Chapter Two of Star Trek: Discovery is here. This week, we have an episode directed by Jonathan Frakes, Number One himself. I will say I watched “Despite Yourself” twice before writing this; the episode seemed overly complicated at first, but I enjoyed it with a second viewing. It gave me a chance to work through the complex plot, and appreciate the connections to The Original Series.
1. Keeping Secrets
We’ve seen various characters keep secrets throughout the series. Tilly promised to keep Stamets’ secret; his secret about the effects the spore drive was having on him, and this secret led to tragedy. Tilly even tells Dr. Culber she would never keep a secret like this again as it has led to Stamets’ current neurological dysregulation. Here, we get our first glimpse into the idea that keeping secrets on the Disco will not end well. In this episode, we see Tyler again confide in Burnham regarding his PTSD and his current state of mind. In episodes prior, Burnham has attempted to convince Tyler to get help, but he refuses. He does not want to be sidelined and taken out of commission. Burnham obviously has feelings for Tyler and I guess the question is, is she letting these feelings get in the way of what she knows is right? Will this end badly for she and Tyler, just as things have taken a turn for the worse for Stamets. It’s not easy to go against the wishes of someone you care about, even if you know it’s in their best interests. We see this secret keeping playing out badly on Discovery.
2. Seeking Answers
As humans, we are always seeking answers to practical and philosophical problems. Who are we? Why are we here? What is our purpose? Am I a good person? Tyler has been seeking answers in regards to his torture at the hands of the Klingons since we first met him. In this episode, Tyler is hitting the questions-hard. And he’s not taking no for an answer. He’s having a crisis of identity, and for good reason. Tyler confronts L’Rell while she is being held in the brig. She asks him, in Klingon, “Who do we seek?” Tyler responds immediately, in Klingon, continuing the prayer. KLINGON. I guess it’s true; he is a Klingon. Sent to destroy Starfleet. Tyler is shook. He heads to sickbay and asks Dr. Culber to check him again for any signs of tampering. Culber is hesitant, but acquiesces. In Tyler’s attempt to find answers, to seek the truth, the doctor gives him a truth he doesn’t want to hear and he doesn’t want to accept. He’s been altered physically, been made shorter, and he’s also been given an alternate identity or personality. Once Tyler hears this, he snaps Dr. Culber’s neck. Unexpected. Stamets is lying in sickbay while all of this transpires. He’s been erratically speaking, and after his partner is brutally killed, he states, “the enemy is here.” It is. This looks bad for Burnham’s decision to keep Tyler’s secret. She’s going to have to look for some answers down the road.
3. Destiny & the Struggle of Self
Once the Discovery enters this mirror universe, our crew is faced with their own selves in an alternate reality. We find out this universe is war like and cruel. The Federation does not exist, and in its place is the Terran Empire; a humans only organization that, according to Burnham, is the antithesis of their own universe. The Empire fosters an oppressive, racist, and xenophobic culture that hates anything other. This has led to all non-human races and cultures banding together against the Empire. (Connection to the Klingon Empire within the series?) Characters must come to terms with who they are here, because, according to Lorca, they must learn to survive here, before they can learn how to get back. In my favorite reversal in this episode, we find Tilly is captain of Discovery! And she does not mess around; for example, her nickname is Killy. Yup. Killy. What. A. Badass. She killed her own captain to advance in rank. Burnham had been presumed dead after captaning the Shenzhou; presumed dead after being killed by the traitor Lorca. This universe is one of brutality and murder. The only way to earn respect is through killing opponents and directly threatening anyone that challenges your authority. In an amazing turbolift fight scene, Burnham and the current captain of the Shenzhou, Connor, engage in a knife fight that ends with Burnham killing the young captain. A man she knew in her own universe. When she arrives on the bridge, Connor’s dead body falls out of the lift…and the bridge crew claps for Burnham. This is not the person Burnham sees herself as within her own universe. Tilly has the same crisis of identity. Captain Killy is the opposite of the person she wants to be. She’s kind, compassionate, and not a killer. Is all of this destiny, as Lorca seems to believe based on his discussion with Burnham, or do these individuals have free will, and is this where we see our characters struggle with their own self-identity? What makes Tilly become a killer? What turns Burnham cold and calculating? Their self-images are skewed. Can you live a life you were not meant to, despite yourself?Continued below
4. Connections to The Original Series
As my dad said, “They always go back to a mirror universe! They did it in Star Trek: Enterprise, and they’re doing it here.” He’s not wrong. In this episode we begin exactly where episode nine, “Into the Forest I Go” left off. We’re on the bridge of Discovery and we find out they’re not in the same universe anymore, Toto. The ship is surrounded by battle wreckage and “nothing is where it’s supposed to be.” We soon find out Discovery has made its way into another universe, a mirror universe. Ah ha! This is the first of numerous callbacks to the ToS episode “Mirror, Mirror.” Once the Disco crew stars digging into the Klingon datacore they salvage from the wreckage, they find out more about the Terran Empire. They adopt, somehow very quickly, the uniforms of the Empire. They love gold. The more important you are, to more gold you don. Just like Mirror, Mirror! Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura, and Scotty all sport gold sashes in the mirror universe. When Burnham boards the Shenzhou, she learns of a Nazi-esque salute the Terrans use…the same salute from Mirror, Mirror. Lorca and his crew need to find out how the USS Defiant made it back to their own universe in order to get back themselves. (This is where the plot almost became too complicated, but the callback to Enterprise and other Trek lore has sucked me in, despite the almost overly convoluted plot point.) They plan on finding this info on the Shenzhou. Burnham boards with Lorca as her prisoner, and he is treated to the ship’s finest torture chamber; similar to the agonizers used in ToS. Sadly, there was no appearance of a goateed Vulcan.
5. Random Thoughts
This episode came real close to over complication, but I’m cautiously optimistic about where the series is headed. There’s loads of potential. Lorca’s Scottish accent as he was pretending to be engineer: amazing. Scotty can fix all. I’m enjoying the relationship between Burnham and Tilly. Burnham is obviously a mentor to Tilly, and we see Tilly grow when she is given substantial time on screen. She holds down the role of a blood-thirsty, power-hungry captain serving the Empire like a champ. She’s frequently meant to be comic relief, which I get, but it frequently falls flat for some reason. She deserves more. Burnham tells Tilly the people of the Empire live in a constant state of fear. Fear can push people to do things they never imagined. Fear can be used to control and manipulate individuals and groups-I wonder if this will be explored further in the series. I hope it is. Finally, has Stamets already been to the mirror universe?! He slipped up and called Tilly captain in episode 8. Was that his mirror universe counterpart in the actual mirror earlier in the season? He keeps repeating, “Stay out of the palace!” I hope we find out about that palace.