The Mirror Universe has come to Star Trek: Discovery. Most of the Star Trek television series have featured at least one episode set in the Mirror Universe. In fact, the Original Series episode “Mirror, Mirror” remains one of the most popular Star Trek episodes of all time. These episodes utilize a fantastic storytelling device, allowing the audience to experience alternate versions of the characters they think they know so well. What if the logical, calm-headed Spock we know and love was a ruthless killer motivated by personal advancement? Oh, and also sported a goatee? The Mirror Universe episodes revel in these what-if’s, and Star Trek: Discovery’s first foray into that parallel universe, “Despite Yourself,” is no different.
The crew of the Discovery identifies the location where they have been stranded as being a parallel universe to their own. Here there exist counterparts to their own selves, but ones with wildly different personalities. Michael Burnham’s darker counterpart is captain of the Shenzhou, which is where Burnham’s career was headed before her actions in the pilot episode cost her that opportunity and started war with the Klingons. We see Michael step into this captain’s role naturally, as if she was always meant for it. Discovery is the first Star Trek series where the main protagonist is not also the captain, so it’s fun to finally see Burnham in a captain’s chair, albeit under unique circumstances.
It was equally delightful to see Cadet Tilly turn out to be the captain of the Discovery in the Mirror Universe, and that she had apparently risen to that position by being a cold-blooded killer. In the main universe Tilly has been vocal about her ambitions to be a captain, but it has been hard to imagine how a shy and socially awkward cadet like herself could ever rise that high. Now, however, it will be curious to see how both Burnham and Tilly are affected by their time playing the parts of captains in the Mirror Universe.
In the Mirror Universe, the crew of the Discovery is forced to explore a darker side of their personalities, revealing potential monsters within themselves that they have not yet confronted. This exploration may actually make some of them stronger, as it appears to be doing for Tilly. For others, however, these experiences may have the opposite effect. Lt. Tyler is still suffering from PTSD after his torture and sexual abuse, which appears to have also included some form of brainwashing. As clues emerge that Tyler may not even know the full depth of his own identity, he becomes increasingly unstable. Like his crew mates, Tyler is fighting against a monster within himself that is struggling to surface in his identity, a fact which is beginning to have deadly consequences for those around him.
On the same night “Despite Yourself” premiered, the 2018 Golden Globe Awards were taking place. Guillermo del Toro won the Golden Globe for Best Director for his monster love story The Shape of Water (which features Doug Jones – Discovery’s Commander Saru). In his acceptance speech, del Toro explained why he so often focuses on stories about monsters: “Since childhood I have been faithful to monsters. I have been saved and absolved by them, because monsters, I believe, are patron saints of our blissful imperfection, and they allow and embody the possibility of failing.”
The very notion that a monster could be a patron saint of anything might seem odd, but del Toro may be onto something. What better way to find a path to redemption than through celebrating imperfection? To be less than perfect is to be human. Discovering that our imperfect failings can be used for something redemptive is the essence of the gospel and the hope contained within.
The entire second chapter of Star Trek: Discovery’s first season takes place in the Mirror Universe, which is a longer visit than any other Star Trek series has attempted. Yet this extended exploration of the “monsters” in that universe may prove to be ultimately beneficial to its characters, helping them to discover some redemptive value in their own blissful imperfections.