Star Trek: Discovery S01E10 Recap: 'Despite Yourself' [Midseason Premiere]

The two worst kept secrets about Star Trek: Discovery have been (a) that they would eventually be visiting the mirror universe first introduced in The Original Series, and (b) Lieutenant Tyler is actually Voq in disguise. "Despite Yourself", the midseason premiere, wastes no time confirming both theories, and quite frankly, it's like a weight has been lifted off the show's shoulders.

I wouldn't go as far as to say that the first half of the season has been like a never-ending trip to the fireworks factory, but both of these impending reveals have been looming over the show in somewhat of a negative way. We're living in a post-LOST world, where narrative twists are treated differently and where shows like this one, where fans and pundits are constantly theorizing about what comes next, have the fun sucked out of them if they make it too much about those reveals (see: Westworld). Luckily, I think Discovery has found a decent balance between being about "Trekky" things like science and exploration, and employing more modern television storytelling techniques that are reliant on plot twists and narrative turns, but I won't say that I'm not happy about moving on passed those two things.

And "moving on" is definitely the term that should be used to describe "Despite Yourself", as the episode brings with it some major leaps and changes. First of all, it seems as if the crew of the Discovery will find themselves in the mirror universe for a while. With Stamets catatonic, they can't use the Spore Drive to get back, so Burnham, Lorca and Tyler have to go undercover on the ISS Shenzhou in order to uncover files about an alternative way home, splitting them from the rest of their crew and putting them in a near-suicidal situation in which Burnham has to pretend to be a ruthless Terran captain, Lorca has to face certain death as the Mirror version of himself who tried to kill the mirror version of Burnham, and Tyler has to help them both despite being torn between two identities. All of which could be explosive and dangerous, as seen by the fact that Burnham already had to defend herself and kill the captain of the Shenzhou that replaced her doppelganger, a difficult task considering he was someone she cared about and had to already see die in her own universe.

Elaborating on Tyler, he confronts L'Rell in the brig as he's seeing more visions of his time on the Klingon prison ship. He goes to Dr. Culber with questions about whether or not the Klingons performed any kind of procedures on him, and finds out that his suspicions (and ours, as viewers and theorists) were accurate; the Klingons altered Tyler down to his very bones in order to make him something different. Culber isn't sure what, but both Tyler and the viewers know what's up. He's the Klingon Voq, so deep undercover that he doesn't even know he's Klingon. L'Rell starts awakening something in him, but Tyler isn't completely sure yet. He still feels a sense of responsibility to Burnham and Lorca, the people he's grown closest too on Discovery, but he's a damn Klingon. So he snaps Culber's damn neck and goes on the away mission to the ISS Shenzhou. At this rate, his cover probably can't be maintained for long, but I have a feeling Culber's death might get blamed on a violent Stamets.

"Despite Yourself" essentially takes a show that had begun to find its legs and behave the way you'd expect a "normal" Star Trek show to behave, and uproots it entirely in favour of something sinister, something unexpected and unpredictable. It not only leans into its status as a serialized arc-based drama, but it also digs deep into Star Trek canon and sets up new mysteries and things to discovery in this second half of the season. The show is no longer about when they'll get to the mirror universe, or when Tyler/Voq's true nature will be confirmed, but instead about how much they can do in this entirely new and seldom-explored part of Star Trek canon. About how far they can take the idea of Klingon infiltrator. And how much further out they can extend those things. The mirror universe has two Klingons running around it who are completely different from the Klingons the show has been spending nine previous episodes trying to sell us. It has an entire crew of normal humans trying to pose as Terrans.

It opens this show to a whole new set of possibilities. Is Discovery now permanently a mirror universe show? Maybe the ship never comes back. Do we get to see what happens to the ISS Discovery in the normal universe? Do we eventually get to explore other dimensions, something a Star Trek show has never done as a premise before and would be a fantastic and different place to take the show in future seasons? Not only is this a whole new set of questions we couldn't have possibly even fathomed prior to this episode, it's also a completely different kind of question than the ones we've been talking about. Be it accidental or intended, the reveals we've been waiting for since the midseason finale last November have opened us up to some exciting possibilities for this show.

That makes "Despite Yourself" a rousing success. I don't know if I've been this excited about Trek since TNG's "Best of Both Worlds". And that's saying something. "Despite Yourself" gets 9.5 sessions in the agony booth out of 10.

Notes & Quotes:

  • The whole Mirror Universe stuff is a pretty deep dive into Star Trek, but here's a quick refresher for anyone who needs it: in The Original Series, Kirk's Enterprise meets the alternate universe versions of themselves where everyone is evil and bloodthirsty. This episode is what created the trope of evil doppelgangers having goatees, because evil Spock had one. We see the mirror universe a couple of times in DS9, but the most relevant stuff here is from the Enterprise two-part episode "In A Mirror, Darkly", which take place entirely inside the mirror universe and revolve around the search for the USS Defiant, a ship from the normal universe which has traveled across universes and back in time. This is what Burnham and Lorca are looking for on the Shenzhou, as an alternative means to get back to their plane of existence.
  • This episode is directed by Jonathan Frakes, and his experience both in the director's chair and with Star Trek is clearly visible in how the episode comes across.
  • Somehow the best part of this entire thing is Tilly, AKA Captain Killy, stammering her way through pretending to be the mirror universe of herself. Some much needed levity.
  • The only big question from the first half of the season that remains is who exactly is Captain Lorca. People have theorized that he's from this universe, and Mirror Lorca also has a shady past and even a shady present, as his whereabouts are unknown after supposedly killing Mirror Burnham. People are already theorizing our Lorca and Mirror Lorca are one and the same, that he's even the "faceless Terran ruler" that keeps getting teased. The only thing we know for sure is that he winds up in an agony booth at the end of the episode.
  • Jason Isaacs fakes a Scottish accent to disguise his voice and it's also amazing.
  • Tilly: "Have you noticed that I talk a lot?"