Star Trek Discovery "S1E3: Context is for Kings" - Review: A New Beginning?
Why do some albums have intro tracks? While they can be cool, should they really be needed? If your “real” opening song is good enough, then why does it need its own warm-up? It’s because some things work better against a contrast. Sometimes, you need to start off in the wrong direction so that the right direction seems like the better place to go. Like the way some 2nd rate review writers open an article by going completely off topic before a hashed attempt to convince of its ultimate relevance.... So this week, that’s exactly what Star Trek: Discovery as its third episode feels like the real beginning after a separate introduction last week.
Context is for Kings – When her prison transport shuttle is in peril, Burnham finds herself rescued by the USS Discovery and her Captain, Gabriel Lorca (Jason Issacs – Harry Potter). After being conscripted into the ship’s workload, she soon learns that something very strange is going on aboard The Discovery.
So there’s an unexpected time jump off the starboard bow as this episode’s, “6 months later” approach depicts last week’s episode as really being a prelude to the main series, with Burnham now infamous as Star Fleet’s first ever mutineer. That’s an interesting approach for a debuting show to take but like ejecting your warp core into the path of a sub space anomaly, it’s a gamble worth taking. As the equally unorthodox introduction to The Discovery herself and getting main character Burnham aboard. It quickly slams the series on an entirely new course as fortune seems to favour the bold. This tactic also puts a fix on the biggest issue on the prior episodes where too many characters felt shallow and disposable. Having Burnham reunite with a few familiar faces from The Shenzhou immediately provides depth and significance to their characters over their conflicting feelings in meeting both an old friend and a traitor. This also bolsters by good new editions. Issacs makes a strong impression as Captain Lorca. The Captain’s chair will always be a proverbial poison chalice with such predecessors as Shatner and Stewart but Issacs attempts to imitate and force his own approval. Instead subtlety becomes his signature to be a strong military-focused leader of composure, rather than an open vent of emotions... which makes complete sense. Then in contrast, we have Burnham’s chirpy over talkative roommate Tilly (Mary Wiseman) who provides light comic relief and makes the ideal foil against Burnham’s absent, distant composure.
The episode’s story carries some good mystery in its cargo hold as Burnham is kept in the dark about the strange scientific experiments the ship is performing and its “Black Alert” situations. It links in well to this re-introduction to the series as Burnham’s curiosity and encounters the new characters and locations. The standout sequence by far is the away mission to the USS Glenn. Commendations to the production design crew because the transformation of, what must be the same sets as used for on board the Discovery, become chilling and tense as the team investigates them. The low lighting, bodies, and distant movement even give this an edge of science fiction horror. It may be more graphic than some expect (or like) but the effect is strong and purposeful to establish something Reaver level bad going down on the ship..... it’s just a shame they botched the reveal. The moment itself and subsequent action sequence feel reminiscent (and just as out-of-place) as the Rathtars in The Force Awakens. While it does carry some excitement, it’s the one area of the episode that feels like it could have been done better.
There’s some clear course plotting for the rest of the season too with some very promising results. First up, despite making a cameo here, we will not be seeing the Klingons every week like a separate villain’s plotline with scenes each episode. Considering their generally unfavourable reception last week, this is a good thing. Instead the focus seems to be on the more relatable topic of war and the measures required to win. In fact, this episode portrays The Federation much like The Rebellion in Rogue One in showing them to be deeper than mere squeaky clean good guys. There’s a very clear destination and future conflict for Burnham as she faces history repeating itself, which could be outstanding. Similarly, Lorca’s path looks to very different to any previous Captains and will be a fascinating place to boldly go.
If you have any friends who haven't seen Discovery, tell them to watch the first three episodes back-to-back as they all form a singular introduction and opening act to the season. This episode sees the show move closer towards for familiar Star Trek territory both visually and thematically, which should suit most existing fans.... and yes, that was a Tribble on the Captain’s desk.