The crew of Discovery is coming together in an exciting way. This is the thirteenth episode, and the action of the series has been moving at a crazy pace over the past few episodes. We see characters come into their own, as well as function together as a well-developed crew. The title of this episode, “What’s Past is Prologue”, is a paradox, the first of continuous connections to the Shakespearean tragedy, Macbeth. The play’s paradoxical nature demonstrates to the audience that things are not always as they seem. Just as things in the Prime Universe and the Mirror Universe are not always as they seem. Spoilers below.
Lorca’s introduction to the episode includes exposition, on exposition, on exposition. Mirror Stamets’s appearance facilitates this background information, unintentionally, but we discover through Mirror Lorca that Mirror Stamets betrayed him to Emperor Georgiou. Lorca was on a transport that accidentally transported him to the alternate universe. According to Lorca, it was his destiny. (Still no word as to how he took Prime Lorca’s place. Murder? Is he marooned on Ceti Alpha V? Maybe this is something the series will explore in subsequent episodes.) Later in the episode, Lorca states, “I’m living proof that fate is real.” I guess it’s Mirror Lorca’s fate to be killed by Emperor Georgiou, because that is exactly what happens. This Phillipa is brutal, just as brutal as the Terran regime, and she stabs Lorca right in the back. A backstab for a backstabber. Then she kicks him off the ship. Literally, right through a hole in the floor – Game of Thrones, Moon Door style. In contrast, immediately prior to this, Burnham tells Lorca she won’t kill him, because “that’s who Starfleet is. That’s who I am.” This is in response to Lorca’s earlier comments on Starfleet; the fact that it is a social experiment doomed to failure. Lorca’s belief in fate led him to his death.
2. Free Will
While Lorca is fixated on his fate, Burnham is fixated on exercising her free will. She does not believe it was her destiny to meet up with Mirror Lorca, and to join him as his right hand in his twisted empire. Instead, she states, “I’m responsible for forging my own path. My Phillipa taught me that.” This is a conversation between Burnham and Mirror Phillipa; a conversation where the Emperor comes to realize Prime Burnham is tough as nails. She takes no prisoners when her mind is set; she will accomplish her mission…and she does. She fights her way back onto the Disco, because she is responsible for her own fate; she exercises her free will. Believing in this leads to her success; Lorca’s belief in fate leads to his death, just as Macbeth’s belief in fate leads to his.
3. Fight scenes
Burnham does fight her way back onto the Disco, but before she does, Emperor Georgiou is fighting for control of her ship, fighting for control of her title, and fighting for control of her empire. She engages in a visually stellar phaser fight with Lorca and his rebels. I’m so very into all of the fight scenes in this series – the choreography, the physicality, and the visual elements are all top notch – movie-esque, if you will. I wanted to go back and watch the Burnham/Prime Georgiou fight scene on the Klingon ship in Battle at the Binary Stars, because the fight scene between Burnham/Georgiou and Lorca/Landry smacked of similarity. Two groups, with a smattering of red shirts not wearing red shirts, fighting to the death for what they hold most dear. This second fight scene rivaled the first in this episode in terms of impressiveness, but it did beat the first in one distinct way: brutality. Lorca injures Landry in order to save Burnham, or as he refers to her in this episode “my Burnham.” Which leads us into the next topic…
4. Tragic Flaws
In hindsight, Mirror Lorca went through an immense amount of trouble to locate and employ Burnham while hiding in the Prime Universe. Retrospectively, we can see the importance he places on Burnham, personally and professionally. They were in team in the Mirror Universe and he wants the team back together. When Burnham turns herself and Emperor Georgiou into Lorca and his rebels, death is not her fate for betraying Lorca; he wants to convince her to join him and his empire. Lorca’s tragic flaw is his love for Burnham. It leads to his demise. Is Lorca a Shakespearean tragic hero? He does start out as a well respected character, and is led to his downfall by his tragic flaw. I’ll say, yes. I’m also willing to make the argument that it’s possible Michael Burnham’s tragic flaw is her love for Phillipa Georgiou. We see the two come to an understanding at the conclusion of the episode. In, what I assume is typical Mirror Universe behavior, Georgiou says she will buy Burnham escape time, with her own death. She has shown weakness and will never rule as Emperor again, so an honorable death in battle is what she desires. Sounds very Klingonesque. Burnham has struggled with being responsible for the death of her mentor and friend, Prime Georgiou, and will not be responsible for her death again; she grabs the Emperor as she is transported back to the Discovery. What will Georgiou bring with her to the Prime Universe?Continued below
5. Random Thoughts
Let’s promote Tilly already. She basically saved the Discovery with her research into the spore drive. It’s time. She’s shown her chops. Saru has thoroughly come into his own. He’s a compassionate captain that takes the needs of his crew into account; a foil to Lorca’s leadership style. One of my favorite moments of the episode was when Saru told the crew of the Disco that he does not believe in a no win scenario, Captain Kirk style! No Kobayashi Maru for Saru. Another link to The Original Series is when the Disco is attempting to travel back to their own universe and an ensign yells, “Heat shields at maximum!” In The Voyage Home, The Enterprise crew is attempting to travel back to the past in order to save humanity from itself, and here the Discovery crew is attempting to travel back to their own universe to rejoin the fight against the Klingons. Both crews are just trying to get home. The Shakespeare connection is real within this Star Trek series: multiple episodes begin with soliloquies, there are tragic flaws, there are tragic heroes, and there are episodes are broken into acts. As a modern society, or even a society of a utopian future, we can’t shake Shakespeare. (FYI: The Disco crew winds up 9 months in the future. The cliffhangers don’t stop.)