With Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs) revealed as a native of the Terran Empire universe – one who has manipulated the entire USS Discovery crew to get home to his own reality – Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) must ally with the Terran Emperor Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) to stop him from overthrowing the Empire and taking an invasion fleet back to Burnham’s own universe.
Star Trek: Discovery is certainly packing the quality into the second half of the season, with “What’s Past is Prologue” delivering another top-notch episode packed with action, strong moments of character, and hugely rewarding pay-offs for viewers that have stuck it out through the whole season. The episode is almost entirely climax, but it’s a 45-minute climax that feels genuinely well earned. It does not simply come with a ‘fist-in-the-air’ thrilling moment for the fans; it comes with several.
What seems particularly impressive is how the episode plays on elements from the season’s earlier, much shakier episodes. There is more than one callback to particular moments or themes, most effectively a brief scene between Burnham and Georgiou in which two women – each having lost the other in their own universe – both hold ID pins of the woman they lost. I recall a huge sense of disappointment when Discovery’s original set-up – two women – was disrupted and replaced by one woman working for a white middle-aged man. In that moment it’s tragically clear that the same white middle-aged man destroyed them both. Whether intentional or accidental, it feels like a potent moment.
The episode also allows the Discovery crew their moment to shine, since while Burnham is off fighting Lorca they are tasked with the parallel mission of saving literally every alternate universe in existence. It really shows how well these characters are now working on screen. Saru (Doug Jones) displays an appropriate sense of intelligence, bravery and level-headedness for his rank and position. Stamets (Anthony Rapp) is a much warmer and more accessible character. Tilly (Mary Wiseman) feels less grating and much more confident. Really it’s only the latter of these changes that feels intentional; the other two really feel like a writer’s room slowly homing on what makes the characters work and what pulls them back. It’s a process I’d have rather seen play out before the series was produced, but it is fantastic simply that it has happened.
Star Trek: Discovery is feeling like a much stronger series towards the end than it did at the beginning. It isn’t simply a matter of early episodes setting up revelations in later installments. The things that worked the best in this 2017 episodes have been retained and improved, and the bits that struggled or even flat-out irritated have been removed, pared away or at least temporarily sidelined. With two episodes to go, I have my fingers crossed that the series can jump from this current creative high to deliver something genuinely spectacular to keep the audience enthused until Season 2 begins.