Warning: This contains spoilers for Episode 11 of Star Trek: Discovery. Not caught up? See our spoiler-free review of the series’ opening episodes here.
Discovery’s adventure in the Mirror Universe continues, with a follow-up episode that ups the tension and dials down the campness. OK, so the parallel universe where every single object and person is the same but evil remains a fossil from Trek’s 1960s beginnings, but once we accept that reality, it makes for a gripping space opera setting. Indeed, as much of Star Trek can be read as allegorical fantasy rather than hard sci-fi, the up is down and down is up world recalls Alice In Wonderland – a book we know Burnham read as a child to hang onto her humanity.
Here we see her forced to act the role of her merciless doppelganger and captain the Shenzhou, scared she’ll lose her sense of self – not easy when she’s required to look on impassively, as traitors are beamed outside to certain death in the cold vacuum of space. The only thing keeping her grounded is Ash – and he, in return, claims she keeps him tethered. That Ash is revealed to be nothing more than a living-breathing skin suit for Voq is just one of this episode’s many fantastic reveals and leaves both the audience – and Burnham – unmoored.
Leading to the episode’s shocking climax is a deftly plotted journey, in which Burnham and Saru – acting (secret) captain of The Discovery – are seen hiding the truth from one another. Burnham doesn’t need to know that Doctor Culber has been murdered, and she opts to keep quiet about Mirror Saru – a subservient slave. Especially the part about him washing her in the bath…
Meanwhile, Tilly – whom the Mirror humans believe is captain of the Discovery – focuses her attention on fixing Stamets. “This is a spore issue,” she insists – reminding everyone watching that, great as Netflix Trek is, it’s still underpinned by this dumbest of all ideas. Seeing the tardigrade up on screen yet again is the only low moment in an otherwise first-class episode.
Back on the Shenzhou, Burnham receives orders to destroy the rebel leader known as the Fire Wolf. Contriving a plausible reason for her, accompanied by Ash, to beam down to the planet, she discovers the identity of the Fire Wolf – Voq of No One (no surprise for anyone who opted not to skip the recap at the beginning of the ep; the albino Klingon’s appearance is a dead giveaway). Here, too, is Mirror Sarek, and his mind-meld with Burnham secures the rebels’ trust. Bombarded with images from our universe, the Vulcan senses the “seemingly impossible depth of human compassion”; in the Mirror Universe, humans are the Klingons. And, as we viewers already know from Star Trek: TNG and beyond, Klingons are more than capable of cooperation and even friendship with other species. Burnham, both Discovery’s heart and brain, senses this – finding a way to understand her enemy as more than hate-filled warriors becomes her mission.
Unfortunately, Klingon hate is present in the form of Ash/Voq, who flips out screaming “Remain Klingon!” in the ancient Klingon tongue. Mirror Voq is confused, and the fact he lets Ash/Voq go pushes credulity somewhat. But in so doing he makes way for a truly superb showdown between Burnham and her lover – although we are beginning to wonder why phasers in this series don’t seem to have a stun setting – and the set up for a fantastic twist. In beaming Ash/Voq out of the ship to his apparent death, Burnham succeeds in smuggling back to Discovery the secret files on the USS Defiant – and, with it, perhaps the key to them all escaping back home. Ash/Voq’s signature is intercepted by the Discovery and, with plans in his pocket, he’s beamed aboard and thrown in the brig. How a traumatised Burnham deals with him is a treat for future episodes.
This episode isn’t done with us yet, though. Not only is Stamets – apparently dead – sort-of alive in a spore-filled garden with his Mirror self, but the Emperor of the Terran Empire is revealed. OK, so everyone’s first guess turned out to be right, and all the talk of the “faceless” emperor a little redundant, but for the impact on an already beleaguered Burnham, seeing her dead best friend, Philippa Georgiou, in this universe as the epitome of all evil, the writers should be applauded. Not since Picard popped up as Locutus of Borg has the wait for the next Trek episode seemed so long. Awesome stuff.
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.