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Recap / Star Trek: Discovery S1E01 "The Vulcan Hello"

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The U.S.S. Shenzhou is dispatched to repair an interstellar communications relay and discovers an object of unknown origin.


Tropes in this episode include:

  • Acting Unnatural: Burnham nerve-pinches Georgiou and then tries to get the crew to fire on the Klingons while she's out. However, her rushed explanations and evasive answers make them doubt Georgiou actually endorsed this course of action, which is quickly confirmed when the captain stumbles out of the ready room with a phaser.
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  • Arc Words: "Remain Klingon!" First spoken here by T'Kuvma; repeated by other Klingons throughout the season.
  • Artistic License – Physics: Regardless of how bright the Beacon is, no one but those present should be able to see it since it's just light. Yet Sarek claims that a new star has appeared in the sky, suggesting he can see it from Vulcan. They even say that the nearest Federation colony is 6 light years away—i.e. it would take 6 years for regular light to reach it. It's possible that it isn't just normal "light," given that the vessel was designed to function as a beacon across interstellar distances. Given the advanced technology involved, there may be a subspace component to the light, or the spacefaring civilizations have the technology to monitor the stars in real time, as suggested by the mention of an "electromagnetic subspace waveform" (whatever that means).
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  • Attack Hello: The "Vulcan hello" of the title.
    Burnham: Whenever the Vulcans crossed paths with Klingons, the Vulcans fired first. They said "hello" in a language the Klingons understood. Violence brought respect. Respect brought peace. Captain, we have to give the Klingons a Vulcan "hello".
  • Bad Liar: At the very least, Burnham doesn't seem able to lie convincingly about Captain Georgiou changing her mind.
  • Blinded by the Light: The Klingon Beacon is so powerful it completely whites out the Shenzhou's viewscreens, and the crew still have to shade their eyes because the ship can't completely compensate for the sheer intensity of the light.
  • Call-Back: Remember when Malcolm Reed commented that The Bridge doesn't have to be on the top deck of a starship? Whoever designed the Shenzhou clearly agrees with him; the bridge viewport is on the underside of the saucer.
  • Call-Forward:
  • Cliffhanger: Episode ends with dozens of Klingon ships warping into sight.
  • Death Glare: When Georgiou comes out of her ready room after being neck-pinched, the glare she shoots at Burnham is even deadlier than her phaser.
  • Dies Wide Open: T'Kuvma opens the eyes of the Klingon Torchbearer as part of their burial ritual, while everyone performs the death roar.
  • Due to the Dead: After Burnham kills Rejac in self-defense, several hours pass while Shenzhou recovers her and treats her for radiation exposure. The Klingons don't react in the interval, in part because they take the time to give Rejac a proper funeral.
  • Entertainingly Wrong: Burnham believes that striking first will save the Shenzhou by either rendering the Klingons unable to fight or getting them to back down and talk. She's completely unaware that T'Kuvma wants full-blown war whether he fires the first shot or not, and that he has at least one other cloaked vessel present which, based on what later happens to the Europa, would likely have taken out the Shenzhou regardless of what happened to T'Kuvma's ship.
  • Epic Hail: The Klingon beacon — a light source that can be instantly seen across half a quadrant — certainly counts.
  • Establishing Character Moment: In the introduction, Burnham confidently estimates, down to the second, how much time they have before the storm overtakes them, only for it to be revealed that she's off by quite a bit and they nearly perish. She's smart, capable, confident, but not immune to badly misreading the situation.
  • Genghis Gambit: T'Kuvma's plan follows this to a T: he wants to start a war with the Federation to unite the two dozen squabbling Klingon Great Houses against a common enemy, and return them to the unity and honor of their ancestors.
  • Going in Circles: Burnham thinks that she and Georgiou are doing this when they encounter their own footprints and figures that they're lost. Turns out that it's not actually a circle — it's a Starfleet symbol that Georgiou made to signal the Shenzhou.
  • Gondor Calls for Aid: A villainous example. The Beacon emits a signal meant to gather the leaders of the great houses of the Klingon Empire.
  • Honor Before Reason: Georgiou refuses to fire on the Klingons preemptively because Starfleet never fires first, even though Burnham cites historical precedent for why this would be a tactically and diplomatically sound move.
  • How We Got Here: The first scene with the Klingons is T'Kuvma conducting a memorial service for a dead Klingon, Rejac. It's later in the episode when Rejac is killed by Burnham, showing that the scene in question took place while Burnham was in sick bay recovering from her injuries.
  • I Am X, Son of Y: Subverted with "Voq, Son of None." However, his desire to prove himself causes T'Kuvma to essentially adopt him as his torchbearer and chosen successor.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: In their EVA suits, Rejac the Klingon tries to impale Burnham with his sword. Without any weapons, she desperately counters by firing off her rocket pack at point blank range to tackle him—ramming into him so forcefully that it impales him on his own sword, while she gets knocked out with a concussion.
  • Invisibility Cloak: T'Kuvma's ship has a cloaking device, canonically the first time Starfleet has encountered such technology on Klingon vessels.
  • Irony: Georgiou remarks to Burnham that it's about time she received her own command. As soon as the Klingons show up it becomes apparent that Burnham is not ready for command, as her judgement is severely impaired whenever they are involved.
  • Jumped at the Call: Voq is the only one who steps forward to be the new "Torchbearer."
  • Macho Masochism: Voq proves his devotion by holding his hand over a flame, letting it burn without flinching. This is possibly a shout-out to the Roman soldier Gaius Mucius Scaevola, who according to legend did the same thing.note 
  • Meaningful Name: The "Vulcan Hello" is a sudden torrent of weapons fire. Recall that out-of-universe, the Vulcans get their name from the Roman god of fire, hence Volcano. This also hints at the Vulcan nature of an outwardly pacifistic race concealing an explosively violent inner nature.
  • Meta Fiction: Unknown if they directly intended it, but think about it: the story outline is that no one has seen "the Klingons" in many years, the Klingons are worried the universe has forgotten them and they have forgotten their own honored traditions, so T'Kuvma wants to set off a big beacon to call them all together for a return to glory and get the universe's attention again—but even T'Kuvma's own followers fear that the rest of the Klingons won't answer their call. Now replace the phrase "setting off the Light of Kahless beacon" with "a big new Star Trek live-action TV series premiere after a 12 year absence," and "Klingons" with "Star Trek fans". Everyone working on the TV show fearing that even if they put out a great new show, they're so forgotten that no one will come to watch it—but then they do! And the premiere got very solid ratings numbers! Qapla!
  • Ms. Fanservice: Only halfway through the first episode, we get to see Sonequa Martin-Green in her undies. That's even faster than Jolene Blaylock!
  • Mundane Solution: The crew seems somewhat at a loss on how to get a look at the anomaly they've detected since interference is messing with the ship's sensors. Cut to the Captain's ready room and Georgiou, Burnham, and Saru peering at it out a window with a small telescope and Mark One Eyeballs.
  • Mythology Gag: Georgiou mentions how Burnham has served with her for seven years — which happens to be the length of three previous incarnations of Star Trek.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Michael when her suit computer identifies the individual on the Beacon as Klingon.
    • Everyone on The Bridge when the Sarcophagus decloaks, both because it's so damn big and because it appears out of nowhere.
    • The entire crew when the Beacon deactivates and 24 Klingon vessels warp in.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Implied for laughs — agreement between Burnham and Saru is apparently so rare that when it does happen, Georgiou makes a point of noting it in the ship's log.
    Georgiou: Mr. Connor, agreement between my senior officers. Note the date and time.
    Connor: (smirking) Noted, Captain.
    Burnham: Is this amount of sarcasm really necessary?
    Georgiou: Necessary, no, but I do like it.
  • Out-of-Character Alert: Saru is rightly suspicious when Burnham emerges from the captain's ready room claiming Georgiou suddenly changed her mind about attacking and making excuses as to why Georgiou isn't issuing these orders personally. Burnham Acting Unnatural really doesn't help her case, and Georgiou showing up with a phaser in hand seals the deal.
  • Properly Paranoid: At first, everyone lightly mocks Saru for his instincts, as a member of a prey species, to always suspect danger or malicious intent when faced with an unknown situation: their downed relay satellite could have just been taken out by an asteroid impact, but he insists it must be hostile intent. Pretty quickly, however, even Burnham realizes it's probably too much of a coincidence, and someone probably attacked the satellite to lure out a Federation starship to investigate. Difference is, Saru feels this means they should retreat and gather reinforcements, while Burnham feels this means they should immediately advance to investigate the exact nature of the threat.
  • Red Right Hand: Voq is an albino, which makes other Klingons see him as a freak and mistake of nature, not belonging to any Great House. T'Kuvma says he's come to see this as a "mirror" and sees himself in Voq: he's unattached to the decadent feuds of the Great Houses, and has a driving need to prove that he is a true Klingon (striking a chord with T'Kuvma because he feels the Great Houses have forgotten the traditions of honor and glory that Kahless set down for them). It goes double when he holds his hand over a flame in an act of Macho Masochism, charring the skin on one hand.
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons:
    • Burnham concludes that the Klingons will attack based on their culture and past encounters with the Vulcans. She's right about what they will do, but she's mistaken as to why: T'Kuvma isn't going to attack just for honor, but because he intends to start a war with the Federation to unite his people.
    • Correspondingly, Saru advocates withdrawing from the system to avoid the possibility of a trap. Had the Starfleet ships and crews done so, there would have been no one present to prove T'Kuvma's point and nobody who he could start a battle with to get the High Council and the assembled Houses on his side. That said, nothing would have stopped T'Kuvma and his followers from making attacks elsewhere to goad the Federation into open war.
  • Scenery Porn: The binary system. Burnham even describes it as such in her personal log.
  • Sensor Suspense: After the Beacon shuts off, the Shenzhou detects incoming warp signatures. As they try to identify them, the camera cuts to the sensor panel as Klingon icons start popping up.
  • Shaming the Mob: The faith of T'Kuvma's followers wavers to the point that they aren't sure if any of the Great Houses will respond to their call to unite if they light the beacon of Kahless. After Rejac is killed, T'Kuvma calls for another to replace him as their "Torchbearer," to honor their House—none will, and even Rejac's own brother expresses his doubts. Then "Voq, son of none" steps forward, a shamed albino derided as a freak of nature by his fellow Klingons, who declares that while he is not a member of an honored Great House, he will prove his honor through his faith and deeds by taking Rejac's place. T'Kuvma accepts, moved that this shamed outsider has displayed more courage and devotion than the high-ranking members of Great Houses who refused the call.
  • Space Is Noisy: The beacon emits a signal of such intensity that the crew can hear it without needing to actually listen to the comm channels, since the hull itself is resonating with the signal.
  • Switch to English: T'Kuvma pulls one at the end of his opening speech.
    T'Kuvma: (in Klingonese) They are coming. Atom by atom, they will coil around us and take all that we are. There is one way to confront this threat: by reuniting the twenty-four warring houses of our own empire. We have forgotten the Unforgettable, the last to unify our tribes: Kahless. Together, under one creed: remain Klingon!
    All: Remain Klingon!
    T'Kuvma: That is why we light our beacon this day. To assemble our people. To lock arms against those whose fatal greeting is... (in English) "We come in peace."
  • Title Drop: Burnham calls firing on the Klingon ships as a show of strength "a Vulcan hello," as the Vulcans did this once they realized the Klingons would do the same to them if allowed.
  • Trauma Button: In a flashback, Burnham's lesson computer starts asking questions about the incident in which her parents died, complete with images. She breaks down and halts the lesson.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: A minor one. When the storm on the alien planet arrives ahead of schedule and makes beam-out impossible, Georgiou leads Burnham on a walk with no apparent destination, asking that she trust it's the right path. When they end up circling back on their own footsteps, the Shenzhou flies below the storm and retrieves them. Zoom out to reveal Georgiou traced a massive Starfleet insignia in the sand.
  • Violence Is the Only Option: Even the Vulcans have decided that this applies to the Klingons. Burnam then decides to follow their example, despite the wishes of her captain.
  • Virtue Is Weakness: T'Kuvma's beef with the Federation is their pacifistic ways, specifically mocking their proclamations that they "come in peace". His Genghis Gambit involves them precisely because they represent that which Klingons should not be.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Burnham commits mutiny out of an absolute belief that the ship and its crew will be destroyed if they don't show their strength to the Klingons. She's arrested before she gets the chance to try, since her nerve pinch failed to put Georgiou out for more than a minute or so.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Georgiou chewing Burnham out for advocating an unprovoked attack against the Klingons, as well as challenging her orders on The Bridge.
    Georgiou: How dare you challenge me?
    Burnham: I apologize for my insubordination.
    Georgiou: Don't you realize that kind of talk can destabilize a crew?
    Burnham: Don't underestimate them. I've overseen their exercises; they're ready for battle.
    Georgiou: Battle is not a simulation. It's blood and screams and funerals. I taught you better than this. We don't start shooting on a hunch, and we don't take innocent lives, period.
  • Worthy Opponent: After the Vulcans lost a vessel to the Klingons, they learned their lesson and ruthlessly fired on any Klingon ship that crossed their path. This got the Klingons to respect them and opened the door to diplomatic talks. As Sarek lampshades, this worked for the logically pragmatic Vulcans, but humans aren't capable of divorcing their idealistic nature to do the same. It's worth pointing out that, as established in the Vulcan three-parter in Enterprise season four, the Vulcans in general were significantly less pacifistic then they were in The Original Series and those set after. Since the mentioned Klingon–Vulcan contact took place about a century before Enterprise, it makes sense that the Vulcans would be so ready to Fight Fire with Fire.
  • You Have to Believe Me!: Seems to be headed this way when the concussed and irradiated Burnham walks into The Bridge and says that there are Klingons on the unidentified object. Subverted, however, when Georgiou believes her and calls for Red Alert.

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