Star Trek: Discovery is back, and it looks like the latest episode is setting us up for a phenomenal second half of the season. “Despite Yourself” was beautifully direct (thank you Jonathan Frakes) with stunning visuals and a storyline that left viewers on the edge of their seats and, at some points, crying out at the TV screen in shock and despair. (But in a good way.) This is definitely an episode that justifies the extra cost to have CBS All Access. The rest of this article is going to have major spoilers for Season 1 Episode 10, “Despite Yourself.” Only read on if you’ve already seen the episode.
Mirror universe episodes are tricky, especially this early in a show’s life. But this one lived up to its potential and beyond. Jonathan Frakes is an amazing director, and he shined through again with “Despite Yourself.” He recently also directed The Orville’s episode Pria, along with multiple episodes of NCIS: Los Angeles, Finding Carter, Falling Skies, The Librarians, and more. But we already knew Frakes was a phenomenal director thanks to First Contact.
“Despite Yourself” showed us Ash Tyler’s agony and the control that L’Rell has over him, as he struggles to keep some semblance of control over his life. But he’s failing fast. His dark side contrasts starkly with his budding relationship with Michael, and it’s heartbreaking to know that their relationship is likely destined to fail. Remember how Saru’s fear response kicked in while he was talking about the mirror universe and where they were at the beginning of the episode? Well, that fear response also happened to coincide with Ash walking on the bridge. Coincidence? I don’t think so. Ash is losing control, and he can’t do anything to stop it.
Meanwhile, Captain Lorca was an enigma during parts of this episode. His decisions seemed off. He kept harping on Michael about remaining professional (despite the fact that she seemed just fine) and did the same thing to Dr. Culber. It feels like maybe, just maybe, he’s projecting. But then, Michael’s decisions were off too. She’s giving in to human emotion and straying from her Vulcan logic a little too easily. Maybe all of the stress is just getting to everyone.
But honestly, those are minor questions compared to the greatness of this episode. I was glued to the screen the entire time and couldn’t look away. As one Redditor, SlaebNi wrote, “First time in my life, after watching every Star Trek, every movie, every episode. This is the first time I was on the edge of my seat.” I personally might not go quite that far. I remember watching Captain Picard as Locutus of Borg and being completely mesmerized, terrified, and “engaged.” (Couldn’t resist that pun.) But this episode was definitely firing on all cylinders (or shall I say warp drives?) It was amazing Trek. And it feels really great to finally have good Trek back on TV.
Like that moment when Ash was getting examined by Dr. Culber and then he just lost it because Culber got too close to the truth. Ash’s breaking Culber’s neck was completely unexpected. I mean, I knew that Culber was uncovering too much, but Ash seemed at least partially still in control. I thought he might knock out Culber, but not kill him. :( When that happened, I literally yelled at the screen. I like Culber. I wasn’t ready for that. My husband, meanwhile, was beside himself. It’s his birthday and he looked at the screen sadly, saying: “Well, this isn’t a very happy birthday anymore.” No, it’s not. And it’s definitely not a happy day for Stamets, who is so disabled that he couldn’t do anything to help the husband that he loves so very, very much. It was heartbreaking. But it was also a great plot twist and it taught us that no one in this show is safe. And something unexpected can happen at any time.
This episode masterfully mixed intrigue and horror with humor. Sylvia Tilly is one of my favorite characters, and watching her get into the character of Mirror Universe Captain Tilly was amazing. She became absolutely ruthless (where did she come up with some of that stuff?) Her acting was spot on. Even when delivering her darkest lines, she still stammered a bit, her natural self shining through. (And I loved seeing the exchanges between her and Capt. Lorca, as he went from shocked to bemused by the Capt. Tilly situation.) I hope we get to see Mary Wiseman play her actual mirror universe counterpart, because I’d love to see her take on that role.
And threaded into all of this are a few additional mysteries, even beyond the Ash Tyler mystery that’s front and center. We have Stamets’ story. He’s stammering things about a palace (could this be connected with the Faceless Emperor?) and has been completely destroyed by the Spore Drive. Is there any hope left for him? And we have the mystery of Capt. Lorca. During the first half of the season, there were hints that he might be working on his own agenda. Some viewers thought something was off about him. I’m still wondering what will come of that. But now he’s stuck in an agony booth, and if he had PTSD before, this is definitely not going to help. (By the way, do you remember who created those agony booths? We learned all about it in Enterprise‘s “In A Mirror Darkly.” Those torture chambers were designed by the Mirror Universe versions of Malcolm Reed and Dr. Phlox.)
I’m closing this review with some advice: Before next week, rewatch the two-parter “In A Mirror Darkly” from Enterprise. (You can find out how to watch it for free in Heavy’s story here.) These episodes give you a back story to the USS Defiant and a few other key pieces of information about the mirror universe that might come in handy before next week. This is very relevant, because Enterprise takes place about 90 years before Discovery. Take the time to watch those episodes before next week. You won’t regret it.