[Warning: The following contains spoilers for Episodes 1 and 2 of Star Trek: Discovery. Read at your own risk!]
The Klingons wanted war, and war is what they got in the first two episodes of CBS All Access' Star Trek: Discovery. The kickoff of the series set off a conflict between Starfleet and the Klingons that will serve as the major backdrop for at least the first season of Discovery.
How did a tenuous standoff turn into a full-fledged war, though? For that, we have to break down some Trek history. The new series picks up in 2256, nearly a century after the "Broken Bow" incident that first introduced humans to Klingons. For new Trek fans, "Broken Bow" was a Star Trek: Enterprise episode that revealed the Klingon Empire was being unraveled from the inside by an alien terrorist organization, Suliban Cabal. A Klingon named Klaang was the only one with proof of this plot, but his ship crash landed on Earth in 2151 where he was shot and killed by a human farmer — dooming the 24 great houses of the Klingon Empire to fracture.
The fracture led to a Cold War between the Federation (represented by Starfleet, the good guys) and the Klingons with "no major incidences" for over 70 years before Discovery kicks off. Enter T'Kuvma (Chris Obi) -- an ambitious Klingon who wanted to reunite the Klingon houses and restore the empire back to its former glory to take over the universe. He thinks he is the Braveheart of the Klingon race and the Federation is the British trying to control his people. He would not look as good in a kilt.
In Episode 1, he set a trap for the Federation which Captain Phillipa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) and her crew on the U.S.S. Shenzhou walked right in to. The Klingons attacked a Federation ship on the outer rim of Federation territory, leading Captain Georgiou and her crew to discover a mysterious unidentified object floating between the nearby binary stars. First Officer Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) went to investigate the object — which turned out to be T'Kuvma's ship — firsthand and ended up in a fight with T'Kuvma's torch bearer guard. The Klingons didn't survive the encounter, giving T'Kuvma all the ammunition he needed to unite the Klingon houses against Starfleet and the Federation.
Captain Georgiou believed in the Starfleet policy of not engaging in military action unless fired on first. That's extremely noble, but Burnham didn't want to listen because Klingons killed her entire family during one of those "not major incidences" when she was a child. She doesn't trust the Klingons to be able to negotiate peacefully — and she was right. Unfortunately, she jumped the gun and committed mutiny to gain control of U.S.S. Shengzhou and take matters into her own hands. Just as she was arrested, 24 Klingon ships — representing the 24 great houses — arrived at T'Kuvma's side.
Starfleet backup eventually arrived, but the attempt to come to a peaceful arrangement with the Klingons ended with the admiral of Starfleet being murdered and his entire ship and crew destroyed. Dozens of other ships went the same way in Episode 2, "The Battle at the Binary Stars." T'Kuvma crushed Starfleet in the skirmish — but Captain Georgiou and Burnham weren't willing to accept defeat.
They found a way to sneak aboard T'Kuvma's ship with the mission to kidnap him to use as leverage to convince the rest of the Klingons to sign a peace treaty. However, the women were ambushed and T'Kuvma stabbed Captain Georgiou through the chest before Burnham could shoot him down. The First Officer was beamed back to U.S.S. Shengzhou as T'Kuvma's right hand V'oq was left to turn his leader into a martyr for the Klingon cause.
It's true that T'Kuvma could have avoided bloodshed if he had been willing to participate in peace talks, but from his perspective he was uniting the Klingons for their greater good. The cause will now be taken up by V'oq and other Klingon leaders like L'Rell (Mary Chieffo) and Kol (Kenneth Mitchell), who will be formidable opponents for a shellshocked Federation.
This attack also added a deeper understanding of why relations between Starfleet and the Klingons are so tenuous and icy in years going forward. Starfleet will now spend the first season of Star Trek: Discovery repositioning itself as a war entity instead of an exploratory one. These principles founded during this war with the Klingons will establish the ethos that guided Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise in The Original Series.
Star Trek: Discovery continues Sundays at 8:30/7:30c on CBS All Access.
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