Show Reviews

Star Trek: Discovery, Episode 13, “What’s Past Is Prologue”

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Okay, so I know I mentioned in a previous post that Episode Ten’s “Despite Yourself” was my favorite installment, but strike that, reverse it; this is my favorite episode. It was so unbelievably fan-f*cking-tastic, on every level, that it had me – quite literally – on the edge of my couch for the entire running-time. The glass of wine I poured wasn’t even touched – that’s how focused I was; although, I sure did need it afterwards.

The title of this episode, “What’s Past Is Prologue,” is taken from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”. If you aren’t familiar with the story, the scene from which the phrase is taken involves a conniving gent named Antonio, who uses the phrase to suggest to his equally conniving cohort, Sebastian, that everything which has come before has led them both to that particular moment; that it is their destiny to proceed as they see fit – which is to murder Sebastian’s brother, the King of Naples, so that Sebastian can usurp the throne for himself (Antonio is kind of an expert in such matters, seeing as he stole the position of Duke of Milan from his brother, Prospero, the main protagonist of the story). Are you seeing the similarities in characters yet? The line in the play goes like this:

About by that destiny to perform an act

Whereof what’s past is prologue, what to come

In yours and my discharge.

It’s a fitting title for a story that’s entrenched in betrayal. A story that sees itself play-out much like a Shakespearean drama. The emotional beats are even present to manipulate your innards, and create empathy for characters that don’t appear to be only black and white towards the end.

Writer Ted Sullivan and director Olantunde Osunsanmi killed it this past Sunday. It had everything that a viewer could ask for: dynamite storytelling, dialogue, and fight-choreography (you won’t find any of Kirk’s old moves here – although I may have seen a “Shatner Chop” and a “Double Fist” thrown in somewhere). We were treated to some damn-well-written speeches and monologues, one of which was delivered by Lorca to Philippa before they faced-off against one another, and was quite memorable because of the chord it struck (I’m presuming with probably just about everyone); its content a reflection of words we’ve seen over and over again from the “Terran” running the White House in our universe. The speech, in case you didn’t catch it all, went like this:

Hello, Philippa. I’ve watched for years; you let alien races spill over the borders, flourish in our backyard, then have the gall to incite rebellion. The Terrans need a leader who will preserve our way of life, our race. Try as you might, it’s clearly not you. Even Michael knew that. It was her great shame. Well, it’s indecorous of me to share pillow talk. To the rest, many of you know me. Some of you served with me. To all, I make this offer: renounce Georgiou. The Empire is dying in her hands. But you don’t have to – not today. Michael Burnham is not to be touched. She is integral to our future plans, a future where we together will make the Empire glorious again.

Could’ve been part of the State of the Union delivered the other night, right? It’s no coincidence that this dialogue sounds eerily familiar. Star Trek has always strived to convey a story that is analogous to the time-period in which it is told. The writers of Discovery have faithfully continued that long-held tradition; and it resonates one-thousand percent. Jason Isaacs spoke with at length this week about his character’s story arc, and gave readers more incite to Gabriel Lorca’s motivations, actions, and behavior aboard the Discovery, as well as some of the interactions he’s had online with faux Trek-fans using platforms like Twitter to attack the show, in the most vile and racist way possible. Check it out when you have a moment. It’s a great, short read.

Another memorable speech we were treated to this episode was delivered by our beloved Kelpien (and now interim Captain), Saru. It was very much a speech that could have, just as easily, been delivered by James T. Kirk (the “no-win scenario” bit notwithstanding). Doug Jones continuously delivers, in every episode he’s a part of, even with the added difficulty of emoting underneath a layer of facial prosthetics. His speech, as it went, goes like this:

It is well known that my species has the ability to sense the coming of death. I do not sense it today. I may not have all the answers; however, I do know that I am surrounded by a team I trust. The finest a captain could ever hope to command. Lorca abused our idealism. And make no mistake, Discovery is no longer Lorca’s. She is ours. And today will be her maiden voyage. We have a duty to perform, and we will not accept a no-win scenario. You have your orders. On your way.

Although we’re barely seeing Saru come into his own as a captain of a starship, I think, in time, he’ll prove to be just as resourceful as other great captains of Star Trek ‘s past have shown us to be. Even transcribing his speech gave me chills. It’s not just that it’s well-written, but it’s how he delivered it. That scene was one of my favorites this season. For a hot-second, I really wasn’t onboard with his character. He seemed too stringent, not in a “Spock” way, but in a stubbornly illogical way; almost to the point of being obscenely naïve and foolishly idealistic. However, his idealism is ironically something I’ve come to love the most about him, especially after the speech he gave to the crew.

The running-theme of this episode was very much in-line with the title’s Shakespearean origin: the idea that certain, consecutive events preordain one’s destiny; but it also had another, concurrent theme. One that ran counter to this idea of “fate”; and that idea was perfectly stated by Burnham to Philippa, right before they confronted Lorca:

“I’m responsible for forging my own path. We all are.”

We also saw this with Saru and the crew of Discovery. The whole idea of not accepting a no-win scenario is, by definition, a refusal to accept a fate the “gods” or the “universe” have laid out for us. We control the narrative of our own story; we’re the masters of our own future. Again, this is a concept we’ve seen conveyed by most, if not all, of our beloved captains of the past. It’s what makes them great leaders.

So, the conclusion of this episode left us with a few lingering and fairly major questions:

  • What happened within the nine months that the Discovery was absent from the battle? And how did the Klingons gain the upper-hand?
  • What has become of the Federation, now that they seemingly aren’t responsive to any hails from Discovery?
  • Will Burnham’s decision to save “Mirror” Philippa have dire or positive repercussions on her and the crew, not to mention their universe?
  • Will we find out what happened to “Prime” Lorca?
  • What was the green spore that landed on Tilly’s shoulder?

So many queries to be answered, I can barely take it! Although, I feel like some of these unanswered questions won’t be tackled until next season (writer Ted Sullivan said as much in a “live” Twitter Q&A the other day). I think we only have one or two more episodes before the season’s finale, and these aren’t things that can be explained-away in merely a few hours, nor do I want them to be. Production should take their cue from Doctor Who. Those geniuses are notorious for planting a seed which doesn’t see fruition for an entire season, sometimes not for two or three down the line, even. Mysteries are good. They keep us thinking, and on our proverbial toes. I’m okay with this, just as long as we aren’t kept waiting too long. I’d hate to take a Terran dagger to my wrists in a crazed episode of impatience. I’ll try to maintain a Vulcan disposition; keyword being “try”.

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