Star Trek: Discovery – Season 1 Episode 11
“The Wolf Inside”
Star Trek: Discovery continues to explore the Mirror Universe through Michael posing as her duplicate as the mystery surrounding Ash Tyler is finally answered.
This episode focuses more on a psychological exploration of the Mirror Universe rather than a physical one. Last week was all about letting the shock of where the crew ended up sink in and figure out the next steps where this week is more about the practicalities of keeping up the charade. Michael is the audience focus for this with an extended monologue outlining her personal difficulties with this situation. The words chosen are very poetic such as talking about the light feeling unfamiliar and the cosmos losing its brilliance. It’s a really powerful way of showing how alien this universe feels to those who don’t belong to it.
Michael’s monologue is punctuated by some distressing visuals such as having her preside over the execution of three people who dared to oppose the Terran Empire. She is forced to stand on helplessly watching as three people who share at least some of her values are beamed into space. Michael can’t save them as that would risk blowing her cover so she has to act as if this is commonplace and not only doesn’t phase her but delights her as well. It’s established that she has only been on the Shenzhou for two days but it’s clearly taking a toll and this visual acts as a microcosm for everything she’s had to endure since coming aboard.
Her emotional support comes in the form of Tyler who represents everything familiar to her. Their relationship has progressed to the point of becoming lovers so she takes physical comfort as well as emotional comfort. Their scene together early in the episode where it is just the two of them in the privacy of Mirror Michael’s quarters is really well acted and the only time we get to see Michael truly vulnerable. It’s clear that maintaining this cover isn’t sustainable for her but she currently has no choice but to deal with it.
Fortunately this universe isn’t entirely bereft of hope. Michael is sent on a mission to destroy a base containing rebel leadership including someone known as “The Fire Wolf”. Michael points out that the rebels are the closest thing this universe has to a Federation and she takes some form of comfort in that. Her scene with Lorca makes it clear that the hope this alliance represents is very important to her and a significant part of her ability to hold onto her own humanity. She also sees it as an opportunity to learn what would convince a Klingon to work with other races towards a common good and would like to ask one directly so that the information may be used in their own universe to bring about peace. As Michael points out she is still Starfleet whether she has a rank or not and will uphold those values no matter what. It’s a very positive message and is expertly contrasted with the bleakness of this universe.
Interestingly Lorca doesn’t really see it her way at first as he is more focused on finding the information they need to return to where they came from. He does reluctantly agree with her assessment and gives her advice on the best way to make that happen. Even though he isn’t currently her Captain he still behaves as such by using his skills and experience to suggest the best courses of action. Despite his constant torture he’s still more level headed than Michael is and seems to be coping with the situation more practically.
Regardless of whether you might agree with Lorca’s outlook or not it’s hard to deny that he has a point. The way he sees it the only way to survive is to play along and fully commit to the part which for him means being tortured so he definitely gets the raw end of the deal. His physical torment is a good contrast with Michael’s psychological torment and keeps reminding the audience that everyone involved will likely lose a part of themselves when all of this is over. As far as Lorca is concerned they have no choice but to play along as there is nowhere to run to and the very survival of the Federation depends on them returning to their own universe. When the stakes are that massive Lorca feels that the ends justify the means. It’s a very pragmatic stance and definitely not a sympathetic one but it’s a point of view that the audience is encouraged to think about.
Jason Isaacs should definitely be commended for his performance in this episode. We see from last week that he spend a lot -if not all- of his time in the Agony Booth which means his body is subjected to untold pain and torment constantly. It’s certainly believable from Isaacs’ performance that this is happening to him thanks to his constantly shaky voice and the impression that he’s finding it difficult to concentrate but is carrying on through sheer force of will. It could be argued that he is so good at tolerating the pain he has to endure because he is so used to it. There is a theory that Lorca is native to this universe which has a degree of plausibility to it considering the Mirror Lorca is believed dead and his values are often less than what would be expected from other Starfleet officers. I wouldn’t be surprised if the theory is true though I personally don’t think that it is.
Michael’s mission to destroy the rebel base makes for interesting viewing. The episode has to get around the fact that the rebels have no reason to trust a Human very quickly otherwise the only logical thing to do is have Michael and Tyler killed. Sarek’s duplicate -complete with mandatory Mirror Universe Vulcan goatee- is brought in to perform a mind meld to get to the bottom of Michael’s motivations and intentions. This works because he sees the images of Michael’s upbringing as well as flashes of her life in her own universe which proves to be enough to convince him that she is telling the truth. We don’t get any sense of how he reacts to the imagery of an alternate universe where he holds a position of respect and has a close bond with Michael but for now it’s enough to get the plot moving.
The leader of the rebellion turns out to be Voq’s duplicate who holds the opposite values to the version we are familiar with while still being true to the character. It is mentioned that he is proud to be Klingon but embracing other races and cultures doesn’t make him any less so which allows him to be less Xenophobic than his counterpart. So far I’m really fascinated by how Star Trek: Discovery is making characters similar enough to the versions we’re familiar with while twisting them to be darker versions.
It’s a very clear example of narrative shorthand that allows the writers to explore the Mirror Universe much more quickly than would otherwise be possible without having more episodes. A twisted version of familiar characters that are still broadly recognisable is both interesting and allows for neatness in the storytelling while keeping the audience on their toes by having them question exactly what will turn out to be different about the counterparts that are encountered.
In the case of Voq this relies heavily on flashbacks to “The Vulcan Hello” to remind us as viewers what T’Kuvma said while showing exactly how that philosophy differs in this universe. Since Voq was basically a disciple of T’Kuvma it makes the differences in values between the two universes clear and brings the viewer up to speed with Voq as a character since he has been missing for an extended period of time.
The subtext to this is interesting as well. It’s clear from Saru and Sarek certainly that this universe is brutal and uncompromising because of the system the people native to it have grown up in. Saru and Sarek’s duplicates are very similar to the versions we know already which suggests that the Human characters are also very similar beneath the surface. This is also supported by any episode of other Star Trek shows featuring this universe or the character that belong to it. Michael will already have realised this and is wrestling with the fact that she could have turned out like this if her life had gone differently as she sees this through the duplicates of everyone she knows. What she is facing is evidence of everything she worked to uphold perverted and the knowledge that she is capable of the sadistic actions that made her counterpart infamous. This is really fascinating on a psychological level and I hope that time will be taken to process this once there is a rare quiet moment.
Michael being in the rebel base also delivers a different perspective on the Terran Empire. As far as Voq is concerned he has no reason to trust Michael because she’s Human and her particular reputation precedes her. She is known as the “butcher of the Binary Stars” which paints a really grim picture of the exploits of Michael’s counterpart and gives a clear idea of everything she has to compete with for Voq to place any trust in her. It’s very quick but it does provide a physical example of the kind of oppression all non-Human species are dealing with.
Naturally Michael is in a very difficult position because she has to play both sides. She has to find a way to save the rebels while accomplishing the mission so that her crew and the Terran Empire don’t suspect anything. This appears to be possible when she gives Voq an hour to evacuate the base before she orders an orbital bombardment. She tells the crew of the Shenzhou that she will give the order when she feels like it which doesn’t appear to be suspicious behaviour to the crew. Naturally there is tension associated with the fact that it might come across as unusual but it’s a calculated risk that Michael is willing to take if it means saving the only hope this universe has.
Of course this doesn’t go to plan and the base is obliterated before the evacuation is complete. This is done by the Emperor who turns out to be the Mirror Universe duplicate of Georgiou. This comes as no surprise as she is pretty much the only option that makes sense. Michael is in command of the Shenzhou which suggests that this version of Georgiou may have left her in charge and climbed the ranks herself. It turns out that she climbed all the way to the top and rules the Terran Empire according to her own rules.
Considering that this is all a test for Michael who is forced to face her dark side it makes dramatic sense for Georgiou to be at the head of this organisation that is counter to everything she believes in. Looking at the face of someone she trusted and was very close to and see a brutal sadist is emotionally rich and gives Michael a further challenge going into the next episode. How will she deal with that and how will that test her resolve?
The truth about Tyler is definitively revealed in this episode in a really effective scene between him and Michael. Meeting Voq is what finishes his awakening started by L’Rell in both the previous episode and the midseason finale. It seems like the trigger word is Kahless as this causes memories to surface within him before he attacks Voq for being what he considers to be UnKlingon. This leads to a discussion where Tyler explains how he is really Voq and was surgically altered to be Ash Tyler. It’s a great scene that is very well acted by Shazad Latif and Sonequa Martin Green. Shazad Latif’s transition from Tyler’s personality to Voq is chilling to watch and Michael’s growing unease as she realises what is happening is perfectly portrayed.
I have issues with the way it ended but more in the execution rather than the idea. Michael sending Tyler back to Discovery to face trial for the crimes he has committed because she upholds her Starfleet ideals in all circumstances is a great character moment that shows she is still resisting everything this universe is doing to bring her down. The problem is that it’s not clear how it was possible for Discovery to beam him back unless they’re following the Shenzhou closely without being detected. I got the impression that Discovery wasn’t nearby. It’s a small bugbear but very noticeable nonetheless. I did like that sending Tyler to Discovery also allowed Michael to sneakily pass the information required. The plot point about sending the information directly to them being easily detectable makes no real sense when considering that it would surely apply to downloading that information but it moves the plot along and is attached to a great character moment so it’s easy enough to let it slide to some degree.
Tyler being outed creates a lot of potential in the coming episodes. He will be a figure in the brig that the cast can interact with in various ways to explore the mindset of both Tyler and Voq. There is clearly a conflict in there and the personalities are incredibly distinct so it’s possible that Ash Tyler’s consciousness could win out over Voq and Tyler will continue on as a character in the show. It’s difficult to see how he can be redeemed since he killed Culber but I’ve seen it happen in other shows and come off well enough. Not only that but this leaves Michael completely exposed with no support on the Shenzhou whatsoever and no really ties to her native universe other than Lorca who she can only interact with in a limited capacity. It’s a great setup that should make the coming episodes interesting.
The death of Culber is dealt with in a really compelling way. Stamets is shown cradling his body while appearing less than lucid which implies that he might not be aware of what has happened. The Discovery crew assume that Stamets was the one to kill Culber considering his violent outburst in the previous episode. We as the audience know the truth but it’s a reasonable assumption from Saru based on the available information. It’s not something the show does much with but it does address the murder and keeps it in the minds of the characters as well as the audience.
Tilly’s efforts to treat Stamets are fairly mechanical in terms of plotting but allows another opportunity for Tilly to shine by showing her intelligence and resourcefulness when it comes to dealing with the problem. At one point it appears that she’s overzealous and Stamets seems to die but Tilly approaches the situation confidently and isn’t shy about asking Saru to recommend her for command training. I really liked the tease of Stamets ending up inside the Mycelial network with his Mirror duplicate for company and look forward to seeing what this will bring.
An excellent episode that explores the psychological effect prolonged exposure to this universe has on people who don’t belong to it. Michael struggling to maintain her cover and hold onto her Humanity is brilliantly explored and the way this plays out with her seeing hope represented by the alien rebels and dealing with the reveal that Georgiou is the Emperor was excellent. The reveal that Tyler is actually Voq is also really well handled with excellent performances from both Shazad Latif and Sonequa Martin-Green. I did have issues with the way this ended up but more in terms of execution rather than in concept.
Tilly attempting to treat Stamets feels somewhat mechanical in terms of plotting but it’s a great showcase for Tilly who uses her intelligence and resourcefulness confidently while not being shy to ask for Saru’s recommendation for command training. These episode are a great showcase for Tilly so far and having her part in the plot result in Stamets meeting his mirror duplicate in the Mycelial network is a fascinating setup for the coming episodes.
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