Face of the enemy
Speaking of Klingons… Burnham’s first encounter with the alien warrior on top of their sarcophagus ship reveals a couple of nice nods to established lore. Her readout screen identifies her opponent’s weapon as a Bat’leth, the curved sword that Worf was often seen to wield in The Next Generation. When the Klingon is accidentally killed, he sprays out pink blood, as seen in Star Trek 6: The Undiscovered Country - and ignored in all of the TV series until now. Perhaps that’s not a coincidence, given that Nicholas Meyer, who directed that film, is Consulting Producer on the new show.
The episode namechecks Qo’noS, the Klingon homeworld, and establishes that the race have been avoiding the Federation for 100 years, which more-or-less fits with Enterprise. The pilot of that show, Broken Bow, took place in 2151 and focussed on a major diplomatic incident between humanity and the Klingons. Of course, we know from the original series that war - albeit brief - between the Klingons and the Federation is just around the corner, breaking out 11 years later in 2267, and resolved by Kirk and Spock in The Trouble With Tribbles. One of the planets mentioned in that classic episode was Donatu V, which also gets a shout out in Discovery.
Let’s start at the beginning - with Sonequa Martin-Green’s Lieutenant Commander Michael Burnham, dubbed “Number One” by the U.S.S Shenzhou’s Captain Philippa Georgiou. If you’ve seen Star Trek before then you’ve likely heard that nickname.
In The Cage - the Original Series’ first, Shatner-free, pilot episode - Number One was the Enterprise’s nameless female second-in-command, played by Majel Barrett (Trek creator Gene Roddenberry’s then girlfriend, who would later go on to play Lwaxana Troi on The Next Generation). Having such a high-ranking female character proved controversial and is said to be part of the reason NBC passed on the show. When Trek was refashioned around Captain Kirk, the character was dropped.
Number One was also the name that Captain Picard would routinely call his First Officer, William Riker, indicating his seniority on the Enterprise bridge crew.
We learn a lot more about the Klingon civilisation in the first two episodes of Discovery including that its ruling council is divided into 24 houses (presumably some of whom like to wear their hair long, as in Enterprise and the Next Generation eras).
We meet a representative of the House of Mo’Kai. Several centuries later a hologram of Voyager’s Captain Janeway in Klingon form (still with me?) claimed to be from the House of Mo’Kai in the episode The Killing Game. House D’Ghor, meanwhile, first showed up in Deep Space 9 episode The House of Quark, where it suffered humiliation thanks to the dishonourable actions of its leader.
You also probably noticed T’Kuvma wittering on about Kahless. Who? Well, that’s yer mythic, semi-godlike Klingon King Arthur type - the first Warrior King and ruler of the Klingon Empire, referred to in every Trek generation - though T’Kuvma certainly seems more militant than most in his devotion to the warrior known as Kahless the Unforgettable.
As well as the humans and the Vulcans, the Klingons seem to have beef with the other member races of the Federation - notably the Tellarites (beardy, big-faced weirdoes) and the blue-skinned “filthy” Andorians, both introduced in the original series episode Journey to Babel and returned to occasionally throughout the other shows. The Andorians in particular were a common foe in Enterprise.
Back to school
A key environment in Burnham’s (many, clunky) flashbacks is the Vulcan Learning Center where Sarek’s young human ward learns the ways of the universe and a commitment to logic - one that Captain Georgiou quickly shakes. We’ve seen this environment before, in JJ Abrams’ 2009 movie, in the scene where the young Spock is bullied by other Vulcan children. That scene was, itself, a reference to Star Trek 4: The Voyage Home, which featured the resurrected adult Spock re-training his brain.
This rabbit hole of references continues with Sarek’s katra - the immortal Vulcan soul that was first introduced in Star Trek 3: The Search for Spock. In Discovery it’s used as a way for Spock’s dad to communicate with his adopted daughter while she’s in grave danger. Handy that. Plus there’s the reappearance of old favourite’s like the Vulcan nerve pinch, which Burnham uses on Georgiou, a mind meld and, of course, “Live long, and prosper”.
Four Federation ships are destroyed at the battle at the Binary Stars. They are the U.S.S Shenzhou, the U.S.S. Europa, the U.S.S Clark, and the U.S.S Yeager. The first is Burnham’s vessel, the second Admiral Anderson’s, the third is an unknown-class starship, but the fourth name has a couple of echoes in Trek lore. In Deep Space 9 (set, remember, over a hundred years later) a U.S.S Yeager, registration number NCC-65674, serves in the Dominion War.
Curiously, in the same time period an entirely different, much-smaller Saber-class U.S.S Yeager (NCC-61947) fought the Borg in the Next Generation film First Contact. I’d like to think that both these ships are named in honour of the starship that was destroyed in Discovery’s fateful battle.
Several other starships were also referenced. From the top:
The U.S.S Clarke: Not strictly canon, but Diane Duane’s original series novel, The Wounded Sky, features a U.S.S Clarke - a modified Oberth-class starship.
U.S.S Shran: This is a new one, but is almost certainly named in honour of Andorian Ambassador Thy’lek Shran, from Enterprise. He was a bit of a git, but also key in building bridges between Earth and his people.
U.S.S T’Plana-Hath: The T’Plana-Hath was the name of the Vulcan starship in First Contact that led humanity to their first known encounter with an alien race. This is not that ship (there are no Vulcan vessels involved in the battle), but is clearly named in its honour. The name originally comes from T’Plana-Hath, the matron of Vulcan philosophy.
U.S.S Earhart: Again, not official, but John Vornholt’s Dominion War-set Next Generation novel Tunnel Through the Stars features a U.S.S Earhart, commanded by a Captain Dalivar.
U.S.S Edison: There’s a Nebula-class Edison in the game Star Trek: Armada 2.
There are also shout outs to the U.S.S Kerala, U.S.S Sioux, U.S.S Ride and U.S.S Dana, though as far as we can tell these are new ships.
Watch in the original Klingon
If the first two episodes didn’t contain quite enough Klingonese for you, here’s a fun little detail. If you bring up the Netflix taskbar you can set up Klingon subtitles for each episode, as well as English, French, Polish and so on. DaH chay' DaSovrup veqlarghlI' detail? (Now how’s that for attention to detail?)