"Context is for Kings" — the third episode of the newest Star Trek series airing on CBS All Access — focuses on a disgraced but incredibly capable ex-Starfleet officer who gets wrapped up in a dangerous clandestine mission after boarding the starship Discovery. We see that the officer, Michael Burnham, is eager to atone for her grave mistakes, all the while the Cold War with the Klingons has begun.
This episode does a solid job of re-introducing some of the characters we saw in the previous episodes while introducing the other half of the main cast for the first time. It also alludes to the momentous incident of the premiere, enough to provide adequate context for this episode and the season, yet not so much that the audience feels oversaturated with exposure. Finally, it sets the tone that we're likely to see throughout the majority of this season. Taking all this into account, it begs the question: Why wasn't "Context is for Kings" the first episode of the series?
Warning: this article contains mild spoilers for the first three episodes of Star Trek: Discovery.
Skip The Prologue
Star Trek: Discovery's premiere was essentially a two-episode prologue. A decent prologue, but a prologue nonetheless. One authors' adage is to "start late," meaning introduce the audience to your story just as the good stuff is getting started and fill-in the backstory later.
This is what Discovery should have done. The events of the premiere were important and should be told, but a prologue isn't the strongest way to begin the new series.
Imagine that you're meeting Michael Burnham for the first time: from the first scene in "Context is for Kings," it's clear she feels remorse over a decision she made that has since disgraced her and put Starfleet in a difficult position. So, who is she? How did she end up a prisoner? Why does everyone hate her? What could a single Starfleet officer do to cause so much trouble? We get a few answers soon enough, but they just scratch the surface.
Build The Intrigue
And that's how we like our television, right? Many popular shows these days draw out a plethora of questions at the start, then answer them after we've had plenty of time to see the importance of those questions, whether they're answered all at once later in the season, or answered gradually throughout the season (or multiple seasons, in some cases).
When we finally get those answers, it's so much more satisfying than if they were revealed from the get-go. In the case of #StarTrekDiscovery, there's plenty of intrigue surrounding Burnham's history and her relationship with other characters — or at least, there would be if it started with the third episode. Frankly, that mystery is really appealing. As for the events of the premiere, discovering the weight of the consequences as you wonder what caused them is a lot more interesting than knowing what happened and wondering what the fall-out will be.
On that note, learning that the United Federation of Planets has entered a Cold War with the Klingon Empire is old news for Star Trek fans. So for that to be the major selling-point of the premiere isn't engaging enough for fans, nor is it accessible for newcomers to the franchise (Wait, who are the Klingons? What's up with the Vulcans? Why should we even care?). Diving into the new mission of the starship Discovery while witnessing the intrigue surrounding Burnham's character and backstory is a much more interesting introduction to the series for fans and newcomers alike.
So, if you've been considering watching Star Trek: Discovery but haven't started yet for whatever reason, then make "Context is for Kings" the first episode you see. It's a stronger introduction not only to the main character and the primary storyline of this season, but to the whole Star Trek franchise as well. Wait until later to watch the first two episodes, perhaps during the mid-season break.
If you've taken my advice and made "Context is for Kings" the first episode you watched, let us know your impressions in the comments below.