Star Trek: Discovery – A Welcome To A Strange, New Universe — Review

Welcome back Star Trek: Discovery. And boy, did you toss some sweet storylines our way as you opened up the second chapter of season 1. The latest episode delivered unto us, the rabid fans, an alternate universe, a little more clarity on what’s up with Ash Tyler, Tilly fulfilling her dream of taking the captain’s chair, and more than a few odes to Star Trek’s past. In fact, the episode as a whole was a nice nod to the  classic “Mirror, Mirror” episode from TOS.

Yeah, the return of Star Trek: Discovery did nothing to disappoint. Episode 110, “Despite Yourself,” left us wondering just how the crew of the Discovery will make it back to their own universal timeline, and if all of them will be along for the return. Well, we already know that one of them isn’t coming back alive, don’t we? Oh, doctor, we miss you already.

As you recall, Stamets agreed to one last jump in the chapter 1 finale in November, but it went terribly wrong, He couldn’t handle the changes running through his body via the spore drive and it cost the Discovery. They ended up somewhere that had the ring of familiarity to it, but was distinctly different. Fan theories abounded afterward and as it turned out, the “alternate universe” theory proved to be correct. While Stamets was fighting for his life and sanity, the crew of the Discovery were discovering that its last jump had pushed them through a rip in the fabric of universes, depositing them in a universe that would turn out to be much different than the one they left – dangerously so.

Some might quibble with “Despite Yourself” feeling so much like the TOS “Mirror, Mirror” episode, but I do not. I like the ode to the old episode with a few nice, fresh twists added on. The Terran Empire rules the galaxy with an iron thumb, deeming anyone not human to be beneath them and worthy of oppression. A rebellion has begun as we see the Andorians and Vulcans, along with other species, teaming up to put up what looks to be a fruitless fight. It’s an interesting statement on intolerance and acceptance that this episode brings forth, one that likely offers some lessons we can all take hold of.

“Despite Yourself” — Episode 110 — Pictured (l-r): Mary Wiseman as Cadet Sylvia Tilly; Anthony Rapp as Lieutenant Paul Stamets; Wilson Cruz as Dr. Hugh Culber of the CBS All Access series STAR TREK: DISCOVERY. Photo Cr: Best Possible Screengrab/CBS

As with “Mirror, Mirror,” the Discovery crew learns quickly that assassination and betrayal offer advancement and rank in this new universe. And the current crew of The Discovery is configured differently in this new universal story. too. That’s where we get a nice bit of fun as our good Discovery crew learn that Sylvia Tilly is the captain of the Discovery in this new universe. It’s revealing to see Tilly, who is a nervous and talkatively kind soul, thrust into a position she doesn’t feel ready for, but must engage in quickly for the crew to have any chance of finding a way home. There’s a nice scene here when our Discovery has to interact with a Terran starship and Tilly is put on the spot. She makes up a story about a mechanical issue and tells the other captain to talk to her engineer. We’re treated to Jason Isaacs doing a nice Scotty impersonation, which was a wonderful little “ode” to everyone’s favorite chief engineer.

Well, the game was then afoot, wasn’t it. The Discovery needed to change everything about itself and how it had to interact with this new reality even as it searched for a way to get back home. Tilly, now the captain’s face of the ship, was spot-on in demonstrating her inner strength and no small amount of baddassery in the captain’s chair. What an enjoyable transformation for Tilly and it gave us a little peak into the true strength of a character we’ve only seen as light and breezy to this point.

While I enjoyed Lorca going vintage Scotty for our viewing pleasure, perhaps no part of this episode was more pleasing than watching Tilly verbally slap down a fellow captain in no uncertain terms. It was glorious. Mary Wiseman’s portrayal of Tilly has been on-point from the outset. And in this episode, we get to see something wonderfully, joyfully new – Tilly with an edge (Hello, Captain Killy).

So, what do you think of Ash Tyler now? Our erstwhile prisoner has been experiencing some PTSD since his escape from the Klingon prison barge, but we got a little deeper glimpse into just what (and who) he went through beforehand. The flashbacks, the pain, the memories come flooding back in waves at times and L’Rell seems to be a key cog in Tyler’s painful machinery. He keeps confronting her and she keeps hinting at what many have speculated previously about her former lover and Tyler. When the good doctor discovers Tyler has had serous surgery done to make him less tall and his arms shorter, the wheels of Klingon conspiracy really got rolling, didn’t they?

“Despite Yourself” — Episode 110 — Pictured (l-r): Mary Chieffo as L’Rell; Shazad Latif as Lieutenant Ash Tyler of the CBS All Access series STAR TREK: DISCOVERY. Photo Cr: Jan Thijs/CBS .

Lt. Stamets, in a period of lucidity, told everyone the “enemy is here,” and Tyler would seem to have confirmed that when he snapped Dr. Hugh Culber’s neck in an instant. I didn’t see that coming, though perhaps I should have given Tyler’s previous issues and talk with L’Rell. So, is Tyler the seriously altered Voq from early in the series? I didn’t think so at first, but given the revelations of this episode, particularly the physical alterations, I’m beginning to warm to that theory. It’s interesting how soft L’Rell becomes in her speech to Tyler when they’re alone. There’s definitely something there that’s different and caring from her end. Should be fun to see how this plays out, right? Still, you snapped the doctor’s neck, Tyler. That’s a toughie to forgive.

I will miss Dr. Culber and the way Wilson Cruz brought an empathy and compassion to the character. I also wonder what Stamets will be like when he regains some semblance of coherent thought and discovers the man he loves has been murdered. Stamets should be an interesting case when and if he recovers because it’s obvious that he’s got some residual assets from his recent ascent as a conduit for the spore drive jumps (Notice the increased strength? Yikes). As I noted before, Stamets has been one of the more evolved characters in Star Trek: Discovery’s first season, so I’m hoping that whatever is working inside him will push his development along even more in the future. If that entails a bit of revenge, I’m good with that, too.

Here’s a crazy theory. When the Discovery finds a way home, does someone from the crew stay in the alternate universe to help the rebellion? Someone with special gifts like Stamets? Just tossing that out there for your consideration.

“Despite Yourself” — Episode 110 — Pictured (l-r): Doug Jones as Saru; Sonequa Martin-Green as First Officer Michael Burnham; Jason Isaacs as Captain Gabriel Lorca of the CBS All Access series STAR TREK: DISCOVERY. Photo Cr: Best Possible Screengrab/CBS

So here we are in a galaxy far, far away and in a very different reality. There was so much in this episode that harkened back to “Mirror, Mirror” and as I noted previously, I enjoyed that. Lorca is no longer the captain, but a captured fugitive. Burnham is the long-lost captain of the Shenzou that “brought” Lorca in after a manhunt. A nice moment there when Burnham had to defend herself against an attack – and does so with prejudice. Boom! Down goes the usurper with a knife in the gut. It was very, you know, Klingon. Well done, Burnham.

Throats are slit, opportunism is rampant and any sign of weakness will get you killed…or worse. The crew of the the Discovery will not only have to navigate these strangely turbulent waters while hatching quite the scheme to find a way home, but they’ll have to change their entire mindset to do it. Being vicious, ferocious, merciless and opportunistic will be their calling card if they have any hope of staying below the radar while attempting to get home. When you’re not used to that kind of life, it will be tough to keep that hard edge every time there’s an encounter with a Terran entity. It feels like cracks in the veneer will come.

I’m also curious about who this “emperor” is. The way that no one has seem him/her — makes me wonder if it will be someone Burnham, Lorca and crew will recognize. Is there a big reveal there, too?

For my money, “Despite Yourself” has been my favorite episode to this point of the first season. I thought it was well-written, interesting even with the callback to the past, and had an awful lot going on while still being fairly easy to follow the different story arcs that were on hand. I just liked this episode on many levels and understand that others may not view it as I do. But I think that’s one of the things that’s been interesting about Star Trek: Discovery thus far is that through 10 episodes, there’s been something different to like from each.

Burnham, Lorca and Tyler are on the Shenzou, while Tilly and the rest of the Discovery crew await some answers – all the while trying to put a facade over who they really are. The race to this season’s conclusion is looks like it’s going to be fun.

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John Baker