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‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Review: A Major Battle Is Won, But an Action-Packed Episode Reminds Us of the Real War

Season 1, Episode 13, "What's Past Is Prologue," keeps us on the edge of our seats.

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CBS All Access

[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for “Star Trek: Discovery” Season 1 Episode 13, “What’s Past is Prologue.”]

Mission Brief

After last week’s massive reveals regarding Lorca, it’s an all-out war between him and his loyal forces (including the Mirror Universe version of Commander Landry, played by Rekha Sharma, who we last saw being brutally killed by a panicked tardigrade in Episode 4, “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry”) and Emperor Georgiou, who initially maintains control over the Charon before ultimately being overwhelmed. Lorca loses the upper hand, however, due to a moment of vulnerability with Burnham, and by “loses the upper hand” we mean “gets stabbed through the chest and then disintegrated.”

While that battle ends with Lorca’s seemingly unequivocal death, that’s not the biggest threat faced in this episode. While the Terrans fight amongst themselves, the Discovery crew looks to find not just a way home but a way to save “life as we know it,” due to the Terran Empire’s thoughtless exploitation of the mycelium network, pushing it for an unsustainable power system to a level that could destroy every universe.

Thanks to some good old-fashioned Starfleet ingenuity, the Discovery crew comes up with a solution that does, fortunately, rocket them back to their original universe, at long last. The catch? The mycelium network brought them back nine months after they left — just enough time for the Klingons to win the war, and for the Federation to be gone.

Two more episodes left in Season 1!

Love in Space

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Again, we remain on alert for the ongoing story of Stamets and Culber, whose love story remains firmly rooted in the tragic, despite the occasional presence of Culber helping Stamets find his way through “the forest.” But in the meantime, there’s Lorca and Burnham to consider…

Last week, it’d been strongly hinted that Lorca and Burnham’s Mirror Universe counterpart had been in a relationship, and in “What’s Past Is Prologue” an offhand comment about “pillow talk” indicated as much.

In an interview with IndieWire this week, in fact, Jason Isaacs confirmed that he definitely felt that Lorca and Mirror!Burnham were having sex. Though while he wasn’t sure how much you could define it as a relationship, given how life is tough in the Mirror Universe, he did feel that “just that tiny flaw of vulnerability, hoping that Burnham will once again ally with him, is enough to get him killed.” (For more from our interview with Isaacs, click here.)

Quite the Body Count

By the end of “What’s Past Is Prologue,” the only survivor of the Charon is Mirror!Georgiou, and that was a fluke moment courtesy of Burnham’s mercy. Otherwise, the brutality of the Mirror Universe was on full display here, from Stamets deploying his special custom weapon for Lorca to the corridor phaser battle that included no shortage of moments illustrating “Discovery’s” special take on the shoot-to-kill setting. Watching so many people choke on foaming vomit or blow away in a burst of red mist made this tough viewing, to be sure, though fitting with this universe. And it was interesting to see Starfleet-esque technology applied to a more bloodthirsty culture, making us appreciate, all the more, the importance of setting one’s phaser to stun.

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Quote of the Episode

“My species is bred to sense the coming of death. I do not sense it today. I am surrounded by a team I trust — the finest a captain could ever hope to command. Discovery is no longer Lorca’s, she is ours. And today will be her maiden voyage.”
— Saru

Let’s just say this: Doug Jones has been an underrecognized MVP on this show, week after week, and if we’ve failed to appreciate his presence in the cast, that is very much a flaw that’s on us. Captain Saru can lead us anywhere, and while literally anything can happen in the remaining episodes of the season, our sincere hope is that he sticks around for quite some time.

Also, the optimism Saru’s speech inspired in his crew may have preceded Cadet James T. Kirk’s Kobayashi Maru run by a few years, but honestly telling a group of young frightened officers that he doesn’t believe in no-win scenarios was perhaps just the right thing to say, in order to spur them forward. Now that the crew has returned to a Klingon-dominated Alpha Quadrant, the challenges are even more real, but we can’t wait to see how they rally.

Final Thoughts

Serious question: If the episode had been entirely focused on the battle on the Emperor’s ship, with no one worrying about the mycelial network and returning to the Prime Universe, would it have still worked? Maybe — if only because the ultimate resolution, settling the three-way conflict between Georgiou, Burnham, and Lorca, would have gotten some room to breathe.

However, the choice to combine both sequences is right in line with “Discovery’s” overall choice to keep the plot’s pace at a breakneck level, and also hints that there’s a lot more territory to cover in the remaining two episodes of the season. Good god, could we be looking at parallel universes and time travel in the first season of “Discovery”? If we weren’t having such fun, we’d be getting whiplash.

Grade: B+

New episodes of “Star Trek: Discovery” stream Sundays at 8:30 p.m. on CBS All Access.

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