The common name for Klingon warships is spoken for the first time this episode. Birds-of-Prey were introduced in the Star Trek movie series and have featured in every TV show since. The Discovery model is clearly visually very different to the ones that we’re used to, but they’re presumably in the same class of vehicle.
Interestingly, the Klingons are not the first to call their warships this. In the original series, the Romulans used the same name for their vessels - and even decorated them with a large flying bird design on their undersides.
Off to Klingon Valhalla!
The ominously-named Black Fleet is part of the Klingon’s idea of an afterlife. A Klingon who dies an honourable death in battle is said to serve on, or command, a ship in the Black Fleet, waging endless war in the afterlife. Klingons are such edgelords.
A little surprisingly, the Black Fleet concept doesn’t originate in the TV show. It was introduced in an original series novel - The Final Reflection, by John M Ford. Discovery is the first time it’s been fleshed out on screen.
Right at the start of the episode, one of the convicts that’s travelling in the shuttle with Burnham states that they are being transferred to Tellun. That’s not a single planet - it’s a star system on the Klingon-Federation border, with two inhabited planets: Elas and Troyius. It’s notable to fans, as it was first seen in the original series episode, Elaan of Troyius.
The same blabbermouth also refers to a dilithium explosion - dilithium being the element used to control the warp drive systems in starships. Plus our old pals the Andorians get another shout out in this scene. What’s the betting they make a personal appearance before the season is up?
Martial arts, Vulcan style
The same group of convicts who were previously quite chatty with Burnham turn on her, giving her the chance to show off her skills in Suus Mahna. This is a form of Vulcan martial arts that T’Pol was also adept in on Enterprise. A scene where Spock demonstrated his mastery of the form was planned for the first JJ Abrams movie, but never filmed. It was named after Mike Sussman, a frequent writer and producer on Voyager and Enterprise.
Great balls of fur
One of the first things that we learn about shady Captain Lorca is that he keeps a pet. The cooing fluffball on his desk is a Tribble, a sweet-natured, but pesky species first seen in the original series’ The Trouble with Tribbles.
There’s something interesting about this particular Tribble, though. They are asexual beings that reproduce extremely rapidly - that’s the trouble with them - and yet Lorca has just one... Given what we discover about biological experiments taking place on the the ship, does that suggest he’s been tinkering with his own pet as part of the war effort?
Here comes the science bit
Wow, that Paul Stamets is a grouch. It’s understandable though - he and his research partner on the U.S.S. Glenn were in line to win the Zee-Magnees Prize for their work before the war broke out and thwarted their dreams.
The Zee-Magnees is a highly prestigious award given to people who help significantly advance the Federation. In the original series, that was Dr Richard Daystrom in The Ultimate Computer, and in The Next Generation it goes to Dr. Ira Graves, for his his advances in cybernetics, in The Schizoid Man.
Speaking of Stamets, he’s named after a real life mycologist of the same name. He can be found online at @paulstamets.
Black Starfleet badges? A shady off-books operation? A Captain keeping deadly secrets from his crew? Is the Discovery a Section 31 starship?
For the uninitiated, Section 31 is Starfleet’s black-ops unit. Introduced in the Deep Space 9 episode Inquistion, the shady unit is responsible for many clandestine activities designed to keep the Federation safe - whatever the cost.
Although his affiliation isn’t called out by name, the Section 31 operative Harris appears in several Enterprise episodes, while in the Kelvin timeline the agency operates from the building in London that John Harrison (AKA Khaaaaaaaaaan!) destroys.
Intriguingly, the Discovery’s registration number is NCC 1031, though it’s worth remembering that its sister ship, the Glenn had the number NCC 1030, so there’s likely no significance there. Rather than being a dedicated Section 31 ship, it seems more likely that the Discovery really is a science vessel that has been conscripted into the war effort.
It wouldn’t be Star Trek without a Jefferies Tube. These are the internal tunnels used for maintenance on starships (and for rushing around in when the lifts are out of action). They were introduced in the original series and have appeared in every iteration of Star Trek since.
Why “Jefferies”? The in-universe explanation is that they are named in honour of Starfleet engineer W.M. Jefferies, one of the designers of the pioneering NX-class starships. In reality, that character was named after Matt Jefferies, the original series’ Art Director and the man who designed the original starship Enterprise.
Mother and brother
Burnham gives her first acknowledgment of her foster mother on Vulcan, Amanda Grayson.
A well-known character in Trek lore, and Sarek’s human wife, Amanda was played by Jane Wyatt in the original series and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and voiced by Majel Barrett in the animated series. In the Kelvin timeline of the JJ Abrams movies she’s played by Winona Ryder, and killed when Vulcan is destroyed.
We’ll be seeing more of Amanda later this season, now played by Mia Kirshner. Of course, the big tease in this sequence is an offhand reference to a certain green-blooded Vulcan. “My foster mother on Vulcan used to read it [Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland] to me and her son.” Yep, that’s Spock she’s talking about. Will we get to see him too?
The Alice in Wonderland reference here, incidentally, is a call-back to the animated series, where it’s stated that Amanda was a fan of the book in the episode Once Upon a Planet. “Light reading is considered relaxing, Captain,” says Spock. “My mother was particularly fond of Lewis Carroll’s work.”
Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta
At the end of the episode, Lorca tells Burnham about the mycelial network that Starfleet is attempting to harness. He states that the U.S.S. Glenn was “travelling back and forth to the Beta Quadrant, 90 light years away, in 1.3 seconds”.
In Star Trek, the Milky Way galaxy is divided into four quadrants. Earth is in the Alpha Quadrant, as is Bajor and Cardassia Prime; Romulas and Qo’noS are in the Beta Quadrant; the Gamma Quadrant is the far-off sector of the galaxy that the Bajoran wormhole in Deep Space 9 links to; and the Delta Quadrant is where the lost U.S.S. Voyager finds itself.