a review by the Crow.
These are the voyages of the blog-ship The Corvid Review. One of its continuing missions: too explore strange new episodes of Star Trek, to seek out new characters and plots, to boldly go where no one has gone before.
CONTEXT IS FOR KINGS
UNIVERSAL REVIEWS ARE FOR LACKEYS
Context is for Kings is the latest episode of Star Trek: Discovery, and like its two predecessors, carries a less-than-fascinating name. Going into this latest episode, I knew a few things up-front:
- We would encounter the starship Discovery, her captain: Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs), and her crew (involving some familiar faces).
- This would be the true beginning of the series and would raise many questions.
- One of my major speculations about the series would be made clearer.
And happily enough, every single box has been ticked (especially that last one), but more on that later. First, lets quickly gloss over the many things that happen in the episode:
WARNING: THIS SECTION CONTAINS MODERATE SPOILERS
We pick up six months following the conclusion of the last episode (Battle At the Binary Stars), with Michael Burnham in a shuttlecraft during a prisoner transfer. She engages in some minor dialogue with her fellow convicts — if only to correct them as to the number of people lost during the encounter with the Klingons in the first two episodes — before things go awry.
The shuttle’s pilot is flung into space while scrubbing “bugs” from the hull and the ship begins to drift, directionless, into oblivion.
Cue what appears to be a Deus ex machina: Enter the USS Discovery (reg: NCC-1031), a ship whose design I had certain trepidations about, but which I’ve quickly learnt to love. Burnham and her fellow travellers are swooped up via tractor beam and lined up in front of Cdr Landry (Rekha Sharma, whom I fondly remember from the reimagined Battlestar Galactica).
We walk the halls of the Discovery and information is fed to us in short moments and vague hints (is that Section 31 I see?). People sit down to eat, a character from the previous episodes cameos for the camera, and a horribly-written fight breaks out in the canteen (no official name for the place just yet) involving Michael.
She is led up to the main bridge, where we find Saru in the captain’s chair, warming it in the absence of his Captain. He sees Michael and turns away without a word. We barely spend any time with my beloved Kelpian before we’re introduced to Captain Gabriel Lorca. His introduction is quite an interesting scene. It’s a great example of little things done right: little hints and lines weave together to make for a subtle, but effective reveal. I’m going to touch on Captain Lorca later on in my “Thoughts” section, so beware that speculation lies ahead.
Michael is put to work by the Captain, despite her wishes to stay out of matters. She meets her temporary roommate Cadet Tilly (Mary Wiseman), she does an exceptional job of not-bonding with said roommate, and she starts uncovering some of the secrets lurking in the corners of the starship Discovery.
See, the Discovery is a state-of-the-art, fresh-out-of-the-oven starship. It’s nowhere close to the ongoing war with the Klingons, and seems to be a science vessel, despite the heavy presence of militarised units who slip by the edges of our screen. It — along with its sister ship the USS Glenn — are anomalous presences out here within the context of the show’s universe. So what is it about the Discovery? What is it that instantly starts bugging Michael about the ship? Why is everyone so secretive? And what in the heck are those floating bubbles of fluid around the ship during “Black Alert”?
Those are the answers that begin to unravel in this episode.
While the writing on display is considerably stronger in this episode than in the previous two, it still suffers from some poor displays. The As you Know moments surface now and again. If their presence hints at some heavy material to come, it’d better be worth it. Packing so much information into a show up front can destabilise its ability to adequately balance out the story over the course of its run.
The production value retains its high standards, and the episode gambles with certain plot elements never-before seen in Star Trek. It might be a risky move to some, but it’s one I’m happy to see the episode take. This is more original Star Trek than the previous two episodes, despite it ending up in a frantic sequence closer to the ilk of the “nu-Trek” movies.
There are character moments, too, albeit the biggest one being a little ham-fisted near the end of the episode. I seriously doubt a little foreshadowing would be too much to ask for, and am left scratching my head as to how such a simple element of screenwriting was looked-over during the production of this episode.
The other new character we’re introduced to is Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp; and yes, the name is based on that Paul Stamets). I quite like him. Just like Saru, he’s immediately a favourite character of mine, and also gets an As You Know scene (of sorts). Mycology is nowhere close to my area, but I picked out one line which could be thought of as a minor error in one of his exposition monologues, but I won’t be too harsh since I might just be arguing semantics. In any case, I like the faux-science on display in this series right now.
If this is how Discovery starts weaning away from the large set-pieces, make it so. Context is for Kings is a breath of fresh air in the void that we’ve been left in for the past decade.
For those of you who might not want to be spoiled any further, I’ll leave our ratings here and proceed onto my next section afterwards.
THE CROW: 7/10
THE AZURE-WINGED MAGPIE: 9.5/10
Spoilers lie ahead. Please stop scrolling.
This is your final warning.
Failure to comply will result in your being spoiled.
Complaining afterwards is futile.
IN-DEPTH REVIEWS ARE FOR KINGS
Okay. I just realised my jokey-titles make me sound like a complete and utter tit. Oh well, I still think they fit. So let’s continue…
First things first: I mentioned some speculation. From the moment I first saw him in the teaser trailers, I had an inkling that Gabriel Lorca was going to become a villain (if he wasn’t one already). This episode effectively confirms it. Of all the missed opportunities at foreshadowing, Stamets’ and Saru’s dialogue to Michael in regards to her new Captain stand out as a stellar example of the technique.
We don’t even need the scene at the end (which I thought was wonderful) to add to our feelings about this spectacular man — and I use that descriptor pointedly — the way people regard him should’ve already done that. This is a man who gets what he wants, and how he wants it. Case in point: Michael Burnham. Stamets goes and even tells her this to her face; yet, at the end of the day, he wins her over with ease. He knows what he’s up to, and he’ll use any means necessary to achieve his goals. Hell, he’s not even afraid to admit to it. But he admits it with guile. I love this character already.
And with him, Cdr Landry’s character is called into question. I forsee interesting character dynamics evolving as the series progresses. Hopefully, they handle their budget wisely.
As for the science: I quite like the idea behind the “spores”. That’s about it until I know more about them and how they’ll be used in the over-arching story. But a bit more on them in a moment.
I also quite like the idea of the “bugs” which show up early in the episode. A simple concept, yet so effective.
The risks they take: This episode goes from dialogue-and-exposition-heavy to Event Horizon within seconds. I don’t believe such violence has ever been shown in an episode (or movie, for that matter) of Star Trek. The aftermath of whatever happened aboard the USS Glenn is messy and pulls no punches when our away team sets foot on the ship.
Even the Klingon we meet is wary, and is about to ally with the Starfleet outfit. He attempts to help them with a “shush”, before our Monster of the Week claims him — and subsequently, a Redshirt.
Now, about the Monster of the Week: Does this unknown creature have anything to do with the spores? That’s what’s on my mind. It didn’t just come from nowhere, and barring the USS Glenn for some reason breaking away from their mission (which is quite rigid) to pick up life-forms, I don’t see how it could’ve ended up on board. Given the fact that Captain Lorca has a “trophy room” of exotic creatures which have likely been vivisected, I’m willing to bet this isn’t the first — nor the last — time we’ll hear of such things.
And another piece of key evidence: the Glenn wasn’t producing its own spores (and possibly didn’t have a “garden” like the Discovery). We’ll have to wait and see how they play that plot-point out.
All-in-all, this is a strong entry to the series, and it’s a vast improvement over the previous two episodes. Hopefully, the showrunners and their teams have more to surprise us with. This isn’t knock-you-off-your-socks TV (although it’s close), but it’s one hell of a start to the series. Colour me happy.