another Black woman with a bomb hair style. So fly while saving lives. I see you sis!) leaving the crew of the Discovery to piece things together on the run. This is the kind of flawed information sharing that you’d expect, but rarely see in a Star Trek show. No one has perfect information and no one shares everything. It leaves plenty of room for Saru to go full Starfleet on this situation, trying to save the man *he still thinks* is Ash Tyler.
When I Said Mother, I Meant That Literally
It turns out that the Kelpian that Michael picked out in the first scene wasn’t for bath time. It was for the soup course at dinner. It is nice of Mother Phillipa to share her stewed ganglia with Michael, but it elicits an incredibly believable gag reflex that almost made me cry. Was that Mirror Saru? DID THEY EAT MIRROR SARU?
The conversation unfurls…Philippa is Michael’s adoptive mother. She missed her. Michael tries to keep up with all the lies and counter-lies, but she doesn’t have all the facts. The Emperor is tired of the games. She pulls her blade. Daughter or no, Burnham’s going to catch this steel. She was part of the conspiracy! She was Lorca’s collaborator! What is going on?!?!?
Stamets Does Some Science
Together Prime and Mirror Stamets get their bearings and do some science. It is obvious that Mirror Stamets is hiding some information from Prime Stamets. Before we can dig in on that, Prime sees Husband Hugh out of the corner of his eye and he’s off. There’s no version of the ‘verse in which Paul isn’t going to find Hugh. It is super endearing, even as you know you’re headed for a heartbreak.
Hold that heartbreak, because the action half of this episode is turning it up to 10.
Burnham Solves It Her Way
Burnham is brought before The Emperor to be executed for treason. It is a mercy; she could be sentenced to the agonizer with Lorca. Burnham, out of lies, comes clean about who she really is — Michael Burnham from the Federation. She proves it by pulling out Prime Georgiou’s Federation badge, which has the quantum frequency from the Prime Universe.
The Emperor is convinced. With one flick of a far-future fidget spinner she kills er’rybody in the room except for one flunky — mostly so he can clean up the mess — then takes Burnham off to chat.
I love this solution because this is Burnham being completely Burnham. She doesn’t try to out maneuver the Emperor, she doesn’t try to science her way out of it, nor does she play on the Emperor’s pity. She tells the truth, and uses what she knows of her relationship with Prime Georgiou to leverage a relationship with Mirror Georgiou. It is brave, genuine, honest move, absolutely perfect for the character and the hero the show wants her to be.
The Emperor knows way more than anyone thought she did, that, combined with a whole bunch of honesty, is going to blow the lid off a lie that makes the Voq as Ash plot twist feel cute.
Saru and L’Rell
As I mentioned, Saru thinks that the dude in sick bay is actually Ash Tyler, which is less than 50% right, in my utterly not expert opinion. He doesn’t know what’s wrong with Tyler, but he does know that L’Rell is connected to it. He goes down to talk to her like a Starfleet officer expecting logical conversation. It is adorable how earnest and sympathetic he is in the face of L’Rell’s utter cruel disregard: This is war, she says. Voq vowed to suffer for his cause, now he’s suffering.
L’Rell is stone cold. As much as I hate the havok she’s wrecked on Burnham’s life, I’m here for her dedication. She is not one to be fucked with and I salute that.
The Emperor Explains It All
Burnham tries to talk logically to Emperor Georgiou, but Georgiou’s got logic of her own. The Federation is inherently dangerous to the political system of the Mirror Universe. Once people get an idea that maybe equality and peace are possible *anywhere* they will fight for it *everywhere*. Not on Georgiou’s watch. She knows about the Defiant. She knows how bad being emperor gets when word of freedom gets around.
I could dig in here on the implications of her speech for our modern world, but y’all’s smart. You get it.
Now Georgiou starts having out truth of her own: the Disco can’t go back the way the Defiant did because the way the Defiant went back resulted in the madness and death of every single crew member. Not exactly a good plan. (Hey…why didn’t Lorca mention that little factoid?)
Alternative plan: Spore drive plans in exchange for the freedom of the Discovery. Burnham takes the deal. Georgiou’s are women of honor, regardless of the universe.
Saru Is Smarter Than You Think
Stone Cold L’Rell didn’t listen to reason. So Saru drops a suffering, self-mutilating Tyler into the cell with her and lets her hold her lover’s ruined body in her arms. Gonna help now? Yeah, she’ll help now. She says some Klingon words, then gives Voq the worst scalp massage in history, all of which seems to sort his psyche out.
The question is, while L’Rell’s help settles the war going on inside of Voq, is a sane and capable Voq with his death-stare capable girlfriend/ right-hand killer at his side, what the Discovery needs right now? Probably not. But at least Saru lived by his Starfleet morals. And that’s worth something.
Lorca Has Enemies Everywhere
There’s a pause in Lorca’s agonizing when the Court Herald/ Good Looking Black Guy in this Episode, Captain Maddox, strolls in to make some accusations.
Lorca did something to Maddox’s sister and Maddox is not happy about it. (This is the point where I start hoping in vain it is anything but what we know it is. Maybe he beat her in 3D Spades, or insulted her cooking. Something. Anything but what we all know he did because Lorca’s that guy.) Maddox challenges Lorca to admit to what he did. Lorca can’t admit to something he knows nothing about.
Get Your Tissues Out Friends
Y’all, Paul Stamets running through the shadow halls of his own consciousness in Mushroom Heaven looking for Hugh Culber about wrecked me. It is every nightmare of losing your loved one you’ve ever had.
I’m not going to recap the conversation between Stamets and Culber. It is exactly right in the show; there is no description I could give that would do it credit. Rapp and Cruz are amazing as two married people seeing each other for the last time, reliving all their favorite parts of life together.
In the midst of wrestling with his own death, Culber cares about Stamets, lifts him up, tells him the real deal about Mirror Stamets, then gives him the trick to go home. All to the strains of the opera that made the two actors famous in our universe. It is a beautiful moment.
It ends with both Mirror Stamets and Prime Stamets opening their eyes on their respective ships. Life is fine for Mirror Stamets, but Prime Stamets sees what Hugh was warning him about — Mirror Stamets used the mycelial network for some corrupt purpose and he ruined it, set a virus free in it that is killing the spores. The spores on Discovery are already dead. How are they going to get home now?
The Reveal of the Week
The plot starts to move quick now. Burnham demands to see Lorca, but Lorca’s busy being tortured by Maddox for unspecified crimes against his sister. (Please Bast, don’t let them specify.)
The Emperor explains that Lorca’s are assholes across all universes. Emperor Georgiou trusted Mirror Lorca to be her right hand man, she even trusted him to be a male role model for Burnham. When Burnham grew up, well…
Lorca groomed her to fall in love with him. Then he turned Mirror Burnham against the Emperor, which is when the whole coup thing went down. Now, as Burnham’s hearing all this, all the weird conversations she’s had with Lorca over the series start to come to her mind.
“I did choose you, but not for the reasons you think.”
“Maybe this was destiny.”
All of his little coincidences and lies form a pattern.
Yep, Tumblr was right all along, Lorca is really Mirror Lorca from the Mirror Universe!
He picked Prime Burnham because he knew she could get close to the Emperor, then groomed and pushed the utterly unsuspecting crew of the Discovery back into the Mirror Universe, where he could carry out his coup.
Meanwhile, Lorca fakes out poor Captain Maddox, kills him and admits that he knew his sister after all.
Bast damn it, son of a …
I will now spend the rest of the week trying to figure out who I hate more, Voq for breaking Burnham’s heart or Lorca for being exactly as shady as we all knew he was. This is a great long-game con that Lorca’s been running, and I love cons almost as I love Star Trek. My logical half loves the way this has been set up and peppered through the season as a sneaking suspicion. This reveal vindicates all of our inner concerns that Lorca wasn’t Starfleet.
He’s doesn’t act like a Starfleet captain, because he isn’t one and never was. So now what? Does Burnham get to be captain?