WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for this week’s episode of Star Trek: Discovery, “Vaulting Ambition,” which premiered Sunday on CBS All Access.
Star Trek: Discovery began laying bare its secrets with the midseason premiere, in which it confirmed not only the jump to the Mirror Universe but also the once-seemingly outlandish fan theory that Lt. Ash Tyler is actually the Klingon extremist Voq. But percolating in the background since his introduction in Episode 3 is the notion that Jason Isaacs’ Captain Gabriel Lorca is not what — or, more precisely, who — he seems. And in this week’s episode, “Vaulting Ambition,” that too plays out.
Unique among the captains in the franchise’s five-decade history, Lorca is a warmonger, willing to go to most any lengths to defeat the enemy Klingons. Transforming an experimental science vessel, and its astromycologist, into Starfleet’s secret weapon, he’s defied orders, enlisted an infamous mutineer (Sonequa Martin-Green’s Michael Burnham) and a former prisoner of war with PTSD (Shazad Latif’s Tyler) in his mission, and placed in harm’s way both his crew and a superior officer (Jayne Brook’s Admiral Katrina Cornwell) to ensure he accomplished his sometimes-mysterious goals. Although it was suspected early on that Lorca might be part of Section 31, Starfleet’s black-ops division, it soon became clear he’s something darker — maybe even something from another universe.
Although the series has been dropping clues to the Mirror Universe all season, Burnham doesn’t piece together those that point to her captain’s true origins until she’s summoned to the palace ship of Terran Emperor Georgiou. Masquerading as her Mirror counterpart, Burnham brings with her Lorca, whom she believes is only convincingly playing his own doppelganger, a traitor who attempted to overthrow the Emperor before disappearing. Burnham may think the most difficult parts of the mission will be facing the double of the captain she betrayed while locating the classified files that may allow Discovery to return home, she’s in for a rude awakening.
Long believed dead, the Mirror Universe’s Captain Burnham is given a hero’s welcome and her choice of a Kelpian (Saru’s species), which the Terrans use as slaves. Over a private dinner, of Kelpian, Burnham learns that in the Mirror Universe Georgiou isn’t merely her mentor but her adoptive mother, replacing Sarek and Amanda. But their reunion is far from heartwarming, as the revelations keep coming: Mirror Burnham collaborated with Lorca to assassinate the Emperor and take her throne.
Sentenced to be executed, Burnham plays the only card she has left, she tells the Emperor she’s from a parallel universe, and produces Georgiou’s Starfleet badge as proof. No stranger to the United Federation of Planets, Emperor Georgiou is relatively unfazed by this new wrinkle (oh, sure, she executes most of her council to keep the secret), and immediately sets out to use it to her advantage: She’ll free Burnham and Lorca in exchange for the schematics to Discovery‘s spore drive. Saru and Burnham reluctantly agree to the terms of the Emperor, who assures that she, like Captain Georgiou, is a woman of honor.
She’s also, of course, a woman of secrets, and grudges. She divulges that Lorca was once her right hand, so trusted that he became a surrogate father to Mirror Burnham. And then he became something more. “He groomed you,” the Emperor says, “He chose you,” triggering memories of Burnham’s own conversations with her captain. Before she can even have time to process her realization, Burnham notices the Emperor possesses a sensitivity to light, just like Lorca. “It’s the singular biological difference between our two races,” Georgiou confides (Lorca had explained away this trait as the result of an injury suffered in the destruction of his previous ship, the USS Buran).
“He needed me to get onto this ship,” Burnham says, grasping Lorca’s long game. “You wouldn’t have let him on otherwise. He needed me to get to you. None of this was an accident. My so-called captain’s not from my universe. He’s from yours.”
Even as Burnham untangles the plot, we see Lorca escape from the Terran agonizer, ready to begin the next stage of his plan, which presumably involves beginning what he started: the assassination of Emperor Georgiou. We’re left with many questions, not the least of which is what side does Burnham choose? The cruel “ghost” of the mentor she betrayed — not to mention the ruler of an empire bent on galactic conquest — or the captain who’s manipulated and endangered her and her crew mates every step of the way? What’s more, if Lorca’s feelings for Mirror Burnham have been transferred onto Prime Burnham, does he intend to place her on the Terran throne once Georgiou is dead?
It’s all a bit mind-boggling, and more than a little … icky.
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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