Star Trek Discovery: “What’s Past Is Prologue”

The Star Trek: Discovery episode “What’ Past Is Prologue” offers a powerful message for our time, with political and religious engagement that struck me as on-target without being heavy handed.

Paul Stamets in the parallel universe apparently sold Lorca out to the Emperor and revealed his plot attempt. The parallel Stamets has been using the mycelial network in different ways, giving them much more power but in a way that is destroying the network across the entire multiverse, threatening all life. He also worked on a bioweapon for the Emperor.

An ion storm caused a transporter malfunction and Lorca ended up in the parallel universe. He says, “It was physics acting as the hand of destiny.” He speaks to the crew of the Emperor’s ship saying, among other things, that if they join him, together they will “make the Empire glorious again.” He pulls a sword out of the Emperor’s chair in a moment replete with Arthurian symbolism. He speaks of fate, and eventually talks with Michael Burnham about the Federation as a failed social experiment, and power as the way to bring peace through domination and everyone feeling secure in knowing their place. Such language cannot be as readily dismissed as Americans instinctively will be inclined to. As Dostoyevsky explored in The Brothers Karamazov, when we are offered freedom, we will often willingly surrender it as a burden that we do not wish to bear, preferring security.

The battle scene between Lorca and Georgiou and their troops is more exciting than most Trek battles, including in the rebooted J. J. Abrams movies. That is precisely because the way Terrans fight is more aggressive than our Starfleet ever ought to be. They don’t come in peace. So too the fight of Georgiou and Burnham side by side against Lorca and his troops.

When Saru as captain speaks about there being no no-win scenarios, with Tilly and Stametz echoing it later on, it was surely a jibe at the Kobyashi Maru simulation.

When Stamets gets help from Hugh to find his way back to their universe, it is reminiscent of Interstellar and the idea that love transcends space and time. But they have overshot their target by 9 months, and find themselves confronted with a situation in which the Klingons have all but defeated the Federation.

I love where the show seems to be headed next. Having brought Emperor Georgiou to their universe, she can offer an approach to battle that might bring them military victory – if they are willing to compromise all their values, some of which shone through magnificently at key moments in this episode.

The episode has poignant relevance to an era in which Christians have shown themselves willing to betray all our purported values for the sake of political expediency. The challenge is to learn once again to value some things more than life, more than freedom, and yes, more than power, security, safety, or control. To learn not just the values of Starfleet but of the Lamb whose followers conquer not by taking the lives of others, but by being willing to lay down our own.

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  • John MacDonald

    He speaks of fate, and eventually talks with Michael Burnham about the Federation as a failed social experiment, and power as the way to bring peace through domination and everyone feeling secure in knowing their place.

    Deleuze and Guattari have an interesting analysis in their book “Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia” about how societies that became fascist actually willed their own repression.

  • Jeri Jahnke

    The fight of Michael and Philippa together is the MU version of their fight together against the Klingons on the sarcophagus ship, where Philippa dies. I like Philippa, so I feel regretful but fairly confident she is doomed to die in both universes. That’s the way of the universes. At the moment, she is already dead to the MU; or she may return and die.

  • This episode also had a number of great Trek moments. Saru’s speech was pure Trek and so was Burnham’s statement to Lorca after the fight. Jason Issacs and Michelle Yeoh clearly enjoyed themselves a lot. A lot of fun action as well as things to think about, Trek at it’s best.