'Star Trek: Discovery' Review: 'Context Is For Kings' Ties Michael Burnham To 'Trek' Lore

(This review contains spoilers! If you haven't seen the third episode, then live long and prosper and get out of here.)

This week on Star Trek: Discovery, in an episode titled "Context is for Kings," we learned that Michael is, in fact, Spock's adopted sister. Some hardcore fans won't consider this canon — from I've seen on Twitter, it seems it's solely because Michael is a black woman. But it's canon, so get used to it.

In this episode, Michael is supposed to be going towards the prison colony to start her life sentence for mutiny, among other charges. But she's rerouted to the U.S.S. Discovery, where Capt. Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs) wants to use her skillset for his ultimate mission of creating faster warp capabilities using co-opted Starfleet research. That research is what Lt. Starmets (Anthony Rapp) has been working on for years, along with his research partner (who seemed like a lot more than just his "research partner" and "best friend" if you know what I'm saying).

Unfortunately, his partner, who was on the U.S.S. Glenn, is killed along with everyone else on the ship in a freak accident that has something to do with the research conducted — the way to create a faster warp speed is by using spores that are basically the energy of the entire universe, meaning the universe is a living, breathing thing. Starmets is tasked with leading a crew, including Michael and her insufferable bunkmate Cadet Tilly (Mary Wiseman) on a mission aboard the ghost ship and recover the valuable findings from Starmets' partner's studies, while trying to escape a huge space monster. Michael is later recruited by Lorca to officially join the Discovery to help him achieve that faster warp give something meaningful back to Starfleet. Or so he says.

star trek discovery context is for kings review 5

Much Ado About Amanda (and Spock!)

I wondered what was going to be made of the fact that Sarek was raising Michael. I contemplated if the show would posit that Sarek was raising Michael on his own before he met and married Amanda and had a son of his own. They, however, had other ideas, and I'm quite stoked at the fact that Sarek and Amanda raised Michael as a big sister to Spock.

When Michael gave Tilly Amanda's copy of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and said that Amanda would read the book to both her and her son, I was doing cartwheels internally. Some of that is because I heavily relate to Michael, Spock, and the whole messed-up Vulcan mentality. I'm not going to lie: there's a level of wish-fulfillment here. And honestly, it should always be great when a marginalized character can provide marginalized people an outlet for recognition on a large scale — I mean, Capt. Kirk's been wish-fulfillment for many a white guy.

But I also love that this truly cements Michael as a player in the Star Trek canon. She's not someone people can just will away — she's a fully integrated part of our favorite characters' lives, and indeed, the lifespan of the Star Trek franchise.  It also makes me wonder more about Sarek. With Michael now revealed as part of Sarek's family, it makes me wonder just how much adherence Sarek actually has to the Vulcan ways if he's willing to be surrounded and experience so much emotion.

star trek discovery context is for kings review 3

Black Womanhood in Hostile Environments 

This episode provided a lot of wincing moments in the form of Michael being ostracized by her peers. Michael's position gives the writers an interesting moment to make a commentary on women in the workplace, particularly ethnicity in the workplace. Take for instance Tilly, who needs to become more palatable as these episodes go on. After Michael tells her her name, Tilly decides she's going to call her "Mikey" because she thinks it's more approachable, to which Michael deadpans, "No, you won't."

It reminded me of the many times black girls' names are mispronounced or altered in some way by others just because they don't want to go through the trouble of learning what they believe to be an "abnormal" name. It also reminds me of something Uzo Aduba said her mother told her about folks mispronouncing her name—"If they can learn to say Tchaikovsky and Michelangelo and Dostoyevsky, they can learn to say Uzoamaka." So if Tilly can learn to say all the complicated alien names and scientific jargon I'm sure she knows, why in the name of Picard can't she just call the woman "Michael"?

Also, a quick shoutout to whoever realized Michael wouldn't be able to flat-iron her hair straight in prison. The small touch of having her hair revert back to its natural curly state says a lot about the cultural knowledge the team behind Star Trek: Discovery has, which also makes me think that a lot of the winks and nods at the experiences of the Other in homogenous spaces were intentional.

star trek discovery context is for kings review 1

Lorca at War

The elephant in the room with Star Trek: Discovery — the push and pull between war and peace — is something that is still being played with. It's clear by now that the entire season will focus on war, something many Trekkies have been wrestling with, as it's not the Starfleet way. To Stamets' point about he and his research buddy being yanked from behind their desks and onto separate ships for battle, Starfleet is all about diplomacy and higher learning. Warring with Klingons isn't part of the mission's objective.

So where does Star Trek: Discovery sit in the canon with regards to its commentary on war? It's still hard to tell. Seeing how duplicitous Lorca seems regarding exactly what he's using the new technology for — is it really just to get from planets faster or is it to engage in war quicker? — I think Star Trek: Discovery might be exploring how war can bring out the good and bad in people who are supposed to have the common goal of securing peace. Lorca certainly seems bad if he's keeping that monster as a pet. A pet that does his evil bidding, perhaps?