Star Trek: Discovery Season 1 Episode 3: Context is for Kings Review

If you would like to read my review of last week’s episode, click here.

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. (IMDB)

Writer: Bryan Fuller & Alex Kurtzman

Director: Akiva Goldsman

Rating: TV-MA

Running Time: 43 mins

After a premiere that looked like Star Trek, sounded like Star Trek, but didn’t have the essence of Star Trek, the third episode “Context is for Kings” reeled it in. The heart of this franchise is exploring themes like moral ambiguity, ethical dilemmas and of course science and while these themes were more or less lacking from the first two episodes, which really more of a standalone prologue and character backstory for Michael Burnham, the third episode finally got to the main premise of the show.

“Context is for Kings” starts off with a slight time jump as it’s now six months into the war between the Federation and Klingons. Michael Burnham is on a prisoner transport that gets attacked by electricity-eating parasites and after their pilot is killed, the ship is saved by the U.S.S. Discovery. Cue the obligatory panoramic shot of the ship. At this point we are slowly introduced to different crew members on the ship that will obviously round out the supporting cast of this series.

This includes:

  • Commander Landry (Rekha Sharma), Head of Security (Cue the line of rotating red shirts)
  • Saru, First Officer of the U.S.S. Discovery (The only prominent returning character)
  • Cadey Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman), Michael Burnham’s reluctant roommate
  • Captain Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs), skipper of the U.S.S. Discovery (And fortune cookie lover)
  • Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp), Head of Engineering (And reluctant crew member)

This episode does introduce us to these characters and their dynamic aboard the ship, but the two that get the most development are Captain Lorca and Lt. Stamets. Lorca seems to be a captain with a hidden agenda, whether that be his own or with his superiors is still a mystery. It’s interesting to note that whenever the ship’s scientific exploration directive is questioned, they divert away rather than giving any answer. Stamets was the standout in terms of new characters as the season’s premise focuses primarily on his research. Not to mention he’s more or less a prisoner on Lorca’s ship acting as a conscripted science officer for the war effort. Anyway back to the episode!

After Burnham is introduced to each of these characters, she’s ordered by Captain Lorca to work on a super secret engineering project for Stamets. She asks for answers to get some insight into what they are building so she can solve problems easier knowing more variables, but those questions are ignored, prompting Burnham to break into the lab and see a spore farm.

At this point the Discovery’s sister ship the U.S.S. Glen is found floating through space with no life signs onboard. Lorca orders a team to go and retrieve the engineering data on the Glen sending Stamets, Landry, Tilly, Burnham and an unnamed security crew member. The team explores the Glen to find the crews bodies contorted, and dead Klingons onboard. Suddenly something runs by through the dark. Since when was Star Trek like Alien?

They see a Klingon who is quickly devoured by a giant alien cat creature that also quickly disposes of the security crew. Yay first red shirt! The rest of the team makes it to the science quarter and retrieve the data. With the monster on their tail, Burnham distracts it while the crew escapes to the transport and she’s able to make it in the nick of time.

On the bridge Saru compliments Burnham, calling her a good officer and valuable asset. But that doesn’t stop her from interrogating Lorca, believing he wants her on the ship to help create a spore-based biological weapon to help win the war. Lorca explains that the spores she saw are for a new propulsion system, allowing the Discovery instantaneous travel which he believes will be what wins the war. Lorca did not choose her as an ex-officer with a grudge against the Klingons, but for her intellect and out of the box thinking. You helped start a war, don’t you want to help me end it?

The episode ends with Lorca and Landry blowing up the U.S.S. Glen, but not after beaming the beast onboard the Discovery for Lorca’s own agenda.

The production that goes into this show cannot be overstated. The quality rivals the J.J. Abrams films and that is great to see. Sonequa Martin-Green gets a lot more to work with in this episode and she owns it. She’s obviously scarred from the events of the premiere, and it shows, but it also hasn’t stopped her from being an invaluable asset to the Federation. One scene that stands out was where she’s evading the monster in the tubes while reciting lines from Alice in Wonderland, it helped blend her Vulcan training and human nature together.

However, the best thing about this episode is that it dives into the feeling of Star Trek. It tackles those feelings of morality and ethics, but at the same time brings a fresh take to it, modernizing the series for the new golden age of television. In a time where hyper action has become a norm for films and TV, it’ll be interesting to see where this show plans to go. If this episode is any indication, it appears like this series will bring enough action to appease modern audiences, but focus on what makes Star Trek so unique.

Questions:

  • Did Captain Lorca cause Burnham’s shuttle to fall into his hands?
  • What is Landry’s role in Lorca’s plan? She is obviously privy to information that others like Saru might not. Exhibit A: the alien cat.
  • What is up with the “black badge” officers, and what are they guarding?
  • Why would Lorca advise Burnham bunking with the most impressionable cadet ever?
  • What’s with Lorca’s obsession with fortune cookies?
  • And is the spore propulsion system going to succeed? Given where this show fits in the timeline of Star Trek, I’m going to have to say unlikely.

Overall, this was a great episode. It finally introduces us to the U.S.S. Discovery and its main cast. While the visuals and production are again a marvel to look at, it’s the return to the essence of Star Trek’s central themes that helps create optimism for the season going forward.

Score: 9/10

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