Star Trek Discovery: “Vaulting Ambition” (S1, E12 review)

So someone has an almighty alternate-universe sized secret …(image courtesy CBS)



SURPRISE! SURPRISE! This is not your grandmother’s alternate universe.

Unless of course she is from the Mirror Universe in which case she may, drenched in blood, anger and betrayal (it’s so “in” in alternate Paris, trust me), absolutely love it and kill you to go back there.

Which is essentially what good old Lorca (Jason Isaacs) who is – MEGA SPOILER ALERT! TURN AWAY NOW – not the Lorca of the old universe but in fact the Lorca from the Mirror Universe who has been rather cleverly hiding from the Emperor Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) in our universe – got all that? Good, there’s a quiz later – did when he manipulated everyone, and I mean everyone, for his own nefarious ends.

The revelation in the closing minutes of “Vaulting Ambitions”, which was delivered with maximum effect and minimum cheese, suddenly made all kinds of things from previous episodes make crystal clear sense.

Remember that time after some hot and heavy sex where Admiral Cornwell (Jayne Brook) mentioned that Lorca, who slept with a weapon under his pillow, was not the same man she knew in her youth? That’s because, ta-dah!, he wasn’t, a realisation cemented even further when Lorca effectively sent Cornwell off to be tortured by the Klingons.

In retrospect the real Lorca, so we’re told, wouldn’t have done that; the genius of Lorca’s portrayal up to this point, both from a writing and performance perspective, is that the Captain simply came across a rule-breaking rogue, a man so passionately committed to the truth, to winning the war, that the ends justified his rather convention-defying means.

We bought it because who doesn’t love a maverick? Someone who darts in and around what’s generally agreed as acceptable and makes merry with it. Of course, now we know who he really is, and how brutally realistic the Mirror Universe is, his behaviour makes sense since where he’s from is about as in love with warm, love and humanity as a certain serving US President is with the truth and compassion.

So yeah we were duped but oh lordy doesn’t it all make the journey that much darker and full of WTF moments?


“You’re my what now?” Michelle Yeoh gets her Joan Crawford on minus the coathangers (image courtesy CBS)


Take what Lorca did to the King of the Spores, Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) who was left in a coma after 133 jumps, ostensibly to triangulate some Klingon shield data so the Federation could tell where the cloaked enemy ships are.

Again, on the face of it, and here is Lorca’s cruel Mirror Universe genius, a perfectly reasonable tactic – jump all over the universe, whatever the cost to Stamets, because #warreasons.

Who could question that? Who would even dare question that right? It’d be like questioning cute babies or kittens gamboling – you just wouldn’t think to do it, something Lorca counted on.

Alas it left Stamets in a coma of sorts, his consciousness hidden deep inside the mycelium spore network that is a biological network that stretches not just across the galaxy but between mirror universes, where he ended up conversing with the evil Mirror Universe version of himself.

His dark side wasn’t so much desperately evil as narcissistically pragmatic, impatient to get back inside his own body in the Emperor’s flagship (which rather niftily and imposingly seemed to have it’s own mini-sun within itself) even as Stamets had what is inarguably one of the most emotionally-resonant scenes in Star Trek Discovery, or indeed, any of the Trek iterations.

Having glimpsed his dead husband Hugh Culber, dispatched by Tyler/Voq (Shazad Latif) in the periphery of his vision, he left his alternate self behind, running through corridors until he found himself back in his quarters with his husband, where they very tenderly and with immeasurable poignancy, said goodbye to each other.

It was heartbreakingly, achingly touching, a farewell tinged with a small measure of hope that Culber lives in a mycelium after life – if there is a God, he’s a spore people! Worship the mushroom! – that unfolded over a recreation of the couple’s morning routine, which was, for each of them, the most quiet, intimate part of the day.

In an episode packed full of twists and turns and revelations, this quiet moment of soul-stirring goodbye, this acknowledgement that life as they knew it was over, accompanied by Stamets whispered urgent wish that it wasn’t – there was so much emotion packed into such a hushed utterance that it was impossible not to be choked up by it – was the emotional centrepiece of an episode not short of emotionally in-your-face moments.

While you could possibly argue that Discovery had killed off the gay in common with far too many other shows – there is a disturbing trend to leave the white, male characters alive and kicking and kill off the minorities in far too many TV shows – the narrative impact was immense and beautifully handled, a testament to the universality of love that was given due respect and honour, and that a good many conservatives, particularly those of a religious bent, would do well to recognise.


The sorrow and ache of goodbye … and the delicious hope that this is not forever even if it feels like it (image courtesy CBS)


Wrapped around this masterpiece of agonisingly sad but deeply moving goodbye, Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) had her own moment of “Luke, I am your father” when the Emperor, who kills people with a casualness that is frightening af; goodbye inner circle you know too much! – told Burnham, right before she sentenced her to death for treason, that she was her adoptive mother.

Yep, that’s right not only do the bonds between Georgious and Burnham cross boundaries, but they deepen here in the horrific harshness of the Mirror Universe, but apparently not quite enough to stop Burnham being publicly killed off in the throne room where she, and what a clever ballsy tactic this is, admits she is from the Federation Universe.

Her trump card? Burnham’s Georgiou’s communicator that resonates to another frequency not known to the Terran Empire.

That little moment, which leads to Burnham realises a ton of things such as Interphasic Space not being the way home – the crew of the Defiant went mad, quite mad, something redacted from the intelligence Burnham obtained – and Lorca not being who he said he was, changed everything.

With the Discovery on the way to the Emperor’s flagship to reveal the secrets of the Spore Drive – haha the Emperor said she’ll let them all go if they give over the technology; uh-huh sure you will, sure you will – Burnham realises that it all comes down to her now, that if they’re going to get home it’ll have to be by the mycelium network which is, uh-oh, in danger of dying thanks to Alternate Stamets’ collateral poisoning of it in pursuit of the technology at any costs.

Thankfully Stamets moment with Culber, where his dead husband told him what Alternate Stamets is up to, woke him up, just in time since it looks like the only way they’ll get home is by the mycelium network whose technology cannot fall into the Emperor’s hands.

Burnham has demonstrated she has what it takes to navigate these kinds of tricky situations and frankly she’ll need everything at her disposal to get out of this mess, especially with Lorca poised to execute his own long-gestating plans in the midst of it all.

“Vaulting Ambitions” is exceptionally strong episode in an already narratively-robust series that not only gave us a shit ton of emotionally-resonant scenes – Tyler locked in existential agony until L’Rell (Mary Chieffo) gave him some sweet relief albeit with great reluctance was another highlight, if a small one – but pushed the story ahead by leaps and bounds, while further examining issues of identity, expediency over thoughtfulness and power vs. cooperative endeavour that further burnish Discovery‘s credentials as the most intelligently thought-out Trek since Deep Space Nine.

  • Next week in “What’s Past is Prologue” we meet up again with the slippery hand of destiny and whether our decisions are very our own … yes, it appears Jean-Paul Sartre wrote the script …


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