‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Season 1 Episodes 3 & 4- All Hands on Deck

With the two latest episodes of “Star Trek: Discovery,” we finally got a better sense of what the show was going to be, as opposed to the fake-out of the two initial episodes. Not that I disliked the first two episodes, mind you- just that they served as more of a prequel to the new series than an actual part of it. I do recognize, however, that it had to be that way, in order to preserve the surprise of what transpired in those two episodes.

In Episode 3, “Context is for Kings,” we picked up some six months later after the events of the first two episodes, as Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) was being transported to a prison, where she was to serve out a lifetime sentence for mutiny, as per the events that went down in the first two episodes. An emergency makes it seem like she and her fellow prisoners won’t even make it to their destination, but a starship intervenes, rescuing them at the last minute.

That craft is, naturally, the Discovery, captained by the mysterious Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs), who has a fierce reputation as a warmonger determined to bring down the Klingons by any means necessary. As such, we find out his absconding with Burnham is no happenstance- he explicitly sought to intercept and obtain her for his own shady purposes.

At first, it seems as if he wants her because she doesn’t play by the rules, much like himself, but as we later discover, that’s not entirely true. Rather, it has more with her own willingness to think outside the box, even if it costs her dearly, as it obviously did, with her actions on the Shenzhou. That, and the fact that her reputation proceeds her as a first-rate officer, under normal circumstances, and being one of the smartest people in her (former) field.

This, naturally, does not go over so well with her former shipmate, Saru (Doug Jones), who is Lorca’s own First Officer. While he acknowledges her intelligence, and essentially accepts her apologies for the way things went down on the Shenzhou, as we see in Episode 4, he was only being polite, to a certain extent, at least, thinking that she wouldn’t be with them for long.

Episode 3 was great fun for me, insofar as, as I pointed out in my first review of the show, I’m more of a horror fan than a sci-fi one. Aside from the world-building and introduction of various new characters, the main plot dealt with the inspection of a fellow ship that had suddenly and inexplicably gone dark out of nowhere.

The end result was basically “Alien” redux, with a sprinkling of John Carpenter’s “The Thing,” courtesy of great nightmare-inducing effects by Paul Jones, who’s worked on everything from the “Hellraiser” movies to the “Silent Hill” and “Resident Evil” series. Even better, it left the door open for more, as the Captain, perhaps dubiously, opted to nab said alien for himself, despite the obvious danger it entailed, as evidenced by the fact that it wiped out an entire spaceship full of people, and even Klingons.

One of the things I like most about this new iteration of “Star Trek” is the way it’s clearly meant to be an ongoing, slowly-unfolding story, as opposed to a “case of the week”-type thing, like many serialized shows. Don’t get me wrong- that element is clearly in place here as well, it’s just not as set in stone, as we see with the fact that the murderous alien isn’t defeated- it’s captured.

Indeed, the creature serves a quite unexpected purpose in the very next episode, which featured the unwieldy title of “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry.” For her first big assignment, Burnham is tasked with figuring out how to “weaponize” said creature, given the fact that it can tear through Klingons like they’re nothing.

This goes about as well as one would expect, at least at first, at one point resulting in the death of Lorca’s right-hand woman Commander Landry (Rekha Sharma, a sci-fi vet of everything from “Dark Angel” to “Battlestar Galactica” to “The 100”), who is chosen to assist Burnham. Landry makes the dubious decision that they need to lop off one of the creature’s claws to better study it and ends up getting torn to shreds in the process, showing that the alien lives up to its nickname of “Ripper.”

However, after further study, Burnham realizes that the creature is normally docile, and not only that, normally considerably smaller, as in macroscopic, and much like a caterpillar, which dovetails nicely with all the “Alice in Wonderland” references featured in the previous episode, particularly given its affection for mushroom spores.

Burnham realizes that the creature’s inherent abilities can be harnessed to help serve as a sort of navigational system for the new spore-driven transportation the ship’s lead scientist, Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp, “Rent”) has pioneered. This comes in handy when the Discovery’s services are needed to help a planet under siege from the Klingons.

I liked the touch that, the first time the Discovery tries to use the system, it damn near teleports into a sun-like planet, proving that the trial-and-error approach can sometimes be a little on the dubious side. This also neatly shows how willing to take risks the Captain is, even if it puts his entire crew in danger. As long as his efforts provide positive results, he’s going to keep doing it, meaning that he aims to win this war at any cost- something that should be alarming to everyone involved, needless to say.

In addition, we also got some intrigue with the Klingons, with newly-appointed captain, Voq (Javid Iqbal) finding out the hard way that heavy is the head that wears the crown, when his own crew essentially mutinies when another Klingon takes over the ship by offering the starving passengers a wealth of food.

Fortunately, one of them, L’Rell (Mary Chieffo), the right-hand woman of their former fallen leader, T’Kuvma, remains loyal to him, managing to save his life in the clutch, when the invader threatens to kill him, talking him into stranding Voq on the abandoned Shenzhou instead. L’Rell has a plan for him to win over the other Klingon Houses that involves sacrificing “everything” on his behalf to some mysterious matriarchs. That’s about all we get from that subplot- for now.

We also get to meet a lot of new cast members, including, Burnham’s roommate, the talky Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman, “Longmire”), who I’m not sure if I find likeable or annoying yet- I suspect she may end up being a little of both- Dr. Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz, of “My So-Called Life” fame); and various other members of the bridge crew, including Keyla Detmer (Emily Coutts, “Crimson Peak”) and Joann Owosekun (Oyin Oladejo).

It’s also worth a mention that Rapp’s character is openly gay, which I believe is a first for the series, but I may be mistaken there. He’s also named after the real-life mycologist Paul Stamets, who you can read more about here. Stamets was a guest on the “After Trek” TV show, and seemed thrilled to have a character named after him, but even more so by the prominent role spores and mushrooms played in the current events of the series.

I like that Captain Lorca is unlike any other Starfleet captain we’ve encountered in the show’s history so far. While I wasn’t thrilled that they wiped out Michelle Yeoh’s character so soon, least of all with her being the first Asian captain ever on the show, at least they made Lorca a unique creation, and one who might well have more in common with the enemy than a typical member of the Starfleet. That makes him a wild card, and highly unpredictable, which is a good thing, from a dramatic standpoint.

The two episodes also featured some nifty nods to the “Star Trek” of yore, courtesy of “Lorca’s Menagerie,” as it was called on the after-show. There, we caught glimpses of a dissected Tribble, a Gorn skeleton and several Cardassian voles, which was pretty cool. (Insert joke about “Kardashian a-holes” here, lol.)

Needless to say, these little references are sprinkled in as in-jokes for hardcore Trekkies, which shows that, despite their taking some liberties with the source material, the creators aren’t unaware of the show’s legacy and influence. Whether these references will be seen as cool or blatant suck-ups to OG fans remains to be seen, but I imagine it depends on your view of the show in general.

I also caught a reference to “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” with the mention of a “Zaphod.” And that aside about Elon Musk was pretty amusing as well. Finally, there was mention of Amanda Grayson, as having helped raise Burnham, with an aside that was clearly a reference to Spock, aka her “son.” I don’t doubt there were more references where that came from, but those were the ones I caught.

Perhaps needless to say, reaction to the show has been decidedly divided. As to be expected, many blew a gasket over the fact that the show is only available in the US via a paid subscription to CBS All Access, which a lot of people weren’t willing to take on, just to watch one show.

Even those who did, clearly resented it, to a certain extent, and who can blame them? (Despite this, the show garnered CBS All Access with a record number of subscriptions- not that it’s saying that much, being a relatively new service and all, whose only big series of note to date was the “Good Wife” spin-off, “The Good Fight.”)

After all, with so many choices out there these days, it takes a village to keep up with it all, and few people can afford to subscribe to every little thing they would like to, meaning a lot of people have to make some difficult choices along the way, and either opt to go for it and pay or wait until the material becomes available later on in other formats, i.e. Netflix, DVD/Blu-Ray, etc.

Factor in the fact that longtime “Trek” fans are wont to object to anything new as canon, especially when it seemingly goes against something established, and you have a recipe for disaster. “Discovery” has already courted fan malice by the revelation that Burnham was Spock’s heretofore unmentioned adopted sister, despite the fact that I’ve no doubt the matter will be addressed at some point on the show. How could it not be, with this story taking place a mere decade before the events of the original series?

But people have a tendency to get antsy when it comes to things like this, and impatience can breed contempt. And let’s face it: we’re living in the age of people wanting things NOW. With so much at our fingertips, many people just don’t have the mindset to hang in there and wait for something to happen- they want it yesterday. It’s kind of a shame, as it has the potential to cause creative minds to rush things where they might not have before.

Thankfully, not everyone cares, as most obviously indicated by, say, David Lynch and Mark Frost’s continuation of the classic “Twin Peaks” series. They clearly didn’t give two craps about solving every little mystery and wrapping everything up in a tidy little bow, and, though some fans did indeed balk at this, plenty of people loved it.

It just goes to show that sometimes, you have to stick to your guns. Just look at what happened with certain casting of legendary roles with new people, such as Heath Ledger as The Joker or Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. Sure, people flipped out about it early on, but once they saw the movies in question, they were completely on-board. Of course, sometimes it goes the other way, too- looking at you, Jared Leto- but that’s to be expected.

The point is, everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt, at least until they’re proven wrongheaded in their choices. I think it’s a bit premature to declare “Star Trek: Discovery”- or “STD,” as some wags have declared it- as being dead on arrival. The show might still be finding its footing, sure, but you can say that about a lot of classic shows when they first started out, as I mentioned in my last review. Give it time, and this “STD” might be worth catching. (Sorry, had to do it!)

What did you think of “Star Trek: Discovery” and its latest two episodes? Did you prefer them to the opening two? Are you liking the direction it’s headed in? What would you like to see more of, moving forward? Or less of, for that matter? What do you think of the new cast, so far? Do you like the new approach of the show, in terms of us seeing a lot of it from the perspective of Burnham? Do you like the character in general? How about the other characters, particularly Captain Lorca? Sound off down below, and look for a new review in a couple of weeks!

  • Game Bouncer

    I’m starting to enjoy the show. I was worried on the premiere (2 episode) as I thought the acting was horrid and cringed through them both. It’s as if the actors are now loosening up and enjoying their roles.

    • Mark Trammell

      Agreed. I usually give actors somewhat of a pass early on, since, like you said, they typically need some time to sink into their roles. It’s much rarer for a show to be perfectly cast and hit the ground running. My bigger concern, however, was the set-up, which, as you know, was a total fake-out on the first two eps before the show became what it was really aiming for in the 3 & 4, more or less. It remains to be seen whether this will prove to be a wise move or not, but I don’t dislike what I’ve seen so far, and the actors have indeed started to settle into their roles, though it’s worth mentioning that Doug Jones and Jason Isaacs had a pretty firm grasp on their respective roles pretty much from the jump, and have only gotten better.

  • HavocNHell

    A Lot of people are comparing it to TOS. Well, it has to adapt. TOS Was made in the 60s, Technology went leap and bounds by time Discovery came to being.
    You can’t do a Prequel to TOS with TOS 60s era technology. I personally like Discovery.