Star Trek: Discovery's second pilot (in all but name) has now aired, giving us a soft reboot as Burnham is taken to the USS Discovery under mysterious and definitely orchestrated circumstances. She soon encounters the enigmatic Captain Lorca and is put to work assisting Lt Stamets with his cutting-edge quantum biology experiments. Episode 3, "Context Is For Kings", is full of secrecy, weird science, and even a dash of Alien-style horror scifi — but there's a sense of wonder and, dare I say, discovery too that makes us excited to see where this strange mission will take our disgraced protagonist.
Another Number One
Burnham's yellow prison jumpsuit is similar in shade and design to the costumes from the very first Star Trek pilot, "The Cage".
Ex-showrunner Bryan Fuller spoke several times about how Majel Barrett's character from "The Cage" was an inspiration for Discovery's protagonist, and now we can see the parallels — Barrett's Number One was a brilliant and logical woman, known as the "top intellect of her generation." In preparation for the character, Barrett decided that she had a traumatic past. Unfortunately, NBC forced Gene Roddenberry to cut Number One, and her role was fulfilled by Spock instead.
Black Badges, Black Alert
The USS Discovery is a ship full of secrets. The prisoners spot security officers wearing black security badges; a "black alert" sounds while Burnham is bunking down with Cadet Tilly; Captain Lorca receives a message that is marked as "above top secret."
This kind of classified ops is almost unheard of in Starfleet, as usually everything is above-board (although there are, obviously, levels of need-to-know). Of course, Starfleet does have its own black-ops division — the corrupt and manipulative Section 31, which first appeared in Deep Space Nine.
Considering the fact that the Discovery's designation is NCC-1031, it's entirely possible that their mission is being overseen by the clandestine Section 31, and this could explain the black badges, black alert, and "above top secret" message warning Lorca of the state of the USS Glen.
A Troubled Tribble
Lorca is playing with fire, and not because of the dangerous nature of Stamets' astromycological research. No, another, more imminent danger faces the crew of the USS Discovery — being overrun by Tribbles thanks to the one Lorca keeps on his desk.
Tribble infestations can stem from just one Tribble, because they reproduce asexually — as Bones pondered in The Original Series, "the best I can come up with is that they're born pregnant." Yet somehow Lorca has kept his pet from reproducing, and he's even got a partially dissected Tribble in his ready room.
Forget finding "a new way to fly", the Discovery's Tribbles might just be their secret weapon against the Klingons! After all, the Tribbles were deemed an ancient enemy of the Klingon Empire, and there was even a war fought against them...
Close Encounters Of The Gorn Kind
Collecting strange alien creatures seems to be Lorca's hobby. His ready room is filled with alien remains, including the corpse of a Cardassian vole, and a Gorn skeleton — which is intriguing, as the Federation didn't encounter the Gorn until The Original Series episode "Arena".
In After Trek, a show that dissects the Discovery episodes, showrunner Aaron Harberts pointed out the discrepancy, explaining that this is part of the mystery of Lorca's character.
"What does it say that he has one of those [skeletons]? Who does he know? Where did he get it?"
If you were looking for more reasons to distrust the enigmatic captain, well this is certainly very shady. It's also worth noting that the Federation didn't have much contact with the Cardassians at this point in history either, as they were mired in an economic depression that would lead to the rise of the oppressive martial state.
Burnham's Foster Mother
As we know, Michael Burnham was brought up by Sarek, the father of Spock. In a sweet scene with Tilly, Burnham mentioned her foster mother, Amanda Grayson.
As the only other human in the family, it seems Amanda took it upon herself to teach young Michael that the Vulcans' strictly logical way isn't the only way, and Alice In Wonderland helped to open Michael's mind up to seeing beyond perceived rules and conventions. But Michael didn't wasn't alone in learning at Amanda's knee — Spock also reminisced about Amanda reading him Alice In Wonderland in Star Trek: The Animated Series.
"My mother was particularly fond of Lewis Carroll's work."
With actress Mia Krishner now cast as Amanda Grayson, we'll soon be seeing the woman herself, most likely in a flashback scene also featuring young Spock — which Sonequa Martin-Green previously confirmed to IGN.
In true Trek tradition, the boarding party lead by Stamets consisted of four main characters (Burnham, Tilly, Landry, Stamets), and one ops officer — who was almost immediately killed to raise the tension. This officer, although he sported a bronze ops uniform, would have worn a red shirt if he had survived to serve Starfleet 10 years later.
A Biological Ship
The USS Discovery isn't the first Starfleet ship that we've seen incorporate biological components — over 100 years later, the USS Voyager would use bio-neural gel as the ship's computer system, allowing it to process information faster and store much more data.
However, this seems to be totally different from the spore-based technology that Stamets is researching, so it's unlikely there's any connection. And of course, we know that Starfleet doesn't start traveling through space using spore-based panspermia — so presumably, there's a good reason why Stamets' experimental technology was never incorporated to the wider fleet. And speaking of...
Starfleet's History With Biological Weapons
In a confrontation with Lorca, Burnham abhorres the use of bio-weapons, saying that they were forbidden by the "Geneva protocols of 1928 and 2155." The latter date is interesting. 1928 of course refers to the post WWI Geneva Convention. In 2155, the United Earth won their war with the Romulan Empire — although we know very little about this battle, it would seem that the Geneva Convention was revisited and redrafted after this war.
Yet despite these protocols, Starfleet has a murky history with biological weapons. Teaming up with the Borg, Janeway beat back Species 8472 with a bio-weapon. Before that, Starfleet planned to infect the Borg drone Hugh with a computer virus, and thus infect the Collective (admittedly, this isn't biological, but it would have had a similar effect to a normal virus). And of course, Section 31 defeated the Dominion by infecting them with a morphogenic virus via Odo.
Universal Laws Are For Lackeys
And finally, Lorca tells Burnham that "universal laws are for lackeys but context is for kings," explaining that sometimes, breaking even Federation rules is the right thing to do. Of course, the other Star Trek captains break Federation law and Starfleet directives left, right, and center — but the difference is, we know these captains well, and we trust them. If they break the rules it's usually as a last resort, or because the context demands it.
So while we know that Lorca's philosophy is sometimes wise, because we know very little about this captain, this willingness to break the law is concerning. After all, rules are there for a reason.
Tell us in the comments: What other references did you spot in this episode?