SPOILERS FOR STAR TREK: DISCOVERY'S
In "Vaulting Ambition," Michael Burnham, Captain Lorca, and the rest of the U.S.S. Discovery's crew are still trapped in the Mirror Universe, searching for a way home while hoping to avoid being revealed as intruders by the vile cutthroats of the Terran Empire. To that end, Lorca and Burnham infiltrate the I.S.S. Charon, the gigantic flagship of Emperor Phillipa Georgiou in the hopes of finding the data that will give them a way home.
Kudos, by the way, to whoever designed the Charon. It's a city in the sky powered by a small sun, and looks much like a dark, floating castle; it's beautiful but malign, and exactly the sort of vessel you might expect an evil empire to build.
Using a gambit as old as fiction, Burnham poses as her own evil self, with Lorca posing as her prisoner, delivering Lorca into the Emperor's talons - or more accurately, into an agony booth. As a reward, Emperor Georgiou invites Burnham for dinner...
Burnham discovers the meal she's been genuinely enjoying with the evil version of her beloved former captain Phillipa Georgiou is cooked Kelpian, essentially turning Burnham into a cannibal who's just eaten, if unknowingly, the flesh of a sapient being. In the context of Burnham and company's current predicament, the story beat makes an awful kind of sense, viscerally illustrating the perversity of the Terran Empire. Even so, I found the idea gratuitous - surely the torture, genocide and backstabbing already established in the Empire is enough to signify their evil?
Meanwhile, Stamets' consciousness is trapped in the mycelial network, where he meets his own Mirror Universe counterpart, who is similarly trapped. After a tearful (and well acted, I thought) encounter with a vision of his murdered partner Doctor Culber, Stamets manages to break out of his coma (and so, too, does his counterpart), only to discover that the Discovery's supply of mushrooms has been corrupted. This could be why the spore drive is nowhere to be seen in future iterations of Star Trek...
Back on the Charon, Georgiou figures out that Burnham is up to something, and prepares to execute her. Out of desperation, Burnham reveals that she's from a parallel universe, prompting Georgiou to spare her. Because of the crossover of the U.S.S. Defiant into the Mirror Universe a century ago, Georgiou knows about the prime universe, and one senses that she's eager to conquer it. So she and Burnham make a deal; Georgiou will hand over the Defiant files to help the Discovery get home, if the Discovery crew hands over the secret of the spore drive. Hopefully Burnham isn't dumb enough to believe the Emperor will hold up her end of the bargain...
This episode also confirms what some fans suspected: that the Gabriel Lorca we've been watching this whole season is, in fact, a native of the Mirror Universe, and he deliberately engineered the Discovery's crossover so that he could...well, the jury is out. Either Lorca wants to take the throne for himself and rule as an evil dictator, or he could be on the side of the rebels and want to restore freedom to his universe. We'll see, but his behaviour as the episode concludes is so brutal that I suspect we're meant to see Mirror Lorca as irredeemable, especially since Georgiou earlier claimed that Lorca "groomed" Mirror Burnham to be his lover/protege, a word choice with connotations so disturbing it essentially ruins Lorca's character if true.
Finally, this episode was really, really short, clocking in at under 40 minutes. I miss the days when an hour-long show was closer to 52 minutes...
While I'm still enjoying Discovery, I'm finding that the Mirror Universe works best in small doses. Hopefully the Discovery gets home next episode, with this particular plot resolved - save for Lorca's fate. I hope we get to see the "good" version of Gabriel Lorca; I'd love to see Jason Isaacs tackle that.
In contrast to your lament about the 40 minute episode, I'm OK with the idea if that's all the episode really needs. Being a broadcast show as well, maybe it's more about commercial time, but watching Netflix shows has opened up the idea that the episode should be the length that it needs, not more and not less. Unnecessary padding doesn't help. Like a 6, 10, 13, 22, or 26 episode season, just going for an arbitrary number can result in "filler" that doesn't help.
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