Burnham begins her new assignment as an unranked member of the crew just as the Klingons launch an attack on a strategic planet. The Discovery is the only Starfleet ship that can get there in time—if they can get the spore drive to work.
Tropes in this episode include:
- Anyone Can Die: Landry's aggressive attitude, unwillingness to listen to Burnham, and plan to slice pieces off Ripper ends up getting her killed.
- Armor-Piercing Response: When Voq claims that using Federation tech to repair their ship would betray their ideals of purity, L'Rell points out that he and the rest of the crew had no such reservations when they ate Georgiou's corpse for sustenance. This gets him to listen to reason and go scavenging.
- Artistic License Astronomy: The O-Type star Discovery jumps to is depicted as a yellow-orange G-Type star similar to Earth's. O-Type stars are far more massive than Earth's sun and radiate intense blue-white light.
- Backhanded Apology: After Burnham manipulates Saru into approaching Ripper to test her theory that it isn't dangerous, he apologizes for previously saying she shouldn't be on the ship. What she just did demonstrates she and Lorca are good company.
- Bears Are Bad News: The tardigrade is also known as the "water bear", and this one is certainly as large and as powerful as a bear.
- Blind Jump: The first time Discovery tries to make a long-distance jump without a means to properly calculate their destination, they end up inside the gravity well of a star.
- Brutal Honesty: Saru is not happy to see Burnham on the crew. He admits that when he vouched for her as a "valuable asset" he was just being polite, as he assumed he'd never see her again.
- Captain Obvious: The Captain himself when the attempt to jump to Corvan 2 almost plunges Discovery into a star.Lorca: That is not Corvan 2!
- Cargo Ship: In-universe. Stamets is jealous that Ripper can somehow communicate with the spores, saying he always wanted to talk to his mushrooms.
- Cool Big Sis: Tilly's opinion has done a complete 180 since she first met Burnham. Whereas she was initially afraid that associating with Burnham would hurt her career, by the end of this episode she's decided Burnham is the most awesome person in the galaxy.
- Deadpan Snarker: Lorca following his dressing down of the bridge crew after the battle simulation.Landry: We'll do better next time, sir.
Lorca: It would be hard to do worse.
- Don't Call Me "Sir": Voq doesn't seem to like when L'Rell calls him "my lord".
- Double Take: Several of the crewmembers Burnham passes on her way to the bridge are startled when they realize who just walked by wearing a uniform.
- Failed a Spot Check: Lorca implies that Stamets must have missed something during the away mission to the Glenn, since they are missing a necessary component for the spore drive that must have been on board. Stamets insists that while it's true that he was a bit distracted at the time, he'd have noticed if there were any massive supercomputers lying around.
- Fake Action Prologue: When Burnham is called to the bridge, she walks into the middle of a firefight with the Klingons. After the crew botches it and a torpedo impacts the bridge, the screen freezes and it's revealed to be a simulation. Viewers might have guessed as much beforehand given no one else on the ship is behaving like they're under attack.
- Fake Defector: L'Rell seems to take Kol's offer and suggests a Fate Worse than Death for Voq, but she is actually saving his life and joins him, stealing a fighter just before T'Kuvma's ship warps out.
- Famous, Famous, Fictional: Lorca mentions the Wright brothers, Elon Musk, and Zefram Cochranenote to motivate Stamets.
- Fate Worse than Death: After defecting to Kol, L'Rell tells Kol to beam Voq to the Shenzhou, so that he may die aboard the vessel of those that killed his leader. It's subverted when it turns out she did so in order to save him, covertly beaming herself over after hijacking a shuttle without Kol's knowledge.
- Fantastic Racism: For the second episode in a row, Landry makes disparaging remarks about Burnham's Vulcan upbringing.
- Fluffy Tamer: Burnham manages to tame Ripper to some extent, allowing the crew to hook it up to the drive.
- Food as Bribe: Kol gets T'Kuvma's followers to desert Voq simply by providing them with a feast after they've been stranded in space and starving for months.Kol: The price of loyalty is low for those who are starving.
- Gilligan Cut: Admiral Cornwell calls in with a mission for Discovery that will require their spore drive, and Lorca insists that they're ready. Cut to Stamets arguing with him about why they're definitely not ready.Cornwell: Is the Discovery ready to jump?
Lorca: I told you we'd be ready when you called, and we are. The Discovery's made dozens of small jumps with no issues. We can make it the full distance.
Cornwell: You have no doubts?
Stamets: There's no way in hell we'll be ready to jump that far.
- Gunship Rescue: Discovery makes its entry to the battlefield over Corvan 2 by jumping in and blowing two Birds-of-Prey into atoms.
- Honor Before Reason: Voq refuses to scavenge equipment off the derelict Shenzhou to repair their ship, as he feels using Federation tech would betray T'Kuvma's crusade against assimilation, not to mention its crew being responsible for his death. L'Rell convinces him to be practical, noting that they ate a human corpse for food and didn't complain about that.
- I Did What I Had to Do: Burnham tries to excuse her manipulating Saru as necessary to determine the true nature of Ripper. Saru is not pleased.
- Ignored Expert:
- Before the first attempt to jump to Corvan 2, Stamets warns Lorca that they have no way to control where they end up. Lorca makes them jump anyway, and Discovery almost falls into a star.
- Landry, desperate for any kind of results, tries to sedate Ripper and amputate a claw. Burnham warns that they have no idea how it will react to standard sedation protocols. The protocols do nothing and it mauls Landry to death.
- I'm a Humanitarian: The Klingons on T'Kuvma's ship ate Georgiou's corpse. Given that they've been adrift for six months without supplies and are starving, it's understandable.
- Instant Sedation: Subverted — the Knockout Gas has no effect on Ripper's Bizarre Alien Biology, and it mauls Landry to death.
- Internal Reveal:
- Saru is surprised to see Burnham is still on the Discovery and in a Starfleet uniform.
- Lorca shows Burnham that the alien monster from the Glenn is in a lab on the Discovery and that she's to study it.
- Just in Time: Discovery arrives to save the mining colony moments after its shields have failed, just before the Klingons can start bombing in earnest.
- Just Think of the Potential: Lorca sees promise in the technologies that could be developed from a creature immune to all forms of personal weapons and capable of rending starship hulls with its claws. That research goes nowhere, but Burnham realizes that it can serve as part of their spore drive, as the Glenn had discovered.
- Kneel Before Frodo: When Kol beams onto the Sarcophagus, he kneels to Voq as a show of humility. Voq tells him that only their enemies should kneel before them.Kol: The last time I was here, on the eve of the war, I hurled disrespect. Now I come with humility.
Voq: T'Kuvma teaches that in a united Klingon Empire, no one kneels but our foe.
- Long Title: Second longest in the franchise history, beaten only by "For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky".
- Ludicrous Precision:Saru: In exactly five hours, 49 minutes and 46 seconds, the Klingons will take Corvan 2.
- The Man Behind the Man: L'Rell tells Voq she doesn't want to be a leader but instead prefers to work behind the scenes.
- Manipulative Bastard:
- Burnham invites Saru to the biolab under the pretense of apologizing to him for her actions, but she actually intends to see if he'll sense death from Ripper. He's not happy about being used.
- Lorca orders the audio from Corvan 2 played through the ship to guilt the crew (especially Stamets) into upping their performance.
- Mundane Made Awesome: The episode opens on a fantastic scene, an alien-looking storm in which arcs of lightning draw together two layers of dark blue in an increasing multitude of locations. Zoom out to reveal this was a microscopic view of the synthesis of Burnham's new uniform.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Burnham regrets having figured out that the tardigrade powers the spore drive, since doing so clearly hurts it.
- Mythology Gag: When Lorca shows Burnham the captured Ripper, a containment cell behind him has something that looks like a small Horta.
- Negated Moment of Awesome; In the first attempt to spore-jump to Corvan 2, there's dramatic music playing as the crew go to battle stations, weapons are powered up, there's a whole lotta spinning as Discovery makes the jump...and almost crashes into a star. Whoopsie!
- Non-Malicious Monster: Ripper the giant tardigrade isn't inherently violent, it just responds violently to threats.
- Non-Uniform Uniform: Burnham's new uniform has the silver piping of Science Division, but bears no Starfleet insignia at all, signifying that while she is on the crew, she carries no rank.
- Not So Different: Saru tells Burnham she's just like Lorca after she manipulates him.
- Not What I Signed on For: Stamets hates the fact that his research is being used for war.Lorca: The Discovery is no longer a science vessel, it's a warship.
Stamets: That is not the mission I signed on for. I'm not a soldier.
Lorca: Well then get off. Leave the ship.
- Oblivious Guilt Slinging: Captain Georgiou states in her will that she's sure Burnham will have gone on to command her own ship by now. Burnham looks physically pained at being reminded of just how disastrously she's fallen short of Georgiou's hopes and expectations.
- Oh, Crap!: Saru is understandably freaked out when Burnham shows up in the turbolift wearing a Starfleet uniform when she was supposed to be on the prisoner transport. She even lampshades that his threat ganglia have come out.Burnham: You can tell your threat ganglia to relax. I'm only here to help.
Saru: My ganglia remain unconvinced.
- Planet of Hats: This episode reveals that the hat of the House of Mo'Kai is espionage and subterfuge. Other Klingons refer to them as the house of "watchers and deceivers."
- Powered by a Forsaken Child: The critical component to a working spore drive is a macroscopic tardigrade that feeds on the spores and can communicate with them, serving as a living navigational computer.
- Reality Ensues:
- Six months of being stranded with only the disabled wrecks of other ships to scavenge from has left T'Kuvma's ship dangerously low on supplies, forcing the crew to eat Georgiou's corpse just to survive. It's also taken that long to repair the damage from a torpedo warhead detonating inside their ship, though it's implied they'd have been underway much sooner if not for Voq's stubborn insistence that they only scavenge the Klingon ships.
- Landry attempts to sedate Ripper, but it's an alien tardigrade with a biology completely different from that of humanoid or even animal species. The sedative gas fails to knock it out and she is killed when she tries to get a sample for study.
- The Klingon Houses have united after the death of T'Kuvma, but that doesn't mean that they're all one big happy family now. At least one of the House leaders sees T'Kuvma's martyrdom as nothing but a convenient way to point the entire Klingon race at the Federation at the same time, and plans to go back to feuding with the other Houses as soon as the war is won, T'Kuvma's dreams of a re-unified Klingon Empire be damned. Likewise, T'Kuvma's former disciples may agree to follow the despised outcast that he appointed his successor for a while, but they'll abandon him quickly enough once the going gets rough—the respect for a dead leader's wishes only goes so far.
- Throughout the franchise, the Screen Shake is used as a simple means to show that something is happening to a starship, but in a practical sense is little more than an inconvenience for the crew. This time, however, we see that the shaking, rattling, and rolling can itself cause injuries — Stamets bangs his head on his console and suffers noticeable (and painful) facial fractures that require a trip to Sickbay.
- Reluctant Mad Scientist: Stamets is rather annoyed with the way his technology is being used by Starfleet, and he threatens to take his technology and leave. Captain Lorca reminds him that said technology is owned by Starfleet, so he's going nowhere with it.
- The Reveal:
- The alien monster is a giant alien tardigrade (named "Ripper") that feeds on the spores used in the new drive. The secret of the Glenn's ability to make long jumps was using Ripper's link to the spores.
- The unusual design of the Discovery's saucer section is due to the rings counter-rotating as part of the spore drive.
- Sarcasm Mode: After the battle simulation ends with Discovery being destroyed, Lorca responds by facing the bridge crew and clapping before reaming them out.Lorca: Very nice. Very polite.
- Silent Running Mode:Lorca: Stealth protocol. Run silent. Black Alert.
- Subordinate Excuse: L'Rell tells Voq that she would rather serve him than lead the Klingon Empire herself.L'Rell: I do not want the mantle of leadership. Standing behind you, I am free to move. Able to be your enforcer, defender, campaigner.
- Take a Third Option: L'Rell tells Voq a story about herself doing this.L'Rell: My father was T'Kuvma's blood kin, but my mother was House of Mokai, the watcher clan, the deceivers, the weavers of lies. When I was a child, she gave me a bat'leth and told me to cleave my own heart. To choose one house over the other. Instead, I built a bridge to serve both.
- Talking to the Dead: Voq asks the slain T'Kuvma for guidance.Voq: T'Kuvma, my lord, it has been six months since your ship was disabled and the war began. We are left behind, in disrepair. Your followers are hungry. Help me guide them to nourishment.
Voq: (after being abandoned on the Shenzhou) T'Kuvma, my lord. They left me here to die in the nest of the vermin who took your life. My faith tells me this is not the end. (watches his ship warp away) My faith tells me this is not the end!
- Taxonomic Term Confusion: Burnham refers to the tardigrade "species," apparently in the singular. Tardigrada is actually a phylum comprising over 1,150 species.
- Techno Babble: Stamets explains to Lorca that everyone on the Glenn died when the ship "crashed into an undetectable Hawking radiation firewall when it exited from the mycelial plane." Well, that makes everything clear.
- Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Lorca orders Landry and Burnham to work together to study the tardigrade. Neither woman seems happy about it.
- Too Dumb to Live:
- Landry tries to sedate Ripper and remove one of its claws without even checking to see if the sedative actually worked. It earns her a painful death by mauling.
- The Federation almost loses the war because the source of half their dilithium lacks a defense fleet large enough to take a few Birds of Prey. Also, the Big Bad survives to cause further trouble simply because the Starfleet lacks a protocol for scuttling abandoned ships... and won't have them for at least a century more.
- Unresolved Sexual Tension: Voq and L'Rell share some obvious attraction. Voq, having been outcast by other Klingons all his life, is clearly somewhat unsure how to deal with it.
- Video Will: Burnham receives a posthumous holographic message from Captain Georgiou along with her most prized family heirloom—her telescope.Georgiou: Hello, Michael. I hope that wherever this finds you, you are well. I imagine you have your own command now. The captain of your own ship. I have always tried to show you by example. The best way to know yourself is to know others. You are curious, an explorer. So I am leaving you my most beloved possession, handed down through my family for centuries. My hope is that you will use it to continue to investigate the mysteries of the universe, both inside and out, and keep your eyes and heart open always. Good-bye, Michael. And good luck. Know that I am as proud of you as if you were my own daughter. Take good care. But more importantly, take good care of those in your care.
- Wall of Weapons: One wall of the biolab is covered in the deadliest weapons known to the Federation. Lorca keeps them as part of his study of war.
- Weakened by the Light: Ripper recoils from bright light. After it mauls Landry for attacking it, Burnham exploits this by maximizing the lighting in the biolab so it will retreat to the dark and shielded containment cell.
- Weaponized Teleportation: Lorca has the Discovery charge its spore drive while the Klingons are closing in on them. Once they've closed to minimum distance, Discovery jumps out, leaving a cluster of primed torpedoes which turn the Klingons into scrap.
- When Things Spin, Science Happens: Discovery's dual-section saucer counter-rotates as part of the spore drive's operation, followed by the whole ship spinning on its z-axis and disappearing.