It really does suck to be Michael Burnham.
I mean, first you had the whole thing with her parents being killed, and then she was raised on a planet that isn’t exactly kind and benevolent toward humans (or much of anybody), she got screwed out of going to Vulcan Space School, and then she got her captain and about 8000 other people killed in an incident that started a brutal war. And then she got herself assigned to a ship run by a loony with PTSD whose first officer is her former shipmate who hates her living guts.
And all of that is as nothing compared to the crap she goes through in “The Wolf Inside.” I got dinged last week for not putting up sufficient spoiler alerts, so SPOILER ALERT! LOTSA SPOILERS FOR “THE WOLF INSIDE” IN THIS POST! ABANDON ALL HOPE, YE WHO ENTER HERE!
The revelations do come fast and furious this week. All speculation about Voq and Tyler is put to rest, as it’s established that yes, Ash Tyler was taken prisoner by the Klingons, but Voq was then surgically altered to look like him and they superimposed Tyler’s memories and personality over Voq’s. Tyler’s personality was strong enough for a while to keep Voq in check, even after L’Rell spoke the key phrase last week, but when Tyler and Burnham meet the leader of the resistance against the Terran Empire, and it turns out to be Voq, it all breaks down. Voq sees himself working with Andorians, Tellarites, and Vulcans, and it’s like seeing himself betrayed. He attacks mirror-Voq, jeopardizing Burnham’s covert mission to save the resistance while maintaining her cover.
And one member of that resistance is Sarek of Vulcan. With a goatee, of course, thus continuing the tradition started by Spock in “Mirror, Mirror” and continued by Soval in “In a Mirror, Darkly,” of Vulcans with facial hair. Sarek’s mind-meld with Burnham enables her to save the rebels and save face with the empire, and also give the bearded Sarek hope for the future by seeing the mainline universe and its United Federation of Planets.
But with the reassertion of Voq’s personality, Burnham’s life falls apart. Tyler earlier said that Burnham was his tether—analogizing her to the tether they used in flight school for cadets flying ships for the first time—and he was hers as well as she navigated this horrible alternate timeline. Then, not only does she learn that her lover is really a Klingon spy, but he’s the guy she fought on the ship of the dead when she killed T’Kuvma and Georgiou was killed. Oh, and he admits to killing Culber, a revelation that shocks Burnham to her core because Saru hasn’t actually informed her that Culber’s dead. (Understandably so, as it would distract her from her mission, but damn. Burnham makes up for it by not telling Saru that his counterpart is her slave in the MU.)
Then at the end, Burnham’s attempt to save the resistance by giving them time to escape before bombarding the planet is done in by the appearance of the emperor. The imperial vessel bombs the crap out of the planet, possibly killing mirror-Sarek—and then we find out that the “faceless” emperor is, in fact, Philippa Georgiou.
I have to admit that I was hoping that Georgiou would be the emperor. I know speculation has been flying fast and furious about who the emperor might be, and there were plenty of strong possibilities, but Georgiou always had the inside track in my mind because it would cause the maximum angst for our main characters.
With all that, though, Burnham never loses sight of the mission—and of who she is. As great as the moment is when Georgiou’s image appears on the I.S.S. Shenzhou‘s bridge, it’s not the crowning moment of awesome in the episode. That honor is reserved for Saru when Tyler/Voq—after being beamed out into space on Burnham’s order as punishment for trying to kill Burnham—is beamed aboard Discovery and put under arrest. They may be in the Universe Of Evil, but they’re still on a mission of peace and they’re still in the business of saving lives rather than taking them. That’s why Burnham beamed down to the resistance base under the cover of gaining intelligence about the rebels before destroying them, so she could save lives. And even though she condemns Voq/Tyler to death, even going so far as to operate the transporter herself, she uses that to save lives. After placing the data disc with the encrypted intelligence on the Defiant in Tyler’s uniform under cover of punching him, she beams him away herself, solidifying her position as captain of the Shenzhou while giving Saru and the others a chance to decrypt the intel safely.
When Voq bitches about being captured instead of dying with honor, Saru has that great moment: “We are stranded in a cruel anarchic world, but we are still Starfleet. We still live and die by Federation law.” I grinned when Georgiou appeared, but I cheered when Saru said this line, delivered to absolute perfection by Doug Jones, who remains the unheralded rock star of this show.
More to the point, though, is that our heroes are just that: heroes. Burnham and Saru are both working hard to save lives. (Even mirror-Saru, a slave, maintains his nobility, as he saves Burnham from being killed by Voq.)
Well, some of them are. Lorca’s instinct is for Burnham to follow orders and destroy the rebel base from orbit. (“It’s the only way to be sure” says the ghost of Ellen Ripley.) It’s Burnham who has to remind him that they’re still Starfleet, something that Lorca’s first officer knows and that his disgraced mutineer specialist knows, so why doesn’t he? There’s still way too much we don’t know about Gabriel Lorca, and we’re running out of episodes to find out what his deal is.
Luckily, there’s plenty else to chew on here. Besides the ongoing MU mishegoss and Burnham’s soul being chewed on by rabid ferrets, we have poor Paul Stamets. Tilly and Saru figure out how to cure him, but then he seems to die. Of course, my wife and I both remembered that the tardigrade went into hibernation, so why didn’t Tilly or Saru recall it? Or the medical staff who came in to try to revive him? (I’m also disappointed that we only saw Tilly as Cadet Tilly and never once as Captain Killy, because seriously, that was awesome. Maybe next week…)
But of course Stamets survived because Anthony Rapp is in the opening credits, and while Discovery has left us a nice big trail of dead bodies, up to Culber last week, it’s been all people listed as guest stars, not stars. Not only is Stamets still alive, but as we see him in the mindscape of the mycelial network, he encounters his MU counterpart. So next week, we’ll get to see Stamets talking to himself…
I can say without a doubt that this is the best episode of Discovery so far, and this episode has been the best use of the Mirror Universe since its first appearance five decades ago. (DS9‘s forays were entertaining funhouse-mirror looks, but only one or two of them had any gravitas, and Enterprise‘s two-parter was a consequence-free tale that had no stakes for the actual characters we cared about.) The best stories are the ones where our heroes are challenged and still come out ahead. Burnham’s incredibly difficult journey to redemption has been the through-line of this first season of a new Trek, and this week has been the most thrilling part of that journey to date. This is also the episode that has me most anticipating next week, but that’s purely because we’ll get a whole hour of Michelle Yeoh being badass, and I’d be on board for that in any context anywhere.
Keith R.A. DeCandido urges folks to support his Patreon, where he’s providing a bunch of different things, including monthly movie reviews (Star Wars: The Last Jedi), weekly TV reviews (Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., MacGyver, The Librarians, Doctor Who‘s Christmas Special, Major Crimes), excerpts from his works in progress (currently his urban fantasy novel A Furnace Sealed), monthly vignettes featuring his original characters (a holiday bit featuring Cassie Zukav, weirdness magnet), and tons and tons of cat pictures, with more to come. Do check it out!