Star Trek: Discovery — Episode 12 Review: Vaulting Ambition

The Mirror Universe plot line finally starts to come together when Michael meets Emperor Georgiou.

This Star Trek: Discovery review contains spoilers.

Star Trek: Discovery Episode 12

One of the main reasons why the Mirror Universe has felt somewhat hollow in previous Star Trek: Discovery episodes is that we never had a chance to get to know our universe’s versions of these characters Michael and the others are meeting.

Ensign Connor seemed like a sweet kid, but we didn’t have a particular relationship with him—he died in the Battle at the Binary Stars before we had a chance to. Michael’s subsequent interaction with his Mirror Universe version is powerful for its staging and because we care about Michael who cares about Connor, but it’s not the same thing as seeing a character you have grown to appreciate and like twisted into their Mirror Universe version.

As for Sarek, he is a character we have a much deeper connection to, both in the world of Discovery and especially in larger Star Trek canon. To see a Mirror Universe version of his character in “The Wolf Inside” should have been a moment of delight and discovery. However, while the goatee was great, the encounter was subsumed by the needs of the Voq/Tyler storyline. It was unclear how or if there were any differences between his Mirror Universe incarnation and our universe’s version.

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This is why “Vaulting Ambition” is so good. It relies on the Mirror Universe character we have come to appreciate and like, Phillipa Georgiou, and spends some time ruminating on her Mirror counterpart’s differences. Michael hasn’t just told us about Georgiou; we saw her empathy, decisiveness, and warmth in action in the show’s first two episodes. Michael didn’t just tell us about their relationship: we saw how much they cared about one another.

So when Michael meets Emperor Georgiou, it is a fascinating character study in how someone can share so many of the same qualities—a sense of honor, a love for Michael, a knack for leadership—but manifest those qualities in such different ways for such different uses. When Emperor Georgiou goes to kill Michael, it is not because she doesn’t love her. It’s because she is doing what she thinks she must to be an effective leader.

Discovery has a tendency of zigging when you expect it to zig, but this wasn’t the case with Georgiou and Michael’s interactions. At first, Michael tries to play the part of the dutiful Terran follower, but Georgiou’s not buying it. She didn’t become the leader of a massive, ambitious empire by not realizing when those around her are trying to deceive. She calls Michael out on her lies—both then, and now.

Apparently, Mirror Universe Michael, who was raised by Georgiou as a daughter, was part of Lorca’s attempted coup. When Emperor Georgiou calls Michael out on it, Michael doesn’t have an excuse. How could she? She wasn’t the person who made that decision. Georgiou is very ready to assassinate her own, treacherous daughter, when Michael tries something bold: she tells the truth. She’s not the woman who betrayed her; she’s from another universe.

Discovery makes the best possible decisions when it comes to Emperor Georgiou’s character. This woman is so smart, in a way you would expect from the leader of the Terran Empire. She is good at identifying something or someone she can use, and Michael fits the bill. Georgiou has studied the records of the U.S.S. Defiant, and she quickly realizes that the U.S.S. Discovery has a technology she can use.

Bafflingly, Michael seems willing to trade the schematics of the spore drive for her freedom. This seems like a terrible idea. The Terran Empire, like all empires, is built on the necessity of expansion. It must conquer to fuel its insatiable hunger. Emperor Georgiou has seemingly conquered everything there is to conquer in the Mirror Universe. Imagine what she could and would do if she had access to other universes?

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Discovery is laying the groundwork for this expansion with the introduction of Mirror Universe Stamets, who our Stamets meets while hanging in the mycelial network. The other Stamets has been working on harnessing the power of the mycelial network, too, but, unlike our Stamets, he has none of the same ethical and moral qualms. When our Stamets ends up in the mycelial network whilst in a coma, the ever-industrious chap immediately sets to working on the problem Mirror Stamets gives him: how do we get out of this place?

It is only Hugh, who is somehow between planes of existence following his death, who is able to warn his partner. It’s a gutting interaction for two men who have become the heart of this show. Hugh is forced to tell his partner that he is died. A distraught Stamets doesn’t want to leave the mycelial network—not if it means living without Hugh. But these two are Starfleet officers first and foremost, and good men. Stamets has to wake up; the crew of the Discovery and the entire Federation are counting on him.

I’m not sure if this is the last we’ve seen of Hugh, but I desperately hope not. His character is a bright spot in this often bleak show, and his relationship with Stamets is an example of what sets our universe apart from the chaos and cruelty of the Mirror Universe: after all, it is Hugh who warns Stamets about Mirror Stamets. His love literally crosses universes and planes of existence. If that can’t save our universe in the possible coming war against the Terran Empire, then I don’t know what can. (I mean, some photon torpedos wouldn’t hurt…)

While Michael and Lorca are off gallivanting in the imperial palace, Saru is trying to sort out the clusterfuck that is currently the Discovery. There’s the Stamets situation to deal with, of course, but the more pressing (or at least loud) matter is a quickly-unraveling Tyler/Voq, who is stuck between this two identities. At first, Saru appeals to L’Rell’s, um, humanity. He know she cares about Voq, so he asks her to help.

But, to L’Rell, caring about Voq means allowing him to complete the mission that he sacrificed everything for. With no options left, Saru pulls a baller move, beaming Tyler/Voq into the brig with L’Rell. Frankly, it’s pretty terrifying and irresponsible for Saru to beam Tyler into the cell with someone he remembers as his assaulter, but I guess Saru is out of options?

Discovery hasn’t handled the trauma aspects of Tyler’s character well from Day One, but I like what this episode says about Saru’s character. In the absence of Lorca and Michael, he is stepping up as the ship’s leader. Something tells me that, in the coming episodes, they’re going to need his leadership more than ever. Because…

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Lorca is totally a crazy evil person from the Mirror Universe! As many of us suspected, Lorca has been playing Michael, Starfleet, and the audience since the beginning, orchestrating everything so that he could return to his own Mirror Universe with Michael in tow. The eye thing was totally a tell!

Perhaps the bigger development is not that we found out that Lorca is a secret Terran, but that Michael put the pieces together, too. Unlike the Voq reveal, the audience and Michael figured this all out (or at least got confirmation on it) at the same time. This worked much better. Until Discovery can prove that it can handle dramatic irony effectively, I’m taking away its Dramatic Irony Card. Just stick with simple reveals for now, show. 

The show has many possible directions to head in with the Lorca character, who also broke out of his Agonizer Booth at the end of the episode. What is Lorca planning? He wanted to make it back to the Mirror Universe and onto the ship for some reason. While he’s been set up to act as a foil to Emperor Georgiou, I’m not so sure he will be.

Did Lorca bring Michael, the Discovery and, most importantly, the spore drive to this universe as a peace offering of sorts for Georgiou? Does he want back in on the Terran Empire? If so, Voq is the least of Discovery’s problems. As Season 1 races towards its conclusion, the show has finally gained some narrative momentum with its serialized plotting. Will it reach warp speed? I’m a reviewer, reader, not a fortune teller. But I hope so.

Additional thoughts.

This show continues to look great. The warp lines outside of the shuttle during Lorca and Michael’s shuttle ride is the kind of subtle, wonderful visual that this show does so well.

There’s something wrong with the mycelial network. This does not bode well for… anyone.

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Emperor Georgiou has a rotating throne. Baller.

Can no one properly sedate Tyler?!

“You should know wat you’re looking for in a Kelpian.” Oh god. There’s a lot of cannibalism on this show. Something I wish I didn’t have to say about a Star Trek show.

More people than Hugh apparently work in sickbay!

Michael has a lot of practive dealing with emotionally unavailable parents from her time with Sarek.

When Tilly is having trouble coming up with symptoms of Stamets’ improvement, she lists “dewier skin” as a sign he’s getting better. Bless her.

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“Our bond, it seems, is strong enough to cross universes.” “How quaint… parallel universes.”

One of the best parts of the scenes with Saru and L’Rell is that they’re both alien. It’s nice to see a scene with no humans.

Hugh tells Stamets that he died, and the show cuts away before we can properly see Stamets’ reaction to that bombshell. Discovery tends to prioritize plot over character.

“You have sealed this being’s hellish fate. Human vs. Klingon in one body. That is war.”

The title of this episode comes from Macbeth: “I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent but only vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself and falls on the other.” Whose downfall might the reference allude to? Is it simply a reference to Lorca and Mirror Michael’s own vaulting ambition, that left one of them (presumably) dead and the other exiled to another universe? Or is it teasing a future downfall?

Why can’t L’Rell and Voq be platonic Klingon friends who believe in the same cause? Why do they have to have a sexualized relationship? Same when it comes to Lorca and Mirror Michael. 

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“It’s never goodbye … Nothing in here is ever truly gone.” — Hugh

OK, well now I’m wondering if Mirror Michael is really dead. Could this be Lorca’s endgame? To rescue his presumed dead lover? Oh no. Is he going to take Mirror Michael back to our universe in Michael’s place? I’m just spitballing here, but that seems like the kind of move Discovery would make… potentially to end the season. Give me all of your best Lorca endgame theories in the comments below.

How did Lorca get to our universe? Discuss.


3.5 out of 5