Discovery’s pilot has arrived in Context Is For Kings

Star Trek: Discovery’s real pilot episode, “Context Is For Kings”, has finally arrived after a two-episode cinematic experienced launched the series.

Star Trek: Discovery’s true pilot episode, “Context Is For Kings”, finally felt like an actual pilot. Unlike the premiere’s two episode event, in which much of the crew had served together on the USS Shenzhou for as many as seven years, the crew of the show’s namesake was a different story.

Six months after the events of “Battle At The Binary Stars”, Saru is now USS Discovery’s first officer, serving under Captain Lorca. The episode kicks off with Discovery taking aboard the prison transport Michael Burnham and several prisoners are on. In an interesting choice, the prisoners are at no point shackled and are permitted to eat together in the mess hall.

Naturally, a fight starts and Burnham uses Vulcan martial arts to lay waste to the other prisoners, and she’s escorted to meet Lorca. On the way through the bridge to his ready room, she is spotted by Saru on the bridge. Saru isn’t thrilled to see her and sees her as a mortal threat, as we’ll see throughout the episode.

The scene with Lorca is interesting, but it’s the first of several scenes he appears in that caused some complaints about the show’s audio. There are a couple of words and phrases that are a bit difficult to make out, but I suspect that this is due to the somewhat unique cadence he speaks with, and the sounds of a Tribble in his ready room might also add to the strange audio mix.

Be that as it may, once you get used to Lorca’s cadence, the audio is really not a challenge at all.

From here, Burnham meets various members of Discovery’s crew. Cadet Sylvia Tilly is a socially-awkward charmer, Lieutenant Paul Stamets is a brilliant but abrasive astromycologist, Commander Landry is a stern chief security officer.

It’s interesting that Tilly is a cadet, rather than an ensign. I imagine we’ll learn more about this, but it did bring back echoes of Red Squadron from The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine.

The conversation between Tilly and Burnham is entertaining. Tilly realizes that she’s rooming with THE Michael Burnham, Starfleet’s first mutineer. But not before suggesting a nickname.

Discovery’s shuttles are black, sleek and dirty. They’re fantastically appealing and a whole different thing than the boxy shuttlecrafts of TNG.

Every interaction between Burnham and Saru is poignant. Saru expresses that he would protect his captain better than she protected hers, Captain Philippa Georgiou. He expresses his pain and fear being around her through the heavy makeup and prosthetics.

When Burnham enters engineering for her assignment, Stamets is repeatedly abrupt and dismissive of her. He thought she was a Vulcan, which given her history is a reasonable assumption to make.

Engineering is a melting pot of TOS tech with Discovery-era tech. There are touchscreens and holographic communications, but there are also buttons and switches, and Stamets gives Burnham an actual disk to work with. That work involves code, some elements of which might even be familiar to programmers today.

The action begins when Discovery’s sister ship, the Glenn, suffers an accident. Lorca assigns Burnham, and naturally Stamets protests. Lorca asks Saru for his opinion on Burnham, and he says: “Mutiny aside, she is the smartest Starfleet officer I have ever known.” Lorca twists the knife as he turns back to Stamets and says: “Ha. And he knows you.”

Aboard the Glenn is a horrorscape the likes of which we may never before have seen on Star Trek. Bodies are smashed and crushed in grotesque ways, and the boarding party (not away team, mind you) comes across a number of smashed and mutilated Klingons. They stumble across a survivor who essentially “shushes” them, and then things get crazy.

Without spoiling too much, the boarding party needs to escape back to their shuttle. They do so thanks in part to splitting up as Burnham leads the attacking creature on a chase through our first look at a Jeffries tube. While Burnham escapes, she recites bits of Alice In Wonderland, but more on that later.

When the boarding party gets back to Discovery, Lorca offers her the opportunity to stay aboard rather than set off with the rest of the prisoners to their ultimate destination. Once again, without spoiling too much, we learn a great deal more about what’s going on with this ship and her captain and crew. The experiments aren’t weapons-based but speed and travel-based.

While they aren’t working on building illegal weapons (as far as we know), there’s still something dark and mysterious about Gabriel Lorca.

Back to Alice, we learn that Michael’s adopted mother, Amanda, used to read that story to her and her son when they were young. The no-name name-drop is impactful.

Observations:

Burnham’s six months in prison have hardened her. We see some of the charisma we encountered in the first two episodes, but she’s a darker, more walled off character.

Saru is magnificent, as is the way he interacts with Burnham. Doug Jones’ performance is remarkable.

It’s possible there is a parallel between Tilly and Wesley Crusher. Both young and brilliant, and Wesley’s character was always an important one to Gene Roddenberry. Perhaps she is in some way an homage to Star Trek’s creator.

It’s a dark Trek than we’re used to, but it’s a fascinating project with incredible potential. Once again, we can’t wait for Sunday.

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