The third episode of Star Trek: Discovery, “Context is for Kings,” finally introduced the titular starship and its crew, and it turned out to be a very different kind of ship than fans are used to seeing on a Star Trek television series.
The Discovery seems to carry many secrets, but do those secrets connect it to another secretive organization from Star Trek canon, Section 31?
“Context is for Kings” revealed that the Discovery is a brand new ship and that was built for the purpose of developing a new kind of engine based on the work of Paul Stamets and his colleague on the USS Glenn.
As Michael Burnham and the other prisoners on her transport are marched through the halls of the Discovery, they notice that there are armed guards on the ship with black Starfleet insignia badges like they’ve never seen before. Engineering labs are kept classified, which isn’t usual Starfleet procedure. It is also eventually revealed that the ship’s captain, Gabriel Lorca, arranged of Burnham to end up on his ship, though the exact means by which he accomplished this goal were not revealed.
Lorca also keeps the monster from the USS Glenn on board the Discovery, among the remains of other creatures and species. Lorca seems more militaristic than most Starfleet captains, more willing to sacrifice other principals in the name of defense and self-preservation.
Those are a lot of secrets on board the Discovery. Secrets and primarily valuing defense are two traits typically shared by agents of the Federation of Planets’ deep cover espionage organization Section 31.
There’s also the fact that Discovery’s registry number is NC-1031. Could that be a clue to whom the Discovery actually belongs?
Section 31 exists outside of Starfleet’s normal command structure. Here’s what we know about the organization from past Star Trek series.
Section 31 officially does not exist. It specifically operates without the oversight of Starfleet command so that it is not bound to Starfleet rules and guidelines, thus allowing it to take actions that may go against a Starfleet officer’s code.
Section 31 takes its name from Article 14, Section 31 of the Starfleet Charter. That section states that “extraordinary measures” may be taken during “times of extreme threat,” interpreted by some to mean that the rules of the charter may be bent or broken in order to ensure the survival of the Federation.
Because of this, Section 31 was founded and has operated on its own terms, based on the assumption that there will always be “extreme threats” that require “extraordinary measures” to handle.
Those “extraordinary measures” are known to include assassinations, brainwashing, torture, and even genocide. If Lorca was trying to develop a biological weapon to use against the Klingons, as Burnham assumes at first, then it wouldn’t be out of line with the reputation of Section 31.
The existence of Section 31 actually predates the existence of the Federation of Planets. Since Article 14, Section 31 was written into the original Earth Starfleet Charter, Section 31 was founded to defend the interests of United Earth, only later expanding its mandate to include all worlds that were part of the Federation of Planets.
Malcolm Reed, a crew member on the Enterprise NX-01, was a former member of Section 31. Though he had left his covert operative days behind him, they followed him onto the ship when a former commanding officer named Harris began contacting him on board the NX-01.
Harris ordered Reed to stall the Enterprise's mission to rescue Doctor Phlox from the Klingons, who had captured the ship's doctor to force him to work on a cure for the Klingon augment virus. Harris believed that curing the augment virus would help stabilize the Klingon Empire, which would be good for Earth in the long term.
Reed eventually revealed Harris' contact to Captain Archer. While Archer and Harris had a tense relationship, Harris did provide Archer with information on the Terra Prime terrorist organization that was trying to prevent the formation of the Coalition of Planets. This information was invaluable to making sure that the Coalition did come together, eventually leading to the formation of the Federation.
Section 31 was still active in the 24th century and went to the Deep Space Nine space station in an attempt to recruit Dr. Julian Bashir. The recruitment involved forcibly abducting the doctor and putting him through a series of illusory loyalty test. While Bashir passed the tests, he was so utterly disgusted by the very existence of Section 31 that he refused the offer.
Section 31 later returned to Deep Space Nine and manipulated Bashir into performing actions that they believed would help keep the Romulan Star Empire in check following the close of the then-ongoing Dominion War.
However, it was in the Dominion War itself that Section 31 took its most decisive action. The organization developed a plague that affected the non-solid biology of the Changelings who led the Dominion.
When their actions were brought to light, a cure for the plague was eventually discovered, but Starfleet refused to turn it over to the Dominion at first. Only later was the cure offered to the Changelings, with the stipulation that the Dominion cease aggressive action towards the Federation and its allies.
In the alternate reality referred to as the Kelvin Timeline, Section 31 took somewhat less subtle means of pushing its agenda, which led to a conflict with Captain Kirk and the USS Enterprise in the 23rd century.
Section 31 had recovered the USS Botany Bay and discovered Khan Noonien Singh and his augment followers on board. They woke Khan and forced him to design a Dreadnought-class ship, the USS Vengeance, to use against the Klingons.
However, Khan escaped and turned against his masters. He sought refuge on Qo'nos, and Section 31 sought to use the Enterprise as bait to give the Federation a reason to go to war with the Klingons.
Khan took control of the Vengeance and crashed it into Starfleet headquarters. Section 31's existence was made public. Kirk spoke out against the organization and its agenda, perhaps ending its influence in that version of reality.
Could the Discovery be part of the organization's agenda in the prime timeline? Fans are left to speculate for now.
Star Trek: Discovery streams Sundays at 8:30 p.m. ET on CBS All Access.