(written from a Production point of view)
Michael Burnham finds herself aboard the USS Discovery, where she quickly realizes things are not as they seem, including the mysterious Captain Gabriel Lorca.
It has been six months since the start of the war between the United Federation of Planets and the Klingon Empire and Michael Burnham was court martialed and sent to prison. Burnham, along with three other prisoners – Stone, Cold, and Psycho – are on board the shuttle SPT 21 being transferred to Tellun. According to Stone, the reason they are being transferred there is because a pocket of dilithium went piezolectric, causing the mine to be ripped apart at the bottom and killing fifty convicts. Psycho comments that she has heard that most of the facility guards are Andorians, who she says are "cold in all the wrong places", but when Stone remarks that the ones he killed were just cold, Burnham reacts, causing their attention to be drawn to her.
Stone asks if their discussion makes her uncomfortable, then inquires as to the nature of her crime. Cold identifies Burnham, Stone realizing this is "the mutineer". Psycho coldly informs Burnham that her cousin was aboard the USS Europa when it was destroyed, and was killed along with eight thousand others, to which Burnham clarifies the exact death toll as 8,186.
Before the conversation can become heated, a proximity alert sounds, and the shuttle begins to judder. Glowing motes begin to gather around the shuttle windows, and the pilot reports to Starbase 18 the presence of "bugs", and the starbase advises her she will need to go EVA and deal with the issue. As the pilot heads to the airlock, the prisoners express concern at her leaving the vessel uncrewed. Burnham coolly informs them that Species GS54, which feeds on electricity, is the cause of the issue; if the pilot is unable to get rid of them, the ship's power supply will be depleted, leaving then stranded and likely to die of suffocation or hypothermia, "whichever comes first".
Cold becomes agitated and asks for the pilot to return; Psycho tells him to relax and let the pilot take care of it. Suddenly, the pilot goes tumbling past the shuttle's windows, the computer warning that her safety tether has become disconnected. Furthermore, the autopilot has malfunctioned. The three other prisoners try desperately to remove their restraints, but Burnham sits calmly as the shuttle begins to creak ominously.
Then, the noise stops. Overhead, a starship has locked onto the shuttle with its tractor beam. As the tractor beam pulls the shuttle clear and into an open shuttlebay, the identity of the vessel rescuing them is revealed – the USS Discovery.
In the Discovery's shuttlebay, the prisoners are escorted off the shuttle by armed security officers. Stone comments on the fact that the ship appears to be newly-built, while Psycho asks why a brand-new ship is so far from the war. At that moment, the bay doors open, and Commander Ellen Landry steps into the room, introducing the ship and herself as chief of security. Making derogatory remarks about the prisoners, and noting Burnham as "Starfleet's first mutineer", she instructs them to follow her into the ship.
As they make their way through the corridor, Stone notes the number of science personnel on the ship, which leads Psycho to conclude that the Discovery is a science vessel. However, that view is sharply contrasted with an officer standing guard outside a door, in full tactical uniform and armed with a phaser rifle. Stone remarks on his unusual, black Starfleet insignia, before Landry shuts down any further discussion and leads them to the mess hall, saying that Starfleet had instructed them to "feed the animals".
Retrieving a meal from the food synthesizer, Burnham is surprised to encounter Keyla Detmer, formerly Shenzhou helm officer. Detmer, wearing a cranial implant of some type, avoids eye contact with her former commander, and moves quickly away. Burnham then looks for somewhere to sit, before reluctantly sitting with the other prisoners.
Cold then suggests that they add one more to the war's death toll, and he and Psycho attack Burnham. A security officer attempts to intervene, but Landry stops him. After Burnham successfully incapacitates the two, she finds herself at phaserpoint, Landry announcing that the captain wishes to see her. She instructs the security officers to put the others in the brig, leading Burnham away. In the turbolift, Landry comments on Burnham's use of Vulcan martial arts, which the latter identifies as Suus Mahna; Landry remarks that Vulcans should "stick to logic".
Reaching Discovery's bridge, Burnham gets another surprise – Saru, sitting in the captain's chair. The Kelpien regards her momentarily, then turns back to his duties as Landry takes Burnham to the side.
In the captain's ready room, lights are darkened, and a figure looks out of the room's window. A tribble coos on his standing desk. As Burnham arrives, the figure apologizes for the low light, citing a recent injury which requires him to adjust to lighting changes slowly, although he comments that he thinks it makes him seem more mysterious. As the lights come up, the figure turns and introduces himself as Captain Gabriel Lorca, and welcomes Burnham to Discovery.
Burnham does not respond. Lorca invites her closer and offers her a fortune cookie, remarking that it was a family business back in the 22nd century. Lorca notes that was before hunger, need, and want were no longer a concern; although he suggests the current conflict means those issues are returning, and puts that on her. Lorca says that, after discovering Burnham was on the shuttle, he read her file again and was impressed. Burnham steps forward and asks why she is on the ship; Lorca notes the presence of the "storm" outside. However, Burnham regards the unusual circumstances in which she ended up on Discovery – an unannounced prison transfer, a sudden course change – to which Lorca suggests that the universe may simply hate waste.
Coming around the desk to stand next to Burnham, causing her to back up, he then asks what he should do with her – considering that simply putting her in the brig with the other convicts will lead to a death, a distraction he cannot afford. He then asks about her level of ability in quantum physics, a non sequitur that catches Burnham off guard. Lorca states that it will take three days for the shuttle to be safe to take out again; in the meantime, there is something on the ship that requires "every trained mind available", including hers. When Burnham declines, citing a desire to see out her sentence without becoming involved in the war, Lorca refuses to allow her a free ride, stating that, as a Starfleet officer, Burnham will be of use to him in achieving his mission. When Burnham asks what mission that is, Lorca responds that it is to win the war, before dismissing her.
Landry leads Burnham to her temporary quarters, advising that someone will be there to escort to her to her work at 0800 hours, but does not respond when Burnham asks about the nature of the work. Alone in the room, Burnham lies down on the bed, contemplatively. The door suddenly opens, and a young woman enters, stopping at the sight of Burnham in the room. Giggling, she is delighted to discover she has a roommate, citing her "special needs" as reasoning why she had been refused in the past. She introduces herself as Cadet Sylvia Tilly, but Burnham does not respond to her attempted handshake. Tilly apologizes for her babbling, noting that she tends to talk when nervous, a trait her instructors have advised her to reduce. When Burnham asks her why she is nervous, Tilly replies that she was trying to decide whether to inform her new roommate that she had taken Tilly's bed. Burnham is incredulous, but Tilly advises her that her allergies mean that her bedding material has been specially organized, at which Burnham swaps to the other bed.
Sitting uneasily on her bed, Tilly asks for Burnham's name, then notes that she had never met a female named Michael before. She suggests referring to Burnham as "Mickey", as it seems more approachable, but Burnham quickly shuts that idea down. Tilly then notes that the only other person she had heard of with the name was the infamous mutineer, Michael Burnham, but it couldn't be her new roommate. As Burnham looks at her in confirmation and Tilly's nervousness increases, the ship's lighting suddenly shifts, and the Discovery computer announces a black alert. When Burnham asks what is happening, Tilly is unable to answer, as her new roommate hasn't been briefed. Tilly then lies on her bed and turns away from Burnham. Burnham watches as liquid seems to condense in the air, before falling to the deck and being absorbed. She again asks Tilly to explain, but the cadet maintains her facing away from her.
It is 0759. In her temporary quarters, Burnham has finished synthesizing an unadorned uniform and heads for the door. Saru is waiting for her. When she greets him with a brief "Saru", he corrects her, noting that he is "First Officer Saru". He is to escort her to her duty station, and asks her to follow him. En route, she notes the other crewmembers observing her, and Saru comments that she is famous and that everyone wants to see her. Burnham congratulates him on his promotion, which Saru states was a consequence of his actions at the Battle of the Binary Stars, although in retrospect he wishes he could have done more. As they continue down Discovery's halls, Saru offers her blueberries, which Burnham comments taste much better than the ones in prison, a variation Saru attributes to the environment they are consumed in, rather than something inherent to the synthesizer, to which Burnham reluctantly agrees.
The corridors are busy, and Burnham remarks upon the number of people moving through the ship. Saru notes that the ship can handle over three hundred different science missions; however, he dissembles when Burnham asks whether that means the ship is a science vessel. Arriving at engineering, where Burnham has been assigned, Saru tells her that Lieutenant Stamets will give her further instructions. Before he leaves, Burnham attempts to apologize for her actions, thanking Saru for the eulogy he gave Captain Georgiou, saying that she thinks about the events of that day everyday. Saru understands her desire, but notes that he now associates her with danger. He further explains that, although Captain Lorca does not appear to have the same fears as others, Saru does, and Burnham is among those fears. She attempts to mollify his concerns, only wanting to get back on the shuttle and not to cause trouble, but Saru warns that if she does, he will do a better job of protecting his captain than she did hers. Saru walks away, leaving Burnham at the entrance to engineering.
Entering the room, Burnham asks for Stamets, but when she attempts to enter the room she is informed he is in, she is told it is off-limits without a breath print. Burnham notes that it is not standard Starfleet procedure to classify engineering labs, but the ensign she is speaking to responds that this is Discovery, and advises her to find a station. When Burnham moves to work next to Tilly, the cadet informs her that seating is assigned. Stepping away, Burnham considers the large chamber at the far side of the room, as the lab door opens and Stamets enters the room, carrying a container of material, wanting to know who she is. When Burnham explains that she was assigned to him, he dismissively says that only he can issue assignments. Burnham watches as Stamets brushes some sort of dust from his uniform, which catches her attention.
Stamets notes that he was expecting a Vulcan, and dismisses Burnham's credentials as the equivalent of his uncle Everett being John Lennon because he plays in a Beatles cover band. However, Stamets decides to have Burnham prove her worth, and orders her to reconcile two suites of computer code on a microtape; ideally, somewhere away from him, especially as seating is not assigned. Burnham returns to the console next to a sheepish Tilly, and begins working.
Time passes, and Burnham overhears a conversation between Stamets and his colleague Straal, discussing the conservative "interval" of Speirin 12 achieved by Discovery, which Stamets attributes to caution rather than Lorca holding them back. Straal notes that the USS Glenn, his ship, has achieved Speirein 240 by way of a recent breakthrough. Pressed for details from Stamets, he only says that there are benefits to "not growing your own" before announcing that the Glenn is preparing for an attempt at Speirein 900, which Stamets dismisses as impossible. Straal reproaches his colleague, noting that the two have been working on this project for twelve years, and that it will lead to them winning the Zee-Magnees Prize. Stamets admits to concern rather than jealousy – he feels that level of displacement is unsafe. Burnham is intrigued by the conversation, and attempts to get closer to overhear further, but Straal notices her and alerts Stamets, cutting the communication. Stamets turns and tells Burnham that he dislikes lurkers. In response, Burnham asks for more information to put the equations she is working with in context, noting that they seem to merge quantum astrophysics with biochemistry. Stamets notes Burnham's temporary status, and her conviction, as reasons not to share his top-secret research. Burnham responds that it is up to Stamets to decide what information to give, and indicates the error she has identified in the code. Stamets gets up, dismisses her, and enters the secure lab, submitting a breath scan to do so.
Burnham returns to her quarters, where Tilly is asleep, and takes a sample of Tilly's saliva. Back in engineering, Burnham combines this with an engineering tool to fool the breath scan into thinking she is Tilly. Successful, she enters the lab, to discover a large room filled with fungi.
Meanwhile, Lorca receives a highly secret communication in his ready room. He then goes to engineering with Saru, and announces that the Glenn, undertaking black alert maneuvers in the last hour, has suffered an "incident", with the loss of all hands. Pained, Stamets asks what happened, and whether a bloom failure had occurred. Lorca does not answer, and orders a boarding party put together: Stamets will go with Landry to bring back project materials to Discovery. When Stamets asks why a transporter couldn't be used instead, Saru notes that the shielding in the Glenn' test lab prohibits it, which Stamets is surprised by. However, Lorca cuts across the discussion, noting that the Glenn is currently located near Klingon territory, and so getting to the technology before they do is a priority. Stamets asks why such drills are being carried out so close to enemy territory, to which Lorca responds that this is wartime and he shouldn't have to keep reminding the science officer of that. Stamets requests a team to go with him, to facilitate the scientific analysis; Lorca agrees, but tells him to take Burnham. Stamets objects, which leads Lorca to forcefully remind him that he is in command, before asking Saru (who he addresses with the moniker of "number one") for his assessment of Burnham's abilities. Momentarily surprised, Saru turns to Burnham before returning to his captain and noting that, despite her crime, she is smarter than any other Starfleet officer the Kelpien has met. Lorca comments that his statement encompasses Stamets.
A shuttle, DSC 01, launches from Discovery and goes to warp. Aboard are Stamets, Landry, Tilly, Burnham, and security officer Kowski, along with Bryce as the pilot. Tilly is excited about having been picked to join the mission; although her theoretical knowledge has led her to be fast-tracked through the Academy, this is her first time on an away mission. Burnham is unsurprised by this being so. Tilly tries to apologize for seeking to avoid Burnham, noting that wanting to make a good impression on her superiors led her to worry about being associated with someone of Burnham's reputation. Burnham tells her she understands and that it was OK for Tilly to do that, but the cadet responds that it is a character flaw of hers that she cares too much about other people's opinions of her, noting that Burnham doesn't have that issue, even if everyone hates her. Tilly tries to backtrack on that last comment, suggesting that Burnham might be able to help her get over her issue, but Burnham tells her that she won't be around much longer.
The shuttle drops out of warp near the Glenn. The starship has suffered extensive damage, with Stamets pointing to the hull etching, evidence of catastrophic basidiosac rupture. When Burnham queries the term, Stamets dismisses her input and tells her to stop talking, but Burnham presses on, identifying links with the data she has been working. When Stamets sarcastically asks whether she is trying to show her intelligence, Burnham responds that she is looking for information to help fulfill the mission, and inquires whether the issue arises from biology or physics. Stamets dismissively says that the two are not different from each other – in quantum terms, they are the same. Spores, he says, are the building blocks of energy in the universe, what he terms the "progenitors of panspermia". He explains that he became an astromycologist because of the awesome concept of physics as biology, and he and Straal as research partners began to explore the potential for a new understanding of the universe from it. But, he angrily notes, when war broke out, their research was co-opted by Starfleet and the two of them were split up between Discovery and the Glenn, to work twice as quickly. Starfleet's goal wasn't exploration, he continues, but military. Now Straal is dead, and Stamets says that this further strengthens his desire not to simply hand the technology over to Lorca, which he thinks is Burnham's goal in being here. Burnham denies his accusation, noting that she never even intended to be on Discovery, but Stamets responds by suggesting that, whatever Burnham's intentions may have been, if Lorca desires her to be on the ship, nothing will stop that.
Landing in Glenn's shuttlebay, Landry orders Bryce to remain with the craft, and Kowski to accompany them out into the ship. The corridors are dark, leading Landry to suspect the power relays to have failed, Stamets noting that this sort of accident doesn't follow any "normal" pattern. They soon encounter the bodies of the crew, twisted and mutilated. Shaken, Stamets states that the injuries they see were unanticipated, and asks Tilly to compare the damage to that sustained by the ship's hull. When Tilly indicates a correlation, Stamets directs them towards engineering. Suddenly, Burnham reacts to a noise, and turns to see a creature running past a partly-open doorway, before moving off with the rest of the team. Further down the corridor, they find a bat'leth – the Klingons are already on board. When Tilly asks if that means they are aware of the existence of the technology, Stamets replies that, if they were, it would be all over.
Approaching the end of the corridor, the team finds a turbolift door, repeatedly opening and closing over a severed leg. Around it are a dozen dead Klingons, and signs of struggle. These bodies show no signs of helical damage, which Stamets notes means they came on board after the accident, probably to steal Starfleet technology – begging the question as to what killed them. Stamets draws their attention to a damaged wall; whatever did it was capable of penetrating double-reinforced metal. A sudden noise leads Tilly to raise her phaser and call out for whoever is hiding in the shadows to reveal themselves. A single Klingon steps forward, shushing them. As Landry reacts to the strange behavior, the creature Burnham caught sight of earlier attacks, dragging the Klingon away. Burnham tells the others to run, as Landry and Kowski open fire. They sprint for engineering, firing at the creature as they go. With it still pursuing, Landry orders phasers set on kill. Burnham leads them through a set of damaged doors into the Glenn's engineering bay, but the creature catches up to them and attacks Kowski before an emergency shutter can seal them off from it. Stamets orders Burnham to download the ship's logs while Tilly gets telemetry and checks spore containment, before discovering the body of his research partner.
The creature slams into the shuttered door, and it is clear it won't be long before it breaks through. Burnham reports that the log is corrupted, while Tilly notes a piece of equipment creating a navigational hack, which Stamets says they need to retrieve; Landry suggests they do so quickly. Burnham then heads to the other entrance to the bay, which is jammed, but Landry uses her phaser rifle to begin cutting through. Inspecting the rest of the room, Tilly finds further modifications in the reaction cube and Stamets again suggests recovery. With the items secured in a crate, Landry warns that she won't be able to get through the door before the creature breaks past the shutter. Burnham moves back into the room, and asks for a phaser. While Landry notes that mutineers are unlikely to receive weapons, Tilly says that she won't be able to kill the creature that way. Burnham responds that she only wants to annoy it. Stamets tosses her his sidearm as the creature breaks through. Burnham calls to it, and opens fire, drawing its attention as planned. She runs one way, as the others hurry through the vaporized door, and heads up a ladder into a Jefferies tube. Crawling through the duct, Burnham recites Alice's Adventures in Wonderland to maintain focus. Stamets contacts her, having returned to the shuttle. Burnham tells him to align the shuttle in a particular direction and open the top hatch. The creature gets closer, as Burnham opens a hatch, and drops into the waiting shuttle, which blasts out of the Glenn.
Back aboard Discovery, Burnham steps onto the bridge, once again in her prison uniform. She asks permission to enter from Saru, who is once again in command and grants it. Saru then tells Commander Airiam to take the conn and steps over to speak with Burnham. Burnham reassures him that she will be aboard the repaired shuttle, which is set to depart within the hour. Leading her to the ready room, Saru compliments Burnham on her actions with the boarding party, noting that she was always a good officer... until she wasn't, and that her absence from the fleet is a loss.
In the ready room, Lorca comes right out and offers Burnham a place aboard Discovery. When Burnham notes her conviction, Lorca states that Starfleet has given him discretion in determining how to prosecute his war efforts, and eagerly awaits her affirmative response. Burnham, however, declines. Surprised, Lorca asks if she is motivated by a desire to persecute herself for her crime. While Burnham admits there is something in that, she notes that Lorca is keen for her to stay, and posits a theory: he deliberately brought Burnham here. His experimental technology is an attempt to develop a biological weapon in violation of the law, and he is looking for someone who is prepared to step outside the rules and cast aside the principles the Federation is based upon to do so. But that isn't Burnham. She stands fast to her Starfleet roots, and is prepared to die to defend them.
Smiling, Lorca says he knows exactly who Burnham is. Coming around his desk, he notes that, although she loves being right, he thinks that she hates being wrong even more. He initiates a site-to-site transport down to engineering. Once there, he asks Burnham to step into the reaction cube, which she does. Taking a container from the storage wall, he notes that it is simply a harmless fungal spore grown on the ship, in fact, in the room Burnham broke into. He slides the container into a port, which releases the spores into the reaction cube around Burnham. Lorca then walks back towards Burnham, explaining that Discovery is not tasked with finding a new way to kill, but a new way to travel. The spores provide access to an organic propulsion system, allowing jumps across a mycelial network; side effects include the phenomenon Burnham encountered in her room earlier. While Discovery has only been able to travel distances of hundreds of kilometers, the Glenn, before disaster struck, had been traveling dozens of light years in a matter of seconds.
Burnham expresses skepticism, asking how the drive works. Lorca explains that there is a microscopic web through the universe, providing roads to innumerable destinations; Burnham recalling Stamets' discussion of the "veins and muscles" of the universe. Lorca explains the enormous potential for the drive as a strategic tool; but winning the war is only the beginning. Lorca asks if she wants to see the potential, before returning to the console and pressing a button to activate "spore drive".
Instantly, Burnham is shown images of numerous worlds – Ilari, the moons of Andoria, Romulus, and more – before snapping back to Discovery. Opening the door of the reaction cube, Lorca admits he did choose Burnham, but because of her predictive mind and willingness to do the right thing even at great personal cost, the thinking that he needs alongside him. "Universal law is for lackeys," he notes, "context is for kings" – leaders need to be willing to break the rules at the right moment for the right reason. He asks her again to join the mission, offering her a fortune cookie once more, suggesting that she has a chance at atonement and a chance to be assured that Georgiou did not die in vain. She helped to start a war; does she want to help Lorca end it? Burnham looks at him, and takes the cookie.
The prison shuttle is setting off, but in Discovery's mess hall, Saru is adding salt to his tea when his threat ganglia trigger as he watches it go to warp, an expression of unease on his face. Burnham returns to what are now her quarters, a fact which pleases Tilly. Tilly confides that she intends to be a captain some day, but there are things about command she doesn't yet know. Having read everything on Georgiou – which Burnham quietly corrects to "Captain Georgiou" – she thinks Burnham can help teach her. Tilly is surprised when Burnham unpacks an actual, physical book, which Burnham hands to her: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Burnham explains that her foster mother used to read it to her son and Burnham, and that it taught her that the world is not always logical. Tilly asks her name; Burnham replies: "Amanda".
Out in space, the Glenn is destroyed, as Lorca and Landry look on. Lorca asks whether their "new guest" is secure, which Landry confirms. Lorca states that he and the "guest" will spend the evening together, and thanks Landry for bringing it aboard the ship. Lorca dismisses her, then looks around the laboratory the two are conversing in, which contains a number of dissected animals and skeletal remains, before moving to a large cell at the back of the room. Placing his hand on the force field over the entrance, he calls out, "Here, kitty," as the creature which attacked the Glenn rushes forward and slams into the force field. Pleased, Lorca returns to the viewport and looks out as Discovery goes to warp.
"Andorians are cold in all the wrong places."
- - Psycho
"My cousin was on the Europa when it went down. She and eight thousand others are dead because of you."
"Eight thousand, one hundred and eighty-six."
- - Psycho and Michael Burnham
"Let's make it eight thousand, one hundred and eighty-seven."
- - Cold, before attacking Michael Burnham in the mess hall
"My uncle Everett plays in a Beatles cover band, it hardly makes him John Lennon."
- - Lieutenant Paul Stamets to Michael Burnham, after she told him she had grown up on Vulcan
"I despise lurkers."
- - Stamets to Michael Burnham, after catching her lurking behind him
"I'll call you Mickey; I think that's a little more approachable."
"No you won't."
"Okay, no I won't."
- - Cadet Sylvia Tilly and Michael Burnham
"No matter how deep in space you are, always feel like you can see home. Don't you think? Maybe it's just me. Forgive the lighting. The lack thereof. A 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. No?"
- - Captain Gabriel Lorca (mirror), introductory words to Michael Burnham
"Captain Gabriel Lorca. Welcome to Discovery."
- - Gabriel Lorca (mirror), welcoming Michael Burnham to Discovery
"Until your vessel's repaired, you'll be assigned to quarters and put to work. I'm not a chauffeur. There's no free rides on my ship. You were once a Starfleet officer. I will use you, or anything else I can, to achieve my mission."
- - Gabriel Lorca (mirror), to Michael Burnham
"I saw a recording of the speech you gave at the captain's funeral. It was beautiful. I never thought I'd get a chance to say this to you. I think about what happened every day, all the time, and I owe you. I'm trying to say..."
"I believe you feel regret. But... in my mind, you are dangerous. Captain Lorca is a man who... does not fear the things normal people fear. But I do. And you are someone to fear, Michael Burnham."
"I just want to get back on that shuttle, Commander. I won't make any trouble for you here."
"Well, that is certain. But if you try, know that I intend to do a better job protecting my captain than you did yours."
- - Michael Burnham and Saru
"...but this is not a democracy."
- - Gabriel Lorca (mirror), replying to Paul Stamets
"Before I was a mutineer, I was a first officer in Starfleet. I'll never bear that rank, or any other, again. But it is who I am, and who I will always be. It is by the principles of the United Federation of Planets that I live. And by them, I will most certainly die."
- - Michael Burnham, to Gabriel Lorca
"We are creating a new way to fly."
- - Gabriel Lorca (mirror), explaining his mission to Burnham
"Hold tight. 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."
- - Gabriel Lorca (mirror), showing Burnham the spore drive
"Universal law is for lackeys. Context is for kings."
- - Gabriel Lorca (mirror)
"What do you wish for? Atonement? Redemption? Maybe... the reassurance that the captain you lost didn't die in vain? You helped start a war. Don't you want to help me end it?"
- - Gabriel Lorca (mirror)
Title and format
- Executive Producer Aaron Harberts explained that the episode title "Context Is for Kings" related to "trying to see what Starfleet and the Federation are up against in this particular context" and the idea that Lorca was "a captain who really almost could only exist in this particular context," with Starfleet at war. (AT: "2")
- The multi-word title of this episode is lifted directly from a line of dialogue (spoken by Lorca). Few Star Trek episodes do this, TOS: "For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky" being one notable example.
- According to Aaron Harberts, this episode was essentially the "pilot" of Star Trek: Discovery, with the previous episodes, "The Vulcan Hello" and "Battle at the Binary Stars", forming a "prologue" of sorts. (AT: "1") However, Star Trek author Christopher L. Bennett pointed out, "Neither one is a pilot, strictly speaking. We tend to use 'pilot' to refer to any first episode, but it actually means a demo episode made by itself to sell a series to a broadcaster. If a broadcaster buys a whole season up front, the show doesn't need a pilot, and the first episode is just a premiere." 
Story and script
- Aaron Harberts expressed the themes of this episode in his own words; "This was an episode about secrets and mysteries, and a version of Starfleet that is at war, and a science vessel conscripted for that purpose." (AT: "2")
- According to Aaron Harberts, Gretchen J. Berg and Craig Sweeny were very heavily involved in the writing of this episode. (AT: "2")
- While working on the episode, the creative staff endeavored to make it some of the best Star Trek ever seen. (AT: "2")
- When the episode's script was initially written, it was radically different to how it eventually turned out. One such change was in the writing of the relationship between Lorca and Landry. "It was actually in the script, and it ended up getting cut: We were sleeping together," noted Landry actress Rekha Sharma. 
- At one point, Tilly actress Mary Wiseman, laughing, said about how her character provided levity in this episode, "It was my idea. I wrote it, so... it's all improv." Aaron Harberts responded, "I'm totally fine with it." (AT: "2")
- The writing staff considered it important that it was Tilly who sees the Klingon in the dark onboard the USS Glenn, because they reckoned that her doing so might validate, in the minds of any viewers who were doubtful that Tilly deserved to have a place aboard the Discovery, that she did indeed. (AT: "2")
- The scene in which Burnham quotes from Alice in Wonderland while fleeing the tardigrade was devised as a result of the writing staff attempting to imagine what the circumstances would have been like in the Sarek household, as well as contemplating Amanda and how she had raised Burnham and Spock. The writers deemed realistic the idea that Amanda would have read Alice in Wonderland to both of them, as a way of trying to demonstrate to them that logic isn't everything. The references to the story also synced well with there being a lot of mushrooms on the Discovery, as the plot of the book also includes many mushrooms. "So it all sort of fit together and it seemed like a talisman, sort of almost a prayer that she, you know, uses to center herself," remembered Aaron Harberts. (AT: "2")
- This episode marks the first appearance of series regulars Jason Isaacs, Anthony Rapp, and Mary Wiseman.
- When Jason Isaacs was first provided with the script for this episode, he was immediately told to ignore it because it was going to completely change. When Isaacs therefore questioned why he had been given the teleplay, the creative staff acknowledged that was a "good point." 
- Mary Wiseman was proud of how her character of Cadet Tilly wields a phaser aboard the USS Glenn. (AT: "2")
- Despite being credited, Shazad Latif (Ash Tyler) does not appear in this episode.
- Conrad Pla, Elias Toufexis, and Grace Lynn Kung, who respectively play prisoners Stone, Cold, and Psycho in this episode, all play or have played roles in The Expanse, another science fiction TV series. (The names of the three characters are only given in the crediting information and not within the episode itself, and appear to comprise an in-joke, adding up to "stone-cold psycho".)
- Joann Owosekun (played by Oyin Oladejo) and Milton Richter (played by Christopher Russell) are named only in the episode's credits and appear only briefly in the episode itself, with non-speaking roles.
- For the scenes aboard the USS Glenn, the set selected for filming was also used as the interiors of the Shenzhou and the Discovery, with just a few modifications to make the Glenn itself seem more ruined. Adding lots of blood and scattering many corpses around the set, including one live Klingon, helped prepare the scene too. The twisted bodies were designed first in Photoshop. They included acrylic teeth and eyeballs. Special Effects Make-Up Artist Paul Jones enjoyed working on the episode's set, recalling subsequently, "Spilling blood and showing compound fractures [...] onboard a Federation starship was a dream come true." (AT: "2")
- For this particular episode, the props department and the wardrobe department collaborated on the Starfleet tactical vests, adding lights to the lower parts of those costumes. (AT: "3")
- The teaser scene was among the footage filmed by Director Akiva Goldsman. (AT: "2")
- At one point in the shooting of this episode, Akiva Goldsman got inspired by a concept sketch of Airiam, who wasn't yet named. Recalled Gretchen J. Berg, "I remember at one point, Akiva Goldsman, who [...] was directing episode three, ran through an office at one point and was like, 'I want plate face. I call plate face.' And we were like, 'I don't know what you're talking about.'" (AT: "5")
- The chase scene aboard the USS Glenn was the first action scene that Mary Wiseman had been involved in. (AT: "2")
- To accomplish the shot of a lone surviving Klingon being dragged away by the tardigrade, the actor playing the Klingon victim was first fitted with a special harness. He was then yanked away through a pulley system multiple times, to get the shot precisely right. (AT: "2")
- To capture footage of the Starfleet team being chased through the Glenn's network of corridors, a cameraman used a segway to follow the actors at high speed. (AT: "2")
- Jason Isaacs was particularly excited to film the scene where Lorca and Burnham beam from the captain's ready room to engineering test bay alpha. The scene was shot on the third day of the episode's production. "When I finally got to say, 'Energize,'" Isaacs stated, "I almost wet myself." (TV & Satellite Week, 23-29 Sept 2017 issue, p. 4)
- Akiva Goldsman thoroughly enjoyed directing this installment. "I loved it," he reminisced. "I couldn't have had a better time. It was an honor. And, by the way, it was sort of a hybrid between TV and features because it's character drama, but it's deep visual effects. So, it was sort of nice to be able to exercise both gears." 
- The events of this episode take place six months after the events of DIS: "Battle at the Binary Stars".
- Michael Burnham confirms that 8,186 lives have been lost in the war since the Battle of the Binary Stars.
- This episode marks the first appearance of the starship USS Discovery.
- Michael Burnham is referred to as "Starfleet's first mutineer." This statement appears to include only those convicted for mutiny, and those who mutinied without some outside force influencing their minds. It also includes only mutinies in the Federation Starfleet. Mutinies in the United Earth Starfleet had taken place before, as depicted in such episodes as ENT: "Hatchery" and "Bound".
- Burnham recognizes Keyla Detmer, as she was the helm officer aboard the USS Shenzhou, as established in the previous two episodes: "The Vulcan Hello" and "Battle at the Binary Stars".
- Michael Burnham mentions Suus Mahna, a form of Vulcan martial arts. It is a technique that was first depicted being used by T'Pol in ENT: "Marauders".
- Straal speculatively mentions that, when their work with the spore drive succeeds, Stamets and himself will win the Zee-Magnees Prize, an award won by both Doctor Richard Daystrom from TOS: "The Ultimate Computer" and Doctor Ira Graves from TNG: "The Schizoid Man".
- The code that Stamets gives Burnham to fix has been identified by some as being Microsoft Windows coding, specifically decompiled code for the Stuxnet virus. 
- This is the earliest-set episode of any Star Trek series in which a warp-capable Starfleet shuttle is seen.
- Stamets complaining that Starfleet co-opted his research "not for truth, [...] but for war" hints at the morally ambiguous atmosphere aboard the Discovery, because, as Picard says in TNG: "The First Duty", "The first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth."
- During Lorca's demonstration of the mycelial network travel, environments that can be seen include: a Preserver obelisk on one of the moons of Andoria; Starbase 11; Romulus; and the Janus VI mining facility.
- Michael Burnham mentions her foster mother, Amanda, by name and alludes to Spock without naming him. This was the first mention of either character in the series.
- Burnham recalls that Amanda Grayson read Alice's Adventures in Wonderland to her and Spock when they were children. Spock mentioned his mother's fondness for Lewis Carroll's works in TAS: "Once Upon a Planet" after noting that the Queen of Hearts is a character from Alice Through the Looking Glass, the book's sequel.
- The USS Glenn is destroyed by the Discovery at the end of the episode with photon torpedoes after a catastrophic failure caused the deaths of the entire crew. Similarly, the USS Enterprise-D destroyed the USS Lantree with torpedoes after the entire crew was killed by an infectious aging disease in TNG: "Unnatural Selection".
- Lorca's laboratory contains the bodies of two Cardassian voles, a tribble in the midst of dissection, and a Gorn skeleton. The episode is set before official first contact between the Federation and the Gorn, as depicted in TOS: "Arena", but the skeleton was nonetheless confirmed as being Gorn by Aaron Harberts on AT: "2". However, in the mirror universe Humans had known about the Gorn at least since 2155, so it is possible Lorca was already familiar with the Gorn.
- Emphasis is placed on the presence of personnel wearing black Starfleet badges during the initial boarding. These badges are not seen or mentioned again for the remainder of the first season, but are shown to associated with Section 31 in a "bonus scene" deleted from the season finale, "Will You Take My Hand?". These badges would make repeated appearances in the context of Section 31 throughout the second season.
Reception and aftermath
- Template:AT connect
- Exactly a week prior to the release of this episode, Aaron Harberts revealed, in AT: "1", that it would feature the USS Discovery.
- Most of the main cast of DIS (with the exception of Mary Wiseman, who appeared on "Episode 2" of After Trek instead) watched this episode at Anthony Rapp's apartment in Toronto. (AT: "2", "6") The cast was in that city because the production of later Season 1 episodes was still ongoing there. "We had the bridge crew. Anybody who was still in town and was available on a Sunday night," said Rapp. "Yeah, we had some hors d'oeuvres and wine, and watched the show [....] We were as excited as anyone to just sit and watch the work that everybody's put into it and take it in and follow it and celebrate it together." (AT: "6")
- Aaron Harberts remarked that the teaser scene was "so well directed." Another aspect of the episode he appreciated was the character arc that Burnham undergoes, Harberts commenting, "To take the journey from someone who has given up on everything to a place where she's signing on for something, I love that arc." He also liked how the fight scene turned out between Burnham and the three other prisoners, involving a lunch tray. "The use of the lunch tray is one of my favorite moments ever [....] This is one of my favorite fight scenes I've ever seen," he enthused. "The use of the lunch tray, incredible [....] That fight was so economical and so great." (AT: "2")
- After Trek host and Star Trek fan Matt Mira was impressed by "Context Is for Kings". He stated, "This episode was fantastic," and told Aaron Harberts he had done "a great job with the typing." Mira specifically approved of Michael Burnham's character arc in this outing, about which he said, "It's a hell of a one episode arc. It's crazy." Talking about how he reacted to the introduction of Sylvia Tilly in this episode, Mira related, "When [she] first appeared on screen, I just was like, ah – a sigh of relief. I'm not worried about a bombardment from Klingons or a weird prison ship, I am just happy to see [her]." Mira additionally appreciated how Mary Wiseman wielded a phaser prop here, commenting that, in regard to how she had done so, she, like Harberts, had done "a great job." However, he also jokingly advised Mary Wiseman, "You should have asked the prop department for three more phasers, just so, like, Tilly is this person that just carries three phasers." (AT: "2")
- 18 September 2017: Title publicly revealed 
- 1 October 2017: Premiere airdate on CBS All Access
- 2 October 2017: International release date (outside Canada and the USA)
Links and references
- Sonequa Martin-Green as Michael Burnham
- Doug Jones as Saru
- Shazad Latif as Ash Tyler
- Anthony Rapp as Paul Stamets
- Mary Wiseman as Sylvia Tilly
- Emily Coutts as Keyla Detmer
- Julianne Grossman as Discovery Computer
- Grace Lynn Kung as Psycho
- Devon MacDonald as Engineering Officer
- Sara Mitich as Airiam
- Oyin Oladejo as Joann Owosekun
- Conrad Pla as Stone
- Ronnie Rowe Jr. as Shuttle Pilot
- Christopher Russell as Milton Richter
- Saad Siddiqui as Straal
- Elias Toufexis as Cold
- Tasia Valenza as Shenzhou Computer
- John MacDonald as Kowski
- Avaah Blackwell as Discovery bridge crewman
- Helene Robbie as Shuttle SPT 21 Pilot
- Unknown actors as
2244; above top secret; Alice; Alice's Adventures in Wonderland; allergy; Andoria; Andorians; Archanis sector; assembly line; asset; assigned seats; astromycologist; autopilot; basidia; basidiosac rupture; Battle of the Binary Stars; bay door; bat'leth; battle drill; Beatles, The; Beta Quadrant; black alert; biochemistry; bloom; biological weapon; bloom failure; blueberry; boarding party; breath print; Cardassian vole; Cardenas-class; Carroll, Lewis; chauffeur; Chiefowitz; Clarke, USS; Class C shuttlecraft; code; Collins; containment field; court martial; court martial transcript; cover band; Crossfield-class; cultivation bay; curfew; data cruncher; day shift; democracy; dilithium; Discovery, USS; display case; DSC 01; door; ecosystem; Edison, USS; electricity; encryption; engineering laboratory; engineering test bay; Europa, USS; Everett; EV suit; exterminator; face; Federation blue; feet; food synthesizer; fortune cookie; funeral; Galactic Time; garden; gene expression; Geneva Protocol of 1928; Geneva Protocol of 2155; Georgiou, Philippa; Glenn, USS; Gorn; Gorn skeleton man; Grayson, Amanda; hack; handcuffs; helical trauma; Ilari; inch; Janus VI; Jefferies tube; Klingon; Klingon space; Lennon, John; logic; Magnus; Malachowski-class; matter synthesis; Mempa sector; Michael; Mickey; mission statement; mutineer; mutiny; mycelial network; mycelium spores; Nimitz-class; Ordnance; oxygen; panspermia; panties; partner; phaser pulse rifle; piezoelectric; pilot; polyester; "powers that be, the"; Preservers obelisk; prison shuttle; Prototaxites stellaviatori; proximity alert; Psycho's cousin; Qo'noS sector; quantum astrophysics; quantum level; rabbit hole; reaction cube; Risa; roads; Romulus; safety tether; screw; Shenzhou, USS; shield replacement unit; San Francisco Fleet Yards; Shenzhou, USS; Shran, USS; shushing; shuttle manifest; sister ship; site-to-site transport; snoring; spiral; special needs; Species GS54; speech; Speirin; Spock; spore; spore drive; SPT 21; Starbase 11; Starbase 18; Starfleet Academy; storm; subspace encryption level; Suus Mahna; T'Plana-Hath, USS; tea; Tellun; temp; tribble; tunnel; universal laws; viscoelastic polyurethane foam; Vulcan; Vulcans; Vulcan Science Academy; well; Yeager, USS; Zee-Magnees Prize
Discovery dedication plaque
Alexander, J.; Allemang, I.; Baiers, A.; Berg, G.; Berg, K.; Beyer, K.; Biagi, D.; Brock, K.; Budge, W.; Carella, M.; Cherniawsky, T.; Chief of staff; Chown, G.; Cochran, S.; Coleite, A.; Colucci, R.; Commander in chief; Cummings, D.; Danby, C.; Daprato, B.; Dening, R.; Dinucci, T.; Dowling, C.; Dudkowski, J.; Felton-Lui, K.; Feldheim, D.; Fifield, B.; Fleet Ops; Fraser, R.; Fuller, B.; Gamzon, S.; Gayford, J.; Gebacz, C.; Goldsman, A.; Goldstein, M.; Gross, J.; Gross, K.; Grove, T.; Hall, K.; Harberts, A.; Haye, A.; Hemwall, G.; Henry, J.; Hetrick, G.; Hodgson, L.; Hoult, C.; Johnson, R.; Kadin, H.; Kim, B.; Kirk, J.; Kurtzman, A.; Lafferty, K.; Lai, R.; Lippoldt, E.; Maranville, A.; McCord, K.; McNamara, J.; Menosky, J.; Metrose, L.; Meyer, N.; Miller, L.; Morgan, M.; Moreira, M.; Murray, J.; Navarro, G.; Neir, O.; Nicolakakos, P.; Norton, D.; Orfanidis, K.; Osunsanmi, O.; Page, N.; Peel, T.; Penman, C.; Peschlow, N.; Phillips, G.; Poulin, E.; Powers, K.; Pringle, T.; Reed, R.; Rendulic, B.; Research and Development; Roddenberry, Gene; Roddenberry, R.; Roth, T.; Sampson, E.; San Francisco Fleet Yards; Schneider, S.; Schultz, B.; Science Operations; Sealey, S.; Silvestri, C.; Simkin, M.: Simonelli, M.; Siracusa, F.; Sitowitz, O.; Staley, T.I.; Stanley, S.; Stapf, D.; Starfleet Command; Sullivan, T.; Suskin, M.; Sweeny, C.; Tata, F.; Tchaikovsky, K.; Tiernan, D.; Till, D.; Tsang, A.; Vivian, R.; Weber, J.; Yard Engineer; Zimmerman, J.
- "Context Is for Kings" at StarTrek.com, the official Star Trek website
- "Context Is for Kings" at Memory Beta, the wiki for licensed Star Trek works
- "Discovering Discovery's Crew" at MissionLogPodcast.com, a Roddenberry Star Trek podcast
- "Context Is for Kings" at Wikipedia
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