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The question is a big spoiler for the main revelation at the end of season 1.

At the end of season 1 it is revealed that Lorca is a bad guy from the mirror universe and all his actions only target toward going back to his universe (and taking Michael with him).

So if that is the case it seems out of character that he risked his life on several occasions:

In one episode he orders the pilot to navigate between an other ship with failing shields and 2 photon torpedos, while their own shields are just about 10%. They took one torpedo, while the other destroyed the other vessel. While this could be explained as backing up his cover story as a brave captain, this posed a real danger to his live and I don't think his cover would have been blown up if he would not have done this maneuver.

And on another occasion:

In the mirror universe he commanded to open a channel. Michael canceled the command in the last possible moment, because she found out that Tilly was the commander of the discovery in this universe. Without her intervention he would have triggered an attack on his ship. And he surely was knowing this.

So, while the out of universe explanation is obviously that the audience should be fooled by this actions and prevented form becoming suspicious, what are the in universe reasons for him to act in this way. I think there are many other examples where he shows bravery that brought him danger and that he could have avoided.

  • Even if he was an impostor, he was still knowledgeable in starship combat. At least for the first point, he might have been more certain than he let on that the ship could take the hit and survive. Admittedly, recollection of that episode is vague. – user107907 Mar 26 at 10:35
  • The second point is a very good point, maybe he was trying to get caught? I can't think why though – GordonBennett Mar 26 at 13:34
  • Being evil doesn't mean someone isn't brave. – Keith Morrison Mar 26 at 15:01
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    As to the second point, assuming Mirror-Discovery was as new as the one in the Prime Universe, then it hadn't been in service when he left the Mirror Universe, so Mirror-Tilly wouldn't have been in command of it when he'd left. He'd therefore have no way of knowing she was in the chair. – Keith Morrison Mar 26 at 15:04
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The Mirror Lorca is complicated villain, maybe even a Byronic hero. I think he did a lot things to test the waters and prove to himself that destiny was smiling upon him. He may believed this was the only way he could or should get home.

MIRROR LORCA: Amazing, isn't it? Different universe, and somehow the same people, had a way to find each other. The strongest argument I have ever seen for the existence of destiny.

MICHEAL BURNHAM: I'm not sure if I believe in destiny.

MIRROR LORCA: Is that so? Sitting in that cell all alone, facing a life sentence of solitude, future full of misery. A little part of you had to know that wasn't the end of your story. You were destined for something more.

MICHEAL BURNHAM: Destiny didn't get me out of prison, Captain. You did that.

But as Kozaky mentioned in a comments, just because he hails from the Mirror Universe, does not mean he wasn't knowledgeable in starship combat, as he proved several times during the war, but perhaps more so when Discovery jumps back to the Prime Universe 9 months later (where Lorca and Discovery have been absent) and Star Fleet is loosing and Earth has become a Klingon target!

His bigger problem was that his ethics did not always line up with Star Fleet's and because Discovery's crew is full of broken characters during a time of war, he was often not contested. (Not until Cornwall shows up, anyway).

Vaulting Ambition Transcript:

MIRROR GEORGOUI: In Lorca, you saw a father, until you grew up and it became more.

PRIME BURNHAM: You're saying Lorca and I-

MIRROR GEORGOUI: He groomed you. He chose you. [...] He told you that destiny brought you together.

His story is more about his love for Mirror Micheal Burnham and the destiny he believed he had with her more than anything else, which I think considering she died, that love extended to Prime Burnham, listening to her advice and allowing her privileges he often didn't with others, which in return began to change him a little bit, but enough to make him change his goals or feelings about Star Fleet.

Lorca Fortune Cookie

He did seem to have some grand plan with Michael in mind and Empire's future, but he would have to be a bit delusional to really believe that Prime Burnham would actually go along with it and I think that is what your question about him gets down to.

What's Past is Prologue Transcript:

MICHEAL BURNHAM: They have no idea they're flying into a battle zone. Please, Philippa.

EMPEROR GEORGOUI: I'm not Philippa to you. But you are right about one thing. He preyed on my sentiment, my weakness for your face. It will not happen again.

And a Speech Mirror Lorca makes...

MIRROR LORCA: Hello, Philippa. (OVER COMM): I've watched for years; you let alien races spill over the borders, flourish in our backyard, then have the gall to incite rebellion. The Terrans need a leader who will preserve our way of life, our race. Try as you might, it's clearly not you. Even Michael knew that. It was her great shame. Well, it's indecorous of me to share pillow talk. To the rest, many of you know me. Some of you served with me. To all, I make this offer: renounce Georgiou. The Empire is dying in her hands. But you don't have to Not today. Michael Burnham is not to be touched. She is integral to our future plans, a future where we together will make the Empire glorious again.

And Mirror Lorca admitting his feelings to Prime Michael

MIRROR LORCA: I know that's hard for you to see right now because you're blinded by your emotions. The only thing I was blinded by was you. I know you understand that I had to lie to you, Michael, to get home. Just like you know that the Federation is a social experiment doomed to failure. Childish idealism. Every species, every choice, every opinion is not equal, no matter how much they want it to be. The strong and the capable will always rise. Like you and me. And every living being is safer and happier knowing their place. That's why we have a duty to lead. Like what you did that day at the Binaries. Stay with me. Stay here and help me bring peace to this world through strength and order, the right way. There was no one else like the other you. And what she and I set out to achieve was gonna be remarkable. And then I met you. And the truth is your gifts far surpass hers. I see you, Michael Burnham. I see your power. And I'm offering you a future. I have since the day I brought you onto the Discovery.

And Mirror Lorca talking to Saru and contradicting what he said he believed about order of race and species:

MIRROR LORCA: I'm glad I got a chance to say good-bye to you, and the rest of the crew. I want you to know that my admiration for you was and is sincere. When I look at you, I see the formidable unit of soldiers that I sculpted. If I thought for a second that any of you were capable of relinquishing this cult-like devotion to the Federation, I'd enlist your skills today.

SARU: We are not interested in your sentiments.

Once Mirror Lorca gets back to the Mirror Universe, it becomes much more clear that he believed he was doing all of this for the love his Michael; believing this was his destiny, but also despite everything he did have feelings for the Discovery Crew and the experiences he had with them. It just wasn't enough to make him stop what he wanted to accomplish.

  • Note: Bryan Fuller drafted much of the first season & Kurtzman said they tried to keep as possible. Fuller had just come off of Hannibal. I wrote an article about how I think that he took a lot of Hannibal franchise ideas/arch types & molded them into Disco, where Lorca in particular is a "Hannibal" type & where Micheal is Clarice Starling and Ash Tyler is Will Graham. Here's a link: google.com/… – Darth Locke Mar 26 at 14:33
  • Lorca was only opportunistically able to get back to the mirror universe. If he couldn't have managed it, I think he would have been content to rise as high as possible in the federation and becoming a war hero definitely served those needs. Honestly, Lorca was a character squandered. His character was cheapened by the mirror universe plot line and discovery would have been better off with his continued captaincy. – Stephen Mar 28 at 23:27
  • @Stephen Maybe, but Lorca still believed that he could & that Michael Burnham was his ticket to everything he lost. It's why he pushed Stamets so hard too. I disagree that cheapened the character, because it gave the justification for why he was unethical. But I also think that Mirror Universe was a perfect juxtaposition to Klingon War and the Prime Lorca is probably still out there (book has been written about him) and for all we know he may be closer to Mirror Lorca than we might suspect for whatever reason, but I don't doubt for minute that Jason Isaacs will be back at some point. – Darth Locke Mar 29 at 1:16
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    The thing I didn't like was that they finally had a chance to have a starfleet captain that wasn't a goody two shoes and they spoiled it by saying it was because he was from the mirror universe instead of saying it was from the (already established) loss of his ship and crew. – Stephen Mar 29 at 1:23
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First point, being evil doesn't mean one can't have virtues like bravery. In the case of the battle in question, he was in battle. Given what was shown of his personality, Lorca would do his outmost to win it, not to mention that he was, intentionally or not, seeking to impress Burnham, although she was oblivious to that.

Second point, as to the ship and captain; Prime-Discovery, when it's introduced, is brand spanking new, as one of the prisoners in episode 3 goes out of his way to comment on, which means it likely only entered service sometime after Lorca exchanged places with his Prime alternate. Assuming that Mirror-Discovery has a similar history, then Lorca left the Mirror Universe before it was in service, meaning he has no way to know that Tilly would be in command, so there was no ulterior motive to him communicating via an audio channel. He could alter his voice slightly in the unlikely event there was someone on the other ship who might recognize it--he knew that the people most likely to, namely his followers, were dead or imprisoned--so as far as he knew there was no problem.

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