Star Trek Discovery Recap: Have You Tried the Fear Ganglia?

Star Trek: Discovery

Vaulting Ambition
Season 1 Episode 12
Editor’s Rating *****
Photo: Ben Mark Holzberg/CBS

It should be said at the outset that I have never been any good at puzzles or riddles, that I have failed to guess the murderer in every single mystery novel I have ever read, including The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, and the number of times I have written “MAN, I GUESS” in my recap notes has doubled every week over the past three weeks, so tonight’s episode, which is just chockablock with twists and the promise of more twists to come as we enter the home stretch of the season, was not designed for me. I’m not the ideal audience for it, and I’ll cop to that freely.

So! We inch forward, plotwise, with the sense that the writers are rationing out one big reveal and one small progression per episode toward an Ultimate Showdown that’s got to feature Burnham/Lorca/Georgiou in the A line and likely Stamets/Evil!Stamets/T’Voq’ler/Tilly in the B line. Burnham gets aboard the Imperial Palace and a comatose Stamets mentally enters the mycelial network, while the Defiant intel that was so crucial in last week’s episode turns out to be mostly useless without additional, redacted data that’s only stored in Emperor Georgiou’s personal files. We get plenty of Evil Showboating aboard Emperor Georgiou’s ship (the Charon, a.k.a. Hell’s Ferryman, because no one in the Mirrorverse has seen Mitchell and Webb), which you will NEVER hear me complain about, Stamets get to have an Event Horizon–meets–What Dreams May Come interlude in his own brain/mushroom palace, L’Rell performs dubiously successful surgery on Tyler/Voq, and [pause for inhale because this sentence is getting away from me] in the last five minutes Burnham realizes that Captain Lorca — the Captain Lorca we’ve known all season — was from the Mirrorverse the whole time! Which certainly answers the question, “Why does this dude act like he hates Star Trek?” (It does not answer the question, “Why does Jason Isaacs sound so much like Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie when he’s doing an American accent, but not Dustin Hoffman as Tootsie, Dustin Hoffman as Michael Dorsey?” Nothing answers that question.)

Also: Tilly is still wearing her Sexy Evil Murder wig in every scene. Every scene! And absolutely no one busts her chops about it! Please, Discovery, if nothing else, give me one scene where (probably Stamets, but also feel free to go wide and make it Saru) somebody stops mid-conversation, takes a second look at her, and says, “Why are you still wearing your Mirrorverse wig?” and she has to admit that she just likes it.

Some of this week’s best scenes are, unsurprisingly, between Georgiou and Burnham — Michelle Yeoh and Sonequa Martin-Green have fantastic chemistry, and it’s powerful to watch them reunite under such tense, unsatisfying circumstances — but they’re both rushed through a number of plot points in order to arrive at the episode’s big reveal, which is a shame! Like, we get to watch Georgiou hand-feed a super-grossed-out Burnham some fear ganglia (Saru, offscreen: “So there are Kelpians onboard!”) because it’s a “delicacy,” which, you know, Star Trek giveth, but she then almost immediately reveals she’s known Burnham has been lying from the start and drags her into an execution chamber without letting the moment land or explaining why she went to all the trouble of setting up a five-minute Emotional Trap Meal, which, Star Trek taketh away.

By the way! The vibe between Georgiou and Burnham in the Mirrorverse is … hmmm, FRAUGHT! Here it’s Georgiou, not Sarek, who adopted Burnham (it’s entirely unclear why or how), and so we get lots of moments like, “You are the only person I have ever loved,” and “I AM YOUR MOM, and you betrayed me with your father, who by the way is sort of Lorca here, and he groomed you, and now you’re dating, which is every mother’s nightmare.” (But also, Lorca is dating, or was very recently dating, his guard’s dead sister, and I TOLD YOU A LOT HAPPENED IN THIS EPISODE.)

Something I refuse to tolerate from anyone else in this Mirrorverse — where Georgiou drops an entire room full of her own High Command like it’s nothing and people try to betray at least six of their best friends before breakfast — is absolute naïvete in the face of an obvious con. I want Mirrorverse-levels of suspicion from all future Mirrorverse residents, please. Lorca fake-collapses in his agonizer booth after being repeatedly tortured by a guard with a grudge, and the guard immediately takes the collapse at face value and runs into the booth without a weapon or calling for backup. This is a universe full of betrayal! You have to be prepared for betrayal at every turn; how are you going to let a prisoner run the oldest prison-break con in the book? You cannot assume that this dude has collapsed in good faith! Lorca kills him and takes off just as Burnham realizes that he’s been from the Mirrorverse all along, in no small part because Emperor Georgiou shares his extreme sensitivity to light, and casually mentions to Burnham, “Oh, yeah, that’s like, the one biological difference that separates us from you guys, and we all know that, for some reason.” Which:

1. How does she know that?

2. How does she subsequently know that’s the only biological difference?

3. If that’s true and literally everyone shares the same sensitivity to light, why doesn’t this ship have tinted windows or, I don’t know, sun visors? Why do those debilitating flashes of light come through the ship’s windows every time you dock someplace new? You are awash in a sea of suspicion and malice! You do not have the luxury of being temporarily blinded every time you turn to portside!

This is going to be a twisty next few weeks, I can tell. It feels churlish to criticize a Star Trek show for prioritizing plot twists, world-building, and World of Cardboard speeches over sensible pacing or less-overwrought dialogue, so let’s offer up some praise for what did work here:

• Georgiou gets to wear a cape!!

• Burnham uses the word logic, reminding us that she used to experience a profound conflict between her human heritage and her Vulcan identity, which everyone has mostly seemed to agree to forget about!

• Dr. Culber gets to listen to some opera and brush his teeth with his husband one last time!

• I am pretty sure that Lorca’s Southern accent is gone!

Star Trek Discovery Recap: Have You Tried the Fear Ganglia?