Episode 12 “Vaulting Ambition”: Good Dialogue, But Darkest ‘Star Trek’ Ever

Episode 12 "Vaulting Ambition": Good Dialogue, But Darkest 'Star Trek' Ever
Warning: This review contains spoilers

Episode Summary

Directed by Hanelle M. Culpepper

In episode 12, Vaulting Ambition, Burnham and Lorca take a transport from the ISS Shenzhou, to the ISS Charon where Emperor Philippa Georgiou awaits their arrival.  Lorca is sent to an agonizer booth and Georgiou easily spots Burnham’s lies about her reason for being there. Burnham reveals to Georgiou that she’s from a different universe – a universe Georgiou is already aware of because of the USS Defiant.  Information on that has been deemed dangerous and classified.

We learn the Emperor is mirror universe Burnham’s adopted mother and mirror universe Lorca her surrogate father-come-lover.  Yes, Captain Lorca is actually from this universe.  The special interest he has in Burnham is fully explained when we learn he was a father figure to Burnham, but by grooming her over the years became her lover.

The ISS Charon of the Terran Empire
The ISS Charon of the Terran Empire

Meanwhile, Stamets interacts with his mirror-self in the mycelial network, where he also learns about his partner’s death by speaking with echos of Culber transposed into the network.  With Culber’s assistance, Stamets learns mirror-Stamets is only looking out for himself, and our Stamets manages to break his coma and find his way back to reality.

Saru engages with L’Rell to assist Tyler/Voq in finding a resolution to their pain, and it appears Voq’s personality has been allowed to die.

My quick take on the episode

Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3 Stars)

Once again the writing of episode 12 is quality and better than most earlier episodes.  Discovery is becoming a great science fiction series.  However the usage of “reveals” throughout this show are becoming a little tiresome, and we get another one here – albeit a big one spanning the entire season’s story arc.  Unfortunately the Lorca reveal didn’t come as a surprise since many fans suspected he was from the mirror universe early into the season.  Fortunately all the fan exclamations of “Lorca’s not a Starfleet captain” and “it’s not Trek-like” were true for a reason.  But the one thing I found to be completely unexpected was that Lorca, as Burnham’s father figure, groomed her to be his lover.  I have a new level of disgust for him.

Vaulting Ambition was filled with some great interactions between Burnham and Georgiou, Stamets and Culber, and Stamets and other Stamets.  Unfortunately the dark themes of the episode overshadows most of that.  It’s too easy to remember the depictions of violence over the dialogue.

What I liked about ‘Vaulting Ambition’ : dialogue and hopeful of a change to Lorca

I’m excited that captain Lorca was finally confirmed as being from the mirror universe, if only because my hope and suspicion that there may be a good and reasonable Lorca out there somewhere is that much closer to being true.   The prospect of it makes me excited and hopeful that Discovery can move towards the ideals Star Trek is known for having.

I liked that the ISS Charon appeared to be using the energy of a star to power the vessel, even if it was a radical divergence from the starships we’re used to seeing from Starfleet or the Terran Empire.  Terrans are apparently a Type II civilization on the Kardashev Scale, which besides being pretty cool also makes sense.  It’s smart given an empire reaps the benefits of its spoils.  For Terrans, the technologies of overthrown and conquered alien civilizations would be added to their arsenal.

The interactions between Burnham and Emperor Georgiou were great, as was their dialogue.  Burnham comes forth and tells Georgiou the truth, and the Emperor proves that she’s not just blood thirsty but also more than capable of reason and wisdom.  Of course it should go without saying that Michelle Yeoh once again does a fantastic job in portraying Georgiou, and I wish she was a main character of the series.

Stamets and Culber meet in the mycelial network
Stamets and Culber meet in the mycelial network

I found the Stamets and Culber’s interactions to be earnest and lovely.  Culber is dead but a piece of him still exists within the mycelial network – I guess because it permeates all of space, physics as biology, and everyone aboard the Discovery has jumped at least once.  Treknobabble aside, these two characters are great together, playing off each other’s differences.  It was nice to see Stamets getting a proper goodbye, and wonderful that Culber was able to save him, even in death.

The Stamets-Stamets interactions were also fun.  Anthony Rapp nails it with the two characters.  He plays mirror-Stamets perfectly and you truly feel that character is changing his persona so as to get our Stamets to play along.  The differences between the two are subtle but recognizable.  It was also good to see that both were scientists, even if mirror-Stamets is using his knowledge to advance his own personal agenda.

Human Stamets meets Terran Stamets
Human Stamets meets Terran Stamets

What I didn’t like about ‘Vaulting Ambition’ : dark and violent

This episode takes Star Trek into very dark territory.  That’s a problem for me.  There’s no doubt that Discovery is great science fiction, but one of Star Trek‘s key tenets is that it represents an optimistic future where humans have mostly evolved beyond petty differences.  It’s supposed to represent what we aspire to be.  I think Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry would be rolling over in his grave if he could see episode 12 (in fairness to this episode, the same can be said about lots of Discovery).  The mirror universe is being abused.

That's not sushi you're eating, Burnham. It's mirror universe Saru, and you know it and did it anyways!
That’s not sushi you’re eating, Burnham. It’s mirror universe Saru, and you know it and did it anyways!

Vaulting Ambition was very well written – it’s a shame to find it so dark it’s difficult to watch.  Not because I haven’t watched dark shows before or don’t have the stomach for them, but I avoid those shows because they’re not my cup of tea.  It’s absolutely not why I watch Star Trek, which has always been a refuge of hope in dark times.  On the contrary, I turn to Star Trek to get away from the negative, dark, pessimistic, dystopian stuff that seems to be everywhere these days. So pervasive throughout our culture it’s infected Star Trek and taken that refuge away.  Someone emailed me about episode 12 saying “…a dystopia porn fanfic… Tonight I realize that I live in a world that has gotten so numb that all it can react to is controversy.”  There’s some unfortunate truth in this.

It’s also starting to feel like the mirror universe subplot is taking a little too long.  But, as I’ve mentioned in past reviews, I’ve never been a big fan of mirror universe episodes so perhaps I’m being a little impatient.

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About Cassius Adams

Cassius Adams is the creator of ncc-1031.com and is a content contributor. He has been a Star Trek fan for nearly three decades. Cassius discovered his passion for the franchise early into TNG's run, and nourished that passion throughout DS9, Voyager, Enterprise, and the movies. Cassius can be reached by emailing cass@ncc-1031.com or you can follow him on Twitter at @supercass