WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Star Trek: Discovery, particularly last week’s episode, “Vaulting Ambition.”
Star Trek: Discovery shocked fans with the confirmation in last week’s episode that Captain Gabriel Lorca is actually from the Mirror Universe. He escaped to the Prime Universe after staging a failed coup against Emperor Georgiou, then posed as the Prime version of himself to acquire the technology to return, and the key players necessary to try again — namely, Michael Burnham. His pawn puts all of that together after listening to Emperor Georgiou detail how Lorca had coerced the Mirror Burnham to support his cause. The episode ends with the fugitive captain escaping confinement as a horrified Burnham reveals his intentions to the emperor.
It’s the second time in as many episodes that Burnham has found herself without a tether: Two weeks ago, she learned her lover Ash Tyler is actually a Klingon sleeper agent, and “Vaulting Ambition” revealed the treachery of the commanding officer who helped her to rebuild after the death of Captain Georgiou. Luckily, Burnham has been reunited (in a sense) with her beloved mentor, so while the bottom has dropped out from under her once more, Mirror Georgiou’s there to serve as kind of an unexpected emotional safety net. Unfortunately, Burnham is blind to the fact that she’s in more danger with the emperor than she ever was with Lorca.
After Burnham reveals her true identity to Georgiou, the two actually negotiate a pretty civilized deal: Discovery‘s spore-drive schematics in exchange for Burnham’s freedom and her starship’s swift exit from the Mirror Universe (preferably before the Federation infects it with hippie notions of equality). There’s a brief moment when Burnham shows her reluctance to trust the emperor, but Georgiou reassures her by pointing out that her counterpart was a woman of honor, so why shouldn’t Burnham expect the same from her?
Because this is the Mirror Universe, and that’s, like, the entire point.
Terran culture is based on the exploitation of others for the sake of personal gain, and Emperor Georgiou didn’t become Mother of the Fatherland by fannying about with things like “honor.” The idea that Burnham can trust this Georgiou (who eats sentient aliens and has a murder Frisbee) based on the behavior of the other is utterly preposterous. That she does just that is alarming. Burnham’s apprehensions about confronting the “ghost” of her late mentor were not entirely unfounded; they just didn’t manifest in the way we thought they would.
When Burnham and Lorca began their journey to the Charon, the emperor’s massive flagship, Lorca notices Burnam is nervous about meeting Captain Georgiou’s counterpart. He attempts to reassure his lieutenant that her Georgiou is no more than a ghost, and Burnham quips, “Haven’t you ever been afraid of a ghost?” Ostensibly, Burnham was worried that her emotional response to Emperor Georgiou might cause her to blow her cover, or otherwise jeopardize the mission to retrieve the classified information about the U.S.S. Defiant that might hold the key to Discovery‘s salvation. Her fear is understandable: She’s spent most of the season getting over her intense guilt caused by her role in Georgiou’s death, and she’s on a mission that requires an extreme degree of mental discipline to ensure her survival, and the survival of her crew. This isn’t just any ghost.
Unfortunately, it looks as if she’s unable to comprehend that’s exactly what’s happening. Burnham’s love for her late captain and guilt over her death are tempting her to project Prime Georgiou’s personality onto the emperor. It’s leading her to conflate a racist, murderous conqueror with the memory of her mentor and to trust someone she absolutely should not. At the end of the day, the Mirror Universe is full of terrible people, and Georgiou is literally their queen; she’s more likely to eat Burnham than make good on this deal. If and when that confrontation comes to a head, Michael won’t be facing a ghost, she’ll be facing a demon — one who looks just like someone she loves.
Airing Sundays at 8:30 p.m. ET on CBS All Access, Star Trek: Discovery stars Sonequa Martin-Green, Doug Jones, Jason Isaacs, Anthony Rapp, Shazad Latif, Mary Wiseman, Wilson Cruz and Mary Chieffo.
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