Star Trek Discovery hasn’t always been great TV in its first half, but it’s usually been great Star Trek. And, in last night’s midseason premiere, it explored the Trek trope of the “mirror universe,” where everybody has an evil doppelganger. It also picked up on a key plot thread that hits two of the most beloved characters directly, and it’s a fairly shocking development. Spoilers below!
How’d we get here? After a brilliant battle where the crew pulled together and used the spore drive to thwart Klingon cloaking tech, thus saving a planet of well-meaning energy beings (a common Trek species), the Discovery prepares for one more jump to head to safety. That jump goes wrong, stranding the ship in the Mirrorverse, where the Terran Empire (i.e. the Nazis) rampage throughout the universe killing alien species. The episode is full of shout-outs to the classic Trek episode “Mirror, Mirror” which gifted us the idea of evil doppelgangers having a goatee, although we only get a sense of this via Ensign Tilly (Mary Wiseman) playing against type (and Jason Isaacs giving us one of the show’s funniest moments by “disguising his voice”) until later in the episode.
A key plot thread is Tyler (Shazad Latif), Burnham’s romantic partner and the security chief rescued by Captain Lorca (Isaacs) from a Klingon prison. The show has hinted, heavily, that Lorca meeting Tyler is not a coincidence and that Tyler is some form of mole, however unaware or unwitting. Tyler, early on, gets what can only be called a Manchurian Candidate trigger, where the Klingon captive and his former torturer leads him in a Klingon codephrase response. But it doesn’t take: Tyler loses some time, freaks out, and runs to the medbay to learn what’s happening to him. And unfortunately, Culber (Wilson Cruz), the ship’s medical officer and Stamets’ significant other, gets killed for unearthing Tyler might not just be brainwashed, but perhaps not entirely human, either.
Considering this is an alternate reality and the show’s entire back half relies on doppelgangers, fans have also already guessed Culber, or at least a version of him, won’t be gone for long, and indeed Cruz has outright confirmed as much. Speaking to Buzzfeed, Cruz addressed fan concerns head-on:
“I give you my word that this [burying your gays] is not what that is,” said Cruz. “What’s being planned is something we haven’t really had an opportunity to see LGBT characters experience. I’m really excited about it.”…”This is a beginning, rather than an ending,” said [showrunner Aaron] Harberts. “We’re more than happy to put our gay couple front and center and let them guide the audience on a story of love and loss and redemption and heroism and grief and life and all of those things.”
Still, no matter how it ultimately plays out, this was always going to bother fans. Star Trek has tried to tackle LGBT issues in the past, with varying degrees of success, and killing off a gay character is a trope with a complicated and sometimes ignoble history. Granted, Discovery can, in theory, explore the multiverse, after all, and possibly even go back in time. But we’ll have to see as the show unfolds.