Spoilers! What’s the deal with the brief glimpse we got this week of that very familiar looking Starfleet vessel?
Spoilers follow for certain aspects of this week’s episode of Star Trek: Discovery, “Despite Yourself.”
Sunday marked the return of Star Trek: Discovery after its brief mid-season hiatus, and, wow, did it hit the ground running. Episode 10, “Despite Yourself” (read our review here), shoved the USS Discovery into the Mirror Universe (the alternate reality Trek staple where everyone is evil), put Cadet Tilly in the captain’s chair (which she is ill-prepared for to say the least), revealed that one major character may be a mind-wiped sleeper agent (I won’t say who), and featured a shocking and unexpected [redacted as to avoid spoilers].
One may have also caught that the Discovery, in order to get out of their extradimensional pickle, required the use of a Constitution class Federation starship from their home universe. Luckily, the Disco crew was able to locate one — the USS Defiant. The Defiant’s placement in the Mirror Universe will make sense to the hardcore Trekkies among us, but others may be left scratching their heads. Why is there a ship that looks like the USS Enterprise in the Discovery universe when it takes place a decade before Kirk’s adventures? And what’s it doing in the Mirror Universe specifically?
The answer involves the events of an Original Series episode and, in a refreshing deep cut, a two-part episode of Star Trek: Enterprise.
Audiences first saw the USS Defiant (NCC-1764) in “The Tholian Web,” a classic episode that originally aired on November 15, 1968. In that episode, the Enterprise discovered that the Defiant, a Constitution class sister ship to the Enterprise (basically stock footage of the Enterprise doubled as the Defiant), was trapped in a pocket of interphase space (man, I love Trek technobabble), causing it to periodically shift into an alternate universe. The crewmembers were all dead, driven insane by the process, and Kirk, through plot machinations, was left onboard. Shenanigans with the mysterious aliens the Tholians ensued.
During that episode the Defiant (no relation to the ship from Deep Space Nine, by the way) faded entirely into another dimension. At the time, there was no hint as to where it ended up, and we, as an audience, simply had to accept that it was gone. Although “Mirror, Mirror” – the OG Mirror Universe episode – had aired the previous season, there would be no explicit mention that the Defiant had gone to the realm of Agony Booths and bearded Spock.
Until April of 2005 that is, when Star Trek: Enterprise – in one of the show’s more exciting episodes – decided to explore the Mirror Universe for itself. The two-part episode “In a Mirror, Darkly” actively eschewed the traditional “good guys go to the evil universe” story (which had continued after “Mirror, Mirror” on several episodes of Deep Space Nine) and merely depicted the Enterprise characters as they were in the dark Mirror U. The show even changed its theme song and opening credits for these two episodes, making it darker and more militant.
In “In a Mirror, Darkly,” the evil John Archer – a right bastard – discovers the missing Defiant from “The Tholian Web,” helpfully intact, and sporting weapons technology about a century ahead of Archer’s time. That’s because the events of Enterprise (Mirror or not) take place about a hundred years before the original show. So it looks like when the Defiant disappeared at the end of “Mirror, Mirror,” it not only slipped into the Mirror Universe, but also backward in time. Archer ends up stealing the Defiant, intending to use its weapons to overthrow the current Emperor of Earth and usurp the throne. In a last-minute twist, however, he’s poisoned just as he arrives above Earth… by his officer Hoshi Sato, who boldly steps forth to assume command of the Defiant and overthrow Earth herself. Hail Empress Sato.
Fast forward almost a century, and the Discovery crew is now in the Mirror Universe and looking for a way home. Lucky for them, the Defiant, even after all these years, is still active and may possess the tech they need to get back to their own universe. In the brief glimpse of the Defiant seen in “Despite Yourself,” it’s clear that the vessel has undergone some slight design changes. It remains to be seen whether or not this means the Constitution class ships on Discovery look different than how they’ve appeared on the other Star Trek shows, or if perhaps she’s just been refitted in the decades since Sato took command of her. Either way, that ship has quite a history and now it offers hope to a crew of castaways.
Of course Captain Lorca, Michael Burnham and the rest are going to have to wrest it from the hands of the Terran Empire, likely in a story arc that will cover the next few episodes. Given that an Emperor was teased in dialogue in “Despite Yourself,” it’s quite likely that we will meet one. I like to think that Empress Sato, perhaps about 120, is still on the throne (and being played by Linda Park, the original actress), but it seems more likely that the Emperor will be an evil version of a familiar cast member. My guess: Empress Philippa Georgiou.
Let the speculation commence.