Warning: This review contains spoilers
“Despite Yourself” sees a main character die, dead characters return, and reveals a main character’s true nature. More ahead in our review of Star trek Discovery’s Chapter 2 premier.
Directed by Jonathan Frakes
After becoming lost in unknown space at the end of the last episode, the USS Discovery comes under attack by a Vulcan ship. With the crew confused, Tyler is tasked with retrieving a data module from a destroyed Klingon vessel in the vicinity. It reveals the Discovery’s location as being the “mirror universe” – a place where humans are xenophobic aggressors.
Species across the quadrant, such as Andorians, Vulcans and Klingon, have banded together to fight against the human-only organization known as the Terran Empire. Tilly is Captain of the ISS Discovery, Burnham was previous captain of the ISS Shenzhou, and Danby Connor is the now-captain of the ISS Shenzhou.
The truth of Lt. Tyler’s origins are revealed, and he snaps the neck of Dr. Culber during a visit to sick bay.
We learn the USS Defiant, from some time in the future, crossed into the mirror universe’s past without a spore drive. That means the Discovery may be able to find a way home. The crew hatch a plan to get Burnham aboard the ISS Shenzhou hoping to attain details on the “Defiant files”. The plan is a success and Burnham, Tyler and Lorca are aboard the Shenzhou to end the episode.
My Take on “Despite Yourself”
Initial Rating: ★★★★☆
In general, I’ve found that Star Trek Discovery has gotten better with each passing episode. Despite Yourself was no exception and I found it to be entertaining, well written, and I liked how it dropped us deep into the second chapter of the series.
The Discovery quickly comes under attack by a Vulcan vessel of all things. Most Star Trek fans would know right away exactly where the Discovery is, but it’s fun to watch the crew discover it on their own. Once the Vulcan threat is neutralized by another Federation vessel known as the Cooper, Lt. Tyler hops into a shuttle and is tasked with retrieving a data core from one of the destroyed Klingon vessels to find out exactly what’s going on.
Burnham uses her Xenoanthropology skills and some science-fu and she learns their present location doesn’t even exist within the known universe. Not only are things not where they’re supposed to be, existence itself is almost a complete opposite of what we know. The “antithesis” as Burnham calls it. It’s why Star Trek refers to it as the “mirror universe”, hailing back to The Original Series episode Mirror, Mirror, and then later in a number of Deep Space Nine and Enterprise episodes.
Some mirror universe episodes in past Trek shows have been enjoyable, however towards the end of Enterprise‘s run, they began to feel washed-out. Not unlike the Borg in Voyager‘s later seasons. So I hope they don’t do too many episodes about it.
Humans in the mirror universe are real jerks, out to rid the galaxy of everyone except themselves and they operate under the banner of the Terran Empire. It’s supposed to represent the opposite of the utopian existence in Star Trek. Of course Discovery isn’t utopian, so the mirror universe can only be so different. All this said, I thoroughly enjoyed Despite Yourself.
Back to humans being jerks – as a result of Terran aggression, Vulcans, Andorians, Klingons and many other species have joined together to fight the human threat, explaining why the Discovery came under fire by Vulcans without any warning.
Burnham learns that another ship – the USS Defiant – has traveled from our universe’s future to the mirror universe’s past. We know the Defiant is not a spore-drive starship, so that means there’s a way for Discovery to get back home without needing to use its spore drive. That’s exactly the news the crew needs because in his current condition, there’s no way Lt. Stamets is up for doing anything other than sitting in sick bay, tossing his boyfriend around, or shouting out seemingly random non-sequiturs.
After further analysis, Saru learns the Discovery vessel from the mirror universe likely popped into our universe just as our Discovery popped into the mirror universe. A switcharoo. But there are key differences. In this universe, Cadet Tilly is Captain Tilly. The overly-chatty science officer is forced to step up to the big chair on the bridge when a hail from the Cooper comes through. Mary Wiseman does a great job in these scenes. Tilly initially stumbles along in her new-found captaincy, but quickly finds her groove as the character settles into that role.
I found these scenes to be quite humorous and Tilly as Captain Killy really stole the show for me. This was her break-out episode. I know lots of people don’t like the character, but I’ve been on Team Tilly ever since she first appeared in the show. Her character is taken to new levels in episode 10, and she will without a doubt have earned new respect from crew-mates, including captain Lorca.
In the mirror universe, Burnham, the once captain of the ISS Shenzhou, is presumed dead. That ship is now captained by Danby Connor, who we know of as being the helmsman of the USS Shenzhou. He died during the Battle of the Binary stars in the series premiere.
Captain Lorca is a fugitive and enemy of the Terran Empire. Throughout episode 10, our Lorca maintains an ability to manipulate the crew in ways I find morally-corrupt. But knowing that the Lorca of the mirror universe is a fugitive leaves me with hope that he may actually have a better half somewhere out there.
We also learn about a mysterious Emperor of the Terran Empire, though no details are revealed. I think it’s fair to say this will end up being Emperor Philippa Georgiou. But who knows; it really could be anyone and I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough.
Throughout all of this, Lt. Tyler’s PTSD is turned up to 11 after he pays a visit to L’Rell in the brig and she activates him as, who we presume is Voq, a Klingon sleeper-agent.
It’s unfortunate that fans of Discovery have had the Tyler/Voq thing figured out since the first episodes aired in September. Because of that it didn’t really come as much of a surprise when revealed as being the same person. And while I’m talking about Tyler, I just want to say that I think the whole story of Tyler having been sexually abused by his captor opens up dialog on something that is rarely, if ever, addressed in television and that’s a man being on the receiving end of the abuse. In real it happens but it’s not something that’s often talked about, so kudos to the creators for going there.
What I was very happy to learn was that the activation phrase that L’Rell uses on Tyler doesn’t fully work, and we end up with a very mixed-up individual. There appears to be two people within that are going to have to fight it out. It was unexpected and this was a great move by the writers.
Anyways, so Tyler is Voq didn’t surprise me. When his secret identity is nearly discovered by Dr. Culber, Tyler snaps the doctor’s neck killing him instantly, right next to his comatose partner. I can’t be the only one that yelled at my screen here as I had no idea it was coming. I’ve found the most consistently-written characters on the show to be Culber and Tilly, so it was a blow to see Culber go. Of course this is Star Trek, we’re in another universe and there’s likely another Culber out there, so it’ll be interesting to see where that all ends up. Speaking of Culber, I thought this episode really gave a lot more depth to that character and I developed even more of an appreciation for him.
In hopes of finding a way to return to their own universe, the crew hatches a plan to get Burnham aboard the ISS Shenzhou so she can browse that ship’s logs. She’ll bring Lorca, a wanted fugitive, along as a prisoner and the reason for her disappearance, and Tyler as her personal security.
Once aboard the Shenzhou, Lorca is taken to the torture chambers in the brig. It’s a bit of a shocking scene in its violence, but ultimately it’s right out of The Original Series. Captain Connor wastes almost no time before he tries to kill Burnham so he can maintain his power. But in a brief and emotional moment, Burnham kills him first and his dead body drops onto the bridge just as the turbo-lift doors open. Talk about making an entrance. The bridge crew witnessing it solidifies Burnham’s position as their captain.
Sonequa Martin-Green hits a high-point in this episode, and her acting truly stood out. It’s her best episode yet. While I still don’t think the Burnham character truly represents a human that has spent the majority of her life on Vulcan, Sonequa is playing what’s written masterfully, and that’s particularly true in Despite Yourself.
The costumes in episode 10 were fantastic. And while I’m talking about the show’s costumes, I want to give a quick shout-out to Gersha Phillips for her nomination in the 20th Costume Designer Guild Awards for her fantastic costume work on Star Trek Discovery. Congratulations and good luck!
We end episode 10 with Burnham as captain of the ISS Shenzhou and Tilly as captain of the Discovery, now renamed to ISS Discovery. There’s a great shot of the two ships in space with the Shenzhou, captained by Burnham, turning and warping off.
There we have it. Chapter 2 of Star Trek Discovery is officially under way. We appear to have moved away from the Klingon War – a good thing in my opinion. The intensity has been turned up, the writing has definitely become stronger, and there are still 5 more episodes to go this season. While I’m a little concerned that the remaining episodes will all take place in the mirror universe, making for way too much mirror universe, I still can’t wait to see more of chapter 2.