Star Trek: Discovery S1E12: Vaulting Ambition

We can’t go too deep into a Star Trek show without some Shakespeare, so tonight’s title comes from MacBeth: “I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent, but only vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself and falls on th’ other.” In planning to kill the king, MacBeth admits to himself he has no real motivation but his ambition, and that ambition often leads to folly.

The words are spoken by the Emperor, chiding Lorca for his (or, more accurately, Mirror Lorca’s) attempt on her life. But this week’s episode reveals that nearly everyone’s ambitions have potentially disastrous consequences. Stamets (and his Mirror doppleganger) playing with the underlying forces of the universe. L’Rell reshaping Voq into the ultimate sleeper agent. Lorca’s bold plan to infiltrate the Imperial Palace (which is, naturally, a starship) as Burnham’s prisoner.

But most of all, the writers. I’ve been trying to keep these reviews as spoiler-free as possible, but it gets harder and harder as we get plot twists as fast and furious as anything on The Good Place. So I’m going to try something new: a white-font spoiler section, which you can read by mousing over below. (In theory. And the spore drive works, in theory.)

But for those who don’t want to be spoiled, a bit on the tone and structure of the episode. Much has been said about serialized shows, from Fringe to Breaking Bad to, yes, The Good Place, taking lessons from Lost about what not to do and how not to let your story fall apart halfway through. While some of Disco‘s early moves seemed haphazard (now we’re on the Shenzhou! Now we’re on Discovery! Now were fighting the Klingons! Here’s a timeout to screw around with Harry Mudd! Now we’re in the Mirror Universe!), “Vaulting Ambition” is where it becomes clear that the writers know exactly where the ship is headed, as plot threads that were laid down from the very first episode (and the episode three reboot) all beginning to weave together. We have three episodes left, and there’s no reason to think the show’s going to ease off the gas pedal.

Now. Spoilers.

Where to start? Maybe at the end. The Lorca is actually Mirror Lorca isn’t a shock — plenty of people guessed it. But the reveal is well handled, giving us a quick refresher of what we know, namely that he’s been studying the mirror universe, and pushed Stamets to make those 133 jumps to gather enough information to cross over. But it also lets us in on the part of the plot I’m not sure anyone suspected — he needed Burnham, not because of her Vulcan-bred smarts, but because her Mirror counterpart was adopted not by Sarek, but by Georgiou.

Making Michael’s mother-daughter dynamic with her former captain literal is a nice way of strengthening the emotional weight of the storyline, but it also gives Lorca a reason to bring Burnham onto Discovery in the first place. Everything we’ve seen thus far now fits into his plan to return home and confront Emperor Georgiou.

And then there’s Stamets. We get a nice romantic moment between he and Culber that manages to load up on exposition as well, and lay down the stakes for the rest of the season, namely that Mirror Stamets has poisoned the mycelial network, and with it, all life in both universes.

But it’s also Mirror Stamets who helps our Stamets escape his coma and return to action. Again and again, Discovery‘s characters make deals with the devil, and while they pay the price, they often get something in return. Hence Burnham’s team-up with Emperor Georgiou, now that it’s apparent Lorca’s the overarching villain of the series; Saru enlisting L’Rell to help save Tyler (it appears she does so by snuffing out Voq’s half of his split personality, but I doubt it’s that simple); and, of course, the deal that set all of this in motion—Lorca springing Michael Burnham from prison, all so he could get close to the Emperor. We’ll see how his plan plays out next week.