I am so conflicted.
I really enjoyed this episode, but there were a couple of things that gave me pause. More on that later in the review. First… the basics:
Episode Number: 103 (Season 1, Episode 3)
Episode Title: “Context Is For Kings”
Writers: Aaron Harberts, Gretchen J. Berg and Craig Sweeny
Story: Bryan Fuller, Aaron Harberts and Gretchen J. Berg
Director: Akiva Goldsman
Interesting Bits and Pieces
We get to see our first Jefferies Tube!
There is a different Starfleet delta badge worn by some officers on the Discovery. It’s all black.
A boarding party is a boarding party, not an away team (like on TNG).
Amanda is mentioned, and Spock is hinted at when Burnham talks to Tilly about her childhood.
Lorca has a Tribble. That is hopefully neutered!
Lorca has a Gorn skeleton in his private area. This is a little annoying, because I’m pretty sure we don’t officially meet the Gorn until the TOS era?
The robot is called Airiam and appears to be a Lieutenant Commander or full Commander? I hope they explain this soon. It looks like Data may have been the first “human-looking” android and not the first android in Starfleet.
The Discovery uses “breath” ID scans to access sensitive parts of the ship. It actually looks kind of silly.
Last, but not least, Lorca and Landry are up to something together, and seem to have a relationship that goes back a while.
The Recap and Review
The first few minutes of “Context Is For Kings” did not grab me on the first watch. On the second watch, I was far more interested because I knew what was coming and the scene made more sense.
We start on a prisoner transfer shuttle six-months after the events of “Battle At The Binary Stars.”
Burnham is in old school command mustard-gold, though it’s not a Starfleet uniform she is wearing, it’s prison garb. She’s not in a good head space.
Sharing the shuttle with her are three not very nice individuals, one woman, two men, all human. They’re unpleasant in every way, and this works. The scene does a few things. It shows us we’re not yet in the utopia that the Federation will become in the Picard-Sisko-Janeway era and it shows us that, as a species, humanity is still working itself out and is still trying to cast off some of its less desirable traits.
We quickly learn that Burnham is infamous as one of the prisoners tells her, with considerable anger, that she lost a family member in that battle.
Before things get violent, some kind of life form that feeds on energy starts to drain the shuttle of all power. The pilot does an emergency EVA to try and fix the problem, but her tether breaks and she shoots off into the distance. It’s all a little weird. The scene is filmed in a very flat and undramatic way. It’s devoid of intensity and energy. Even the pilots death lacks drama. She just shoots by a window. I think that’s Akiva (the Director) helping us to climb into Michael’s mind – but initially I didn’t like it.
The prisoners go into a panic but Burnham sits there, quietly, almost with an air of relief, accepting her fate. Perhaps even looking forward to it.
That, the second time around, was actually quite powerful. It’s as if Burnham wanted to die and thought she deserved it.
Suddenly, a beautiful looking starship drifts languidly into shot, tractor beam extended, to save them.
After two episodes, we finally get to see the USS Discovery.
I know the Discovery‘s design has divided fandom, but I love it. It’s recognisably Starfleet, but is it’s own thing – and it’s stunning. It’s design influence is a little alien, and I wonder at that. I don’t recognise any particular Star Trek race’s ‘fingerprints’ on the design, but find that I want to know who developed her and whether or not they were guided by an alien aesthetic.
That’s the Trek geek in my coming out!
From the moment Discovery sails in to save the day, the episode kicks into high gear and we finally get to meet most of the principle cast.
Rekha Sharma as Commander Ellen Landry is entirely unlikeable. She doesn’t seem to like or dislike Burnham, but treats everyone with what feels like contempt. Equally. Except for Gabriel Lorca.
Jason Isaacs plays our new Captain and you never know, from one moment to the next, whether or not Lorca is a good guy or a bad guy. He is entirely mysterious, almost menacing, and completely compelling.
Mary Wiseman’s Ensign Sylvia Tilly is fantastic in every way. She’s someone a lot of us can relate to. This show is serious and tense, and Tilly brings a lighter touch which is needed. I admit, I adore her. She’s awkward, a ball of anxiety, allergic to almost everything, and is just a really good and really sweet human being.
Anthony Rapp’s Lieutenant Paul Stamets is arrogant, dismissive and entirely obsessed with his work. He’s going to be an amazing character. He doesn’t seem to like Lorca, and I’m not sure if he’s Starfleet or civilian? It seems, from his dialogue, that he might have been drafted.
We reunite with Doug Jones’ Saru, and there’s also a brief, dialogue free reunion with a cybernetically altered Lieutenant Keyla Detmer from the Shenzhou, played by Emily Coutts.
Neither reunion goes well. Gone is the brother/sister vibe between Saru and Burnham. Saru is now the first officer of the Discovery, and he makes it clear that he considers Michael dangerous.
Keyla? She just stares at Michael with barely constrained hatred and turns away.
Michael is temporarily put to work in Engineering with Stamets and Tilly while the shuttle is repaired. It’s made clear she’ll ship out with the other prisoners and resume her journey when the transport is fixed.
As she gets to work, and gets a little break-and-entery, the mystery that is Discovery and her mission starts to unfold.
We learn that the Discovery has a sister ship, the USS Glenn, and the Glenn goes silent after upping their mycelial propulsion experiment.
Discovery shoots off to investigate.
Burnham, Tilly, Stamets, Landry and our first red-shirt (sorry… bronze-shirt), Ensign Ricky, shuttle over to what turns out to be a ship of horrors.
The experimental propulsion system on the Glenn has done something terrible to the biological lifeforms on the ship, and we go from Star Trek to horror-Trek in a matter of moments. Disfigured, dismembered crew litter the ship, and it appears the Klingons tried to board her as we see one – before he’s quickly eaten by some kind of slug/beetle hybrid.
It’s a scene that is both amusing and horrifying. One moment the Klingon is “shushing” the Discovery crew, the next he’s set upon by the monster and sucked into its toothy maw.
After a tense chase scene, that includes Michael reciting lines from an Alice in Wonderland book, our heroes escape, and, we learn, so too does the monster… though escape is probably the wrong word. It ends up in some sort of menagerie aboard the Discovery thanks to Commander Landry.
The episode ends with Lorca asking Burnham to stay on as a consultant. She declines, saying she committed mutiny and deserves her punishment, giving context to her despondency in the first scene. She also doubts Lorca can over rule Starfleet. He tells her he has a wide latitude in his mission, and insists she’s someone he needs.
She initially thinks its to engage in clandestine, barely legal activities in the name of the war effort and challenges him on this.
In a moment that gives us some welcome insight into Lorca’s cold and suspicious behaviour, he says it’s not. He needs people who think on their feet, and are capable of doing what is necessary to save lives.
Burnham accepts his offer, affected by Lorca’s argument: “you helped start a war, don’t you wanna help me end it?”
What will her role be? We’ll have to tune in to the next episode to find out.
“Context Is For Kings” is an excellent episode. Akiva Goldsman really can direct.
The entire episode is tight, though there is a lot of treknobabble it doesn’t get in the way, and the exposition is light.
The performance of every single actor is superb. There isn’t one weak actor in this show.
The writing… well, it feels like it’s been written by a committee and suffered as a result. Previous Trek shows have an almost lyrical narrative flow, but Star Trek: Discovery hasn’t found that yet – and I think it’s because so many people have their fingers in each script.
That might eventually prove to be a good thing, but right now it is clear the writers are still trying to find their groove.
What gave me pause?
This new way of flying. Unless I’m missing something, the Discovery appears to be mushroom-powered. Which is okay. In my day job, one part of the business I work for is looking into the science of mushrooms and how they can purify water and reclaim waste – and I am almost convinced mushrooms might save our planet, but there are four Trek series set in the future where there is zero mention of or reference to mushroom powered vessels.
Also, Lorca. I admit I love his character, but I can’t work out if he’s a genius or a sociopath.
It rubs me the wrong way that Starfleet has given this man carte blanche to find a way to defeat the Klingons.
Context may be for kings, but I need more context. We all do. Is the war going so badly after six-months, that Starfleet is willing to consider chemical weapons or some other horrific tool as a means of stopping the Klingons? Is this a Section 31 thing? Are the black markings on the Discovery a symbol it is somehow different from other Starfleet vessels?
Lorca’s moral ambiguity is both fascinating and disquieting.
The shows writers and producers have gone to great pains to assure us it will all make sense, so I’m happy to suspend my concerns and enjoy the ride, but I do hope things become a little clearer soon.
Overall, this is an intense and enjoyable third episode… or actual pilot, if you prefer to see it that way.
This series is shaping up to be something very different and uniquely wonderful. Four delta’s out of five!
The next episode of Star Trek: Discovery has the second longest title in Trek history (I think). It’s called “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry.”
The longest episode title in Trek history? To my knowledge, it’s “For The World Is Hollow, and I Have Touched the Sky.”
We’ll be back with another review in a few days time.
Star Trek: Discovery continues to look incredible, and while the show still feels a little uneven I have no doubt it will find its voice soon, and its place in Star Trek canon.
Live Long, and Prosper.