Friday, 12 January 2018

Be Careful: S1 E10 Despite Yourself

The destination of the USS Discovery couldn't have been any less of a surprise as the series returned for the final six hours of its first season.

Yet this managed to be one of the most surprising episodes of the series right from the start.

So we can now categorically confirm that the Discovery becomes only the second starship ever to cross over into the Mirror Universe leaving the crew in a desperate situation to return to their own universe in order to alert Starfleet with a way to crack the Klingon cloaking device.

Problem is the Spore Drive is now inoperable due to an exhausted Lieutenant Stamets who is unable to act as the conduit for the distance (and dimension) jumping engine. Fortunately it appears that 1) the ISS Discovery jumped out of its universe when the USS Discovery popped in and 2) there might be another way back if they can locate some information about a starship called Defiant that might have appeared there some time before. Still with me? Excellent because don't forget that we also have L'Rell, the Klingon battle commander/traitor apparent locked up in the brig mindf**king with Lieutenant Tyler.

Discovery's arrival in the Mirror Universe fooled absolutely no-one but it has raised questions as to whether Lorca is actually his Mirror self or not. He seems to want to return back to the other universe and integrates himself into the plan to make that a reality. From the start of this we get a really good look at the machinations of the Terran Empire since the last time we saw it in In a Mirror, Darkly; the Emperor is a faceless despot, the Empire is trying to quell a rebellion from all the other races  including the Klingons, Vulcans and Andorians who are identified in the wreckage near to the Discovery and we find out what has happened to all the main cast in this parallel time.

Burnham is of course the central piece here, drawing together the plan that will get the ship home but it seems Martin-Green takes a backseat to Isaacs' Lorca and Mary Wiseman's Tilly in this thread, The captain puts himself at great risk by playing his alternate self so Burnham can "retake" her command of the USS Shenzhou and acquire information that will help them escape. My one query is that the Mirror Lorca is stated to have escaped in a shuttle after killing Burnham and was never seen again. My brain did suggest this might mean he is the Mirror Lorca after all but there has, honestly, been no hint of this sort so far. Wiseman is also exceptional at playing Captain Killy, her parallel self, hamming it up in the captain's seat after some initial trepidation. Also of note was Lorca's lie to Burnham and Saru that Stamets was keen to explore other dimensions once the mission was over.

This interpretation of the Mirror Universe is an exciting yet grim addition to Discovery. The parallel universe always excites a large proportion of fandom but this show has gone further than ever before with this thread, making the alternative versions of the cast achieve some of their inner goals in life but through twisted and darker paths than they would have planned to walk in their own universe. It’s a far cry from the snarling alternates of Mirror Mirror or the virtual caricatures that Deep Space Nine’s Resurrection and The Emperor’s New Cloak spurred into.  

The reflection of this exposition of the Mirror Universe does feel a little tougher and more brutal thanks in no small part to the metallic uniform additions and the worn weaponry. Cleverly the delta shield is flipped vertically and slipped behind the recognisable world/sword emblem on the uniforms with each officer also carrying an array of medals on their breastplates which do indicate several different awards.

The choice to disguise the ship as it's "evil" self with a tweak of registry and some software updates is inspired and forces the crew to step a little outside their comfort zones as Starfleet personnel. But here's another thought - for a show that has added a less than positive outlook for the Prime Universe, this could be the more insightful trip through the looking glass of all time - is the Mirror Universe not quite the dark territory we have come to expect in comparison to the events of this Klingon war.

Burnham's return to the Shenzhou is a harrowing experience as she faces multiple ghosts from her past including a very-much alive Captain Connor (previously Ensign Connor played by Sam Varthemelos) and an uninjured Detmer. Indeed, the Connor/Burnham confrontation in the turbolift has a cluttered claustrophobia about it as they fight for their lives and command of the starship. 

It’s a brilliantly tense plot line with darker tones than the (later?!) Deep Space Nine arc but positively continuing the bleak and totalitarian regime we saw in Enterprise.  The new style to the Empire and it’s return is most welcome with a clever twist that it’s all linked back to The Tholian Web which might well be one of the most pivotal episodes in the history of the franchise - who would have imagined that in 1968? On that point, yes, the Defiant does look slightly different with saucer cut-outs and amendments to the engine pylons but I would expect that over the time since it’s been in the Mirror Universe it might have received more than a couple of modifications and repairs to keep it operational. 

While that story dominates the 48 minutes of Despite Yourself, there are two further threads which weave in and out of the narrative. Firstly there’s Stamets who is recovering in sickbay and is now receiving, it appears, prophetic visions of the future leading him to warn Doctor Culber that the enemy ‘is here’. Anthony Rapp might not have the most to do this week but his appearances are significant in hinting at other elements of the plot and I’m interested to see how this ‘Spore Drive Vision’ is worked as the season continues.

But, with the impending doom of encountering more than just some rebel Vulcans and boarding the Mirror Shenzhou you might well have forgotten there’s a Klingon festering in the brig. 

Mary Chieffo’s L’Rell has been one of the biggest wins of the show for me since day one and in Despite Yourself it feels that some of the promises and plans we saw hatched right at the genesis of the series are beginning to bear fruit although it seems some of it has gone a little aray.

Her relationship with Tyler is the centrepoint. There might be a whole new universe out there to try and escape but the Klingon war is still raging and L’Rell is our constant reminder. Here she is also the confirmation that Ash Tyler is not what he seems in any way, a theory backed up by Doctor Culber’s analysis that the lieutenant has received some significant surgery altering bone structure at the least. The Tyler personality is an overlay and we have to be plain dumb not to know that it’s Voq hiding underneath. I’m certain the flashbacks - which apparently will reveal more as we go - are memories of his surgical alteration and love affair with L’Rell rather than torture and rape. It all makes perfect sense and I’m glad that the writers haven’t dragged this line out for too much longer and respected the intelligence of their audience. 

Tyler’s dramatic and unforeseen disposal of Culber when he puts the pieces together left me speechless. It stamped a clear mark on the show that no-one is safe at any time and my god was it a jaw-dropping moment. It's unexpected, abrupt and perhaps for Tyler a moment out of control for his human side. 

Now we have more understanding of the darkness around Tyler and L’Rell it really has become a fascinating element of the season and both actors should be applauded for their excellent work as it’s some of the best in the show. Added cudos for the fact that L’Rell’s attempt to ‘wake up’ the sleeper agent buried inside Tyler didn’t work as planned. At least not everything we might have expected came to pass all in one go.

Despite Yourself has opened the second half of the season with a swagger and a strong sense of purpose. All the set up and suggestion from the early part of the year is coming to fruition and the show is really forging its identity. Already there seem to be grumblings about the show’s choice to dive into the Mirror Universe so early and at all but on the quality of this entry I think it was a brave move to do so and has paid off, giving this concluding batch of stories it’s own identity and differentiation from the Klingon war which dominated the first nine episodes.

What this episode has also done is restored my faith in the Mirror Universe episodes, removing the dodgy comedy elements and actually made this parallel dimension feel the same yet noticably different. It oozes danger that I haven’t seen in this type of story, honestly, since Crossover. Everything here works. Yes, it is going to be different from The Original Series vision (like 50 years ago...can we get over these "inconsistencies" please...) but the core of our understanding of the Mirror Universe and its part within Star Trek lore has been maintained and even strengthened by its inclusion and also by the inherent links to both the Kirk era and Enterprise.

For a return to our screens after a short and unwelcome(!) break, Despite Yourself has raised the bar again and could well prove to be highlight of Year One. The questions have just got harder to answer. Is Lorca the Mirror Universe version that escaped? How will Culber return? What's the score with Tyler's muddled mind and what else can be thrown at us?

What's your take on Despite Yourself

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