Star Trek: Discovery Recap — What’s Past is Prologue

Season 1 / Episode 13 / CBS All Access

Whew, here we are in Star Trek: Discovery Episode 13 out of 15 (or so). We’re on the other side of the second big reveal of the season. The Gabriel Lorca we’ve all come to know and hate wasn’t ever really one of “us” in the good Starfleet universe, explaining all his blood-thirsty ways. He was a Terran from the Mirror Universe all along, a manipulative, power-hungry, deceitful son of the fatherland, who controlled and directed Michael Burnham and the crew of the Discovery for his own gains. The episode as it stands is only a’ight — it sums up our current state and moves the plot forward without risking too much — but it is a necessary step for the season. Besides, I don’t know I could have taken another “Luke I am Your Father” moment this week. I needed a break.

Lorca Explains It All

The episode opens with Lorca in exposition mode as he frees his followers, whom the Terrans have helpfully kept imprisoned on their main battleship, the I.S.S Charon, lo, these many years. How convenient! We have the return of Commander Landry, who looks quite a bit like she did when we last saw her being mauled by a Tardigrade. Lorca’s soldiers are all as fanatical in their rebellion as the other Terrans are in their service to the Emperor.

Lorca’s first stop is to go find Mirror Stamets, because Lorca knows that Stamets controls the spores which drive the battleship, along with a lot of other things besides. Mirror Stamets is actually not as much of an asshole as Prime Stamets, here he’s more sniveling, but it all plays well. Mostly he’s there as a listener/convenient excuse for Lorca to explain that he crossed into the Prime Universe when he was teleported into an ion storm. That’s how he evaded the Emperor and Mirror Burnham.

Deep dive

You’ll recall that teleporting in an ion storm is how Kirk, Uhura, Scott, and McCoy end up in the Mirror Universe in TOS. Full circle, baby.

Lorca calls it all destiny. He gets Stamets to release a bio-weapon into the Charon, killing almost everybody.

This Is Not the Philippa We Know and Love

The Emperor is aware of the casualties, but shrugs them off. She and her elite warriors, lead by mirror Joann Owosekun, are ready to use Lorca’s moves to trap him, track him, and kill him.

Someone made a gif set of Joann Owosekun looking fierce. Bast Bless Them.

Burnham forgets her place and tries to give the Emperor some unnecessary advice. It is too much. The Emperor has her thrown into the Brig for too much back talk — well TRIES to have her thrown into the brig. Burnham unleashes her Vulcan hand-to-hand on that poor guard and evades everyone. They don’t seem to go looking too hard for her, I guess managing a coup keeps the Terrans busy.

Acting Captain Saru

Captains Log. Saru is feeling pretty upbeat. The spore drive is online, he’s on his way to pick up Burnham and Lorca, they’ll be out of this Mirror nightmare by dinner time. Except not. Stamets, not up to his mushroom hijinks, but still more chill than ever before, explains that the mycelial network is dying. The Mirror ship is pulling energy OUT of the network, as opposed to his plan which rides along with the energy in the network. (In classic ST fashion, there’s a message about the abuse of resources here, figure it out.) As the network spreads across both universes, death for the spores in the Mirror will get to the Prime. If they don’t stop the destruction here, there will be no there to go home to.
Being captain is a pain the ass.

Acting Emperor Lorca

Lorca is feeling himself. He makes a ship wide announcement about the weakness of Emperor Georgiou and his plans to turn the Terran Empire around. Mirror Burnham was going to help him, and now, he predicts, so will Prime Burnham. He’s still on some obsession with Burnham that is getting more and more disturbing. After a minute, Georgiou has enough of his blather and heads off for a showdown.

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Michelle Yeoh continues to slay as the Emperor. She is imperious, stern, with the slightest touch of humanity, just enough to make you believe it. Her performance walks the edge of orientalist stereotyping — the shadow of the Ming the Merciless villain threatens — but never goes there. She remains a particular, complex character who isn’t a villain, just a mirror. And because Yeoh is Yeoh, we get to have some of the best fight scenes ever in a Star Trek show.

The two sides meet in a dark hallway, all hallways in the MIrror are dark. To set it off, Lorca calls the Emperor “Pippa”. She gives him a perfect “I’m a fuck you up” look and they’re at it. Laser blasts flying, bodies burning up. The tension is good and the resolution keeps the energy of the fight running through the rest of the episode. These two are playing for keeps.

Burnham Needs Help

Forgotten, or at the bottom of everyone’s to do list, is Burnham, who’s trying to get a hold of Saru. I often think that actors are at their best when they’re acting alone, with no one else to play off of. That’s definitely true of Martin-Green, who with only her tone of voice and her facial expressions can convey such a sense of loss, of despair, that it touches you. Her making this interstellar phone call to crew displays that skill to the nines.

Really nice Jeffries Tubes on this ship.

Once Saru picks up the phone, Burnham explains that Lorca has played them all for fools. She advises the Discovery to run for it. They can’t do that because 1) Saru won’t leave her. He’s got a heart of Starfleet. And 2) if they run for it, the mushrooms will die and they’ll die anyways. So, what to do?
Burnham has to drop the Charon’s containment field so the Discovery can blow up their reactor core. No worries. She’ll call when she’s in place. She got this.


With Stamets now to listen, Lorca is on his destiny bullshit. Stamets doesn’t believe in anything, so he doesn’t give Lorca the feedback he’s looking for. No matter. Stamets isn’t long for the rebel crew no way. Lorca reveals the This Conversation Is Over Pit, where Emperors drop folks who have fallen out of favor through the floor of the throne room directly into the reactor core. He doesn’t use it, but that’ll be important later. Pro Tip: Always know where this Pit is friends.

With Mirror Stamets dead, Lorca is on his all ship communication tip, trying to sweet talk Burnham into coming in and being his right hand girl again. Now, I use the word “girl” here on purpose — Lorca doesn’t think of Burnham as an equal. She’s his tool. He used Mirror Burnham to get to the Emperor, he used Prime Burnham to get back to his universe. There’s no telling what he’ll use Prime Burnham for if he gets her, but we know it won’t be good. We know our Burnham ain’t having it. She’d have been happy in her prison cell, you think she’s going to settle for this bullshit? Nah.

Really, Lorca’s trying to hold Burnham in place so Landry can get the drop on her. That’s another Nah.

Burnham continues to capitalize on her knowledge of Georgiou to find her in her ready room and hash this out. Together the two women get in their feelings about their lost loved ones. It is a good scene because it is emotional without being messy, weepy, or stereotypically “feminine”.

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It is two women who aren’t friends agreeing on some common terms to go forward with, based in their shared loss and their shared needs. They may not agree on many things, but they do agree that their fate is in their own hands, not in the hands of Destiny. They also agree that Gabriel Lorca has to die.

The Discovery Crew Steps Up

One of my primary complaints about Disco has been that the bridge crew of the ship has been almost non-existent in the plot. In the next set of scenes, they finally change that as every member of that staff speaks up and together they solve the problems of how to blow up the Charon. Every one of them finally gets a line, and they talk to each other, not just the captain or principle actor in the scene. It is great; I’d love to see more of it. I’m sure these characters all have personalities and backstories. Maybe one day we’ll get to know them.

But even as they problem solve, it becomes clear that they may not make it out alive.

Saru stops acting as captain, puts on his big boots, steps forward and becomes Captain for real.

He delivers one hell of a speech in the long tradition of Starfleet captains handing out hope in the face of certain death. In the end he says: We will not accept a no-win scenario.
That my friends is your Star Trek: Wrath of Khan reference of the day.

Kobayashi Saru

Burnham and Georgiou turn up in the throne room in full surrender mode. We know that’s not why they’re there. Lorca suspects that’s not what’s really going on, but he’s got his head so full of Destiny he doesn’t start killing folks right off. His mistake. They talk. Burnham gets in his head and convinces him that she’ll stay as his advisor if he spares the crew of the Discovery. She even makes those alligator tears well up in her eyes. I’d have fallen for it.

On the Discovery, Tilly has gone full genius mode along with Stamets. They figure out a way to survive the explosion of the reactor core and to “ride” the mycelial shockwaves not only away from the blast, but straight into their own universe. It is a great stroke with Tilly completely out of her Mirror self and fully into her geeky, curly-haired reality.

Never accept the no-win scenario.

Lorca calls the Discovery to gloat about how merciful he’s being by letting them go today. Saru refuses to fall for the bullshit a second time and gets confirmation from Burnham, who says, and this is important: “I’m in my place.” That’s the code so Saru knows she’s about to set that shit off.

Cue the best fight hand-to-hand fight in Star Trek, as Burnham and Georgiou work their way up the throne room smashing through soldiers with that the tag team, slow deadly walk up a long hallway action. Georgiou is empty handed. Burnham has a pipe (where the hell did she get a pipe?). They are brutal until finally, it is little boss, big boss time with Burnham on Landry and Georgiou on Lorca. This is no Hong Kong action flick, but Yeoh still has the kicks and bends that show you how good she can be.

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Together the two women fight their way to Lorca and shut down his plans with a great show ender. Remember the End of Conversation pit? Yeah.

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Even with Lorca dead, Georgiou knows she’s not emperor any more. She’s been shown to be weak. She heads down to face the still rebellious crew as Burnham lowers the containment field and makes contact with the Disco. That’s a great place to end it. But that’s not where it ends.

Back Home?

Yeah, that’s not where it ends. Burnham in a fit of sentimentality that would make Sarek spit, beams Georgiou onto the Disco with her!
The Disco does indeed ride the spore wave out on some good special effects, the iron will of Stamets, and the haunting strains of Hugh Culber’s favorite opera.

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Do they make it home?
Is everything alright?
Is it ever?


What’s next? They made it home but things have changed. What are they going to do now?
Lorca is dead, so that’s good. But they’ve got a pissed off Georgiou. Culber is still dead (TBH, I’m losing faith that he’s coming back). L’Rell is chewing nails in the brig and Voq/Ash? Who can say?

No Voq/Ash and L’Rell this episode, which is probably for the better. That plot line needs a minute to sit down and chill. It will have to continue to weave with the larger story. An important point, brought to my attention by one of my readers — while Voq may have been delivered to his lover/right hand assassin L’Rell for healing, Ash (the mental construct of him anyway) was delivered to his rapist and torturer. I am curious to see if and how the series handles this dual relationship as we go into the end of the season. Will some part of Voq still hate and fear L’Rell, even as some part of Ash was drawn to her? Will we have some deeper expression of regret from L’Rell? Does it matter? What’s up with him anyway? Is he now all one, or all the other? Or someone else entirely?

How do the Klingons now figure in this new setting? What does Georgiou do? I got questions, folks. Lots of them. And I haven’t forgotten the most important question of all.


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  • L.E.H. Light


    Editor, Writer, Critic, Baker. Outspoken Mother. Lifelong fan of sci fi/fantasy books in all their variety. Knows a lot about very few things. She/Her/They.

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