Star Trek: Discovery, Season 1, Episode 12
Posted by Clinton
“Vaulting Ambition” exemplifies the duality of this first season of “Star Trek: Discovery.” Not just in terms of its characters who continue to shed their hidden identities, but also the way in which it handles story elements. When things are handled with care, the show is magic. When pieces are slapped together, the end product suffers.
Let’s start with what is good.
The acting is this episode is excellent. It is clear that the cast is now very comfortable with their characters. Over these many episodes the idiosyncrasies of each role have been refined. Cadet Tilly (Mary Wiseman) has become a just a wee bit less chatty. Commander Saru (Doug Jones) is a bit more in control. And Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs) is…well, Lorca has pretty much always been on point. More on that in a second. The supporting players in “Vaulting Ambition” were also tone-perfect. Dwain Murphy’s turn as the torturous Captain Maddox left us with mixed emotions when he was ultimately slain by Lorca.
A long-game character plot line also came together beautifully this week. Last week, we dealt with the revelation that Tyler and Voq (Shazad Latif) are two personalities that share the same modified body. This week, we learn that Captain Lorca is, as some fans suspected, actually from the mirror universe. This is the type of twist that sends you reeling. Part of what made the reveal so satisfying is that Jason Isaacs knew where this character was headed from the very beginning. His discussions with the producers meant he knew things about Lorca that perhaps even individual episode directors did not know. This allowed the acting to reinforce the character’s backstory. Isaacs’ performance differs from Shazad Latif’s portrayal of Tyler/Voq because Lorca was always well aware of who he was and what he wanted. It is the kind of twist that makes you want to go back to the beginning of the season and closely watch the character in every scene.
We are treated to a lovely moment where Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) gets to say goodbye to Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz). It helps soften the blow of the doctor’s untimely death and leaves us wondering if this truly is the end. It brings to mind Spock’s words, “There are always possibilities.”
“Discovery” also continues to shock and surprise in other ways. We recoiled when we learn that the Kelpien that Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) had selected in the Emperor’s throne room was the main course at her dinner with Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh). Bonus points to Martin-Green for her reaction to being offered the Kelpien’s ganglia. In addition, Georgiou’s use of a flying disc as a killing weapon was inspired.
Then there are the elements that seem to fall off the rails.
Shall we begin with the I.S.S. Charon? The Emperor’s palace is a ship ridiculous in both size and design. It dwarfs virtually everything we have previously seen in “Star Trek,” save the occasional starbase. Its dimensions only serve to reinforce the belief that the people in charge of “Star Trek: Discovery” think that bigger equals better, and that insanely bigger is best.
Meanwhile, after last week’s brilliant revelation about Tyler’s true identity, L’Rell’s (Mary Chieffo) reaction to Tyler/Voq’s torment feels unnecessarily rushed. It plays out like something we simply need to get through in order to hit the next plot point. All the elements are there — love, regret, sorrow — but we ultimately get too little of any of them to justify her actions. Likewise the medical procedure that L’Rell uses to supposedly “kill” Voq is another low point. It feels too simple. The process to merge Tyler and Voq was long and painful. This operation took mere seconds.
Then there is the laziest piece of writing in the episode: the reveal that mirror universe humans have eyes that are sensitive to light. This characteristic immediately informs Burnham that Lorca is not who he claims to be. The only problem is, we have been in this mirror universe several times and light sensitivity has never before been an issue. It is simply not true. There were other ways in which the same failing of Lorca’s eyes could have been used to reveal the Captain’s deception, but writer Jordon Nardino chose the easy way out. Nardino simply made something up, even if it contradicted what we already know to be true.
The duality of “Star Trek: Discovery” is diminishing over time, as both the characters and production crew find their way to their true selves. But episodes like this demonstate that there is still some room to improve.
Next episode: What’s Past is Prologue