Captain Gabriel Lorca: is he a Starfleet hero? Or might he be Star Trek: Discovery's real villain?
Spoilers ahead for the first three episodes of Star Trek: Discovery.
Never before has Star Trek had a captain so full of secrets. Captain Lorca has nothing in common with Kirk, Picard, Sisko, Janeway, or Archer, except his rank. Even his position on the show is a departure; actor Jason Isaacs is a supporting character, not the star. That honor goes to Sonequa Martin-Green's Michael Burnham, a lower-ranked character who gives Star Trek: Discovery a different perspective than any Trek iteration before it.
But c'mon. This is Jason Isaacs we're talking about. He's known for playing villains and complex characters. Lorca is certainly complex... but is he a baddie?
After his first full episode, "Context Is for Kings," viewers still know precious little about Lorca. We know plenty about Burnham, but her new boss is an unknown quantity. Here's what we've got so far:
• He has "broad discretionary powers" to do whatever it takes to win the war against the Klingons.
• He's manipulative. He intentionally arranged for Burnham to wind up on his ship, but acted like it was serendipity.
• A "recent battle injury" has damaged his eyes. As a result, he requires light to change slowly from dark to light. Rather on-the-nose, he remarked to Burnham that he "likes to think it makes [him] mysterious."
• He likes fortune cookies, which he says were once a Lorca family business.
• He's "not a man who fears the things that normal people fear," according to Doug Jones' Commander Saru. This is proven true later in "Context Is for Kings" when the alien monster creature slams up against the forcefield that's holding it. Lorca is standing on the other side, just inches away from the forcefield, and he never flinches. At all.
• He doesn't get along with Anthony Rapp's Lt. Stamets, who openly called him a "warmonger." By the same token, Lorca didn't hesitate to shame Stamets in front of other members of the crew, in order to get what he wanted.
• He's a collector of, well... alien creatures, from the looks of it. Both dead and living. (The producers call the room housing this unusual collection Lorca's "menagerie.")
Okay, there's a lot to unpack here. It's obvious that Discovery's producers want viewers to see Lorca as an enigma, because they've stacked the deck to give that impression. His darkened eyes, the fortune cookies, his collection of strange creatures — it's all a big flashing, neon sign telling viewers "this guy is keeping a bunch of secrets!"
The way the crew sees him is telling. Most of them seem to respect him, but only one or two seem to genuinely like him. They all recognize him as someone who always gets what he wants. Starfleet must have a great deal of confidence in him to put him in charge of a state-of-the-art new starship and grant him discretionary powers. But does that mean they believe in his integrity, or his ability to get things done?
Then there's the menagerie, that bizarre collection of creatures. The obvious conclusion is that he's looking for ways to adapt the unique qualities these aliens possess and somehow use them against the Klingons. But he's undoubtedly engaged in some activities that violate the rights of those creatures. His mention of "spending some time" with the monster from the U.S.S. Glenn hints at the possibility of torture. Other animals in the menagerie appear to be the product of scientific study, even dissection.
As for the Klingons, the show has been very intentional about showing their point of view on the war. If Starfleet is the hero of the war, then it would follow that the Klingons must be the villain, right? Yet Discovery is going out of its way to not paint the Klingons as "bad guy." Instead, the warrior race is being depicted more as "the other." (It helps that we already know the Klingon Empire will one day become allies with the Federation.) T'Kuvma definitely had some dangerous ideas, but he believed he was doing what was best for his people. Kind of like a certain first officer from the Shenzhou...
So if the Klingons aren't the bad guys, then someone else has to be. Some fans have even speculated that Discovery may end the war by eventually having Starfleet and the Klingons team up against a greater foe.
What if that foe was Captain Lorca?