One of the best indicators as to what kind of TV show “Star Trek: Discovery” might be in comparison to its predecessors comes down to the first time we see the titular ship. Other shows will introduce their central spaceship while it lingers at a docking station; meanwhile, we meet the Discovery as it rescues a small prison shuttle. It’s a scene which features the ship in action, a pattern that defines the rest of Episode 3, “Context Is for Kings.”
After last week’s explosive two-part premiere, fans were basically left wondering, “Where the hell do we go next?” and the third episode provides the answers they seek. Introducing us not just to the Discovery, but to Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs) and her additional crew members, not to mention a whole new environment for the series.
There is something beautifully, magnificently weird about the fact that the fundamental plotline of “Discovery” seems to be driven by mold — well, by the investigations of science officer Stamets (Anthony Rapp), to be clear, but his obsession is mold, and mold may be the ultimate answer to intergalactic travel. It’s something which makes this such a good pilot for a series, despite the fact that it debuts as the third episode of the series.
The most unsettling moments of “Context Is for Kings” come when it dips into horror film territory, which play well even if, let’s be honest, don’t feel all that “Star Trek”-y. This is, of course, a franchise that invites both funny and spooky moments, but perhaps it’s the fact that we never really understand what kind of creature Burnham and her crew members are running from that makes that element feel out of sync.
While Sonequa Martin-Green remains a captivating lead, the episode really belongs to Jason Isaacs, who as the enigmatic Captain Lorca introduces more questions than answers. And that’s okay, though it is a bit unsettling when you consider that the series was sold to audiences as featuring a woman of color as the lead. Lorca is certainly not the star of the show, but we’ll look to future episodes to see how his role as captain is balanced with the rest of the series.
And to be clear, Martin-Green isn’t sitting on the sidelines: From the opening sequence, which reveals just how defeated she feels following her court-martial, to her shift into action hero mode on board the USS Glenn, to her ultimate confrontation with Lorca over the the fact that she might be a convict, but she still has values, she remains as captivating a lead as ever. Chanting quotes from “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” works surprisingly well as both a character and an actor moment, especially given the later follow-up.
In the meantime, our new friends Tilly (Mary Wiseman) and Stamets are plenty engaging, and it’s delightful to see that Saru (Doug Jones) has been brought over to the Discovery, following the events of the two-part pilot. We don’t necessarily learn a ton from “Context Is for Kings,” especially when it comes to what comes next. But now that we’re on board the Discovery, the series has a most welcome sense of momentum, one which hopefully won’t always involve cast members running away from monsters in the corridors, but will celebrate the oddities of its premise.