[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for “Star Trek: Discovery” Season 1 Episode 10, “Despite Yourself.”]
It takes us a bit of time to establish where exactly the Discovery finds itself at the beginning of “Despite Yourself,” but once the crew recovers a data core from some nearby debris, there’s an answer: Get excited, hardcore “Trek” fans, because we’re in the Mirror Universe!
First discovered in the “TOS” episode “Mirror, Mirror,” the Mirror Universe has always been a terrifying reversal on Gene Roddenberry’s utopian ideals, a parallel universe where “Terrans” are xenophobic, violent, and duplicitous enemies of all other races. (It’s also usually a fun opportunity for the cast to wear leather and play the complete opposites of their usual characters.)
We’re a few centuries before the infamous black catsuit of Intendent Kira Nerys, but it’s still fun to discover that Cadet Tilly, in this new reality, is actually Captain Tilly of the ISS Discovery, Lorca’s a fugitive suspected of killing Captain Burnham of the ISS Shenzhou, and there are a number of familiar faces already popping up in this rough new world… where our Discovery appears to be trapped for the foreseeable future.
That’s bad news, as the Prime universe needs Discovery’s algorithm for cracking the Klingon cloaking device and ending the war, which means they’ll have to do whatever it takes to get back home. And “whatever it takes” can mean an awful lot in a world run by Terrans — though the darkest move had nothing to do with this universe.
One Quick Prediction, Before We Really Get Into It
The Terran Emperor’s identity is currently unknown, but Michelle Yeoh was on set for “Discovery” just a few months back (a fact revealed during the first “After Trek” talkback episode). Thus, given how often Mirror Universe relationships can mirror Prime Universe relationships, the fact that the Emperor chose Mirror Universe Burnham to track down MU!Lorca makes us think that MU!Georgiou may have gotten herself a promotion or two.
Love in Space
There is, of course, an awful lot to say about Stamets and Culber, and we’ll get to it. But I wanted to first call out the nuances of Wilson Cruz’s performance in the early scenes, especially the ways in which he makes brief physical contact with Stamets while treating him, speaking to the depth of their established bond. Should Culber still be treating his partner? Ethically, it’s more than dicey. But as Culber aptly points out to Lorca, protocol versus necessity isn’t cut-and-dried in times like these. And besides, things are about to get a whole lot worse for everyone involved.
Also, Tyler’s instability is close to reaching a breaking point (in fact, one might say that it full on broke this week). But whoever he might really be, he believes himself to be in love with Burnham — a sentiment she shares, leading to a sweet final scene between the two of them. But there’s a lot of pain ahead, quite clearly.
“You’re Not You”
…Well, can’t really call it a “fan theory” anymore, can we? For those who have been wondering if Tyler truly is who he says he is — a Starfleet officer suffering from PTSD after months of Klingon torture — there was some bitter vindication to be found here. Between Culber’s medical results and L’Rell’s shock that the Klingon prayer didn’t fully restore his buried identity, there was more than enough evidence in “Despite Yourself” to indicate that he’s actually a Klingon under the deepest of covers, most likely Voq from the early episodes of Chapter 1.
Of course, the purest test of this theory — Tyler interacting with Lorca’s pet tribble — has yet to happen. But with Saru’s threat ganglia being triggered by Tyler entering the bridge and Stamets announcing that “the enemy is here,” “Discovery” has pretty much shown all its cards. But the truth remains largely unknown.
Death May Not Be an Ending
In an episode that literally takes place in the most brutal possible “Trek” universe, the roughest moment of “Despite Yourself” had nothing to do with Terrans. Of all the shocks and surprises, by far the one we’ll remember most is a panicked Tyler snapping Culber’s neck, and Culber dropping to the ground, dead.
This is a massive thing, especially for fans who have been actively engaged with Culber and Stamets’ love story, the first major gay romance on a “Star Trek” series, and anyone who’s been disappointed by the recent rise of the “bury your gays” trope in pop culture.
“Discovery” has amassed quite the body count over the past 10 episodes for a “Trek” series, and the death of Culber might be a bridge too far for many viewers. But before you give up, know that IndieWire spoke with Cruz, the show’s executive producers and more about this moment and what it means for the future of the show, because without revealing any spoilers, this may not be the end of the story for Culber and Stamets.
Per a statement released by GLAAD spokesperson Nick Adams, an organization which is actively involved with monitoring storylines like these:
“Alongside so many fans, GLAAD cheered the arrival of Star Trek’s first gay relationship, and we share in their mourning over the death of a beloved groundbreaking character. Death is not always final in the Star Trek universe, and we know the producers plan to continue exploring and telling Stamets and Culbers’ epic love story. Wilson Cruz has leveraged his talent as an actor to create a smart, lovable, and strong character in Dr. Culber, once again bursting through doors that were once closed to gay actors in Hollywood. We look forward to watching their love story unfold.”
IndieWire will have more information on what this all means for “Discovery” going forward soon.
Burnham the Badass
That turbolift fight, including Burnham’s inspired move to temporarily disable the movement and upend gravity for a moment, was one of the show’s better small-scale action sequences, and also brought with it an emotional punch as we see Burnham forced to kill, and then striding onto the bridge of what is now her ship, to her crew’s applause.
Points to Sonequa Martin-Green, by the way, for totally selling every nuance of Burnham’s fear, fierceness, and anguish — her strength and vulnerability prove inspiring in equal measure.
Quotes of the Episode
“This is the strongest argument I’ve ever seen for the existence of destiny.”
“I’m going to have nightmares about myself now.”
Both Jason Isaacs and Mary Wiseman had some standout comedic moments this episode (Isaacs’ Scottish accent was especially fun, and a perfect homage to “TOS’s” James Doohan) but their more serious moments proved intriguing as well, as both ended up selling the light and the dark sides of what being in the Mirror Universe really means for the show. As Lorca says, the idea that fate may be a real visceral thing in this world is inspiring. But as Tilly also admits, this universe has a way of showing you the worst of what you’re capable of.
(Oh, but a quick shout out also for Saru’s reaction to MU!Tilly’s final nickname: “Captain Killy? Well, that’s not very clever.” Perfectly dry delivery from Doug Jones, right there.)
Let’s be extremely clear about this: The lack of goatees on screen in this episode is deeply upsetting. This is the darkest timeline, after all! Goatees are flat-out ESSENTIAL.
Beyond that, on an execution level the weakest part of “Despite Yourself” is the writing choice to have most of the Mirror Universe explanation delivered through an awful lot of exposition. Sure, there’s a great deal of information to unload, but more visual elements, or more interaction with Mirror Universe residents earlier in the episode, could have given the reveal of where they are more punch.
When it comes to the biggest, most controversial elements of the episode — specifically Tyler’s breakdown, and Culber’s death — we remain trapped in wait-and-see mode to some degree, the eternal curse of watching a show week to week, waiting for answers. Fortunately, “Discovery” has managed to keep us watching, and willing to wait.
New episodes of “Star Trek: Discovery” stream on CBS All Access on Sundays at 8:30 PM ET.