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.
This Starfleet scientific facility, first introduced in the original series episode The Ultimate Computer, gets a brief shout out from Cadet Tilly. Founded by Dr Richard Daystrom it will prove to be a valuable Federation resource and notable figures like Dr Leah Brahms - a recurring character in The Next Generation - have ties to it.
In this scene Stamets is also comparing Tardigrade and Zaldan DNA. These humanoid aliens look much like us, but have webbed hands, and are introduced in The Next Generation’s Coming of Age.
The episode ends with a sinister tease. After Stamets and Culber have brushed their teeth, they walk away together - and yet Stamets’ image remains in the mirror. Is this a heavy hint that Discovery is going to be venturing to the mirror universe soon?
First introduced in the original series’ episode Mirror, Mirror, this parallel dimension is a dark reflection of our own. Here, the Federation is the Terran Empire - a cruel, fascist regime where Spock has a pointy beard and Sulu is a leery creep. Mirror Spock eventually comes around to Kirk and co’s more benign point of view and, off-screen, begins to reform the Empire. By the 24th century, however, things haven’t much improved - the Empire has fallen, crushed by a brutal Klingon-Cardassian alliance.
The mirror universe has proven irresistible for Trek writers since, featuring in several episodes of Deep Space 9 and two instalments of Enterprise - plus Susan Wright’s two Dark Passions novels, which uses the mirror conceit as a backdrop for backstabbing intrigue and main characters unexpectedly shagging.
The replicator conundrum
The opening scene shows sparking electricity and what appears to be a hostile alien landscape - before revealing that it is, in fact, Burnham’s fresh new Discovery uniform being created by a replicator.
Replicators are an essential bit of future technology used to create almost anything. They use transporter technology to recombine matter into different configurations - mostly for making whatever food or drink you desire.
Interestingly, though, they’re not in the original series or films - they were invented for The Next Generation. That said, Protein Resequencers - an early form of food replicator - are known to have existed in the 22nd Century, so perhaps the ones on Discovery are just more advanced, possibly even experimental, models - it is a science ship after all.
A planet of Industry
The meat of the episode’s plot involves the Discovery trying to reach Corvan II, a key center of Dilithium production. The Federation planetoid is first mentioned in The Next Generation episode New Ground, where it’s stated that industrial pollution threatened some of the planet’s indigenous animal life. This episode marks our first proper look at it though.
He's talking about farmer Hoggett!
“How do you want to be remembered in history? Alongside the Wright Brothers? Elon Musk? Zefram Cochrane? Or as a failed fungus expert?”
Lorca’s speech to Stamets references several real world pioneers, and one fictional one. Zefram Cochrane is the inventor of the warp drive and the human who makes first contact with an alien race (the Vulcans) in, er, First Contact. In that film he’s played by James Cromwell - Farmer Hoggett in Babe. A humble legend in his own lifetime, Cochrane is arguably the person most responsible for Starfleet’s existence. By the time of Discovery, however, he is missing, presumed dead.
What Starfleet don’t know, but Captain Kirk will discover a few years down the line, is that Cochrane is in fact alive. Marooned on an alien world for 150 years, Cochrane (Glenn Corbett), has been restored to youth by an alien companion and is functionally immortal. The Enterprise is transporting a dying Federation Commissioner, Nancy Hedford, who ends up staying on the planet, merged with the alien. Now mortal again, Cochrane chooses to stay behind and live out the rest of his life with her.