This week’s episode of Star Trek: Discovery is short in length, clocking in at just under 38 minutes, but “Vaulting Ambition” makes up for this lack of time with a shipload of fast-paced action. Shakespeare knew vaulting ambition could lead to a powerful and respected man’s downfall, maybe Star Trek knows it as well. What this episode gets right is allowing us to spend time with characters we have developed a relationship with throughout the short tenure of the show: Georgiou, Lorca, Burnham, and Stamets. Things are not as they seem, and the Mirror Universe tends to turn things upside down. There are many spoilers below.
1. Mother/Daughter, Ruler/Subject
In the Mirror Universe, Emperor Georgiou raised Michael Burnham as her own daughter. In reality, this is close to the relationship Georgiou and Burnham had in the Prime Universe, but in the Mirror Universe, the Emperor has just sentenced Burnham to death. It is soon revealed that, Burnham and Lorca were collaborators against the Emperor, and now ruling mother will have to kill daughter for being a treasonous subject. Both talk about love, but is there such a thing as love in a universe that values fear and death over unity and compassion?
2. Vaulting Ambition
Burnham presents Lorca to the Emperor as a gift; the return of a man hell-bent on killing and overthrowing his leader in order to gain the title of Emperor for himself. As punishment, Lorca is sentenced to a long life in the ISS Charon’s agonizers. The Emperor revels in this punishment, while sporting Mirror uniform gold from head to toe. This Mirror Universe is all about revenge and suffering. As the Emperor tells Lorca, his fate is a fair price to pay for his vaulting ambition. At some point in time, Georgiou’s vaulting ambition must have steered her into this current position within the Terran Empire, and we see that now she has the ultimate power; she must keep other’s vaulting ambition at bay in order to keep her position secure. She kills her advisors that overhear Burnham is from another universe – this was puzzling at first – but then it’s revealed that Emperor Georgiou wants the secrets of the USS Discovery engine. She knows whatever got the USS Discovery to her universe is powerful, more powerful than her own engines. The Emperor did not get where she is on ambition alone; she is intelligent and knows how to use those around her, for her own benefit. She doesn’t execute Burnham, despite, I’m assuming, the laws she created herself. This Emperor knows how to make a deal. She needs something from Burnham. Her ambition won’t let her go.
3. If you cross over to another universe, do you always bring something back?
Stamets vs Stamets: Prime Stamets and Mirror Stamets are both in comas and are both trying to find their way out of the network. We’ve seen flashes of Mirror Stamets in previous episodes: in the bathroom mirror, in Stamets calling Tilly Captain, in Stamets talk about staying out of the palace – probably how he perceived the ISS Charon – and in how Stamets focused on the trees while in his coma. At the conclusion of the episode, we find out the trees that populate the spores are dead or dying. The network is dying, as Mirror Stamets told his Prime Universe counterpart. Is this the enemy Prime Stamets has been yelling about while in a catatonic state? Prime Stamets encounters the doctor while still trapped in the network, and the doctor warns him about his Mirror doppleganger. The doctor tells Stamets to open his eyes; he does, and he’s back, out of his coma. But so is Mirror Stamets. We’re led to believe this could be a problem.
4. Do you really know the people with whom you spend the most time?
Turns out, Lorca has been driving more of the action of Discovery than previously thought. Emperor Georgiou reveals that she once placed her trust in Lorca and Mirror Burnham once viewed Mirror Lorca as a father, but as time went on he groomed her for his needs, and we’re led to believe their relationship became romantic. How best to destroy the Emperor? By using her daughter against her. Smart, Mirror Lorca, smart. This isn’t the only reveal of the episode. Burnham notices the Emperor is sensitive to light, as is Lorca, as are all Terrans in the Mirror Universe. Burnham’s Lorca IS Mirror Lorca. This better explains his past actions: pushing Stamets beyond his limits, breaking Burnham out of prison, advising Burnham to kill the rebels,, and why he tells Burnham, “I did choose you, but not for the reasons you think.” Their meeting isn’t destiny, but, in fact, Lorca attempting to take what he perceives as rightfully his: Emperor. Shakespeare made vaulting ambition Macbeth’s tragic flaw; will vaulting ambition lead to Lorca’s downfall as well?Continued below
5. Random Thoughts
Poor Tyler is suffering. Tyler asks Saru for help. Saru asks L’Rell for help. Is this the beginning of Starfleet and the Klingons working together? Maybe that’s too much to ask. Also, we’ve been in the Mirror Universe longer than I expected. Star Trek shows usually make it back to their own universe within two episodes, but Discovery isn’t a typical Star Trek series.