Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Star Trek Discovery: Season 1, Episode 3: Context is for Kings

After the debacle of the opening episodes, Michael has been sentenced for mutiny and is being transported to a mining colony for prison labour. She seems resigned to her fate - more, she’s in full self-flagellation mode.

Until, after an unfortunate incident, they’re rescued by a star ship, the discovery led by Captain Lorca. Led through the ship by Commander Landry (who is far from their biggest fan) to the mess where Michael is snubbed by one of her old shipmates and gets attacked by the other prisoners. No-one intervenes until she’s put them all very much in their place. Michael’s mutiny has not made her the most popular person around

But Captain Lorca isn’t overly concerned by this. As far as he’s concerned, Michael is intelligent and skilled and his science vessel could use her for as long as she’s here. She doesn’t want to help - mainly because she is wrapped in self-loathing and just wants to be imprisoned as the terribad person she is - but Lorca wasn’t actually offering a choice here.

Michael also meets her room-mate Tilly who is made of adorability, awkwardness and babble. She manages to be both painfully nice and NOT annoying because of it - which is impressive

Her old ship-mate, Saru, is also on the vessel as First officer. Their interactions are… pained. There’s a lot of respect there which is very clear in their conversation and Saru is nothing but polite… as he tells her she’s something to fear. And to gently warn her about causing trouble.

Also I like the slight surrealness of an alien eating blueberries. It’s a nice touch

Lorca sends her to engineering under Lt Stamets who is prickly and sarcastic and touchy and prickly and slightly sassy and, yes, prickly.

Stamets is involved in some top top secret research and in friendly competition with another ship doing the same. She still doesn’t reveal what they’re researching to Michael though she shows off her skills. Oh and his secret project is hidden behind breath-locked room. So of course Michael arranges to illicitly sneak in and see the beautiful plant/fungus room beyond

I wonder a bit a this scene - because part of me thinks someone who is so consumed by guilt and self-flagellation is not going to be idly curious. I also wonder at someone so determined not to make waves and to follow the rules, especially after her flagrant mutiny, is going to break into a top secret facility which MUST be a pretty severe rule breach… I think this scene is supposed to tell us despite the guilt, despite the Vulcan-emotion-training, despite her adherence to rules, ultimately Michael is human, she feels, her emotions can overrule logic and sense - but above all she’s intelligent and curious.

Their sister ship has an accident and everyone on it is dead, much to Stamet’s evident grief. Lorca arranges for all their research matter to be brought back to the Discovery sending Stamets and Michael (after Saru vouches for her - again, he may be wary of her, but he respects her) to the ship on an away mission. With Tilly, who continues to be sweet and adorkable and apologises to Michael for snubbing her out of fear of what others think. Again I like Tilly, on the surface she looks mushy and she freely admits her flaws and wears her heart on her sleeve - but there’s strength there too. If she were all mush, she would have accepted Michael’s dismissive “it’s alright” forgiveness, instead she pushed

Stamets continues to be snarky - mainly at Lorca - but at least we learn there’s a reason behind it after his research and work was forcibly co-opted to the war effort. Still, it’s laid on pretty thick

This kind of makes me wonder how… big the war is so far? I mean, you can’t dismiss it as an inconvenience if it has grown to be something that most of the Federation considers a threat

The ships is empty, dark, ominous, full of flickering lights, lots of damage and mauled bodies - human and klingon. Also super creepy doors held open by severed legs. It’s all very horror filmy, complete with growling monster moving around just out of sight until they all have to run from it.

Objection, that sacrificial guard was NOT wearing a red shirt. Shame, Discovery, Shame!

They’re saved by Michael being a Big Damn Hero and quoting Alice in Wonderland. Back on the Discovery we again see Saru’s deep respect for her, and regret that they lost her

Lorca also thinks it would be a waste to lose her - and wants to take her on. She refuses: self-flagellation party. But also because she’s somewhat suspect of Lorca’s motives: especially since there’s a good chance he’s trying to create a spore-based weapon, presumably a weapon of mass destruction. She theories it’s a biological weapon and, mutineer or not, she is not going to break the laws like this.

He shows off that they’re not creating a fungus weapon - but they’re creating a fungus bake teleporter that can take you to any part of the universe in an instant.

And he pretty much sums up his philosophy - he isn’t a big fan of black and white laws, he’s all about the shades of grey: Michael’s decision, her mutiny was a good decision to make in the context according to her reasoning. And now he offers her the chance to end the war she helped start

Saru… is not happy about this by his threat ganglia

While Tilly is eager to have Michael there - because she fully intends to be a captain and learn how to be. Again, I like her

Oh and Lorca has a monster locked away because we’re riding that whole shades of grey thing

Discovery is, probably, a lot more dark and gritty than we’re used to from Star Trek. I think the opening scenes really emphasise this - we have the prison ship (and already sentencing people to becoming miners is… well… not shiny). We have prisoners on that ship making openly prejudicial statements about aliens - species that are members of the Federation. We have Landry’s open contempt… Even looking to outright recruit Michael is a level of… practicality over principles. This is a different tone for Star Trek

And I wonder - is this a story of Star Trek before it became the Utopia? As it worked towards the Utopia we’re used to? Or maybe a Star Trek that is looking at the people beyond Star Fleet who are not so shiny. Or maybe it’s just that audiences now are too cynical to embrace a shiny utopia without a few stains that need buffing out?

I do wonder at Michael’s names (beyond it apparently being Bryan Fuller’s thing). Initially I thought it was a nifty little attempt at showing how gender boundaries are more meaningless in the future (remember the clumsy but well meant attempt at the male Star trek crew in miniskirts?), but Tilly remarking on Michael’s name pretty much dismisses that. Which is a shame.

As to the fungus drive - I always say with sci-fi science you have two choices: Try to make it sounds as plausible as possible (and usually fail) or just yell “fuck it - MAGIC!”. Personally I prefer option 1 (I prefer option 1 even when it IS magic). But if you’re going to do it, go all in with a Magic Mushroom Drive