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Sunday, October 01, 2017

Discovery Episode Three: "Context is for Kings"

SPOILERS for "Context is for Kings." You've been warned!

Star Trek: Discovery continues to hold my interest with "Context is for Kings," the first episode to feature the titular starship and its captain, the driven and mysterious Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs). Michael Burnham, tried, convicted and sentenced to life in prison for her actions in the show's first two episodes, winds up on the Discovery as a consultant to Captain Lorca, a situation that discomfits most of the rest of Discovery's crew.

Through Burnham's eyes, we meet Lorca early on, introduced in shadow with a really beautiful  special effect: eyes full of stars. It's one of a couple of interesting directorial touches from Akiva Goldsman, who I've disparaged for his by-the-numbers writing efforts; he seems to be a better director than screenwriter. The other touch occurs in a lab and shows the passage of time by fading crew members in and out of invisibility. Historically, Star Trek shows haven't used visual metaphor much, and it's nice to see the producers experimenting with these techniques. Lorca's starry eyes hint (perhaps deceptively) at his vision for the future, and highlight dialogue that explains he's suffering from an eye injury incurred during the war. "The doctors told me I had to stay in the shadows a bit if I wanted to keep my own eyes...and I do."

Burnham is brought aboard to help Lorca and the Discovery research a new means of propulsion, one that could change the tide of the war in the short term, and open up the whole galaxy to much faster exploration in the long term. But something's gone wrong on the USS Glenn, Discovery's sister ship, and Burnham and an away team board the stricken Glenn to discover what happened to her crew. A very effective horror sequence kicks off, and naturally Burnham plays a key role in recovering important information and helping the boarding party escape with their lives. But she's not redeemed yet - nowhere close.

Aside from the visual touches, I appreciated Burnham's response to her situation in this episode. She's genuinely remorseful and committed to serving her time for her crimes. She doesn't make excuses or get defensive; she accepts that former colleagues and new associates fear and mistrust her. She only accepts posting on the Discovery because Lorca makes a convincing argument that she can, perhaps, help end the war she started with the Klingons, and therefore save lives. I also enjoyed the care and attention paid to production design, from the Discovery's interior and exterior details to the very believable prison shuttle craft. We get to see a little more Saru, so far the show's breakout character, who's been promoted to First Officer of Discovery and remains more than a little wary of Burnham, while recognizing her talents. We also meet the prickly genius Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and Cadet Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman), whose endearing nervousness and enthusiasm are quite refreshing given the more serious dispositions of the show's other players. Already, I want to see more of these characters - a good sign.

Star Trek: Discovery has, so far, improved with each episode. If they can keep this up, it could transition from good to great.


Jeff Shyluk said...

Star Trek: Dichotomy

This was definitely an interesting and mysterious episode, much more so than the set-up episodes with the conventional war. However, it's a distinct split from most of any Trek we've seen before. It's at once very smooth and self-assured while also clumsy and halting. It embraces exploration but also mass destruction. Some of the expositions are elegant and erudite, while other fall flat. There's also metaphor, but what metaphor SPOILER matches up with exploding the Glenn and killing its crew in the most gruesome fashion?

This isn't a Star Trek show you could watch with kids, not like the classic series or The Next Generation. I wonder what Kirk would do if he knew the Discovery existed? Are we supposed to cheer on the valiant crew as they build their mad science weapon? It reminds me very strongly of the hawkish parts of Bowling For Columbine, how good people live with the industry of building rockets and bombs. I imagine these questions will be dealt with as the series goes on. Up is down, indeed, bring on the Red Queen.

I will say this: the unexpected Federation specialty in exomycology is up there in science fiction botany with A Scanner Darkly, or at least to the X-Files episode where Scully and Mulder are eaten by a giant mushroom.

Earl J. Woods said...

The one thing you can say about this show is that it's doing its best to break the Star Trek mold, for good or ill. I'm enjoying the ride so far - with reservations - but time will tell if it all holds together. I think Paul Stamets and Saru might be my favourites, though I do enjoy Captain Lorca even if I haven't quite figured out yet if he's a dangerous warhawk lunatic or...not.