A good episode with some outstanding moments, some unnecessary ones, and far too short a runtime.
If I was allowed to write only one sentence to describe this Star Trek: Discovery episode, that would be it.
Of those three comments, the one that irks me the most is the “too short” one. There was a single exceptionally weak scene in this episode that could have been fixed by another two or three minutes of dialogue and action, and I don’t know why they didn’t give us more? They certainly had time to because “Vaulting Ambition” is the shortest episode yet in live Trek history, coming in at only 37 minutes. Prior to that, the shortest live Trek episode had been “Battle at the Binary Stars” which was 39 minutes long.
What’s going on guys? Did the editor get slash happy?
But, as per usual, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.
Episode Number: 112
Episode Title: “Vaulting Ambition” or “They Eat Kelpiens Here”
Written By: Jordan Nardino
Directed By: Hanelle Culpepper
Lorca to Burnham: “What are you afraid of?”
Lorca: “You mean Emperor Georgiou.”
Burnham: “Logic tells me she’s not the woman that I betrayed. But this feels like a reckoning.”
Lorca: “Your Georgiou is dead. She’s a ghost.”
Burnham: “Haven’t you ever been afraid of a ghost?”
Tilly to Saru, about Stamets: “I know it’s subjective, but he really does look better. I mean, just look at his skin, it’s so dewy.”
Stamets to Mirror Stamets: “Is this the afterlife? Are you some sort of narcissistic Virgil leading me to judgement?”
Mirror Stamets: “Yes, Paul. You’ve been wrong about everything. There is a God, and She’s very very mad at you right now.” Beat. Scoffs. “I totally had you for a second there, you can’t deny it. You should have seen your face! I mean, our face.”
Saru to the Doctor treating Toq (Tyler/Voq): “Burnham said he claimed to be a Klingon, but… how could that be possible?”
Doctor: “His genome matches the one we have for Lieutenant Ash Tyler in our Starfleet database. His brainwave patterns, however, are highly irregular. Unless someone can tell me how they put a Klingon inside a Starfleet officers body, I don’t know how we can treat him?”
Burnham to Georgiou: “I earned my command on the Shenzhou.”
Georgiou: “You were hesitant to use it back at Harlak. Those rebels could have escaped, I had to dispatch them myself.”
Burnham: “I had it under control.”
Georgiou: “You’ve grown soft.”
Burnham: “And you’ve grown cruel. If you missed me, then say it. Otherwise let me be.”
Georgiou to Burnham: “I do love you, Michael. I would never grant anyone else in the Empire the mercy of a quick death.”
Burnham: “You don’t love me. You don’t love me because you don’t know me. Before today, you and I have never met. I am Michael Burnham, but I am not your Michael Burnham. I’m from another universe…”
Burnham to Georgiou: “Our bond, it seems, is strong enough to cross universes.”
Saru to L’Rell: “I do not know where your Voq ends and our Tyler begins, but they are both in jeopardy.”
Stamets to Hugh: “Are you caught in the network too?”
Hugh: “No. I’m gone.”
Hugh: “You don’t know, do you? Paul, I’m so sorry… but I died.”
Georgiou to Burnham: “Your people are dangerous.” Scoffs. “The Federation. I know it well from the Defiant‘s files. There is a reason why they’re classified. Equality.” Scoffs. “Freedom. Cooperation.”
Burnham: “Cornerstones for successful cultures.”
Georgiou: “Delusions that Terrans shed millennium ago. Destructive ideals that fuel rebellions, and I will not let you infect us again.”
Moments of Interest
The guys added to canon in the subtlest, most appropriate way yet. It was a nice moment and added a little something new to the now 50 year history (almost 51 year history) of the Mirror Universe (“Mirror, Mirror” aired in 1967, in the second season and will turn 51 in October of this year).
What did they do? If you remember back an episode or two, Michael was narrating her personal log and commented on how different the light was in the Mirror Universe. Light has played a big part in this series so far, with Lorca constantly reacting to bright light, and with the Discovery’s corridors and work spaces almost always shrouded in shadow. In this episode, Georgiou reacts to an unexpected bright light and tells Michael that its one of the only real differences between her people and the people of our universe.
This addition to canon does not detract from or contradict anything that has gone before it, and gives more substance to this ‘reality.’
If you look back at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Enterprise Mirror Universe episodes, all of them were visually darker in both tone and lighting when compared with normal episodes. It makes sense, and it makes you smile. It’s just a real nice touch.
The Recap and Review
“Vaulting Ambition” is, in many ways, the calm before the storm. Despite the short length of the episode, a lot happened in it. Possibly too much. Let’s take a quick look at everything our favourite heroes and villains were subjected to:
- Michael and Lorca head off to the ISS Charon on a shuttle. She’s going to present him to the Emperor. On the trip, they learn that the USS Defiant information they thought would save them, won’t. Heaps of it has been redacted. They hope they can find the unedited version on the Emperors big palace-ship. As they get closer, Michael zaps Lorca with a pain inhibitor so he can better withstand the Agony Booth.
- Tilly and Saru are monitoring Stamets, and Tilly believes he’s getting better. He’s still in a coma, but instruments show a lot is going on inside his mind.
- Is it his mind? We cut to Paul and Mirror Stamets somewhere in the glowy mycelial network. That quickly changes to the shadowy corridors of the Discovery. In this scene, we learn that something is wrong with the network.
- We skip over to the Emperors unnecessarily huge, small-star-powered palace-ship. Michael presents Lorca to the Emporer, who promises him a lifetime of pain. While there, Georgiou asks Michael to choose a Kelpien from three who are standing off to the side. Unsure of what’s going on, she picks one who looks like Saru, but isn’t Mirror Saru. Mirror Saru is still on the Shenzhou, waiting to scrub Michael’s finger nails. As Lorca is dragged away after a beat down by Georgiou, Burnham is invited to dinner and called “daughter” by the Emperor.
- We visit with Saru and Toq (Tyler/Voq) in Sickbay, where Toq is loosing his proverbial shit. For one brief moment, Ash comes through, begging for help.
- Over on the palace-ship, Lorca is thrown into an Agony Booth.
- We don’t spend too much time with Lorca and his screams, and instead pay a visit to Georgiou and Burnham at dinner. We and Michael quickly realise that the Kelpien she chose back in the throne room wasn’t so a slave could be set free. That Kelpien was dinner. Because that’s how evil these guys are. This scene nicely echoes something Saru said many episodes ago, about his species being like cattle. When Michael finds out what she’s eating, she struggles heroically to not vomit.
Was it just me, or did anyone else think Georgiou was going to push the chopsticks through the back of Burnham’s throat when she fed Michael the threat ganglia?
Apart from the unpleasantness of eating another sentient species, dinner takes an even worse turn when Georgiou accuses Burnham of trying to usurp her and sentences her to death.
- Then we’re back with Stamets and Stamets. We discover that the mycelial network is taking over Mirror Stamets because he’s been in there too long. We also get a glimpse of a familiar person… Hugh is haunting the corridors of the mycelial created Discovery.
- We jump to the throne room where Michael reveals she and Lorca are from another universe. She hands over Captain Philippa Georgiou’s Starfleet badge and encourages the Emperor to scan it. Emperor Georgiou quickly discovers that Michael is telling the truth, and to stop any information from leaking kills everyone in her Council, except for a guy called Lord Eling, with an evil flying fidget-spinner. He is sworn to say nothing, and granted governorship of Andor for his troubles.
- Back on Discovery, Saru is visiting L’Rell. He tells her what is happening with Voq and asks for her help. L’Rell channels her Bond-villain self and tells Saru what they did to both Ash Tyler and Voq:
- The real Lieutenant Ash Tyler was captured at the Battle of the Binary Stars.
- The Klingons harvested his DNA.
- They reconstructed his consciousness.
- They rebuilt his memory.
- They modified Voq to make him appear human, inside and out.
- They grafted Voq’s psyche onto Tylers.
- Voq gave his body and soul to Klingon ideology.
- L’Rell refuses to help, telling Saru that this is war.
- We go back into the mycelial network where Paul finds Hugh. In a heartbreaking moment, Hugh tells his love that he’s dead.
- After the loveliness of Hugh and Stamets, we return to the Emperor and Michael. Burnham begs the Emperor to help them, but she’s not interested. In a really unwise move, Michael discloses the existence of the DASH drive and Georgiou wants it.
- Next we visit with Saru and L’Rell. He shows her images of Toq trying to rip his heart out of his chest. L’Rell appears unmoved, so Saru beams Toq into her cell. As Saru leaves her craddling Toq, she screams out to him that she can undo what has happened to him.
- We skip back to the Agony Booth and Lorca screaming. He’s being tortured by the brother of a woman Lorca used to be with and discarded, and the brother ain’t happy.
- We don’t spend much time there before we go to the worst scene, possibly, of the entire series: L’Rell removing the Voq personality from the Ash Tyler personality. So, she kills Voq, even though it’s his body, and leaves Ash. We think. The scene is too short, there is no explanation for the Klingon brain wipe device, and her actions make no sense.
- Back in the mycelial network, we’re with Paul and Hugh again as Hugh tries to help Paul come to terms with his death. These scenes are beautiful, and just make me miss Hugh even more. And I was already missing him a lot. The big thing to happen in this scene was that Hugh snapped Paul out of his coma.
- The next scene confused me a bit, and that’s probably what the producers wanted. I’m not sure which Stamets is where? It looks like our Paul woke up on the ISS Charon. The Mirror Stamets, I believe, woke up on the USS Discovery. That Paul rushes with Tilly to the cargo bay that holds the spores… to find they are dying.
- On the Charon, Georgiou insists Burnham bring the Discovery to her, and Burnham complies. Saru is a little doubtful, but she convinces him it’s the only way.
- We do a series of quick inter-cuts between Lorca and his torturer going at each other, and Georgiou and Burnham sort of facing off.
- In one of these quick mini-scenes, Georgiou reacts to some bright light. This shocks Michael as she realises Lorca has been lying all along. He’s really from the Mirror Universe. He was also Georgiou’s lover. To put the boot in, Georgiou pretty much says that Lorca groomed Burnham. He feigned affection for her as a fatherly figure, then seduced her, turning her into his lover, all for the Terran throne.
- We wrap everything up with Lorca over-coming his torturer and telling him that he liked the guys sister, but found someone better. He then stomps the guy’s head in and we cut to black.
Like I said, a lot happened in this episode, and some of the plot points didn’t get the time they deserved and actually needed.
The big take aways: Paul is back, finally. Lorca is from the Mirror Universe, which many of us had expected. The Mirror Universe guys are so evil they eat Kelpiens. Ash might be back, but he’s now Klingon body Ash.
Yes, I know that last one is a confusing sentence.
I enjoyed this episode, but one thing really annoyed me. The scene where L’Rell removes the Voq consciousness.
First, where did she get the device that enabled her to do that?
Second, why would she essentially kill Voq? And it appears that’s what she’s done. She even gives the Klingon death roar to announce Voq’s arrival in Sto’Vo’Kor. She loved him. Why not erase Ash?
Those two issues above could have been resolved with a few simple words… “Voq would not want to live in this weak body…” or “The Tyler personality was too strong. Voq was weakened by the surgery and now he has been usurped.” Something like that. It would have also made more sense if the device she had used to eradicate Voq’s consciousness looked like it had been jury-rigged out of Federation medical tools. You wouldn’t have needed to explain that, because it would be obvious. Now it just looks like she was carrying the personality-wiping device around in her space purse, and all Saru had to do was get someone to go fetch it from wherever they keep prisoners’ belongings.
With a 37 minute run time, they could have fixed that.
The brevity of the episode and these plot issues are why this episode doesn’t get a five. The Mirror Universe episodes have been wonderful, but this one lets the season down by not using everything at its disposal to tell its part of the story.
The dialogue was great, the direction was great, everything worked – the episode just comes off as lazy and unnecessary in places because of the lack of explanation (shown, not told – not exposition) and time given to scenes that didn’t need to be there. Speaking of which. Eating Kelpiens. Did we need to go there?
Burnham’s psyche is screwed up enough. She lost her parents as a child. She discovered her adoptive father lied to her, making her feel second class for no reason for at least seven years of her adult life. She betrayed someone she loved in an attempt to stop a war from starting. She lost an mother-figure because of her actions, and many other people she cared for. She lost her rank and position in Starfleet, and was sentenced to life imprisonment. She’s been isolated and hated ever since. Now she’s eaten a sentient being, a sentient being that reminds her very much of someone she cares for and feels like she also betrayed. How will she face Saru after this?
I don’t think that scene was necessary. With the evil flying fidget spinners, Agony Booths and ruthless bombardment of planets, we already know the Terran Empire is ruthless and evil. Eating a Kelpien added nothing to this but fucked-up-ness.
There is something some fans are taking exception to, though it doesn’t bother me too much. It unsettles me, but I get. It’s the “Lorca is a dirty old man” thing.
I think it’s in keeping with his character. He will do anything to achieve his desired goals. While it’s not insinuated he had an intimate relationship with Michael when she was young, it is distasteful that he even went there when she was older – especially after being a father figure. Lorca has done heinous things throughout the run of the show, so this isn’t so shocking to me. I’m better able to accept his manipulations than I am the magic brain wiping device, or feasting on Kelpien, because the groundwork has been laid for that reveal.
The one question that remains with Lorca is… does he love Michael? We’ve seen his over protectiveness in almost every episode. Was it because of love, or was it need? Did he keep her safe because he knew that through her he could get the crown, and kill the Emperor, and was that the only reason he worried after her?
This episode raised one or two new questions for us, while revealing a twist or two and confirming at least one more fan theory, but it didn’t do much more. It was good, but it could have been better.
Something the writers might want to remember as they prep Season Two: We the fans have been two steps ahead of you this entire time. We picked Lorca and Ash back in episodes three, four and five and have been patiently waiting. We love Star Trek. We don’t love Star Trek like a Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead fan loves their show. We love it like a football or baseball fan loves their sports. Like a sports fan knows the batting averages for a particular team back through the ages, we know Star Trek just as intimately. We’re intelligent. We’re educated. We’re passionate and we are devoted. As this series has shown you, we will get behind you if you treat us with respect, which you have. You do, however, have to work a little harder if you want to surprise us because we will dissect every frame and obsess over it if we need to. You guys have done an incredible job, but I think you’ve underestimated us a bit. This isn’t a challenge, twists for the sake of a twist are dull and disappointing so we don’t need them, but to your credit you did keep us guessing and wondering “are we right?” and we have loved it.
I really prefer this long story form version of Star Trek.
Thank you for what has been, so far, an exceptional first season of my favourite television series.
At least one of my predictions was proven right with this episode, the Captain Lorca we know has been the Mirror Universe Lorca all along. A few online reviewers have thought this for a long time, and with our suspicions now proven right what’s left to speculate on? For me, it’s Lorca’s longevity. As brilliant an actor as Jason Isaacs is, and as compelling and intriguing a character as Garbriel Lorca is, I still don’t think Lorca is making it out of Season One alive. That’s prediction one.
Prediction 2? Lorca and Burnham will have it out in a big fight next episode.
Prediction 3? Lorca and Empress Georgiou will die at each others hands in an insane battle to the death.
Prediction 4? I think Mirror Stamets is working with Lorca, and is part of the rebellion to unseat Emperor Georgiou. I think he engineered Lorca’s escape to our universe.
Any more? Yep.
Hugh has been “consumed” by the mycelial network and will only appear to Stamets when he’s hooked into it. The supposed death of the mycelial network, as commented on by Mirror Stamets this episode, will impact significantly on Stamets’ loss because if the forest dies, he won’t get to see Hugh again.
They will leave the Mirror Universe at the end of Episode 13.
Episodes 14 and 15 will wrap up the Klingon war, and signal a few things for the coming season which I think will still be all about redemption, but also new beginnings. New beginnings for the Federation post war. New beginnings for Michael, who Starfleet has to think differently of now. New beginnings for Ash. New beginnings for L’Rell. Perhaps even a new beginning for the Klingon Empire. Most importantly, a new beginning and a new mission for the Discovery.
Next week’s episode is called “What’s Past is Prologue.”
Star Trek: Discovery airs in the United States on CBS All Access, with new episodes becoming available on Sundays at 8:30pm ET. In Canada, the show airs on the Space Channel at 8:00pm ET, also on a Sunday. Outside of the US and Canada, Star Trek: Discovery airs on Netflix on a Monday at 8:00am in the UK and at 7pm in Australia.
See you next week for another review.
Live long, and prosper.