In just a single episode, Star Trek: Discovery has given Star Trek fans what feels like several hundred new developments to think about. Weirdly, or perhaps ominously, one of the more fun developments is pondering the mystery of who could be in charge of the brutal new universe that the Discovery has found itself within.
[Note: Detailed spoilers ahead for all current episodes of Star Trek: Discovery including “Despite Yourself”.]
Since its season premiere ST: Discovery has largely concerned itself with the Klingon-Federation War. That all took a back-back-waaaay-back seat in “Despite Yourself,” the mid-season premiere, as Discovery found itself stuck in…the Mirror Universe!
As viewers learned in this latest episode, getting back home to the “prime universe” is going to require some serious legwork. “The way is shut,” so to speak, as long as their spore drive engineer Stamets is out of commission, so the crew of the Discovery has to pretend to be their evil Terran Empire counterparts until they can assemble an alternate route home.
The ongoing storyline promises to test the deeply held convictions of every crew member–it’s easy to be an angel in paradise, after all–and the series has already promised that Michael Burnham and the crew of the Discovery will travel to the dark heart of the Terran Empire itself: the palace where its faceless and unknown Emperor resides.
Who, then, could this Emperor be? The last snippet of information we have about the Mirror Universe tells us that the Terran Empire’s version of Enterprise NX crewmember Hoshi Sato is Emperor, but that occurs 100 years before ST: Discovery‘s place in the Trek timeline. Hoshi is young and humans definitely live longer in Trek’s future, but the Terran Empire is ruthless and makes a joyous habit of unseating its leaders, so the odds of fans seeing Sato in the flesh on Star Trek: Discovery are…non-existent.
The Emperor is probably someone we already know. Here are 7 possibilities:
Although we’ve only seen one episode of ST: Disc‘s Mirror Universe plotline, that episode makes a very clear point of demonstrating how the barbaric norms of the Terran Empire are already forcing Michael Burnham to abandon her moral code. This plotline, the show promises, will be a constant attack on Michael’s identity.
An easy way to escalate that emotional struggle would be to make Sarek the Emperor of the Terran Empire. Michael had a staggering amount of faith in Sarek, recently fractured by the revelations in “Lethe”. Would she believe that Sarek could be a monster who demands a humans-only Empire? Would Mirror Sarek have a coldly logical explanation for his atrocities? How would Michael react to someone she respects giving her a perfectly sound explanation for why they must act monstrously? What emotional and logical depths would Michael have to discover about herself in order to overcome that?
Although making the Emperor someone Michael is emotionally connected to is a good storytelling move, it’s not entirely necessary to do that in order to tell an effective tale about how Michael resists the corruption of the Terran Empire. Alternatively, the identity of the Emperor might be more of an opportunity to explore Lorca’s past because, and now it’s sub-theory time…
…the Lorca we know has always been the Mirror Universe Lorca.
The theory: “Our” Lorca was indeed a rebel in the Mirror Universe. What if the ISS Buran was destroyed at the same time and same place as the USS Buran? Would that simultaneity be the handwavium-style spark needed to make it possible for Lorca to be shunted over to the primary universe? (And if that’s how crossover works, what does the Discovery have to destroy to get back home?)
This theory would explain Lorca’s survival, as well as a lot of Lorca’s unorthodox actions. Imagine being instantly dropped into a MUCH NICER REALITY where you didn’t have to rebel against authority; where things went how they should have gone.
Now imagine learning that your counterpart in the Nice Reality was also romantically entangled with the same woman. Except in the Nice Reality that woman isn’t a sadistically manipulative Emperor who took you as a concubine…she’s just an Admiral leading the charge to preserve the Federation.
This also sets up parallels between Lorca and Tyler, and since Tyler is clearly struggling with his double agent identity and with the abuse he has suffered, it’s possible that both Michael and Lorca will be drawn into his journey of recovery. It would also explain why Lorca didn’t really question taking Tyler with him when they escaped the Klingon ship.
This theory doesn’t quite explain why Lorca would want to go back to the Mirror Universe (he clearly subverts the spore drive just before their fateful jump into the Mirror Universe) but that’s a story that we don’t necessarily need just yet. It’s feasible that the Federation has literature and history and tech that could turn the tide in the rebellion against the Terran Empire, and Lorca developed that to a point where he felt confident bringing it back. (We’ve seen the effectiveness of the spore drive already. And reading/seeing proof of a galaxy where humanity is BETTER would also be a massively powerful weapon for a place as dispirited as the Terran Empire.)
Harcourt Fenton Mudd
Discovery could go the other route and demonstrate that the Emperor Has No Clothes. The show has gone out of its way to demonstrate that Mudd is needlessly opportunistic, to the point where that desire for opportunity and comfort makes it easy for him to enjoy the repeated murder of innocents. It’s not hard to imagine Mudd scheming his way to the top of the Empire but not having the mental wherewithal to manage, stop, or even be aware of atrocities committed in his Empire. Creating a fair and just society takes constant vigilance (a fact even Picard himself needed refreshing on at one point) and weak or absent leadership like Mudd’s would allow corruption to run rampant.
Additionally, if Lorca is actually from the Mirror Universe and knew Mudd was Emperor, it would explain why Lorca left him to die in the primary universe.
(Also Rainn Wilson would play the hell out of a Mudd-as-Emperor role.)
James R. Kirk
I’m just saying maybe there’s more of a story to this gravestone than we think okay.
(The “R” stands for “Romulus”, clearly.)
Dr. Hugh Culber
Wilson Cruz, the actor playing the recently-fridged Dr. Hugh Culber, has stated that his character will be back at some point, which suggests that Stamets or the crew will meet Mirror Culber. Maybe they really really meet him?
This list plays around with a lot of possibilities but honestly, how could the Emperor not be Georgiou? What a knife to the gut it would be for Michael to discover that the kindest, cleverest, most honorable mentor she has ever known is the Emperor of the interstellar meat-grinder that is the Terran Empire.
Michael would almost certainly be responsible for Georgiou’s death yet again, but at the same time, seeing Mirror Georgiou could underscore just how much control external circumstances assert over our lives. You can be as kind and clever as you want and still be forced into the role of butcher. And that could help Michael make some kind of peace with her own role in the prime universe without letting her off the hook for instigating an interstellar war that has cost the lives of thousands.
Also, you know that Michelle Yeoh would absolutely crush that role. Although there is one other person who could possibly match the vivacity Yeoh would bring…
This guy! He gets everywhere.
Chris Lough seems to have stumbled into a 2018 of writing weird Star Trek lists. It sure underscores how much control external circumstances can assert over our lives.