the story: Burnham is conscripted by Captain Lorca following her discharge from Starfleet.
what it's all about: For all intents and purposes, "Context is for Kings" is what the pilot of Discovery would be if it were like every other Star Trek series to date. It sets up the ongoing continuity of the series, whereas the first two episodes explained the backstory. And it's another winner.
Burnham is now a convict, being transported with other convicts, until fate intercepts her with Lorca and the Discovery. Lorca seems to be akin to the kind of rogue captain Kirk kept running into in the original series. Since he isn't the lead character (and unlike every other series in franchise history there is a clear lead character, and it isn't by default), there's no automatic assumption that he's the good guy or right in his decisions, and there's no reboot at the end of the episode where everyone learns from their mistakes, that sort of thing, regardless of whether or not he's another rogue. Our allegiance necessarily falls to Burnham, who tries to understand what a science vessel being run by a war-hungry commanding officer can possibly have for someone like her. Like Picard thought of Riker in Next Generation, perhaps it's merely her willingness to defy expectations.
At any rate, it's the introductions that carry the episode. Where Saru made a strong impression in previous episodes, it was really Burnham carrying the bulk of the material. That changes in "Context." Lorca certainly makes a huge impact. So too does science officer Stamets, whose differences in philosophy with Lorca recall Wrath of Khan, where Carol Marcus and her son David were equally aghast of domineering Starfleet methods. Also noteworthy is Tilly, Burnham's bunkmate who's struggling with anxieties of one kind or another, not the least of which is realizing that Burnham is one and the same mutineer she'd just been babbling about to Burnham herself...! Plus, there's the awkward reunion between Burnham and Saru. These are all strong, and strongly-defined, characters, right from the (re)start. There's also Landry...but more on her next episode.
There's been a number of complaints among fans that Burnham can't really be classified as a mutineer based on how circumstances played out in the first two episodes. "Mutineer" is the word on everyone's lips around her in "Context." And it is appropriate. Her confrontation with Georgiou is off the bridge in "Battle at the Binary Stars," and yet she's the only one, initially, of the two on the bridge when she changes the ship's orders. The crew complies with her orders with little protest despite the radical departure she's introduced. In effect, she fakes a mutiny; the crew remains blameless but was also complicit. Had Georgiou not turned up so quickly, no one would've known differently, but she did, and so the situation devolved into chaos. Chaos is the result of conflicted motivations, which is to say, there had been a de facto mutiny under Burnham's brief leadership. The crew believed Burnham's lie, and that's really just about enough. If this had been a pirate ship, these "conspirators" would be dead.
- franchise - Meeting the main characters of any series is always pretty important.
- series - Effectively a pilot episode.
- character - Aside from the new faces we meet, we also follow Burnham as she finds herself in unexpected new context.
- essential - This continues to be bold new Star Trek storytelling.
Rekha Sharma (Landry)