By Geannie Bastian
Discovery’s arrival leads to more questions than answers
If the theme of last week’s double episode was discovering the character of Michael Burnham, the theme for this week’s episode was easily discovering the Discovery. This is, at the third episode, the first time that we see the ship for which the series takes its title. And we have questions, lots of questions. Like what the heck is going on?
But before we can get to that, there is another fundamental question that Burnham must deal with. What is she doing here? Six months into her incarceration, she is suddenly being moved to a different prison facility, when the shuttle she is in has an infestation of energy eating space bugs, and near disaster ensues. But as luck would have it, she is in exactly the right place exactly the right time to be picked up by the USS Discovery.
But was it luck? And what exactly is going on on board Discovery? When Michael gets pressed into helping with whatever secret project the ship is working on that while the prison channel is fixed, that’s the question she seeks most to answer. And when Discovery’s sister ship meets with disaster, that question does not become easier to answer. But when she finds out, it might just make Michael a member of the Discovery’s crew, life sentence or not.
What the heck is going on?
The trouble starts almost immediately upon Michael’s arrival on board Discovery. Even though she tries to deal with being a complete outcast, in fact an outcast some people are downright out to get, and even as she deals with her own guilt, Michael knows something strange is going on on board the ship — from the strange black insignia she doesn’t recognize when she comes aboard, to the assignment she’s asked to work on with no details. Then, her once chatty roommate clams up when something strange occurs in the room, and she wonders aloud “what the hell is going on aboard the ship?” Actually getting into the work isn’t much help either, considering that she’s handed two computations to work on, without being told what they are about or even in what field of study they come from. But she’s starting to suspect something strangely organic is going on.
But it isn’t until they find their sister ship, the USS Glenn, with all hands lost on board that the pieces start coming together, and Michael puts together what she thinks is going on. When Captain Lorca offers her a spot on the USS discovery, she turns him down, believing that he is trying to create some sort of biological weapon. She tells him, regardless of what may have happened in her life, she still considers herself a Starfleet officer and she still lives by those codes of conduct. The fact that she is now known as the mutineer who started the war does not mean that she’s willing to go against those principles.
But quite unexpectedly Lorca reveals something else. They aren’t building a biological weapon at all but a a biological form of propulsion, something beyond any existing capability (or for that matter, really any capability we’ve seen in Star Trek before).
Properly executed, it would allow the ship to appear anywhere, do what she needed to do, and then disappear all within a matter of seconds as if she’d never been there. Lorca believes it is vital to winning the war.
And so he appeals to Michael: she helped start the war. Doesn’t she want to end it? He wants her onboard because even though her actions were against regulations, he’s looked at her file, and he believes that she made the right choices in context, and that’s the way his crew needs to operate. After a moment, Michael accepts, and is back in Starfleet. Or at least so it appears.
Who is Micheal Burnham, mutineer, and why is she here?
Not all of the mysteries in this episode revolved around the strange goings on on board the Discovery. For viewers part of the discovery process is who is Michael now? She is for one thing, the woman everyone knows. The mutineer. She is the one everyone blames for starting the war, including herself. She still believes in her principles, and she still believes that she needs to serve her time for the crime she’s committed.
She is also, at turns, the brilliant officer, and yet the outcast that no one wants around. This is most directly demonstrated by Saru, her former crewmate who is now the first officer on board Discovery. He is kind to her, and yet does not wish her to stay any longer than is necessary. He believes her to be dangerous, and potentially a threat to the crew. But, when asked, he also says she was an asset and the smartest officer he’s ever known.
And she is someone who is still struggling with the death of her former captain. Something she blames herself for, as others did. But this is on a deeper level because she had been like mother figure to Michael in a sense, and in truth all of Michael’s actions had been an attempt to save her and the crew. This is in part how Lorca convinces Michael to join the Discovery, by telling her that through her work her Captain will not have died in vain.
It certainly proves too tempting a proposition for her to pass up. And for viewers, it is a tempting pull into next week to find out what happens next.