Warning: This contains spoilers for Episode 10 of Star Trek: Discovery. Not caught up? See our spoiler-free review of the series’ opening episodes here.
It was clear at the end of Star Trek: Discovery’s mid-season break that Stamets, his mind addled with pandimensional mushrooms, had catapulted the USS Discovery into a parallel universe, but it was only with this episode that fan speculation was confirmed: this was the Mirror Universe. First seen in the 1967 episode Mirror, Mirror, and revisited in Enterprise – the events of which take place a century before those of the original series and Discovery – and in five episodes of Deep Space Nine, which, although set 80 years after Kirk and Spock’s Enterprise mission, is also referenced here.
All these nods to continuity are – thankfully, for more casual viewers – integrated into a solid and exciting adventure that’s more like classic Trek than any other Discovery episodes thus far. This means, for good or ill, that it’s an incredibly silly episode: the Mirror Universe, as established in Mirror, Mirror, is populated with exactly the same people as our universe, only they’re evil servants of the fascist Terran Empire. It passed muster as an idea in the 1960s, but, really, it doesn’t stand up to even the most cursory analysis. If a parallel universe differed from ours to the extent that Starfleet didn’t join the United Federation of Planets, but became an empire of xenophobic war-mongers, then the butterfly effect would ensure that virtually nobody from our universe would be born – let alone everybody.
But does anybody tune into Trek for hard science? No. It’s a crazy and stupid idea, yes, but most of all, it’s fun. As the Discovery crew realise where they are, and, armed with the information gleaned from a wrecked Klingon vessel, piece together the alternative history of the Mirror Universe, watching them get dressed up in glorious, camp Flash Gordon-style evil uniforms is fantastic. In true Trek style, too, characters get thrust into unfamiliar roles, with Lorca an outlaw, Tilly the murderous captain of Discovery, and Burnham, presumed dead, at the helm of the Shenzhou.
The darkness that has been the hallmark of this new Trek is still present – a most welcome counterpoint to the unremitting silliness on display elsewhere – as Ash’s mental state escalates from mildly disturbed to deranged. That Burnham, usually so by-the-book, swallows Ash’s assurances that he’s fit for duty is far from convincing. Yes, her love for him is clouding her judgement, but, considering the symptoms he presents (not to mention a mission-threatening flashback), she would surely have reported him. That she doesn’t leads to the ignoble neck-snapping death of Dr. Culber, but not before he’s let Ash know that his Klingon tormentor – still imprisoned on board Discovery and, presumably, with a good counterpart in the Mirror Universe – has fully taken over his mind and body.
Time travel is also very firmly back on the table, as Burnham discovers a starship from our universe is reported as appearing in the past of the Mirror world. This, as all fans will know, is the USS Defiant, the starship featured heavily in Deep Space Nine. Anyone trying to hold all this continuity in their head is likely to suffer the same fate as Stamets, who, though able to mutter “the enemy is here”, is unable to warn his husband in time to save his life.
Ending on a thrilling cliffhanger – with Lorca imprisoned in an agonizer and Burnham installed as captain of the Shenzhou – the next episode promises some mind-blowing revelations. Fuelled by the titbits dropped in interviews by the showrunners, fan speculation is going into overdrive. Apparently, the identity of the Terran Empire’s emperor will be revealed – although not necessarily immediately. In the Enterprise Mirror episodes, Hoshi Sato installed herself as Empress and, at some point after her, goatee-bearded Spock took the top job (as seen in the original series and Deep Space Nine). But, with the Terran Empire Burnham and friends are encountering being a strictly humans-only affair, Emperor Spock seems unlikely. Our money is on Burnham’s old – and dead – friend Captain Georgiou (confirmed to be returning to the show in some form), although hopefully the writers will come up with something far more unpredictable and jaw-dropping than that.
Star Trek: Discovery beams back onto our screens with an enjoyable romp, but, as with previous Mirror Universe excursions, let’s hope we’re not going to be spending too long on the other side. After all, back home, there’s a war to win.
Star Trek: Discovery is available on Netflix UK, as part of £7.49 monthly subscription. New episodes arrive every Monday, within 24 hours of their US release.