This episode of Star Trek: Discovery centers around “Ripper,” a giant creature captured in the previous episode. Captain Lorca has kept this beast aboard the Discovery because he believes its ferocity is something that can be weaponized to aid their war against the Klingons. In her first mission after being officially reinstated to the Science Division (albeit rank-less), xeno-anthropologist Michael Burnham is tasked by Lorca to uncover the creature’s secrets.
Michael quickly comes to question everyone’s assessment of this creature as a malicious predator. When she asks security chief Landry how she is so certain it is a monster, Landry replies “Because I’ve seen what it can do.” Michael quickly retorts against such criteria, “You judge the creature by its appearance and by one single incident from its past.”
Michael has also been judged to be a “monster” based on her past act of insubordination, an anomaly in an otherwise textbook Starfleet officer’s career. Her sympathy to the creature’s plight actually helps her uncover its true purpose and use that knowledge to help save lives. This prompts Michael’s always-positive roommate Cadet Tilly to remark near the end of the episode, “Seems like you’re gonna have another reputation to get used to.”
The other theme in this episode (which has also been a major recurring theme so far this season) is the justification that often precedes acts of war. Captain Lorca has declared that the Discovery is no longer a science vessel but is now a warship. The problem is that most of his crew would prefer to take part in scientific study aimed at the betterment of life rather than the taking of it.
Captain Lorca is given orders to use the Discovery’s experimental spore drive for the first time to jump halfway across the galaxy (the spore drive is such a cool concept that makes warp drive look even slower than a horse and buggy). Starfleet wants Lorca to overtake some Klingons who are attacking a strategically important Federation dilithium mine outpost. Lorca struggles to motivate his crew to work fast enough for what they view as a military operation, so he decides to play on their moral sensibilities. He initiates a ship-wide broadcast of the screaming miners and their families as they are being attacked by the Klingons. In this moment Captain Georgiou’s words from the pilot episode now seem prophetic: “Battle…is blood, and screams, and funerals.”
It is inevitable that violence will occur during times of war. How that violence is justified can go a long way in determining whether there is enough support to continue that war. Lorca knows this, and uses the suffering of innocent lives to motivate his reluctant crew, giving them a reason to fight. Did he cross a line in doing so? Deep down, does he really care about innocent people in danger, or is he more concerned with his self-admitted study of the art of war?
Even if his own motivations for doing so might be suspect, Lorca’s play works. The Discovery’s crew successfully surprises the Klingons, saving the men, women, and children at the mining colony in the process. But the return of the Klingon storyline throughout much of this episode reminds us that there are souls on both sides of any war. Entering into any such conflict without an awareness of your enemy’s mortality is both irresponsible and disrespectful to the sacred gift of life itself.