Life sucks in the Mirror Universe. Despite the beauty of the sweeping effects shots in Star Trek: Discovery’s latest episode, it just isn’t a fun place. People get executed for thoughtcrimes. That isn't worth even the shiniest uniforms.
That’s illustrated effectively in Michael Burnham’s opening monologue, part of a 15-minute pre-titles teaser. Trapped on the ISS Shenzhou just as the enslaved Mirror Saru is, Burnham’s suffering the effects of playing the role of her own mirror counterpart. Her speech about the very light feeling different, of the cosmos having lost their allure, of constantly having to pretend, of all of that getting terrifyingly easier to bear, rings true psychologically. No wonder she’s feeling down - those are all hallmarks of depression. It also rings true to Lt Tyler, similarly trapped between two identities; the pair have become, surprisingly, quite the compelling couple. At least, until this episode plays out.
This week sees Burnham ordered to destroy a secret rebel base (just like in Star Wars!), but “infiltrating” the base instead, to offer this alien Rebel Alliance time to escape before the Human Empire torpedoes the planet to smithereens. And who runs the rebellion, of course, but Mirror Voq and Mirror Sarek. In this universe, Voq is known as the Firewolf, the English-speaking leader of the combined alien resistance, and he’s open to negotiation as long as his brain-whisperer Sarek approves. Cutesily goateed Mirror Sarek dutifully mind-melds with Burnham, discovering her entire backstory but hiding (or misinterpreting) many of the details. That those details include being brought up by Sarek Prime makes this a curious omission, sure to come up in later episodes.
Seeing Voq, of course, dredges up unpleasant memories for Lt Tyler, who after a brief swoon launches into fluent Klingon and attacks the rebel leader who we all know is his mirror-universe opposite. Finally confronted by Burnham, Tyler self-actualises into a full-blown Klingon identity, monologuing like a proper (sadly, somewhat cliched) villain. It’s a disappointing turn, despite the impressively gory transformation flashback (featuring unsettling Klingon nudity) that gets us there. Will Tyler's "human" personality continue to wreak havoc with his native Klingon one? Now in Discovery’s brig, having inadvertently carried vital Imperial intelligence with him, he’ll certainly prove an intriguing figure in the search for a diplomatic solution to the Federation-Klingon War.
Let's just take a moment to appreciate the astonishing, almost comical lengths to which CBS went to disguise this plot twist - and how ineffective they were. The producers straight-up invented an actor, “Javid Iqbal,” who not only got credited on the show, but was discussed by the cast and crew and got his own IMDB page. It could even be argued that the show’s aggressive approach to Klingon makeup was in pursuit of concealing Shazad Latif in the role of Voq. But none of it worked - in fact, thanks to the innate curiosity of the Internet, it acted against the (presumed) intentions of the producers, causing fans to more or less divine the Tyler/Voq plot twist even before Tyler's introduction. As a result, the road to this reveal has been borderline excruciating. But we’re here now, so let’s do this.
Aboard Discovery, some remarkably weird shit is going down - specifically with its chief engineer, Paul Stamets. With the bulk of the episode devoted to the chunkier Mirror/Voq storyline, Stamets’ side of the equation feels a bit more fragmented, dropped in between scenes. Between a bewildering amount of technobabble and an understandably confused performance from Anthony Rapp, the episode’s trajectory for the character is incredibly vague. The upshot: Stamets has a portal between dimensions in his spore-addled (or -aided) brain, and right now he’s either dead, in some alternate mycelial plane, or both. Whatever his current state, there’s another Staments in there for him to work with - hell, there might be infinite Stametses on infinite Earths - so we’re bound to get some cute dual-role action soon enough.
What we’re also bound for is the return of Michelle Yeoh - playing, as expected, Mirror Georgiou, who in this universe is the Terran Emperor. Hopefully Yeoh gets some more dramatic meat in this incarnation than in the technobabble-filled introductory episodes. Villains are more fun to play than heroes, after all. Tune in next week to find out!
As I wrote last week, I’m into where Discovery is going now, and I’m glad the show is deepening its exploration of the Mirror Universe. I can’t remember any previous shows’ “Mirror” episodes getting this heavily into non-Terrans as a Federation-like “coalition of hope” - it’s something new, and frankly quite exciting, given that our current world feels like a Mirror Universe of its very own. It’s just a matter of time before Mirror Mudd turns up to really confuse us. (Hell, maybe the Mudd we know from The Original Series is Mirror Mudd. It'd explain a few things.)