WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for this week's episode of Star Trek: Discovery, "Context Is For Kings."
With the third episode of Star Trek: Discovery, the audience is finally introduced to the Starfleet vessel of the drama's title, and to its captain, Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs), a man with secrets ... and an unusual taste in collectibles.
Set six months after the surprising events of the two-part series premiere, which ignited a war between the Federation and the Klingon Empire, and ended with the conviction of the mutinous Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), "Context Is For Kings" finds her prison transport imperiled, only to be saved by the "fortuitous" appearance of the USS Discovery. However, Burnham, and the audience, soon suspects the meeting is no accident and that the Discovery is no mere science vessel. It's been conscripted into the war, and employed to conduct top-secret experiments in hopes of perfecting a new propulsion system that could help turn the tide against the Klingons.
Lorca, who's unlike any of the Starfleet captains on the Star Trek series before this, appears to relish his purpose; he may even be a warmonger. But when Burnham is first brought to his ready room we hear an unmistakable trill that can only belong to a tribble, the furry lifeforms that hold a special place within the franchise. Introduced in the classic Original Series episode "The Trouble With Tribbles," the little creatures are adored by humans, hated by Klingons, and virtually impossible to get rid of, as they're hermaphroditic, and capable of self-fertilization; a single tribble can multiply to more than a million in just four days.
So how is it that Captain Lorca has a single content tribble on his desk? That's probably the least of the questions surrounding him, just as the tribble is the least-interesting item in his collection.
In the closing moments of "Context Is For Kings," we're shown what Discovery's producers refer to as "Lorca's menagerie." Separate from the captain's ready room, it's a private museum devoted to lifeforms both dead and alive (the creature that pursued the away team earlier in the episode has been secured in a cage). And in the background, past Cardassian voles and a dissected tribble, is the full skeleton of a Gorn, displayed with pride in a glass case.
The reptilian species debuted in The Original Series Season 1 episode "Arena," in which the highly advanced Metrons transport Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) to a barren planet, where he must fight an unnamed Gorn using his wits, brute strength and improvised weapons. The encounter was considered the Federation's first contact with the Gorn, so how can Lorca possibly possess one of their skeletons on a series set a decade earlier?
Before any guardians of Star Trek canon throw a red flag on the field, remember: Gabriel Lorca is a captain with a lot of secrets.
"What does it say about Lorca that he has one of those?" executive producer Aaron Harberts said on the after-show, After Trek. "It doesn't necessarily mean that he encountered the Gorn, but who does he know? Where did he get it?"
"When he take a right or a left, seemingly around canon, it's usually about character," he added. "What can this reveal about this captain?"
Obviously, there are numerous possibilities, but if we dismiss the idea of Lorca sneaking off to scour Federation space for these trophies (and we can), the most likely scenario is that he's purchasing them from someone with far-ranging contacts and questionable morals, Someone like Harcourt Fenton "Harry" Mudd, the fan-favorite TOS smuggler and con artist who'll be played on Discovery by Rainn Wilson. Before the appearance of Lorca's menagerie, Harry Mudd's most probable introduction into the series seemed to be as one of Burnham's cellmates. Now, however, the role of Lorca's supplier and informant would seem to fit Mudd just fine.
Starring Sonequa Martin-Green as Lt. Commander Michael Burnham, Star Trek: Discovery airs Sundays at 8:30 p.m. ET/PT in the United States on CBS All Access, in Canada on Space and in most other countries on Netflix.