Star Trek: Discovery Asks the Age Old Question: If You Kill Your Mirror Universe Self, Is It Murder or Suicide?

By Katharine Trendacosta on at

Ah, Discovery. This might be the best exploration one of these episodes has ever done in encapsulating just how miserable the Mirror Universe really is. Like, we all joke about goatees and the agony booth, but the idea’s existed for so long it’s almost been kitschy. Not anymore. But, of course, the true betrayal isn’t this universe’s versions of themselves, but something Discovery brought along with it.

“The Wolf Inside” opens almost like a horror movie and all the lights aboard the Discovery are flickering due to a malfunction. And, to make everything even creepier, it’s during that malfunction that a redshirt stumbles on Stamets, witnessing the grim sight of the addled Lieutenant cradling Dr. Culber’s dead body, and saying “The forest, the forest, the forest is dark but I can see him through the trees, the trees, the trees.” So things are clearly going great. Meanwhile, on the Mirror!Shenzhou, Burnham is voiceover-ing about the fear that permeates the Mirror Universe. Also, she’s got some really great lingerie that I covet and Mirror!Saru is a slave that performs her “daily ablutions.”

On the one hand, poor Burnham has the psychological torture of pretending to enjoy this universe and having to participate in executions. On the other, Lorca has the physical torture of... physical torture. And then there’s Tyler, who explains to Burnham that she’s the tether that keeps him from floating away, which... oh god the reason the passphrase that was meant to revert Tyler to his original Klingon self didn’t work last week is because of love, isn’t it? The power of true love, it’s a constant in fiction.

Speaking of lies, Saru and Burnham talk via secret hologram about the mission to figure out what happened with the Defiant, and then Saru asks if she’s encountered any Kelpians in this universe. Burnham—who has decided to give Mirror!Saru the name “Saru,” because as a slave he had no name—says “no.” I guess to save him the pain of knowing he’s a slave? (Saru says there are few of his kind in his universe, and I’ve got to say, being a species that is sensitive to threats and always afraid makes you uniquely suited to survive the Mirror Universe, where everyone is actually out to get you. I bet Saru’s people have a higher survival rate than usual.)

Saru, meanwhile, is hiding the fate of Culber from Burnham. And, of course, everyone aboard Discovery assumes the out-of-his-mind Stamets killed Culber. Tilly, at least, is willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and say it wasn’t him, it was the spores inside him ruining his brain. Also, she demands to treat him, claiming this is less a medical issue than a spore-driven one. Considering the ship’s primary Doctor got his neck snapped last week, I guess Tilly can’t do worse? She gets to work on Stamets’ recovery, with her hypothesis that his brain function has been hijacked by the mycelial network to keep the portal open to other universes. (She bases this on the time he called her “Captain,” and that what they thought were neurons firing to nowhere was actually glimpses of this other universe.) And like when Burnham gave the tardigrade spores to make it better before freeing it, Tilly’s also now throwing spores at Stamets. Nice to see that linking together.

Back on the Mirror!Shenzhou, Burnham has been ordered to kill everyone at the base of “Firewolf,” the Klingon resistance leader. Instantly it was clear who this was going to be, because Voq, in any universe, has to have several names and identities. And Burnham insists on going down herself to “gather info,” rather than just raining death down from above. I don’t know why, but Burnham goes to ask Lorca for his advice. And he, visibly shaking from all the torture, tells her to just kill all the rebels to preserve her cover and save their crew. “Sometimes the ends justify the terrible means,” he grits out. I see torture has distilled him into his purest form, even though Burnham thinks his judgement is affected by his torture. Less than you’d think, Burnham!

Down on the Resistance’s secret planet-base, Burnham thinks learning what made the Klingons leaders to many species in the resistance will help her figure out how to negotiate with them in her universe and end the war. So she goes down the resistance base with naught but Tyler as backup. Even this early, you know his mental state is not going to hold up well to coming face to face with Voq.

Oh yeah, the face of someone totally okay with this.

Burnham says she’s here to betray her kind and save them, by strafing the base after the evacuation. Voq needs to be sure she’s not lying. He calls out “the prophet,” and we are met with Sarek with a legally-contracted Mirror Universe beard. And a mind meld that fucks with both of them pretty hardcore. Sarek says he sees a world “bursting with potential,” compliments his unMirror self’s parenting (LOLOLOLOL), and says he sees a bottomless well of compassion (once again: LOLOLOLOL). It would be nice if we actually got to see these in Discovery more often, instead of other characters having to tell us about Michael’s compassion, but there you go.

Sarek’s determination is enough for Voq, who allows Burnham her questions in return for letting them escape. She asks how Vulcans and Andorians can be lead by a Klingon, when their cultures are so different. (She says Vulcans cannot comprehend the Klingon needs for violent emotional expression, and I think she should have added “There is no way he likes the name ‘the Prophet,’ by the way. Prophecy is illogical.”) When Voq answers that he is guided by the Light of Kahless, Tyler continues to react well.

Pictured: Someone not at all having a nervous breakdown

In fact, Tyler flashes back to the pilot, to events he can’t have seen if he’s really Tyler but make total sense if he’s Voq. Which he is. Which we’ve all known for what feels like a thousand years now. Basically, though, seeing Mirror!Voq talk about uniting against a common enemy, having the Klingon’s houses in order and united, and being cool with other species, conflicts with everything Voq ever learned from T’Kuvma and it breaks through Tyler’s conditioning where L’Rell’s prayer did not. So Tyler—or rather, Voq-as-Tyler—screams “Remain Klingon or die!” and attacks. Bringing up the classic question: If you kill your alternate universe self, is it murder or suicide?

Understandably, Mirror!Voq is pissed at the assassination attempt. Only Sarek’s intervention prevents them from being killed for their treachery. Once they’re back on Mirror!Shenzhou, Burnham is likewise pissed, ordering Tyler to her quarters. A nearly in-tears Burnham asks what the hell he was doing, endangering everything like that. Tyler tries to hide, saying he was just taking Lorca’s advice and doing whatever he needed in order to survive. It doesn’t fly because obviously things were fine before he went with the “Today is a good day to die” route. Anyway, Tyler figures out he’s Voq. Try to act surprised, for his sake! His admission that he’s Voq has less impact than his cool detachment at killing Culber, which was devastating. He also goes to try kill Burnham, in revenge for her killing T’Kuvma—only to be interrupted by Mirror!Saru, alerting the guards and leading to Tyler’s swift execution-by-transporter like the prisoners we saw earlier.

However, Burnham demands that she kills him “by my own hand,” by which she actually means getting him transported to Discovery after a few presumably excruciating seconds in the vacuum of space. For her next trick, she even uses his body to deliver the files she couldn’t get to Discovery before, giving the crew a chance to get home. And Saru, being a complete badass, gets to tell Voq/Tyler that while they may be far from home, the crew are still Starfleet, and will keep him alive so he can be tried and punished.

Back on the Discovery, Tilly has technobabbled a way to reset Stamets’ brain. Unfortunately, it also shuts down all his other organs, seemingly killing him. But only for a while, in turns out—instead, he meets his Mirror self in the mycelial network. Mirror!Stamets asks his counterpart if he’s ready to get to work and he “so hoped” he would find his way to the lens flare-a-go-go forest of the network. You know, on the list of things that have gone wrong for these people—and even for Stamets in particular!—on the show so far, this is somehow barely in the top ten.

It’s not even close to the worst thing to happen this episode, either, as Lorca tells Burnham they have to stay undercover in case the information she just got out isn’t enough. And then he adds that she’s not alone, she’s got him. Ah. Just what she needs. Lorca—already crazy even if he wasn’t fresh from several days of agony-booth-induced-trauma—tethering her to sanity. Things get even worse when another ship blows the resistance base to hell and back before the time Burnham had promised them for their escape is up.

And it’s none other than the flagship of the Terran emperor. As so many of you have guessed, it’s Georgiou. I was wrong, you were all right. This universe is gonna lob parental figures at Burnham until she breaks, isn’t it?

The theme of this episode is, of course, how long you can be undercover until you lose yourself. We know from interminable scenes that Tyler’s fought back against his programming a lot, but not enough to stop him brutally murdering Culber. And, ultimately, not enough when faced with himself. Burnham herself is desperately trying not to just get lost in the Terran Empire. It’s actually a fairly good parallel to the issues she’s been having with her Vulcan upbringing, and her new commitment to human emotions. There is a logic in following orders and not drawing attention to herself, but morality alone is telling her that it’s wrong to murder, no matter what. At the end of the day, faced with Tyler’s most personal and horrible betrayal, she still manages not to take the revenge this universe makes so easy. And then there’s Lorca: a man for whom the Mirror Universe presents little to no moral quandaries, who is now her moral compass in the wake of Tyler’s reveal.

This half of the season is already much better than the first. It’s got smart ideas about how to use the Mirror Universe to explore these characters. I just wish that we’d gotten to know these people better before they did it. There’s something lacking that they’re papering over with a lot of talking instead of showing. The voiceover with Burnham, Voq’s explanation, Saru hitting us over the head with the central idea... it’s a lot of words. I can’t help but feel better set up would negate the need for all the speeches. Voq’s was hilarious because it was clearly written when the writers thought the secret of who he was would be better kept. We didn’t need any of the explanation—we’d been looking for clues for so long that it could’ve been trusted to the actor’s performance a lot more.

Assorted Musings:

  • What the hell was this face from Lorca when Georgiou showed up? This just adds fuel to the fire of the “Lorca is actually from the Mirror Universe” theory.
  • Listen, show, I like you. Despite all your flaws, this is a better first season than Star Trek usually manages. But if you show me L’Rell’s naked bosom one more time, I will cancel my subscription and punt this computer out a window. It’s not edgy, it’s titillation and you are better than that.
  • Honestly, the most hysterical thing about Discovery is that, like Abramsverse movies, the only canon you can actually count on is... Enterprise.
  • It turns out that Burnham’s rep in this universe after the Binary Stars is pretty much the same as in the other one. “Butcher of the Binary Stars” is my new hardcore band name.
  • This is the second episode in one season where we’ve seen, in graphic detail, people dying in space. The first time it was Lorca and it was sort of played for humour in Mudd’s montage of murder. The second time, here, as an example of things Burnham has to participate in so that she can stay undercover, it’s much creepier. The third time, it barely begins before Voq/Tyler is saved.
  • If Stamets magic spores his way to figuring out how to get Culber back, is that stupider than Into Darkness bringing back Kirk with magic Tribble blood?


More Star trek Posts: