“We will not accept a no-win scenario” — Star Trek Discovery’s “What’s Past is Prologue”

My introduction to Michelle Yeoh was when Jackie Chan’s third Police Story movie was released in the United States in 1996, retitled Supercop. It was released here to cash in on Chan’s newfound American popularity following Rumble in the Bronx. I went to see the movie for Chan, but was completely captivated by Yeoh, who was as good as Chan as a choreographed fighter and as an actor. In fact, she was a better actor, and Chan’s actually quite good…

I’ve followed her career with assiduity ever since, from her amazing turn in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to her being the primary reason why Tomorrow Never Dies is the only Pierce Brosnan James Bond movie I like. Her movements are elegant and beautiful, and ones I’ve grown to appreciate more the last thirteen years since I started training in martial arts.

So I freely admit that my second-favorite moment in “What’s Past is Prologue” is when Lorca throws a knife at Georgiou, and she uses an inside roundhouse kick to knock it aside. I totally cheered.

My favorite moment was, for the third episode in a row, a scene involving Saru. The speech he gives to the crew about how the ship isn’t Lorca’s anymore is wonderful—and then he makes it more so by not saying that it’s his ship now, instead saying that it’s all of theirs. I just about got goosebumps from that. Saru is simply a magnificent character, and a perfect Star Trek character, and I really hope that season two of this show puts him in the center seat where he belongs. He’s struggled with being in charge before, being overly analytical about it in “Choose Your Pain,” and being subsumed by an alien consciousness in “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum,” but with that speech, Saru had his Captain Moment. It was right up there with Kirk’s “risk is our business” speech to the senior staff and Picard’s “you’ve made your choices, sir, you’re a traitor” confrontation with Jarok and Sisko silently climbing back into the box rather than give in to Alixus.

A major complaint about Discovery has been that it’s not nearly Star Trek enough, that it’s too dark, too much Battlestar Galactica and not enough Star Trek (ironic, given that the guiding force behind BSG was Ronald D. Moore, one of the best Star Trek screenwriters in its five-decade history). These last two episodes have shone a light on that and proven it to be a feature rather than a bug. Mirror-Lorca has been able to take the war with the Klingons and use it as cover to further his own agenda of getting back. He gloats in this episode about how he’s molded Discovery‘s crew into a fine bunch of soldiers, and it’s to Doug Jones’s credit that you can still see the disgust on Saru’s face even through all that latex covering his face.

But war has a disruptive effect on even a utopian society—that was one of the running themes of the final two seasons of Deep Space Nine, writ large in “In the Pale Moonlight” and a few other episodes. In the end, though, this is still Star Trek. The solution to the Dominion War wasn’t military might, it was Odo’s compassion shown toward the female Changeling.

And Discovery is a ship of science, not a ship of war. The conflict with the Klingons forced them out of that, and Lorca encouraged it in service of getting himself home. With Saru’s speech, it looks like they’re going to try very hard to get back to their true mission statement.

First, though, there’s a war to deal with. This episode ends with Discovery back home, but nine months later, and the war’s gone very badly. Be curious to see how that resolves, though I’m way more interested in how mirror-Georgiou deals with being in the mainline universe.

My third-favorite moment in the episode was the scene between Emperor Georgiou and Burnham in her little sanctuary. The emperor is holding mirror-Burnham’s insignia, which is all she has left of her protegée. Burnham is still holding Georgiou’s insignia. One of the things I liked best about “The Vulcan Hello” was the mentor/mentee relationship between Georgiou and Burnham, and one of the things I liked least about “Battle at the Binary Stars” was that Georgiou’s death meant we wouldn’t see any more of that, except maybe in flashbacks and tie-in fiction.

That relationship is why Burnham is unwilling to once again stand on an enemy ship and see herself live and Georgiou die, so she grabs the emperor and pulls her along in the transporter beam. She winds up in the mainline universe, which I can’t imagine will make her happy. The emperor had already lost her throne—Lorca’s very public takeover of the Charon pretty much spelled the end of her reign even with Lorca’s defeat—and she was looking forward to an honorable death. This isn’t that, and I can’t see her thanking Burnham.

There are still plenty of problems with this episode. There’s the perpetual Mirror Universe issue of death being meaningless because we’ve got another one, so it’s impossible to get worked up over mirror-Owokusen and mirror-Stamets being disintegrated. After the joy and wonder of “Captain Killy” in “Despite Yourself,” I was hoping for lots more of Tilly being evil, and we got precisely none of it, which is a huge disappointment and missed opportunity for Mary Wiseman. (Having said that, we still don’t know what happened to the I.S.S. Discovery—is it in the mainline universe? Might we see the actual Captain Killy?)

While I had no issue with Burnham being able to move freely about the Charon thanks to her mad Starfleet skillz (I especially liked her spoofing her signal so Landry went to the wrong place while Lorca thought he was stalling her), I had a serious problem with how easily she was able to escape the throne room and all its armed guards.

I was hoping that the shot we saw of Landry in the coming attractions last week meant we’d be seeing flashbacks to Lorca and Landry’s coup attempt and then they were sent to the mainline universe and took the places of their counterparts. But no, it turns out that the racist Landry we met in “Context is for Kings” and who died due to a terminal case of stupidity in “The Butcher’s Knifes Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry” was the actual prime Landry, and really? She was as big a dink as Lorca, and her death was more of a relief than a tragedy, and I don’t say that lightly. (Having said that, we also have Stiles in “Balance of Terror.” But where Kirk upbraided Stiles, Lorca would just encourage Landry, especially since she looks just like his lieutenant in his home universe. It’s easy to see her thriving due entirely to Lorca being her rabbi.)

The one death of an MU character that does hit is that of Lorca, because it’s the Lorca we’ve been following all along. And he mostly dies because his fatal flaw is seeing Burnham as a replacement for mirror-Burnham. They’re not the same person, and his inability to see that is what leads to being impaled on Georgiou’s sword and his body disintegrated in the mycelial orb. Burnham, of course, has the same flaw, as she insists on saving the emperor even though she isn’t her Georgiou.

It also raises the question: is the mainline Lorca still alive? Perhaps we’ll find out next week…

Keith R.A. DeCandido‘s Patreon was updated this past weekend with reviews of Proud Mary and The Alienist, as well as a vignette featuring the Super City Police Department. Check it out!

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