Star Trek Discovery: 1.11 The Wolf Inside
Many a review, essay and think-piece has been written on the topic of Star Trek: Discovery not being your father’s Star Trek. It certainly isn’t, nor do I feel it should have ever tried to be, but in passing into the Mirror Universe (with many internet commenters already joking it would have been a bigger twist if it turned out the show started in the mirror universe due to its darker tone) Star Trek: Discovery has, to quote Empire’s Editor at Large Helen O’Hara, “engaged beast mode”.
Trying to maintain her cover as her Mirror counterpart on board the Shenzou, Michael found herself facing harsher and harsher moral quandaries, including overseeing the ritualistic execution of traitors to the Empire by way of transportation into the cold of space. Questioning how much of herself she would lose in a place like that the longer she stayed there, being as she was unable to find a way to get the data she needed back to Discovery for their trip home, Michael found herself turning to Ash as her tether – their word, not mine – to all that was good about their lives. It was only a matter of time before Ash’s little secret pulled the rug out from under Michael and we’d be forced to see how and indeed if she could deal with it. All Ash needed was the right trigger.
Given orders to destroy a rebel base from orbit Michael somehow, in the episode’s biggest flaw in my opinion, convinced her crew to not do that and instead let her and Ash beam down to the surface to extract intel needed to bring the rebellion to its knees first. I guess this was supposed to speak to the Mirror Universe’s Michael Burnham having a reputation of being not to be messed with but it came across a little lazy.
Back on the Discovery we were left with a tragic scenario I hadn’t actually considered. To cover his tracks before leaving for his mission with Michael, Ash had made it look like Stamets, in a fit of mycelium induced mania, had attacked and killed Dr Culber. With everyone ready to assume his guilt, even if it was with reduced culpability due to his condition, it was Tilly who stepped up to the plate to try and save the poor man. Still dressed in her Captain’s gear to maintain cover, Tilly postulated that Stamets’s earlier faux pas of addressing her as Captain may have been an early sign of his mind expanding beyond their understanding of time and space. Concocting a very sci-fi sounding plan to use the mycelium spores to bring Stamets’s mind back online, everything went from bleak to bloody awful when for a few minutes it looked as though in her haste to save Stamets, Tilly had actually finished him off.
Thankfully this was a fake out because killing of both members of the only gay couple on Star Trek, especially after framing one for the death of the other, would have been some new kind of low in the bury your gays trope. Stamets survived, albeit still in his catatonic state but we were treated to a vision of exactly where he found himself; entering a sort of mycelium forest and encountering an alternate version of himself from another reality. The idea of numerous versions of Stamets coming together across realities to pool their knowledge, in a sort of Council of Reeds (to use a Fantastic Four reference) or Council of Ricks (to use a more contemporary one) left me salivating for more. It also opens up the idea to there being a chance, albeit a slim one, that we get to see Dr Culber again in another life.
Once down amongst the rebels, things jumped right into Mirror Universe malarkey for Michael and Ash. In the past, Mirror Universe episodes have been fun dalliances with the idea of evil or in the case of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, kinkier versions of established characters. Here we got to see the dark side to the coin of the Federation as the rebellion was made up of a coalition of aliens fighting for survival against the oppressive Terran Empire. Led by a Klingon no less, Michael thought it could be their key to figuring out a way to make peace with the Klingons once back in their own universe.
And of course, surprising no one, it turned out to be the mirror version of Voq. After being vetted by the mirror version of Sarek – sporting the goatee his son famously made into the “evil doppelganger" trope back in the original Mirror episode – Michael tried to speak with Voq on why he, a proud Klingon, would work with other species. But being triggered by hearing his Klingon self speak, Ash attacked him nearly derailing Michael’s plans.
Back on board the Shenzou with enough false intel to convince her crew her mission had been successful and safe in the knowledge that the rebels could escape the planet if she waited long enough to give the order to fire on the surface, Michael confronted Ash and it’s then that Star Trek: Discovery laid its cards on the table. Ash snapped back to 100% Voq in human skin and proudly confessed his true motivations; to infiltrate a Federation ship, undermine Starfleet and help the Klingons destroy the Federation for good. Michael, in straight denial mode, wouldn’t have it until Ash confessed to already killing Dr Culber to cover his tracks. Trying to then kill Michael, she was narrowly saved by the Mirror version of Saru who served as a slave on the Shenzou, someone who Michael had shown an iota of compassion to due to her relationship with her own version back on Discovery.
Backed into a corner, Michael was forced to order the execution of Ash by transportation for fear of giving herself away. As Ash dematerialized I kept telling myself she wouldn’t do this. She couldn’t. But as we saw Ash choking in the vacuum of space, I realised maybe Michael had crossed over to that darker place. For all of 3 seconds that is, upon which the Discovery beamed Ash on board, Michael having communicated Ash’s true nature and her plan before his "execution". Tucked into Ash’s pocket was a drive with the data she couldn’t transmit without detection, so by ensuring Discovery saved Ash, she managed to not only save her conscious but also maybe, help her crew found a way home.
Of course there was no way Michael could know her plan was a success as just then an imperial flagship turned up and destroyed the rebel base without warning. It was none other than the enigmatic emperor who we had heard about last week. And of course and in another twist that I’m sure people could see coming a mile, it turned out to be Philippa Georgiou. Lorca, despite being held prisoner and tortured aboard the Terran ship, couldn’t help but smile at seeing her face, even if his motivations right now are questionable at best.
As I said, many of the twists that came this episode were telegraphed well in advance. It’s since been revealed that Shazad Latif, who plays Ash, was allowed to choose the fake name given to cover up that fact he also played Voq. He chose his late father Javid Iqbal in a touching tribute that nonetheless caused many a Trek fan to question why he didn’t have any IMDB credits to his name. But each reveal, though not earth shattering, has felt satisfactory to this Trk fan due to the way the characters reacted and grew. When faced with the Ash’s betrayal, Michael showed her true quality as that of a woman never cruel but ever resourceful and lawful. True Starfleet through and through.
With one more “twist” still up their sleeves, that many fans now pretty sense is guaranteed, it looks as though Star Trek: Discovery may turn out to be a safer version of Star Trek than previously thought. Though crucially, still thoroughly entertaining as not everything needs to hinge on twists.