Tonight's episode of Star Trek: Discovery, "What's Past Is Prologue," doubled down on the previous episode's shocking twist. After revealing himself to be a native of the Mirror Universe who had been orchestrating a coup of the Terran Empire, Discovery's Captain Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs) met a brutal end, as he was killed by Emperor Philippa Georgiou. Lorca's death was decidedly unambiguous (his disintegration was shown in slow, agonizing detail), but that doesn't necessarily mean that Isaacs can't ever return to the show.
Discovery has not been shy about killing off characters. Both Georgiou and Commander Ellen Landry met their ends early on in the show's inaugural season - blows considerably softened by the re-emergence of their Mirror Universe counterparts. Controversially, the show killed off Dr. Hugh Culber, the ship's chief medical officer and romantic partner to Lieutenant Paul Stamets, one half of the franchise's first televised same-sex couple.
But the death of Lorca is something else entirely. Michael Burnham may be more of the show's focus, but Lorca was a close second, and no Star Trek series has ever killed off its commanding officer before. The fact that Lorca was evil this whole time, playing a long game with both Burnham and the Discovery's spore drive to get back home and overthrow Georgiou could potentially have sweeping ramifications for the crew of the Discovery now that they're back home - though the fact that they've returned home nine months late and the Federation has apparently lost the war to the Klingons in their absence will likely complicate matters further.
Given TV's love of killing off characters only to bring them back later, it's natural to wonder if we might see Lorca again in the future - even if it's not quite the same Lorca. Following a caveat that "I’ve lied to all of the press constantly since the very first day I got this job," Isaacs told Entertainment Weekly that the character's death is pretty definitive:
"I would say, yeah, the prognosis is not good for him given he was dissolved into a million pieces on camera. There are not many homeopathic cures that can help that."
However, Isaacs played coy when asked what happened to Prime Universe Lorca - meaning that either he has no idea if he'll appear in the show, or he does know and naturally isn't going to give it away:
It’s never quite made clear, I don’t think, exactly what was going on with Prime Lorca, who we assume he switched places with …
There was a Prime Locra, he was captain of the Buran in the Prime world. He swapped with him and found himself captain of the Buran. This never came out, this backstory detail we never put in the dialogue: Although Lorca spins this story having had to sacrifice the men on Buran and had to blow them up to save them from Klingon torture. Actually, if I remember correctly, there was some kind of DNA identification that would have exposed Lorca as not being Prime Lorca, and so he blew up the ship and killed everyone on it.
But what happened to Prime Lorca is now an open question …
Do you know the answer to that?
If I did, you’d have to stand behind my wife, friends, and professional collaborators to find out the answer. I’ve kept this one big secret for six months — I am certainly going to keep any others.
Well, are you signed on for season 2?
I’m sorry, is that not a related question?
It’s my tricky way of asking if we’re going to meet Prime universe Lorca.
Oh God, that totally would have worked on me if I had the IQ of a sock.
While it's likely low on the priority list for the crew of the Discovery at the moment, who must attempt to salvage the Federation - with the help of Mirror Georgiou - the fate of the main timeline Lorca is still something of an open question. According to Mirror Lorca, he and the main timeline Lorca switched places due to a transporter malfunction months earlier on the USS Buran - echoing the way the original Star Trek series introduced Kirk and friends to the Mirror Universe. If the show holds with prior continuity - never exactly a sure thing with a Star Trek show about Spock's never before mentioned adoptive human sister - that means the main timeline Lorca likely ended up in the Mirror Universe, and could potentially still be alive. That may be a moot point, however, as the Discovery does not seem to have the ability or motivation to return to the Mirror Universe any time soon.
If this really is the last we see of Lorca, Discovery will be a worse show for it. Before the reveal that he was a rather cartoonish alternative reality villain, Lorca was one of the most interesting aspects of Discovery, a man seemingly deeply flawed by war and loss. Isaacs is an actor renowned for his portrayals of bad guys, but he did strong work as a morally ambiguous protagonist before the other shoe dropped. If nothing else, it stands to reason Discovery will be a much different show going forward, as Michael Burnham and crew must grapple with such a fundamental betrayal.
Star Trek: Discovery continues with "The War Without The War Within" February 4th, 2018 on CBS All Access.