by Bob Collins, October 2nd, 2017
I was initially considering a line of ‘play by play’ tweets as I watched ‘Context is for Kings’, episode three of Star Trek: Discovery, but thought that perhaps a full on post would be better. Mostly since there were several moments where I had to think about reconciling what I saw with established canon. ***Spoilers ahead, as well as an incredible amount of Star Trek nerd talk.
I don’t have plans to go back and do the first two episodes. At least not yet, since I’ve already seen them. The following was done as I watched the episode.
- We’ve clearly established Michael’s the main character of this thing, so it’s pretty natural to see her on a shuttle to wherever she’s going to serve her sentence. Though I’m unclear on what’s been going on for the past six months for her. I’ve never been through the Federation Justice System, so I’m unfamiliar with prisoner transfer protocols and how prisoners spend their time. Though shouldn’t she be in a Starfleet stockade instead? We know Starfleet has some kind code of military justice, as it’s been on display numerous times throughout the franchise. Maybe Starfleet and the Federation’s prison system is unified.
- Only one shuttle pilot, with three prisoners aboard. I mean, they don’t seem like dangerous criminals, the fellow inmates of Michael, and the shuttle isn’t exactly full. I’m a bit confused also as to why the cockpit isn’t a separate compartment all the time from the holding cell. Unless this is just a shuttle, and not a special prisoner transport of some kind.
- Two of the prisoners here are talking about how new the USS Discovery is. It stands to reason equipment would have some wear and tear on it after a lot of use. Though it now begs the question of who these prisoners are, and if starship recognition is a common thing among citizens of the Federation.
- “I’m Commander Landry. I don’t like any of you. Especially you, Michael Burnham.”
- “What’s with all the silver shirts?” “It’s a science vessel.” I didn’t pick up on silver being science department until this. Starfleet uniforms have changed quite a bit over the franchise, with colors representing department being a common theme among them. These uniforms I hope disappear after this season, and are replaced by the TOS ones since it would be more time appropriate. Only reason I could think of that we’re not using them now is ‘We don’t want people confusing this show with the new Star Trek movies.’, which if true is a pretty dumb reason.
- Black badge… Section 31?
- Prior crew sighting from the USS Shenzhou in the mess hall. Though I don’t remember what that person did.
- Why was it a good idea for the three other inmates to attack Michael in the mess hall, that’s full of other Starfleet Officers, and what look like heavily armed security personnel? I mean, what really was the endgame of this plan?
- Commander Landry dissing Vulcan Kung Fu. I’m kinda hoping she eats it later.
- Hey, Saru. I do enjoy his character, though now we have three prior Shenzhou crew on the ship, which isn’t feeling like a coincidence.
- Finally introduced to Lorca, and he’s got a pet tribble. I probably would have a pet tribble too. Probably wouldn’t have a dish of fortune cookies just hanging out though.
- So Michael and Lorca have a conversation here, that seems to come down to Michael getting press ganged for duty on the Discovery. Lorca is playing it off as some kind of “Well, you happen to be here, so you get to work.”, but I couldn’t think of duties that would be appropriate for a prisoner outside of scrubbing plasma conduits. She’s serving out a sentence for life due to mutiny. In addition to that, the “storm” they passed through earlier didn’t look all that big. So either the pilot of the shuttle is super incompetent, or clearly Michael is supposed to be here.
- Display of the current front line is neat. I want to know more about that.
- Chief of Security, Commander Landry is escorting Michael around. I’m more convinced now that Michael’s been brought here deliberately.
- Cadet Sylvia Tilly. Cadet. Why is a cadet serving on a ship, with black badge (whatever that means) Starfleet Security hanging around during a time of war? Has allergies to fabrics, and wasn’t allowed a roommate because of it, so I’m leaning in the direction of her being super smart. Her combadge has an engineering symbol on it, so she’s gotta be at least Scotty levels of engineering awesome.
- Black Alert means what exactly? I’m with Michael on ‘What’s going on here?’
- Now Saru is escorting Michael around. Though any excuse to have Saru be in the scene is fine with me. And hey, free blueberries.
- “On Discovery, our facilities can accommodate three-hundred discrete scientific missions. A Starfleet record.”, I’ll say. Is that just computer modelling? Cause if we’re talking about separate lab facilities, then Discovery is GIANT in comparison to anything in the fleet at this time, or anytime moving forward. Which given the shot of the shuttle landing on the ship earlier and subsequent flyover in the episode, I’d peg the Discovery as being around the same size as the original prime universe Consitution-class. The Galaxy-class, which won’t be in service for about one-hundred years, is forty-two decks high and doesn’t have anywhere near that many labs in it. So we’re either getting TARDIS levels of space management, or Saru isn’t being completely honest here about the Discovery’s scientific capabilities.
- Saru’s moment of ‘I’m not going to tolerate your shit here.’ Fantastic.
- Lieutenant Stamets might appear to be an asshole here, but his reaction to Michael is understandable. Really most of the crew’s reaction to Michael so far has been understandable. She’s convicted of mutiny after all. And the show is going to keep reminding you of that by having the crew act like an asshole to her until she does something amazing. Perhaps like this code analysis thing?
- “Why would I tell a prisoner of the Federation who is essentially a temp the details of my top-secret research?” Didn’t you just hand her a disk with a bunch of code on it that’s key to your research? Why would you do that? And how does Michael know the code portion she points out is a mistake if she doesn’t know what the code is supposed to do? Either Michael is being tested, or Lieutenant Stamets is BAD at being a super secret Starfleet Officer research person.
- Breath scan is a new one. Though wouldn’t DNA scan be just as good? Isn’t that what it essentially is?
- So, Cadet Sylvia Tilly has access to this bedazzled arboretum too? Given the stink Stamets gave about Michael, Sylvia has to be super smart.
- So the ship that Stamets was talking to just went down, all hands lost. Given the conversation between Stamets and the other officer over the communications line, both ships are engaged in some sort of similar research. Going to bet now that the project made things go sideways.
- Lorca comes down to the engineering lab/arboretum/bedazzler bay to have Stamets put together a science team to go over to the USS Glenn, and says Michael should go along. Stamets raises a stink about it, which tells me that Stamets was not in on the ‘Let’s test Michael’ plot that’s becoming more and more present within this episode. Stamets clearly just wants to science at stuff, and Lorca is making him do things he doesn’t want to do. Like take the mutinous Michael Burnham along on the trip to the Glenn, cause reasons.
- And there it is, Tilly is the best ‘Theoretical Engineer’ on the ship, and why she was fast-tracked at Starfleet Academy. Which that does explain the small group of people working together in the engineering lab. For those that don’t know, a Theoretical Engineer is someone that spends time trying to figure out how the universe works. Tilly, a Starfleet Cadet, is likely around twenty to twenty-five years of age, assuming she joined Starfleet Academy at eighteen. Which if she’s been pushed through the Academy, then assigned to the Discovery, and is working onboard as a Theoretical Engineer, she’s like super-super-super smart. Which again begs the question of just what the hell the Discovery is doing. Gotta be some kind of weapons research, right? We’re at war after all. Why is she on the away mission though? She doesn’t seem like away mission material, being more of a ‘in the lab’ kind of officer.
- Starfleet flak vests? Think the only time I recall seeing that sort of thing was in the original series movies, with security wearing gear that’s reminiscent of early football players. The rifles the security personnel on the shuttle are carrying also have elements of Kirk’s rifle in the episode ‘Where No Man Has Gone Before’ in season one of TOS, which I think is great. It’s these kinds of aesthetic updates are what I would consider good ones.
- Stamets confirming my suspicion about the research being related to the war. Though we don’t know what it is still, other than it’s got something to do with quantum mechanics on some level.
- I hope Landry gets killed on the Glenn for dissing Vulcan Kung Fu.
- And we’ve now come across a mangled crewman of the Glenn, and Stamets is asking Tilly to check if the injuries to the crewman match the stress to the ship. We also know that Stamets and his team, as well as the team on the Glenn, were working on some sort of quantum level stuff, which is again confirmed by Tilly’s Theoretical Engineer background. Is there some sort of Philadelphia Experiment level stuff going on here? We trying to transport ships instantly?
- Hey something moved back there. And more mangled crew. Ship is scary place.
- Pretend-Klingons’ Bat’leth? So the Klingons are here.
- Yep, dead pretend-Klingons.
- Some kind of monster is also on the ship? Where did it come from? I mean, if the ship’s crew has been mangled up by the previous experiment, did the Klingons bring it aboard?
- “Set phasers to kill!” Yeah, not so cocky now are you Landry.
- Why are we quoting ‘Alice in Wonderland’? It does give some explanation for what Michael’s plan was, crawling through the Jefferies tube to come back to the shuttle as it took off. I’m unclear on how Alice’s particular transformation figures into this. A simple ‘I’m going to distract it, meet you back at the shuttle!’ would’ve sufficed. Unless we’re setting up something else?
- Commander Areum(sp?), what are you? And why do we have so many Commanders on the ship? That’s at least three I’ve counted so far. Lorca’s certainly monopolizing senior personnel in Starfleet considering that the fleet isn’t that big at this time. I don’t think we have the twelve Constitution-class ships all built quite yet. USS Enterprise is in service under Captain Christopher Pike at this time. So whatever Discovery has going on must be some pretty top-top-top-secret super important thing.
- I have to admit that the whole site-to-site transport thing would likely be utilized by a large portion of the population today were it available, but it kinda seems like Lorca’s just not interested in mingling with the common folk of his ship. Sure, we could say he can’t walk around the ship normally due to his war injury that makes it hard for him to see without a significant adjustment period when the light level changes, but you just beamed into the Engineering Lab where there are bright lights everywhere. I’m not buying it Lorca.
- Oooooooh, Lorca knows you broke into the lab, Michael.
- Starfleet Philadelphia Experiment confirmed.
- Also, we appear to have created something similar to an Iconian Gateway in the chamber?
- So Lorca wants Michael because she’s willing to throw Starfleet rules out the window in favor of doing ‘what’s right.’ I’m unclear on what the fortune cookie signifies, but Michael takes it which apparently is her agreeing to stay aboard.
- “Wow, is that a book?”, is not something a Starfleet Cadet would say. Books aren’t a lost relic in the Star Trek Universe. The book is ‘Alice in Wonderland’, and Michael explains that her foster mother on Vulcan would read it to her. That still doesn’t explain the reference to it when she was in the Jefferies tube, distracting the creature as part of a plan to let the other escape. Though the ‘up is down’ reference Michael makes does have a resonance in regards to Michael’s life so far, and makes sense.
- Aright, so Lorca has some kind of lab where the monster thing from the Glenn is now being held. Which of course it was Landry that beamed it aboard.
- Now we’re getting confused on the scale of the ship here. The pull away shot at the end with Lorca to the ship warping away would lead me to believe the Discovery is about as big, if not bigger, than a Galaxy-class ship. So, which is it? Cause if we’re going with the Discovery being huge, I’m not going to accept the idea that we’re in the Prime Universe, despite the claims by the production crew that we are. Size matters folks.
I’m not feeling a strong argument here for Michael Burnham being aboard the Discovery if her talent is breaking the rules in favor of doing what’s right. Lorca seems to already have that in Landry.
Perhaps it’s because Michael has a science background from the Vulcan Science Academy? Maybe… but we already have a specialized team with Stamets leading it, that’s got some sort of Philadelphia Experiment thing going on, with people like Tilly on it that are crazy-smart Theoretical Engineers. We’re having to bring Michael up to speed on what’s going on, and the scene in the shuttle where Stamets is explaining quantum level stuff to Michael makes me think Michael isn’t the right person for that part specifically.
This whole ‘instant transportation’ experiment (Philadelphia Experiment) that the Discovery, and the Glenn, were engaging in also means one of two things for the Discovery. Either the research will prove to be fruitless, or the Discovery is going to be destroyed with the research lost. Since we’re proceeding with the idea that we’re in the Prime Universe, and we don’t have that technology in use in any other series with the exception of Daniels, who was a temporal agent from the 31st century. That’s a little ways away for the timeline. Like eight-hundred years away.
Another possibility might be that Starfleet secrets the technology away after winning the war? Or maybe Section 31 steals it? I’m willing to hear theories on that, but for now I’m betting on Discovery’s destruction by series end.
It felt more like we were just being introduced to the USS Discovery and her crew through Michael’s eyes on this one, as well as Starfleet’s version of the Philadelphia Experiment. Lorca doesn’t seem all that war-mongering so far. The ending bit with the monster from the Glenn being in the containment cell kind of alludes to perhaps a mind of violence, but we are at war with the Klingons.
Stamets seems like a classic “I just wanted to science stuff, but the military wants me to make weapons.”, kind of character, which is appropriate for a Star Trek show where war is a thing. Landry hasn’t done anything except let inmates fight each other in the mess hall, as well as diss on Vulcan Kung Fu. Saru is being Saru, which is aright with me. Tilly feels like our designated awkward nerd on the ship. She hasn’t done anything amazing yet, but I’m eager to see where the character goes.
I suppose I’m still kinda waiting on Discovery to reveal itself on what it wants to be. Is it a war drama? Is it the adventures of Michael Burnham? Is it science and discovery just with Klingons as the bad guys again? I’m left confused on what we’re viewing, and some of that confusion stems from comparison to prior installments in the Star Trek franchise, as Discovery is remarkably different from them. We aren’t out on a mission of exploration. In fact, our mission right now appears to be to develop new technologies and weaponize them where no one has weaponized before. We are at war, so I understand if that’s the premise we’re going with, but the path to it has been a bit circuitous.
I will be watching episode four next week of course, and will provide more commentary.
***BONUS: After Trek commentary
- *First viewer feedback read out on air* Explain. What makes this the best Trek you’ve ever seen? Cause I’m genuinely confused.
- How did you get any of that out of Cadet Tilly? I only got awkward nerd girl.
- Yeah, Discovery is full of secrets. Like how big is the ship, that’s a secret I want to know.
- Look, the Federation being at war isn’t new. We have examples of it. Dominion War, anyone? Klingon War before that?
- I don’t think anyone thinks Tilly doesn’t deserve to be on the USS Discovery. It’s been made pretty clear that she’s got the intellectual power to be a part of the research team. Given her demeanor up to that point though, putting her on the away mission seemed like a strange choice. The away mission was a point of development for Tilly, and I hope the writers don’t forget that as we move forward.
- Yes, tell me exactly what that monster was and where it came from.
- Or don’t tell me what the monster is and where it came from. That’s cool too.
- Okay, so we have a reiteration that ‘Alice in Wonderland’ was read to Michael as a kid, and it’s clearly important to her. What does this have to do with the scene in the Jefferies tube?
- Why would Michael be on Lorca’s radar if she hadn’t been a mutineer? That plot point is EXACTLY why Lorca brought her onto Discovery! She violated regulations to do what she thought was right. Without that, she’s just another XO in Starfleet.
- We keep going on about how Michael is one of the best and brightest. What qualifies her as that? The only unique thing we’re aware of is that she went to the Vulcan Science Academy. Which, why don’t we just recruit more Vulcans if that’s what makes Starfleet Officers the best and brightest?
- Saru makeup! You keep doing you, Doug Jones.
- I agree, long live Saru!
- That’s a Gorn skeleton? Neat. At least Aaron Harberts is acknowledging that we didn’t see Gorn until Arena, which is another ten years(?) away in the Star Trek timeline. I do like what he’s mentioning about ‘What does this tell us about Lorca, that he has this skeleton?’
- And Aaron dodges the question of whether the mess hall fight was a test or not. I’ll refer you, reader, back to my point about that fight being a dumb choice for the other prisoners in the episode commentary above.
- Landry has romantic feelings for Lorca? I couldn’t really tell. Felt more like she was just a loyal officer to Lorca.
- So, on the show we’re growing mushrooms in space that allow us to travel place to place in the blink of an eye? Did I interpret that right?
- My prediction: We’ll get another episode of Michael being called ‘the best and brightest’ while watching other people do stuff.
- I don’t want to be roommates with either Stamets or Tilly. I’d rather be roommates with Michael.
After Trek’s second episode hasn’t really changed my opinion that it feels like a marketing gimmick. It’s not really answering any questions about anything, at least not ones I find relevant, and instead kinda just feels like it’s waving pom poms around after the show is over for the week. It might work if After Trek was free, kinda help kick up excitement about Discovery. As it stands, I don’t find it to be that great as a value add for the CBS subscription I’m already paying for. Course I’m still annoyed that my version of the subscription has advertisements.
I’ll be back next week for another Star Trek: Discovery commentary.