overnights

Star Trek Discovery Recap: Why Do the Agony Booths Even Open?

Star Trek: Discovery

What’s Past Is Prologue
Season 1 Episode 13
Editor’s Rating *****
Photo: Ben Mark Holzberg/CBS

Friends, it’s finally happened: TILLY TOOK THE WIG OFF. It took four episodes. Four episodes! That wig has been through a lot. That wig has lasted longer than a lot of characters on the show! But now it’s gone — Tilly drops it somewhere between the first and second act — with nary a word of explanation. I’ll miss you, Sexy Murder Wig. You were perhaps the most consistent, reliable presence onboard the Discovery during your brief but meaningful life.

We’re now two episodes out from the end of season one, which is hard to believe, because even though it’s only a 15-episode season, I feel like (a) I have been watching this show for at least 40 years, and (b) I have only just met all of these characters. So much of the show’s early twists seemed to depend on the premise that the show’s creators knew what they were doing — “Don’t worry, we know it looks bad that Dr. Culber died, and we know you wanted lead actress Michelle Yeoh to last longer than two episodes, but there is a plan to redeem all of these seemingly disjointed, messy choices in a grand and ultimately worthwhile narrative,” which, this close to the end, I have to say seems unlikely.

In the span of a single episode, we find out that Lorca has secretly been his Mirrorverse equivalent this entire time, that he’s apparently been having an affair with Mirror Burnham and has designs on ruling the Terran Empire with Prime Burnham at his side, and then he dies. (Georgiou gets him, in case you were wondering.) Which is a lot to pack into a single episode! Why give a character who has, to be honest, spent the majority of the season being reserved and underdeveloped, a secret sexy backstory with the lead, a backstory that’s never really explored, right before killing him off? No one on the Discovery has much of a response to “By the way, it’s me, your captain, I was secretly evil this whole time,” and frankly, neither did I! (He also tries to take credit for turning them into “soldiers,” which, FILE NOT FOUND, MY GUY.) Also, the old chief of security is alive in the Mirrorverse! Remember her? Vaguely? Well, she dies again in about 20 minutes, so don’t try to hard to cast your mind back.

The Lorca stuff is a mess from start to finish, but there’s still plenty to enjoy here. It’s wonderful to see Burnham and Georgiou back together again, especially when they have an extended side-by-side fight scene against Lorca and his crew onboard the Charon. Saru has a lovely little moment where he tells the bridge crew, “You know my people can always sense death coming; I do not sense it today,” and they have to sort out a technobabble reason for dropping a bomb on the Charon (not a violence bomb exactly, more like an Armageddon-style bomb, the kind of bomb that solves everyone’s Science Problems and can jump-start their own spore drive.

Look, essentially what has to happen is this: The crew has to set off an explosion and then, Hot Fuzz-ily, run away from it in slow-motion in order to return to their own universe. Which, as reasons for slowly running away from an explosion go, is a perfectly serviceable one! And they do. Burnham convinces Lorca that she’s willing to rule by his side (“BUT NO FUNNY BUSINESS”) just long enough for Georgiou to get the drop on him, claims the Discovery crew would have happily helped him return home IF HE HAD ASKED (verrrry end–of–Whatever Happened to Baby Jane vibes there), and transports Georgiou onto the Discovery instead of going out in a blaze of glory befitting an emperor. Which, even for Burnham, is a lot! Her need for redemption and her single-minded focus seem to be an endlessly renewable resource, so maybe if the mycelial network fails, they could use that to power the spore drive!

They make it home safely, which feels a little tough to care about in the end. I can admire Discovery’s ambition in trying to fit so many twists and subplots into its inaugural season, but I don’t think many of them have been executed well, and I think it’s more often a testament to the acting prowess of Sonequa Martin-Green and Doug Jones than to the writing that I’m still invested in some of these characters. But, TWIST, they make it home nine months after they disappeared, only to find that the Klingons appear to have already won the war.

So we have two episodes to resolve that, I guess!

Some Stray Thoughts

• Lorca frees his old followers, who are all about nine months into apparent lifelong torture sessions in the agonizer booths, which leads me to ask the question: WHY DO THOSE AGONY BOOTHS EVEN OPEN? Why put an “open door” button on a booth whose ONLY JOB is to CONSUME THE OCCUPANT WITH AGONY until said occupant dies?

• There’s a 30-second scene where Stamets explains to Saru and the bridge crew that the mycelial network in the Mirrorverse is dying because it’s being overexploited in order to power the palace ship and some planet-destroying guns, and you’re like, “Okay, I get it, guys,” but just when you think that even for Star Trek they’re taking the environmentalism imagery a little far, Saru muses aloud, “How can a people be so short-sighted? This is not a renewable resource!” and I spent the next 20 minutes Googling whether or not we are going to be able to save coral reefs at this point, or if we should just write them off as a total loss. (INCONCLUSIVE.)

• Burnham spends a lot of time telling Georgiou that she’s “blinded by” various Mirrorverse attributes, BECAUSE EVERYONE IN THE MIRRORVERSE IS EXTRA-SENSITIVE TO LIGHT and everyone in the Primeverse has extra-heavy hands.

• No one in the Mirrorverse keeps a tight grip on their guns!

• Lorca’s Southern accent makes a very brief appearance about two-thirds of the way through the episode, then gets thrown into the mycelial network core with the rest of him.

• Remember Ash? What do you think he was doing this episode? I like to think of him collecting old chess sets, or something.

• I would give anything for the closing shot of this show to just be Saru calmly eating blueberries. Please, Discovery, if nothing else, just give me this. I ask for so little. An onscreen justification for Tilly’s wig, and some peaceful blueberry-snuffling, that’s all I need.

Star Trek Recap: Why Do the Agony Booths Even Open?