Sunday, October 15, 2017

Subspace Reviews: Star Trek: Discovery - Ep 3 "Context is for Kings"

Coming out of Star Trek: Discovery's opening 2-parter we now get into the show's primary storyline. The adventures on the USS Discovery!

NCC-1031. Hey! 10/31? How apt for this month.

Let's see how this story opens.

6 months have passed since the war began. The Federation has lost thousands, and Starfleet is struggling. Burnham, striped of rank, is on her way between penal colonies. Their prison shuttle is traveling through a strange cloud, when some spore starts spreading over the hull.

The pilot suddenly exits the ship to try and clean away the spores, before they can destroy the ship. And then she is lost. And now the prisoners, all locked in place, are helpless. Everyone freak outs, as the ship is out of control and soon to lose power. But Burnham is silent. She is resigned, her life is over anyway.

But things look up quickly, as the prison shuttle is caught in a tractor beam. In moments they are pulled up to the nearby USS Discovery.

 The look of this first scene and the new ship is amazing. The ship is lit and built beautifully. The space cloud is evocative, and being tractored into the shuttlebay gives our new ship a quick introductory hero moment.

Everyone wonders what is up. The Discovery looks to be a brand new state of the art ship, but it isn't near the frontlines of the war. They also see the ship is full of scientist ("silver shirts") and then armed officers with black badges. It is mysterious.

They are met by Commander Landry, head of security,who is overseeing them while they are on the ship. She is a hard and direct person, who seems very cynical about most everything.

Burnham learns, while in the mess hall, she isn't the only person from the Shenzhou aboard. The helmsman from that ship is here. Though it seems she is still recovering from injuries incurred at that battle, and she isn't remotely happy to see Burnham. It happens when your labeled a mutinous traitor.

Burnham is then jumped by her fellow prisoners, but she handles them quickly with a form of Vulcan martial arts. (I hope no one is shocked that Vulcans might study and create a martial arts. They also have fusion cuisine.) After that she is separated from them. And, the captain would like to see her.

She is taken to the bridge, where she is surprised to see another old crewmate, Saru. He's now risen to be First Officer aboard the Discovery.


Saru seems nervous to see her.

She's taken into the darkened captain's ready room.

ASIDE: And you can see a map of the frontline between the Federation and Klingons. I notice there is a bump in it that I assume is space that hasn't fallen on the Federation side. There is a bolded spot that is at the center of the bump. I wonder if that is a key member world, or major starbase.

(And there is a tribble present. Is that because they have a calming effect on humans? Or, is it because they react hostilely to Klingons?)

The room is dark, and the captain,Gabriel Lorca, is staring out the window. He explains that he had recently had an eye injury, during battle. He had the choice to get artificial eyes, or avoid quick changes of light. He doesn't want to lose his eyes.

He tries to chat with her, but she knows that something is up. She was unexpectedly transferred out of her prison. The shuttle was rerouted halfway through it's trip. And now she's aboard a strange new starship.

He then tell her she will be put in crew quarters, and then she'll be given an assignment. She balks at this. But he reminds her that he has no interest in what she wants. It's his ship, in a war, and she was in Starfleet. He needs her mind, and he will make use of it.

She's sent to quarters, and they are a little spartan, but nice. Before long she meets her roommate. A very gregarious Cadet Sylvia Tilly. She's been pulled straight out of Starfleet Academy due to very aptitudes in the sciences.

She is a hyper and excitable person, who has been told repeatedly by her instructors that she needs to work on not oversharing (talking and talking and...). She's just a happy person, though nervous. She also explains that she had been placed alone in quarters due to her allergies to a number of materials. So now that Tilly has a roommate, it means she has a new friend.

But then she learns that she's Michael Burnham, and she gets quiet.

And then a black alert is declared. Burnham has never (nor any fan) heard of a black alert. She asks Tilly, who says she can't answer unless Burnham is cleared to know about it.

As the alert occurs, Tilly lies quietly, and some strange particle floats through the quarters. Burnham's suspicions only grow.

It seems hard to imagine someone not liking Tilly, in the audience. She's that classic bright and shiny new Starfleet hopeful. The optimist who is eager to live up to Starfleet's ideals while chasing the wonders of space. It's nice to be reminded that, even in war, these people still persist in the Federation.

And it is fun to look at Burnham through all of this. She assumed she would be stuck alone, so she can be in moody solitude. Then a bundle of energy and feelings walk into the room, and won't stop taking to her. It is still amusing to go back and watch.

The next day she taken to Engineering Test Bay Alpha. Saru is the one to take her, and they share some blueberries as the walk. They get reacquainted, remembering Captain Georgiou.

Saru let's her know he respects her, but knows she is very dangerous to have around.

In the Engineering Test Bay, she is unsure what she's supposed to do, and even Tilly isn't eager to cooperate.

I really like how this space is so reminiscent of the main Engineering from classic Trek and the Engineering of the NX Class in Enterprise. Though it's function is for research, and something very different than warp.

Burnham is told to wait for Lieutenant Stamets,who is in charge of this lab. He is in another room, behind a breath print lock. He arrives moments later, brushing the spores that had gotten onto the prison shuttle off his uniform.

He is not thrilled to see her, and isn't happy to be forced to work with her. But he gives her a task/test. He hands her some data to check for errors. She spends hours, and is baffled by the mix of astrophysics and biochemistry in the data.

{It is nice to see how similar the data device is to the discs used in classic Trek.)

She finally returns it to him, and questions it. He ignores her concerns. So she just points to the errors in his work, so he can fix them.

While she was working she listened to him talk to a colleague on another ship, the Glenn. They seem to be on the same project, though that ship seems to be further along in developing whatever they are working on. He seems happy to hear about the success, but also annoyed he isn't seeing it himself. But he is also quite worried they are trying something dangerous.

This is another interesting character. He's a hardworking scientist, who's a little uncomfortable away from his research. It's his passion. But now war, and Starfleet's demands, are pushing it and him to the limits. He's stressed, and worried about what comes next, and for the safety of his friend.

Determined to know what they are all working on, Burnham hatches a plan to get in the locked lab. She takes some saliva from Tilly, she grabs a hypospray, and then spritzes the breath print. It fools the device and she's in. (Though we will learn Lorca was trying to get her curious, so it may be he set it to allow her in.)

In the room is a forest that seems to be teeming with the spores.

The next day, Lorca receives an Above Top Secret communication. The USS Glenn has been lost. They "ran a black alert" and during it all hands were lost. The news hits Stamets hard.

The captain tells Stamets that they are sending him aboard with a team to recover any vital data and technology.

He will be going with Commander Landry, Cadet Tilly, a red shirt, and...Michael Burnham. Lorca pushes this and gets Saru to back him up (Admitting that she's the smartest officer he's ever served with.)

Worse, the Glenn is adrift near Klingon space, so they need to move fast. They get on a shuttle, and warp to the Glenn. (It was inconsistent in the day, but many Classic Trek shuttles were warp capable.)

On board, Tilly is unsurprisingly giddy and talkative. But it motivates her to talk to Burnham about the day before and apologize for not being more friendly in the workspace. She explains that she had been afraid. She thought if she had been open to Burnham, she might get ostracized by the crew. But now she feels guilty about not being brave enough to just do the right thing.

She also is excited as she was picked for the away team over many others due to her knowledge, and this will be her very firsts away mission. (Don't worry Tilly. There's an unnamed red shirt on this mission you'll be fine. Okay, e do learn his last name. But it won't save him.)

As they approach the Glenn they can see scoring damage on the hull.

Stamets starts describing the damage he sees. Burnham starts to try to talk with him about it, and he tries to brush her off. She retorts, and he finally decides to share a little of his work.

His work is research at the quantum level. Biology and Physics are the same there. He is working on the core truths of life and the veins that hold the galaxy together.

Then he vents some about the war, how it's taken hold of his work, separated him from his research partner, and now killed him and his coworkers.

They land the shuttle in the Glenn's shuttlebay and head towards the Engineering Bay.

"Three episodes in and we're already doing a bottle episode?"
Along the way they see curious damage. Worse they find crew, twisted and turned inside out.

It is grim. Then they find a pile of Klingon bodies. They are unwarped, so the came aboard afterwards. But they are quite dead.

And then Tilly spots one living Klingon. And it tries to shush her.

It's quickly grabbed by something large and dangerous behind him, and the away team runs for Engineering. They reach the Engineering Bay, but they lose their red shirt.

Inside the bay they start looking around for everything they need to salvage, listening to the creature trying to get through the bulkhead.

The logs are damaged. But some new equipment the team on the Glenn was using is intact.

Stamets also finds his friend's body.

The escape route is jammed, so Landry starts to phaser through.

It will take time, so Burnham comes up with a plan. She convinces them to let her have a phaser and when the creature finally breaks in, she provokes it and gets it to chase her into the jefferies tubes.

As she goes, she recites a portion of Alice in Wonderland from memory.

She makes her way to the shuttlebay and meets the team.

Back aboard Discovery, Burnham prepares to return to prison. But Lorca pushes her to consider staying and serving. She won't.

It is partly her crimes. But mostly it's Lorca. She knows he's using her. He's moved her around. He's tempted her. And, to her mind, it is because he thinks she an is amoral former officer will do immoral things to help his agenda.

She believes that Lorca is developing some bioweapon to use to kill off the Klingons.

He stops her and says he does know her. And since she hates being wrong he better stop her there. He sight to sight transports them to the Engineering Bay.

He shows her exactly what they are working on. The spores they are studying tie to everyplace in the galaxy. And when prompted, they can tie you to anyplace in the galaxy.

With the design of the Discovery they can carry the ship anyplace in galaxy in just a moment. Get the advantage over the Klingons and win the war. And then after the war, explore the furthest reaches of the galaxy.

Lorca needs to get the new engine to work, then he needs to win the war, then they can all go explore.

He gives his take on why he wants Burnham. He was impressed she predicted what was going to happen at the first battle, and tried to prevent the outcome. She is good at predictive intuition. It's the type of officer he wants around.

So she's convinced to stay on.

Saru is relaxing as the prison shuttle takes off, but then his threat senses activate, and he is confused. (It was mentioned in the first episode, but his species developed an ability to sense looming danger in some situations. He sense Burnham's decision somehow,)

Burnham goes to settle into her quarters, and meets up with Tilly. She's surprised that Burnham's back, but also happy to see her. Tilly also admits she's determined to someday be a captain, and she hopes she can learn a lot of things from Burnham.

Burnham shares a physical copy of Alice in Wonderland she has. It was something her foster mother, Amanda, would read her and Spock as children, and it was something human the two women shared.

The Discovery arrives at the site of the Glenn and destroys it, to keep it from Klingon hands.

Lorca shrugs it off as just losing a ship. (And, really, in this war they are losing ships and crews daily. Another loss among too many.)

Lorca stands alone in a menagerie with weapons and remains from different species. He eyes his newest find, the creature from the Glenn.

Now we can finally see, somewhat, how this show move. But how much are we seeing of the whole show? Going into the third episode we have gotten to see what the mysterious research is, and got to see a second ship is Discovery's class. The next episode may clear another hurdle, like getting their Spore Drive running.

It is a mystery, on the while, where the show is heading. And I am up to ride out the show's reveals.

It's been over a decade since we have had the opportunity to enjoy episodic Trek (barring the Fan series). And even then show kept to the episodic design, so we never had season opening uncertainty about where the season would end. This show is letting us live in a Trek age of uncertainty.

It is Trek, so we know the Federation will find it's way through, and return to exploration. But what is the path there?

I know some people are choosing to jump to their conclusions 60 minutes into over 20 hours of TV. They don't know jack. I don't either, but I won't be assuming I do for some time.

And we know see how much of the designs in Starfleet do vary. Again, I am fine with that. I love original Trek's look. But the creators wanted some more dynamism in their ship's build. It is a style choice.

And some of the choices are harder to take then others (like the Klingon ships). But none of these have broken the show yet. But I hope we get some sense to the design choices.

Now let's consider the new of the episode, like the Captain. Gabriel Lorca. He's a colorful figure. Distant at times, then suddenly in your face. Lorca is dedicated to resolving this war as fast as possible, pushing boundaries. At the same time he's recovering from an eye injury, but won't accept artificial eyes which would make his job easier.

He's flawed, like every captain we've met in Trek. He's got the addition of a war on his back. And like Sisko in the Dominion War, he's facing terrible pressures. The only difference is that the show is not focused on him, so we don't see into his heart and full opinions, or history.

Which takes us to what's been called Lorca's Menagerie. A Gorn skeleton, Cardassian vole, Klingon skull, Bat'leth, etc. Without context (which is for Kings) we all read this room, and Lorca's stony face, in our own way. Resolve. Menace. Malice. Sociopathy. We don't know.

And Burnham finds herself thrown into this Unknown. We have experienced the key moments of her life, her family, her choices, and her regrets. We have a sense of her. But, like her, everyone else is yet to be defined.

Is Lorca a monster? Is he a visionary? Is he just desperate to stop the fighting? Burnham is trying to walk the line and work this all out.

She had decided her life was over. She was ready to live in her regret and self-loathing. She feels it was deserved.

But Lorca is offering a reprieve. Ending the war could be her persona redemption. She's seen an amazing new technology, and it could change the galaxy.

She wants peace in her mind. Living as a prisoner would be simple. She's chosen to take a harder road where she'll be judged and looked down on, while trying to just do her duty.

Then we have Saru. We got some sense of his person in the last two episodes. He's a serious being, who is dedicated to service. He is eager to show his loyalty.

Saru has also been in a long conflict with Burnham. The pair have butted heads for years. Burnham often undercut him. They both were eager to surpass the other in gaining Captain Georgiou's favor. Then Burnham was made First Officer. Then Burnham mutinied against Georgiou.

Now she's back. And his captain is embracing her. It's like history is repeating.

Landry is head of security. She is hard and cynical. It's clear she's Lorca's taskmaster. She gets into your face so he can stand back (Though some people need Lorca's personal touch.). And she seems happy to be suspicious and unlikable. She's there to get jobs done, not make friends.

Stamets started out hard. Grumpy, distant, and contemptuous of Burnham. He is not eager to share, and hostile to outsiders around his grand research.

But we see him slowly open to her. He doubts her, but he can't help being annoyed/impressed when she finds errors in his high level calculations. Then she puts herself in danger to save the rest of the away team.

Now that she's on Team Discovery, I hope we see him open up a little more to appreciated his struggle to be a scientist in a time of war.

We also have Tilly. Our cadet fast tracked on to the ship for her scientific savvy. She is all so green. But she's also the one to spot the one living Klingon on the ship. The season will hopefully see her grow to be a fully realized Starfleet officer. (Come on, battlefield promotion.)

And I was slightly worried she would be the sweet kid that would die to demonstrate the danger. But she made it.

Lastly, we have the Spore Drive. (I know, it has a longer name, but everyone will be calling it this.) A way to jump anywhere in the universe in seconds. That is an amazing technology. Q level tech. Iconian Gateways. Guardian of Forever.

But it won't be used in 10 years, when Kirk is warping around the quadrant. That seems to bother some. That would suggest the tech won't work, or will prove to have a horrific flaw, or will be lost.

It will be one of many techs that are dead ends. Transwarp in Star Trek 3 failed. The Soliton Wave in The Next Generation was a bust. It happens. We'll see if it backfires on them.

And we've seen it fail horrifically now.

This is the show's second pilot. From here on out we build to that final chapters the show's creators dreamt up. Let's all sit back and enjoy the ride.

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