STAR TREK DISCOVERY S1ep03: We now know what show this is

STAR TREK DISCOVERY S1ep03: We now know what show this is



As we discussed last week, STAR TREK DISCOVERY made the weird/interesting decision to mark its launch with a prologue rather than a pilot, leaving us with a jailed lead hero and a dead captain, but without even a whiff of the Discovery. Of all the changes this Trek has made, this last one is the one I found (perhaps unreasonably) the most jarring. I know it’s down to personal bias rather than storytelling flaws because I am really, REALLY into the ships and stations. I bond with them as much as I do the characters so being denied that introduction really stalled my ability to sink into DISCOVERY.

‘Context is for Kings’ remedies that in short order. She arrives with pomp and drama and, as one of the cons note, she is brand new. However, whatever she was intended to be when constructed by those famed Starfleet engineers, she is not a united Starship boldly exporting a message of peace and exploration. She’s riddled with secret rooms, shifty looking guards and headed by a psycho Captain.

Too harsh? I don’t think so. From the off, Gabriel Lorca is presented as a manipulative and self important war monger, and that was long before he affectionately welcomes the “kitty” into his Frankenstein layer. Saru pops back up as his Number 1, but Lorca’s right hand is a sneering yes-woman with an itchy trigger finger and a “means justify the ends” attitude. They seem like quite a pair to me, and I am not buying his end speech about the possibilities of travel. I am calling it now – Captain Lorca is a wrong’un

And this is where the rubber is going to meet the road for a lot of Star Trek fans. No other previous Trek iteration has launched itself with such moral ambiguity. Even DEEP SPACE NINE, the only one which comes close, quickly installed a mission of unity for the station’s inhabitants, and of healing for the grief-stricken Commander. That show’s strength came from finding humanity when it would be easier to let it go. It thrust Trek into a political and spiritual maelstrom and asked the characters to stand up when it would be easier to fall.

In contrast, STAR TREK DISCOVERY is built around a criminal as she boards a war ship, led by a man with more in common with Rudolf Ransom than Jim Kirk. Now, I am not sure that Burnham should be shouldering the guilt for the lost souls of the Europa, but she sure as shit thinks she should, even though her actions didn’t really change the outcome of that battle (maybe the regret is her mutiny failed?)

For me, there is disappointment in that. I had hoped The Discovery would be a ship of adventure, yes, but also positivity. A ship of good people trying to be great people; working together to overcome differences and further their understanding of the universe. We don’t have that (yet!) but perhaps that’s due to the serialised nature of the thing. Perhaps, like DEEP SPACE NINE, DISCOVERY intends to get there the long way around. Maybe this transition to pure serialisation will unfold a singular story in which characters will come to stand together for something more than victory over the Klingons.

But let’s look at the show it is rather than the show I expected. STAR TREK DISCOVERY is a mystery show, a conspiracy show, and a science fiction show. The whole biology-and-physics-are-the-same thing is kinda trippy and interesting. The fact that much of this stuff is built on the real theories of an IRL Paul Stamets lends it an extra sheen of credibility. The sequence on The Glen was creepy as fuck, and Michael Burnham comforting herself with the story of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ was a nice (albeit on the nose) touch as well as good insight into her character.

The Discovery does have SOME good people. Commander Stamets may be galactically cranky and snobbish, but he’s clearly in Starfleet for the science and exploration of it all. And Cadet Tilly is a much needed breath (pun intended) of fresh air. Seemingly the only character who hasn’t already made moral compromises for a greater good. And I am really pleased to have Saru back. He is our eyes on Burnham and I feel like the show will redeem her only when he is won over.

So good show, and maybe a good Trek show. Now we know what show it is I feel like we are in safer narrative hands. Are these good people? Will this show come to represent what we love about Star Trek? I guess at the moment that depends on your approach and bias.

After all, context is for Kings.

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