Last week on Star Trek: Discovery, we learned that the Captain Lorca we’d known since the start of the show was actually the mirror-universe version, like, the whole time. It was a big deal - the kind of twist the showrunners likely high-fived over, then breathed a sigh of relief that they managed to keep it under wraps.
“What’s Past Is Prologue,” then, finally puts Lorca front and centre as the key villain - despite having played it since first appearing in the Prime universe via transporter malfunction. Escaped from Georgiou’s agoniser booth, he’s resuming his coup on the Emperor and Empire - with allies that include Landry (Rekha Sharma), whose Mirror self is both more alive and (inexplicably) less icy than the Prime version who died several weeks ago. Without a pretense to maintain, Jason Isaacs hold nothing back portraying Lorca's lust for the power he considers to be his destiny: ruling the Empire with Burnham by his side.
Getting from Lorca’s escape to the episode’s final confrontation requires quite a bit of (largely unnecessary) piece-shuffling on the part of the teleplay. First, Lorca goes after his former betrayer Mirror Stamets, so as to get his hands on a bio-weapon and also murder him (in an amusing reversal of Game of Thrones’ “moon door” execution method). Elsewhere, Burnham sneaks around the ship to get word out to Discovery, while Georgiou engages in a firefight with Lorca’s forces before emergency teleporting to safety - only after all her guards are killed. Burnham then meets back up with Georgiou in her sanctum, somehow overlooked by Lorca’s security, before they both head off to offer themselves to Lorca in a Hail Mary feint. It’s the most risible section of the episode, largely comprised of clunky back-and-forth that sets up the final sequence.
Meanwhile, Discovery’s mycelium crop is apparently deceased, thanks to Mirror Stamets’ meddling in the affairs of fungi. Turns out the Emperor’s command ship Charon uses a spore-based power reactor that sucks energy out of the network at a devastating rate. Discovery’s mission, now - illustrated in a textbook captain’s speech delivered with warm gravitas by Doug Jones - is to take out that reactor, thus saving all life. It’s a daring plan, relying on some distressingly hand-wavy use of “mycelial shockwaves” and “ambient mycelial energy” to power the ship’s escape, and some even more distressing Return of the Jedi-like coordination to have Burnham deactivate the shields and Discovery torpedo the reactor.
What exactly is an acceptable use of spores here? Stamets draws a distinction between the Empire’s use of spores for power and the Federation’s use of them for navigation, but aren't those just different flavours of exploitation? Where does the mycelial network, binding all life together with semi-conscious space magic like Star Trek’s version of the Force, draw the line? Is it okay in Prime Stamets’ case just because he’s a nice dude? He is quite a nice dude, isn't he?
Once all the pieces are in place, the Star Wars comparisons continue to emerge, as Burnham and Georgiou’s deception gives way to a throne room melee reminiscent of its counterpart in The Last Jedi. Burnham and Mirror Georgiou fighting back-to-back is heartening to see, and the fight scene’s not bad, resulting in an appropriately horrible death for Lorca. And as Discovery begins its attack (a standout effects sequence in a series full of them), Burnham drags Georgiou with her as she’s transported back to her vessel.
After a strange, emotional bit of mycelial navigation by Lt Stamets, aided by the spirit of his late beloved Hugh (who seems to actually be dead after all), Discovery emerges back into its own version of the Alpha Quadrant. But - shocking twist! - Stamets overshoots the landing by nine months. The Federation won’t respond to hails. It seems the Klingons have won the war. What a pisser.
With two episodes remaining in Discovery’s first season, the show’s various plot threads are starting to wrap up or converge. The war with the Klingons has to finish in two more episodes, unless the plan is for it to continue into Season 2, and it certainly looks like Mirror Georgiou’s Mirror Tactics will be a part of that. That’s a disturbing thing to think about, given what it implies about cruelty as a necessity in war - but on the other hand, Burnham and Georgiou appear to be bonding in spite of their respective origins. Perhaps some of “our” Burnham will rub off on “their” Georgiou. Hopefully, the show’s plotting becomes a little more natural and character-driven than it was in this episode. At this point, the characters’ arcs should be snowballing towards a conclusion, but we’re yet to see whether that comes to fruition.
As a final note: is Jason Isaacs gone for good on this show? I still harbour curiosity about Lorca Prime, and I'd grown to enjoy Isaacs' gruff, awkward approach to Star Trek (which, it turns out, stuck out like a sore thumb for a reason after all). But more than that, I just want the main characters’ season arcs to end satisfyingly. I’d willingly trade that for any high-budget action sequence or Big Twist. Unless that Big Twist is Lorca Prime still being alive and awesome.