This Sunday, Star Trek: Discovery confirmed the other persistent fan theory that’s dogged its first season – Captain Gabriel Lorca of the U.S.S. Discovery, formerly of the U.S.S. Buran, has actually been a Mirror Universe double this whole time.
The revelation came at the end of “Vaulting Ambition,” the series’ 12th episode and its third in the Mirror Universe. The title’s a reference to Macbeth, specifically, a famous soliloquy in which Macbeth reasons that there’s no justification for killing the kind and pious King Duncan save Macbeth’s own “vaulting ambition.” By the end of the episode, we’re clearly meant to think that Lorca was up to something similar before he bungled it and had to escape to the Prime Universe. After Michael Burnham comes clean to Emperor Georgiou about her true origins, Georgiou fills Burnham in on Lorca’s intent to seize power and his efforts to pull Burnham to his side by claiming they shared the same destiny.
As Georgiou speaks (and shortly after revealing that the only difference between humans and Terrans is Terran photosensitivity), we get a montage of Lorca grooming Prime Burnham in exactly the way he supposedly groomed Mirror Burnham, and all the pieces fall into place. She realizes that the reason Lorca plucked her from prison, while simultaneously pushing the Discovery to complete the Spore Drive was so he could make it back to the Mirror Universe and onto the Charon to complete his initial mission.
And in case you had any doubts about Burnham’s accuracy, this scene is intercut with another featuring Lorca squaring off with a Mirror Universe soldier who’s sister Lorca apparently cast aside. Lorca fakes a near-death state which handily forces the soldier to let him out of the agonizer, at which point, Lorca overpowers and kills the man after sneering, “Ava.” It was a thrilling moment, to say the least – Jason Isaacs is a gifted villain and you can almost see him shed his human suit and go full Terran before he stomps the soldier’s face in.
This is Discovery’s second major “twist” in as many weeks, with Ash Tyler revealed as Voq in disguise over the past two episodes. “Twist” is in quotes because for as many people expressing their shock at Lorca’s identity, there seem to be just as many who telegraphed it. If you were caught by surprise, we’re really happy you got to experience such a delicious shock, but you needed to look no further than Lorca’s actions during the first season to realize that he was a horse of a different color this whole time – and we’re not talking about his agonizer scar or the fact that he brought the Discovery to the Mirror Universe in the first place. We’re talking about his moral character.
As Starfleet captains go, Lorca’s been… unique. While Star Trek’s always allowed for some moral ambiguity in Starfleet leadership, those people are typically villains or Sisko on one of his bad days. Lorca’s characterization significantly pushed that envelope, asking the audience to accept a Starfleet protagonist whose values diverged wildly with those Star Trek had established for the Federation and its military arm.
From the start, Lorca was an intractable, highly manipulative warmonger who gladly co-opted a science vessel in an attempt to weaponize the research it was doing. Granted, in time of war these actions in and of themselves aren’t terrifically alarming, but his flippant attitude toward the very reasonable protests put forth by Stamets was. If Lorca were a Federation Starfleet captain, it stands to reason he’d be a little more understanding of Stamets’ ire. In that same introductory episode, Lorca explains his cowboy actions that defy protocol with the titular quote, “Context is for kings.” From the jump, Lorca’s been on his own mission, choosing when and where he wants to follow or flout Starfleet protocol, and, occasionally, direct orders depending on his own needs. When Admiral Cornwell is captured by the Klingons, Lorca follows Starfleet orders to hang back, despite how uncharacteristic of him it’s been up until that point. It’s implied that he refrained from mounting a rescue because she’d promised to remove him from command upon her return, and that kind of treachery and self-interest is only ever associated with villains on Star Trek. And then there’s the case of his previous command.
In Episode 5 – “Choose Your Pain” – we learn what happened to Lorca before he arrived on the Discovery. He lost his last ship, the U.S.S. Buran, after it came under surprise attack from the Klingons and was boarded. Instead of surrendering or enacting the self-destruct sequence and going down with his ship, he “mercy kills” the entire crew and somehow remains the only survivor. If the show co-signed that action as something acceptable for a Starfleet captain, it would’ve abandoned core ideals Star Trek’s been laying down for the past 50 years. For Discovery to be Star Trek, Lorca can’t be anything but an antagonist, or at least a deeply troubled man unfit for command. Surprise, surprise! He’s probably both!
There were other, more tangible clues that hinted at Lorca’s identity – he has a hard time recalling an evening he shared with Admiral Cornwell when she tries to reminisce about it, and later that same episode, she discovers a mysterious, triangular-shaped scar on his back that eagle-eyed TOS fans theorized could’ve come from a personal agonizer like the ones seen in “Mirror, Mirror.”
And, of course, there was the pretty damning fact that Lorca adjusted the Discovery’s jump coordinates in the last minutes of “Into the Forest I Go,” making him responsible for their arrival in the Mirror Universe to begin with. But without pairing them with his previous behavior, each one of these clues could’ve easily been discounted as innocuous. It’s only when one takes into context his unorthodox methods and “vaulting ambition,” do they point squarely at his Mirror origins. There was just only so much of his personality he could cover up and still complete his mission – especially considering Prime Starfleet values would have prevented him from doing so on a number of different occasions.
Lorca’s been hiding in plain sight this entire time.
Written by Jordon Nardino
Directed by Hanelle Culpepper