In the fourth episode of the first season of Star Trek: Discovery, Burnham is tasked with something uncomfortable while Lorca pushes the ship to its breaking point. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of consent, grief, animal torture
If you followed along with my journey through the other Star Trek shows, you’ll know that sometimes, I had trouble with the episodic nature of this universe. That was particularly because more often than not, huge things would happen within a show and then… never be referenced again. All traumas and reveals were self-contained. The Next Generation started playing with that before Deep Space Nine threw all of us off a cliff. Here, though, this is all connected, and “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not For the Lamb’s Cry” is a direct continuation of the events of the previous episode. Yet I still think it felt quintessentially Trek, especially since this was about the perceptions these people had towards an alien creature they’d never seen before and certainly did not understand.
It’s made even better because it’s coupled with Burnham’s story in a fascinating way. At one point, Burnham makes the connection for us: the tardigrade creature discovered aboard the Glenn is constantly judged by its actions in the past, actions that we later learn were stripped of vital context. The mystery of this creature is unraveled by…. someone who is constantly judged by the actions in their past. For what it’s worth, the show still maintains that this is a complicated thing for Burnham, so while I appreciated the metaphorical parallel, I was also pleased that we got to see so much of Burnham’s internal struggle. One of those instances appears in the very first scene of the episode. What would it mean for Burnham to put on a Starfleet uniform again? That was something she never expected to do for the remainder of her life. (It is a bare, plain uniform, too, and the machine that created it notes that Burnham has no rank. Whew, all these little reminders of her place, y’all!) Who is she now? An officer with a blank slate, or one who will forever be defined by her actions in the past?
I find that to be an engrossing basis for a character, and it helps that the writers are not wasting this opportunity at all. Burnham does get to break new ground in this episode, but there’s also a willingness to examine why others—like Saru—still don’t feel comfortable in her presence. Mistakes and bad choices have ramifications, and the aftermath is fluid. Some people can forgive quickly; others may never forgive someone. Reputations can last for the rest of someone’s life, or perceptions can change. Until Burnham makes her discovery regarding the tardigrade, I think it’s safe to say that she is solely The Mutineer. Again, just like the tardigrade, it’s easy to reduce a person or a creature to just One Thing, especially when that One Thing is both violent and dramatic. And then, in the case of Saru, Burnham’s actions were a personal betrayal for him. It’s not just that she treated him poorly before. (Though I did appreciate that this was acknowledged, even if the means by which it happened were manipulated.) She disappointed him terribly! It isn’t unfair for Saru to be wary of Burnham, and that’s something she has to live with.
But how can you change how others are perceived or change your own perceptions? There’s no easy answer here, and that’s mostly because of Captain Gabriel Lorca. I’m beginning to understand Stamets’s hostility more and more. In just these two episodes, the writers demonstrate to us just how unprepared and frustrated these scientists are for what Lorca has done to their ship. I think that also explains why we’re seeing such open disagreement with a captain, too, which was exceptionally rare in most of Trek. Yes, I believe that the modern showrunners and writers know they’re no longer beholden to the standard that Roddenberry held Trek to, but I am also of the mind that this is a character dynamic explained by what Lorca has done. He is ruthlessly pragmatic. In this episode, we watch him push Stamets too far and make demands that would have been impossible without Burnham’s discovery. We watch him pressure Landry to pressure Burnham and keep Burnham’s curiosity in check. And how does THAT end? Badly. VERY VERY BADLY. And when Lorca believes his crew isn’t sufficiently motivated enough, he transmits a feed of the survivors of Corvan II over the ship. It’s terrifying, isn’t it? If Burnham had followed Lorca’s desires, she never would have discovered the true motivations of the tardigrade creature. It always would have been perceived as a vicious murderer.
The irony is not lost on me. Lorca brought Burnham aboard because he saw a new context in her. He does this with everyone! If there is something in a person who can be utilized for his benefit, Lorca folds them into his world. So, he grants Burnham a new narrative, one that isn’t reliant on the past, all while defining an alien creature entirely by their past. And you know what? I wouldn’t be surprised if Lorca knew this was a contradiction? Because HE DOESN’T CARE. Like, I’ve only known him for two episodes, and I feel like it’s not at all a misfire to call him amoral. He appears proudly amoral. Which fascinates me because… how did someone like him end up in Starfleet, one of the most ethically strenuous organizations imaginable?
Not gonna lie. I would love more of Lorca’s backstory.
I wonder, though, how this tardigrade discovery is going to affect both Burnham and the ship as a whole. The spore drive technology now works beautifully, but it is at the cost of a creature who is undoubtedly harmed each time it is used. The only person who seems bothered by this is Burnham. There’s that line in Georgious’s last will and testament—one of the most heart-punching scenes in this show thus far—where she urges Burnham to take care of those under her care. Now that Burnham made this discovery, I see the tardigrade creature as being under her care. She sympathizes with it and maybe even empathizes with it, given that she drew that parallel between herself and it. What level of exploitation do you accept in order to have something? I can see something deeply human in Burnham’s reaction to this, but I also wonder if her Vulcan logic is also telling her this isn’t sustainable. What if that creature dies? What will Lorca do then?
There’s one other major story unfolding in this episode. Admittedly, until we got to L’Rell’s betrayal, I wasn’t entirely captivated by the Klingon line. Given the time this was created in, the whole “Remain Klingon” line feels on-the-nose as an analogue for reactionary movements across the world. As we’ve seen with this intensely religious, fanatical group, they’re obsessed with the notion of purity. Their unity serves only one purpose: to wipe out the Federation. And now, they’ve got a martyr in T’Kuvma! Still, the in-fighting was the more interesting thing to me. Seeing Kol manipulate Voq, then watching L’Rell betray Voq in order to be loyal to Kol? Yeah, I genuinely didn’t see that twist coming. Yet of everything here, it’s the promise at the end that makes me most intrigued in where this is going. Who are the Matriarchs? What will Voq have to sacrifice? How is the show going to manage to tell a story with a sympathetic character like Voq who is still dedicated to eradicating the protagonists? WHAT WILL HE HAVE TO GIVE UP, I NEED TO KNOW.
The video for “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not For the Lamb’s Cry” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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