As if the stakes weren’t high enough for “Star Trek: Discovery,” the episode “Vaulting Ambition” decided to up them even more. Just as Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and and Lorca (Jason Isaacs) were feeling confident after aiding the rebels and possibly finding a way out of the Mirror Universe, the Emperor showed up, and it’s someone whose presence hits home with Burnham. Seems that her old captain Philipaa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh), the woman she both betrayed and was unable to save, is the ruler of this universe. Sucks for Burnham, but damn, is it fun watch Yeoh be a complete badass.
Speaking of good guys gone bad, Stamets gets to strut his stuff too. Well, somewhat. He may still be alive after his close call last episode, but he’s in a coma, his consciousness lost in the spore network, which is rather unstable and getting worse. But he has company, his evil counterpart, who has been lost in the network himself for a while and trying to make contact. Rapp go dark, even if he doesn’t get much opportunity to. However, this lost opportunity is easier to swallow than most. It’s hard to fault the show for choosing to give us a heartfelt, touching farewell between Stamets and his now deceased boyfriend rather than more banter.
If only poor Ash Tyler could have the same kind of peace. Or is it Voq now? No one, not even the man (men?) himself is completely sure. Saru (Doug Jones) is deeply committed to trying to save him, even if he’s no longer sure where Tyler ends and Voq begins. When their attempts fall short, he is forced to go to a very unlikely potential ally in L’Rell (Mary Chieffo), who is both the source of Tyler’s pain and possibly the only one who can save his life.
As for Burnham and Lorca, who must take their cosplay to a whole new level, their time with the Emperor does not benefit either of them. Both Burnham and Lorca have a history with Georgiou, but Burnham is unaware just how personal it is. The shocking revelations do confirm a major fan theory, but “Discovery” has proven that it can go further than merely rewarding those sharp-eyed (or just obsessed) enough to follow the bread crumbs it’s been dropping.
Sure, the way the Terran Empire has been presented is a kind of commentary on our current politics, but the show takes it a step further and makes Lorca a potentially worse man than some have previously believed. Our news has been full of seemingly charming, good men who have been revealed to be predators who prey on the most vulnerable. Lorca has not always been depicted as a good man, but he has continually been a sympathetic one. Now this man we’ve gotten invested is actually the Lorca from the Mirror Universe. And according to the Emperor, who raised Burnham and loved her as a daughter, Lorca was the father figure who groomed Burnham for his own twisted purposes of making her his lover and co-conspirator in his coup against Georgiou when she became an adult. Lorca’s concern for Burnham and the lack of sexual tension has been one of the highlights of the show, so it’ll be interesting to see where this goes next, especially as the Emperor’s intentions are still unclear. She clearly seems to love Burnham, but she’s still the manipulative master of a fascist empire.
It also represents yet another instance of one of Burnham’s close relationships turning out to be untrustworthy. Her surrogate father hasn’t done right by her, her lover tried to kill her, her new captain has proven treacherous, and the one healthy relationship with her old one is being subverted. The fallout will be swift, but the real question is, who will be left standing?