The Terran story line comes to a head in a violent episode
“I have been to another universe and back,” Capt. Lorca tells mirror Cmdr. Landry (Rekha Sharma) at the outset of “What’s Past Is Prologue.” “You think I’d come all this way without a plan?” But as the episode demonstrated, having a plan isn’t the same as successfully executing that plan — and in Star Trek: Discovery‘s latest installment, Lorca and his group of Terran insurgents came to a fateful demise.
At the end of last week’s “Vaulting Ambition,” Lorca finally revealed that he had been a Terran all along, and he begins “What’s Past Is Prologue” by confidently taking aim at Emperor Philippa Georgiou. With Landry, Lorca tracks down mirror Stamets, explaining to the engineer how after he ruined his coup attempt, a freak ion storm incident catapulted Lorca from his Terran timeline to the Federation’s. “It was physics acting as the hand of destiny,” Lorca says. “My destiny.”
But the episode quickly dashes any hope that Lorca intended to overthrow Georgiou to make the Terran Empire a fairer, more hospitable place. “I’ve watched for years as you let alien races spill over the borders and flourish in our backyard,” he says, addressing Georgiou in a transmission to the entire I.S.S. Charon and impugning her for alleged softness. “Terrans need a leader who will preserve our way of life, our race.” And, in a thinly veiled Trumpian flouish, Lorca adds that he wants to “make the Empire glorious again.”
Events on Charon throughout “What’s Past Is Prologue” unspool as a cat-and-mouse game where both Lorca and Georgiou seek Burnham. Initially, Burnham — somewhat implausibly — escapes Georgiou’s throne room when the emperor refuses to let her contact Discovery to warn them about Lorca’s threat. Lorca, meanwhile, continues to send transmissions to the rest of the ship urging Burnham to join him in his quest for Terran domination.
“The Federation is a social experiment doomed to failure,” he says. “Childish idealism. Every species, every choice, every opinion is not equal, no matter how much they want it to be. The strong and capable always rise.” Lorca also lauds the Federation Burnham as having gifts that “far surpass” those of mirror Burnham’s. Lorca’s forces skirmish with Georgiou’s, including in a claustrophobic hallway fight sequence where both sides suffer serious casualties but Georgiou beams away unharmed.
To take down Lorca, Burnham initiates a — again, somewhat implausible — plan. First, she contacts Discovery, alerting them of what’s happened aboard Charon. In turn, Saru tells her what Discovery’s crew has learned: While their ship rides the mycelial network sustainably, Charon harvests the system’s energy in a way that threatens the safety of the entire multiverse. They’ll have to destroy Charon’s energy orb to ensure safety for all timelines, Saru explains. That leads Burnham to her next action: tracking down Georgiou and pledging to help the emperor defeat Lorca. “Both versions of me betrayed both versions of you,” Burnham says in an odd demonstration of fealty. “I won’t let that happen again.”
As Burnham and Georgiou devise a plot, wheels continue to spin aboard Discovery. Stamets has determined that to destroy Charon’s energy orb, Discovery will need to retool their photon warheads with spores — but that move will disable the ship from returning to its timeline and, even worse, will likely result in their incineration from massive energy waves. “Lorca abused our idealism, but make no mistake: Discovery is no longer Lorca’s,” Saru tells his crew, encouraging them to find a solution. Unsurprisingly, they do, with Tilly analyzing simulations and concluding that they can ride what Stamets deems “the mother of mycelial shockwaves” back to their own universe.
As the episode climaxes, Georgiou and Burnham relinquish themselves and are taken by Lorca’s Terran forces to Charon’s throne room. Once there, Burnham offers to remain with the Terrans, per Lorca’s wishes, in return for Discovery’s safe return to the Federation timeline. “I’m destined to kill you,” Georgiou tells Lorca, to which the ascendant Terran replies, “That would certainly be an impressive trick.”
“Impressive” is one word for what happens next. Lorca contacts Discovery as the ship drops out of warp travel and tells its crew that his admiration for them “was and is sincere.” Then, despite being disarmed and surrounded by Lorca’s lackeys, Burnham and Georgiou break free of their captors and stage a successful attack. A long fight sequence concludes with Burnham holding Lorca in the sights of her phaser. “We would have helped you get home, if you had asked,” she says, ultimately refusing to kill the Terran. Georgiou handles that, impaling Lorca with a sword from behind before kicking him into the energy orb.
Georgiou then grants Burnham safe passage back to Discovery — but as the embattled emperor begins to shoot at Lorca’s incoming forces, Burnham grabs her so both are transported back to Discovery. “What have you done to me!” a bewildered Georgiou asks her.
But Discovery has bigger fish to fry. While Stamets successfully navigates the ship back to Federation space — in an overwrought sequence that’s heavy on special effects but light on true suspense — he subsequently finds that he’s overshot its destination chronologically by nine months. Discovery attempts to contact Starfleet — but hears nothing in return. To learn why, Saru updates the ship’s tactical map. Symbols for the Klingon Empire flood the map and Discovery realizes it has returned to a grave reality: The Klingons appear to have won their war with the Federation.