In which Star Trek is Back and I’m Doing It because I a) Can’t wait and b) Want to take in the world as it’s being built. I’ll be doing Discovery Friday from here on.
First thing’s first- Yes, it’s worth six dollars a month for me to support Star Trek and specifically Star Trek, and yes I recognize the irony of watching a show about a unified Earth put out by a company that’s trying its hardest to balkanize the streaming services sector. Sorry.
Looks like we’re opening with Klingons. A Klingon explaining what he perceives as an existential threat requiring them to unite the 24 factionalized Houses into an empire. One cannot help contextualize this a little – who else do we know who’s terrified of having their culture replaced, of having their Noble Heritage replaced? They seem pretty riled up against the whole ‘we come in peace’ thing. Of course, for all we know so far there may be something to that, and it’s not mere posturing.
Next we cut to a desert planet, probably Vulcan, where Commander Michael Burnham and Captain Georgiou discuss awkward dialogue transitions. They appear to be lost in the Forge and fleeing a sandstorm. Commander Burnham has the whole Vulcan Precision Timing thing down. This is not, as is turns out, Vulcan, but a planet belonging to the Crepusculans, a species on the verge of going extinct due to a planetary drought, caused by radioactive fallout from a drilling accident. Burnham and Georgiou are here to stealth-fix the planet so that they don’t screw up General Order One, which is probably the Prime Directive. Presumably, the complications they incur will lead to Picard’s reticence even to do that much during his tenure.
Georgiou has one of those Federation phasers with all the settings that make it more of a multitool than a weapon, and they’re able to fix the well, but get caught in the storm and can’t beam up to the Shenzhou. They’ve also been spotted as they head away from the village to try not to get spotted. On their way into the trackless desert, they discuss what they’ll do if trapped while walking a Starfleet Delta so that the ship knows to come get them.
The theme music is joy. The theme music is love. It has the instrumentation of TOS, shows us schematics, science, and biology, and what looks like a bunch of Klingon weapons and design elements. That may be jumping to conclusions, but they’re spikey and bladed and we did open on Klingons, so I feel justified.
Burnham dictates her officer’s log, giving us a stardate and the equivalent Earth date of May 11, 2256. The Shenzhou has been called out to the edge of Federation space to repair a beacon, damaged by unknown forces, natural or military. Whether for this mission or in general, the Shenzhou is equipped with construction and repair vehicles. We haven’t seen much of those on the ships we’ve followed so far, which have either been dedicated Warships repurposed for picket duty or ambassadorial/exploration ships. The Shenzhou is being introduced as a workhorse of the Federation. It also has more species diversity than anything we’ve seen so far except the Animated Series Enterprise. At this time, Starfleet is certainly not a Terrans Only club, as Gorkon’s daughter will eventually assert. That said, stereotypes are alive and well as Georgiou casually explains that Lt. Saru’s suspicion of the damage is down to his species. Would that we lived in a world where the default and correct assumption of broad-strokes stereotypes like this was that they were harmless.
Burnham points out that despite all indications of the damage being natural, Starfleet has a reputation of investigating everything, and if someone has been trying to predict them, they’ve succeeded. Saru is therefore being cautious. Apparnetly Burnham and Saru bicker often enough that Ensign Cutter is instructed to note that in this case they both feel like being cautious. Saru has, in fact, detected another ship, but just a ghost of one. They can’t focus on it, which is more of what I’d expect from a more grounded cloaking device – one powered primarily by ECM than by light-bending fields. Of course, this is still Star Trek with transporters and warp drives, so I don’t see much of a need to ground the Cloaking Device unless its development is going to be integral to the story.
Since it’s scrambling the viewscreen, Burnham resorts to an optical telescope. Every Starfleet ship is obligated to have at least one history buff on board. Now we get the bickering – Saru suggests threat, Burnham suggests that the whatever-it-is is hiding, and wants to go check it out, by thruster pack since they don’t have a maneuverable shuttle aboard. Georgiou lets her do a flyby.
Fun fact – the format of an airline announcement is still very much in use in the future. Another fun fact- the Shenzhou has interesting piston-style airlock elevators to take people to the surface. Also, pretty baller environment suits. The kind you’d expect Voyager to have had. It has biotelemetry and a powerful thruster pack, and hopefully enough armor to survive micrometeorite impact. In moments, though, she’s out of communications with the Shenzhou, so evidently not a powerful radio transponder. She’s made it to the alien object, which is clearly manufactured. She takes notes that are somewhat less than stellar, but is also recording visually, I’m sure.
When she lands on it, the artifact starts moving, and disgorges a humanoid exosuited figure which turns out to be a Klingon. With a Bat’leth. She manages to not get killed, then uses her thrusters to ram it through his chest and escape. She’s late coming back, because she appears to have knocked herself out during the escape.
The Klingons appear to be holding a funeral for the guy who died attacking Burnham, honoring him as the first to die in their crusade, and shouting him into Sto’vo’kor as they eject his sarcophagus to join the Black Fleet. They have at least one ship whose hull is just covered with sarcophagi.
Meanwhile, Burnham is in her own sarcophagus, but this is medical as her radiation poisoning is being treated, and we flash back to her, very definitely human, being schooled in the traditional Vulcan Infopod style. Vulcan Infopods seem to quiz their user on a variety of loosely-related topics and, at least at her level during this scene, accept pretty much any correct fact as sufficient to clear the question. I’d like to extrapolate that it doesn’t allow a user to ever repeat a fact, so in order to clear it as the years progress, you are required both to study all topics and learn new facts, and to remember the previous facts you have given and not to repeat them. Such training would play into the front that Vulcans have liked to put up. Oh, and it also seems to present users with traumatic video. This may be accidental, or it may be curated. I suspect it was curated to challenge her to suppress her feelings, and indeed it seems to have been curated by Sarek himself.
Burnham wakes up and leaves Sick Bay and the antiproton treatment early to go deliver her report, over the doctor’s objection. When she makes it to the bridge. Georgiou is somewhat hesitant to believe that there are Klingons around, since nobody’s seen them in a hundred years. In fact, since her helmet cam was corrupted and she has a concussion, Soru wants to dismiss the report entirely, but Georgious makes the call that this isn’t something you make up. Also, it’s shown up a few times before but hasn’t come up yet, I just want to mention the crewbeing with the Daft Punk helmet that might be its actual head.
Burnham suggests argeting the object with a lock, to see how the Klingons respond to brinksmanship. That seems like a bad idea to me, but it does provoke a response – the Klingons decloak, a tech that the Federation definitively has not seen before, and the Shenzhou disengages the target lock and does the smartest thing they’ve done so far, which is to send a message back to the Federation to warn them before the emergency really picks up.
As the Shenzhou hails the Klingons, they discuss who will be the next Torchbearer. So far, Tochbearer seems to be ‘guy who makes contact with aliens we want to kill’. This appears to be related to the Light of Kahless, and I imagine that somehow all those corpses are going to somehow power a beacon, or a weapon. While they argue, and presumably the Shenzhou continues to cycle hail, a relative nobody steps up to be Torchbearer. Voq has no house or name, but he has balls of steel and hands of asbestos. He is also albino, which has some future history of being an outcaste in Klingon culture.
They’ve been chanting so long that Burnham is back on the bridge, this time without the horrifying lesions. During this time, Soru has been scanning the ship, and it has so many coffins on it they’re almost armor. Thousands of years of corpses. Soru uses a metaphor to explain that the concept of a food-chain is not native to his planet (they have predators and prey, and nothing that is prey to something and predator to something else) and that his species was not a predator. They were farmed, and whatever their roadmap to sentience, sapience, the Starfleet Sciences Division, they have a sixth sense for oncoming death.
Oh hey, the Shenzhou has holographic communications systems. Evidently those fell out of fashion for like a hundred years. The admiral Georgiou is talking to doesn’t seem too pleased with how they’ve handled things so far, and demands they maintain the status quo of not-quite-war while Starfleet mobilizes reinforcements. Remember that casual sterotyping earlier? When Burnham makes assumptions about what the Klingon ship covered in corpses is going to do, she does get dressed-down for it.
The next movement is that the Klingons output a billion lumens per square meter across the surface of their ship. Presumably, this is the Torch, and it overwhelms all of the Shenzhou‘s filters. I can imagine this as a modification of the cloaking field – if you can bend light, you can probably manipulate it sufficiently to produce some kind of light effect, given some dedicated engineering. It also starts outputting a waveform that’s piped in as a heinous screech that even vibrates the ship’s superstructure. Burnham leaves the bridge to go Do a Thing – call Sarek to discuss things.
Either the outer reaches of Federation space are a lot closer than we thought, or the Torch is outputting on subspace, or Sarek is being poetic when he talks about reports of a new star in the sky. He also provides some solid analysis, which we know to be correct – the atypical Klingon behavior of ‘not shooting’ indicates that they’re aiming to fulfill some higher cultural obligation – like reunification. We also find out from this conversation that the Vulcans and Klingons achieved diplomatic status, but that whatever the method was it probably won’t apply. Nonetheless, Sarek tells her what they did – apparently, it involved opening fire hard and first. On their first encounter, the Klingons destroyed a Vulcan ship, and so the Vulcans, until formal relations were established with Klingons, said hello with all their weapons.
Georgiou has an ideological stance. Starfleet Doesn’t Fire First. Period. The argument on the bridge leads to a private conversation, and one of the things Commander Michael Burnham learned in Vulcan school was how to do the Vulcan Nerve Pinch. She’s one of the few non-Vulcans capable of doing it. It’s mutiny, but Soru is not buying it, and Georgiou wakes up before Burnham can force the issue. However, before this turns into a brig situation, more Klingons warp in. A lot of them.