In its 4th episode, Star Trek: Discovery rattled off a short list of historical figures responsible for innovating methods of flight. Since Discovery takes place in the 22nd century, this list included the surprise placement of present-day flamethrower salesman Elon Musk, CEO of The Boring Company.
It was a fun Easter Egg–until recently Star Trek generally avoided including cultural references to the late 20th century and early 21st century–but given recent plot twists in the show, that reference now has a whole new meaning.
[Note: Spoilers for the January 2018 episodes of Star Trek: Discovery ahead!]
Here’s the situation in the episode: The Discovery has successfully tested a new organic engine called a “spore drive,” allowing them to jump wherever in space they want regardless of the distance. The only trouble is that using the spore drive requires the torture of a non-consenting organism (a giant tardigrade dubbed “Ripper”), so they let Ripper go and the spore drive becomes dormant.
Captain Lorca single-mindedly wants that spore drive working, so he goes down to engineering and shames the Discovery‘s engineer Stamets into finding another way to activate the drive, noting that Stamets could have his name alongside great aviation/spaceflight pioneers such as the Wright Brothers, Elon Musk, and Zephram Cochrane.
(Hah. “Failed fungus expert.” We would wear that t-shirt.)
At this point in the show, Lorca is just a hard-nosed, war-weary Captain of the United Federation of Planets, and his insistence on the spore drive makes a lot of sense in the context of the Klingon-Federation War that Star Trek: Discovery is currently chronicling. Being able to show up anywhere, unannounced, has been shown to be an effective counter against the Klingons’ currently-unbeatable cloaking technology.
Now, however, we know that Captain Lorca is really a barbaric monster from the Mirror Universe, trying to manipulate his way back in order to finish his coup, claim the throne of the Terran Empire, and institute a quadrant-wide cleanse of non-human races.
That means the history he knows is the history of the ruthless Terran Empire. The Zephram Cochrane that Lorca celebrates isn’t the awesome invent-warp-drive-play-a-drinking-game-with-Vulcans fellow, it’s the Cochrane that invented warp drive, shot the Vulcans who came to initiate first contact, then looted their ship.
So. Um. What exactly does Elon Musk do that causes him to be remembered as a notable historical figure by the Terran Empire? And is this “our” Elon Musk or a “mirror” Elon? Or have we already diverged into the Mirror Universe? We’ll probably never know.
Anyway, here’s Elon Musk running at you with a flamethrower.