Star Trek: Discovery, Season 1, Episode 13
What’s Past Is Prologue
Posted by Clinton
“Perhaps we could cover a little philosophical ground. Life, death — life. Things of that nature.”
Dr. Leonard McCoy speaking to Captain Spock, “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home”
Death is no stranger to “Star Trek.” Neither is rebirth. In this episode of “Discovery,” written by co-executive producer Ted Sullivan, we get more than our share of both.
Certainly mirror Lorca’s (Jason Isaacs) demise is the most spectacular death in this episode. However, long before the battle in the Emperor’s throne room, the mutineer had already sealed his fate. At no point did he show any sign of redemption. There was no moment of remorse. Gabriel Lorca had been given a chance to start his life anew when he crossed over into the prime universe. He squandered that opportunity by using the time to plan his revenge. As he disintegrated, ripped apart by his fall into the mycelium orb, he was already long dead.
Elsewhere in the story, life and death play out in no less significant ways. For instance, when Lorca rescues his band of loyal followers from their imprisonment, the act signals the rebirth of the mutiny against the Emperor. Yet something tells us that most of the Terran soldiers will not survive to fight another day. Lorca had proven time and again that he had little regard for others, including those most loyal to him. They may not have been wearing red shirts, but the troops who followed Captain Lorca and his blind ambition were destined to join the ranks of those nameless minions killed in battle.
Mirror universe Commander Landy (Rekha Sharma) is a bit more of a mystery. Earlier, her prime universe counterpart had been killed on board the Discovery, mutilated by the tardigrade, Ripper. It was a senseless death, the result of Landry’s desire to follow her Captain’s orders without question. Would the scales of justice attempt to even themselves by allowing this version of the Commander to live? When Lorca helps her out of her agonizer booth, one might say she is reborn. Perhaps so, but her resurrection is short lived. She dies in the fiery explosion that destroys the I.S.S. Charon. It seems her devotion to Lorca sealed her fate in both universes.
The elimination of the Emperor’s palace ship undoubtedly also sent political shockwaves throughout the Terran Empire. The news that the throne is empty will most likely result in a bloody battle for power by countless factions. The Emperor is dead. Long live the Emperor.
Terran Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) is another character whose future is at first unclear. Points in his favor are that he previously betrayed Lorca and he worked to help prime Stamets escape entrapment in the mycelial network. Escaping the network himself at the end of the previous episode, it’s conceivable that his rebirth has made him a survivor. Unfortunately, we soon discover that he is developing a bioweapon for the Emperor, and that it is his reckless abuse of the mycelial network that is threatening the multiverse. He is also far too quick to cave to Lorca’s demands, placidly aiding the Captain in his fight against Georgiou. It is simply an attempt to prolong his own life. Eventually, Landry’s request, “Can we kill him now?,” is granted and she vaporized the hapless Terran.
But there is also rebirth that offered a glimmer of hope. To us, the death of Captain Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) at the battle at the binary stars feels like a lifetime ago, but not to Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green). Burnham’s mind tells her that Emperor Philippa Georgiou Augustus Iaponius Centarius is not her Captain. However, Michael’s heart sees Philippa reborn in the Terran Emperor. Likewise, Philippa can not help but see some of her beloved Michael in the prime universe Burnham. This is made crystal clear when the two women sit across from one another and speak of their lost companions, all the while holding treasured mementos of the their departed friends.
In the end, Georgiou is willing to buy Michael time to escape, paying with her own life. It is an act of love. Burnham, however, also leads with her heart and rescues the fallen Emperor. For now, mirror Georgiou is in limbo, no longer the ruler of a savage empire, yet also not comfortable with the tenents of the Federation and Starfleet. Will she take better advantage of her second chance? Or will she scheme to return to her side of the mirror?
It is not only Philippa who experiences a successful rebirth in “What’s Past Is Prologue.” As mentioned, we learn that the mycelial network is dying. The Terran Empire has been exploiting it for their own selfish needs, not only depleting the mirror universe’s network, but also threatening all life in multiple universes. Working together, the crew of the Discovery and Emperor Georgiou are able to destroy the Charon’s mycelium orb. This allows the network to live anew; replenish itself at amazing speed. At the same time the network sweeps the Discovery towards home.
In fact, the Discovery itself is also reborn. Once the crew is made aware of Lorca’s true nature, they shake free of his influence and begin to function as an effective team. We see an open, honest discussion of the mission to destroy the mycelium orb. When the crew comes to realize that the plan could mean the destruction of the Discovery, Commander Saru (Doug Jones) forcefully states his belief in the competence of the team, “The Discovery is no longer Lorca’s,” he explains, “She is ours. And today will be her maiden voyage. We have a duty to perform, and we will not accept a no-win scenario.”
Of course, the no-win scenario is a riddle that Spock once solved by sacrificing himself to save the many. Only to find himself reborn.
Next episode: The War Without, The War Within
Random Thoughts and Observations:
- It was a cheat to have the floor in the throne room open early in the episode. Yes, it established that the “trap door” gave direct access to the mycelium orb, but it was also obvious that we were seeing it to foreshadow its use later in the episode.
- Why is Lorca able to fall through the containment field of the Charon’s mycelium hub? That would seem to imply that anything can penetrate the containment field, including photon torpedoes.
- A leap of nine months places “Star Trek: Discovery” that much closer to the time of Kirk and Spock. I estimate we are now within 8 and a half years of the 10-year gap separating “Discovery” and TOS.
- It was nice to see the use of screens rather than holograms not once, but twice, in this episode.
- Where is prime Lorca? In the mirror universe? Did he die on the Buran?