Sunday, January 28, 2018

REVIEW: 'Star Trek: Discovery' - Lorca Puts a Plan in Motion to Overthrow the Emperor in 'What's Past Is Prologue'

CBS All Access' Star Trek: Discovery - Episode 1.13 "What's Past Is Prologue"

Lorca plans to move forward with a coup against the Emperor, propelling Burnham to make a quick decision to save not only herself, but the U.S.S. Discovery.

"What's Past Is Prologue" is a very climatic episode of Star Trek: Discovery. It brings everything in the mirror universe that's been going on in the 2018 episodes so far to a close. It almost plays as a finale. It even builds to a shocking death and a startling twist that could change everything in the future. That makes it apparent that those dangling threads will be wrapped up pretty quickly in the final two episodes of the season. The mirror universe brought the themes of this show together in some exciting ways that made it unique and compelling to watch. This hour ends with the Discovery returning to the prime universe and the lame klingon war. That's not all that exciting. But it's the narrative that has been plotted out. It's the story that was being told until it was interrupted by this venture to another dimension. It's still the conflict that defines story for L'Rell and Tyler. As such, the show feels the need to return to it even though it's lame in comparison to some of the more recent developments of the season. But that's all speculation for the future. This hour features a lot of shocking twists and turns. At times, it feels like it is overcrowded with plot and not enough solid character beats to make it all worth it. And yet, the moments where it does come together makes it truly rewarding and shocking.

Last week revealed that Lorca was from the mirror universe all along. That immediately set up the question of how he came to the prime universe in the first place. Here, he offers up an explanation to mirror Stamets and Landry. His navigational systems were thrown out of whack as he went into an ion storm. That sent him to a world of the unknown. Once there, he was quickly able to plot his return with a brilliant strategy in the hopes of dethroning Emperor Georgiou. It's a plan that seems insane to put into context. Lorca has to realize he's in an alternate dimension. He has to become aware of the tragedy that befalls prime Lorca and his ship (or he causes it). He has to emerge as a hero in Starfleet. He has to develop the spore technology knowing that it can lead him back to his own world. He has to recruit Michael to the cause knowing that she holds personal significance to Georgiou. He has to captain this ship long enough to figure out the coordinates back to his universe. Then, he has to make that jump and find a way to sneak back onto the Emperor's ship to stage a coup. It all seems ridiculously over-the-top and impossible. It's impressive that it all worked out exactly as planned for Lorca. But it also reveals Lorca to be a one-note villain who wants to replace Georgiou as emperor not because of her views but because she has grown soft in her old age. That's a twist that doesn't seemed earned. And yet, it is more exciting to see Jason Isaacs play the villainous version of this character while becoming aware that he's only going to be with this show for a season.

Lorca's plan fails entirely because of Michael. He believed he could seduce her into ruling by his side. He managed to do that exact same thing with mirror Michael. He turned her against her adoptive mother, Emperor Georgiou. They had a twisted sexual relationship that really isn't talked about a whole lot here. And now, Lorca believes he has found an ever better Michael to rule alongside him. She's more logical and skilled. Sexual chemistry doesn't define this version of their relationship. It never has been played that way and the show recognizes that it never should. Lorca believes he has formed a bond with Michael that is strong enough for her to want to stay in this universe and rule the Terran Empire by his side. He's completely misguided because Michael has such a love and respect for the law of Starfleet. That's been apparent throughout this season. It's especially meaningful when it comes down to their big confrontation. Lorca is talking openly for the very first time this season. He believes Michael is with him in the belief that Starfleet is just a social experiment that is destined to fail one day. He's all for racial unity and power. That has been a core theme and message of this season. Starfleet survives because it faces these threats while being welcoming to the discovery of the unknown. Michael embodies that perfectly through her speech about Starfleet helping Lorca if he had just asked for it. He didn't because he lived in a universe where asking for help was a sign of weakness.

And so, the battle lines are pretty clear throughout this conflict. It's Michael and Georgiou against Lorca. Michael and Georgiou are finally on the same side again. Their dynamic has been defined by friendship and betrayal in every iteration. The pain of the past affects their judgment in the present. And yet, it's also clear that they need to rely on each other in order to execute their final mission. Michael needs to create an opening for the Discovery to attack and redistribute the mycelial network before it destroys all of existence. Meanwhile, Georgiou needs to kill Lorca. Her motivation is simple. Everything in the mirror universe is simple and easy to understand. That's what has allowed this story to be vastly more engaging and exciting. Yes, it's been paying off season's worth of development with shocking reveals. But it's also just more upfront about the status of the world, the characters and their conflicts. It's easy to understand what's happening because the audience can see it with our own eyes. Of course, there's no guarantee that Georgiou is going to be a reliable ally for Michael. Michael is helping her reclaim her throne just because she needs to get to the control panel. After killing Lorca, Georgiou could completely go against Michael in order to ensure her own stability as emperor. That's not the direction the show chooses to explore. Instead, it highlights the bond between Michael and Georgiou. Sure, Michael doesn't want to kill Lorca and Georgiou ultimately does do that. But it's still enough for Michael to save Georgiou when death is imminent for her.

Of course, there is also just a bunch of plot holes and weird complications over the course of this hour. The emperor's ship is huge. For context, just look at what the Discovery is like in comparison when it zooms by for its potential suicide mission. How does Lorca and his rebellion take control of the ship so easily? It once again feels like a case of the show having no concept for how large the crews of these ships actually are. There are faces on the Discovery in this episode whom I can't say have ever appeared previously. Both ships have intimate feels to them. It makes them seem like not many people are actually aboard when there very clearly has to be. But Lorca succeeds because the story needs him to. Just like it's necessary for Georgiou to believe that she is destined to go down with her ship. She has killed Lorca. It's an epic and visually stunning death sequence. She has regained her title as emperor. And yet, she's also resigned to death because there are apparently more rebel forces on the ship whom she can't defeat by herself. She may just be ready to die because she knows the extent of Michael's plan. She is completely willing to make that happen too. Michael needs the shields down in order for the Discovery to destroy this ship, heal the mycelial network and get back home. It's a mission that is ultimately successful. And Michael saves Georgiou as well. That could potentially be a costly mistake. She was still the emperor of a tyrannical regime after all. Michael's personal feelings may be clouding her judgment. But it will still allow Michelle Yeoh to be on the show. And that's great. Plus, it comes with the awareness that the klingon war isn't going the way Starfleet and the Discovery expected. They believed they had cracked the cloaking technology. But now, it's abundantly clear that the Discovery will be needed to win this war. They've been away for nine months. Their captain is dead. Saru and Michael are in charge. But they are the universe's only hope as well. That's an exciting place for the final two episodes of the season.

Some more thoughts:
  • "What's Past Is Prologue" was written by Ted Sullivan and directed by Olatunde Osunsanmi.
  • When Saru became captain of the Discovery early in the run of the show, he needed to consult the computer on how he compared to other captains in Starfleet. But now, it's so empowering to see him motivate his crew into action. They believe this to be a suicide mission. But it's what they need to do in order to save all of existence. Their knowledge of science is the only way to ensure life can continue. Saru leading that mission is just so fantastic to behold.
  • And then, Tilly comes up with the solution for how the Discovery can survive this fateful blast. It's a solution that seems completely crazy and perilous. But it too is incredibly smart and successful. It again shows her worth in this ridiculous story. She continues to impress her superior officers. She's the one who understands the spore drive better than anyone else. So, she's the only one trusted to know how it'll react to such a blast and how the Discovery can benefit from that.
  • Stamets is only able to navigate the mycelial network and bring the Discovery back home because of the advice that Culber gave him last week. He just needed to place his trust in the network that a path will become clear. And then, it did. It apparently became clear to the entire ship. It was a bumpy drive at first. But it ultimately became beautiful and inspiring as well. The spore technology is working for the Discovery once again.
  • Last week it seemed as if Stamets and his mirror universe counterpart both woke up from their comas but had swapped bodies. The direction made that seem likely only for this episode to prove otherwise. It's important for Stamets to be on the Discovery and mirror Stamets to be interacting with Lorca. Mirror Stamets put so much of this story in motion with his experiments and him pointing out Lorca as a traitor. His death happens quickly without much excitement.
  • There is absolutely no resolution whatsoever as to what's going on with L'Rell and Tyler/Voq. That was an important story last week. It ended on a cliffhanger of L'Rell trying to bring some ease and comfort to Voq's mind. But it's apparently not worth discussing right now because there are more pressing concerns for Saru to deal with. And yet, those two characters will be important now that the Discovery is back in the prime universe.