Star Trek: Discovery recap: 'Vaulting Ambition'
Paradigms realign in a game-changing episode.
“You think I’m gonna bow to you? I don’t bow.” A captive Capt. Lorca spits those words at Emperor Philippa Georgiou Augustus Iaponius Centarius when he’s brought before her and her court aboard the I.S.S. Charon, the imperial flagship of the Terran Empire. Even given the charade he and Burnham have engaged in since arriving in the parallel Terran universe, his act is convincing — because, as Discovery reveals at the conclusion of “Vaulting Ambition,” it’s not an act at all.
The latest iteration of Star Trek has featured plenty of twists, but none quite so shocking or unique as the revelation in Sunday’s episode that Lorca — Discovery’s fierce captain — has played a long con for the entire series. Every manipulation of the ship’s spore drive, every machination in the Federation’s war with the Klingons has functioned to get him that much closer to the spacecraft he finds himself aboard in “Vaulting Ambition.” Lorca doesn’t need to pretend to be a Terran usurper, because he is one.
“Vaulting Ambition” was Discovery‘s headiest episode yet, a (slightly briefer than usual) installment that made good on all the series’ promises of serialized drama. The show’s stakes have finally come into focus, and they appear to revolve around one man’s quest for revenge, power, or both. (The specifics aren’t exactly clear, yet.)
The episode begins with Lorca and Burnham taking a shuttle to Charon, as the latter explains that Saru has decrypted Terran intelligence about the U.S.S. Defiant, but has discovered the redaction of crucial details. Burnham’s freaking out because though the Terran Georgiou isn’t her Georgiou, she still feels intense guilt about betraying her mentor in the prime universe. Lorca, in an ominous turn of phrase, is more sanguine, telling Burnham of their imminent arrival on Charon that “some people would see that glass as half full.”
When Burnham presents Lorca to Georgiou, the emperor predictably condemns him to a life of agonizing torture. She also asks Burnham to choose a Kelpien for unknown reasons — she picks the mirror Saru — and tells her “everything will be the way it was, dear daughter.”
Burnham unwittingly sentenced mirror Saru to death. In Georgiou’s private resident, the emperor explains that “no one prepares Kelpien like the imperial chef.” After excoriating Burnham for “growing soft,” Georgiou presses a dagger into her neck, alleging Burnham’s in cahoots with Lorca and condemning her to death for treason.
Before Georgiou and her council, Burnham takes a risk. “Before today, you and I have never met,” she declares. “I am Michael Burnham, but I am not your Michael Burnham.” The revelation that she’s from a parallel universe keeps Burnham alive for the time being, but the emperor’s council isn’t as lucky: Georgiou launches an admittedly wicked cool weapon that zips through the brains of all the officials save one, whom she promises a prime governorship in exchange for silence.
Georgiou and Burnham immediately begin a tense negotiation, with the latter begging the empress to facilitate Discovery’s return to its universe. “You’re interlopers from an alien army,” Georgiou says. “What reason from any universe would I have to help you?” Burnham accidentally gives the ruler one when she lets slip that Discovery didn’t arrive in Terran space via interphasic travel, as the Defiant did. It was a spore drive, she admits, and when Georgiou proposes an “exchange” — “your engine schematics for your freedom” — Burnham reluctantly agrees.
Back aboard Discovery, events unfold in similarly climatic ways. At the end of last week’s “The Wolf Inside,” Stamets met his Terran mirror. The mirror informs him that they’re both now trapped in the mycelial network: An experiment gone awry trapped mirror Stamets there, and he wants his Federation counterpart to engineer escape for both of them.
But the primary Stamets discovers a facsimile of the late Dr. Culber who informs Stamets that Tyler murdered him and cautions the engineer against trusting Terran Stamets. “The network is a gift,” Culber explains. “It’s never goodbye. Isn’t that what you’ve been trying to teach all of us? Nothing in here is every truly gone.” Per Culber’s recommendation, Stamets opens his eyes, awakening from his coma — but he awakens aboard the Charon, suggesting he’s switched bodies with his mirror.
Tyler — er, Voq — continues to struggle following his unveiling as a Klingon agent in “The Wolf Inside.” Saru, however, prompts L’Rell to aid the ailing human-Klingon hybrid. “I do not know where your Voq ends and our Tyler begins, but they are both in jeopardy,” he tells her from outside her detention cell. “The question is: Will you ease their pain?” Sharing that Discovery has stumbled into an alternate universe — where Klingons have little power — Saru urges L’Rell to set aside the Klingon-Federation conflict in order to help ease Tyler’s “hellish fate.” She relents under the condition that “only [her] hands can tend to him” and, as Discovery officers point phasers at the Klingon in sick bay, L’Rell seems to make progress healing Tyler.
Dramatic as they are, the Discovery plotlines can’t compete with the shocking events occurring on the Charon. The ship’s Capt. Maddox pays Lorca a visit as he writhes in an agonizer, accusing the erstwhile officer of sleeping with Maddox’s sister. Maddox summons one of mirror Lorca’s acolytes and brutally kills him with the DNA of an alien parasite when Lorca refuses to say Maddox’s sister’s name. The reason seems obvious — a Lorca from the Federation universe wouldn’t know Maddox’s sister’s name — but Georgiou’s concurrent conversation with Burnham clarifies the truth.
“He said he’d cross time and space itself to take what was rightfully his,” the empress tells Burnham, explaining Lorca’s cross-universe treachery. Burnham begins to flash back to interactions with Lorca, gradually putting together that the captain might’ve hidden his true identity from her. When Georgiou reveals that the only biological difference between Terran humans and Federation humans is their aversion to light — like Lorca — the situation crystallizes.
“Ava,” Lorca tells Maddox in the final moments of the episode, after faking death to earn release from the agonizer, “her name was Ava — and I liked her.” After episodes full on mysterious innuendo, viewers now know Lorca hailed from the Terran universe all along — and now seems hellbent on destroying Georgiou.
Star Trek: Discovery