Back from its mid-season break, Star Trek: Discovery had a comparably strong showing on January 7th. Longtime Trek fans were treated to another tip of the hat to franchise history, viewers got to see actors playing against established type, and the U.S.S. Discovery lost its Chief Medical Officer. This was a high-stakes episode, as you might expect from a mid-season premiere, and, although some revelations were hinted at, we viewers are almost as stuck in the weeds of supposition after Despite Yourself as we were before the break.
Star Trek: Discovery – Despite Yourself – Gabe Lorca and the Reflections
One pre-break rumour was confirmed on the 7th: Discovery is stranded in a parallel universe. And, the parallel universe that the ship and crew are stuck in bears a striking resemblance to the Mirror Universe featured in previous iterations of Star Trek dating back to the original series. The key indicator of Discovery’s whereabouts is the dominance of the brutal Terran Empire, an oppressive and racist regime that subjugates every planet its tentacles touch. The Terran Empire acts as a polar opposite to Star Trek’s familiar United Federation of Planets that helps govern its member worlds fairly and respectfully.
One fan rumour that has yet to be confirmed is that Captain Lorca is actually from the Mirror Universe. The records that Burnham finds show that, following an unsuccessful assassination attempt by the Mirror Universe’s version of Michael Burnham, Lorca went missing. So, it’s possible that Lorca escaped his assassination by hopping realities, out of the Mirror Universe and into what Trek fans call the prime universe. Considering Lorca’s recently revealed mental instability and sometimes questionable morals, it makes this reviewer wonder …
Star Trek: Discovery – Despite Yourself – The Kiss of Death
Fans and the media made a pretty big deal out of Dr. Culber and Lt. Stamets’s onscreen smooch. My critique that Discovery’s creative team should have developed this relationship by first developing the characters into people that viewers know and like, or at least know, now seems like a moot point. Instead of developing Culber in any meaningful way, Discovery instead used him as cannon fodder so that the show could pursue a double, or possibly a triple, agent story-line.
Star Trek: Discovery – Despite Yourself – Lt. T’Kuyler? Lt. Voq?
Although the biggest shock in “Despite Yourself” was probably Lt. Tyler murdering Dr. Culber, viewers also got a hint about what might be going on between Tyler and L’Rell. Tyler’s true motivations remain a mystery, but he appears to be some kind of Klingon sleeper agent in the middle of an existential crisis. Whether he’s a brainwashed Tyler, a surgically altered Klingon, or something else entirely remains to be seen.
My pet theory, based largely on Tyler’s pronunciation of Klingon, is that he’s actually a surgically altered T’Kuvma who somehow survived his encounter with the business end of Burnham’s phaser set to kill. Based on the fact that we know L’Rell and the albino Klingon Voq are working together, though, it’s probably more likely that Tyler is a surgically altered Voq.
Star Trek: Discovery – Despite Yourself – “I got top marks at the Vulcan Murder Academy.”
This brings me to another point: for all of her play-acting at advanced morality, Burnham has quite a violent streak. Burnham’s personal murder victim list includes Rejac (the Klingon Torchbearer), T’Kuvma (probably), and most recently the Mirror Universe version of one of her shipmates from the U.S.S. Discovery, Danby Connor.
I understand that the stakes are high in this episode: Lorca’s pep talk to his crew immediately before transporting to the I.S.S. Shenzhou drove home that the Mirror Universe is full of baddies. But, surely Burnham could have at least tried using the old Vulcan neck pinch prior to stabbing Connor to death during their turbolift ride.
Would not killing Connor have blown her cover? I guess that’s possible, but it seems to me that a Starfleet officer, even a disgraced mutineer, should be able to preserve lives without blowing her cover. Sure, Burnham murders Connor in an attempt to defend her own life, but you don’t stab a mad dog to death because it bites you. You treat the dog, which is exactly what Captain Kirk did when he encountered mirror-Spock back in the original Mirror Universe episode “Mirror, Mirror.” Kirk’s parting words are incendiary and hopeful: “In every revolution, there’s one man with a vision.”
Star Trek: Discovery – Despite Yourself – Spock the Reformer
This incendiary hope catches on in the Mirror Universe. After rising through the ranks to become the Commander in Chief of the Terran Empire, Mirror-Spock uses his influence to reform Terran tyranny, laying the groundwork for a successful dissolution of the Empire.
In subsequent Mirror Universe episodes, which I grant are set long after the events portrayed in “Despite Yourself,” Mirror Universe inhabitants are depicted as regular people, with admittedly heightened personalities, who were born into brutally oppressive surroundings. In other words, the inhabitants of the Mirror Universe aren’t evil; they’re products of their environment.
All this to say that when Burnham murdered mirror-Connor, the crime wasn’t somehow lessened by the fact that she killed mirror-Connor and not Connor-prime. Mirror-Connor is just a different version of Burnham’s crew mate, and he should be offered the same level of mercy and sympathy that any inhabitant of the prime timeline is. Burnham’s bloodthirsty outburst was surprising and dramatic but not in keeping with her professed moral superiority or that of the Federation.
Star Trek: Discovery – Despite Yourself – Commander Frakes
Narrative idiosyncracies notwithstanding, this was a fun episode to watch. It featured lots of action and plot development. I take my prosthetic forehead ridges off for Cmdr. William Thomas Thelonius Riker himself, Jonathan Frakes, who directed this entertaining chapter of Discovery’s first season. Unlike some early episodes that barely stayed afloat, I’m thinking “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad” which managed a whimpering cross over the finish line after 45 minutes of ill-conceived execution, “Despite Yourself” proved capable of weaving disparate plot elements together in a meaningful and entertaining way.
Let’s hope Mr. Frakes can direct a few more. His dedication to the source material mixed with his sense of drama combine to make great episodes. I’d also really like to see him reprise the dashing role I remember him for, but time and money will tell if Trek fans get to see that.
Star Trek: Discovery - Despite Yourself
Good showing with good elements, but execution was still a bit rocky. Character motivations are getting clearer as the show progresses, but problems with the core philosophy of the show continue to mount.