Season 1 of Star Trek Discovery is an absolute delight. And while it’s far from the most complex and twist-heavy of shows, relying instead on some excellent, well-paced storytelling, it still has some secrets left to show. It’s worth noting that things get spoiler-heavy from here, so if you’re not up to date, look away now. The most obvious of these is the idea that Ash Tyler is - in fact - the Klingon Voq, transformed into a human by his accomplice L’Rell (the female Klingon currently imprisoned on Discovery) to infiltrate the crew. The existence of a Mirror universe was also heavily teased, and is now fact. So what’s next? Aside from the identity of the Emperor, which isn’t so much a twist as a tease (it’s basically going to be Captain Georgiou, Burnham’s mentor - you’re welcome), I think the true identity of Captain Lorca is about to be revealed. And I’m willing to bet big that he’s actually the Terran version of Lorca, who somehow found his way into the ‘normal’ universe to become Captain of the Discovery.
It’s far from outlandish, especially in the context of other plot twists in Star Trek, but let’s set the scene first by recapping Star Trek Discovery episode 10. In the Terran universe Lorca was Captain of the Buran (as he was in the normal universe), and Burnham was Captain of the Shenzhu (which she served on at the start of the season, under Captain Georgiou). Terran Lorca is missing, following an attempted coup against the Emperor. We don’t know why he rebelled, or what he wanted - all we know is that the Emperor is described as “savage”. Burnham is presumed dead at the hands of one of Lorca’s followers, who blew up her shuttle as she was attempting to capture him. In retaliation for his betrayal, the Emperor destroyed the Buran and murdered its entire crew. So, as in the normal universe, the entire Terran crew of the Buran is dead, and the ship obliterated. That’s consistent.
As for Lorca, there’s a heap of reasons to believe he’s the Terran version of himself. Generally speaking, Starfleet Captains go down with their ships (or are meant to), and while a stern taskmaster, Lorca is far from dishonorable. So the idea that he’d abandon the crew of the Buran, blow them all up himself, and escape as the sole survivor - to prevent them being captured and tortured by the Klingons - doesn’t really hold true. Surely someone so dishonorable simply wouldn’t be allowed to progress through the ranks of ‘regular’ Starfleet? There are two more likely possibilities, then, for what happened to the Buran - and this is an important part of the set-up for this theory. Firstly, it could be that ‘normal’ Lorca did indeed perish on the Buran, along with his crew, and Terran Lorca assumed his identity when he crossed over to the regular Star Trek universe. That would be a neat fit. Secondly, it could be that Terran Lorca somehow got aboard the Buran (we know that all the security protocols are consistent across the universes, so it’d be easy, given how he was Captain) assumed captaincy of it, and murdered the crew to keep his secret. That would be very ‘Terran’ behaviour. It all depends on what Terran Lorca’s motivations are - is he even more underhand and dishonorable than regular Lorca? Someone who would start a coup to claim power for himself in the Terran universe? It’s possible...
Or is Terran Lorca an actually decent, mirror version of regular Lorca? Given how tyrannical Tilly is in the Mirror Universe, Lorca could actually be a nice guy, fighting to free the Terrans from the oppression of the “savage” Emperor. He does say, while chatting to Burnham: “Here’s me hoping I’d find a better version of myself over here.” Maybe that was a subtle suggestion he sees himself as the ‘good guy’ in the Terran universe. Either way, Lorca seems extremely well informed about the Terran universe - more so than Burnham and Saru combined. He quickly notes, after receiving the news from Burnham about the fates of their ‘Terran’ selves: “Amazing, isn’t it. Different universe, but somehow the same people have a way to find each other. It’s the strongest argument I’ve ever seen for the existence of destiny.” That’s a poignant observation, even for a Starfleet Captain, and it’s a slight hint that he’s had plenty of time to ponder how the events of the two universes so closely reflect each other.
However, the strongest argument for Lorca having prior knowledge of the Mirror universe comes both later in episode 10 and from episode 9. In ep 10, it’s Lorca who somehow reveals the intel about the USS Defiant - a fact that was missed by both Burnham and Saru, who were responsible for intel gathering about the Terrans. Hmmm. It’s also very notable that Lorca himself enters the coordinates for the spore-drive jump that transports them to the Mirror universe. We assume that the Discovery arriving in Terran space is a mistake, but what if Lorca knew where to go AND that Stamets was ready to navigate them there, having recently completed 133 successful jumps shortly before? The show goes to great pains to demonstrate that Lorca himself prevented Stamets’ 134th jump during the mapping of the Klingon vessel, and that Lorca himself entered the coordinates for the jump that landed them in the Mirror universe. It could be coincidence or misdirection, but it’s just subtle enough to be notable without being obvious. If Terran Lorca knew how to escape the Mirror universe, it’s highly likely he knew how to return.
An interesting note here on how that might happen. Given that many of the characters “find each other” in both universes, that could mean that Terran Lorca encountered Harry Mudd at some point. And that guy has fingers in all kinds of pies. No, the timing doesn’t directly line-up, because Lorca doesn’t meet Mudd in the show until he’s already Captain of the Discovery, during the episode where he gets captured by the Klingons. But the events of the two universes don’t line-up perfectly either - it’s just the characters. What if Terran Lorca meets Terran Mudd (a scary thought), and manages to get some dimension hopping tech from him? It’s not beyond the realms of possibility at all.
There's further evidence in a poignant scene between Lorca and Admiral Cornwell (which was pointed out by sharp-eyed followers on Twitter). When the pair have sex in episode 6 'Lethe', Cornwell notices that Lorca sleeps with a phaser under his pillow. She comments on his behaviour, the mysterious scars on his back, and the fact that he has changed since they were previously 'together'. She knows he lied - brilliantly - during his psych evaluations, and she literally says "The truth is, you're not the man I used to know."
Maybe he has changed, and that the scars are a result of his Klingon torture (which seemed exclusively focused on his photosensitive eyes), but maybe not. Maybe he's literally a different person, and that Terran Lorca posses the paranoia required to sleep with a phaser, and the cruel existence that would lead to his scars.
It's very, very notable, as is the moment before they get intimate where Cornwell reminds Lorca of the time they watched the Perseids meteor shower together. He seems not to remember, and quickly changes the subject. She follows this up with the line: "I worry about you Gabriel. Some of the decisions you've been making recently have been troubling." She then adds that he hasn't been the same since The Buran. I mean... COME ON...
What does he want?
Now, let’s look at Terran Lorca’s motivations. He wants to overthrow the Emperor, but he got busted. Let’s say he crossed into the normal universe. What would he do? If he’s ambitious or passionate enough to start a coup against the Emperor, there’s no way he’s just going to hide in our universe and forget about it. In Lethe, when talking to Cornwell, she reminisces about when they were young, noting they had "grand plans for the future", to which Lorca remarks "Well, some of us still have."
No way he's hiding. He’d seek out Burnham, either as an ally for when he goes back to the Terran universe, or as a tool to help him get to the Emperor. Again, from the poignant scene in episode 10, where Burnham and Lorca are discussing their fates in the Mirror universe, they have the following interaction: Burnham says that “Destiny didn’t get me out of prison, Captain. You did that.” To which Lorca replies: “Well, let’s agree to disagree on that, for now.” It’s foreshadowing of the highest kind, and it reminds viewers that Lorca got Burnham out of jail for a reason, and we’re yet to discover why he did that. If he is indeed Terran Lorca, his motivations seem very, very clear. Whereas if it’s just normal Lorca, as the show would have us believe so far… the only reason he’d stick his neck out to get hold of Burnham is ‘her talents’, which feels very thin.
Finally, let’s look at one, additional narrative device that episode 10 slips into the chat between Burnham and Lorca, which might support the Terran Lorca theory. When talking about the incident that left Lorca missing and Burnham dead, she says: “Most of the intelligence has been stolen, from classified Terran files.” This means that there’s stuff about the incident that we don’t know, and it deliberately leaves wiggle room for more context to be added here. Those files were classified for a reason, and it seems like ‘infighting’ probably isn’t a good enough justification. After all, the Terran Empire was built on conflict, assassination, and betrayal - these are badges of honor.
It’s more likely that the truth about Terran Lorca and Burnham has been suppressed or altered in some way, and we’re not getting the full picture. We’re certainly missing out on Lorca’s motives for the coup, which may support or completely undo this theory. Taking it further, what if (and this is a huge stretch, I know) Terran Burnham and Terran Lorca are actually working together to overthrow the Emperor, which would be in keeping with how everyone in the Terran universe behaves, and they staged the conflict between them to allow Lorca to cross into the normal universe. Now, that really is information worth classifying. Think about all the goodies Lorca has acquired on his journey. A Starship with a working DASH drive, Klingon cloaking decryption tech, and one of the most lethal, respected members of Starfleet (Burnham). That would be all he’d need to overthrow the Emperor, claim power for himself, and have Burnham as his second-in-command. It’s a leap from where we are, but would fit with everything we know about the show so far, and it’d leave real Burnham in a super-sticky situation making for some excellent TV.
Either way, it’s very likely that Lorca isn’t all he seems. The character has been shrouded in mystery since he first appeared, and has always been distinctly brutal and dishonorable for a Starfleet Captain. There’s also a significant amount of obfuscation surrounding what actually happened to Burnham and Lorca in the Terran universe, and a lot of subtle narrative nods that suggest Lorca planned for them to end up there. Combined with continuing questions about his motives, and the events surrounding the Buran… It’s by no means a nailed on twist, but there’s plenty here to support one of the shows most interesting theories: that Lorca is the Terran version of himself, and he has - for good or bad - some serious unfinished business in the Mirror universe.