Sunday, October 1, 2017

REVIEW: 'Star Trek: Discovery' - Michael is Transferred to a New Mysterious Ship in 'Context Is For Kings'

CBS All Access' Star Trek: Discovery - Episode 1.03 "Context Is For Kings"

Burnham finds herself aboard the U.S.S. Discovery where she quickly realizes things are not as they seem, including the mysterious Captain Gabriel Lorca.

The pacing of Star Trek: Discovery so far has been really interesting. The opening two hours served as an original story for Michael Burnham. It established this huge conflict that would forever change her life and send Starfleet into a war with the Klingons. It conveyed the life she had as a first officer for a captain she admired and respected. And it ensured that she dealt with the severe consequences that came from her eventual mutiny. And now, "Context Is For Kings" serves as a new pilot for what the show will actually be like on an ongoing basis. The show has done a strong job establishing Michael as the lead character. She's a different type of character for this franchise. There are familiar elements to her. At first, she could be perceived as a female version of Spock. But now, it's clear that's she's an officer who lost it all and will be fighting to get it back for the organization she loves the most in this universe. That's a compelling main narrative that works because of the amount of time spent solely on her in the early going. This backstory and the inciting incident for the war with the Klingons could have been conveyed in expositional dialogue or flashbacks. Or the show could have spent its entire first season with Michael as a first officer and only got to her eventual betrayal in time for a tragic death near the end of the season. Keeping it at those opening two episodes shows that the series plans on taking the story in a completely different direction. That direction needed to be established in "Context Is For Kings." And so far, it is an intriguing premise of what could happen next.

Of course, Michael was stripped of her rank and forced to spend the rest of her days in a prison. So, it needs to be established right away how she is going to avoid that fate. It's a lame plot device where the transport ship suffers some kind of malfunction and needs to be "rescued" by the U.S.S. Discovery. The title ship of the show has finally made its debut. As soon as that reveal comes near the beginning of this episode, it's clear that Michael is going to be a part of this new environment for awhile. She boards the ship to see that it is a science vessel only with more security and secrecy than a normal ship in Starfleet. She's not expecting to stay here long. She walks into a room and everyone immediately knows who she is. They see her as the reason why the universe is now at war with the Klingons. They see her as the bringer of death and destruction to this world. Many of them have already been affected by the war. It's a fate Michael has accepted in her life. Even the people she once served alongside are critical of her. Saru is the first officer of this ship. That's a little convenient. He was the only supporting character of merit in the previous two episodes. The show needed to incorporate him into this world as well. But it's nice to see how things have changed between Michael and Saru. They didn't always get along but they had respect for one another. Now, that has changed because of what Michael did. They both understand that as well.

Moreover though, this episode needs to introduce a bunch of new characters who are bound to have importance in the main story. Some of them are more successful than others. Cadet Sylvia Tilly is Michael's roommate who is basically the comic relief character because of her various, undefined quirks. It's a character that probably has merit in this world because not everything should be super grim all of the time. But right now, she feels out of place as well. Her behavior doesn't seem to have much reason or rhythm. She's quirky because the show needs her to be without truly defining why she is the way she is. And then, Lieutenant Paul Stamets is the officer Michael will immediately report to who is very dismissive of her suggestions. That's a dynamic that is going to get old very quickly. It certainly doesn't justify casting Broadway veteran Anthony Rapp in the role. So, there's the potential of him evolving into something more. Him talking about how biology and physics are the same is a pretty compelling moment. And finally, the big debut is Jason Isaacs as Captain Gabriel Lorca. He is the commander of this ship and is immediately played as mysterious. He's a puzzle that Michael and the audience are suppose to be struggling to solve. His motivations are shrouded in secrecy. He may have brought Michael onboard for nefarious reasons. He's keeping secrets that could become very compromising very quickly. Or he could be seen as a huge ally who can genuinely help give Michael back the life she had and lost. That has the potential of working because Isaacs is very good at playing those types of characters.

Of course, the focus remains intently on Michael for the majority of this episode. Not everything is seen from her perspective. The audience does have a bit more information than she does at the moment. But it's also incredibly powerful to see just how smart and capable she is. She never stops working. She's always looking for clues to understand what's going on. She was brought to this ship for a reason. She understands that someone wants her to be here. It would be easy to assume that that person is Lorca. He clearly runs his ship very strictly. He's forceful with his orders. No one can truly question him. But it's more thrilling to see Michael get to the bottom of what's going on with this mysterious project. She is able to break into the secure room thanks to a saliva sample from her new roommate. She's able to see all the cryptic conversations about spores that are also randomly popping up all over the ship. She overhears a conversation Stamets is having with his colleague on a different ship as he expresses worry that the results may not be indicative of future success with this project. And then, that sister ship explodes. The crew is lost and the remains of the project need to be salvaged. Stamets needs to form a team to board the vessel. Michael is forced onto the mission because she's still technically a prisoner who can also hold her own in the field. That's what's required of her right now.

When this boarding party lands on this destroyed ship, it's the show taking a turn into more horror movie territory. Things are shown in even more shadows with a creature lurking behind them ready to strike. It's very ominous and claustrophobic. The mood is set nicely for the reveal that this creature killed not only the crew but the Klingons who descended on the ship hoping to steal the research as well. This creature is powerful and is quite destructive when it finally attacks. Of course, no one of merit is actually killed. Everyone just needs to run for their lives while still obtaining what they came here for. It's still ultimately up to Michael to distract the beast long enough for the others to safely return to the ship. It's a thrilling sequence that shows her expertise in the field is still very desired and useful. It's enough for Lorca to offer her a position on his ship. He has the freedom to do whatever it takes in order to win this war. He's developing a new kind of technology that can boost the speed of a ship. They can be in and out of an entire system in just a few seconds. He's able to show those possibilities to Michael in an instant. The entire universe passes before her eyes. It's breathtaking to her. It makes her see opportunity in this position even though Lorca has been very manipulative to get her here. She shouldn't trust him. There are still many mysteries aboard this ship. They are able to destroy the ship with the creature on it. And then, it's revealed that Lorca has one just like it in his office. So, this project has many more complications than what Michael currently knows about.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Context Is For Kings" was directed by Akiva Goldsman with story by Bryan Fuller, Gretchen J. Berg & Aaron Harberts and teleplay by Gretchen J. Berg, Aaron Harberts & Craig Sweeny.
  • The war with the Klingons is obviously a huge focus for the show this season. And yet, it's great that the ones that do appear in this episode are either dead bodies or quickly killed off. Those Klingon scenes in the premiere really just dragged on and on. If they are to be the main antagonists of this story, there needs to be more intrigue there. Or perhaps the focus of the season is in the mysteries on the Discovery with the war just being a thing in the background.
  • Even before the transfer ship is picked up by the Discovery, Michael is incredibly wary of what's going on because she knows Starfleet procedure and she wasn't notified about an upcoming transfer. That was strange. She kept her guard up from that moment on. She didn't form a dynamic with the other three prisoners. Instead, she fought them as soon as they came at her aboard the new ship.
  • In addition to Saru, there's another officer from the Shenzhou who has joined the ranks on Discovery. And yet, I honestly have no idea what her name is. It's just important that Michael recognizes her and she purposefully walks the other way without responding at all. That could be intriguing but she needs more of a personality first.
  • The show still has one more series regular character it needs to introduce - played by Shazad Latif. Those opening credits have been crucial in understanding what to expect from the casting and plot of the show so far. So, it'll be interesting to see when this additional character is introduced and how he'll factor into everything.
  • It's very weird that CBS All Access is debuting new episodes of Star Trek: Discovery at a specific time in primetime on Sunday nights. It's the service continuing to think as a broadcast network instead of as a streaming platform. Time slots don't matter here. Plus, it creates a direct competition with what's going on over on CBS. Why would someone watch Wisdom of the Crowd if they knew Star Trek: Discovery was airing at the same time? The easy answer is that people don't know that is happening. Plus, CBS All Access continues to be an investment that may not ultimately be worth it because the library of content isn't all that great.