Sunday, January 21, 2018

Another Week, Another Predicted Reveal: Star Trek Discovery Hardly Has "Vaulting Ambition!"

The Good: Well-directed
The Bad: Awful character development, Unremarkable plot, Dull reveal, Huge continuity issues
The Basics: Star Trek: Discovery works to finish its Mirror Universe plot in "Vaulting Ambition," while making a reveal that was predicted by many fans a while ago and is unimpressive now that it has been revealed.

Retconning the events of "Mirror, Mirror" (reviewed here!) so that the crew of the U.S.S. Discovery entered the same alternate universe about a decade prior has created a number of issues with Star Trek continuity. Despite that, the show has moved toward an important story point with "Vaulting Ambition." "Vaulting Ambition" opens with the sense that most of the cards are on the table for the key characters of Star Trek: Discovery.

"Vaulting Ambition" follows the events of "The Wolf Inside" (reviewed here!) and it is impossible to discuss the new episode without references to where the prior episode left off. After all, "The Wolf Inside" found Burnham and Lorca right before the Empress, who was (unsurprisingly) Georgiou - if the show wanted to make a real surprise, it would have been Empress Sato from Star Trek: Enterprise and that the whole Terran Empire had grown on her watch and she had managed to stay alive and in power so long. But Emperor Georgiou visited the planet the Rebels were hiding out on to obliterate them, despite Burnham's promise to the Rebel leader Voq. Inside the Spore Network, Stamets met his doppelganger. And the insinuations fell away and Ash Tyler was revealed to be a surgically-altered Voq, who Burnham used to smuggle critical information back to the U.S.S. Discovery.

Burnham brings Lorca to the I.S.S. Charon, after giving him a hypo to help him resist the Agonizers better. Tilly treats Stamets and he is caught up within the spore network by his doppelganger from the Mirror Universe. On the Charon, Burnham and Lorca meet with the Emperor, who sends Lorca to the Agonizer chamber. Burnham learns that her Mirror Universe persona was raised by Georgiou. They dine together and Georgiou condemns Burnham to death and facing a quick death, Burnham confesses her true nature to the Emperor.

While Stamets becomes distracted with visions of his dead Dr. Culber, Georgiou works out an arrangement with Burnham for information on the spore drive in exchange for information on the U.S.S. Defiant. When Lorca is unable to provide information his doppelganger would know, he watches a man die horribly. L'Rell attempts to treat Voq in the Discovery Sick Bay, while Culber gives Stamets a pep talk and a mission. Stamets must undo the damage that the Mirror Universe Stamets did to the spore network to save it, which allows him to wake up on the Discovery. Unfortunately, it also allows the Mirror Universe Stamets to awaken on the Charon. And, in the process, Lorca's big secret is revealed.

The moment the I.S.S. Charon appears on screen, "Vaulting Ambition" loses a lot of credibility. The Charon is an amazing and impressive ship, but there is nothing even remotely like it in "our" universe during the same time period in the Star Trek universe. The Mirror Universe works have continually operated on the concept of parallel technological development, with a radically-different social development. So, missions, people, and technology are almost always in the same time and place in both universes, just with different motivations. As a result, the U.S.S. Enterprise and I.S.S. Enterprise are virtually identical; Deep Space Nine and the Mirror Universe Terok Nor were constructed by the same person . . . such that Sisko is able to operate the self-destruct system in the Mirror Universe. The I.S.S. Charon, then, is an absolutely ridiculous conceit in "Vaulting Ambition" as there would be nothing at all like it in our universe.

Michael Burnham is proven once again to be one of the worst characters in the Star Trek universe in "Vaulting Ambition." Facing her death, Burnham tells Giorgiou about her universe and provides her with proof of that universe, when she gives the Emperor her dead Captain's badge. The Empire is a bloodthirsty, aggressive organization that seeks conquest over cooperation. Burnham and the crew of the U.S.S. Discovery want to return home. That's fine and it makes sense. But Burnham has just attempted to save her own life and the crew of a single ship by mortgaging an entire universe's security. To be clear; following "Vaulting Ambition," there is no sensible reason why the Star Trek Universe would not be facing a constant menace of open warfare from the Mirror Universe's Terran Empire. Between surveillance devices, untrustworthy characters and more people who have the actual technical information on our universe, the Mirror Universe is now an imminent threat to the Star Trek universe . . . and Burnham told them about it!

But then, the episode progresses to its end with one of the most asinine retcons ever to be created in the Star Trek Universe. Lorca's Big Secret is revealed, which feels lazy following Ash Tyler's big secret being revealed last week. In fact, Lorca's big secret is piggybacked on a revelation from the Emperor Georgiou that telegraphs Lorca's reveal . . . and makes no sense whatsoever in the Mirror Universe episodes. "Vaulting Ambition" creates a "tell" for the Mirror Universe characters and that sudden alteration to Mirror Universe human biology is laughably bad; it undermines both "Mirror, Mirror" (Spock would have seen a difference in how the four Mirror Universe characters responded on the Enterprise) and the two Star Trek: Enterprise episodes set there.

There is another huge issue with "Vaulting Ambition," which is much more subtle than in the previous Star Trek: Discovery Mirror Universe episodes. Burnham gives Georgiou information about our universe and that is horrible, but it plays off a conceit that has the potential to be ruinous for the entire plotline. The U.S.S. Defiant ended up in the Mirror Universe in the past - that was established on Star Trek: Enterprise. But the reason that was okay was that the Defiant's crew was long-dead and there would be no information on the ship about how the Defiant ended up in the Mirror Universe other than it fell through a hole in interphasic space. The U.S.S. Defiant has no information aboard it that would allow people in the Mirror Universe to enter our universe - that data was not aboard the dead starship. But now, characters from the U.S.S. Discovery know about how an entire starship worth of StarFleet officers will die horribly in the future. If the non-redacted information from the Defiant makes it back to our universe, the crew becomes complicit in one of the most gruesome death scenarios from Star Trek!

"Vaulting Ambition" continues the Star Trek: Discovery trend of presenting utter misery on screen. The murder in front of Lorca is grisly and his torture is known by the audience to be entirely pointless. The episode lacks the subtlety of other Mirror Universe episodes: in both universes Georgiou is a mother figure to Burnham, Stamets is virtually identical in both universes . . . the only real difference in characters seems to be the politics and the fact that Detmer actually gets lines in the Mirror Universe.

The unfortunate aspect of "Vaulting Ambition" is that it continues to play toward the most banal action-adventure type storyline as opposed to anything nearly as smart as . . . well, most of Star Trek!

For other Mirror Universe works, please check out my reviews of:
Dark Victory By William Shatner
Intendant Kira action figure
In A Mirror Darkly CCG


For other Star Trek episode, movie, and seasons, please check out my Star Trek Review Index Page!

© 2018 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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