“Universal law is for lackeys. Context is for kings.” -Lorca
Previously, on Star Trek: Discovery: T’Kuvma (Chris Obi) made a lot of speeches reminding everyone, “Hey y’all, we’re Klingons and we do NOT come in peace”, Saru (Doug Jones) sensed a lotttttttttttttttt of death, Admiral Serpico (Terry Serpico OBVIOUSLY) gave a bunch of useless advice and then died, Captain Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) was everything we ever wanted her to be so the writers TOOK HER AWAY! (sob), and Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) mutineered her way into our hearts and was promptly sentenced to life in prison by the Secret Board of Shadowy Figures.
We’re six months into that prison sentence and Burnham is being transferred on a prison shuttle with a bunch of criminals. They remind everyone that Burnham now officially has the title of “The Mutineer” and that even criminals think she sucks because everyone blames her for the start of the war and the 8,186 deaths at the Battle of Binary Stars which… what? Last time I checked there was a lot of responsibility to go around for that debacle but it appears Burnham is credited with single-handedly starting a galactic war.
The prisoners and Burnham settle in for a good long guiltfest but the space bugs eating their power supply have other ideas. Their pilot red shirts into space while trying to save them and while everyone else is panicking, Burnham lays back and waits for death’s sweet embrace. But hark, there is a new space ship and a new deus ex tractor beam! The U.S.S. Discovery gets exactly the type of long, panning, establishing shot that every major ship in Star Trek deserves, and damn girl, you look good!
Aboard the brand new shiny ship, the prisoners are greeted by Commander Landry (Rekha Sharma) who swaggers out looking so badass I’m surprised there isn’t WWE fight music accompanying her entrance. She calls the criminals “garbage” and “animals” which is jarring as all hell in our supposedly utopian future society. It’s our first clue that this ship IS NOT like your average Starfleet vessel, another being the ominous black badges.
Burnham hits the cafeteria, which is tenser than it ought to be considering the Discovery doesn’t have Neelix making their food. Burnham sees one of her former crew members Detmer (Emily Coutts), who has seriously upgraded her look. Detmer won’t even look at Burnham, but everyone else can’t look away. The prisoners decide to make a move on Burnham, which turns out to be a serious mistake as she Vulcan karate chops them half to death. They’re lucky there wasn’t a handy bowl of plomeek soup around or she would’ve drowned one of them in it.
Commander Landry gives a hat tip to a fellow badass and escorts Burnham to Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs), who is skulking in his ready room looking shady as all hell. Not even a Tribble or fortune cookies or self-aware jokes about how extra and dramatic he is being soften him. I still remember vividly my first audience experience watching Jason Isaacs, when my entire theater burst into spontaneous applause at his character’s death in The Patriot because he got them to hate him so much. Isaacs has built an entire career on being a villain, so I was excited to see him be a hero for once. Because all of our Trek captains are heroes, right? Righhhhhhhhhhttttt? Hmm. Maybe not? He lets Burnham know that while she’s on HIS ship she’ll be working, whether she likes it or not. Landry dumps Burnham at her new room and leaves her to brood.
Just as I’m starting to wonder if anyone on this damn ship smiles, the doors open and spit out Cadet Tilly (Mary Wiseman) who is the sunniest ginger to ever channel Barclay. She lets Michael know that she is going to be calling her “Mickey” which Burnham shuts down in .0000001701 seconds. Tilly babbles her way into realizing she’s bunking with THE Michael Burnham, “The Mutineer” and I’m pretty sure Burnham is going to get as sick of her new title as Jaime Lannister is of “Kingslayer”. The ship goes to BLACK alert (!!!) and both the audience and Burnham are left to go, “Whhhhhaaaaattttt?”
The next morning Burnham sets out for her first day as forced prison labor, and has a much needed and extremely emotional reunion with Saru, who is now First Officer. Burnham wants to apologize, but mostly I think she wants to reconnect with someone who loved Captain Georgiou as much as she did. It is hard to watch Burnham be so cut off from every support system she has, and the loss of Georgiou as a stabilizing mentor presence on her is felt deeply. She had a woman who encouraged her and cared for her and she lost her in the blink of an eye. I have a feeling this is a wound that Burnham is going to carry for life, just like the death of her parents. Saru is gentle, but also devastating. He tells Burnham that she may be sorry, but she’s still dangerous, and she still failed to save her Captain, which is not a mistake Saru plans to make. I mean, ouch.
There has been no person I have been more excited to see on Discovery than Anthony Rapp, so my reaction when he finally graced my screen was basic flailing and running around and screaming so loudly I frightened my cat. Stamets takes one look at Burnham and reads her for absolute filth. How dare this random mutineer show up in his lab and NOT be a Vulcan? EXPLAIN. Anthony Rapp is one of the nicest dudes alive, and if Isaacs built his career on being smirky and villainous, Rapp built his on being a sweetheart and breaking into adorable musical numbers. It is straight up amazing to watch him play the douchiest of douches.
Stamets gives Burnham some science and tells her to science as far from him as possible. He checks in with his friend Straal (Saad Siddiqui) on Discovery‘s sister ship the Glenn, and they have a very mysterious conversation. Disregarding all of the science, that I will not and never plan to try to understand, what I glean from this is that Lorca is pushing Stamets to deliver on his science, but his boy Straal is pulling better numbers by possibly pushing the limits of safety. It’s nice to see Stamets interact with someone he doesn’t hate, although it definitely proves he’s that snarky with everyone. Burnham interrupts by lurking and trying to get some answers about all of the mysterious scienceing that’s going on. Stamets calls her out and sends her on her way.
Burnham tries to prove she’s not a lurker by lurking Tilly and swiping some of her drool so she can break into the lab. You gotta love that Burnham promised Saru she would be making no trouble on his ship and hours later is breaking into a top secret lab. Burnham’s gotta Burnham, I guess! The top secret lab does not in fact, hold a giant secret weapon, or even a grow room filled with weed. It’s… mushrooms? Okay.
Lorca shows up to let everyone know that, surprise! Everyone on the Glenn is dead because that’s what happens when you care more about science than safety. Safety first, everyone. Safety first. He tells Stamets to get on over to the Glenn with Landry and get the research back. Oh yeah, and also take Burnham. Stamets reacts to all of this news predictably, which is to say, he’s pissed. His friend just died, this damn mutineer is still annoying him, he’s gotta go far too close to Klingon space, and lord almighty does he despise Lorca. Saru doesn’t make Stamets’ face do anything cheerier either when he announces that Burnham is the smartest Starfleet officer he’s ever met.
Stamets, Tilly, Burnham, Landry, and a random who is definitely going to get eaten, or spaced, or shot in the face at some point take a shuttle on over to the Glenn to re-enact all of the creepiest parts of Alien. Tilly is PUMPED you guys. This is her first boarding party and it’s going to go great! She also takes a moment to apologize to Burnham for being vaguely and uncomfortably not-nice for five seconds.
Burnham still wants to know what the FUCK is going on. Stamets just needs her to stop asking her dumb questions like, what kind of science are we scienceing? Doesn’t she understand with her stupid non-Vulcan face that at its core all science is the same, the building blocks of the universe? He also gets in a truly marvelous shot at Lorca and it is clear that the basis for all of his resting bitch faces is that his science, his lovely, lovely science is being used in service of Lorca and his senseless warmongering. And THAT? That is a position I can truly get behind.
On the Glenn, we veer between shots of grossly deformed Starfleet officers, clawed up bulkheads, piles of dead Klingon bodies, and of course, a very ominous looking boot. Leg? Either way. They see a Klingon who spends his last second alive telling them to shut the fuck up before he gets eaten by a giant space monster. Random also falls to the monster, which really no one could’ve seen coming. They run like hell (FINALLY SOMEONE RUNS LIKE HELL), and barricade themselves in to carve their way out while picking up all of the Starfleet tech. Burnham coolly distracts the angry space monster and takes off for the Jefferies tubes where she quotes Alice in Wonderland and proves she is the baddest badass to ever badass. At this point, it’s apparent Burnham is just going to allow her devastating competency to speak for itself.
Burnham debriefs with Lorca, who tells her that she’s now a part of his crew. Her response is that, regardless of her indictment for war crimes, she doesn’t actually dig war crimes. She cares about Starfleet and its ideals and she is not going to violate her principles for Lorca’s shady shit. Lorca chuckles darkly and let’s her know that she’s wrong. He transports them to engineering where he shows her that rather than testing a weapon, he’s actually been using the mystery mushrooms to test a brand new way to travel in space. I’m just going to leave the science to Sue’s Science Corner and accept that any of this would be possible. Lorca has read Burnham right. He offers her a chance to explore, be on the cutting edge of science, and most importantly, a chance to right her life’s biggest mistake. How can she refuse?
Saru sits up from his nice cup of tea and salt, and senses some death, as you do. Burnham heads to her quarters to unwind, where Tilly lets her know that she’s ambitious and she thinks Burnham can help her on her journey to captain. Alice in Wonderland makes an appearance (in BOOK form, gasp!), which Amanda read to Spock and Burnham as children, which reminds Burnham that sometimes logic isn’t enough. Sometimes you’re out in the vastness of space where morality isn’t easy and the choices aren’t clear cut.
Lorca and Landry nuke the Glenn, and have a moment. I would venture a guess that Landry is one of the few people Lorca trusts. Which makes sense, because after his great recruiting speech to Burnham, he’s back on his creepy bullshit. Turns out, Lorca doesn’t just have a Gorn skeleton (shiver) and an entire creeptastic menagerie of dead things but he also rescued space monster and decided it’s his new pet. It’s like Hagrid if Hagrid was sinister as hell.
I just watched the DS9 episode Hippocratic Oath, where Worf is struggling to adjust to the station. He tells Sisko, “When I served aboard the Enterprise, I always knew who were my allies, and who were my enemies.” Sisko replies, “Let’s just say, DS9 has more shades of gray.” That’s how I feel watching Discovery. In every Star Trek series, no matter how dark, we always trusted our crew. The crew loved and trusted each other. They were always a family, out there in space, working together. When Voyager first started, they spent a few episodes teasing the idea that their crew didn’t get along by showing them glaring at each other occasionally and sending crew members to Tuvok’s School for Wayward Maquis and then everything was basically cool.
Discovery is not that. Discovery gives us a crew we don’t trust, that doesn’t trust each other, with a mission that is murky at best. It’s like we barrel rolled into the grimy underbelly of Starfleet, with spies, and war science, and ambiguous morality. It’s Star Trek: Blackwatch. It is NOT something we have seen before, which is why I think there are some people reacting so negatively to it. In some ways, the tone shares more similarity to Battlestar Galactica or Mass Effect than it does Star Trek, but I think that’s why I like it so much.
It has always been pretty rare to find stories on Star Trek that took the time to explore the idea that maybe Starfleet aren’t always the good guys. They’re there! We’ve seen traitors, and war criminals, and really dubious decision making from Starfleet before, but our crew was usually in opposition to that, pulling Starfleet back into the light. Now our crew are the ones that are steeped in the darkness, and I find that endlessly fascinating. For the first time, I genuinely do not know what is going to happen to these characters. Are they going to pull together and become a family? Or are they going to fracture to the point where they don’t survive each other? I have absolutely no idea, but I can’t wait to find out.