By this point, “Star Trek: Discovery” has used more quotes as titles than you could shake a spear at (it’s also batting way above average in getting characters to announce the episode title in dialogue) and after last week’s dip into the Scottish play, this week’s is lifted from “The Tempest”: ‘What’s Past Is Prologue’…So does that mean that everything up until now has been an elaborate precursor to the real “Star Trek: Discovery”? Maybe it does because this week the show delivers its very best Star Trek. Sure, it’s a great deal more stabby than we’re used to but there’s no denying that it’s a hell of a lot closer to “Star Trek” than the series has managed so far.
Following on from last week’s fan-theory confirming fandango, we’re pretty much plunged straight into Lorca’s planned coup. With his secret out, Burnham and Georgiou form an uneasy alliance while Saru, Stamets and Tilly search for a way to repair the Mycelial Network and get home.
Remember Discovery’s original bitchy and brutal head of security? No? Well, rejoice because she’s back, or at least her mirror counterpart is. If the fact her replacement turned out to be a genetically butchered Klingon imposter didn’t retrospectively make her any more likeable, absence certainly won’t have made the heart grow any fonder. She’s still a bit too broadly pantomime to be a credible villain but as a henchman to the newly villainous Lorca she fits the bill.
The move and counter move by Lorca and Georgiou as they squabble over control of the ISS Charon is pretty entertaining and we finally start to see some of the amazing abilities everyone’s always praising Michael Burnham for but the series has been shy about showing. We’re also provided with a quick explanation of how Lorca escaped the Mirror universe and it turns out he did it the old-fashioned, Kirk-style way: an ion storm and a transporter. It doesn’t really cover whether he swapped places with the real-universe Lorca (which was kind of necessary in replicating the crossing in “Mirror, Mirror”) but then given the series has paid no heed whatsoever to what happened to the real ISS Discovery or Captain “Killy” Tilly or where they are now, I guess we can let that slide (it’s the tiny flickering ember of hope for more Jason Isaacs in the series). Lorca as a straight up bad guy is immediately far less interesting than Lorca as a tortured but pragmatically ruthless hero yet I held out some hope he’d come good in the end and stay on board. Or at least I did up to the point he wiped out most of the Charon’s crew. Nobody’s coming back from that.
Remarkably, the concurrent storyline aboard the Discovery is every bit as entertaining as the game of thrones playing out aboard the Charon. True, there’s nothing remotely subtle about Saru’s critique of the Terran Empire’s treatment of the Mycelial Network and their short-sighted attitude to potential environmental collapse and the ‘wiping out all life in every universe’ stakes kind of come out of nowhere, but damn if I didn’t enjoy the authentic return of the Starfleet ‘never accept a no-win scenario’ attitude. It just goes to show that the spore drive has been “Star Trek: Discovery”’s most interesting storyline all along. The creeping contamination of the Mycelial Network is allegorical Star Trek as its bluntest (I’m talking “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” levels) and near its best, as is the team’s eventual realisation that the secret to saving the mycelium and destroying the Terran threat is to kick the Emperor’s flagship really hard in the ball. It comes after a fun but improbable sequence where, during a crisis situation with the ship flying at warp speed, Saru decides to decamp his entire command crew (and given the chronic staff shortage possibly the entire crew of the ship) in engineering for a motivational workshop and brainstorming session. Who’s flying the damn ship, Saru? Your ganglia?
It all comes together in a well-choreographed finale where fists and phasers fly. Any doubt that Lorca’s about is eliminated as he’s punched, kicked, stabbed, dropped through a convenient moon door and vaporised and, true to her nature, Burnham makes a rash emotional decision at the last possible second and brings the genocidal mass-murderer and notable Kelpian connoisseur Emperor Georgiou onboard Discovery for sentimental (and possibly semi-mental) reasons just as it surfs the Mycelial warp wave back into our universe. There’s hair-raising moment when Stamets can’t find his way through the forest for the trees but luckily spore-Culber returns briefly to Obi-Wan some advice into his beloved’s ear.
It’s a shame to see the back of Jason Isaacs (well, except for maybe one or two more ‘Previously on…’s but this episode belongs to Sonequa Martin-Green and Doug Jones, who really get to shine as their characters’ best selves. One person the episode doesn’t belong to at all is Shazad Latif, who is entirely absent from the episode despite the Tyler/Voq situation being left up in the air after last week’s L’rell-obotomy.
For the first time in a long while, “What’s Past Is Prologue” sees “Star Trek: Discovery” leave me almost completely satisfied. Swashbuckling action, clever science fiction and a moral compass correctly calibrated now it’s free of the magnetic pull of Lorca’s darkness make for one very happy Star Trek fan. Of course, the return wouldn’t be without its own complications, one of which is after all the high science and technobabble hand-waiving of rebooting the Mycelial Network, we’re back into the drudge of the Klingon War, except Discovery overshot its return and they’ve been away for nine months and the Klingons have won. Also, Tilly has apparently developed a dandruff problem that’s a bit more serious than visible flakes from two feet away, but I’m sure that won’t turn out to be significant. How will our heroes get out of this one? If only the series had a consulting producer who was fond of time travel stories on hand…