by Eric Renner Brown | via Entertainment Weekly
The U.S.S. Discovery returned Sunday night after nearly two months away — for viewers, at least. At the end of midseason finale “Into the Forest I Go,” the crew had notched a major tactical victory against the Klingons and deployed the controversial spore drive a final time to travel to Starbase 46 with a coveted Klingon cloak-breaking algorithm in hand. But Lt. Stamets convulsed while facilitating the jump, leaving Discovery adrift in a mysterious chunk of space with no Federation outpost in sight.
“Despite Yourself” explains that absence: Discovery has crossed into a parallel universe where the Federation doesn’t exist. But while it’s unfamiliar territory for the ship’s crew, the alternate reality has appeared in iterations of Star Trek since the franchise debuted in the ’60s.
Before Discovery premiered in September, its creators told EW that the show would allegorically tackle contemporary political issues through the conflict between the Federation and the Klingons. However, the decision to revisit the Terran Empire — which Spc. Michael Burnham describes in “Despite Yourself” as “an oppressive, racist, xenophobic culture that dominates all known space” — marks a bolder, more effective attempt to achieve political resonance. As some decry an alleged global rise in fascism, it’s savvy for Discovery to revisit the fascistic, human-only organization that Trek first deployed in 1967’s “Mirror, Mirror,” just over two decades after the conclusion of the Second World War.
The crew doesn’t immediately realize where they’ve arrived, of course. Upon completion of their ill-fated jump, Capt. Gabriel Lorca and his colleagues have little time to process the wreckage of a Klingon ship that surrounds them before a Vulcan vessel appears and opens fire. What the Discovery believes to be the U.S.S. Cooper soon arrives and neutralizes the threat. “Spooked by rebels, Discovery?” its captain inquires via an audio-only transmission. “You’re losing your edge.”
Off the bridge, Lorca explains to Burnham and Cdr. Saru that he and Stamets had suspected the mycelial network could lead to parallel universes. The 133 spore drive jumps Discovery has taken, he estimates, “filled in the gaps” and made travel to such an alternate reality possible. To begin to grasp their surroundings, Lorca sends Lt. Ash Tyler on an exploratory mission to retrieve a data core from the Klingon wreckage.
Upon its retrieval, Burnham analyzes the core and learns about the Terran Empire. The existence of the human-only organization explains certain inconsistencies — like why Vulcan and Andorian bodies littered the Klingon wreckage. In this universe, alien species have allied to fight back at the oppressive human regime.
The episode gets a little whimsical from there. When the Cooper reappears and opens a communication line with Discovery, Burnham prevents Lorca from speaking because in the Terran Empire, he isn’t the ship’s captain. Awkward, oversharing Cadet Sylvia Tilly occupies that role, and is forced to masquerade. “What the heck! Hold your horses!” she exclaims in a hilarious scene before handing off to Lorca who, in an homage to Scotty, pretends to be the ship’s Scottish engineer.
In order to pass as Terrans while they figure out a way home, the crew rebrands. “To successfully crash a party you have to look like you belong,” Lorca explains in a voice-over. “You must project confidence. Every detail of this so-called Terran Empire must be replicated exactly — and where we may fall short, we have to get creative.”
The subsequent transformation is a little far-fetched — beyond renaming themselves the I.S.S. Discovery, the crew does things like renovating the bridge’s interior and making replica Terran uniforms — but also thrilling. Going off rebel intelligence, Burnham explains to Tilly that to Terrans she’s a ruthless captain known by monikers like “the Slayer of Sorna Prime,” “the Witch of Wurna Minor,” and “Captain Killy.”
But if Tilly’s captain, what does that make Lorca and Burnham? As Burnham tells Lorca, they’re crucial players in the Terran Empire. Or, were. The Terran Lorca initiated a rebellion against the despotic emperor, killed Terran Burnham when she attempted to intervene, and struck out on the lam. “Amazing, isn’t it?” Lorca tells Burnham as the duo gazes out at the stars. “Different universe, but somehow the same people had a way to find each other. The strongest argument I’ve ever seen for the existence of destiny.”
Click HERE to read the recap, “Despite Yourself (S1 E10)”
Into the Forest I Go (S1 E9) | The Wolf Inside (S1 E11)