Mark Watches ‘Discovery’: S01E13 – What’s Past is Prologue

In the thirteenth episode of the first season of Star Trek: Discovery, this was simply one of the finest Trek episodes ever. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek. 

Holy shit, y’all. I’m so impressed. I’m so thrilled. MY HEART WAS RACING A MILLION MILES AN HOUR WHEN THIS ENDED, OKAY. I know some of the writing decisions haven’t been my favorite as I’ve watched this, but I also know that I was missing pieces of the whole. I was upset about losing Georgiou because of the potential for that relationship with Burnham, but now I have… this. Which is so tantalizing and absurd and literally not what I could have ever expected, and I must admit that I am completely and utterly interested to see what the show is going to do. Am I pleased with the story of Dr. Culber? Not yet, even though I appreciated the highly emotional use of Dr. Culber’s words to guide Stamets (and the Discovery) home. (I am still maintaining hope that Dr. Culber’s line about how nothing really goes away in the network is the canon means of bringing him back, becuase otherwise I will feel some THINGS about this writing choice.)

So here I am, with the conclusion of multiple arcs and journeys sitting in my lap, and I can barely fathom what I just experienced. This was the culmination of a lot of story beats, yes, but it’s a thrilling and exhilarating episode in its own right. It felt both refreshing and utterly Star Trek at the same time, which is a feat. There is not a wasted fucking SECOND in this script!!! I do enjoy a lot of the five classic Trek shows, and I hope that was obvious during my watch of them, but I also know that there’s a specific kind of Trek pacing. While there’s certainly more room to breathe at times, that also resulted in some episodes feeling stretched out or a little thin. (Let us all take a moment to bow our heads in respect for that The Next Generation episode that was so boring I quite literally feel asleep during it.) At the same time, I got the sense that “What’s Past is Prologue” fit neatly within the spirit of what Trek can be, especially in that it is an utter repudiation of what the Terran Empire stood for, right up until the end, when Burnham LITERALLY saves a Terran from the inevitable conclusion of her life within that place. 


So, my thoughts are scattered. There are a number of completely spellbinding moments in “What’s Past is Prologue,” so let me try to cover them all. HERE WE GO.

  • I actually want to start with a question, and I’m not even sure it will be addressed. But… what happened to the Prime Universe version of Gabriel Lorca? I didn’t need this episode to answer that; I think that is out of the scope of the story this script had to tell. But somehow, Lorca was able to infiltrate the Discovery seamlessly, and I assume he had to take out the real Lorca, right? OH MY GOD, IT’S NOW HITTING ME: Cornwell was concerned because she believed Lorca had changed after the Buran disaster. He fucking LITERALLY DID. The amount of hinting this season did to the truth of Lorca is ASTOUNDING. I mentioned this in the video, but I think one of the key elements of making a good plot twist work is to hint at the truth without most people figuring it out. And actually? If someone does? That doesn’t make it a bad plot twist inherently. 
  • I am, however, one of those people who did not see one bit of this coming. NOT ONE. 
  • Oh my god, the return of Commander Landry? I WAS NOT READY. 
  • Throughout this episode, there are a lot of action sequences. Yet not a single one is there just for the show of it. They’re all deeply emotional. Even the first big one—where Burnham escapes—is layered with meaning. Burnham struggles throughout this episode with her loyalty to Georgiou and what it means in this universe. She wants to do right by this woman, even though she’s not the actual Georgiou that she originally betrayed. But what if those instincts run counter to her survival? So, when Burnham is confined to the brig, she places her need to fulfill her mission at the highest priority. She needed to contact Saru to tell him of recent events. At the same time, she continued to win over Georgiou, didn’t she? Georgiou respected Burnham’s drive, even if she despised where she learned it from. WHICH IS WHY I’M SO EXCITED TO SEE GEORGIOU IN THE PRIME UNIVERSE. What is that going to look like? 
  • Another writing choice I deeply appreciated throughout this episode was the commitment to depicting the Terrans as so egotistical and afraid that they literally couldn’t see how their own destructive actions were hurting themselves. There’s a selfishness and exceptionalism written into the core of who they are. They pursue anything that will give them a short-term victory or an immediate sense of superiority. A great example of that is in something I questioned myself: Why would the Terran Stamets pursue a mycelial engine that would destroy the mycelial network and all life in all universes? Surely certain death would be enough of a deterrent, right? Except that’s the point: the Terrans believe they are the exception to known rules because they have power. It is… well, that’s a fun thing to type in 2021, y’all, given how many political parties and movements in recent years are largely based in this same absurd and dangerous mindest. IT’S FUN. REAL FUN. 
  • HEY GUESS WHAT I LOVED. Tilly and Stamets working together and Stamets giving Tilly her due because she’s fucking brilliant and she deserves it and REMEMBER WHEN ALL HE WOULD DO IS SNAP AT HER AND HELP. HELP ME. I love, love seeing this crew come together. That also goes for the way Saru handled himself this entire arc. HE IS A CAPTAIN, and a fucking fantastic one at that. His speech explaining what they’ll have to do? GOD. CAPTAIN-WORTHY CHILLS. 
  • (How is all of this happening in season one, how are there still two more episodes in season one, WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS SHOW DOING IN LATER SEASONS) 
  • Can I also just state that phaser deaths in this show are way more disturbing? Cool, cuz they are. 
  • I imagine that for many of you—if you’re watching this again with me after having experienced it before—this season had to be a fucking EXPERIENCE. Because I am still dealing with the reveal of who Lorca is and how deeply fucked up many of his interactions have been. There’s that scene here where Lorca implores Burnham to remain behind while Landry hunts her down. That truly helped me begin to reckon with Lorca’s behavior: From the very beginning, he told Burnham that it was destiny that brought them together. I mean, I feel like the poetic end of Lorca (GOD FUCKING BLESS WHOMEVER CAME UP WITH THAT BIT IN THE WRITERS’ ROOM BECAUSE IT WAS PERFECT) is the greatest rejection of that notion of destiny anyway, but in hindsight, so is the story told. Lorca chose these things. Destiny did not force any hand at all. In doing so, he grossly manipulated everyone around him so that he could find a way back to his universe. In doing so, he also viewed each of these people as a means to an end. Which, for the record, he literally told Burnham! Sometimes the end justifies the means! OH MY GOD HE WAS TAUNTING HER TO HER FACE. Anyway. Lorca really thought that Burnham’s Vulcan upbringing made her superior. Let’s unpack that! Because in Lorca’s universe, he HATES the Vulcans, and yet, he developed an intense attachment to Burnham as a replacement for his Burnham. Oh god, it’s so fucked up, isn’t it?
  • And that scene was followed by another in which the writers just completely kill it. That scene in Georgiou’s… ready room? Whatever that was. First of all: brilliantly shot. That beam of light down the center of the table, visually separating them? Pure art, put that shit in a museum. Both of them holding the pins of the one they lost? Pure pain. Burnham refusing to betray Georgiou again? Just kick me off a cliff please, it would probably hurt less. 
  • I gotta bring it up again: Saru’s “no-win scenario” speech wrecked me. GOD IT WAS SO GOOD. He detected no imminent threat of death and used that to motivate the others past their feeling that the situation was hopeless beyond sacrifice. UGH. 
  • So, like I said, this whole episode was a thrill ride, but from the moment Burnham and Georgiou entered the throne room until the last image, “What’s Past is Prologue” took my soul to another stratosphere. (It has not returned.) I genuinely could not figure out how Burnham and Georgiou were going to orchestrate a coup and an escape. But let’s talk about the fight choreography??? Not only was it all fluid and natural, but it was layered and meaningful to the characters? I loved that the Commanders/Number Ones fought one another, while the two captains had at it. It was an ideological argument between Landry and Burnham; it was a fight between despots for Lorca and Georgiou. What of that brutal character moment where Lorca slashed at Landry’s back? He was trying to save Burnham, wasn’t he? He didn’t want her killed!!! He valued Burnham more than his own commander! 
  • BURNHAM’S SPEECH. Oh my god, Lorca could have just asked them to take him home. It’s such a succinct point, but that is the Federation in a nutshell, and it’s what Lorca never would have understood. In one line, Burnham summarized Lorca completely: He doesn’t understand a world in which you ask for help and get it. Everything must be fought for; all people are means to an end. So of course he ended up in another universe and schemed his way back.
  • His death is literally one of the best written in the entirety of Trek. I will never recover from the poetry.
  • As if that moment wasn’t enough, the destruction of the Charon was terrifying and awesome (and I mean that in the sense of it inspiring awe), and the show had to save two more gut-punches for the end. Dr. Hugh Culber told Stamets what to do, and it was that same piece of music that annoyed Stamets so much that led him home. Am I okay? Oh, absolutely not. ABSOLUTELY NOT. I still want Dr. Culber to come back, but holy shit, what a moment. THE CLEARING IN THE FOREST.
  • And then.
  • Then.
  • I just… fuck. FUCK. WHAT THE FUCK!!!!! 
  • WHAT THE FUCK!!!!!!!!!! WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS TO ME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This isn’t the finale. The next one isn’t either. That terrifies me. What’s bigger and more explosive than this? THEY LITERALLY BLEW UP THE BIGGEST SHIP IN THE WHOLE SHOW IN THIS EPISODE.

I loved this episode, y’all. I hope these (almost) two thousand words make that clear. BECAUSE I LOVED THIS EPISODE. Oh my god, Discovery, I have no doubt you’re going to be the best possible show to go out on. I’M SO EXCITED.

The video for “What’s Past is Prologue” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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