After what seems like an unbearably long wait, Star Trek Discovery returns to our screens with its mid-season premiere - episode 10, Despite Yourself - and if you’re worried there’s no way it could live up to the anticipation… oh boy, you’re in for a treat! Continuing what can only be described as an incredible run of TV since its premiere in 2017, Discovery comes back strong with an episode which satisfies many theories and questions from the first half of the series, while presenting new mysteries and plotlines to sustain the second. With spoilers to follow, here’s my verdict on the latest episode.
In case you can’t remember where the crew of the Discovery were by the end of episode 9, they’d successfully completed their mission and were on their way back to Starfleet HQ when Stamets had a sudden attack mid-mycelia jump. Not only did the “incomplete jump” do some serious damage to Discovery’s navigator, but it quickly becomes apparent that the ship hasn’t landed where it’s supposed to be… and we’re not just talking about it being a couple of stars over. In the mid-season premiere, we rejoin the Discovery just as Saru confirms they are geographically where they intended to be, but none of the surrounding stars or planets are lining up with anything they know. Lorca quickly shares his and Stamets’s parallel worlds theory and its not long before a plan is formulated to discover what type of dimension they’ve landed in and how to get home.
It turns out that it's not a very nice one. In this world, the Federation doesn’t exist and in its place is the Terran Empire, led by an unnamed Emperor, which has a Nazi-like attitude towards alien species and anything non-human. The Terrans are vicious killers who see characteristics such as mercy or empathy as weaknesses, and hunt down and destroy anything non-Terran. Vulcans, Klingons, and many other alien races form the Rebels who have banded together to try and fight the Empire, but it appears that they’re losing. As Lorca and co discover all of this, they also realise that there are Terran versions of themselves in this world and that the ISS Discovery was probably transported to their world when they arrived, allowing them to assume its identity. There are some differences the crew need to adopt other than the Terran characteristics and uniforms - Tilly is Captain, Burnham is dead, and Lorca is a traitor on the run - but all of this is covered with surprising economy (if slightly unrealistically quickly) so the episode can continue moving forward.
If you thought all this is more than enough for one episode (you’d be right), the showrunners clearly didn’t agree as they also amazingly found time to revisit Tyler’s storyline too. He’s starting to lose a grip on himself as he returns to L’Rell demanding answers. As suspected by many fans (and us), she recites some trigger words which are intended to make him remember who he really is - if you’ve not been paying attention, it’s basically now confirmed that he’s Voq in disguise - but it only partly works. Tyler responds enough for the theory to be confirmed, but he doesn’t get all of his memories back as L’Rell expected, leaving him even more unhinged and dangerous. By the end of the episode, it’s clear that his identity crisis will have some serious consequences for those around him… especially as he joins Burnham and Lorca as they assume Terran identities and infiltrate a hostile ship to try and find a way home.
It’s hard to overstate the impact of this episode. While a lot of what happens has been suspected for a while - there’s been talk of the Mirror Universe since before the show even aired - it’s quite something to see it all come to fruition in such a sensational way. Despite Yourself runs the risk of trying to cover too much, but it gets the balance just right (probably precisely because we’ve seen so much of it coming) so you never feel too overloaded. While you might want to rewatch the episode to make sure you caught everything, you definitely won’t be bored as many of the moments are so shocking and emotional that you’ll need a second look to digest them fully. Mostly importantly, it confirms a lot of fan theories and questions we’ve had from the first half of the season leaving room for us to imagine what’s the come. Too many shows rely too heavily on teasing fans without confirming anything until the final few episodes and I’m delighted to see that Discovery hasn’t done that. Yes, there’s still some things we don’t know, but we’ve had enough answers to satisfy us for now and it all leads to even more exciting possibilities.
Any negatives? There’s a possible plot hole - the crew look up their Terran counterparts to make sure there’s no chance of them running into them, but conveniently don’t search for Terran Tyler which might have blown Voq’s cover if it had turned out that he doesn’t exist. Additionally, I find the whole concept of the Mirror Universe a bit outdated and cheesy. Ooooh, it’s opposite world - let’s all play evil versions of ourselves! But it is a sci-fi classic and Discovery pulls it off in acceptable fashion so that it rarely becomes cringe-worthy. This episode also won’t do anything to silence the fans who’ve accused the series of becoming more Star Wars than Trek - I mean, there’s literally an Empire, Emperor, and Rebels now - but I stand by my assertion that the similarities between the franchises are born more from the modern-day world and what we want from sci-fi today, than any desire to copycat. The parallels won’t be lost on anyone who’s a fan of both, but they don’t distract from what makes this series stand apart either.
As unbelievable as it seems, Star Trek Discovery continues to give us exceptional TV which is nothing short of a miracle given the dense history it needs to take into account and the delays and issues during filming. It’ll never convert hardcore Trekkies who couldn’t get aboard the Discovery train from the beginning, and Burnham continues to be the least interesting thing about the show - not great considering she’s supposedly the main character - but everything else more than makes up for this. We can only hope that this quality continues as the second half of the series progresses, and if this episode is any indication of what’s to come, well... ‘beam me up’ doesn’t even begin to cover it.