We open on Disco’s power fluctuating — caused somehow by Stamets, found huddling in a corner, cradling his dead lover. The crew still don’t know who murdered Dr. Culver, so Saru and Tilly have to both solve the crime, and try and restore Stamets’ mental state.
Meanwhile, Michael Burnham’s still in command of the Mirror Shenzhou, where Lorca’s being routinely tortured, criminals are beamed into space as punishment, and Saru is a nameless slave who bathes the captain in the morning. Burnham’s horrified at every turn, but even more horrified that she’s starting to become accustomed to the Terran Empire’s brutal way of life.
Fortunately, she has Tyler. The two of them have a quiet moment, in which each reassures the other that they’re the tether to reality and sanity through both their adventure in the Mirror Universe and Tyler’s Klingon-torture-related PTSD.
Their quiet moment is interrupted when the still-unseen Emperor gives Burnham orders to kill a resistance cell led by a Klingon called the Firewolf. The resistance is a Federation-like coalition of alien races not unlike the Federation, and Burnham’s faced with a choice between a genocidal attack on a group she feels inherent sympathy for, and blowing her cover in a Mirror Universe where every moment-to-moment decision is a life or death one. And all that before the opening credits.
Discovery‘s suffered criticism which began before the series aired, and while some of it comes from fans who insist anything made this century isn’t real Trek, a lot of it comes from the burden of expectations. This is the Golden Age of Television, and we want a Trek that ascends to the heights of Breaking Bad and The Wire, or at the very least, Game of Thrones. And this isn’t that.
But what it is is a hell of a lot of fun. After a 14-minute cold open packed with incident, we get one surprise reveal after another. Some of which you’ve probably already guessed (what really happened to Tyler at the hands of Klingon torturer L’Rell; the identity of the Emperor; maybe even the identity of the Fireworf), and some (mostly to do with Stamets, and Tilly and Saru’s attempts to restore his mind) that you probably didn’t.
The show’s smart enough to have a few genuine surprises, but also dumbed down enough to spell some of them out (Stamets calling Tilly “captain” in a moment of disorientation was a nice bit of foreshadowing that probably didn’t need to be re-explained here). This isn’t a show written with the subtlety of Breaking Bad, but I’m not sure that’s a realistic thing to expect. It’s fun, fast-paced entertainment, and more consistently so than anything in the franchise. We’re not going to get a goofy holodeck adventure from Disco, or an embarrassing episode with Scottish ghosts or Ferengi in drag. And we are going to get what the show delivers this week and every week — dangerous missions, tense confrontations, unexpected betrayals, fucking-cool-sounding future science. Sounds like real Star Trek to me.
We’re still getting the occasional shout-out to the classics — an appropriately-goateed Mirror Sarek makes an appearance.
We don’t get any clues in either direction on the fan theory that Lorca is actually Mirror Lorca, sabotaging the spore drive to get back to his home universe. He seems as eager to get back to the Federation as Burnham is, but there’s no telling if it’s all an act.
Next week, we get the confrontation with The Emperor we’ve expected since the moment we first heard them mentioned, complete with what appears to be an imperial throne room scene. In your face, Star Wars!