This Star Trek: Discovery review contains spoilers.
Star Trek: Discovery Episode 13
You would be forgiven for thinking that tonight’s episode of Star Trek: Discovery was the season finale. It had all the marking of a season-ender: high stakes, much-anticipated showdowns, the tying up of many loose ends, and tons of action.
But “What’s Past is Prologue” is not the end of Discovery‘s first, big, season-long story. It is but the (seeming) wrapping up of this Mirror Universe detour, with the fate of our Federation still up in the air following the Discovery’s return to the Prime universe. Which means it’s time to take stock: was this Mirror Universe storyline worth it?
“What’s Past is Prologue” picks up right after the previous episode, leaning hard into the reveal that the Lorca we have bee hanging with has been from the Mirror Universe all along. His master plan was to make it back to his original universe in order to finish his coup attempt for the Terran Empire.
In terms of action, the episode pulls of Lorca’s bid for power well. It’s a high-intensity episode that doesn’t give any characters time to breath, keeping the sense of urgency ever-high. Unfortunately, the show has just not put enough character work in to make us care about these climactic moments as much as we could have, giving the entire affair an air of missed opportunity. When Lorca frees his universe’s version of Commander Landry from her Agonizer Booth, it’s not a moment of excited familiarity so much as an “huh, that character” moment.
The same could be said for all of Lorca’s Big Character Moments. When he makes his bid for Michael to join his team, it’s lacking the emotional depth it could have had. I simply don’t know why he would care enough to try to recruit her. He never seemed particularly fond of Michael past her role in his larger plan. Perhaps if we had seen a scene or two of his Michael, we might understand a bit better, but we never knew her and know the bare minimum about their relationship. He doesn’t seem a particularly sentimental man, so why would he care about someone who has the same face as a person he once seduced away from her adopted mother as part of a larger bid for power?
The same goes for Lorca’s final communique with what was his crew: the members of Discovery. These people went through some very trying times together, but the show never treated them like one, happy family—or even gave us a sense of what their camaraderie might look like. Lorca was always a super creeper with his own special weapons room who made weird, unilateral decisions. And past Michael, Tilly, Saru, Stamets, Tyler, and Hugh, this crew was never given a sense of identity or character.
It wasn’t that these Lorca moments weren’t appreciated or even enjoyable, just that they gave us a glimpse of what this show could have been. Watching them, I wished that Discovery had taken the time to build these character dynamics because, then, this episode would have hurt so good, rather than simply being a competent, fast-moving conclusion to a not-always coherent storyline.
What did work well in this episode was Saru’s continued highly-competent captaincy. In the absence of Lorca, he has stepped up to be the kind of captainly figure we’ve come to expect from a Star Trek show. Not only does he actually seem to know the names of the bridge crew (hey, the cyborg character talked!), but he holds meetings to check-in, field questions and suggestions, and articulate his plan.
The pep talk Saru gives before the Discovery takes out the mycelial orb is the show I would like to see Discovery be more often, and an example of what Doug Jones is capable of when he is given him something to do. Most of these characters have not gotten cohesive character arcs, and I’m not saying Saru’s one character trait (which is actually a species trait) is something to write the WGA about, but it comes to satisfying fruition in “What’s Past is Prologue.” The character who we’ve often seen struggling with his fear learns to face it head on—not for the sake of himself, but for the sake of his crew and, you know, the entire multiverse.
Star Trek: Discovery has never met a stake it didn’t want to raise. (Hey, how about a nice Tribble episode?) The fate of two universes isn’t enough, so it raises us the entire multiverse. If the Discovery doesn’t destroy the mycelial orb, then the entire mycelial network will eventually die, which will mean the end to life as we know it. It’s a not-so-subtle climate change allegory that kind of comes out of nowhere, but, sure, why not?
Michael and the Discovery pull it all off with the help of Emperor Georgiou who, faced with the possibility of losing to Lorca, decides to give the woman with the same face as her daughter the assist—even though it makes about zero sense that she would be cool with destroying the super-powerful ship she calls home for the sake of a multiverse filled with life she doesn’t seem to care about.
Whatever the character fail, it makes for an epic fight scene that sees Michael and Phillipa fighting side-by-side once again. It’s a nice callback to the second episode, and one that also keeps Michael’s hands clean of Lorca’s death (though she notably kills a bunch of red armors). When Michael hesitates to kill Lorca—which: just do it, this guy’s the worst—the emperor gets the job done.
It’s a helpful move, but in no way justifies the decision Michael makes to bring the emperor back with her onto the Discovery, which returns to home by riding the wave from the mycelial core explosion all the way back to the Prime universe. Terran Georgiou might have the same face as a woman she once loved and failed, but, if this trip has taught us anything, it’s that these universes create very different versions of people. Bringing a bloodthirsty emperor back to your home universe is not only illogical, it’s dumb—two things Michael is not. (Silver lining: we will probably get more Michelle Yeoh.)
And what does the Discovery find when they return? A Prime universe lost to the Klingons, with the Federation seemingly non-existent. I wish we knew more of this world and this Federation to care about this on an emotional level, but the reveal does give our gang some new questions to answer and problems to solve. Hopefully, they’ll spend a little more time on that and a little less time half-heartedly delving into the not-so-interesting psychology of their villains.
Goodbye, Lorca. May your character’s absence finally give us more narrative time with the characters who aren’t secretly cold-blooded killers and are, instead, nerdy scientists, explorers, dreamers, and collaborators who use their big brains not for empty glory, but to solve the collective problems of the galaxy and universe.
So… was the Mirror Universe worth it? As much as anything has been worth it on this show. It was lacking the character work to make us feel the plot twists on any deeper level, a story indicative of the show’s larger struggle to find its feet in this first season—somewhat of a Star Trek tradition, really. The twists weren’t worth the narrative shallowness, but there remains something wacky, special, and eager-to-please about this show that continues to make it worth the ride.
The Terran Empire is really easy to overthrow, huh?
Poor Rekha Sharma, who plays Landry here, but has previously played baddies on BSG and The 100, is always playing the characters we’re openly encouraged to hate.
I love you, Shazad Latif, but I did not miss Tyvoq at all this episode.
Michelle Yeoh is such a badass. When she kicked Lorca right over her own shoulder? Classic! During their fight, I really thought he was going to win because I think the show finds his character much more interesting than I do. To have Michelle Yeoh lose to anyone would have been a major logic fail and an unforgivable crime against the pop culture universe.
There’s no way Lorca is dead. He’s definitely regaining his strength somewhere on the mycelial network. This is why you always disintegrate your enemies, people! Don’t get fancy with your medieval-style trap door scenarios. Lorca knows this well enough to kill Other Stamets with a shot to the back.
Also, though, this show has never felt more like a Game of Thrones wannabe than when it revealed its very own Moon Door. Embrace your Star Trek-ness, show. We’ll love you even more for it.