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Star Trek Dis - Season 1 - Episode 03

Star Trek Dis - 1x03 - Context Is for Kings

Originally Aired: 2017-10-1

Synopsis:
Burnham finds herself aboard the U.S.S. Discovery where she quickly realizes things are not as they seem, including the mysterious Captain Gabriel Lorca.

My Rating - 4

Fan Rating Average - 6.16

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Problems
- This episode establishes that the Discovery is a "brand new starship," further complicating any possible future rationalization to explain the visual continuity errors outlined in the past episodes. The Shenzhou was an "old ship" which could explain why the Enterprise looked so different. But if that is so, why does the Discovery, which is presumably newer than the Enterprise, look more like the Shenzhou than the Enterprise?
- Landry refers to Burnham as "Starfleet's first mutineer," but Spock states in TOS: The Tholian Web that there is no record of a mutiny on a starship before. The only way to rationalize that is that the event somehow went unrecorded, but it's hard to imagine how that could be possible given that Burnham was in prison for six months and seemingly everyone, including common criminals, knows who she was and of her mutiny. She is infamous in fact for having started the war.
- When Burnham asks Stamets whether they're dealing with biology or physics, he asks her, "Are you really so naive as to see them as different?" When he asks that question, his hands are on his lap and he's making a confused, grimacing expression. She then asks, "Sir?" and less than a second later it cuts back to him with his whole expression instantly changed and with him making a complex hand gesture to explain his prior bemusement. It was a sloppy cut. It strains credibility to believe that his facial expression changed and his hands moved so quickly.
- So if Burnham and Spock grew up together in the same house at the same time, then where was Burnham in TAS: Yesteryear?

Factoids
- Elias Toufexis, who plays the prisoner Cold on this show, also played Kenzo Gabriel on The Expanse.
- Rekha Sharma, who plays Commander Ellen Landry on this show, also played Tory Foster on Battlestar Galactica.
- When Burnham is working on the coding problem, the display she is viewing is actually displaying decompiled code from the infamous real world Stuxnet virus.
- Tilly asks Burnham, "Wow is that a book?" which heavily implies that paper books are pretty rare in the 23rd century.

Remarkable Scenes
- Burnham's convenient rescue by the Discovery.
- Captain Lorca has a pet tribble, hah.
- Lorca to Burnham regarding his fortune cookies: "It was a family business a century ago. That was before the future came and hunger, need, and want disappeared. Of course they're making a comeback now, thanks to you!"
- Saru: "I believe you feel regret. But in my mind, you're dangerous. Captain Lorca is a man who does not fear the things normal people fear. But I do. And you are someone to fear, Michael Burnham."
- Lorca: "Number One, you served with Burnham aboard the Shenzhou. What is your assessment of her abilities?" Saru: "Her mutiny aside, she is the smartest Starfleet officer I have ever known." Lorca, turning to Stamets: "Huh. And he knows you!"
- Saru: "You were always a good officer. Until you weren't."
- The Discovery destroying the Glenn.

My Review
The Discovery finally makes its debut in this episode in a remarkably shady fashion. The apparently highly corrupt Captain Lorca orchestrated a prisoner shuttle emergency to capture Burnham and manipulate her into joining his crew. Did he end up killing that shuttle pilot that came loose from the tether in the process? It's best not to dwell on such minutia... the episode certainly doesn't. What's important is Captain RansomLorca of the Federation starship EquinoxDiscovery has found a way to travel through space really really fast by experimenting on the protomolecule from The Expansesome mysterious alien stuff we've never seen before.

We have seen this basic story outline many times though. The Expanse's protomolecule notwithstanding, we've seen instantaneous travel technology on Star Trek many times. Beyond Voy: Equinox, there are a handful of other examples, but the one this episode most closely resembles is the Iconian gateways featured on TNG: Contagion and DS9: To the Death. The presentation of rotating landscapes is so similar to those portrayals in fact, it's legitimate to wonder if Iconian technology was in fact based on the same stuff that Lorca has discovered. We'll see.

What is clear though is this research project is definitely not going anywhere. Since this is a prequel, we know that nothing based on this technology ever gets developed and mainstreamed by anybody, so it's all going to go horribly wrong at some point, making it kind of hard to care about this research project at all.

In addition to that though, the coarse, sneering cynicism oozed by just about every character except for Saru also makes it difficult to sympathize with any of the people engaged in this research. It's hard to imagine why Saru, a person of clearly upstanding and incorruptible moral character, would choose to work in this den of snakes. It's sort of fuzzily implied that Saru understands the necessity of the shady secret research they're engaging in, but so far the narrative just isn't selling it. The title of the episode "Context Is for Kings" hints at what they were going for though. That and several other emotional beats in the episode are evocative of this moving exchange from BSG: Pegasus:

Adama: "Wait for all the facts. Context matters." Tigh: "Context? That woman shot an officer right in front of the crew." Adama: "We shot down an entire civilian transport with over a thousand people on board. Says so right there." Tigh: "That was completely different. And we don't know there were people on that ship." Adama: "Which is why I hope the admiral reads the complete log and understands the context."

It seems this episode is going for a similar vibe: that Lorca's actions, morally questionable as they may be, are justifiable to some degree given the context they're operating from. But that's hard to see at this moment. From what we've seen so far, Captain Ransom of the Equinox was easier to sympathize with than the borderline megalomaniacal Captain Lorca. Ransom had real, desperate reasons to act with such cruelty. Lorca seems more like a mad scientist gone batty with power.

Perhaps the worst parts of the episode though were the obligatory space monster horror scenes. Anything that resembles Ent: Impulse is definitely not going to win a lot of points. Between that and the murky character writing, this episode is a pretty significant step down in quality from the pilot. Notably though, Captain Lorca's character has some potential. The comparisons to Captain Ransom from Voyager have the potential to be quite flattering: Ransom was awesome. With a bit more careful writing, Lorca could develop into a very interesting character. They've also got some potential to connect him to Section 31 in some interesting ways here too, which could help with containing some of the continuity problems that are starting to pile up.

The following are comments submitted by my readers.

  • From Claus on 2017-10-02 at 3:49pm:
    Amazing episode! Much better than the double pilot.

    Discovery looks fantastic, and we get to see a lot of different areas on the ship without any rush. The episode builds up to a story arc which seems very interesting so far. It reveals things little by little, but at the same time we don't know whether the explanations we get are true or not. It feels more like a sci-fi thriller than of old school Star Trek. And perhaps this is the new way to go.

    As for the monster scenes aboard the Glenn. Yes, we have seen these kind of "boarding incidents" many times before. But I felt the whole episode was very exhilarating and a little creepy in a good way.
  • From Matthew on 2017-10-02 at 5:41pm:
    Great review, loved the Expanse references. I feel a bit kinder towards them on the 'problems' especially on design - there are some real buttons on the engineering consoles and there are bits that look like the Enterprise-A if not original Enterprise, but let them have some leeway on continuity with 60s set design (like we would the dodgier bits of 60s writing - no female captains!) I also can forgive the Spock mutiny thing. Yes Burnham is guilty, but it's going a bit far to say there was a mutiny on board since she never had full control of the ship, or at least we never properly found out.

    Some things had me groaning, namely Monster of the Week (double groan for it surviving til next week) and the general horror vibe (never something Trek does very well). But I find many reasons to be cheerful
    1) Sonequa Martin-Green is doing a great job
    2) Her character is intriguing as is the interpersonal conflict (very anti-Roddenberry) her backstory generates with most everyone - individual reactions to her in this episode helped us get to know other characters really quickly
    3) Saru's threat ganglia are great just for the name
    4) Tilly - fun, vulnerable, potential both to be kickass and have mismatch buddy comedy with her roommate while offering her a redemptive connect with your humanity arc
    5) We haven't even met Clem Fandango yet (Google it, then watch all of Toast of London immediately)
    6) Lorca is verging crazy in a fun 'which way will he go' way. Those fortune cookies make him seem a bit like Harvey Dent before the fall, and I guarantee the foreshadowed affair with Tory from BSG will not go well. (Given her absence from the credits, perhaps most of all for her.) I'll be disappointed if he is just a bit unorthodox / freewheeling since I strongly suspect that...
    7) ...the Section 31 angle will be massive - those mysterious black badges and the 'whatever it takes' brief given to Lorca. That is usually good news for quality as it has been a good story firewall, enabling Trek to get into entertainingly shady areas and still do optimism, all in one show; with fruitful clashes of ends justifies the means vs do what is right, to paraphrase Sloane.
  • From JD on 2017-10-03 at 3:39am:
    I really enjoyed this episode, thought it was much better that the prologue episodes.
    I think discovery is definitely a Section 31 ship and Lorca is an agent.
    I didn't mind the Alien sequence on the Glenn, I thought it was well done and the "Helical injuries" were creepy too.
    I don't think Lorca is crazy as such, he's just given a free reign to do whatever he likes to win the war.
    I think there were some references to Iconian technology and it will be interesting if the research completely fails or disappears inside Section 31.
  • From Connor on 2017-10-04 at 8:22am:
    "Landry refers to Burnham as "Starfleet's first mutineer," but Spock states in TOS: The Tholian Web that there is no record of a mutiny on a starship before."

    That's true, but Spock himself led two mutinies in TOS; the problem therefore seems to arise from the fact that TOS did a poor job keeping track of its own continuity.

    If we're to ignore his error and assume that he was speaking factually, it may be possible that Burnham's mutiny is removed from records at a later point. Perhaps this will be dealt with in the show (though, I doubt it will). Spock was after all specific in that there are no "records" of a mutiny, not that there has never been one.
  • From Coihue on 2017-10-09 at 11:49am:
    Well, starting from the dreamy angles in the first episodes, and this kind of new travel technology. I will asume that all of this will end up in a time travel reboot. Micheal will not start the war, she will not mutiny, and maybe shecan also save her parents avoiding end up being Spock's sister.

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