Star Trek Discovery S01E04 Review: The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry

Burnham analyzing Star Trek Discovery Butchers KnifeNow that we’ve been introduced to the USS Discovery, her crew, and her mission, “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry” gives us a taste of what these Mycelium spores can do. We’re also reminded that the newly unified Klingon Empire remains a serious threat to the Federation. Exploring concepts of morality in wartime, Star Trek: Discovery follows some of the same themes we’ve seen in other franchise series such as Deep Space Nine. Yet the show continues to forge its own path, embracing the dramatic practices of contemporary television. “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry” shows us that you don’t have to be a redshirt to die on Star Trek: Discovery.

Star Trek: Discovery continues to give us a beautiful-looking show. The set, costumes, special effects, and computer-generated imagery are movie-quality. What stood out in “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry” were the directorial choices and camera work. Focusing on the facial expressions of Sonequa Martin-Green, who plays protagonist Michael Burnham, told us more about the story than pages of additional dialogue would have. The relationships between characters are captured through shared looks and subtle gestures.

Burnham Lorca Star Trek Discovery Butchers KnifeThe use of interior establishing shots clarified the importance and function of various spaces on the ship. The interplay of long shots and close-ups makes Discovery feel like a character in itself as the spaces become much more than a backdrop for dialogue. The various camera shots, plus the scenes in which the vastness of space can be seen from inside the ship, make Star Trek: Discovery standout in terms a Star Trek series that feels like the characters are living and working on a spaceship. Director Olatunde Osunsanmi and cinematographer Colin Hoult brought a lot of life this episode.

The deadliest weapons in the galaxy

At the request of Captain Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs), Michael Burnham has formally joined the crew of the Discovery. She may have no rank and no specific duties, but she does have a nice new uniform. Her roommate Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman) tells her, “You look smart. It’s a lot less scary than your convict uniform. Clean slate, right?” Not everyone is so accepting of Burnham’s transition, particularly her fellow officer from the Shenzhou, First Officer Saru (Doug Jones). Burnham tells him, “You can tell your threat ganglia to relax. I’m only here to help.”

Captain Lorca is concerned that “we’re the tip of the spear in a science vessel full of wide-eyed explorers.” He brings Burnham to his museum of weaponry, telling her, “I study war and this is where I hone my craft. I try learning from the best.” He shows Burnham the creature captured from the USS Glenn and tells her to weaponize it. This may be the first time we’ve heard a Starfleet officer order something be weaponized. Discovery keeps us guessing about Lorca’s character. Good guy? Creep? Psychopath? Savior? We’re not sure yet.

Burnham Landry screen Star Trek Discovery Butchers KnifeLorca sends Commander Landry (Rekha Sharma) to work with Burnham. Burnham tells her the creature is similar to a tardigrade, a microscopic earth organism. Just as the audience perceives Burnham as being unfairly judged by the crew, Burnham sees the creature, named “Ripper” by Landry, as being misunderstood.

Burnham: “You judge the creature on its appearance and by one single incident in its past. Nothing in its biology suggests it would attack except in self-defense. Commander, this creature is an unknown alien. It can only be what it is, not what you want it to be.”
Landry: “It’s amazing how much I hate Vulcan proverbs. You’re new here, so let me share a piece of wisdom. Lorcan isn’t interested in what you are. He’s interested in what you can do for him. And if he needs us to make that thing useful in his war effort, that’s what we’re gonna do.”

Though we may be uncertain about Lorca’s character, Landry is not. She’s clearly a disciple. She eventually pays for her loyalty with her life after heedlessly trying to follow the Captain’s orders despite Burnham’s warnings.

Burnham Landry Star Trek Discovery Butchers KnifeWe’ve already lost Michelle Yeoh, and now it’s Rikha Sharma—both actors we were very excited about seeing on the show. Discovery started out with a fairly diverse cast but has quickly killed off several important characters played by people of color. Sharma portrayed an interesting and complex character, and we had hoped to see more about the intense feelings she seemed to hold for the Captain. Now we never will unless the two show up in J.J. Abrams’ alternate-reality timeline.

Recently, there’s been a lot of controversy about the idea of killing off main characters. Some feel it makes the audience believe that anyone on the series could die, amping up the drama, while others see it as gratuitous. We tend to fall into the latter perspective because drama can be created with good storytelling without the shortcut of killing a significant character.

Purity and death

It’s six months after the Battle at the Binary Stars, in which the USS Europa was destroyed, the USS Shenzhou was abandoned, and Captain Phillipa Georgiou was killed. Yet somehow after all this time, the House T’Kuvma ship remains floating in the battlefield debris, disabled. Before he died, T’Kuvma named Voq (Chris Obi) his successor. When Battle Deck Commander L’Rell (Mary Chieffo) suggests they use the Shenzhou’s engine to repair their own ship, he responds, “To fuse its technology with our own would be blasphemy.” Though he had no qualms about eating Captain Georgiou, he wants to keep the Klingon ship pure. Voq is also a believer. L’Rell questions, “What good is purity if it leads only to death?”

Voq red Star Trek Discovery Butchers KnifeEventually, Voq is convinced to visit the Shenzhou to salvage their dilithium processing unit. While Voq and L’Rell are gone, Kol (Kenneth Mitchell) of House Kor takes over the ship in order to commandeer the cloaking technology. It turns out that Voq isn’t the only believer, because L’Rell manages to deceive Kol, sparing Voq’s life. She offers to take him to the House of Mókai where he will learn some deep secrets from the matriarchs.

Even with the possibility of a Klingon romance between Voq and L’Rell, we’re not loving this Klingon storyline. The doctrine espoused by true believers is rarely very interesting. Let’s hope the matriarchs spice up this story.

Spore Jump

When the Klingons attack Convan II, a mining colony where 40 percent of the Federation’s dilithium is mined, the Discovery is the only ship that can get there in time to save them. It requires using the spore technology, but Lieutenant Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) insists, “There is no way in hell we’ll be ready to jump that far.” They lack the processing necessary to hold a course. The Glenn augmented their system, but it won’t load on the Discovery.

Stamets Lorca Saru Star Trek Discovery Butchers KnifeThe Captain and Stamets don’t have the congenial relationship of Captain Kirk and Chief Engineer Scott. Stamets doesn’t trust Lorca, who he sees as a research-stealing warmonger. It’s strange to see a Federation crewmember argue so strongly with his Captain. Their antagonistic relationship is fascinating to watch. The captain finally uses a clip of the distress call to motivate Stamets to try a spore jump. It doesn’t go well, and Stamets ends up in the infirmary where he tells the doctor, “The frontal lobe is overrated. It only contains memory and emotional expression. It’s completely unnecessary.” He gets the best lines.

Tardigrade travel

Burnham realizes that the tardigrade holds the key to navigating their journey. It’s a bit of a stretch that she figured out the organism could serve as the supercomputer they needed, but, then again, Saru did tell us that Burnham is the smartest person he knows. She convinces Stamets, even after he insists on facing the creature with a phaser, telling Burnham, “Think of it as a placebo for my skepticism.”

Tardigrade Star Trek Discovery Butchers KnifeWe already felt sorry for the terrified tardigrade when Landry went after it, and seeing it struggle in the reaction tube as they use it to navigate only worsens our dismay. They make the jump, destroy the attacking Klingon Birds-of-Prey, and save the survivors on the colony before jumping away again. The tardigrade is clearly suffering. Later, when Burnham brings spores to the creature, it seems traumatized. As it backs away from her, Burnham says, “I’m sorry.”

“The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry” uses the science fiction trope exemplified in Ursula Le Guin’s short story “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” in which a society’s happiness is based on knowingly subjecting a child to isolation and suffering. How long will Michael tolerate the torture of the tardigrade for the benefit of humanity? The title of the episode evokes a couplet from the William Blake poem, Auguries of Innocence.

The lamb misus’d breeds public strife,
And yet forgives the butchers knife. 

The lamb’s mistreatment leads to social discord. The butcher may be forgiven, but the sin will leave a stain on humanity. We’re not sure how many more episodes of the tardigrade being tortured we can watch, so let’s hope Burnham’s ethics spur her to action soon.

Burnham bed Star Trek Discovery Butchers KnifeThe others seem unaware of the downside of their new travel mode. Tilly tells Burnham, “Everyone’s talking about what you did. You helped save many on that colony. Seems like you’re gonna have another reputation to get used to.” With Tilly’s urging, Burnham finally listens to the last will and testament of Captain Georgiou. It’s good to see Michelle Yeoh again. Georgiou expects that Burnham would already have command of her own ship.

“I have always tried to show you by example. The best way to know yourself is to know others. You are curious. An explorer. So I am leaving you my most beloved possession, handed down through my family for centuries. My hope is that you will use it to continue to investigate the mysteries of the universe, both inside and out. And keep your eyes and heart open, always. Goodbye, Michael, and good luck. Know that I am as proud of you as if you were my own daughter. Take good care, but more importantly, take good care of those in your care.”

The case opens to reveal a well-used telescope. Just in case Burnham wasn’t feeling conflicted enough.

Georgiou Star Trek Discovery Butchers Knife“The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry” reminds us that Star Trek is at its best when creating moral uncertainty through diverse perspectives. Star Trek: Discovery tells this story through some well-crafted dialogue, but it’s the expressive work of the cast and crew that makes this episode stand out. Watch new episodes of Star Trek: Discovery on Sundays at 8:30 ET/5:30 PT on CBS All Access.

4 thoughts on “Star Trek Discovery S01E04 Review: The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry

  1. All we ever knew about Tardigrades we learned from the British panel show QI:

    Tardigrades, also known as “Water bears”, have been shown that they can survive outer space.

    Tardigrades are of deep interest to QI. They first appeared in the Series B Christmas Special (“Births”) as being the creature than can die and then come back to live after three days. They do this by entering into a state of “Cryptobiosis”, which acts as a form of suspended animation where they can survive just about anything.

    According to their entry in “The Book of Animal Ignorance”: “They have been frozen to within a degree of absolute zero and heated to temperatures of 151 degrees Celsius. They have been placed in liquid helium for a week, and given dosee of radiation a thousand times greater than the fatal dose for a human. They have been immersed in chemical and squeezed by pressures six times greater than those at the bottom of the ocean; but like living granules of instant coffee, with one drop of water, back to life they come.”

    Now, work carried out by the University of Stuttgart has shown they can also survive the vacuum of outer space and cosmic radiation. They were sent on a spacewalk in a BIOPAN-6 Module, 270 kilometres up into outer space, as part of a European Space Agency mission. The only other life forms known to have survived outer space are bacteria and lichen.

    Project leader and zoologist Dr. Ralph O. Schill said: “Knowing the different conditions these animals can survive made me hope they would make it. But I could hardly have expected this result – you can’t simulate some of the space conditions in the lab.”

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  2. I have no problem loosing main characters. Remember, Game of Thrones offed Ned Stark in Season 1. Catelyn, Robb next. This is what happens in “grown up” stories. The good guys don’t always win, they don’t always make it to the end of the story.

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