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Star Trek: Discovery - Despite Yourself - Review: "Mirrorverse"



Star Trek Discovery 1.10 "Despite Yourself - Review:
Directed by Jonathan Frakes & Written by Sean Cochran

Despite Yourself continued the fine form of Star Trek: Discovery and made a real case for the best episode of the season so far, ranking up there with episode seven, Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad. This may just be my biased love for mirrorverse episodes showing through, but no matter the show, I'm always fascinated by episodes when characters meet alternate versions of themselves. Despite Yourself didn't exactly have Michael and Lorca run into opposite versions of themselves, but it did allow us to get a glimpse into a universe what could have been if Starfleet had instead of embracing its peaceful approach to the rest of the universe, opted for a more closed off, secluded and racist approach that puts humanity first and foremost, deciding to attack rather than befriend other races that it encountered, with survival and career progression coming at any cost.

Directed by none other than The Next Generation's Riker himself, Jonathan Frakes, Despite Yourself saw the show return on a very strong note. It stranded the USS Discovery in an unfamiliar universe and it didn't take the crew long to work out that they had achieved what Lorca had once thought possible, a jump into an alternate universe. He had been trying to enlist Stamets to help him explore the true potentials of the universe with his spore drive jumps now that the Klingons had seemingly been taken care of, but Stamets knew the physical toll that the jumps were taking on him and would not perform one more jump after he had taken the crew back home. With the spore drive offline Stamets won't be able to jump again, but he's left in a catatonic state, spouting cryptic warnings that the enemy is among us.

It turns out that the enemy is someone familiar to the crew. Ash Tyler has been suffering from PTSD since being held captive back on the Klingon flagship and memories of his torture are coming back full force. During a confrontation with L'Rell pretty early on it is revealed that the reason why L'Rell treated Ash with more affection than the other prisoners was because he was actually Voq, just with his memories removed and placed under the skin of a human. This theory was something that didn't exactly come as a surprise to me, as I'd guessed it fairly early on, but that didn't mean its impact wasn't effective regardless. It looks like the show is going to continue to play with us in this regard, as L'Rell's plan to get Ash to remember who he was before didn't exactly work as intended, leaving her trapped behind bars a little longer. The last thing the Discovery needs now, when stranded inside a foreign universe, is a Klingon running loose amongst the ship, but at least Ash was able to hold back his other, true self behind despite a medical inspection from Hugh revealing that there was more to Ash than he seemed.

Just when it seemed like the medical inspection might take Ash off active duty, he snaps and seemingly kills Hugh in a cold, rash move that he doesn't seem to remember after doing so. This is a bit infuriating for a number of reasons, especially as the "Bury Your Gays" trope has sadly been so common in shows in the past, and it's disappointing to see a show set in a world as progressive as Star Trek resort to this which is nothing more than a cheap surprise. It's worth noting however this series has killed off seemingly main characters at random in the past, and it's not just a Discovery thing as even in The Next Generation we saw a character killed off midway through season one with no ceremony whatsoever. There's also the fact that we have to take into the consideration that this somehow might not be as fatal as it first looks, but even if it is - we are in an alternate universe after all. This means that there's another Hugh out there, just like there's another Stamets, and I wouldn't be surprised if we got to see more of Culber in the future, regardless of the version of the character. A postmortem interview on Indiewire with actor Wilson Cruz seems further reinforce this that it's not the end, and he's defiently aware of the trope itself and believes that the show isn't going down this route. Which is a positive sign, at least.

Ash's PTSD storyline was more of a side-story however, as the real fun was in the alternate universe as the USS Discovery explored the Terran Empire and got to grips with its ruthless politics. The crew decided that they'd have to blend in to survive, which means changing ship designs and uniforms to blend in. It also means adopting a hardlined, harsher approach when around others not of their universe to keep themselves intact. Thankfully however, not all hope is lost - because it seems like the Discovery is not the only ship to have made the jump to this mirrorverse, as the U.S.S. Defiant crossed a similiar path before and may hold the key to both ships. But before they can reach the Defiant they find themselves faced with a bigger problem in the form of the I.S.S. Shenzhou, which Burnham captained but has since been presumed dead. In this universe, they were at war with the Klingons from the get go, so there was no need for her to be arrested for starting the war which would lead to her arrival on the Discovery.

It turns out that Lorca isn't Captain of the Discovery either, but instead is a wanted fugitive in this universe, responsible for a failed attempt on the Emperor. I was getting some Warhammer 40k vibes for a second with the Terran Empire and its ruthless approach to dealing with aliens, and whilst we don't know the identity of the Emperor, I wouldn't be surprised if it turned out to be somebody familiar, a different version of a character who we've already met. Assuming of course the show wants to go down that route and reveal his or her identity. But this decision to remove Lorca from his captaincy role put Tilly in an interesting position, elevating the most unlikely person to become a ruthless dictator forcing her to embrace a complete turnaround of her character in favour of survival. Her performance was convincing enough it seemed to the point where those who knew her well were surprised by how ruthless she could be. I did like the touch where Lorca was forced to adopt a different accent to conceal his identity over the communication link, pretending to be an engineer and speaking in a Scottish accent that had to be some kind of homage to Scotty, which definitely felt like a nice touch.

The fact that Burnham got to see the Shenzhou again was cool, and it leads me to wonder if this is how they're going to bring back Michelle Yeoh, who has already confirmed she will return to the series at one point and this would be the most natural way to do it. I love the fact that we're seemingly spending multiple episodes inside the mirrorverse and exploring this darker world to its full potential is a real bonus, and keeps things fresh and exciting away from the usual Klingon conflict, adding a layer of unpredictability to proceedings. The plan to hand Lorca over to the Shenzhou where it was revealed Michael had apparently faked her death so she could hunt down Lorca worked, even if it meant putting Lorca in a never ending torture chamber whilst Michael had to fend off against a familiar face, dispatching the former Captain in her first act of ruthless aggression.

The episode itself ended on an interesting note. Ash, Lorca and Michael headed on board the Shenzhou - with both Lorca and Michael having no idea about Ash's true nature, nor what he had just done to Hugh. It's hard to side with Ash after this decision made by his character, but I can't help but feel a bit of sympathy for him. Shazad Latif's performance was fantastic in showing how he dealt with the PTSD and exploring his reaction to what he learned about his true personality, and really added an extra layer of depth to Ash that helps make his character work. The relationship with Michael as well isn't entirely convincing yet, feeling rather forced to create a disturbing, twisted love triangle like this - but it doesn't seem to be the main focus at least for now, which is a good thing.

Despite Yourself was an impressive episode of Discovery. How long we're going to be in the mirrorverse remains unknown for now, but it's great to see that the showrunners are wasting potential. The longer we spent in the mirroverse the more it will affect the crew of the Discovery, especially with one already big fatality present, so it will be interesting to see the psychological toll it will take on our characters before they return. Will anyone be the same again?

What did you think of Despite Yourself? Let me know in the comments below and check out the next episode of Star Trek: Discovery on Sunday via CBS All Access, or on Netflix in the US worldwide on Monday.



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