Sunday, January 28, 2018

Resolve The Interloper: "What's Past Is Prologue" Is Simple Action-Adventure

The Good: Moments of direction, Performances are good, Special effects are cool
The Bad: Annoying camera movements, Simplistic plot, Lip service to supporting cast, No real character development
The Basics: "What's Past Is Prologue" completes the Star Trek: Discovery Mirror Universe storyline in a mediocre way that moves Star Trek: Discovery further from being able to integrate with the rest of the Star Trek franchise.

So, the big secret of Star Trek Discovery's first season is out. In "Vaulting Ambition" (reviewed here!) the revelation was made that Captain Gabriel Lorca, of late of the U.S.S. Discovery, was in fac the Mirror Universe version of Lorca. Lorca's unique defining character trait - his aversion to bright lights and strangely different eyes - was revealed to be a "tell" for Mirror Universe characters that once again reveals an astonishing lack of understanding of the canon that came before. After all, if such a tell existed, "Mirror, Mirror" (reviewed here!) would have found Spock being far less clever in his quick understanding that the four people who beamed back to the U.S.S. Enterprise were not his crewmates as much as observant as the lighting in the transporter room would have pretty much blinded the barbaric I.S.S. Enterprise crewmembers. And, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is once again neglected entirely as Smiley, at the very least, would have - as a former slave living on the run and underground - never had access to the information or medical solution to hide in our universe for any period of time under the guise of being O'Brien (when he reached Ops, he would have been virtually blinded by the lighting and could not have held Sisko effectively at gunpoint). But, continuity has not been the forte of Star Trek: Discovery and the writer's failure to understand the Mirror Universe leaves the next episode desperate for an explanation that is unlikely to be satisfying.

That next episode is "What's Past Is Prologue" and it is saddled with satisfactorily addressing how Lorca ever ended up in our universe. After all, the idea that the U.S.S. Defiant in "The Tholian Web" (reviewed here!) fell through a hole in interphasic space and ended up in a different universe and time was fairly clever, but its crew was long dead when it made the transition. In other words, any raw data aboard the Defiant collected through passive scanning or equipment left on at the time would not have been useful to explain the transition - much like if one is performing a blood test for sugar content, the results will not tell a doctor about viruses in the bloodstream. And while the Mirror Universe is sitting atop future technology, the barbaric nature of its citizens would preclude their ability to scientifically analyze it. So, that whole conceit, established in the Star Trek: Enterprise episode "In A Mirror Darkly, Part 2" (reviewed here!) actually manages to work. But how any person in the Mirror Universe could use the Defiant to learn about our universe . . . and then exploit that new knowledge to travel between universes is a gargantuan problem for "What's Past Is Prologue." In fact, until the I.S.S. Defiant was built and staffed by crewmembers who served aboard the U.S.S. Defiant - based upon how all of the past Mirror Universe episodes worked and established the Mirror Universe! - things like the Defiant's crew logs and records should not have been accessible to Mirror Universe characters.

So, "What's Past Is Prologue" has a built-in burden that would leave attentive viewers utterly shocked to have answered in a way that respected existing Star Trek canon, especially given that now the Mirror Universe characters are apparently running around with extreme photosensitivity and glowing flecks in their irises. There is certain irony to the title "What's Past Is Prologue" as the Star Trek Discovery writers so frequently fail to take into account what has already been written and established and make sure that the new prequel's works fit into that. And "What's Past Is Prologue" opts for the most lazy possible explanation for the Lorca crossover (that still does not exactly explain how he knew what the Mirror Universe was).

After 212 days, Lorca releases his surviving crew from the Charon's agonizers and he teams up with Landry to find the Mirror Stamets. Stamets releases a bioweapon to kill several decks worth of Georgiou's crew. On the Discovery, Stamets explains that the spore network is degrading across the entire multiverse and that when the network is depleted, the multiverse will be destroyed. Lorca goads Georgiou into a phaser fight, which leads the two to a stalemate. Burnham, having escaped execution at the Emperor's hand, attempts to contact the Discovery to warn them about the trap they are flying into.

When Burnham finds Georgiou's sanctuary, she works to convince the Emperor to help her. While Saru commits to lead the Discovery home safely, Burnham brings Georgiou before Lorca. When the Discovery arrives, Lorca tells Saru that Burnham is staying and that acts as a signal for the Discovery to attack the Charon. The Discovery has to use the Charon's massive spore hub and Burnham must make a difficult decision pertaining to Georgiou to make the attempt to return home.

Ironically, "What's Past Is Prologue" gives more of the cast lines than ever before; for a change, there are moments when Star Trek: Discovery actually feels like an ensemble piece. The irony in this is that Cadet Tilly, as opposed to any commissioned officers on the science staff, steps up with answers. But, Detmer, Airiam, Rhys and Owosekun all get lines for a change, but there is little substance to what they say; the core five characters, Georgiou and even the returning Landry have more to contribute to the episode than the supporting cast's random utterances.

The internal continuity of Star Trek: Discovery is undermined in subtle ways in "What's Past Is Prologue." Saru has not shown a real care for Burnham before, outside the professional. So, addressing her as "friend" is almost as awkward as Lorca referring to the spore network as Stamets's "creation," as opposed to "discovery." Saru notes that Lorca did not set off his threat ganglion, but the episode completely neglects why Saru could not sense the threat Lorca represented (especially considering that he could detect Ash Tyler as a threat).

The resolution to "What's Past Is Prologue" continues to undermine Star Trek: Discovery within the Star Trek canon as the last lines of the episode make it impossible to believe the credibility of the season's events in the larger context of the show. "What's Past Is Prologue" is moving the first season of Star Trek: Discovery toward the point where its events must be completely undone to even pretend to have this series be a part of the larger Star Trek franchise. While the next episode is set up to reignite the Klingon/Federation war, the scope revealed at the end of "What's Past Is Prologue" is instantly problematic for a show that is set about nine years prior to "Errand Of Mercy" (reviewed here!). This is a huge problem for Star Trek: Discovery because the show is begging the viewers to invest in a show where it either lives in complete contradiction to established canon or lead to the inevitable reboot/reset of all they have viewed.

Lorca practices tactics aboard the Charon that are incredibly limited for a man who is supposed to be so smart. Lorca and his team draw down against Georgiou's team when he has a tremendous tactical advantage. All Lorca has to do in the confrontation is turn up the lights and make sure his team has his light-dampening occular treatment (or a decent pair of sunglasses). But, Lorca thinks in a very linear fashion in "What's Past Is Prologue."

"What's Past Is Prologue" is well-directed for its first half. Olatunde Osunsanmi makes "What's Past Is Prologue" look theatrical, even when it is physically dark. Sadly, Osunsanmi is bound by a script that includes conceits that, when visualized, look ridiculous. Mirror Universe guards apparently have the marksmanship of Star Wars Stormtroopers. In the second half of "What's Past Is Prologue," though, the camerawork becomes nauseating. Seriously, what the hell is the problem with using shots that don't move the camera, like stabilizing technology like camera stands are somehow audacious?! "What's Past Is Prologue," ironically, utilizes fewer camera movements during the climactic battle scenes than it does during a simple dialogue exchange between Tilly and Stamets.

"What's Past Is Prologue" has a very generic action-adventure feel to it, in which the problems are solved by big action sequences and physical fights and special effects. The episode is overloaded with fights and with the added elements of almost constant camera movements makes "What's Past Is Prologue" difficult to watch.

Ultimately, "What's Past Is Prologue" is an inevitable and necessary episode that resolves the Mirror Universe plotline . . . in a way that leaves our universe with a giant bull's-eye on it and with it almost impossible to believe that StarFleet personnel would not have been prepared for the transporter accident that resulted in the crossover in "Mirror, Mirror."

For other works with Rekha Sharma, please check out my reviews of:
"The Butcher's Knife Cares Not For The Lamb's Cry" - Star Trek: Discovery
"Context Is For Kings" - Star Trek: Discovery
V - Season 1
Love Happens
Aliens Vs. Predator: Requiem


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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