Star Trek: Discovery may have hit it out of the park on its previous two episodes, but it also burned the park down. So the stakes are no less high in the episode Context is for Kings, where the series not only has to make sure Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) remains a character worth investing in, but rebuild a whole new world around her.
We can hardly blame Burnham for a grimmer outlook on life in light of the weighty consequences she now has to live with. Within the first five minutes we are reminded of the death toll, which numbered in the thousands. The show also makes a point of saying she is the first mutineer, and is thus the subject of even more disdain, making her an outcast even among outcasts.
But we have a series to get on with, so we hardly expect Burnham to spend the rest of her life atoning for her sins in prison. So when the shuttle that’s transporting her is brought onto the ship Discovery, we know she’s going to do more than wait around quietly. Things start up rather quickly, and Context is for Kings wastes no time in showing us the mysterious nature of the ship itself, where things are pretty weird even for Starfleet.
It’s a turning point for Burnham in more ways than she realizes. Just how will she react to her new circumstances? She has no real reason to behave well, and every reason to conform to the beliefs everyone now has of her, even those few of her former friends and colleagues who are also on the ship. During the last episode, Star Trek was dangerously close to allowing Burnham to sink into a pool of melodrama, but Context is for Kings puts those fears to rest. Previously, Burnham’s motivation was to protect the Federation, and it still is. For better or for worse, she’s mostly the same person she is before.
It’s not only refreshing Star Trek’s optimism is still present, but that it is Burnham herself who is the primary motivator of her potential for redemption. Specifically, it is her knowledge, her abilities, that allows her to be seen an asset to Captain Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs). Her powerful Vulcan connections have little or nothing to do with it. Sure, Captain Lorca’s offer, and the reassurance that the work she thought they were doing isn’t illegal weapons research, as well as his justification for bringing her onto the crew, sounds both too good to be true and the words of a man with something of a god complex…because it is. Lorca is a man with more than a few secrets, and one of them is a literal monster in a kind of futuristic closet.
It’s a reset for Burnham in more ways than one. There’s fascinating new ideas and characters to explore tht includes the delightful Anthony Rapp, ethics to debate, and delightful callbacks that both obsessive and casual fans can appreciate. Now that the introduction is over, I’m eagerly awaiting what the Discovery runs into next.