The tardigrade is misunderstood; it’s believed to be dangerous, a predator, something to be feared. It’s responsible for the deaths of Starfleet officers, and it’s being drafted into the war – a weapon to be used rather than an individual to be understood. Burnham, of course, is much the same; when she comments that the creature “can only be what it is, not what you want it to be”, it’s an implicit rebuke of the prevailing perception of her. As she notes that the Discovery crew “judge the creature by its appearance and one single event from its past”, it’s a comment that is fundamentally about herself, and the way she’s now perceived.
Of course, it transpires in the end that the creature isn’t a weapon – it’s docile in its own right, and in fact its primary use to the Discovery ship is a scientific one. As the creature proves its worth, so does Burnham; it’s the same moment of triumph and of success for them both, allowing them to find a place on the ship. One can take it as something of a microcosm for Starfleet, really; an indicator of how, in the context of this war, they’re losing sight of what exactly they’re meant to be. When confronted with a new life, the response must be curiosity, rather than an intent to militarise; no doubt this is a thread that will continue across the rest of the series, grappling with the dichotomy between Starfleet’s true mission and the role it’s thrown into.
The excerpt from this review is a bit of Discovery analysis that, while I thought it was pretty obvious, I’ve not actually seen picked up on anywhere. Odd that.