A Vulcan hello
The episode opens with some stunning shots of Vulcan - probably the most lavish we’ve seen in Star Trek to date - and returns there periodically throughout the episode. The planet is instantly familiar to fans, all burning braziers, dusky skies and gongs.
It’s also on Vulcan that we get our first look at the new Amanda Grayson (and that copy of Alice in Wonderland that was mentioned a few episodes back). Now played by Mia Kershner, Burnham’s foster-mother (and Spock’s biological mum) has previously been played by Jane Wyatt, Majel Barrett and Cynthia Blaise on TV, and Winona Ryder in the Kelvin-verse movies. She’s very much a warm, caring foil to Sarek’s more coolly logical persona.
The Vulcan Xenophobia Division
The episode hinges on Burnham’s unfair rejection from the Vulcan Expeditionary Group - effectively the Vulcan equivalent of Starfleet. The implication that this alien society has a certain inherent xenophobia is a new development, but not entirely surprising. We know from both the original series and the first J.J. Abrams movie that Spock was bullied as a child because of his half-human nature. That same xenophobia leads to the decision to only allow either Burnham or Spock entry into the organisation. Sarek elects to send Spock, after he has completed his training at the Vulcan Science Academy.
Of course, we also know from the original series that Spock, in fact, rejects the Academy, choosing - against Sarek’s wishes - to join Starfleet. Perhaps the way that his half-sister is treated here fed into that decision.
A fundamental Constitution
Yep, Kirk’s ship, the Constitution-class U.S.S. Enterprise gets a shout out - although at this point it’s not Kirk’s ship. Presumably in Discovery’s timeframe it’s being captained by Christopher Pike.
Other ships we know of in this class include the U.S.S. Excalibur, the U.S.S. Exeter, the U.S.S. Hood, the U.S.S. Intrepid, the U.S.S. Potemkin and the U.S.S. Lexington.
Wait… there’s a Holodeck?!
This sure raises a few eyebrows. Here we are in the 23rd Century, decades before Picard’s Enterprise repeatedly proves that hologram simulations are a ludicrous deathtrap, and yet Discovery appears to have its own version of the holodeck.
It’s not quite as anachronistic as it might initially seem, however. In the animated series it’s established that Kirk’s Enterprise has a recreation room that’s capable of projecting holograms. It makes sense that the technology would originate on a scientific ship like the Discovery before being rolled out across the rest of the fleet.
“She died while I was at the Academy, on her way to the moons of Grazer.” - Ash Tyler.
Oof, now this is a deep cut... Grazer has never been mentioned onscreen, as far as we can tell. However, it does have a history in the franchise, appearing in the Star Trek: Star Charts reference book. It’s also established, in the novel Articles of the Federation by Keith R. A. DeCandido, that Severn-Anyar from Deep Space 9’s Homefront originally hails from Grazer.
In that awkward briefing session with Admiral Cornwell, Lorca mentions three recent missions that the Discovery has successfully completed. The first, Corvan II, was last week’s episode. In the interim, the ship has also been to the Benzar supply lines and the Ophiucus system, both of which are familiar names.
Benzar is the homeworld of the Benzites - originally introduced in The Next Generation’s Coming of Age. During the Dominion War, Benzar will fall to the Dominion and Cardassians, before being liberated by the Romulans.
The Ophiucus system, meanwhile, is significant for another reason. A certain Harry Mudd will carry out cons there in Kirk’s time. And speaking of Harry...
All the Mudd cons
The episode’s biggest, living call back is Harcourt Fenton Mudd (Rainn Wilson). A character first introduced in the original series (played by Roger C Carmel), he will escape Klingon prison and later become a recurring thorn in Captain Kirk’s side in the episodes Mudd’s Women, I, Mudd and the animated episode Mudd’s Passion.
A con artist by trade, he eventually abandons Stella, the wife he eulogises about in Choose Your Pain, and embarks on a career as a serial - if not always very good - grifter and human trafficker, spending some time in prison in the process.
Before all that, however, I’m sure we’ll be seeing him in Discovery again…
"No, I'm from Iowa. I only work in outer space"
Cornwell refers to a secret Starfleet facility in Jefferson, Iowa, where the Spore drive technology is being clandestinely tinkered with. Why is Iowa significant in Trek canon? Well, it’s the birthplace of Jim Kirk for one thing. Significant? Too early to say at this point, but I thought it worth acknowledging.
The alien's graveyard
Keep a keen eye on the screens as the Discovery races to Lorca’s rescue, and you might notice that infamous Klingon prison planet Rura Penthe - where Kirk and McCoy are sent in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country - as well as Morska system. The latter is a Klingon-owned system that contains the subspace listening post that Uhura and the Enterprise crew bluff their way passed in the same film.
Let’s run down that list of onscreen highly-decorated Starfleet captains, shall we?
Robert April: Introduced in the animated series, April was the original captain of Kirk’s Enterprise (NCC-1701) - he even oversaw its construction. After completing his five year mission, he was promoted and became a Commodore, and an ambassador for the Federation.
Jonathan Archer: The NCC-1701 wasn’t the very first starship named Enterprise, however. The NX-01 has that honour, and Archer (played by Scott Bakula) is its captain. Aside from his exploits in exploration, Archer and his crew save Earth from the Xindi and pave the way for the formation of the Federation.
Christopher Pike: April’s successor on the Enterprise, Pike (played by Jeffrey Hunter) stars in the original Star Trek pilot episode, The Cage. He serves as captain of that ship for 11 years before being promoted to Fleet Captain. Alas, things take a dark turn for Pike, when he is crippled during a training exercise gone wrong. Still - it’s a better fate than his Kelvin-universe counterpart, who was killed by Khaaaaaaaaaan in Star Trek Into Darkness.
Matthew Decker: Matt, as Captain Kirk knows him, is the captain of the U.S.S. Constellation and clearly well thought of in Discovery’s time. 10 years later, however, his tale will take a tragic twist. After encountering an alien planet killer, the Constellation is critically damaged. Decker tries to save his crew, but gets them all killed in the process (and echo of Lorca’s backstory, perhaps). The sole survivor of this disaster, he is rescued by Kirk, but attempts to seize command of the Enterprise in an attempt to destroy the planet killer. Eventually he gives his life, crashing one of the Enterprise’s shuttles into the monstrous weapon.