Captain Gabriel Lorca, played with a magnificent intensity by Jason Isaacs, was one of the most interesting characters from Star Trek: Discovery’s first season – and potentially its biggest narrative twist.
When we first met Lorca, he was an enigmatic Starfleet captain who did not seem to quite fit into the mold of the noble Star Trek captains of old. By the end of the season, we knew why: this Lorca was in fact his Mirror counterpart, stranded in the Prime Universe and trying to make his way home to continue his quest to overthrow the Terran Emperor and claim the throne for himself.
As a result, returning to the beginning of the season and re-watching it with the knowledge of Lorca’s true origins provides an entirely different context to many of his scenes. There are clues to Lorca’s origins scattered throughout the show that only become clear once you know the context, and many of his scenes can be interpreted in an entirely different light.
Hats off to the Discovery writers room for making it possible to have two entirely different experiences out of the same show, and I recommend revisiting these episodes to find all the fun moments dropped in for us to find.
Join me as I go through Discovery’s first season and dissect all of the clues, foreshadowing, and speculate about additional context provided by the knowledge of Lorca’s origins up to the reveal of his true nature.
“I like to think it makes me mysterious.”
When Burnham first meets Lorca in his ready room, he apologizes for the low light levels in his office, attributing it to an eye injury from a recent battle injury.
While he later implies in “Choose Your Pain” that the injury was caused by the destruction of the USS Buran, in reality light sensitivity is the only genetic difference between humans from the Prime Universe and Mirror Universe, as revealed in “Vaulting Ambition.”
“Maybe the universe hates waste.”
Burnham points out the significant coincidence that the USS Discovery happened to be in position to rescue the stranded prison shuttle, but given the relationship between Lorca and Burnham in the Mirror Universe, it is clear that Lorca orchestrated events so that Burnham would end up under his supervision on the Discovery.
“I know who you are, Michael Burnham.”
Burnham lays out her theory for Lorca that the Discovery is developing a spore-based biological weapon. Lorca ultimately disproves her theory in engineering, but before they transport there he says “I know who you are, Michael Burnham. I know exactly who you are. I know you love being right, and I suspect that you hate being wrong even more so.”
Initially, we interpret this to mean he feels like he knows who she is. But in reality, given that it is later established that Lorca and Mirror Burnham were in a relationship, the line takes on a more literal meaning.
“I study war.”
Lorca invites Burnham to his menagerie, where he keeps “some of the deadliest weapons in the galaxy.” In addition, the room contains the skeleton of a Gorn and other creatures, including Cardassian voles, that it is unclear the Federation would know anything about.
Indeed, many fans cried foul and said this was a canon violation because first contact between the Federation and the Gorn does not happen for another decade in the Prime timeline.
However, according to Burnham in “The War Without, The War Within,” the Terran Empire extends far beyond the boundaries of the Federation, meaning that Lorca would know far more about the races of the Alpha and Beta Quadrants than any Starfleet officer in the Prime Universe in this time period.
“Pardon the breach of protocol, ma’am.”
Admiral Cornwell contacts Lorca to provide him an assignment while Lorca is eating in his ready room. We only get a brief shot, but his meal bears a striking resemblance to the squid-like food we see served in the Mirror Universe to Burnham in “The Wolf Inside.”
“Why don’t you get your damned eyes fixed?”
Lorca says that his decision not to correct his “eye injury” is by choice, to honor the crew of his ship, the USS Buran, that he destroyed to spare them from Klingon torture. In reality, Lorca does not get his eyes fixed because he cannot – the difference is genetic between humans from the Prime and Mirror Universe, and a doctor would likely discover that his eye problems were not the result of an injury.
“The honorable captain was too good to go down with his ship.”
Mudd reveals that Lorca was the only survivor of the destruction of the USS Buran. Lorca portrays his actions as having been an act of mercy to prevent his crew from being tortured by the Klingons, but more likely Lorca was the only escapee because he had little regard for the Prime counterparts for the Buran crew, a strong survival instinct, and a drive to return home to the Mirror Universe.
Alternatively, given that the only person to survive the destruction of the Buran was Lorca, it’s entirely possible his entire story is fake. Since the Buran crew had the most recent exposure to Prime Lorca and would have been best placed to realize that their captain was no longer himself, did Lorca destroy his own ship to cover up the fact that they found out about his true nature?
“There is no ‘we,’ Mudd!”
While breaking out of the Klingon prison ship with Lt. Ash Tyler, Lorca abandons their cell mate Harry Mudd. Despite Mudd’s decision to work with his Klingon captors to feed them information, many fans interpreted Lorca’s decision as one that demonstrated significantly compromised morals unbecoming of a Starfleet captain.
And they were right, given that the decision was made by a man from the Mirror Universe merely playing at being a Starfleet captain.
“Your case is well documented.”
Lorca almost overplays his hand in revealing how much he knows about Burnham and his interest in her. He says “your case is well documented” after telling her he knew that Sarek and Amanda had raised her after the death of her parents.
It seems unlikely that this would be common knowledge, but it is likely that Lorca had sought out information about Burnham after crossing to the Prime Universe before developing his plan to use her to return to the Mirror Universe.
In addition, Lorca’s incredulity at the idea that Burnham and Sarek would have a mental connection could also be interpreted as mild disgust, reflecting the racism of the Terran Empire.
“Bring her back… or don’t come back at all.”
Lorca quietly tells Tyler to bring Burnham back to the Discovery “or don’t come back at all,” when Tyler volunteers to take Burnham and Tilly into the Yridia Nebula to seek Sarek’s stranded shuttle.
The moment makes all the more sense given the knowledge of the relationship between Lorca and Burnham in the Mirror Universe.
“You don’t remember?”
One of the scenes that plays most differently with the knowledge that Lorca is from the Mirror Universe are the scenes between Lorca and Admiral Cornwell.
In their first scene together in Lorca’s quarters, Cornwell tries to reminisce about their past, but Lorca decides to make a romantic advance instead. Later, when she finds the agonizer burns on his back and he nearly kills her with a phaser, she accuses him of being psychologically scarred from the destruction of the Buran, and tells him “I can’t leave Starfleet’s most powerful weapon in the hands of a broken man.”
In reality, these scenes aren’t between Cornwell and a broken Lorca, but between Cornwell and a Lorca who is desperately trying not to give away his true origin. He is evasive with Cornwell and deflects reminiscing about old times with her because it was Prime Lorca, not him, who shared a previous relationship with Cornwell.
Then later, he agrees with her that he needs help because that is the only explanation he can provide – the truth that he has an ulterior agenda that he is carrying out is the one secret he cannot give away.
The power dynamics shift considerably with the knowledge that Lorca is from the Mirror Universe – watch without that context, and it appears as though Cornwell has him figured out. Watched with the knowledge that Lorca is from the Mirror Universe, he is much more successful in manipulating her to buy himself more time.
“I thought those things had been hunted to extinction?”
It’s a small moment, but when the Discovery first encounters the gormagander during one of the earliest time loops, Lorca says he thought that the gormaganders had been hunted to extinction. Saru quickly corrects him that the species endangered status is the result of reproductive issues that the species is experiencing.
However, it would make sense that in the Mirror Universe the warlike Terrans would have hunted the species to extinction, and so perhaps Lorca was right, but speaking of the wrong universe.
“You’ve been accumulating this data… the whole time?
Lorca manipulates Stamets into agreeing to engage in the dangerous plan to jump 133 times by appealing to his sense of exploration and wonder. Lorca implies that he shares Stamets’s love of knowledge for the sake of knowledge, but his ulterior motive is to seek to use the spore drive to return to the Mirror Universe.
“Let’s go home.”
After manipulating Stamets into agreeing to one additional spore jump back to the starbase, Lorca says “Let’s go home,” right before he is seen inputting new coordinates into the spore drive that sends the Discovery into the Mirror Universe.
Rather than a comment to the crew about their mission being over and the ship returning to base, Lorca is in fact speaking more literally about himself – he is returning home to the Mirror Universe.
“…and there’s me, hoping I’d find a better version of myself over here.”
It doesn’t quite fit with Lorca’s turn towards a classic Mirror Universe villain in “Vaulting Ambition” and “What’s Past is Prologue,” but for one moment it seems like the Prime Universe may have left a little bit of an impression on Lorca after all.
When told his Mirror counterpart (which we now know to be him) is a fugitive from the Terran Empire, Lorca reflects that he wished he would find a better version of himself in the Mirror Universe. Knowing that he crossed universes, could Lorca be referring to his Prime counterpart and wondering what that man was like?
“Maybe I’m not seeing things clearly.”
Burnham tells Lorca about the Emperor’s orders to destroy the rebels on Harlak. Initially, he tells her she needs to follow through with the orders, and that “sometimes the end justifies terrible means.” However, she talks him out of it, saying that his time in the agonizer booth is coloring his thinking.
It could be that, rather than finding his conscience, Lorca realized that if Burnham disobeyed her orders it would encourage the Emperor to rendezvous with the Shenzhou and accelerate his plan to get aboard.
“Don’t you bow before your Emperor?”
When Emperor Georgiou appears holographically on the bridge of the ISS Shenzhou, Lorca has a small smirk on his face. He is clearly pleased that his plan to get aboard the Charon to liberate his followers is advancing.
“If the complete archive is anywhere, it’ll be at the Imperial Palace.”
As a high-ranking member of the Terran Empire who was the “right hand” of the Emperor, it stands to reason that Lorca would know about the origin of the USS Defiant. In addition, it would therefore also make sense that he knew that the interphasic space the Defiant used to cross into the Mirror Universe was not a realistic option for the Discovery to return.
“Fortunately, that’s where we’re going,” Lorca says about the archive being held at the Imperial Palace, but given that was his desired destination anyway, you have to wonder if Lorca used the Defiant files as a lure for Burnham and the Discovery crew to get him aboard the Charon.
Did I miss anything? Do you disagree with any of these? Let me know in the comments!