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Star Trek: Discovery - Context is For Kings - Review: "Welcome to the USS Discovery"

Star Trek: Discovery 1.03 "Context is for Kings" - Review:
Directed by Akiva Goldsman, Story by Bryan Fuller, Gretchen J. Berg & Aaron Harberts & Teleplay by Gretchen J. Berg, Aaron Harberts & Craig Sweeny

It was always going to be interesting to see where Star Trek: Discovery would go after its two-hour pilot episode that aired on CBS and then CBS: All Access, and the decision to treat the two part pilot episode as essentially a prequel for what is to come really helped lay the groundwork for the characters, as we follow Michael Burnham and her new journey on board, finally - the USS Discovery. By this point she's received international fame throughout the Federation as being Starfleet's first mutineer who started a war with the Klingons, and as a result many blame her for the deaths of the Starfleet officers at the hands of the Klingons. The attitude towards her is extremely frosty, to the point where the prisoners on board the prisoner transport vessel that she's assigned to are actively trying to kill her off, even starting a brawl in front of Starfleet Officers. Not the smartest of moves, but it's enough to remind them and everyone else that Michael, even if she may not be a First Officer anymore, is still that same person, even if she's living with the regret that was caused by her actions. She believes she should see out her punishment, but is her head about to be turned by the mysterious purpose of the USS Discovery?

The big mystery behind the activities on board the ship was an interesting one that made the maximum use of its episode title, a line quoted by Burnham's new captain, Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs, Harry Potter's Lucius Malfoy). Burnham makes the assumption that the Captain of the Discovery is up to something and possibly experimenting in illegal weapons, already giving Lora a distinct difference to the Captains that we've seen before him. Isaacs himself claimed in an Comic Con panel that "I’m not allowed to say that he’s probably more f–ked up than any of them", referring to the previous captains, who have all been for the most part honourable and prime examples of the best of Starfleet has to offer. Lorca is an enigma so far, and even though he does his best to brush aside the accusation held by Burnham as she does some snooping of her own, time remains to be seen of whether he's full on evil and in it for his own, or whether he's closer to Benjamin Sisko than first thought, doing anything that he can to win the war for his own people. I hope somewhere along the line we get an episode as good as In the Pale Moonlight, which is one of my favourite TV episodes ever, not just from any Trek show to add further depth to his character, if we are headed down that route, but for now we have to make do with the ominous sign of the alien salvaged from the destroyed sister ship of the Discovery, which can only mean ill things for the future.

I loved the subtle touches of humour in this episode that came in large parts from Sylvia Tilly, a cadet in her final year at Starfleet Academy played by Mary Wiseman (Longmire), who brings a lot of heart to the series in her attitude towards people. She's kind, eager and innocent, wanting to make friends, and gets some of the best lines in this episode. Her reaction to learning who Michael is was gold, and given that the two are now essentially operating as roommates it's going to be interesting to watch that relationship continue to develop over the course of the series as Tilly becomes more and more experienced in her role. It's rare that we get to see someone this low in the Starfleet hierarchy on Trek, starting right at the start, so it's certainly going to be interesting to watch how Tilly evolves over the course of the season going forward. She has dreams of being a captain, but at the moment, it's clear that she has a long way to go before she reaches Starfleet Captain Material.

The decision to play this episode out as mostly a second pilot really helped, too. After all, second pilots are something that Star Trek has experience, so even though with this episode we mostly got introduced to a whole new cast, there were a few familiar faces from the ill-fated Shenzhou that we got to catch up with. Some may call it a coincidence that Burnham ended up on the same ship as Saru, who has now been promoted to first officer, but the way it set things up it looks as though Lorca has clearly had a hand in bringing Saru about the ship, just like he was responsible for diverting the prisoner cargo transport to the Discovery so he could bring aboard Burnham. Either way, I'm not complaining, as Saru, like most of the cast here, is excellent, as he gets one of the best lines. "You were always a good officer. Until you weren’t," he tells Burnham, who is six months into the her prison sentence. That doesn't stop Saru from speaking up for Burnham and recommending her to join the boarding party of the USS Glen, and he even provides a recommendation for her to stay on the Discovery. But at the episode's end, Saru gets an ominous feeling when the prisoner ship flies away without Burnham on board that things are about to go from bad to worse.

Lt. Paul Stamets was the other main crewmember on board the Discovery we were introduced to this week. He is played by Anthony Rapp, who has had brief roles in shows like The X-Files, Psych, The Good Fight, Law and Order: SVU & The Knick before, so chances are you've probably seen him before somewhere if you've seen these shows. Here he's a Science Officer specializing in astromycology, and was working on an experiment with a colleague on the USS Glenn. He blames the war for separating both of them and had it not happened they would have been allowed to continue their research together. What they are working on it turns out is combining biology and physics together with the hopes of creating near-instantaneous space travel. The ability to get characters from one side of the galaxy to another in an instant, visiting multiple worlds without delay would almost certainly win the war against the Klingons. But the Klingons also seem to be aware of the research at least based on the fact that they were on board The Glenn shortly before the boarding party from the Discovery, and as a result, it looks like we're going to be seeing more of them for the foreseeable future, and they are going to be the main antagonists of the show going forward, at least until Lorca's true intentions are revealed.

We also had our first Spock reference this week, and it's good to see that the show isn't going overboard with its references thus so far, keeping them mostly to a minimum. The inclusion of Alice in Wonderland was a nice touch, as was the casting of Rekha Sharma on the series as the Security chief Landry, who seems to be aware of Lorca's scheming, whatever it is. Sharma is of course notable for her role as Tory Foster on Battlestar Galactica, and I'm hoping that because of this casting choice she gets a bigger role than what we saw of her in this episode going forward. But it's understandable that some characters may get pushed to the side at this early stage as there's still a lot that the show has to focus on, which to be fair, it did pretty successfully, setting up the Discovery's main goal and objective.

There's also the sense of foreboding dread that comes with a prequel attempting to introduce ideas that aren't in the sequel series and that gives a direction of what Star Trek: Discovery is headed towards. Because we've seen where Star Trek is headed next, we know where it's going, and it ultimately means that something has to happen to the ship that will prevent the technology from being used en masse, Something catastrophic that makes the progress backfire spectacularly. That lingering element of suspense will play out for the foreseeable future but when everything unravels, at least based on what we've seen so far, it's going to be spectacular. Everything has been utterly fantastic and I'm going to have to put Star Trek: Discovery down as not just one of the best new space opera shows of the year but one of the best new shows of the year period, especially in fall season. Its graphics look amazing and the tighter, more constrained pace of this episode really played to its strengths effectively.

What did you think of Star Trek: Discovery's latest episode, "Context is For Kings"? Where do you think Orca is headed? Let me know in the comments section below and check out the next episode on Sunday through CBS All Access, or the following day on Netflix outside of the US and Canada.

About the Author - Milo MJ
Milo is an Arsenal FC supporter and loves TV shows like Battlestar Galactica, Justified, The Wire, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Person of Interest. He reviews Preacher, The Exorcist, Star Wars Rebels, Star Trek Discovery, Silicon Valley and Veep for Spoiler TV and will be covering Castle Rock, Counterpart, Krypton, Marvel's New Warriors, Rise, Marvel's Runaways, Succession and Trust. He also contributes to comic reviews on a weekly basis for All-Comic. He also regularly watches and reviews films on Letterboxd, and you can find his ever-changing list of 300 favourite movies here.
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