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Friday, 12 January 2018

Star Trek: Discovery 1-10: Despite Yourself (Quick Review)

Episode:10|Writer:Sean Cochran|Air Date:07-Jan-2018

Today on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'm finally getting around to sharing my thoughts about Star Trek: Discovery's new episode, Despite Yourself! I've left it a bit late I'm afraid, as by the time I'm posting this the next episode's almost out. Could be worse though, as I'm 25 years late on my Deep Space Nine reviews.

Discovery's been a bit lazy itself, with the way it took December off, but it's back now for season 1, chapter 2, and Trek veteran Jonathan Frakes is at the helm! I've been waiting for this episode ever since watching the episode of The Orville he directed, Pria, as I was curious which would turn out to be better. Not that a TV director has that much influence on an episode, it's not like he wrote it, but I'm still interested in how it turns out. Which of them is going to impress me more, Despite Yourself or Pria?

There'll be huge SPOILERS for the episode, by the way, and probably earlier Trek episodes as well. Though this is just a quick review and I won't be going through it scene by scene like I usually do with TV shows.

Despite Yourself wins! Sorry if you were hoping to be left in suspense for a bit, but it wasn't a close fight. Pria ended up as one of my least favourite season 1 The Orville stories, with its dull romance/jealousy plot, but this one's fairly awesome as Discovery episodes go.

It's also pretty merciful with regards to keeping us in suspense, as it doesn't take long to give us confirmation that Ash Tyler is Voq! The fact that pretty much everyone already knew this kind of diminishes the shock, but thankfully the episode doesn't rely on the reveal. It's got other things to surprise us with. Plus we've also been given a few more clues to Lorca's identity and secret agenda.

I figured out the Voq twist by myself and was pretty certain about it right from Tyler's first appearance, but I've been less convinced by the theory I read that Lorca's from the Mirror Universe. The evidence at the time seemed a little too much "He looked into a mirror: Mirror Universe confirmed!!" But the hints we've gotten this episode, combined with the clues we've had up to this point, are making a pretty compelling case for it:
  • Lorca's presumably the reason that Cadet Tilly is aboard the Discovery and the episode makes a point of reminding us he brought Burnham on board too; two people who just happened to be essential to the plan here in the Mirror Universe. He's been super protective of Burnham the whole time as well, telling Tyler he might as well not come back if anything happened to her on a shuttle ride and refusing to let her go on a dangerous mission aboard the Ship of the Dead.
  • He claimed he wanted Burnham on board Discovery because she mutinied against her captain to shoot first at a Klingon ship and that's 'the kind of thinking I need next to me'. Incidentally, Mirror Lorca was a fugitive from a failed coup against the Emperor (and there's a greater than zero chance the unknown Emperor is Philipa Georgiou).
  • He's been determined to get the spore drive working and then make as much use of it as possible, which turns out to have been necessary to find the path to the Mirror Universe. He also sabotaged the last jump deliberately and shows zero interest in getting Stamets back to health so that he can get back into the Spock Sacrifice Box and jump them home now that they're here.
  • When his old friend Cornwell dropped by he was fuzzy on the details of their past and he threatened her with a gun when she woke him up by touching the mysterious scar on his back. Like he's from a society where there's a real risk of being assassinated in your sleep. Plus he sent her off to be captured by Klingons to keep his ship! That's a total Mirror Universe move.
  • He was captain of the Buran in both universes and lost both ships to mysterious circumstances, so he keeps his backstory either way. Plus they made a point of saying that all of their codes are the same, so Mirror Lorca knows enough to keep his double's captain-level security clearance in Starfleet.
  • The episode features both Tilly and Burnham taking their doppelganger's place as captain, showing us that it's not farfetched that Lorca could do the same, especially considering how quick he is to figure out how to disguise them and play by the new rules. Not that he was ever that keen on playing by Starfleet's rules.
  • And the most damning evidence of all: Culber suspected that Lorca wanted them to be trapped in the Mirror Universe and Culber's the guy who is onto people in this episode.
This is probably Culber's best episode, showing him to be one of the smartest and most competent members of the crew, though he did get a couple of things wrong. For one thing, he didn't think to bring any security in before telling a noticeably agitated former prisoner of war that he might have been Manchurian'd. Secondly, he told Stamets he wasn't going anywhere and that it'd be okay; he was incorrect on both counts.

I predicted a few things this episode, but I did not see Culber's death coming. At all. My mouth was hanging open at that one.

The episode cunningly had me worried that Stamets was the threat, with his super strength and Gary Mitchell eyes. But it turns out he's just got Ben Sisko rambling prophecy brain disorder and spends most of the episode safely restrained behind a forcefield. I sure hope they remember not to go to 'the palace' when that eventually comes up, by the way, as they didn't do too great with his warning that 'the enemy is here'.

So I guess it turns out that the obvious 'one last jump until retirement' conversation they had before Stamets went into the Spock Sacrifice Box last episode was secretly foreshadowing Culber's tragic end as well as Stamet's condition. But on the bright side, at least this dramatically increases the chances of us actually meeting the Discovery's chief medical officer at some point this season... and he's actually Doctor McCoy (though he's probably not). Though I bet it also means Stamets is going to start playing around trying to link his mushroom network with the Vulcan katra soul network to hack into the afterlife and bring Culber back, or something else that starts my eyes rolling even worse.

Speaking of people who've been spending time locked behind forcefields this episode, L'Rell and Lorca sure seem to be struggling with their long-term schemes here. They've both ended up captured on an enemy ship and are depending on their messed-up murderous agents on the outside to get them out of it. It's reassuring to know that despite Discovery's attempts to keep viewers out of their comfort zone, we can always rely on all of L'Rell's plans ultimately going to shit and every trip Lorca takes off the ship ending with him being tortured. Plus the crew are in a whole new universe going on undercover adventures on another ship, and somehow this is yet another a bottle episode entirely taking place on the standing sets. I wouldn't be surprised if they end up on the Mirror Klingon Ship of the Dead before they're done here, just so they can reuse another set.

Still, I love the Shenzhou bridge so I'm not complaining. Plus that transporter room crossfade between redressed sets was amazing. I'm surprised they actually left the ship and interacted with other people, to be honest, because given Discovery's track record I was expecting their Mirror Universe adventure to mostly involve tricking people over the radio. But no they're dressing up and going undercover as their doppelgangers and everything!

Which means we get Captain Tilly! I figured they'd be doing something with Tilly after Stamets accidentally called her 'captain' a couple of episodes back, but I can't say I was expecting her to be roleplaying a pirate queen. We also get Burnham finding herself on the other side of a mutiny on the Shenzhou, leading to a turbolift fight with correct floor number continuity on the screens, an inertial dampener-assisted takedown, and applause from the bridge crew afterwards! I had a suspicion that I was liking the episode, but the absurd slow clap was the point where I realised I was really enjoying it.

It's great to see the characters working together and having fun, even if it's horrifically traumatic fun with lots of murder and agony that forces people to confront their sense of identity and morality. Which I guess is why the episode's called Despite Yourself instead of the obvious Alice in Wonderland reference: Through the Looking Glass. It could be that the writers also noticed that Deep Space Nine already took the title for one of its Mirror Universe episodes (though it didn't stop them calling an upcoming story What's Past is Prologue.)

It seems like a weird idea for a serious series that typically shuns the campy side of Star Trek to suddenly have a Mirror Universe arc, but it does fit the season's themes of 'fear of the other' and 'how far should we go to win?' by showing the society you get by choosing self-interest over morality. Tilly especially struggles with the revelation that she could be a terrible, but powerful, person if she puts her mind to it, with the twist that Mirror Tilly's probably just as terrified as she is behind her tough facade. Plus Tyler and Burnham are tormented with the possibility that they will become what they hate (though only one of them seems to be aware that they've already murdered someone to survive and protect their cover). The Mirror Shenzhou crew aren't inherently evil any more than the Discovery crew are inherently Starfleet paragons, so our people are at real risk of being forced to go full Jack Bauer and abandon their ethics to do whatever it takes in order to escape with the crucial info to save the Federation.

It's funny how a trip to the Nazi dimension suddenly makes the sinister starship Discovery, with its black badge guards, human experimentation and animal torture, seem like an oasis of decency in a universe gone mad. Though on the other hand, this is the first time that the Starfleet heroes visiting the Mirror Universe are more scarred and messed up than their doppelgangers!

But what's really strange about the episode, is that the writers actually reference the USS Defiant; the USS Enterprise lookalike that disappeared in the Original Series episode The Tholian Web and then appeared in the wrong dimension a hundred or so years earlier in Enterprise's In a Mirror, Darkly. That's some hardcore continuity that only Star Trek fans would know or care about...

... and yet they've redesigned the ship to look like this!

Next Gen recreated a slice of the USS Enterprise bridge with meticulous accuracy when it appeared in Relics, Deep Space Nine built a new model that was absolutely identical for when the ship appeared in Trials and Tribble-ations, and Enterprise made sure that both the Enterprise and the Defiant looked perfect in their appearances, and the reason for this... is that the people making the series were huge nerds. But they also knew that you can't give someone a brick with razor blades sprinkled on top and call it a chocolate cake. Continuity has a visual component! When something looks obviously wrong it's not a reward for the fans, it's off-putting and strange. At least to me.

The most confusing part of this to me is that they didn't even update it to look 'acceptable to modern audiences', the ones who allegedly can't believe a spaceship's from the future unless it looks like it was designed last week. I've seen a dozen attempts by artists to modernise the iconic Enterprise and some of them have looked very good (like the ships from the movies for instance). But this ship hasn't been modernised, it's been melted!

It's a shame, especially considering that other long-running franchises like Doctor Who and Star Wars have recently been revisiting old designs from the 60s and 70s and showing them off in high resolution like they're proud of their past or something. I also threw a picture of Trials and Tribble-ations from 1996 in there because I'm still annoyed that they changed the D7s back in Choose Your Pain it looks cool.

Someone should let Discovery's producers know that we got a good look at like three starships in the Original Series: the Constitution class, the Romulan Bird of Prey and the Klingon D7, and the Romulan ship can't ever show up, so it's not like they're boxed in by canon here. They've got just two ships to get right, that's it! They can do what they like with the rest of the fleet.

Here's a shot of the Defiant the last time we saw her, in Star Trek: Enterprise's In a Mirror, Darkly. looking just fine next to a ship designed this millennium. Futuristic even. They reworked her slightly with shiny hull panels that catch the light like a modern design and that's all she needed really.

Sorry about going on a boring rant, but in my defence stories are designed to evoke an emotional response from the viewer, so when my emotional response to an awesome callback for the fans is "what the fuck?" followed by three screencaps worth of whining, I feel like they may have made an error in storytelling. Unless no one else cares and it's just me.

Here's a screencap of the fantastic silvery white text on Discovery's hull to change the subject. 'Some starships in Kirk's day had white writing on them instead of black' is the kind of visual retcon that doesn't trouble the nerd centre of my brain.

Plus I love the fact that the episode actually shows them sending little workbees out with some tins of paint to change the 'U' to an 'I' when the ship herself goes undercover too! I had no idea the incredible trolling potential that workbee operators have had all this time. A quick respray and the USS Yamato is now the USS Tomato and no one on board's any the wiser. USS Constellation becomes USS Constipation, USS Intrepid becomes USS Stupid... okay that was terrible. I feel like I should apologise for that joke. Though the episode gave Captain Tilly the nickname 'Captain Killy', so I won't.

A side-effect of them embracing the grimdark comic book nature of the Mirror Universe seems to be that we got more comedy from the cast this time. Things got very serious on the sinister ISS Shenzhou, but on Discovery we had Tilly trying to annoy Stamets into consciousness, Tilly having to 'defy every instinct' while on the phone, Tilly threatening to remove another captain's tongue for the purposes of boot-licking, and Lorca pulling off a perfect Scottish accent as he played the Mirror Discovery's engineer. We still haven't seen the regular Discovery's engineer yet by the way (Stamets is the spore drive science guy I believe), so for all we know he could've been doing an impersonation of him... because he's actually Montgomery Scott (though he's probably not.)

Though they've also embraced the ridiculous, as we learn that Voq became indistinguishable from a human thanks to trans-species surgical procedures carried out on his bones, organs and his massive massive (yet apparently mostly empty) head. Klingons have a lot of redundant organs so they must have had spares left over. They also have Klingon DNA but I guess we've seen how that can be fixed with a single hypospray (side effects may include cloudy eyes, increased strength and transdimensional precognition). Also, it was kind of ridiculous how they took everything in their salvaged database from the evil universe as being the absolute truth, especially with regards to the nature of their hated enemy. I mean the intel was legit, but I'm just saying.

But the most ridiculous thing is the plan going awry because Burnham couldn't get a moment's peace in her ready room to check her secret files. She's okay threatening people with a phaser and she leaves the previous captain dead in a turbolift, but telling people 'get out of my damn office!' is a step too far?

Anyway, this was a really damn good episode. I didn't quite like it as much as Discovery vs. Ship of the Dead: Battle of the Superweapons, but I'd place it a step above the rest of the season, with some great acting from the actors playing officers trying to play assholes. I liked the teamwork, the comedy, the 'preparing for the caper' montage (complete with wipe transitions), the characters thinking on their feet, Lorca headbutting doors like a crazy person with a plan, and my renewed hope that they're actually going somewhere with all this. It's almost a shame that the crew have to get back to the Prime Universe to send that anti-cloaking algorithm to save the Federation from defeat, because it'd be cool to see them continue jumping across dimensions like this with their wacky crew of an evil doppelganger, a mutineer, a  Secret Cylon Klingon, a catatonic prophet, a coward, a corpse, a bridge full of extras and the Dread Pirate Killy.

But as long as I get a story about what the evil Discovery crew are up to in the Prime Universe before the arc's done, and the Emperor turns out to be Harry Mudd or Cornwell with a goatee, I'll be happy.

The Mirror Universe Michael Burnham was killed in a shuttle destroyed by one of Mirror Lorca's followers! Even in a parallel universe, the things are a death trap.

Discovery will return with The Wolf Inside. But next on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'm writing about Deep Space Nine's Sanctuary! For some reason.

Thanks for reading all that. Feel free to leave your own opinions in the box below.


  1. Replies
    1. I think it's a clever optical illusion achieved by making all the beds tiny.

  2. Was that image of the Defiant from Discovery's database or the one they collected from the wreckage? I've been assuming it came from the wreckage, so it's possible the ship got modified with more guns after Empress Sato got her hands on it, but your (quite justified) reaction suggests that's not the case.

    1. I think you're probably right about the image coming from the wreckage, and it is very possible that they've given the ship a bit of a makeover during the 100 or so years it's been lying around. Especially once their technology began to catch up to it.

      But that idea doesn't work for me for two reasons: 1. The ISS Enterprise from 10 years later didn't have the modifications, it looked almost exactly like the USS Defiant did when it first crossed over. 2. It's a 'look fans, it's the iconic Constitution class!!' reveal that shows something that's not quite the iconic Constitution class. Even if it all makes sense later, they ruined the moment.

    2. Yeah, I agree. Admittedly, it doesn't make much sense to me that they're still using the same design 100 years later, but I suppose the Empire isn't a big innovator. (It still took them 100 years to build an NX-01 Enterprise despite stealing Vulcan tech.) And you're right, it spoils the moment by forcing nerds like me to retroactively justify a pointless retcon.

  3. I'm still not convinced about Lorca coming from the Bastard Universe, despite the evidence. Something about it doesn't seem right; I think it's that I can't see a reason why he'd want to get back there. I can't imagine people from the Bastard Universe are prone to homesickness and surely he'd be better off in a universe where everyone was much nicer and there was less chance of him being assassinated?

    So yeah, he clearly wanted to go to the Bastard Universe, but I don't see why and I'm not convinced it's that he wanted to go there.

    Otherwise, I loved the episode. I liked how it was dark but at the same time hilarious in places. It balanced the tone very well. I am a bit sad that not one member of the Bastard Universe crew has a goatee, but I can understand why they didn't go that way.

    I do wonder who the Emperor is. I suspect it's someone we know; I was thinking Georgiou, as that woulad be nice and dramatic and who wouldn't want to see Michelle Yeoh as an evil space emperor?

    1. *wanted to go back there.


    2. I can think of a few reasons why someone might want to get back to the rubbish dimension. He might have family or loved ones there he wants to save... or avenge. He might want to rule in hell instead of serving in heaven. They might have a type of fortune cookie there he loves that he just couldn't find in the regular universe.

      Plus even the regular universe is a bit of a bastard right now, and he made sure to bring a whole crew of people that won't stab him in the back. Tyler seems like a stable, trustworthy fellow, Saru only gets murdery when he's feeling brave, and Burnham hasn't betrayed and assaulted a superior officer in ages.

      I'm definitely leaning towards the Emperor being Georgiou too, because it's obvious and the series has shown a fondness for going for the obvious twist. Though she could just as well be Emperor Stamets' Darth Vader, giving Burnham some hope of swinging her to the light side of the Force. Personally I'd want the Emperor to be someone we haven't met, because Discovery's universe is small enough as it is, but I don't have much hope for that. Or maybe he could be Zaphod from the mining planet in that other episode!

    3. Space Water Bear as Emperor!

    4. Having seen today's episode,I've changed my mind. Lorca is from the Bastard Universe, and they have already told us almost all of the backstory behind it, in the previous episodes.

      I won't say more than that in case you haven't seen it yet. I'll see you in the comments for the next episode!

    5. I kind of hope he isn't, just so that I'm surprised by a twist for once. There has to be some other equally satisfying explanation that fits all the clues. Like maybe... he's just an asshole. Or maybe he's from the bright and shiny Kelvin Timeline and picked the wrong dimension hole when he tried to get back. That would explain the damaged eyesight.