“Rules are for admirals and back offices. I’m out there trying to win a war.” -Lorca
Previously on Star Trek: Discovery: Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) fought Saru (Doug Jones) and won, with the stakes being nothing less than their friendship, the life of Fluffy, and the soul of Discovery, Stamets (Anthony Rapp) decided that the missing link in his DNA was mycelium, Culber (Wilson Cruz) despaired because he managed to fall in love with a maniacal mushroom scientist with a really sinister reflection, Tilly (Mary Wiseman) tried to get Burnham to sing Disney songs about her feelings with some results, Admiral Cornwell (Jayne Brook) tried to get Lorca to stop being a creep, with no result, Lorca (Jason Isaacs) went to Klingon Alcatraz and managed to make a new and not at all suspicious friend (Shazad Latif), before they managed to leave behind some pissed off enemies vowing eternal revenge, including slimy newlywed conman Mudd (Rainn Wilson) and L’Rell, (Mary Chieffo) who is about to rock a badass new facial scar.
We open on the gorgeous skyline of Vulcan, my favorite planet ever, with the prettiest matte paintings. Sarek (James Frain) and a shady random stroll onto a ship and off to a mysterious mission. It makes me sad that Sarek can’t hear my screeching because that random clearly hates his guts and he apparently can’t even tell. Why will no one listen to my warnings right through the television? We would avert so many problems.
Burnham has apparently enrolled Tilly into the Burnham School for Wayward Cadets and the first thing she does is force Tilly to run. Tilly reacts much the way I would, with a lot of whining. Burnham reminds her that Tilly wanted her advice on how to get to be captain and her first lesson is to run until she wants to throw up her lungs. Gross.
Lorca and Tyler are also bonding, but over shooting Klingons in the face (kind of their specialty) and rehashing Tyler’s background and various traumas. Lorca is clearly probing Tyler’s backstory for holes, as well as testing his Starfleet training. I gotta say, if Tyler is a spy he is a damn good one. He is definitely selling an extremely competent and slightly wounded Starfleet Lieutenant from Seattle. Lorca is buying it, wholesale.
Lorca then offers Tyler a job on Team War, because yeah. Really, why wouldn’t you offer a guy you met randomly in a Klingon space jail under extremely fishy circumstances a job that would have him oversee the safety of your entire ship? Lorca apparently can’t hear my panicked wailing as he claps his new War Bro on the back. Cue a Klingon side-eye because basically everyone in this episode is suspicious and/or hiding something.
Speaking of dudes who won’t listen to my warnings, Sarek finally starts to get suspicious of Shady Random when they don’t drop out of warp when they’re supposed to. Shady Random injects himself with something and starts to glow, slowly burning up from the inside while he calmly explains that humans are inferior and that the Federation is a big ol’ mistake. Sarek calls him a “logic extremist” which I find delightful. Any ideology can be stretched to fanaticism and be a motivation for immoral if not necessarily illogical acts. I hope they explore these logic terrorists more because I find them… *Vulcan eyebrow* fascinating. In the meantime, the Vulcan terrorist blows up and Sarek manages to save himself but not his ship, which crashes, if you can call it crashing when it just kind of floats in space.
Back at Burnham’s School for Wayward Cadets, Tilly is having the worst day. First she had to run, and now Burnham is forcing her to eat a healthy breakfast burrito. The computer approves, and c’mon, if they gave me a replicator that told me how healthy or unhealthy all my food was I would be so sad, and searching for a way to turn that shit off. You don’t think I know I shouldn’t be eating a giant cheeseburger after I swim? I know, okay? I know.
Tilly is excited because there’s a new cute guy in the cafeteria, the swoonworthy POW from Seattle who fights like a Klingon and has dreamy bangs that fall into his eyes to be strategically adorable. Tilly introduces her and Burnham and Tyler makes a point of shaking The Mutineer’s hand while spouting philosophy about living in the now. His perfection is extremely suspicious, just saying. Burnham starts to be charmed but is interrupted by her link to Sarek going haywire.
She’s transported to an old and unpleasant memory of the day she didn’t get into Vulcan Expeditionary Group. Amanda Grayson (Mia Kirshner) is doing what Amanda Grayson does best, which is sheltering her human (or half-human) children from the harshness of a Vulcan society that doesn’t totally accept them. Memory Michael just wants to go home, as she just had her dreams crushed, and Sarek just wants everyone to chill out and stop emoting.
He spots real Michael and tells her to “GET OUT MY BRAIN!”
Michael wakes up in sick bay surrounded by a baffled Culber, a worried Tilly, and a Lorca who just wants to know, “What the fuck?” Burnham reveals that she and Sarek share a katra, which allows them to do person-to-person calling when either of them is severely distressed. She explains that she was Sarek’s grand experiment in proving that humans had the potential to be as logical as the Vulcans. The logic extremists really didn’t like that, so they did what all terrorists do when they don’t like something; they bombed the shit out of Burnham and the Vulcan Learning Center. To save her life Sarek grafted his katra into her to help her heal, because she was only mostly dead, not all dead. Burnham asks Lorca to help her find Sarek.
Lorca calls Starfleet command, to confirm that Michael hasn’t just had a really weird breakdown, and a Vulcan admiral confirms that yes, Sarek disappeared while on his way to a peace mission with some of the out of favor Klingon houses. They picked Sarek because of his awesome diplomatic skills and ability to talk sense to people who haven’t learned the beauty of logic yet.
The Vulcan Admiral tells Lorca that Starfleet is assessing a rescue mission and Lorca is like, “Fuck that, man, I’ll go get him.” It’s honestly pretty awesome, and does show the upside of a captain like Lorca. Yeah, he might make questionable decisions sometimes but he also doesn’t waste time with bullshit when there’s stuff that needs doing. It’s also pretty interesting that he mentions that Sarek is Starfleet’s “best chance for peace”. As the leader of Team War you’d think he wouldn’t care much about that, but maybe he does? He then snacks creepily in the darkness, because even after that, he is still Lorca.
On the bridge, they’ve reached the nebula but unfortunately Saru informs everyone that the gases of the nebula are fucking with the tracking software. They run through some alternatives, which are all clearly going to take way too much time. Michael suggests using her katra-ed up brain instead.
They take the idea to Stamets who is still on a mushroom high and ready to do some mad science. It’s pretty hilarious, he actually uses the word “groovy” before he starts nerding out about the metaphysical connection of all consciousness and life. Other highlights of Mushroom Stamets is him referencing taking speed and making a blowing up sound with his mouth to describe Discovery‘s mycelium spores interacting with the nebula’s gases. His whole vibe is basically what you’d get if you got Stephen Hawking really high and sent him backstage at Phish concert.
But the upside is that Michael’s far out idea might actually work, although Stamets is impressed with Burnham’s foolish bravado. Burnham requests Tilly to work the neural enhancer and Lorca assigns dreamy Lieutenant Tyler to be her pilot.
Ok, as delightful as Mushroom Stamets is, why the fuck has no one, especially Dr. #SpaceBoo, clocked it? Stamets engaged in dangerous, untested genetic manipulation and then underwent a major personality shift. If I were Culber or even Lorca, I’d have him hooked up to so many machines trying to find the shenanigans. Sudden changes to mood are a huge symptom of a million things that could be wrong, and Stamets went from a guy whose face did nothing but throw shade, to someone who giggles and says groovy. *RED ALERT*
As Burnham and Tilly prepare the shuttle, Lorca gives Tyler his version of a shovel talk and tells him to get Burnham back in one piece or go ahead and die out there in space. At this point I can’t quite pin down his motives. Does he genuinely care about Burnham? Or does he just think she’s a more valuable asset to his mission than Tyler? It’s hard to tell, which is awesome. Keep doing you, you magnificently mysterious extra AF bastard.
Saru lets Lorca know that Cornwell has lost patience with trying to talk sense into him over hologram and has shown up to kick his ass in person. She asks pretty hard to answer questions like, “How did you manage to piss off a Vulcan?” and “Did you really let Stamets inject himself with mushroom DNA?” and “Why did you staff your mission with a shady POW and an infamous mutineer?” Lorca tells her to relax. Stamets saved the day, didn’t he? He looked at Tyler’s file and asked him some easy to answer questions so everything’s fineeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee, okay? Besides, rules are for admirals, not captains. Have some whiskey and chill out.
Burnham thinks that Sarek is dreaming of her as his greatest disappointment because she wasn’t Vulcan enough. She straps her brain into the untested tech and tells Tilly to not pull her out, because Burnham has a death wish. She heads back to Sarek’s consciousness, where Amanda is giving her ‘Alice in Wonderland‘ and reminding her that her humanity is valuable as well before going Mama Bear because the Vulcan Expeditionary Group sucks. Sarek kicks Real Burnham in the face again and Tyler orders Tilly to get Burnham out.
I myself would’ve thrown that whiskey in Lorca’s face, but Cornwell decides to try going on the universe’s weirdest date to see if the nostalgia of getting drunk with her might make Lorca reassess his bananas decisions. It doesn’t work. Lorca is still denying that he’s pushing the Discovery, the crew, and himself past his limits and he decides to distract Cornwell into getting off his metaphorical dick by you know, getting her to jump on his literal dick. It’s worrisome how effective it is.
Tyler very sensibly points out to Burnham that no one, not even Vulcans, fixates on other people’s failures in their last moments and she goes back into confront Sarek about what he’s hiding about that day. Why would he risk his life to keep this secret from her?
Well, turns out that Sarek basically had to choose which of his human children gets to go to the Vulcan rodeo and he chose Spock, completely fucking over Burnham and allowing her to think that she’s a failure. Of course, Spock got to that same point and told the Vulcans to “live long and prosper” in the bitchiest possible way so in the end Sarek’s decision ended up being even shittier. It also makes his anger when Spock chose Starfleet over the Vulcan way more understandable. Sarek’s A+ Parenting everyone, come and marvel. He should write a book. It’d be a bestseller right next to Worf’s “Guide to Being a Stellar Single Father”.
Sarek admits to his shame over this decision, but Burnham out-logics him and decides to save the emotional debrief for AFTER the rescue. Sarek teaches her how to give him a mental hit of speed and he manages to wake up and hit his transponder and Team Discovery finally rescue his stubborn Vulcan ass.
Speaking of bad calls, Cornwell is compounding her spectacularly terrible decision to sleep with her subordinate by examining some odd scars on his back while he’s sleeping. Lorca immediately makes the most common mistake that people who bang their boss make, which is to say he almost murders her with a phaser during a panic attack, allowing her to accurately diagnose the PTSD he’s been hiding and threaten to take away his ship. Hmm. Maybe that’s an experience unique to Lorca now that I’m thinking of it.
Admiral Cornwell reads Lorca to filth, and he begs her to let him keep his ship. He’ll get help, baby, he swears it. It really drives home that Lorca has inextricably linked both his identity and his stability to Discovery which is… um. Not healthy. Honestly, Isaacs sells this scene so, so well. It’s incredible. You can’t tell if this begging is more manipulation, if he honestly means it, if it’s just desperation, or what. I actually think maybe Lorca doesn’t know himself. This episode did such a great job of muddying the already opaque waters of Captain Gabriel Lorca. At first you think he’s just a pragmatic warmongering asshole, but now? Now you don’t know. Cornwell can’t tell either, and storms off (dramatically).
Burnham lets Lorca know that Sarek has survived, but there’s no way he can make his mission to negotiate with the Klingons. Lorca suggests sending Cornwell instead, and goddamn. I don’t know if Lorca wants her out of the way, or if he really thinks this is just the best decision. If Lorca wanted to save Sarek in order to gain Burnham’s loyalty, it has worked. He offers Burnham his Science Officer spot and she accepts and says she’s grateful to have Lorca as captain.
Burnham is now ready for that emotional debrief, but Sarek is super not into that. Can’t they just continue avoiding it until it ruins their relationship forever? Facing hard truths is difficult for everyone, even badass Vulcan diplomats. Burnham accepts this with a pointed, “Father” and leaves him to ponder.
Cornwell says goodbye to Lorca by letting him know that when she gets back, she’s taking his ship, basically signing her own death warrant. It’s also not clear why she wouldn’t send her report to Starfleet Command before going off on a dangerous mission.
Burnham tells Tilly that she was wrong to try and mold her into a mini-Burnham, but Tilly is mid-jog and has her eyes set on command. Burnham and Tyler bond over Burnham’s emotionally stunted Vulcan dad and sparks fly. *Dreammmmmmmmmmmmmmm weaver* plays in the background – oh wait, that might just be in my head. Burnham has started reconciling her human heart and her Vulcan head and it’s amazing to watch. Tyler reminds her that being confused as shit over how you feel about stuff is kind of the price of humanity.
Shocking approximately zero people, the Admiral’s meeting is just yet another sudden but inevitable betrayal by Kol (Kenneth Mitchell) and he didn’t even bring any bloodwine this time. Rude. She’s captured, because obviously we can’t have any high ranking women around here without them being stabbed, mauled, demoted, or captured. Kol rubs his hands together in maniacal glee.
Lorca finds out that Cornwell has been captured and decides to have Saru contact Starfleet which is a marked change from earlier when he told Admiral Vulcan to fuck himself and hared off to rescue Sarek. I’d like to think it’s a bit more complicated than him wanting the Admiral to get murdered by Klingons so he gets to keep his ship… but it’s hard to see how.
So. If last week’s episode belonged to Stamets, this week’s belonged to Lorca. He never was the most easily parsed character, but this episode deepened him in every conceivable way, giving us a glimpse at the extremely wounded dude just trying to keep himself together. It was awesome. Burnham continues to be an extremely strong foundation for the show, as we explore more and more facets of her personality and get a sense of the place she is building for herself on the ship.
At this point Discovery has given us several plot threads and mysteries to contemplate. Is Mushroom Stamets from the mirror universe or is he just high on all those sweet, sweet spores? Is Tyler really a spy? Is Tyler even HUMAN? Are Burnham and Tyler going to hook up? Will Dream Weaver play when they do? Will Lorca completely self-destruct or is he going to learn to find the light in the perpetual darkness? Are we going to get Admiral Cornwell back, or is she toast? Many, many questions, no clear answers.