WARNING: This article contains spoilers for last week’s episode of Star Trek: Discovery, “Context Is For Kings.”
The first signs that Star Trek: Discovery‘s titular ship isn’t just another Starfleet vessel come early in the third episode, when Michael Burnham and her fellow inmates are brought aboard following the rescue of their doomed shuttle. One of the convicts immediately observes the U.S.S. Discovery “just rolled off the assembly line,” before spying an armed crew member wearing a black badge — something neither the characters nor the audience has seen before. It signals this isn’t Enterprise or Voyager; it’s a craft with secrets, which points us in the direction of Section 31.
Introduced on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Section 31 is, in effect, the black-ops division of Starfleet. Deriving its name from Article 14, Section 31 of the Starfleet Charter, which permits extreme measures to be taken in times of extraordinary threats, Section 31 has operated, mostly in secret, since the very beginnings of the organization.
Virtually autonomous, with no oversight or accountability, the clandestine group is tasked with confronting dangers to the United Federation of Planets, going so far as to employ assassination, torture and brainwashing in pursuit of its goals. It’s the shadowy underbelly of Starfleet, which for much of the franchise’s five-decade history has been depicted as a moral, single-minded service devoted to exploration, diplomacy and defense. Section 31 appears several times throughout the final two seasons of DS9, on The Original Series prequel Enterprise, and in the 2013 film Star Trek Into Darkness.
But what, aside from a mysterious black badge, suggests that Discovery is part of Section 31? In short, everything.
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