Star Trek Discovery; Despite Yourself

They’re back! Happy new year to all you lovely Trekkies. We’ve survived the mid-season break and can boldly go once more with my recap of episode ten of Star Trek Discovery, Despite Yourself

This is the first TV Trek since 2005 and with season 2 already confirmed we have a lot to look forward to, so dust off your CD of Ben Folds collaboration with William Shatner, (that you queued up for 3 hours at comic-con to get signed only to be told Mr. Shatner only signs authorised merchandise) and get ready to Boldly go once more.

Episode Ten – Despite Yourself

This blog contains spoilers so if you haven’t watched episode ten yet – What are you? A green-blooded hobgoblin? This review will definitely contain spoilers for episode ten, so look away now, this is your last chance! Ready, the review is below the photo, so let’s go.

Damn it man! I’m a writer not a cosmetic surgeon

We left the crew of Discovery in a pretty grim place at the end of episode nine. A discombobulated bridge try and work out where they are, a Vulcan ship fires on them and the USS Cooper comes to their aide. Stamets is unresponsive and Lorca declares ominously in his now trademark growl (before the opening credits) “Unless this isn’t our universe.”

I have to admit I found this scene a little anti-climactic seeing as it was pretty obvious they are in the mirror universe and the whole of the series has been building up to this point. But on we go, the Discovery find a destroyed Klingon ship and decide to recover its data to work out where they are.

Stamets is heading to the palace with creepy white eyes and seems to have developed super-human strength. Culber blames Lorca for the state of his partner. Lorca takes Culber off the case (due to being too emotionally close to the situation) and we see a tense scene and some really nice moments for Wilson Cruz, getting to develop the Doctor’s character more than we have seen up to this point. Tyler is still battling with his PTSD and struggles to complete his mission to recover the data core of the mirror-Klingon ship. Lorca asks Burnham whether he can count on her. Does he know that Tyler and Burnham are a thing?

Tyler’s Stockholm syndrome gets the better of him and he releases L’Rell from her cell and we come close to the big reveal that no one wanted. L’Rell appears to trigger Tyler with a code word but the result is not quite what L’Rell expected. I think that the writers might be trying to do something genuinely interesting with this arc, a treatise on the soul and what it is that makes us who we are. They don’t throw the big reveal at us which is a further sign of Discovery’s smart writing. Tyler won’t tell the Captain about his PTSD as regulations state that this would mean quarantine and he feels he is needed for the challenge of being in another universe, he asks Burnham to trust him and she does which may make Tyler’s true identity all the more heartbreaking.

 “They’re not the kind of neighbours to borrow a cup of sugar from.”

They refer to the place there are as a parallel universe with no initial reference to the mirror universe directly, I thought to myself surely records exist of such a place as Jonathan Archer and Co have already been there, but I should learn to hold my horses as the writers are playing a more subtle game than I have given them credit for. I do wonder whether the USS Discovery ever leaps home? Saru has a theory that the alternate-Discovery has switched places with them and Burnham refers to the mirror Discovery, the first certain confirmation of where we are.

It felt very pertinent with all the news headlines around far-right organisations and hate crime to see a storyline that revolved around battling an organisation that hates everything “other”, as Burnham so eloquently puts it.

As I predicted a few posts back, Tilly is Captain in the mirror universe. The Discovery uses the information they grabbed from the data core to replicate the ISS Discovery, to borrow a phrase from Axel Foley, the crew go deep deep undercover. We discover that in the mirror universe Lorca murders Burnham after he attempted a coup.

“Destiny didn’t get me out of prison Captain, you did.”

They find in the records that a USS Defiant has travelled to the mirror universe before so they hatch a plan to beam aboard the ISS Shenzhou, where in this universe Burnham is the Captain, although presumed dead. Where she will claim to have captured Lorca. They will then access the logs for the classified information about the Defiant.

Dr. Culber surmises that Tyler has PTSD when he asks the Dr to double check he is OK before going on the away misson with the Lorc-man. Then later when sharing a tender moment with Stamets, Culber hears Stamets say “the enemy is near” as he temporarily regains his mental capacity warn his partner of a sinister threat from within. Has he seen how things play out in another universe? Has the Discovery ever been in their own prime universe? Maybe Lorca is mirror Lorca turned good?

The Doctor discovers that Tyler has experienced cosmetic surgery so drastic that even Mickey Rourke would flinch and he benches Tyler, in a moment of Klingon like strength Tyler then shockingly kills Culber. This death felt really shocking to me as Culber was finally getting some decent characterisation. So has one of the best parts of the show, Culber on his own and his relationship with Stamets, much hyped and rightly praised, been jettisoned by episode ten? Well I guess we will have to wait and see. I suspect, and always have done, that there is a lot more going on here than we have been shown so far, and if you google interviews with Wilson Cruz you may get a little hint of what is to come.

The mirror Captain in Burnham’s absence is Captain “90210” Connor (he’s so pretty but not so smart), or at least he is until Burnham slices him good. It’s hard to imagine Kirk or Picard killing someone in this way, even in the mirror universe. This is indeed the brutalist Trek of all, and I am still undecided as to whether this is a good thing. The episode ends with Burnham and Tyler getting jiggy with it (like they have time for that? Well I suppose it only takes a couple of minutes right?) and Lorca sealed in what I have dubbed the Silo of Perpetual Shocks or SOPS for short.


Beyond the Guardian of Forever

The ship Tyler uses (the worker bee) to recover the data core of the wrecked Klingon ship sports some pretty cool virtual reality type tech, showing us once again that Discovery has access to the sort of gadgets never seen before in Trek. Discovery is either really top secret or part of dare I say it, Section 31. I gasped with Geekish delight when Burnham reveals we are in the Terran Empire and we see the familiar insignia of this fascistic regime. Lorca channels his best Scotty when talking to the ISS Cooper, which to be fair is better than Simon Pegg’s. One of my favourite scenes is when Culber explains that Tyler has been subjected to the Manchurian Test to check for brain washing, which is pretty epic.

This episode was directed by the one and only Jonathan Frakes bringing a bit of Trek royalty to the party, good to have you on board number one. And his direction doesn’t disappoint as he seems to have an understanding of how Trek characters interact. He gives us plenty of close ups of the crew interactions, creating a tense and tight episode full of creeping dread.

With all our childhood memories being burned at the altar of cash-cow franchises (according to certain parts of the internet) it’s important to point out (despite some of my minor reservations) how good a job Discovery is doing in capturing the essence of what made Trek great. Yes the effects are obviously different, they are better in fact, it’s not the 60’s or even the 80’s anymore, but the spirit is intact. But why didn’t anyone check into Tyler’s mirror counterpart? I mean come on? This is a massive plot hole if left unresolved, perhaps it will come up next week.

The appearance of the USS Defiant shouldn’t excite DS9 fans because this is not the ship you’re thinking of, so there goes my chances of the emperor being Sisko. No in fact this Defiant is from TOS episode The Tholian Web.

Into the Mirror Darkly

In previous posts I inadvertently stumbled upon a secret that Tyler was hiding (if you throw enough shit at the wall and all that) and it now seems fairly obvious that Voq is Tyler and Tyler is Voq but what isn’t obvious is where this story arc will take us, because it would appear that Tyler (or Voq-Ty, Ty-Voq??) genuinely loves Burnham and at least some of the time believes he is Tyler, and that’s why it’s an interesting arc as we get to delve into what makes us a human.

What did you think of the show’s return?  The inclusion of the USS Defiant was a nice swerve and I think the Tyler thing has more to develop. But on first watch I was left feeling with the urge for the gentle hope of The Next Generation, I craved an episode featuring Data’s cat. My feeling up to this point is that the show is striving so hard to be dark that it strays too often into bleakness.

This episode was another violent one and I do wonder whether this is a mistake, it just isn’t what Trek is about. I should be left with some hope, and all we see is death and despair. Maybe that’s a reflection of the conflicted confused world we live in but if that’s on my news screens, I would rather watch Dawson’s Creek in my spare time instead of having a dark mirror held to my face. That said I think it was a solid episode, even if it confirmed everything we have been suspecting so far.

John is a writer and clinically diagnosed Trekker. You can get the latest news about his published work at his website The World Outside the Window.

About the Author
John is a lapsed soccer fan who has played and watched football all his life. He once appeared in an episode of Casualty (he requested that all copies of the episode be destroyed) playing football for Holby City. When neither football or acting fame came calling he took up writing. John is an author, poet, songwriter and visual artist. His work has appeared in Star Trek Magazine, the Guardian, the BBC and many more. “An assured and powerful performer who could do well in the slam arena..” – Anna Saunders (CEO of the Cheltenham Poetry Festival). He has just published his first Children’s story – Aardvark Tales (published by The World Outside the Window Publishing).
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