starlady: (crew)
[personal profile] starlady
*shows up fifteen minutes late with raktajino*

I've been rewatching bits of season 1 of DSC, and keeping up with season 2, and…I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about Star Trek. It's been a while since I've had a lot of feelings about Star Trek. Rewatching the first season now, I find myself having a lot of thoughts about Lorca, and the way that it's increasingly clear that the first two seasons were designed to complement each other.

I think my perspective on the whole show is somewhat different because the first episode I actually watched was 1x03, which starts with Captain Georgiou already dead and Michael on her way to prison camp or whatever the Federation does with its convicts before she is intercepted by Lorca and his decidedly unmerry band of 'shroom hunters. At that point Lorca was presented as a captain who was definitely outside the norms of Starfleet as we had seen them up until now, but who was evidently still within regulations, so much so that Command had given him one of only two ships outfitted with the spore drive. Notwithstanding this large vote of confidence, it was clear to me at the end of the third episode that S1 would by necessity be about the crew learning to work together and trust each other despite Lorca, and that in the end they would reject him somehow, proving their devotion to the ideals of Starfleet as we know them. The mirror universe theory didn't exist at that point, so I was expecting Michael to lead a successful, justified and appropriate mutiny, which would have been a nice bit of irony. Still, in these predictions I was largely correct, which I appreciated--to me it's a sign of good storytelling, though I actually think the more gutsy narrative move would have been to open the show with 1x03 and air 01-02 after 1x04.

The thing about Lorca is that we are led, by virtue of Michael being the protagonist, to believe pretty strongly that he is extremely evil--she feels personally betrayed by the fact that he's from the mirror universe and has had his own agenda the entire time, while she is primed by her feelings for the dead Captain Georgiou to be extremely sympathetic to the Emperor, who has her own reasons for wanting Michael on her side. (She gets more than she bargained for out of that, but like her old friend mirror!Lorca, she is extremely good at rolling with the punches and turning situations to her advantage.) But actually looking at Lorca's behavior on Discovery, and even when he goes back to the mirror universe, shows a much more ambiguous record. 

The most evil things that Lorca has done all happen offscreen: 
  1. Seduced mirror!Michael after having been a father figure to her
  2. Took over prime!Lorca's life and left his hapless counterpart in prison…somewhere
  3. Murdered the crew of the Buran to protect his deception [textual reason otherwise, this reason logical in context]
I want to emphasize again that Starfleet Command was totally okay with #3, by the way. Meanwhile on the Discovery, Lorca is definitely not a positive force, and Michael isn't wrong when she tells Pike that Lorca wasn't big on other people's opinions. (Lorca to Stamets, 1x03: "This is not a democracy.") But she's not entirely right about that, either--Lorca takes the opinions of his officers on board at several crucial junctures, and we're shown that Disco's personnel have responded to his cajoling and learned to work together as, yes, a very effective weapon. (2x01 demonstrates this explicitly, by the way, when Pike rebukes Michael for acting cowed due to Lorca's memory before she tells him she hadn't finished talking, and the crew then pulls though in spades.) Lorca's not big on speeches, but he does tell people the minimum they need to hear when they need to hear something. Crucially, we're also shown that he's able to switch up his approach as necessary: after Landry dies, he stops his almost crude attempts to play the crew against one another because he realizes he can evidently get better results with a different approach. (Arguably Michael is the catalyst here, but Landry, evidently one of nature's fascists in multiple universes, appears to have been very attached to Lorca's first way of doing things.) And even though we learn later that at least some of Lorca's interest in Michael ostensibly has a sexual component, his actions on Discovery w/r/t her and other people are pretty controlled. Not to say that he doesn't express genuine emotion, because he does, but the only time that he's shown off-balance or out of control is when Cornwell tells him she's going to take the ship away from him. And even then, as she says, it's not entirely clear that it's not a deliberate performance. (Him pulling the phaser on her in bed is definitely an automatic reaction, perhaps the only one he ever has.) In terms of inappropriate workplace touching, Janeway is a sexual harassment complaint waiting to happen with Chakotay, but Lorca with Michael is most definitely not.

All of which is to say that Lorca is evil, but not more so than, say, Emperor Georgiou, whom we see eat Kelpiens onscreen and who has clearly done quite a lot of bad things to take and hold her throne. And who, by 2x05, is evidently pretty happy to be a Section 31 operative and satisfied to be coloring within the lines there, at least for now. And while I don't want to suggest that Lorca's rebellion was about too much more than self-aggrandizement, it does seem notable to me that his people are glad to see him after almost a year in the torture cabinets, and that they're not too surprised, either--he clearly inspires, and gives, a great deal of personal loyalty. (We see him doing this with Tyler in the Klingon prison in 1x05.) Moreover, in Lorca's position removing one of the Emperor's linchpins of support--her adopted daughter and one of her strongest fleet captains--by whatever means necessary is a smart strategic move. It's clear that he rates Michael's abilities highly and wants her on his side, in whatever universe, for those abilities as well as for her political position. Again, we're primed by Michael's perspective to rate him as both creepy and evil, but thinking about it, if the writers really wanted to sell the inappropriate relationship angle, they should have shoehorned a kiss or something into the last few Lorca episodes. That they didn't leaves us with a picture of Lorca as someone who is calculating above all, and who is ruthless in pursuit of his goals but who is no Captain Bligh or would-be Emperor Nero. His rebellion failed, but not because it necessarily should have from an ethical standpoint.

The thing about Pike's introduction, and Pike's captaincy overall thus far, is that it's set up to make us think that Lorca was an aberration brought on by the war (which he did definitely help the Federation win, by the way, which is awkward) and that Starfleet is getting back to its better nature now that the armistice is in place. Pike has a table and chairs instead of an evil standing desk! He doesn't have a pet tribble that he's apparently starving! But that's not actually supported by the show itself. Unique of all Star Trek shows thus far, Section 31 has been presented as a licensed part of the Federation's security apparatus--in 2x05 Cornwell actually has Leland and Pike standing before her, looking like two sides of the same coin. Which, of course, they are, and we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that Cornwell was the sole person in the prime universe to have figured out Lorca's deception, even if she didn't grasp the full particulars. She's a tough customer and extremely smart, and her telling Pike that Section 31 has its place explicitly positions Section 31 as Starfleet's dark mirror. The black badges, unseen in Trek until now, make this visually explicit.

(Sidebar: Georgiou is going to eat Leland alive eventually, y/y? (Sidebar to the sidebar: Section 31 seems to have come down in the galaxy pretty significantly by the DS9 era. I can't help but wonder if they were involved with Cartwright's failed assassination plot, as I can't seem them voluntarily agreeing to respect the Khitomer Accords.))

All of which brings us back to the Alice in Wonderland motifs in the show. Not many people read the sequel, Through the Looking-Glass, but I actually liked it better than the first book--there's a persistent chess motif that runs through the book, such that when Alice reaches the other side of the board, she is promoted from a pawn to a queen in her own right. The potential resonance with Michael's story arc is intriguing, but the thing about chessboards is that they are variegated: as the Shakespeare scholar J.W. Lever once wrote, "It is futile to debate whether a chessboard should be considered black or white: not only is the board chequered, but it is in the nature of the game that this should be so."

DSC presents the Star Trek universe in much the same way, with the mirror universe doubling the prime universe in the exact same way that Section 31 doubles Starfleet, that Lorca doubles Pike, that Emperor Georgiou doubles Captain Georgiou, that mirror!Burnham doubles prime!Burnham. And for those characters who cross the borders between the universes, the people they find on the other side are consistently presented as close enough to the people they've lost: prime!Michael is close enough to his Michael for Lorca, and the same goes for Emperor Georgiou and prime!Burnham. (Mushroom monster!Culber may well stand in the same position; Spock wasn't quite the same after he came back from the dead either, but he was close enough.) All of which indicates that at their core, the people we meet don't change much across the multiverse; their ethical orientations certainly do, but not their core personalities. Which is interesting, to say the least--the devil is in the details, but so is the angel. And context isn't just for kings; it's everything.
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