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Recap / Star Trek: Discovery S1E03 "Context Is for Kings"

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Six months after her court-martial, Burnham is unexpectedly brought aboard the USS Discovery, to participate in a classified research mission on behalf of Starfleet.

Tropes in this episode include:

  • Actually, I Am Him: When Tilly asks for Burnham's name, excited to have a roommate, Burnham reluctantly says, "Michael." Tilly notes that it's an unusual name for a woman, and says that the only other female Michael that she's heard of is Michael Burnham, the mutineer. Tilly thinks that it's a coincidence, but Burnham just fixes her with a cold stare. Cue instant mood change for Tilly.
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  • Air Vent Escape: Burnham distracts the monster and gets it to chase her through the Glenn's Jeffries Tubes, allowing the others to escape to the shuttle. With her knowledge of the layout, she is able to traverse the tubes until she reaches a hatch over the shuttlebay, landing right inside the shuttle by jumping into it.
  • Alice Allusion: Burnham recites a passage from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland as she's escaping the alien monster, specifically the part about the rabbit hole. The culmination of her plan has her dropping from the tube into the shuttle.
  • Artistic License – Law: At the end of the episode, Burnham suspects that Captain Lorca is developing biological weapons aboard Discovery and cites the Geneva Conventions' ban on them to him. There's a couple problems with this:
    • In real life, the cited 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention actually doesn't outlaw bioweapons; those are covered by a different set of treaties (the 1925 Geneva Protocol prohibits their use but not their creation, while the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention outlaws them altogether). However, Burnham also cites a fictional 22nd century version of the Conventions under which these are covered.
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    • In "Battle at the Binary Stars," Burnham and Captain Georgiou developed a plan that directly violated a different portion of the Geneva Conventions, namely Article 6 of 1980 Protocol II, mining an enemy corpse so that it would detonate when recovered, which made her statement to Lorca seem rather hypocritical to viewers versed in international law.
  • "Awkward Silence" Entrance: When Burnham and the other prisoners enter the mess hall.
  • Big Damn Heroes: As the prisoner shuttle seems doomed with its power being drained by alien lifeforms and its pilot lost in the middle of an energy storm, the Discovery abruptly appears and brings them aboard with a tractor beam.
  • Body Horror: The spore experiments on the Glenn horribly warped the bodies of the crew. It's not clear how the monster factors into that.
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  • Bookends: At the beginning of the episode, apparently trapped in a deadly situation on a disabled shuttle with three other people, Burnham doesn't give a shit about whether she lives or dies and doesn't do a thing to try to save them or herself, and the shuttle is rescued by a starship. Later, trapped in a deadly situation on the disabled USS Glenn with three other people, she risks her life to allow them to escape and then does her damnedest to make sure that she doesn't die either, ending up rescued from the starship by a shuttle.
  • Borrowed Biometric Bypass: Burnham collects some of Tilly's drool while's she's sleeping and combines it with an empty hypospray to get around the breath-lock on the lab door. Lorca seems to have intentionally invoked this, knowing that Burnham's curiosity would lead her to break into the lab and providing her the means to do so through a deliberate room assignment.
  • Chiaroscuro: The USS Glenn is mostly only lit by the flashlights that the boarding party carries.
  • Code of Honour: When Burnham believes that Lorca's trying to recruit her to help develop biological weapons because he thinks that she's desperate to do anything to get back into Starfleet, she angrily informs him that despite her act of mutiny, she was a first officer in Starfleet and believes in its values and those of the Federation — which has banned biological weapons — and she would never betray those values.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • Landry notes that Burnham is a practitioner of the Vulcan martial art of Suus Mahna.
    • Lorca has a pet tribble.
    • Burnham mentions that her adopted mother's name is Amanda, and that Sarek and Amanda also have a son whom she was raised with.
    • She also says that Amanda read her Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Spock mentions in the TAS episode "Once Upon a Planet" that his mother read him Alice Through the Looking Glass.
    • Stamets and his colleague on the Glenn discuss how their work would probably win the Zee-Magnees Prize.
  • Could Say It, But...:
    Burnham: Why are you nervous?
    Tilly: I'm trying to decide if I should tell you that you took my bed.
  • Dare to Be Badass: Lorca convinces Burnham to join his crew by appealing to her desire to make sure her captain didn't die in vain.
    Lorca: You helped start a war. Don't you want to help me end it?
  • Deadpan Snarker: After Stamets has been denigrating Burnham when ordered to take her with him to the Glenn, Lorca asks Saru his opinion of her as they had served together.
    Saru: Her mutiny aside, she is the smartest Starfleet officer I have ever known.
    Lorca: Huh. [looks at Stamets] And he knows you.
  • Dissonant Serenity:
    • During the tense and slightly ominous first meeting between Burnham and Lorca, the tribble on Lorca's desk is happily purring away.
    • Michael doesn't seem to care much about all the oxygen potentially running out on the prisoner vessel.
  • Draw Aggro: Burnham fires a couple of shots at the alien monster to draw its attention away from the other members of the team.
  • Emerging from the Shadows: Played for Laughs. Our (and Burnham's) introduction to Captain Lorca is him standing ominously in his darkened ready room, looking out at the stars. He explains that a recent combat injury has left him sensitive to sudden light changes as the room slowly brightens.
    Lorca: No matter how deep in space you are, I always feel like you can see home, don't you think? Maybe it's just me. Forgive the lighting, or lack thereof. Recent battle injury. There's nothing they can do if I want to keep my own eyes, and I do. I have to suffer light change slowly. I like to think it makes me mysterious. [long Beat] No?
  • Enemy Mine: Very briefly, the sole survivor of the Klingon boarding party on the Glenn appears to warn the Discovery team to be quiet. Too late, as it happens, since he's killed immediately thereafter by the alien monster.
  • Energy Absorption: Species GS54, space-dwelling micro-organisms, feed on electricity. They can drain a shuttle of its power if not cleaned off quickly.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Burnham is a pariah amongst even her fellow prisoners, since more than 8,000 people have died since the war with the Klingons began. One of those prisoners lost a cousin on the Europa.
  • Famed in Story: For all the wrong reasons— Burnham's reputation as the mutineer considered responsible for starting a war has become widely known. She's also apparently the first mutineer in Starfleet, ever.
  • Famous, Famous, Fictional: When refusing to do research on biological weapons, Burnham says that they violate the Geneva Conventions of 1928 and 2155.
  • Fantastic Racism:
    • The prisoners with Burnham talk trash about Andorians.
      Psycho: I hear half the screws on Tellun are scumbag Andorians. Andorians are cold in all the wrong places.
      Stone: The three I killed were cold everywhere.
    • Landry isn't impressed with Burnham's display of Suus Mahna.
      Landry: Vulcans should stick to logic.
    • Stamets is consistently bitchy to Michael, saying that she doesn't count as Vulcan. Considering that he's a white guy and she's a black woman, the Does This Remind You of Anything? vibes just blare out.
  • Foreshadowing: Lorca shows great understanding of Michael's character (such as knowing she would sneak into a classified area to satisfy her curiosity) and how to manipulate her, hinting at the later reveal that he groomed and was sleeping with her mirror counterpart.
  • Gone Horribly Wrong: Something clearly went very, very badly during the Glenn's most recent test of the new propulsion system. It's not revealed in this episode if the monster was somehow associated with it or resulted from it.
  • Handshake Refusal: When Tilly goes to shake Burnham's hand, Burnham responds with a Death Glare.
  • Hates Being Nicknamed: Possibly because of the choice of nicknames.
    Tilly: I'll call you "Mickey". I think that's more approachable.
    Burnham: No, you won't.
  • Immune to Bullets: The alien monster treats the kill setting on the phaser as an annoyance at best.
  • I'm Not Here to Make Friends: Burnham, both because of her Heroic BSoD and because she doesn't figure on staying aboard Discovery.
  • Instantly Proven Wrong: Tilly claims that the stations in the lab are pre-assigned, since she's nervous about working with Burnham. Stamets then gives Burnham a task and tells her to just pick one, since they aren't assigned.
  • Just Think of the Potential!: Lorca goes beyond just describing the potential of a spore drive and shows Burnham how it can be used to instantly get from one planet to another.
    Lorca: Hold tight. (activates holo-chamber) Blink: you're in Ilari. Blink: the moons of Andoria. Blink: you missed Romulus. All those planets, all those places, all those species, seen and yet to be seen. And you're home like it never happened.
  • Ludicrous Precision:
    Prisoner: My cousin was on the Europa when it went down. She and 8,000 others are dead because of you.
    Burnham: 8,186.
  • Meaningful Background Event: The stars outside of Tilly's windows are different before and after the jump.
  • Motor Mouth: Tilly admits to talking a lot when she's nervous.
  • Mythology Gag: The biolab where Lorca has the alien monster secured has specimens of various non-Terran lifeforms, including a Cardassian vole and what looks like the skeleton of a Gorn.
  • No-Paper Future: Tilly is shocked that Burnham owns an actual book— a copy of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • When Burnham explains what's happening to the prisoner shuttle, there's mild panic at the possibility of death, but since the pilot is working on it, they should be okay. Then there's severe panic when they hear a thump, see a body tumbling past outside, the computer announces "Safety tether disconnected," and finally the auto-pilot malfunctions.
    • Tilly's reaction when she learns who her roomie is.
    • Saru's threat ganglia come out when the prison shuttle leaves without Burnham, though he doesn't know that she isn't on it.
  • Organic Technology: The Discovery is working on an organic propulsion system which could potentially allow it to instantly travel between star systems in the blink of an eye. Discovery can't travel very far, but the Glenn had been making 90-light-year jumps before their horrible accident.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Lorca allows Stamets to vent for quite some time (apparently accepting that Stamets is upset by news of the death of his friend on the Glenn) before he finally lays the hammer down and reminds him that the ship is not a democracy.
  • Red Alert: Given a twist with the Black Alert, which signifies a test of the biological propulsion system.
  • Red Shirt:
    • The pilot of the prison transport goes out to clean off the energy parasites and then goes out into space when her tether snaps from turbulence.
    • The boarding party on the Glenn consists of Burnham, Landry, Stamets, Tilly, and a random security officer. Guess who gets eaten by the alien monster?
  • Refusal of the Call: Burnham initially declines Lorca's invitation to join his crew.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: Lorca indicates that he can unilaterally pardon and reinstate Burnham because his mission grants him wide latitude to do whatever is necessary to accomplish it.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!:
    • Lorca's philosophy. He admires Burnham for thinking similarly.
      Lorca: Universal laws are for lackeys. Context is for kings.
    • When they're trapped in the Glenn's engineering room by the monster, Landry turns down Burnham's request for a weapon because regulations don't permit her to have one. Stamets tosses Burnham his phaser, if only because doing so makes it more likely that the monster will kill her instead.
  • Secret Test of Character: Burnham calls out Lorca for putting her through, essentially, a recruitment test.
  • Shout-Out: Stamets has an uncle who was in a Beatles cover band.
  • Space Isolation Horror: A short-lasting Out-of-Genre Experience when the rescue team on the USS Glenn gets trapped with a killer alien.
  • Spotting the Thread:
    • Burnham realizes that the Discovery finding her was no coincidence, as her prison transfer was given without warning and the shuttle had changed course midway through its trip.
    • The other prisoners quickly note that the ship is new and wonder why it isn't at the front. They also notice the odd black Starfleet insignia that some of the crew are wearing.
  • The Stoic: As Burnham's prisoner transport shuttle is losing power and the pilot is lost in space, the other prisoners struggle to get out of their shackles to try do do something to save themselves. Burnham, having previously explained how they're likely to die, simply sits calmly, clearly not caring if she lives or dies.
  • Survival Mantra: Burnham recites a passage from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland while fleeing the alien monster on board the Glenn.
  • Talking to the Dead: When Stamets finds Straal's body.
    "I'm sorry, my friend."
  • That Came Out Wrong: Tilly says this to Burnham after complimenting her for not caring about everyone hating her.
  • That's an Order!: Lorca does this twice. The first is when Burnham tries to opt out of working for him until the shuttle is repaired. The second is when Stamets protests her being added to the away team headed for the Glenn. In both cases, he's secretly testing how she'd perform as a member of his crew, so it's in his interest to throw his weight around.
  • Three-Point Landing: Burnham provides a fine example when she drops into the shuttle on making her escape from the monster. It's even featured in the trailers and promos for the show.
  • Time Skip: The episode takes place six months after the previous episode.
  • Title Drop: Lorca says, "Universal laws are for lackeys. Context is for kings," while praising Burnham's intuition and willingness to do what's right regardless of the cost to herself.
  • Tractor Beam: How the Discovery rescues the prison transfer shuttle.
  • Wham Shot: The final scene of the episode reveals that Lorca had Landry save the alien monster before destroying the Glenn.
  • What Are You in For?: One of Burnham's fellow prisoners sarcastically asks her if she's in prison for staying out past curfew.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Given that the Discovery rescues the shuttle mere seconds after the pilot is ejected into space (and is therefore relatively near in cosmic terms), the lack of mention of her status, one way or the other, begs this question.
  • The Worf Effect: We are only three episodes in, and the Klingons fall victim to the trope named after their most famous specimen. The boarding party finds a couple of Klingon corpses on the Glenn, and wonder what might have killed these tough guys. Then the last surviving Klingon enters the scene, and they witness firsthand how the monster slaughters him.