Star Trek introduces the Discovery -- and its mysteries

The starship that the show is named for finally turns up in episode 3, and brings with it a whole lot of questions.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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Richard Trenholm
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The mutinous Michael Burnham is played by Sonequa Martin-Green.

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Welcome aboard the Discovery. 

Episode 3 of the new Star Trek show finally introduces the starship of the title, but this brings only more mysteries.

"Star Trek: Discovery" is available now on CBS All Access in the US and on Netflix around the world. In the third episode, "Context is for Kings", the main character, Michael Burnham, finds her prison sentence for mutiny interrupted when she encounters the USS Discovery and its captain, Gabriel Lorca. These are the questions we're asking ourselves after watching the episode. (Disclosure: CBS is CNET's parent company.)

Be warned: Mild spoilers ahead.

What happened to the shuttle pilot?

It's strongly hinted that Captain Lorca set up Burnham's prison transfer in order to shanghai her into service aboard the Discovery. Burnham's fellow prisoners are quickly sent on their way as if nothing's happened, but what about the shuttle pilot? She stepped outside to fix the Species GS54 space-bug infestation and was never seen again. Please tell us that Lorca didn't let her float off into space while he was busy handing out fortune cookies.

Was that the coolest introduction of a starship ever?

It always gets us right there when the music swells and we swoop over the curves of the USS Enterprise as it rests in spacedock. But the introduction to the Discovery tops that, looming over us to save the day in a miasma of neon pink and turquoise space-clouds. Epic stuff.

What's Commander Landry's problem?

Within moments of arriving on the Discovery, the ship's security chief has referred to the prisoners as "garbage" and "animals", not to mention dissing Burnham's skills with Vulcan martial art Suus Mahna. Charming.

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The sinister Captain Gabriel Lorca is played by a flinty Jason Isaacs.

Jan Thijs/CBS Interactive

Who are the black badges?

The Discovery is full of secrets. The ship is capable of hosting 300 different scientific projects. Some of them are locked away behind closed doors as Captain Lorca attempts to co-opt benign research for military purposes. This episode gives us a glimpse of the  mysterious black-badge-wearing troops guarding these secrets, suggesting there are more layers to be revealed as we follow the consequences of Lorca's actions.

How far will the crew go?

At the heart of the dynamic aboard the Discovery is the clash of ideals between the crew of scientists and its military-minded captain. Engineer Lt. Stamets laments being forced to continue his research under "warmonger" Lorca, but continue he does. Lorca clearly shows he's not interested in abiding by the utopian principles of the Federation, which means he's likely to make demands of the crew that will run contrary to their peace-loving philosophy. We expect the drama of the show to come from seeing how far the characters will go to further the captain's ends. 

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Cadet Tilly, played by Mary Wiseman, has ambitions for her future in Starfleet.

James Dimmock/CBS Interactive

For example, beneath her bubbly, nervous exterior, Cadet Tilly shows a streak of ambition when she tells Burnham she intends to be a captain someday. If Lorca plays on that ambition, it could take Tilly to some dark places. 

What are Lorca's plans for the monster?

Beaming aboard an abandoned ship to tackle an unidentified alien menace is one of the oldest Trek tropes in the book. But this dark and gory encounter plays out more like an "Alien" movie -- complete with humans who think they can harness the deadly creature even after it's torn up an entire starship. Also, where did the monster come from? Is it a by-product of the Glenn's experiments with organic spores?

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What did Stamets just say?

Basidiosac? Progenitors of panspermia? Stamets takes Trek technobabble to new heights.

What did Captain Lorca just say?

Stamets isn't the only character in need of a universal translator. We're huge fans of the steely-eyed British actor Jason Isaacs, but we did have to employ the rewind button during more than one of his scenes. I'm not sure how the Discovery crew can carry out Captain Lorca's orders when he's chewing through his Southern American accent. 




Luckily for any aliens watching, Netflix offers Klingon subtitles.

A few final questions:

  • After the Glenn, will the Klingons target the Discovery?
  • Who named the shuttle "Disco 1"?
  • Will we ever meet Ensign Chiefowitz, whose name is called over the comm system?
  • How come Lorca can just ask the computer to transport him about the place?
  • Would you step into a sinister sealed experiment chamber if Jason Isaacs asked you to?
  • Do Vulcans say "shit"?
  • Does the breath scan still work after a few beers?
  • What's with all the snacking?

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