WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for this week’s episode of Star Trek: Discovery, “The Wolf Inside,” streaming now on CBS All Access.
Much of Star Trek: Discovery‘s first season has been built on the themes of duality and atonement, with the former manifested most obviously in the Mirror Universe, to say nothing of the divided nature of Lt. Ash Tyler. The latter, however, has rested squarely on Michael Burnham, whose every decision is fueled by regrets about the choices she made in the series pilot, resulting in Starfleet’s first mutiny, the outbreak of war with the Klingons and, most personally, the death of her mentor, U.S.S. Shenzhou Capt. Philippa Georgiou. Sentenced to life in prison, Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) was nevertheless freed and given a chance at redemption, all the while haunted by the ghosts of her past, whether that be the presence of her former Shenzhou crewmate Saru, or by the last will and testament of Georgiou.
But in this week’s episode of Discovery, “The Wolf Inside,” Burnham is shaken by the return of Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh), in a very different form.
Stranded in the Mirror Universe, a franchise-favorite parallel dimension in which the Terran Empire conquers those races with which it comes in contact, the Discovery‘s crew has decided to masquerade as its evil counterparts. Burnham last week assumed the identity of her doppelganger, long believed dead, and returned with a prize: Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs), a traitor who disappeared after killing Mirror Burnham. It’s a little confusing, and weighty with questions, not the least of which is the possibility that the Prime Universe Lorca — that is, the warmongering captain of Discovery — may actually be from the Mirror Universe.
Retaking command of the I.S.S. Shenzhou, Burnham sets out to gain as much top-secret information as she can about the infiltration of the Mirror Universe by the Prime Universe’s U.S.S. Defiant, in hopes of finding a way for Discovery to return home. But her covert mission is sidetracked by an order from the faceless Terran Emperor to destroy the secret base of a rebel faction made up of Klingons, Vulcans, Andorians and Tellarites — and led by the Mirror Universe counterpart of the white-skinned Klingon Voq. Seeing an opportunity to learn what unites this unlikely federation (behind a Klingon, no less), and repurpose that for her universe, and perhaps end the war she started, Burnhan strikes a deal with the rebels that will allow them to evacuate the planet before she destroys their base.
Unfortunately, however, the Terran Emperor is impatient, and in the final moments of “The Wolf Inside,” her flagship appears in orbit and unleashes hell upon the rebel location. Yes, her, as Burnham is confronted on the Shenzou‘s bridge by an image of a very displeased Emperor Philippa Georgiou.
“Capt. Michael Burnham, you’ve been away too long, although I can’t say the same for your prisoner,” Georgiou said, referring to Lorca. “I do not appreciate having to walk my way across the quadrant to clean up you untended mess. When I give an order, I do not expect it to be ignored. Don’t you bow before your Emperor?”
To say that Georgiou’s reappearance as the ruthless leader of the Terran Empire complicates Burnham’s mission would be an understatement. Her betrayal of Capt. Georgiou had deep and far-ranging consequences, not only for Burnham but for the entire galaxy. Georgiou’s death aboard the Klingon sarcophagus ship was only made worse by the subsequent revelation that her body was eaten by its starving crew members, stranded among the debris of the Battle of the Binary Stars. Burnham’s last encounter with Georgiou, in any form, was through a ghostly hologram message that offered her former first officer friendship, advice and a treasured family heirloom.
Needless to say, this message, delivered by the Terran Emperor, contains none of that warmth and sentiment.