Star Trek: Discovery S01E03 "Context is for Kings"

The third episode of the series opens up a full six months after the events of the first two episodes. From the beginning, it feels more like a pilot than the first two episodes, which acted as more of a prologue in the greater context of things.

We start with our main character Michael Burnham on a prison transfer vessel. The conversation among the prisoners immediately reveals a perspective often lacking in Star Trek: what life is like for those who are not in Starfleet. It also tells us that the war with the Klingons has progressed rapidly since Michaels now infamous mutiny. The prison vessel gets caught in an electrical storm before being quickly rescued by the unexpected appearance of the series titular vessel: the USS Discovery. The prison ship is then taken aboard for service repairs.

Michael and her fellow prisoners are informed they will be on the ship for at least three days and lead to the mess hall. As they walk through, the inmates observe that Discovery is a Science vessel. One of Michael's former crew mates from the USS Shenzhou makes eye contact before quickly running away. Her fellow inmates then take advantage of the relatively low supervision and attempt to jump her. She is able to quickly thwart it with some impressive Vulcan martial arts evn though she's outnumbered. She is then immediately taken away to meet Captain Lorca.

Lorca's characterization is another departure from previous Star Trek series. Captains have always been the central characters of each Star Trek series, and they are always held in high moral esteem with unquestionable ethics. Lorca immediately presents himself as someone who isn't afraid to bend rules and manipulate situations to the advantage of his mission. He informs Michael that he will be putting her to work during her stay on Discovery. When Michael refuses, he informs her that she doesn't really have a choice.

Michael is then taken to her quarters, which she is to be confined to while off duty, and meets her temporary roommate Sylvia Tilly. This scene is thoroughly enjoyable for the sheer amount of shade that Michael throws Tilly with her facial expressions alone. While in quarters Michael experiences her first Black Alert—a protocol she is clearly unfamiliar with. Tilly refuses to explain it, and the mystery of the USS Discovery's purpose only deepens.

Her first day begins with an encounter with Saru, who is now the First Officer on Discovery. Their conversation is clearly difficult for both of them, seeing each other for the first time sense the events that started the war. She is then introduced to Lieutenant Stamets an astromycologist who assigns her some code to decipher. When she asks for more context in order to better do her job, Stamets refuses. But even with her limited resources, she is able to find a find a flaw in the code. Later that night, Michael steals saliva from her sleeping bunkmate and gains access to the restricted part of the lab to find out what they are really researching.

The next morning, the Discovery crew receives word that their sister ship (the USS Glenn) has had a malfunction and its entire crew is dead. Captain Lorca assigns an away team to investigate what happened and retrieve any salvageable research. Michael is assigned to the team along with Tilly, a clearly distraught Lieutenant Stamets, and security officer Landry. En route to their destination, Stamets reveals his distaste for Captain Lorca, calling him a warmonger. He also clearly resents Michael for starting the war with the Klingons, and thus and splitting himself up from his research partner who is now presumed dead on board the USS Glenn.

Once on board the Glenn, the away team soon discovers the remains of the crew are hideously twisted and malformed. They also find the remains of several Klingons. While they speculate what might have killed them in such a brutal fashion, the answer quickly finds them in the form of a massive unknown beast. The away team sprints to the research lab, losing one of its members along the way. There they attempt to quickly download any research and information that might give them clues to what happened on board the ship. All the while, the massive beast is gradually breaking through the door.

Here Michael uses her cunning to distract the beast and have it chase her while the rest of the team escapes. SHe leads it into the Jeffries tube while reciting passages from Alice and Wonderland. She communicates what her precise coordinates will be, and her shipmates are able to pick her up right in the nick of time. Once back on Discovery, Lorca tries to convince Michael to stay on Discovery and help them win the war she started. When she refuses based on the grounds that she will not help the Federation build a biological weapon, Lorca brings her into the fold of what is really going on. The research of the Discovery and the Glenn was focused on finding a new faster than warp means of travel, using a unique combination of astrophysics and microbiology. It is with this technology, the ability to jump anywhere and back within seconds, that Lorca hopes to turn the tide of the war effort with.

Michael finally accepts the mission, largely on the grounds of putting an end to the war she started by killing T'Kuvma. At the end of the episode, we see Michael finally bonding a little bit with Tilly. Then just before the end credits, the ethically redeemed Lorca secretly beams the massive creature from the Glenn into a containment cell on board Discovery. As the credits role, every longtime Trek fan was reminded that Lorca is not the morally uncompromising, ethically superior captain that the franchise is known for. Just like Michael is not a typical protagonist. With episode 3, we get the clearest depiction yet of what this series is all about. At it's core it has some fantastic, complex and unpredictable characters; and unlike Trek's past, they don't all get along. I, for one, can't wait to see what happens next.

Daniel Stalter's picture
on October 3, 2017

Writer and Creator of the indie comic Dream Crasher, Co-Founder of Stealing Fire Comics. Organizing member of the Brooklyn Speculative Fiction Writers, and aspiring Sith/Vulcan hybrid.