The first season of Star Trek: Discovery was packed with stunning twists. We look at the ten moments that left us mesmerised.
With an opening season that included everything from time travel to mirror universes, Star Trek: Discovery has very quickly cemented its place in the Star Trek canon. Thanks to the show’s 21st century sensibilities, Discovery has also managed to go where no Trek series has gone before, thus endearing it to wider audiences. It was an all-round great first season with plenty of cliff-hangers that left viewers itching for more.
There are so many outstanding moments we would love to discuss but we have, instead, narrowed it down to ten moments that were most significant. Spoilers up ahead!
1 – Betrayal
In the Trek-verse, mutiny has become short-hand for doing the right thing against orders. However, very rarely does any captain actually register a mutiny in the records and no crew member has really been court-martialled for it… till now.
Discovery introduces us to the calm and collected duo of Captain Phillipa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) and Commander Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) of the USS Shenzhou, only to tear their camaraderie apart within an episode. Faced with the ghosts from her past, Burnham leads a mutiny against Georgiou, defies orders, ends up starting a devastating war against the Klingons which inadvertently leads to the death of her captain, among many others. And Burnham is meant to be the hero of the show! Trekkies have never seen the like in the universe.
Burnham’s betrayal is startling because audiences keep expecting her to be right, just like the impulsive characters of previous shows – Kirk, Riker, B’Elanna Torres – but she isn’t. Burnham acts on sentiment, a very human reaction, and, in her mind, her actions are justified. As far as she is concerned, everyone around her is wrong. That is what makes her betrayal so startling to watch and so powerful. What a way to set up a protagonist.
2 – Crime and Punishment
Like I said, mutinous crew members rarely get taken to task because, according to the plot, they are doing right by their ship and their captain. We have seen Starfleet officers confined to the brig before, but few of them have been out-and-out criminals – Voyager’s Maquis crew members were technically wanted by the Federation but were absorbed into Starfleet due to the ship’s circumstances.
Which is why it is all the more surprising that, not only did Burnham get charged for her crimes, but she confessed and was willing to serve jail-time.
Yes, Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs) of the Discovery swoops in and employs her as a consultant – we see how that pans out – but Burnham is very aware of the fact that once her work aboard the Discovery is over, she will return to prison where she will live out the rest of her days.
It is this fact that makes her later relationship with Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif) so bittersweet – he wants to escape the present and live in a better future but Burnham must live in the present because her future is a prison cell.
Discovery takes a bold step by portraying Burnham as a villain in the first two episodes and to have her punished for her crime. That visual, at the end of episode two, ‘Battle of the Binary Stars’, with Burnham standing in front of the tribunal that decides her punishment, is as unexpected as it is chilling. This moment sets the show apart from what has gone before, but it also tells the audience that Discovery will take no prisoners.
3 – Human Monsters
We see quite early on that Discovery’s captain Lorca is an unusual man. His crew is equally odd. A charismatic man, Lorca surrounds himself with people that are willing to push their boundaries, as well as the Federation’s. This becomes obvious when the crew of the Discovery investigate the downed science ship Glenn, which has apparently been boarded by Klingons. Once the Discovery away team arrives, they find that the Glenn crew and the Klingon invaders have been taken down by something far more vicious than they expected.
But, as one expects with Star Trek, not all is as it seems. As Burnham studies the creature that caused havoc on the Glenn, a tardigrade, she realises that its aggression was borne out of fear. It is actually a peaceable creature. However, Lorca and his chief of security, Ellen Landry (Rekha Sharma), fail to understand this and torture the tardigrade. This really should have been a sign of things to come, but us viewers cannot be blamed for expecting the best from the new crew.
As sad as it was to see Rekha Sharma’s role so severely curtailed, there was a delicious irony in Landry being killed by her own hubris – she opens the forcefield to attack the tardigrade, but instead lets it out to exact its revenge upon her.
The moment is expected but it is surprising to see a Starfleet officer behave so inhumanely and get her just desserts. Landry’s loss sets up the entrance of Ash Tyler and also foreshadows how cold Lorca can be so; in hindsight, it was a necessary moment. But still, it is strange to see one of the ‘good guys’ be so cruel.
4 – Cellmates
The difficulty with creating prequels is managing continuity with the narratives that have come before. Discovery had its work cut out but successfully tied the show into the existing universe with several Easter eggs and a smattering of well-known characters.
On a covert mission, Lorca is captured by the Klingons and locked up in a hell-prison. His cellmate is grandiose and loud and strangely familiar to Trek-fans. Then, he tells Lorca his name – Harry Mudd (Rainn Wilson). Viewers collectively experience a lightbulb moment – this is the infamous Harry Mudd from the original Star Trek series!
Though he is not yet as audacious or smarmy as the Mudd we meet in Star Trek, Wilson does an outstanding job of channelling Roger C. Carmel for his version of Mudd. The fun is in the fact that the audiences know not to trust Mudd but Lorca does not. It is a cat-and-mouse game that reaches beyond the screen.
‘Choose Your Pain’ is undoubtedly one of the more Star Trek episodes of the season and Mudd’s introduction to Discovery not only ties the series to the larger universe but gives viewers an inkling of the complex plotlines ahead.
5 – Stamets and Culber
Star Trek has hinted at diverse sexualities before but has failed to canonically accept anything but heterosexual as the norm for the universe. Star Trek: TNG tried but were stopped by executives. Deep Space Nine got a bit further but again, executives got in the way.
In Discovery, the Trek-verse finally gets its full-fledged gay heroes, revealing partway through the season that Lt. Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and Dr. Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz) were in a relationship. The reveal was made via a simple moment between the two of them. After a long, hard day at work with Stamets becoming one with the mycelial network, the couple chat over the bathroom sink. It’s a surprisingly quiet moment considering the frenetic events taking place during the episode.
What makes this scene even more remarkable is that it isn’t a one-off. Stamets and Culber share more intimate moments throughout the rest of the season. But it all comes back to that one moment between the two of them in front of the mirror. Plus, it sets up the first of many creepy incidents surrounding Stamets – when he moves away from the mirror, Stamets’ reflection remains a smirk drawing across his face. Chilling.
6 – This Has Happened Before
Harry Mudd stars in another extremely Trek-like episode, ‘Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad’. The crew find themselves in a time-loop which they are completely unaware of. All except Stamets, whose connection to the mycelial network makes him more aware of his surroundings.
While Stamets tries to convince the crew of the existence of time-loops, a certain Harry Mudd appears, armed with a time crystal to execute the time-loop. Mudd has only one purpose – to hand over Discovery and her secrets to the Klingons for a great deal of money. In the process, Mudd happily kills Captain Lorca, who left him to rot in the Klingon prison, and the Discovery crew in as numerous and creative ways as possible.
This is quite possibly the best episode of the season, not only because it pays homage to past Trek shows, but also because of the multitude of fantastic moments in the episode itself. There is the sweetness of the burgeoning Burnham-Tyler relationship, the quirkiness of tardigrade-infused Stamets, the uncanniness of 90s music blasting through a spaceship’s speakers and the revelation of the saboteur, hidden within a space whale that the crew have rescued and brought aboard the ship. The last of those was a particularly fun moment especially as audiences would not have expected Mudd to have more than a one-episode appearance in the season.
But the moment that stood out from this episode was the dual-ending where the crew worked together for the first time to solve the problem of Harry Mudd and save the ship and themselves. Up until that moment, the crew had struggled to accept Burnham, had doubts about Stamets’ sanity and were wary of Lorca. But, with their impending doom and the prospect of being handed over to the Klingons, the crew band together to fox Mudd’s plan and win the day.
I doubt many viewers would have guessed the conclusion of the episode, but even if they did, watching the series of events unfold to such a satisfying close was an absolute delight.
7 – The Dark Side of Ash Tyler
Discovery toyed with viewers by including actors in the credits before their appearance in the show. Though Jason Isaacs only had two episodes to wait for his appearance, Shazad Latif appeared far later. The entrance of Ash Tyler as Lorca’s cellmate immediately endeared him to audiences. He had a sob story far worse than any we had encountered on the show and was the perfect mix of damaged and brave.
Tyler made himself at home on Discovery, making friends with everyone and even catching the world-weary Burnham’s eye. And, honestly, who wouldn’t want to be friends with him? He is kind, generous, says the right things at the right time and believes the best of everyone. Unfortunately, viewers these days are just too cynical and we soon started doubting Tyler. And right we were to be suspicious.
At the mid-season finale, ‘Despite Yourself’, we learn that Tyler was still suffering PTSD from his time in the Klingon prison. But, there was more to it. He seemed to have some kind of connection with his Klingon torturer, L’Rell. That connection brings everything down around Burnham.
Tyler’s flashbacks of his captivity with the Klingons betrays the certainty he has in his own memories about the treatment he received at their hands. When the Discovery crew find themselves trapped in the Mirror Universe and Burnham goes to negotiate with the rebels, Tyler seemingly loses his mind, attacking the Klingons and threatening Discovery’s alliance with them.
It is unlikely behaviour for a Starfleet officer but it all becomes clear when Tyler allows himself time to think. He isn’t who he thinks he is and, during a heart-breaking conversation with Burnham, he accepts the truth about himself – he isn’t Ash Tyler at all, he is instead, former Klingon leader Voq.
Some viewers saw this coming – Tyler was too nice and Voq’s disappearance appeared to be too obvious a plot hole to be an accident. Despite this, many hoped that Tyler could be the good guy he appeared to be. Alas, it was not to be. Tyler and Voq turned out to be the same and, to drive home the point, the plot even had Tyler/ Voq kill Dr. Culber. Whatever we have seen in previous Star Trek series, crewmates killing each other has not been one of them. A shocking moment that set Discovery apart from its predecessors.
8 – Enter the Emperor
Surrounded by Klingons, the Discovery crew use the mycelial network to deal a devastating blow to the Klingons. In order to do so, they have to push far beyond Stamets’ human abilities with the mycelial network. As a result, Stamets’ proposed final jump back to the Federation ends up taking the crew somewhere else entirely – the Mirror Universe.
First seen in Star Trek’s ‘Mirror, Mirror’, the Mirror Universe has also made appearances in Deep Space Nine and Enterprise. For it to play such a large and crucial part in Discovery’s opening season was a genuine surprise.
As one would expect, the Mirror Universe is massively messed up, what with the Terran Empire wreaking havoc across the stars. Discovery realise they need to find their way back, but to do so, they need to convince their fellow Terrans of their evil intentions but, they also need the help of the rebels to get home. Burnham hatches a plan to convince both sides of Discovery’s goodwill only for a very large ship to swoop in and destroy the rebels Burnham had promised to protect. The ship belongs to none other than the Emperor of the Terran Empire, better known in the Federation Universe as Captain Phillipa Georgiou.
Michelle Yeoh completely owned every scene she was in in the first two episodes and her absence was strongly felt throughout the season. Not to say that Jason Isaacs did not do a great job but there was something so all-encompassing about the way Yeoh took the captain’s chair of the USS Shenzhou that made one feel like she was destined to be a Starfleet captain.
Her absence, however, made the revelation of the Terran Emperor that much more significant and poignant, especially for Burnham, who was so clearly attached to Georgiou. In the Mirror Universe, Burnham and Georgiou were much more than just crewmates; they were daughter and mother. Just as Burnham has lost her Georgiou in the Federation universe, Emperor Georgiou has lost her Burnham in the Mirror universe. It seemed serendipitous for them to find each other at last.
Unfortunately, their opposing ideals get in the way of a happy family reunion, but it still makes for a startling visual, seeing Burnham and Georgiou together again, their Terran regalia a sharp contrast to the stark Starfleet uniforms they have come to be associated with.
9 – Lorca’s Reveal
Jason Isaacs gave his Captain Gabriel Lorca enough smarm and mystery to intrigue audiences throughout season one. The sole survivor of his previous ship, which Lorca destroyed so it wouldn’t land up in Klingon hands, Lorca seems to have deep connections in Starfleet, enough to get a new command on a science vessel with the ability to change the course of the Klingon-Federation war.
Throughout the season, viewers questioned Lorca’s methods and motivations. He was too trusting of Burnham; he took the damaged Tyler in without hesitation; he asked too much of Stamets, even against the orders of medical professionals aboard his ship. Was he really doing all this so as to tap the full potential of the mycelial network and thus, win the Federation-Klingon war?
As it turns out, that was not Lorca’s aim at all. Everything he did was to achieve one goal – get back to his home. Little did we know where that home was.
Once in the Mirror Universe, the crew learn that the Terran Discovery is captained by Tilly, not Lorca. Terran Lorca is on the run for the murder of Terran Burnham. How strange these connections seem…
Lorca and Burnham try to use this connection to their advantage only for Lorca to end up in prison and tortured. Just when viewers start feeling sorry for the captain, however, Lorca reveals himself to be the Terran Lorca after all. It was bad enough that Burnham had to find an evil version of her beloved Captain Georgiou, but for Captain Lorca, a man who trusted her even when nobody else did, to actually hail from Mirror Universe? Forget Burnham, we, at home, were shook!
10 – We Are Starfleet
The introduction of Emperor Georgiou and the death of Lorca sets up the finale beautifully. Burnham, in a moment of weakness, brings the Emperor back to Discovery and the Federation universe. Initially unsure what to do with her, Burnham and Admiral Cornwell (Jayne Brook) devise a plan. The Emperor has fought the Klingons before, in her universe, and won. She has valuable information about the Klingon home world that could help turn the tide of this war.
Emperor Georgiou has no place in this universe but Starfleet can give her one. She assumes the role of Captain Georgiou, pretending to have been on a covert mission for Starfleet to study the Klingon home world. But, it turns out, Starfleet has more for the Emperor to do, more than they reveal to the crew of the Discovery.
When Admiral Cornwell and Starfleet’s deception comes to light, the Discovery crew refuse to participate in their plan. Burnham, the progenitor of the war and so much death and suffering, takes a stand, much like she did at the start of the season. Where she once stood alone, and in the wrong, this time, Burnham is joined by her fellow Discovery officers. It’s an important moment for Discovery because by that point, the crew have suffered great losses and betrayals. They have to dig deep for their conviction in what they are doing and who they are fighting for, which is what they do.
As each member of the bridge crew stands and declares themselves “Starfleet”, one cannot help but feel chills down the backs of one’s spine. It is a perfect Star Trek moment, binding the crew together and showing audiences where Discovery stands. This is not a crew, or show, to be trifled with.
The first season of Discovery may have appeared uneven, but everything that happened in the season, happened for a reason. There were so many twists and turns in these fifteen episodes but it is brilliantly tied up together in the end. One wonders what else the show plans to throw at viewers in coming seasons.
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