Thursday, 1 February 2018

Goes Around Comes Around: S1 E13 What's Past is Prologue

After three episodes of build up, it felt like this week's Discovery was the big pay off when it comes to the Mirror Universe.

With the hugely signposted reveal that Lorca wasn't Lorca but in fact Mirror Lorca, the Terran Empire looked to be on the backfoot especially when the deceitful captain released his troops from their Agonizer booths including one Commander Landry. Ooooh - can't you see how this is all coming together after 12 episodes of set up?!

His plan is simple, remove Georgiou and take control of the Empire and while he had counted on Michael Burnham, Lorca had ironically not counted on Michael Burnham.

It's a fraught battle through the city-sized starship with some of the best phaser fights we've ever seen in Star Trek as the two sides clash. The rebels are countering forcefields, facing sentry guns and there's more phaser fire than in any single episode of the franchise ever.

Burnham is caught in the middle of a more metaphorical cross-fire however as she is forced to choose between two captains who have their own designs on her future. Her final decision is, of course, most logical and the ensuing hand to hand combat as Georgiou is brought before an apparently victorious Lorca is spectacular. If you thought that the fight in Battle at the Binary Stars was good then this is a whole new level of brilliance and showcases Michelle Yeoh's abilities even more. The sharp, cutting direction from Olatunde Osunsanmi is probably the best of the season as he keeps the lights low, playing off shadows and even just the lights of the weapons to keep the viewer in the thick of the story. It all makes the action sequences sizzle here and you can soon see that there actually isn't that much to the story this week.

Also for note is the parallelling of the badges that both Georgiou and Burnham have kept the insignia of their fallen comrade. The link, as Burnham notes, is strong across any universe.

Sonequa Martin-Green may be the star here but it is the two more senior actors who steal this week's show and not just because of their final, bloody confrontation. Isaacs' full Mirror Lorca is a calculating and driven individual with his motivations much more open and his thoughts less concealed than they were (and had to be) in the Prime Universe. Yeoh on the other hand seethes in every scene, making for easy comparison to her Prime counterpart and probably being the character who is most diametrically opposite to her alternate self.

Mirror Stamets really is a slimy creature in the Mirror Universe, selling himself out to whichever side he sees fit. His demise comes as more of a relief in What's Past is Prologue but serves also to remind us of where Prime Stamets started out in Context is for Kings with his aloof stuffiness and disdain. He might not be a fan of Lorca but he realises which way the wind is blowing pretty quickly.

While the visuals are the best we have seen in Discovery and therefore easily the best in the franchise as a whole, the narrative as a whole is a little weak. Lorca turns too quickly from his colder ‘Prime’ facade into an all out bad guy with great haste. Perhaps too much and perhaps stereotypically going from shadowy captain to full out "villain" (is there a distinction in the Mirror Universe?) may well be the biggest leap of the show's short run. Could Lorca have been more of a freedom fighter than looking to seize the Empire? Possibly but then again I think we might have thought less of his dark motivations if this was the case.

Any remorse or regret for his actions and those he plans to carry out simply disappear away and there seems to be not even the slightest concern over anyone's welfare except his own. His demise however was a real shocker and something i never saw coming from Star Trek. To kill off the captain in 13 episodes is unprecedented by Star Trek standards with only Kirk (bridge collapse) and Sisko (being the Emissary) as previous examples but both survived at least to the end of their respective series!

As for Prime Lorca  he may have swapped places with Mirror Lorca during the explosion on the Buran as it was escaping from the Charon. Maybe he died on the Prime Universe version of his old ship but I don’t think we will see him again. Isaacs is in full Terran mode here bolstered by the leathers, bruises and a heavy hand on a phaser. It becomes more evident that he has been forging the Discovery into a weapon and its crew into soldiers. Will he be back? I hpe not because the return of Lorca would weaken the impact that Isaacs has had on the show and cheapen the franchise. Let him lie.

What we do see is that Burnham’s connection to Georgiou in whichever universe is much stronger than the one she had begun to forge with Lorca. Delivering Phillipa to him plays on his weakness for Michael but there is alterior motive. Their relationship in the Mirror Universe is so pivotal to Lorca that he will accept anything to have her onboard in any form.

Over on Discovery we have some real character growth and development with Acting Captain Saru. Devising a plan to destroy the ISS Charon and return them to the correct universe all at the same time, the Kelpien commander has earned the trust and respect of his crew during a testing time. THAT speech and then his subsequent actions as the Discovery attacks the Charon are so far removed from the self-doubt he demonstrated in Choose Your Pain you absolutely believe the journey he has come on. Indded, his issuing of commands and again, the direction of this scene is sublime. The speech? Top five for me alongside "Risk is our business" and Sisko's "place where I belong". Magnificent.

The action on the Discovery also provides ample chance for the assembled bridge crew of Detmer, Airiam and Owosekun more time than before and certainly more dialogue than before. It's more than welcome and Mirror Owosekun even gets to meet a disintegration-end thanks to Lorca.

So with Stamets back from his spiritual walk in the mycelial network and able to navigate the Spore Drive to get the ship home there's just one thing that needs to be done (makes all that part about interphasic space and the like was quite pointless doesn't it?).

The challenge is that the Charon is siphoning power from the mycelial network thanks to the work of Mirror Stamets and this in turn could cause the collapse and destruction of the whole multiverse. Y'see, the Mirror Universe is all about short term vision and short term goals with no long game. This does allow for some great spacebourne action that Discovery has been missing with the ship weaving in and out of the Charon before finally escaping and using the residual energy wave from its destruction to get home - with an unexpected guest.

What’s Past is Prologue delivers in every aspect that Star Trek should. There’s intense action (and trust me, reading this back I was surprised how often I used the word), surprises all along the way and even the ending isn’t quite what you would expect although with two weeks to go it was never going to tie up everything neatly and we have Klingon war to end. As for being the best of the series so far, I'm not sure because I really loved Despite Yourself and actually have a yearning to watch the first two episodes again for comparative reasons. What's Past is Prologue ends just one piece of the first season arc and the trip back to the main universe is perfectly timed leaving us not wishing for our adventure on the other side to come to an end. The revelation that Stamets has dropped the ship back nine months later than they left is lump-in-the-throat inducing with the slow realignment of the territorial map exposing the cost of the war. The Klingons, it appears, have won.

Discovery has definitely grown and in this episode we really see who its standout cast are. Saru has never been given the right amount of screen-time but his step up into command during this Mirror Universe adventure has redefined the character from such humble origins. His use of "my friend" when speaking to Burnham is incredibly telling of the cyclic nature of their relationship from The Vulcan Hello, through her mutiny, arrival on Discovery and actions since. Cudos to the writers for playing out a long game on that one and it certainly pays off in the most subtle of ways.

Discovery is showing every week how brilliant a show it is with each twist, turn and Easter Egg. What we can expect from episodes 14 and 15 I have no idea but does anyone else suspect we might get to here about a little place called Axanar?

How do you rate What's Past is Prologue? Best of the season?

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