Despite Yourself is the episode that welcomed Discovery back to our screens after the mid-season break. We left the crew at the end of Into The Forest I Go, stranded somewhere in space and possibly another universe, with no way home after Stamets’ collapse after one last jump.
The crew find the wreckage of a battle, and fairly quickly realise that they are indeed in another universe, and things are very different here. The ship is attacked by Vulcans, Andorians were part of the crew of a Klingon vessel and we gradually find out that we’re in the so-called ‘Mirror Universe’.
I’ve been trying to avoid spoilers for this series, but I had seen something where people had seen the different reflections in Stamets’ mirror and concluded, “It’s the ‘Mirror Universe’!”
It made me laugh because they didn’t seem to understand that the ‘Mirror Universe’ isn’t literally on the other side of the mirror – it’s a metaphorical term, because the ethics of the Terran Empire and the characters that exist there are the opposite of the usual Star Trek universe.
Finding out that the producers don’t seem to understand this either – that made me angry.
The Other Side of the Mirror
The MU has been around since the original series, where it was a one-off episode. It was a pretty good one, I’ll be the first to admit. But it keeps turning up in subsequent series and rarely does it live up to the original. The concept has been kept going far longer than I think it deserves. It now seems as though there is some sort of tour service running day trips between these two realities.
Add to that the question of how the realms stay parallel to the extent of the same people being born in each universe, when we can see how often people get killed here… I just think that it’s time that it got dropped.
Rant over. How does Discovery handle the idea?
Actually, so far it’s going rather well.
Finding Their Way
The crew manage to download some stolen Terran Empire files from the destroyed Klingon ship (why couldn’t it have been a destroyed Empire ship, which would have avoided the technobabble explanation of why it’s compatible with their own systems?) so they can see what’s happened and get some biographical data. This lets them begin to bluff their way so that they don’t get blown up by another Empire ship right away, and they begin to look for a way home.
Meanwhile, Stamets is still in sickbay, by turns catatonic and incoherent. And he’s soon joined by another patient- Tyler is continuing to have flashbacks to his torture on the Klingon vessel, and wants to be checked out by Dr Culber. He also goes to confront L’Rell, and we see that there’s more going on than just PTSD.
Anyway- Lorca and Michael are going to try to infiltrate the Shenzhou, impersonating their alternate selves, taking Tyler along for backup. Before they go, though, Culber sees Tyler and tells him that he’s had radical reconstructive surgery and may have been brainwashed, at which point Tyler summarily kills him, and by the end of the episode, no-one seems to have noticed.
And that’s where we leave it. Michael is maintaining her façade as an Imperial captain but the strain is telling and she turns to Tyler for support and comfort, while Lorca is being agonised in the brig.
As usual, Discovery isn’t afraid to show some of the brutality in the situation. Lorca is undergoing constant torture, while Michael has to kill to maintain her position. Her seeking relief in Tyler’s arms feels natural at this point, probably the best handling of their relationship so far.
The Needs of the Plot…
Unfortunately, this comes at the point where we find that Tyler isn’t actually Tyler. It seems as though he may be a cosmetically altered Klingon, which would be a disappointingly stupid revelation, though he could be a human traitor – I’d really prefer that, though there would need to be a very good reason for his treachery.
The biggest problems with the episode are the ways that characters are forced to serve the plot rather than the other way around.
Tyler is sent out to retrieve the data core from the Klingon ship, despite not being the best pilot on board, nor having particularly applicable technical skills as far as we know. But the script needs him to be put under pressure and to create some tension over his success, so out he goes.
In the same way, in order to get around the problem of having an officer with PTSD on active duty, Tyler has to convince Michael that his problems were “a one-off”- despite her having seen them twice. But she still accepts his word.
And then there’s the way that the Cooper hails them on an audio-only transmission the first time they call, for no reason but to prevent them from seeing any indication of Discovery’s origin- and then the second time, gets suspicious that Discovery is responding without video.
There were a number of other problems especially the way that security on the Discovery in particular is laughable, and Starfleet medicals seem to be so lax that major surgery can get overlooked. Also, there don’t seem to be any rules about doctors not treating their partners or family.
Speaking of which: Culber’s casual killing wiped out half of Trek’s first gay couple, for no good reason I can see other than shock value. The producers have apparently addressed the implications of this by announcing that he’ll be back, which just undermines the point. Those who just watch the show and aren’t looking at behind the scenes interviews will only know that you’ve killed a gay character. Those who do see the announcement have just had next year’s plot twist spoiled.
Result: you’ve just annoyed your entire audience. Some of them (like me) twice.
Finally, while Jonathan Frakes’ direction was mostly good, with some nice transitions like the cut from Tilly’s new badge to the symbol on the bridge floor, there were a few too many scenes where he couldn’t keep the camera still, swooping and spinning around the actors until it made me dizzy.
Despite these points, this was mostly a good episode. The Klingon conflict hasn’t been forgotten, with the crew trying to return to the main universe not just to get home, but because they still have the solution to the Klingon cloaks. But this isn’t allowed to override the main thrust of the episode itself, which is obviously the Mirror Universe aspect.
There were some lighter moments, with Tilly having to portray her alternate self, the notorious Slayer of Sorna Prime, being the highlight along with Jason Isaacs’ impression of Scotty.
I also liked the bit where they painted over the ‘USS’ on the hull, but it doesn’t seem that the Empire actually looks that hard, given that the Cooper had several chances to notice it and failed their spot check every time.
Where do we go from here? I’m just hoping that the next episode continues to be this good. But if they can just resolve some of the issues I had this time, it could be fantastic.
Steve works full-time for the NHS and tries not to spend too much of his day plotting out his series of vampire novels. Away from the office, he divides his time between playing games where he is a vampire, playing games where he hunts vampires, and playing with Lego (he has numerous Lego vampires).