When the crew of Discovery crosses into the mirror universe, they embark on a path of willingness to cross moral boundaries. This is largely at the guidance of Lorca, who for reasons later discovered has his own primary deviance to tally for the benefit of the limited few that does not include Michael and the crew. Lorca demands that they become as ruthless as their counterparts are in this mirror world; they must shape themselves into a behavioral model of revulsion and cruelty (“Despite Yourself” 2018). Michael Burnham and Ash Tyler accept Lorca’s bidding to imitate a gesture that is more than performative, they must act out an applied callousness that meets the demands of the circumstance.
What can this be compared to? From one perspective, the Bajoran underground crossed moral boundaries in defense of their home-world – committing violent crimes with the intent to murder not just Cardassian soldiers, but those that accompanied them as well. Kira readily admitted to exceeding the limits of the morality of norms, telling Jadzia, “When you take someone’s life, you lose a part of your own as well” (“Blood Oath” 1994). Captain Sisko, in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s “In the Pale Moonlight,” (1998) and Captain Archer, in Star Trek: Enterprise’s “Damage,” (2004) also crossed the seals of their own internal ethical guidance and in such a way that when they took solitary responsibility of their actions it gave the illustrative appearance of a form of nobility, however debatable that is.
Pat Lauderdale writes in his essay, “Deviance and Moral Boundaries,” in the American Sociological Review that deviance into crossing moral boundaries is often the result of being confronted with one of two conditions. Our moral boundaries “might be threatened by (1) realignment of power within social systems or (2) emergence of a threat (e.g., new adversaries) from outside the system” (661, 1976). Having been relocated into a mirror universe dominated by Terran autocrats qualifies as a “realignment of power” that successfully (re)shapes and confirms Michael’s ability to (re)frame her active perspective and willingness of action. The Occupation of Bajor by the Cardassians equally qualifies as the “emergence” of new adversaries (though, historically, Cardassians and Bajorans were not new to one another (see Deep Space Nine, “Explorers,” 1995) that allowed for a new shaping of morality in which aggressive pursuits could dominate what it meant to be good freedom loving people.
Truly the mirror universe is a tent-post for permission to cross into other-than-self territory. We see this in Sisko’s reprehensible behavior in “Through the Looking Glass” (1995) when he permits himself to sleep with mirror Jadzia and with true Berman-esque masculine sexism, this tolerated deviance is never mentioned again; without due discourse Prime Sisko ultimately goes on to a form of immortality while Prime Jadzia ultimately dies.
Recourse for the adamant bounds of persuasion into what is permitted and what is gained through crossed ethical thresholds is complementary to the tide of derision from the perception of the viewer. It is interesting to note that from the beginning it is Michael Burnham and Ash Tyler that are expected to dominate the mission to infiltrate Terran territory while Lorca – an actual Terran – resolves to play the role of victim, with a harmonic stealth that eventually results in mirror Philippa Georgiou crossing barriers into a norm of decency, displacing Terran manners into a formal regression that, perhaps, mimics the very will of self that is our own Prime playacting of moral direction and behavioral discretion. It must be without discrepancy that it is in this mirror location that Ash Tyler uncovers the identity as Voq; as the extremist inside is part of us all, we only need the means to channel it.