Star Trek Discovery; Context is for Kings

Welcome to my recap of episode three of Star Trek Discovery, Context is for Kings.

I’ll be looking at each episode, pretty soon after it has aired. This is the first TV Trek since 2005, so dust off your mint condition replica phasers and get ready to Boldly go once more.

Episode Three – Context is for Kings

This blog contains spoilers so if you haven’t watched episode three yet – What are you? A green-blooded hobgoblin? This review will definitely contain spoilers for episode three, so this is your last chance! Ready, the review is below the photo, so let’s go.

Damn it man! I’m a writer not a quantum theorist

We start the episode 6 months after the events of the previous episode. Burnham is being transported to another facility whilst serving her prison term. An emergency occurs on the shuttle and then we get our first look at the USS Discovery. And I have to say it was like the first time I saw the Enterprise on the big screen, it looked fantastic.

Trek is boldly going darker than ever before. I always remember Wrath of Khan being pretty violent by Trek standards. It was one of the things that Roddenberry was unhappy about, remarking that the films were too militaristic. But this was maybe the most visceral and bloody episode of Trek I’ve ever seen. We saw distorted and melted bodies, glimpsed only briefly, but pretty grim.

The episode introduces us to the new crew and continues the Klingon arc but it was a self-contained episode, setting up further future threads and it was very satisfying. It was also tense as the away team encountered a creature that they may have borrowed from the movie Relic that stalks them through the deserted hallways of the USS Glen (a reference to John Glenn?).

Although the overall tone was relatively brooding there were some lighter moments, meeting Saru again and getting a glimpse of a tribble. There were other nuggets like the black Starfleet insignia. I am going to speculate that this might be Section 31. Are we going to see a proper unpacking of Section 31 for the first time in the TV canon? If we are this excites me. Section 31 is the shady secret service operating within Starfleet, so deep undercover that even the Captain doesn’t have clearance to know their mission. There is a fun series of novels exploring this, one features Dr Julian Bashir (DS9) exploring his genetically enhanced roots.

The pace of this episode was spot-on for me with enough quiet moments and character development combined with action sequences. Doug Jones remains excellent as Saru, he has his humorous moments but there is a sense of sadness about him that is beautifully portrayed, channelling Data and Spock as the bridge crew outsider.

“You helped start a war. Help me end one.”

We meet Captain Lorca, played with great charisma by Jason Isaacs. Is he evil? He certainly has an agenda and he certainly rescued Burnham deliberately to achieve this agenda. I spent the episode saying “he’s evil, he’s good, no he’s definitely evil.” Have we ever had such an ambiguous major character in Trek before, putting aside the out and out villains and Q? The story itself sees Burnham co-opted into the crew much to the disgust of everyone, especially the sassy scientist Paul Stamets, played by Anthony Rapp. They are working on a top secret form of propulsion that goes tragically wrong for their sister ship the Glenn. The Discovery have to investigate and salvage the tech before the Klingons can, we get the sense that the Federation is now at full blown war with them but the Discovery is lurking on the fringes.

Phasers set to “that was fricking awesome.”

Burnham crawling through the jefferies tubes quoting Alice in Wonderland to keep her calm was cute and continues a tradition of Trek characters being inspired by classic literature. The ship looked amazing, from the shuttle bay to the bridge it all looked firmly Star Trek-esque. We are introduced to the innocent Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman) and I think there might be scope for some banter with the Vulcan stylings of Burnham clashing with her naivete.

It is a bold narrative choice to make Burnham so hated by her crew mates, she now has a substantial redemptive journey to make and this could lead to some interesting story-telling. She is known as the “mutineer” amongst the whole of Starfleet and blamed for the start of the war, which seems a little harsh but makes for good drama.

Burnham is the centre of the show and the fact that she is kick-ass and has nothing to lose is cool. That said even at this early stage there are signs of chemistry already amongst this new crew and I think that augurs well for the future episodes.

Beyond the Guardian of Forever

We hear Burnham talk about her step-mum and brother. She names this Mum as Amanda. This opens up the possibility of meeting Spock at some point. How do we feel about this? And how come Spock never mentioned her? I guess this puts my Sarek secretly banging hot space chicks theory in the trash?

Also does anyone else think they are working on some sort of prototype to the genesis device? And is anyone else fed up with tribbles?

What continuity hits and misses did you spot?

Beam Me Up Lucius

Captain Malfoy take a bow. Jason Isaacs makes his debut as Captain Lorca and I thought he was the most impactful Captain we’ve had in the Trek universe since Sisko. He was mysterious and performed the role with a sinister gravitas, reminding me a little bit of David Morrissey’s Governor in Walking Dead.

Is he good, bad or maybe a shade of grey? I have high hopes for Captain Lorca.

A strong theme of the series so far seems to be the conflict between the Starfleet’s stated principles of exploration and scientific discovery versus military objectives. Stamets calls Lorca a war monger and is gravely concerned about their work being used for militaristic applications. This is interesting ground and echoes Carol Marcus’s complaints that Starfleet were using the genesis device for nefarious means. It was also explored in Enterprise seen through the conflict between the MACO’s (Military Assault Command Operations) and regular crew. All these connections feel deliberate.

What did you think of it all and where do you think the plot is going?

Join me over at the Trek Talk forum if you want to discuss it further. Overall I thought it was great and I’m optimistic about next week.

Until then live long and prosper

John is a writer and clinically diagnosed Trekker. You can get the latest news about his published work at his website The World Outside the Window.