The first half of Star Trek: Discovery’s first season saw the United Federations of Planets’ war with the Klingons reach its climax, with the USS Discovery using its desired mycelium technology to uncover the Klingon’s cloaking devise and destroy the Sarcophagus in the Battle of Pahvo. Shortly after the USS Discovery’s victory, Staments uses the mycelium technology one last time to teleport back to the safety of Federation space, only for it to malfunction and erroneously end up somewhere unknown to the Federation. After a short break, Star Trek: Discovery is back and the second half has begun, so if you’ve been unable to watch episode 10, “Despite Yourself”, then proceed with caution as spoilers will be revealed.
What is both surprising and unsurprising is how predictable the direction of Star Trek: Discovery has been. Where the USS Discovery ends up seems to have been the logical course, as it is all confirmed that they have entered the Mirror Universe; territory that has been barely scratched so it’s certainly an exhilarating direction that will cast light onto the more sinister side of humanity. The Terran Empire is more brutal than expected, displaying quite the terrifying torture technique, with the shrills of suffering seemingly indomitable to the crew.
This is a particularly cataclysmic situation. As this is the mirror universe, the reflection must, in theory, go in the opposite direction. What this means is when the USS Discovery entered the mirror universe, its opposite counterpart, the ISS Discovery went in the other direction. This opens an opportunity to cast two opposing situations in different universes, in which chaos will be ensured in both. Whilst it will be doubtful whether we will see much of the devastation caused by the ISS Discovery in the former universe until the moment near the end of the series when, as we can expect, the USS Discovery returns, we already know its captain is Sylvia Tilly, whose opposite could potentially be a terrifying ordeal without any restraint for decency.
Crucially, the power dynamics in Star Trek: Discovery are changing. We know there’s a rebellion against the Terran Empire led by a Vulcan, Andorian, and Klingon coalition. This coalition, however, will be background noise to the shift in politics onboard the USS Discovery. Sylvia Tilly is now pretending to be captain of the USS Discovery, which is pretending to be the ISS Discovery (still with me?). Most notably, Michael Burnham is now captain of her very own ship; a dream that ended previously because she mutinied, setting the course for the first half of the season. The politics of the situation derives from the similarities between the Federation and the Terran Empire, ultimately how different are their motives?
Ideologically the Federation and the Terran Empire are far removed, one based on xenophilia, the other xenophobia. These two very different ideologies are rooted from the same point in history; the arrival of the Vulcans on Earth. The ability to do both wonderful and wicked things has led to two parallel universes, one which embraced the fear of change and decided to cooperate, and the other which assassinated the Vulcan arrival and concealed itself, becoming the Terran Empire the USS Discovery finds itself amongst. Ultimately, both became empires in very different manners but still sought power over the galaxy in one way or another; Star Trek: Deep Space Nine did a remarkable job of showing the darker side to the Federation that was sold so joyously to us in the previous series. Discovery certainly has the politics of Deep Space Nine running through its veins and how it unfolds will determine the fate of Captain Lorca himself.
The Terran Empire has realized the dream of Michael Burnham to be a captain, and has also given Tilly more power than she ever could have imagined. Star Trek has always done a wonderful job of pushing the boundaries of modern politics, asking questions about current affairs, in a futuristic setting to go boldly where nobody had thought before. Mirror Lorca was a fugitive, and mirror Burnham was presumed dead, which gave rise to uniquely different situations for both characters to exploit. This, as we saw at the end of the episode, ended badly for Lorca, who is now being tortured by the Terran Empire. And that’s not forgetting the disempowerment of Lorca, leaving a vacuum Burnham will undoubtedly move into, becoming the lead character we assumed she would be at the start. This begs the question as to who the Emperor or Empress of the Terran Empire is, as the most powerful person in the mirror universe, he or she will no doubt be the architect of persuasion for either Burnham or Tilly.
This also leaves room for a much more sinister plot unfolding. Dr. Culber is now dead, his neck snapped after making discoveries about Tyler’s physiognomy. This all but confirms the other prediction that has been so obvious ever since we first met Tyler; he’s Voq!. Although the demise of Dr. Culber may seem too soon in the series – the dynamics between him, Staments, and the mycelium network had only just begun, after all – the criticisms of his death as homophobic seem a little unfair. Voq was always going to kill a main character on the USS Discovery, and the likely choices were either Burnham because she’s a love interest or Dr. Culber (who has the ability to discover the truth via medical investigation), or the doctor himself. With Michael Burnham as the focal point of the series, Dr. Culber was the best option left to develop the almost schizophrenic nature between Tyler and Voq.
The power vacuum gives Voq an opportunity to seek his own desires for power, much of which depends on where Burnham’s heart lies and how powerful Captain Tilly will become. The USS Discovery is in its most dangerous situation yet, not only is it a target for rebel attack but also a Klingon attack from within. There’s also the likelihood that the Terran Empire will realize they’re not the original ISS Discovery and will believe them to be treacherous. The fragile situation is undoubtedly going to collapse, but which way it falls will determine who becomes the captain of the ship and how the story will unfold. Essentially, this is the original series without a captain; just imagine the chaos of the USS Enterprise without James Kirk and you’ve now got Star Trek: Discovery, an adventure into new worlds without a monotonous direction; Discovery could go anywhere.