“Well, there’s me hoping I’d find a better version of myself over here.” -Lorca
Previously on Star Trek: Discovery: Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) stealthed her way onto the Klingon Ship of the Dead and found an only mostly dead Cornwell (Jayne Brook), fought Kol (Kenneth Mitchell) as he monologued evilly before she left him to die, Tyler (Shazad Latif) took one look at L’Rell (Mary Chieffo) and fell spectacularly apart, Lorca (Jason Isaacs) walked dramatically away from the Klingon ship’s explosion and asked for just ONE MORE SPORE JUMP, which Stamets (Anthony Rapp) tried to deliver before he wandered into the forest of his mind and got stuck despite Dr. Culber (Wilson Cruz) trying to guide him out, and Discovery fell into an unknown universe as Saru (Doug Jones) pressed a lot of buttons and looked damned confused.
Saru is still damn confused, and no matter how much he bangs his display screen he can’t make any of the information it’s sending him make sense. He’s also a bit distracted because his threat ganglia is doing some seriously ominous foreshadowing as Tyler walks onto the bridge looking like he’s an inch from throwing up.
A Vulcan ship shows up and everyone on the bridge breathes a sigh of relief because Vulcans are awesome! Everyone loves Vulcans and if there’s one thing Starfleet can always count on it’s that the Vulcans will always have their back… wait a second what’s happening!? Why are our friends being mean!? Nothing is more disorienting for a Starfleet crew than Vulcans that are shooting at them instead of mentoring them into sucking less as people.
Luckily, Discovery is saved from the mean Vulcans by the Cooper, and the Cooper wants to know why the eff Discovery isn’t blasting Vulcan rebels out of the sky like they’re supposed to be doing. Burnham sounds out the phrase “Vulcan… rebels?” like it’s in a foreign language she hasn’t learned yet. Like always, when Lorca is backed into a corner he immediately wonders how he can use the spore drive to drag him out of the fire, but Stamets is straight up catatonic. Sadly for Lorca, strapping Stamets’ unconscious filmy-eyed body into the spore drive is not something Culber and Tilly (Mary Wiseman) are going to let him do. But we all know he would.
Saru has finally wrested some answers from his damn computer and the computer is telling him that everything has the wrong quantum signature, leading Burnham and Lorca to declare dramatically that *gasp* MAYBE the Discovery is in some sort of parallel universe. Maybe one that’s like, some sort of mirror to our own! Tyler lurks in the darkness looking shifty af and tries not to spill his cookies and ruin the tense close ups of the bridge crew all going, “sayyyyyy WHATTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTT!?”
Lorca is walking Saru and Burnham through his super cool map of the mycelium network and insisting that whooooooooooooooooooooppppssss neither Stamets or Lorca meant to make it into this weird parallel universe. Burnham wants to examine the logs of the spore jumps for possible clues as to what Stamets did to bring them here, but Lorca is like, “oh no no no no no, no need to do any of that, no information to be found there.” He’s so good at manipulation it’s mind boggling. The man is an evil wizard of making people do what he wants them to do while whistling Dixie. Honestly, if Lorca showed up in the next episode rocking a cape I would find myself nodding and thinking, “yeah that seems right”.
In sickbay, Tilly is trying out the time honored technique of annoying your boss until he snaps out of his coma to yell at you, which is just about the most Tilly thing to do. It doesn’t really work, but Stamets does manage to stand up to wander around and throw Culber across the room like Space Hulk. It’s tough to watch Culber tuck his #SpaceBoo into bed and then have to wall him off for everyone’s safety. Tilly tries to apologize for keeping Stamets’ condition a secret, which yeah, she shouldn’t have done, but Culber rightly points out that Stamets made that choice himself as her superior officer.
Lorca strolls in, and honestly he’s lucky Culber doesn’t scratch out his eyes. He asks for an update on Stamets’ condition and it is… not good. He’s delusional, wandering around, getting spikes of Hulk-like strength, it’s all bad news. Lorca freely admits that this shitshow is his fault. Culber is just glad that now that Stamets is laid out on a slab in sickbay, his well-being is in #SpaceBoo’s hands and not the dude who thinks you should eat fortune cookies by grinding them into angry dust first.
Unfortunately, Lorca suddenly cares about emotional objectivity and wants to pull Culber off the case. Culber is PISSED, but Lorca calmly does whatever the fuck he wants. As always. The man is a shining beacon of doing whatever the fuck you want, regardless of how other people feel about it or what the consequences of your actions are.
Tyler is in a shuttle and he’s off to the destroyed Klingon ships to mine them for data on the universe they’ve all been dropped into. Because this dude is hanging on by the frailest of threads, seeing bodies in space triggers him into another PTSD episode. Burnham’s voice and Lorca’s impatience pushes him through it and he manages to complete his mission despite how unstable he is. Burnham can tell something is up, but she demurs when Lorca calls her out on being afraid for her lover’s safety.
Tyler goes to confront L’Rell again, and it goes even more poorly than the last time, which is hard to imagine! They have a very disjointed conversation that references Tyler’s rape at the hands of L’Rell, as well as his various suspicious surgeries. Tyler lets L’Rell out of her cell and has trouble deciding whether to choke her or kiss her. It is extremely disturbing.
After a load of ponderous Klingon, it has become EVEN MORE OBVIOUS that Tyler has to be Voq, though neither of them say the name out loud. Unfortunately for L’Rell, her trigger phrase hasn’t completely worked. Tyler hasn’t snapped back to his Voq personality the way he’s supposed to, he’s just losing his shit, understandably so. Tyler locks L’Rell back in her cell and runs the fuck away.
Tyler has ended up in the cafeteria to process his feelings, which is probably where I’d end up too, though I’d probably be running up to the replicator and screaming WHISKEY at it until I end up drinking it straight from the bottle. Burnham joins him to confront him over his episode in the shuttle. Tyler admits that he’s still having flashbacks, but begs Burnham to let him handle them himself, and not tell anyone else. Burnham inexplicably agrees to this. Tyler then shows us the epitome of “I’m FINE” by breaking a glass and getting blood all over his hands.
The number of emotionally compromised people on this show has reached staggering levels. Everybody is covering for everyone else because of their personal feelings and relationships. Cornwell ignored Lorca’s increasingly frayed mental state until him literally pulling a gun on her during an episode meant she couldn’t anymore. Tilly hid Stamets’ deterioration because she loves his grumpy ass. Burnham, dazed by this new emotion that she has decided to call love, is letting Tyler run amok during sensitive missions. It’s a mess, guys, a serious mess. There’s a reason for all of these rules and regulations, and it’s to guide crew members through situations where they may not be thinking clearly.
The biggest breakthrough I ever had regarding my mental health was the moment I realized that it wasn’t something I could fix alone. You can want desperately to be in a good place, but usually all that happens is you put a band-aid over your gaping wounds and a smiling mask on your face before subjecting yourself to feelings of shame and guilt because you couldn’t “just do it”. No one would expect someone to cure their own cancer through strength of will alone, but somehow we keep expecting that mental illness is somehow going to disappear just because we want it to.
This is the equivalent of Tyler having a broken leg and thinking that he can still run a marathon without help. For Tyler, it’s understandable because his brain is literally not equipped to make good decisions right now. But Burnham? C’mon Burnham. Letting someone you care about injure themselves further because you don’t want to tell them no is not love, it’s enabling. Sometimes it is really hard to tell the difference and Burnham is new at this whole “feeling emotions” thing, so. But still. C’mon Burnham. Search your Vulcan feelings. You know it to be true.
Burnham and Tilly are examining the Klingon data core, which phew, at the very least doesn’t have any Apple-like compatibility issues. Now that’s the kind of universal adapter I wish we had in our world when I’m trying to run iTunes on Windows.
They discuss how much they miss Stamets and his resting bitch face, and let’s face it, everyone else does too. Tilly says that Stamets HAS to get better, and I’ll tell you, if it WAS possible to make someone better through sheer force of will, these two ladies would have Stamets up and back to snarking at everyone yesterday.
Burnham gathers the team and briefs them on the hellhole they’ve fallen into, ruled by the Terran Empire, a bunch of xenophobic assholes who have turned the galaxy into an awful place that pits humans against basically everyone else. A humanity that is defined by hatred for the “other”, a humanity that has not gotten to the Federation, but has instead fallen to fascist racism is a reality that I really don’t want to ever face. We can do better, guys. We have to do better than this. We can, and we will.
Saru lets everyone know that he checked his computer and it looks like they might not have just fallen into the universe, they might have actually switched places with an evil Discovery. Sigh. So many problems, so little time to deal with any of them, because the Cooper is back and hailing them rather insistently. Lorca is about to take the call, when Burnham screeches them to a halt to alert them to the fact that evil Discovery is manned by CAPTAIN MIRROR TILLY. Everyone’s reaction to this is goddamn delightful. I died laughing at Tilly’s “oh shit” face. You can basically see her internal monologue of “oh no, That’s too much responsibility. I gotta find a way out of this.”
Lorca puts Tilly into the Captain chair and tries to give her a crash course in living in a field completely barren of fucks. Her attempt at not being… well, Tilly, is HILARIOUS, including her trying to sound like a badass by screeching “What the heck!” as Detmer (Emily Coutts) gives her a WTF double take that is sheer art.
Tilly is Tilly though, so she doesn’t give up, telling the Cooper that Discovery is still hanging around because of mechanical issues, and um, yeah some more mechanical issues. She throws Lorca onto the conference call where he pulls a Scottish accent out of his taut ass and channels Scotty while warbling about their various very convincing mechanical issues. Everything about this scene is pure gold, but probably my favorite part is when Detmer and Owosekun (Oyin Oladejo) share a wordless look that convey multitudes about how hilarious they find it that Lorca is suddenly Scottish and also about what BFFs they clearly are.
Now that the Cooper is safely away, the crew of the Discovery throws themselves into cosplaying their mirror counterparts, changing the ship, the uniforms, the Looks™ etc. as Tilly gets a crash course in her other self, who apparently stabs flu-stricken lovers in bed and has a plethora of nicknames even more badass than The Mutineer, although for the rest of the episode I will definitely be calling her “Captain Killy”. It may not be as clever as Saru wants it to be, but it’s also one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard. All hail Captain Killy, first of her name!
Burnham has finally found out what evil Burnham and um… evil Lorca have been up to in the Mirror Universe and apparently it is a story that involves rebellion, betrayal and murder, and really I don’t know how you could expect anything different out of these two. Lorca apparently tried to overthrow the faceless Emperor and Burnham stopped him, but not before he murdered her and then went on the run as a fugitive in the galaxy. On the run, hmm? I wonder where Mirror Lorca has been hiding from an entire Empire that wants to capture him?
Lorca’s eyebrows do some interesting things, and he sighs and says that he’d been hoping to find a better version of himself in the Mirror Universe and… that is VERY INTRIGUING THING TO SAY. If we take it at face value, it implies that Lorca kind of hates himself, which tracks tremendously for me, but also that he hates himself so much he was hoping that he’d actually be a better person in a fascistic evil universe? What in the what? And if we don’t take it at face value? Hmm. I have many thoughts about this line.
They look out over the Mirror Universe and contemplate destiny. Lorca apparently believes in it, that some people are destined for more. Shocking no one, Burnham is more pragmatic. People made choices to get her where she is. They also muse over who the Emperor might be, and I’m pretty pumped to find out, to be honest.
Lorca puts together an extremely complex plan for getting home, which consists of Burnham and Lorca pretending to be the Mirror Universe selves and sneaking onto the Mirror Shenzhou to find out more about the Defiant and how it apparently managed to defy both time and physics to find itself in this universe at this time. Lorca thinks maybe they can cobble together enough information on how the Defiant did this without a spore drive. Saru thinks it’s a crap plan, and so do I, but we all know that Lorca gets what he wants.
Tyler will also be going as Burnham’s bodyguard and he looks totally stable, sitting there, eyes alternatively glazed over and shifty, not to mention how sweaty he is. I’m going to give everyone the benefit of the doubt that they’re understandably distracted by their sudden appearance in a new universe, because honestly Tyler has spent this whole episode wild-eyed and ready to puke on everyone and APPARENTLY NO ONE NOTICES.
Tyler goes to see Dr. Culber and is like, “Um, are there tests to see if I’m actually a brainwashed Klingon? Maybe it’s just standard PTSD symptoms brought on by close proximity to my rapist, but either way, everything’s totally cool man, but yeah if you could check and see if I am who I say I am that’d be great.”
I legit don’t know how Culber doesn’t immediately 1) remove this sweaty dude from active duty 2) admit him into the hospital and call a mental health professional. Everything about Tyler, from his physical appearance, to his disjointed talking and anxious affect is SCREAMING that he is in crisis. It’s like watching a slow motion car crash.
It is difficult to watch Tyler struggle like this. He is trying so so so hard to be okay for the people that he cares about and not be a burden, to be useful to them in this very tense situation. It is extremely relatable, but also heartbreaking because mentally ill people do this to themselves and their loved ones all the time. It’s not weak to admit you need help, and it is definitely not weak to recognize the limits of what you can handle. But we sure have taught people that it is.
Culber agrees to do some scans for Tyler and Stamets reacts by screaming, “stay out of the palace!” When Culber goes to comfort him and assure them that he’s not going anywhere, Stamets goes clear-eyed for one heart-stopping moment before warning Culber that “the enemy is here”.
Captain Killy is just about ready to report for duty and she is looking FIERCE. She looks into the mirror version of herself and it’s like all of her dreams and all of her nightmares all at once. Tilly is nervous about projecting Captain Killy’s strength, but Burnham points out to her that the Terran strength is an illusion, like a reflection in a glass, like shadows in the water. It’s a mask used to cover the fact that Terrans spend their whole lives alone and terrified of each other, working to maintain the deception that they are in control. It’s brittle. The strength of Tilly is constant, forged with love and friendship and curiosity. She can totally do this.
Lorca comes into the room wearing leather, and I slowly slide down my seat into a puddle on the floor. I don’t know what’s hotter, Lorca in black leather or Tilly putting on a fierce domme persona. Either way, my brain has turned to mush.
Tilly’s version of Captain Killy is hilariously extra and bloodthirsty, and her opening salvo to Captain Mirror Connor (Sam Vartholomeos) is how much she likes to bathe in the blood of her enemies. I mean, who doesn’t, really? She tells Connor (hey boy, heyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy) that she found something interestingggggggggggggggggggggggg. Hiding just outside and ready to hit their mark, Lorca beats his head bloody against a wall without blinking, because apparently we needed the reminder that he’s a stone cold badass with a spine made of vibranium.
They play out a scene for Connor and I wish I could describe it with something more than incoherent shrieking noises. Between Burnham petting a leather-clad Lorca on his knees, both Tilly and Burnham talking in a lower pitch while purring things like, “I don’t need your compliments, Connor” and “I’d cut out your tongue and use it to lick my boots” the whole thing reduced my brain to white noise. It’s super effective. I barely maintained consciousness.
Culber has brought Tyler in for his follow up appointment, and yep, yep, the Klingons did a lot of shady shit to Tyler both mentally and physically. They cut him open. To the bone. They also apparently placed a new personality on top of his native personality. It is awful. I cannot fathom the pain. Tyler predictably flips out, crying to Culber that the crew needs him, but Culber is not having it and is finally ready to be the one to pull Tyler out of the game. Tyler hears L’Rell’s voice speaking Klingon in his head and he snaps Culber’s neck.
I have so many complicated feelings about this that I have decided to write a separate blog post to cover them all. For now, I will say that I was not pleased. They killed a gay person of color to further the plot of a straight man, within eyesight of his comatose lover. There are a lot of layers here, from further behind the scenes statements from actors and producers, possible retcons or scifi fix-its, storytelling tropes surrounding queer represenation, and a much larger conversation about how Discovery is handling serial storylines and I promise you all I will explore them thoroughly and thoughtfully, but if I did it here this post would be 25% recap, 75% me processing my emotional reaction to this scene.
Lorca prepares to beam over to the Shenzhou, while Tilly puts him in handcuffs. *shiver* He gives his final orders and a salute to Captain Killy. There’s a lovely moment where she tells him she won’t let him down, and he says, “I know you won’t.” Burnham is also pretty ready to go and in walks Tyler, still sweaty, still disheveled, still straight up admitting to gaps in his memory, and still everyone goes, “yeah cool” and off they transport. Guys. GUYS. *facepalm*
They transport to the Shenzhou where Connor smiles and plots. Burnham is unimpressed. She’ll keep control of this situation and her important prisoner, THANK YOU VERY MUCH. We get to the agonizer booth room and everybody gets to be tense and yell at each other while a bunch a people wail in pain during torture. Ahhhhhhh the soothing and dulcet ambiance of constant agony.
Mirror Connor and Burnham head to an elevator so Burnham can get to the bridge and start trying to find the data she needs. Connor is reminiscing about his rise to power, how much the Emperor loves him, how the crew didn’t bow and scrape enough to his glory. Burnham is just sitting there like, “did I really just trap myself in a tiny space with this obviously murdery motherfucker?” Yes, Burnham, you did.
It’s okay though, because Connor makes his move and they have a brief but furious fight for control. It is pretty damn awesome. Burnham comes out on top, and manages to stab Connor just in time for her to make just about the best entrance onto a Mirror Universe bridge you could get, namely dropping a dead body you just stabbed at everyone’s feet. The Mirror Crew applauds her feats of violence, escort her to the Captain’s chair, and chant “LONG LIVE CAPTAIN BURNHAM”. Yikes.
Burnham makes it to her evil Ready Room, which is still less creepy than Lorca’s Serial Killer Ready Room, where Tyler is the one lurking in the darkness. She starts taking off her extremely uncomfortable Mirror costume (where are the crop tops when you need them) and Tyler tells her that no matter what Burnham does, no matter how she changes, no matter anything, he will always protect her. Burnham holds her broken, tortured boyfriend her arms and tells him she feels the same way.
Our last shot is Lorca, being tortured by the agonizer, eyes bulging, screams ringing out. Ouch.
So this episode. I mostly enjoyed this episode. My anger over the event-that-shall-not-be-named notwithstanding, there were a lot of things that worked for me. A lot of the themes about mental health, about confronting your own weaknesses, and the importance of honesty with those you care about paid off here. Tone-wise, they also did a fair job of interspersing much-needed humor amongst the darkness, Captain Killy being the obvious high point. Even though some of the more obvious fan theories are coming to fruition rather predictably, I still care immensely about the characters and want to see what will happen to them all.
It is unfortunate that an episode that I liked was overshadowed so intensely by my emotional reaction to the death of Dr. Culber. His death has already created a lot of intense fan reaction, and then because this is the internet, reaction about the fan reaction. Try to remember that not everyone is going to feel the same way and respect what others might be feeling regardless if it matches with your personal feelings or not. I’ll see you all next week and we’ll find out where Discovery takes us from here.