The first season of any new Star Trek tends to ebb and flow between god awful and okay, sometimes even unwatchable. I’m not sure what it is about Star Trek, but the franchise as a whole has a difficult time introducing a new crew without fucking a lot of things up. That’s why the initial idea behind Star Trek: Discovery was so ridiculous: Star Trek as an anthology series probably doesn’t work. If you’ve been following my musings on the current iteration of Star Trek, you know that my thoughts on it jump between loathing and acceptance, but near the end it was more acceptance than hatred.
So we return from a winter break with, get this, an alternate universe episode. Aren’t those everyone’s favorites? It’s the Trek trops of all Trek tropes and they’re here to prove…. Something. I’m not entirely sure what they’re looking to prove, but once again, they feel a bit shackled by canon here. If you’ve watched Star Trek before, you know that alternate timelines, realities and universes play a key role in the lore of Star Trek, especially when the writers get bored and don’t feel like doing a holodeck episode or two. In this instance it is used as a way to move the plot of Discovery forward while doing something familiar.
This isn’t just an alternate timeline, though, this is THE MIRROR UNIVERSE. You know the one, where everyone wears black, has an edge to them or is downright evil? Yeah, that one. So, of course, the Federation is the Terran Empire and they’re evil, awful racists who fight the rebels, which are all of the alien races combined. The pacing in this was par for the course in Discovery, which means that it was pretty damned fast and left little time to really see how the whole thing is impacting the crew. In the Mirror Universe Tilly is a captain who gained her role by murdering her previous captain during sex, which of course, the whole thing is a play on her big dream of making captain and a joke because she’s so bubbly and sweet.
I’m gonna hit up some spoilers now, so if for some reason you haven’t seen this yet or won’t see it for a while, it might be good to skip the rest. Thanks for reading, though.
Some of the story beats were okay, some were rushed and some were so rushed that they came across as comical. Remember Stemets? How he couldn’t do the spore drive anymore and went catatonic? Well he’s now babbling about “The Palace” and nobody knows what he’s talking about, until about halfway through the episode it’s clear that there’s an Emperor and a palace and the plot is that Michael Burnham, a captain, went missing in this Mirror Universe to capture — get this — Lorca. What exactly is Mirror Universe Lorca like? He’s a freedom fighter who was attempting to stage a coup against the evil emperor while Burnham was tasked with finding him and bringing him to justice.
So yeah, Mirror Lorca seems like a pretty okay guy, which just cements further that real Lorca is oooooh bad. Okay, whatever. Fine. We get it. Remember the fan theories that Ash Tyler was secretly a Klingon that was sliced and diced and put back together as a human? We get a few short scenes of him having flashbacks to his surgery, he tries to question the torturer chick who recites a Klingon prayer meant to awaken him, which fails, then he goes to the good doctor, who is already dealing with his partner being violently catatonic, mumbling about the palace, to see if he can find any evidence that he isn’t who he claims to be. All of this when he’s supposed to go on this big ole’ mission with Lorca and Burnham to the palace to turn in Lorca.
The most perplexing thing is that the doctor finds evidence that Tyler’s bones were shortened, his organs were transplants and his brain was tampered with that was somehow written off as simple torture before? So he breaks the bad news that Tyler is probably a Klingon and Tyler just, you know, snaps his neck like we’re in a cheesy Steven Seagal flick. That’s it, it just happened. Recently I rewatched The Phantom Menace and what stood out the most was how poor the pacing was. There were points of the movie where they’d do really fast cuts from character to character to move the plot along and we’d be bouncing along a jumble of emotions, from sadness to elation to fear to everything else. It just made it all feel really, really flat. “Despite Yourself” suffers from this in perhaps one of the most vital scenes with a major crew member of the Discovery.
There was no emotional link, there was no remorse from Tyler over his latent Klingon side taking over and murdering someone he trusted, the catatonic Stemets just mumbled “the enemy is here” and that was it, that was the scene. No focus on the doc’s lifeless body, or long juxtaposition of his partner potentially having a scrambled brain for life and him being dead all because Lorca is a madman, just a shrug and “let’s get right back into the pew pew action!” Dr. Culber just dies.
This was so poorly played that there were pre-canned interviews released right after the episode aired about how “this won’t be the end for Culber, stay tuned!” It was almost like they knew that this was so hilariously bad, how it was thoughtless, emotionless and sends a strange message for a show that was billed so heavily about being inclusive where the gay Puerto Rican doctor was the most expendable member of the crew just to move the story forward. The original Star Trek had those red shirts for this very reason. Killing off Culber wasn’t more effective because we know a bit more about him, it was ineffective because we barely know enough to care about him. If they use some Mirror Universe or Spore Drive shenanigans to bring him back that just further makes it meaningless. Why bother?
There’s also the fact that Tyler’s turn was such an easy thing to predict, seeing as though they did a rather mediocre job of obscuring it, then sort of just dropped it altogether, then in this episode advanced the storyline rather quickly like they had forgotten to do it prior and needed to get his character to a certain point to bring him up to speed with the rest of the characters in the plot.
I get that PEAK TELEVISION has no time to let things ferment, but they really need to slow this show down a bit. Just a bit.