TV: Star Trek Discovery S01 E03 E04 and E05 - Reviewed

Taking a few weeks to see where Star Trek: Discovery could go may have been one of the better decisions this critic has made in recent months. I was not overly impressed with the two-part pilot, and felt that the character of Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) was less interesting than the supporting characters. Happily, the show seems to have finally plotted a course into the unknown, setting up a fascinating new crew with an even more complex captain.

Six months after the events of Battle at the Binary Stars, Burnham is on a prison transfer shuttle when The Discovery intercepts her and group of other prisoners. Discovery’s Captain, Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs), has use for Burnham, and the rest of episode three, Context Is for Kings, sets a much darker and bleaker tone for the season. Lorca is a much different captain that we’re used to, and the fact that he’s the last to be billed in the cast list makes his role that much more mysterious. He’s often seen in glimpses and his motives remain unclear, save for the fact that Starfleet is at war with the Klingons, and he intends to win that war at any cost.

I can make my hand glow like E.T.

Context Is for Kings also introduces Anthony Rapp as Paul Stamets, a science officer who specializes in astromycology (the study of fungi in space), and Mary Wiseman as Sylvia Tilly, a cadet in her final year at Starfleet Academy and Burnham’s new roommate. Burnham is begrudgingly accepted into the fray, per Captain Lorca’s orders, and the rest of the episode plays out like Ridley’s Scott’s original Alien. Akiva Goldsman has a much better eye for storytelling than David Semel and Adam Kane, who directed episodes one and two, respectively, and brings a wonderful layer of darkness to the overall style of the show. Goldsman has had a varied film career, but his work on Fringe, one of my favorite shows of the past ten years, gave me hope for Discovery. I’m glad I ended up being right, at least so far.

Of these three episodes, episode four - The Butcher's Knife Cares Not for the Lamb's Cry - was a bit of a let-down, not because it halted the story – quite the contrary – but because there simply was too much focus on the Klingons. Assuming any Trekkie reads this review, this is where I’ll most assuredly lose them. I get that the idea is to show both sides of the war. Why are the Klingons doing what they’re doing? What motivates them? As told in this episode, it’s frankly just not that interesting. The characters aren’t as well established as the crew of the Discovery, making their scenes feel like they’re beside the point. Filler, if you will, distracting from the main story.

Episode five, Choose Your Pain, helps the show regain its focus, with a really great story involving the capture of Captain Lorca by Klingons, which leads to an encounter with one of Star Trek’s best characters, Harry Mudd, played perfectly by Rainn Wilson. His take on Mudd is nothing short of brilliant, and the scenes between Wilson and Isaacs standout in an episode with so much great acting. Lorca’s capture leaves Saru (Doug Jones) in charge of Discovery, and throughout the episode he questions himself about whether or not he’s fit to be captain. Jones gives a richly complex performance as a Kelpien (a new species created specifically for Discovery) who is constantly balancing his own fears with making the right choice. His scenes with Burnham are all wonderfully nuanced, making it clear that their broken friendship may end up being the heart of the show.

Choose Your Pain also provides a few more details on Lorca’s background, specifically the circumstances surrounding his previous ship and its crew, giving both Isaacs and Wilson a lot of fun dialogue to chew on as actors. I can’t say enough how much I enjoy the authority Isaacs has over ever scene he’s in, even when he’s being tortured by Klingons. Lorca’s past actions make it hard to categorize him as simply one type of man, but it’s clear that no matter how complicated his motivations are, he knows what he’s doing and has no time to debate anyone who stands in his way.

I grow beets in space

Burnham, on the other hand, is still growing on me, but her storyline over these past few episodes gives her a lot more to do. It involves working with a creature who can help Discovery “jump” in and out of different points in the galaxy in mere seconds. Her compassion for the creature, and her intellect, are parts of the character merely glimpsed at in the pilot. She’s now no longer the character who’s smarter than everyone else, but one who is figuring things out as she goes, just like the crew of the Discovery. In other words, she’s becoming more interesting because of her flaws, not in spite of them.

I don’t know where Discovery is headed, exactly, but from everything it’s set up so far, my enthusiasm for the show has only grown. The writers claimed that the pilot was more of a necessary prologue, and that Context Is for Kings truly serves as the actual pilot for the show. I would argue that one should start the show with Context Is for Kings, because it illustrates what Discovery is supposed to be: different. Consider my interest piqued.

Live long and share this review.

-Matt Giles