Review: Star Trek Discovery Episode 3

Or is this Star Trek: Black Ops? The third episode is full of promise for what could be a really good series. Once again, the broad strokes and characters are good but the plot details still need attention.

It is six months after the events of the first two episodes. Michael Burnham is on a shuttle transport amid some kind of space storm on her way with other prisoners to some space mines etc. Viewer alert: engage disbelief suspension system. Beep, beep, beep. Space opera mode engaged: disbelief suspended.

It’s Star Trek, it wants more fake realism than other SF properties but this is still a rubber headed alien universe with tribbles and space monsters. I resolved to give it some more slack when the hull of the shuttle gets infected with electricity eating bugs.

Rescued by the surprise arrival of the USS Discovery, Michael finds herself back aboard a Starfleet ship – with her reputation as the mutinous officer who plunged Starfleet into a war with the Klingon Empire already well established.

And at last, the show proper appears to have started. This is a dark and sinister Starfleet – different from but consistent with the Starfleet of the original and of TNG. By ‘consistent with’ I mean that this shady side of Starfleet has appeared on numerous occasions. Not every officer is Kirk or Picard and not every action of Starfleet in its previous incarnations have been ethically non-dubious.

Enter Captain Lorca, Jason Issacs with an American accent* but otherwise delightfully Jason Issacs. The Discovery is a brand new, top of the range starship but…one dedicated to scientific research and some distance away from the frontlines. This despite the Federation being embroiled in a bloody war with the Klingon Empire.

Even by the end of the episode and after several revelations, we don’t know what exactly he is up to but everything (right down to Lorca obviously graduating from the Slytherin house of Starfleet Academy) is pointing to not good stuff. This is still the Starfleet of Star Trek but Lorca is apparently the sort of captain that Kirk would have ended up punching or Picard would have given a stern lecture to. There’s a whiff of the Genesis Project and other dodgy science experiments that would have provoked McCoy into exclaiming that you shouldn’t play at being God.

The plot does a detour into a spooky spaceship-with-everybody-dead section that is well done (and in keeping with the story) if over-familiar. However, the main thrust is Michael once again being on a starship and encountering new crew members and old comrades. There is no easy forgiveness here, in particular, Michael is seeking no forgiveness for herself.

Worth watching? Yes, mainly because I really like Michael Burnham as a character – an impulsive logician who has messed up more deeply than they ever thought possible. I’m hooked enough that I really want to see the next episode.

Bits and pieces:

  • I’d like to know what happened to the prison shuttle pilot.
  • An additional nod to Spock as an unnamed foster brother.
  • Michael owns a copy of Alice in Wonderland – which is a great touch: an absurd novel about meaning and nonsense by a logician.
  • Cadet Tilly was meant to be annoying I think but was quite likeable.
  • I’m not sure Lt Stamets was meant to be annoying but he was.
  • Saru is the only other returning character from the first two episodes with any lines. Played by Doug Jones who was Abe Sapien in the Hellboy movies.
  • I’m sure my Netflix app said this episode would be available next Monday rather than today? Did they move the schedule forward? If so smart move – it rekindled my interest.
  • The minor plot hole flaws and the less-than-progressive Starfleet remain as issues from the first two. I don’t think those are going away as issues.
  • A redshirt goes to redshirt Valhalla. Except they are wearing blue obviously. Not sure how they are colour coded but given the away team was a mix of security and engineering, they were definitely a redshirt by ToS nomenclature.
  • “Is he shushing you?” best line.
  • I’m blogging this episode by episode now? I wish somebody had warned me of that.
  • Netflix keeps pushing me to watch an aftershow-show which I refuse to do because such things are always annoying.
  • OK, I’ll do an episode ranking.
  1. Episode 3: Context is for Kings
  2. Episode 2: Battle at the Binary Stars
  3. Episode 1: The Vulcan Hello

That looks like a promising direction.

Disbelief systems re-engaging. Woop, woop woop.Disbelief system no longer suspended.

No, but seriously, what the heck was that space storm supposed to be? Random space weather? Random space weather with electricity eating bugs in it? Random space weather with electricity eating bugs in it and to get them off you have to climb out of your shuttle and what(?) scrape them off? And forced prison labour? And they feed the dangerous prisoners in the regular ship canteen? Because why? They’ve got food replicators all over the ship fer goodness sake.

*[I like it when actors get to keep their accent but in this case, Lorca sounding British would have turned the ‘sinister’ up way too high]

25 responses to “Review: Star Trek Discovery Episode 3”

  1. The penal system was the first continuity issue that really bothered me (apparently more people were worried about the tribble). Sure, the original’s vision of a fully rehabilitative justice feels both ridiculously optimistic and scary as hell, but it was a crucial part of its universe. The rest of the canon issues are just details.

    Liked by 2 people

    • There have been other instances of overly harsh sentences in Star Trek, e.g. Spock getting court-martialled and threatened with execution for trying to help Captain Pike in “The Menagerie” or the fact that Tom Paris was in a prison labour camp at the start of Voyager, but those were scattered instances, whereas in Discovery, the harsh penal system is front and centre. Also why does a post-scarcity society like the Federation have prison labour camps and prison mines at all? Or is the huge, previously unseen system of convict labour maybe the reason the Federation is a post-scarcity society in the first place?

      To me, Discovery feels like they took the very worst bits of previous Star Treks and built a series out of it. A pity, because I like Michelle Yeoh, Jason Isaacs and Sonequa Martin-Green and would have loved to see them in something that actually is Star Trek.


      • //Or is the huge, previously unseen system of convict labour maybe the reason the Federation is a post-scarcity society in the first place?//

        There’s a revelation/twist!


  2. The colour coding appears to be in the metallic piping on the uniforms – gold=command, silver=science, bronze=security. Redshirts are therefore bronzeshirts. I guess.

    I like Captain Lorca. Well, like him in a he’s-going-to-drive-some-plots sort of way, not an I-want-to-be-standing-within-five-miles-of-this-man sort of way. He is obviously mad as a box of herons, and this could make things very interesting. Stamets is possibly equally barmy, but less proactive. The panspermia, cosmic fungus, physics-is-biology stuff is well in the tradition of Trek science hokum, but at least it isn’t too heavily stressed. So far, at least.

    I’m definitely warming to Burnham as a character, even though – given her track record on impulse control – I wouldn’t necessarily trust her with sharp objects. I agree with Saru, I think. Saru is sensibly cautious. I like Saru more than I thought I would. The character design is convincingly alien, although I’m guessing that, with those built-up shoes, Saru will only be going on away missions on planets with a firm, flat surface.

    As for Federation justice… ah, yes. One of my interminable Trek fanfics had a bit where a character deals with an enemy (with whom she has a fairly intense personal history) by turning him over, with impeccable legality, to the Federation. “They will bring you to an understanding of your crimes, and a genuine desire for atonement. You will resist, but it is for your good, so they will never give up. They will cure you…. They will cure you of the disease of being you.” I think Burnham might be better off with the labour camp, really.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. “Shore Leave” (I think) revealed that Amanda read “Alice in Wonderland ” to young Spock, so exposing Michael to it as well makes sense.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. “Cadet Tilly was meant to be annoying I think but was quite likeable.”

    Yes! She really cheered up the whole episode, but it looks like the writers intend to give her some steel behind the likeability.

    Other things:
    Umm, did anyone else say “Hello to Jason Isaacs” at the appropriate moment?
    The biological stuff on the wrecked ship with the weird possibly-dimensional effects, and then a slavering monster? That just screamed Half Life to me, really strongly.

    Liked by 2 people

        • The precise cause may be lost in the mists of time, but iirc at one point there were at least three Marks on F770 and someone nominated “Mark Kitteh” for me on the grounds of my gravatar, and it stuck. There was a competing option of Mark XKCD for similar reasons.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Mark-kitteh: The precise cause may be lost in the mists of time, but iirc at one point there were at least three Marks on F770 and someone nominated “Mark Kitteh” for me on the grounds of my gravatar, and it stuck. There was a competing option of Mark XKCD for similar reasons.

            It started when Mike didn’t know how to designate Contributing Editor of the Day credit at File770, and lurkertype created the name in response to the discussion in the comments.

            Liked by 2 people

      • It was definitely me — JJ has it right.

        There were several Marks on File 770 posting simultaneously (IIRC, one of them was an idiot), so I dubbed Mr. Hepworth “Mark kitteh” from his avatar, since that’s how I’d been thinking of him. JJ liked it, he didn’t object, and a couple others started using it. The next time Mike had to mention a tip from him, he was cited as as “Mark-kitteh”, and thus it became Fannish Law. I don’t know who inserted the dash; probably Mike.

        I mean, he was right there with an SJW credential in his avatar! How Filer!


        • @JJ I should have known that you’d take “lost in the mists of time” as a challenge 🙂

          @lurkertype So you’re the origin story! Thanks!

          @Camestros Also my middle name is St John*.

          (*boringly, this is a fib. I do know a real Sinjun though!)

          Liked by 1 person

      • I hadn’t been around File 770 that long, so I was quite chuffed when Mike picked up the nickname. And that you didn’t object.

        You’ve always been Mark-kitteh to me; it’s nice that other people think so too. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  5. TILLY: I think Tilly was meant to get increasingly likable as the episode continued. I really liked that she ended the episode by, effectively, asking Burnham to mentor her. That really takes her out of the awkward-and-pathetic niche, presents her as somebody with drive and ambition, and very specifically — somebody who will not be boxed in by her stereotype.

    SINISTER: While there’s a lot of sinster-y-ness here, when you step back — a lot of the crew isn’t sinister at all.
    Saru, first and foremost, is respectful, and grants Burnham as much intimacy and humanity as he possibly can — he knows her; he’s served with her; he treats her as a human being, both expressing empathy and holding her responsible.
    Tilly doesn’t seem sinister at all. And Stamets may have been forced into his current position of developing for “Black Ops,” but he’s obviously frustrated and objects to it strongly. We have, perhaps, a gentler crew than the overall tone of mystery and intrigue implies.

    ALICE AND AMANDA: On Facebook, somebody mentioned that this may be a callback to The Animated Series, where Amanda was reading Alice in Wonderland. OMG ST:TAS!

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Can someone explain to me what the black alarm was? They were mumbling and I didnt catch that explanation.

    Other points:
    Lorca is mad as a hatter, but I guess that fits into the frontier/pioneer/wartype. Will be interesting!
    I think having the inmates eat in the hall with everyone else was a kind of test. Apparently inmates are nothing in this time (Cora and I discussed the justice system on a scroll a few days back).
    If the story continues in this direction, Burnham will cross path with Gordon Freeman. Look forward to that.


  7. There’s a theory going around that Lorca et al are actually the dreaded Section 31. Saw a fairly convincing YouTube video the other day.


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