There is much to love about the third episode of Star Trek: Discovery, which is essentially the show’s true pilot episode. We are finally introduced to the titular starship, which is a ship of mysteries. It can run hundreds of “discreet scientific missions” at once, and it is filled with armed personnel and security systems guarding off-limits areas. Forget Red Alert; Discovery has a Black Alert. And liquid appears in mid-air then dissolves. There are so many unknowns on this ship, which should prove to be a fantastic source of content in future episodes.
Discovery is a former scientific vessel being repurposed into more of a military ship due to the war with the Klingons. This is a source of bitterness for much of the crew, especially the more scientifically-minded among them like Lieutenant Paul Stamets (portrayed by Anthony Rapp). Lt. Stamets is beyond frustrated that his life’s work is being twisted to serve the purposes of people like Captain Gabriel Lorca (portrayed by Jason Isaacs), whom he calls a “warmonger.”
It is into this tense environment that “Starfleet’s first mutineer” Michael Burnham finds herself inserted. The episode is shown mostly through her perspective. Her initial interactions with the crew are characterized by their palpable disgust of her and what she represents. She has become a universal scapegoat, having caused the war which they have been pushed into against their will. Michael’s pain and shame are felt through each of these interactions.
Michael once again undergoes a tremendous amount of character development in this episode. At the beginning she appears to have given up on life itself, only to have her prisoner transport shuttle be rerouted and picked up by the Discovery. Captain Lorca eventually reveals to Michael that he has chosen her because he thinks she is uniquely suited to help Discovery with its mission. Michael is presented with an opportunity to join his crew, hopefully changing the negative perception surrounding her and erasing the ghosts of her past.
Do our past actions really define us? Is it possible to overcome others’ perception of us, no matter how strong that perception might be? Michael Burnham’s answers to these questions will be an essential element of her continual development as a character.
Michael initially rejects Lorca’s offer to rejoin Starfleet, accusing him of misjudging her. She claims that despite her act of mutiny she still intends to live and die by the principles of Starfleet, and she believes Lorca is willing to break ethical rules if it means they could win the war. Lorca responds with his own philosophy that he hopes Michael will understand: “Universal law is for lackeys; context is for kings.”
Lorca actually admires Michael’s act of mutiny because he believes she was right; the Klingons did attack after all. He agreed that Starfleet needed to take a more aggressive approach in dealing with the Klingons. Lorca sees in Michael a kindred spirit, a future “king,” someone who does the right thing even when it means breaking the rules. Lorca’s offer of restoration to Michael is a potentially dangerous one. Although it is quite powerful to have such an unfettered chance to right her past wrongs, might she be at risk of losing herself in the process? If she embraces Lorca’s disregard for systematic rules and ethics, she might end up gaining the world yet losing her soul.