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Friday, 26 January 2018

Star Trek: Discovery 1-12: Vaulting Ambition (Quick Review)

Episode:12|Writer:Jordon Nardino|Air Date:21-Jan-2018

This week on Sci-Fi Adventures I'm writing about the shortest ever episode of live-action Star Trek! Discovery's beaten this record twice already, but it's outdone itself yet again here as without the 'previously on' clips and the trailer they like to put at the end, the episode's just over 36 minutes long.

It's called Vaulting Ambition by the way, which is a quote from Macbeth, a story I know absolutely nothing about! But if I wasn't so completely clueless, I'd probably mention that it's from a soliloquy by a guy who realises he's got no good reason to murder a king other than his ambition. Some titles have been a little too obscure, but this one's perhaps a little too clear.

But if you want SPOILERS you're in luck, as my review's going to be full of them, for this episode and probably earlier ones too. I'll also give away the ending of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland at some point, so there's something for you to look out for.

First up, I just need to say that I love the capes. The Discovery staff have made the Mirror Universe seem properly horrific in this arc instead of it being the sexy comic book action universe of earlier series and I appreciate that, but it's nice that they allowed the costume designer to have some fun at least.

They also gave their set designer a rare opportunity to actually do anything, as the characters visit a new location for once! And it's yellow! We even kind of got to meet some new people, played by actual new actors, though they all died.

There are four stories packed into this tiny tiny episode, with Burnham facing Mirror Georgiou on the Terran Ship of the Dead, Saru trying to convince L'Rell to help Voq and Tyler, Stamets meeting himself in the mushroom zone and Lorca's mini torture adventure. And not one of them explains what came out of nowhere and bombed the rebel base last episode! It wasn't the ISS Charon as Burnham and Lorca had to take a shuttle ride at warp to get there. Maybe we'll never know.

People have accused J.J. Abrams of making Star Trek too much like Star Wars, but here we actually have our hero going to the Emperor's lair on a giant super-ship and getting a revelation about their parentage! Though when it comes to subverting expectations, this is the anti-The Last Jedi; I didn't personally predict that Mirror Georgiou would be the Emperor or that she'd be Mirror Burnham's adopted mother, but it feels like the rest of the internet did.

Philippa Georgiou Augustus Iaponius Centarius is considerably colder than her Prime counterpart, but it's nice to see Michelle Yeoh again. By the way, according to the writer 'Augustus' is from the first Roman emperor, 'Iaponius' is the Latin for 'Japanese', adopted by Empress Hoshi Sato 100 years ago, and the title 'Centarius' refers to Alpha Centauri, the closest star to our own. They weren't implying the Chinese-Malaysian Emperor Georgiou is actually descended from the Japanese Empress Sato, she just inherited her name when she acquired the job.

I thought it was funny that Burnham's been tormented by her betrayal of the late Captain Georgiou all season, but here she has a chance to see her again in a way... and it turns out Mirror Burnham betrayed Mirror Georgiou too! Though here it's even worse as they're actual family with an even closer connection and years of history Burnham knows nothing about. But she must be a fantastic actress, as her Mirror mother didn't suspect a thing, even when Burnham looked ready to throw up her Kelpian soup. Speaking of Kelpian soup, it can't be a coincidence that Voq ate Georgiou and Mirror Georgiou ate Mirror Saru; the Terrans are definitely being shown to be a cleaner and shinier mirror of the Prime Universe Klingons. Yeah I know it wasn't actually Saru, he was left behind on the ISS Shenzhou, but the Kelpian mask was so similar he could've been his twin. It's pretty sick regardless of who got eaten, but hey at least Burham and Tyler have something in common now!

Mirror Georgiou was so convinced by Burnham's performance that she was all set to give her a quick execution for her Mirror double's crimes, until she finally dropped the act and admitted she was an interloper from another universe and had brought a whole ship with her. Bit of a risky move that, giving up Discovery to the Emperor of the evil dimension, especially after she pulled a Blade and murdered her own council with one arc of her spinning shuriken. Possibly not a woman to be trusted.

Also, the hero ending up in a court run by a cruel ruler who wants to cut off her head seems like our latest Alice in Wonderland reference, this time from right at the end of the book. We're getting very close to the 'it was all a dream' ending now.

It's all fun times on the Discovery as well, as actual Saru keeps pestering L'Rell to help him sort out the Klingon spy she made, because his screaming is starting to get to people. She first suspects that he wants something from her when he passes a tray of food into her cell, which kind of implies that food is something she hasn't been seeing much of; I thought Starfleet were supposed to treat their prisoners humanely! (I'm sure it's not the food but the person who brought that actually tipped her off.)

Saru's been doing pretty well in his captain's absence, acting like the Starfleet paragon he is, which is good because it doesn't seem likely Lorca's coming back... unless those black badge officers we haven't seen in forever make a move and seize the ship for him. Anyway, Saru does well getting through L'Rell's stubborn warrior side to finally convince her to undo the process done to Voq's brain. He's getting better at the 'manipulating people' part of being a leader; the guy might have missed out on learning from Captain Georgiou, but he's been picking up some tricks from Lorca.

I would've thought that undoing some of humanification process carried out on Voq would erase the implanted Tyler personality, but the flashback clips and her Klingon death howl definitely imply it's Voq's consciousness that's gone; wiped from his own body. The fact that he continued his Klingon poem in English afterwards implies... I don't even know. It's a mystery to me whether L'Rell really carried out the Power Glove procedure with the intent to remove Voq, or if she's just conning the crew to think he's dead when she actually repaired his mind, but there's one thing I am certain of, and that is that her plan will fail. Epically. There's not a damn chance that the Voq/Tyler situation has been resolved already, because they haven't done anything with it yet!

Also, a later episode's called The War Without, The War Within, which is potentially giving the game away again. Unless they're intending to subvert our expectations for a change.

The Stamets plotline is a definite step up from the clich├ęd nothing of last episode, but I remained unenthralled. This time they've combined the 'meet your evil double', 'haunted house inside your mind that looks like the regular sets with the lights flickering' and 'vision of your dead loved one inside the trippy dream zone' tropes in a way that tricked me into thinking something more interesting was going to happen. I wanted to see more of the two Stamets working together on the USS Stamets, as Star Trek's always been amazing at having an actor convincingly play a scene against themselves, but then the plot took a swerve and ended up in a bathroom instead.

I knew that Stamets was going to find Culber during his mushroom trip, but it was hard to have an emotional reaction to their reunion when I have no idea what Culber actually is now. Is he the consciousness of a dead guy inhabiting the mycelium network, an avatar of a sentient mycelium network trying to present Stamets with something he's comfortable with, a figment of Stamets imagination? Either way he seems to have more control there than either of the Stamets. I'm definitely not on board with any implication that the mycelium network also functions as an afterlife, because that's an idea that has no business being anywhere near the Star Trek I'm familiar with.

Sometimes I wish the writers had made a brand new series, called Spore Trek, where they'd have the freedom to play around with the foundations of their fictional universe all they want without bothering anyone. I mean Trek's had some pretty insane concepts in the past as well, but they were usually isolated to individual episodes and remote locations. No one was going to get Orb visions from the non-linear Prophets in Voyager, the intelligent dinosaur race that inhabited Earth before mankind was never going to show up in Enterprise, and the Nexus was never spoken of again. But this mycelium network is a corruption spreading through the entire web of interconnected Trek episodes and it keeps threatening to get worse! How am I supposed to enjoy an episode of original Star Trek when a voice in the back of my head's telling me that all the dead redshirts are going to mushroom heaven?

But on the plus side, the network's apparently dying due to Mirror Stamets' meddling, and even if Team Discovery manages to fix it it's just a matter of time before someone else wipes it out. It's connected to everywhere in all dimensions, so if there's even a possibility of it being destroyed it's also an inevitability.

The Stamets plot also ends on a weird note, as it appears as if the two astromycologists have accidentally swapped bodies and our Stamets is now trapped on the Charon! That's not what actually happened, as Mirror Stamets says "He did it," twice after Prime Stamets opens his eyes and gets them out, but the direction is a little misleading. The surprise reveal is supposed to be that we're looking at the other Stamets  Shenzhou's ready room Charon's sickbay, but I can see why some people misheard and assumed that we were still following the same Stamets. Especially with that theory floating around that he'd swapped with Mirror Stamets back in those earlier episodes where he was suddenly cheerful, which I guess has finally been disproven.

At least there's no confusion in the Lorca plot. He's got a really cunning plan here, as he uses Burnham to get himself brought to the Emperor's palace in disguise as himself. The twist being that he's actually working with the person who brought him in... exactly as the Emperor would suspect.

The dude lets his old buddy die in a bloodsplosion to goad Captain Dumbass into turning the agony booth dial to 11, allowing him to fake his death, kill his captor, and stomp on the camera to end the episode. Because he's been Mirror Lorca the whole time and he's here to kill Mirror Georgiou, just like the title Vaulting Ambition hinted! By the way, the Mirror Universe has been distinct from ours for millennia (perhaps forever), but Enterprise confirmed that Macbeth is equally grim in both universes, so the title still works.

I'm sure a vast percentage of viewers already had Lorca figured out (I was pretty certain by 9 minutes 43 seconds into Despite Yourself), but it was still a really good reveal, with Burnham figuring it out herself simultaneously instead of being completely blindsided by it like with last week's heel turn. It's been an eventful week for the character as Saru went nuts and tried to kill her, Tyler turned out to be a Klingon and tried to kill her and Lorca was revealed to be an evil doppelganger who used her and then dropped her in the queen lion's den! It's lucky Burnham still has Tilly, as she's running really low on people she can trust. Not that we know for sure Mirror Lorca doesn't still have her back; he was certainly fond of the other Burnham.

They've done a good job with Lorca in general I reckon, as from his first episode he'd always been on that knife edge between appearing like a damaged strategist with the pragmatism to do whatever it took to win and save lives, and a renegade asshole with dark secrets who manipulates people for his own agenda. His eye sensitivity wasn't a very fair clue though, as we've seen plenty of people from the Mirror Universe and their eyesight has never been an issue. Plus I don't like how it implies that Burnham's line about the universe having lost its brilliance might have been literally correct. I don't even want to think about the possibility that light is darker here, especially as it's easy enough to explain away with other theories. Like maybe it's a result of unrestricted genetic engineering backfiring; if they're playing the role of the Klingons in the universe who says they didn't go and 'augment virus' themselves?

I've noticed some fans are annoyed that Lorca wasn't just a flawed Prime Universe captain whose morality had been eroded by the tragedy he'd suffered and the gruelling war he was fighting, but hey there's still Landry. She was from the Prime Universe and she was a real bitch for some reason... unless she wasn't from the Prime Universe! If the next episode reveals that some of the Prime Buran crew ended up as prisoners on the Charon somehow and we get Prime Landry, that's a twist I'll be very happy about, especially if she gets rescued. Plus Prime Lorca and Mirror Tyler are still unaccounted for too.

Anyway, Vaulting Ambition was a solid episode I thought. Less flashy than The Wolf Inside, but if I add up all the units of untarnished enjoyment I got out of those 34 minutes or so, I think it comes out ahead. It's getting kind of obvious now that the Klingon War plot was just there to introduce the characters and set up the action happening in the Mirror Universe, as the series feels like it's finally getting on with the plot now. Not that it matters who wins here, as we already know the outcome (Mirror Spock tears the whole thing down). Plus we're at near maximum Warhammer 40K grimdark now, with an evil emperor feeding her servants to her daughter and executing her subordinates to keep her secrets, while a captain executes his prisoners by detonating their DNA, so I'm thinking this has to be a 'darkest before the dawn' situation. There has to be something closer to Star Trek at the end of this tunnel, surely.

Burnham and Lorca take a completely uneventful shuttle right into the heart of the evil Terran Empire where they are to be executed and tortured respectively. Clearly not where you want a shuttle to take you.

Discovery will return with What's Past is Prologue. But next on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'm writing about Deep Space Nine's Rivals.

In the Mirror Universe I'd have to torture you for your comments (either to get them out of you or because they were really bad), but thankfully we're in the bright happy universe where people give replies freely!

Well, we're in an okay universe at least. I mean it's not terrible. Though it would be better if you left a comment.


  1. I'm not sure what's going on with TylerVoq either; this episode's dialogue seemed to imply that Tyler is in fact Tyler -- L'Rell mentions they captured Tyler alive -- but with implanted Voq's personality in him. But if that's the case, what was all that stuff about body modification and surgery about?

    I still wonder if there's a twist to come with Lorca. Yes, he's a bastard but he wasn't so bad in the prime universe, so either he's very good at covering his tracks or he's more grey than this episode's reveal-except-not-really-because-everyone-predicted-it suggests. Discovery hasn't been good at actual surprises thus far -- Culber's death has been the only genuine one, I think -- so I don't hold high hopes for their being a further wrinkle, but we'll see. On the plus side, as you say, they did an excellent job of revealing Lorca's true identity, even if it wasn't a genuine surprise.

  2. I'm beginning to think Discovery's chief engineer and chief medical officer are also from the mirror universe. Being sensitive to Discovery's gleaming trim might explain why they never leave their offices.