This page contains information regarding Star Trek: Discovery, and thus may contain spoilers.
As a commander, she served as the first officer aboard the USS Shenzhou in 2256, under Captain Philippa Georgiou, with whom she had served since 2249. (DIS: "The Vulcan Hello") In 2256, she was stripped of rank and sentenced to life imprisonment for mutiny, but she gained a second chance when she was assigned to the USS Discovery. (DIS: "Battle at the Binary Stars", "Context Is for Kings")
Early life Edit
Burnham's parents were killed by Klingons during the attack on Doctari Alpha when she was young. She was later raised on Vulcan by Sarek and Amanda Grayson and was the first Human to ever attend the Vulcan Learning Center. (DIS: "The Vulcan Hello", "Battle at the Binary Stars")
Shortly after she arrived on Vulcan, Burnham was targeted by Vulcan logic extremists who believed that Humans were a threat to their logical civilization and who launched an attack on the Learning Center. The bombing left Burnham physically dead for three minutes, forcing Sarek to initiate a mind meld with Burnham in order to revive her. As a result of this, a portion of Sarek's katra remained inside her mind, which later allowed him to communicate with her across interstellar distances and the two to share physical sensations such as pain. (DIS: "Battle at the Binary Stars", "Lethe")
During her childhood, her foster mother often read to Michael and to her biological son, Spock, from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Even as an adult, Michael still owned a physical copy of this book, which was a gift from Amanda. (DIS: "Context Is for Kings")
In 2245, Burnham began attending the Vulcan Science Academy, where she studied quantum physics. She graduated four years later at the top of her class, and was a recipient of the Vulcan Scientific Legion of Honor. (DIS: "The Vulcan Hello", "Battle at the Binary Stars", "The Butcher's Knife Cares Not for the Lamb's Cry")
After her graduation, Burnham applied to join the Vulcan Expeditionary Group. Unbeknownst to Burnham, the Group rejected her application on the basis of Burnham being Human, and forced Sarek to choose between allowing Michael to join now, or allowing Spock – who was half-Human – to join in the future. After reluctantly choosing Spock over Michael, Sarek hid the truth out of personal shame and reported her rejection as being a result of her "insufficient" abilities. This led Burnham to believe that it was her weaknesses that resulted in the decision, and that Sarek was wrong to believe in her – a sentiment her foster mother dismissed. Sarek's shame ultimately only grew when, eventually, Spock unexpectedly chose to join Starfleet instead of the Expeditionary Group, rendering Sarek's sacrifice of Michael's Vulcan career pointless. (DIS: "Lethe")
Starfleet career Edit
USS Shenzhou Edit
Sarek sought to find Burnham a place where she could thrive, and approached Captain Philippa Georgiou to give his ward an opportunity in Starfleet. Burnham therefore joined the service and was assigned to the Shenzhou under the command of Georgiou. Serving as a xenoanthropologist, she eventually rose to the rank of commander, and by 2256, had become Georgiou's first officer. (DIS: "The Vulcan Hello", "Battle at the Binary Stars")
Encountering the Klingons Edit
Just prior to the Battle of the Binary Stars, Burnham was charged with mutiny after incapacitating Captain Georgiou and taking command of the Shenzhou, preparing to attack the Klingons by firing on them first. She subsequently pled guilty to these charges during a court martial, and was stripped of rank and sentenced to life in prison. (DIS: "Battle at the Binary Stars") She thus became the first and only officer ever convicted of mutiny in the history of Starfleet to that date.
USS Discovery Edit
After serving six months in prison, Burnham was transported via shuttlecraft to another facility at Tellun. The shuttle transporting them was disabled, but she and three other prisoners were rescued by the USS Discovery. Following orders by Captain Gabriel Lorca, she participated in a boarding party aboard the USS Glenn. Lorca then offered her a berth aboard Discovery, assuring her that her life sentence would not be a problem. Burnham began sharing quarters with Sylvia Tilly. (DIS: "Context Is for Kings")
Burnham was reassigned from the command division to the sciences division and allowed to wear a Starfleet uniform again, albeit without any rank or other insignia. Lorca assigned her to work on the tardigrade, which had been captured aboard the Glenn. Burnham named the creature "Ripper," because of its strength and ability to damage even a starship's tritanium hull. In collaboration with Tilly and Paul Stamets, she discovered the tardigrade's connection to the mycelial network, which enabled the full utilization of the spore drive in order to stop the Klingon attack on Corvan II. (DIS: "The Butcher's Knife Cares Not for the Lamb's Cry")
In the following weeks, the Discovery used the spore drive several times; Burnham grew concerned with the effects of this usage on the tardigrade, which became weaker and seemed to be at great discomfort when utilized for the drive. After voicing her concerns to acting captain Saru, she was confined to quarters by him. Following the successful mission to rescue Captain Lorca, she and Tilly released the tardigrade into space, where it regained its strength and traveled away. (DIS: "Choose Your Pain")
After recovering Sarek from an assassination attempt by the same extremists who had targeted her as a young girl, Burnham was offered a position as bridge science specialist by Lorca, which she accepted. In the process, Burnham learned the truth about her rejection by the Expeditionary Group – Sarek had chosen to enable Spock to serve with the Group instead (although Spock had turned down that offer). (DIS: "Lethe")
Philippa Georgiou Edit
Burnham and Philippa Georgiou had almost a mother–daughter relationship; after taking on Burnham as a member of her crew, Georgiou decided to take a chance on Burnham and made her first officer. From their first encounter, Philippa boosted Michael's self-esteem, telling her that her confidence was justified, much to Michael's shock and complimenting her back. Over the course of seven years, they developed an extremely close relationship. Georgiou grew to trust Burnham, and while exploring with her in 2256, said she trusted her with her life. On a relatively primitive planet, the duo opened a well, and enabled the planet's residents to survive a coming eighty-nine-year drought.
Burnham warned Georgiou of her encounter with a Klingon, and with hesitation, Georgiou believed her and locked weaponry on the object. Starfleet ordered the Shenzhou to wait until reinforcements arrived. When Burnham recommended firing first against the Klingons, Georgiou refused. Burnham disabled Georgiou with a Vulcan nerve pinch and took command of the ship, ordering an attack on the Klingon vessel. Georgiou recovered in time to stop the attack. (DIS: "The Vulcan Hello")
Georgiou arrested and imprisoned Burnham for mutiny. However, Burnham escaped the brig after telepathic encouragement from Sarek, and convinced Georgiou to take T'Kuvma hostage. Using an explosive sent to T'Kuvma's ship with a Klingon corpse as a distraction, the duo boarded the ship and attacked. Burnham fought off Voq, but Georgiou was killed during the Battle of the Binary Stars, by T'Kuvma. A moment later, Burnham shot T'Kuvma and made a martyr of him. Burnham was distraught, weeping at the loss of her friend and captain, and becoming consumed with grief. Following Georgiou's death, Burnham felt she was responsible for the death of her captain and friend, completely guilt-ridden. (DIS: "Battle at the Binary Stars")
Six months after Georgiou's death, Burnham received Georgiou's will, in which Georgiou had left Burnham her most prized possession, a telescope handed down through her family for centuries. In her will, Georgiou said she was proud of Burnham as if she were her own daughter. (DIS: "The Butcher's Knife Cares Not for the Lamb's Cry") However, Burnham felt undeserving of the possession, believing herself to be guilty of Georgiou's death, so she gave the telescope to Saru instead. (DIS: "Choose Your Pain")
Sarek and Burnham had a father-daughter relationship due to the fact that, after her parents were killed, Sarek took Burnham as his ward. Afterwards, he helped her countless times whenever her judgement was clouded by her Human emotions. (DIS: "The Vulcan Hello")
"Huh... and he knows you."
Burnham served with Saru aboard the Shenzhou, though they were meanwhile in near-constant disagreement in how to read and approach situations. Georgiou noted their rare agreement for once. (DIS: "The Vulcan Hello") Even after Burnham's mutiny, which came as a surprise to Saru, he still considered Burnham a valuable asset and the smartest officer in Starfleet, but he was now afraid of her and considered her very dangerous. (DIS: "Context Is for Kings")
Burnham reported to Saru that every jump the ship made with the spore drive was negatively impacting Ripper. Saru dismissed this, while she warned that she was unsure of how many jumps the tardigrade could sustain. Later, Saru confronted Burnham upon discovering Stamets had taken the spore drive offline. Tilly, Stamets, and Burnham were looking for compatible DNA sequences, as Burnham said they could use a human host. Saru noted that he told her to stand down earlier and she disobeyed another order. Burnham said she knew his Kelpien culture made him alert of enemies, but assured him she wasn't one of them. Saru angrily fired back that she wasn't an enemy, but a predator, leaving Michael hurt. He told her that saving Ripper would not bring back nor change the fact that her behavior was exactly the kind that led to the death of Georgiou.
Burnham later asked Saru whether he was afraid of her. Saru said he was angry and jealous that he never had the chance to be First Officer under Georgiou and learn everything she had to teach. He anticipated that Burnham would get her own command and he would move up, but he never got that chance. He believed that if he had, he would have been more prepared for the events of today. Burnham assured Saru that he did very well and that Captain Georgiou would have thought so, as well. Burnham then went under her bed to get Captain Georgiou's telescope and told Saru that it is his now. Saru then told Burnham to save Ripper. (DIS: "Choose Your Pain")
Sylvia Tilly Edit
Burnham and Sylvia Tilly eventually grew to have an unlikely bond. She was assigned to be Cadet Tilly's roommate on the Discovery after six months of imprisonment. Tilly awkwardly admitted that Burnham was sleeping on her bed, and that she suffered from chronic snoring. She then tried to make conversation with Burnham, learning her name and trying to form a "more approachable" nickname with "Mickey". Burnham rejected this, however. Tilly then noted that the only other person she had heard of with the name was the infamous mutineer, Michael Burnham, but it couldn't be her new roommate. Burnham glared at her, confirming the outlandish notion, making Tilly nervous.
Burnham and Tilly had another awkward exchange when Tilly lied, saying the engineering officers had assigned seats. Burnham learned from Stamets later that this wasn't true and went back, next to Tilly, as she tried to ignore her. On Tilly's first boarding party with Burnham, Tilly apologized, explaining that it was important for her to make a good impression and that she didn't want to be seen with a mutineer. Burnham understood and said it was okay, but Tilly said it wasn't okay, and that she was just afraid of what other people would think of her.
Later, Tilly was shocked to see that Burnham had not left the ship, as Lorca extended her stay to contribute to the war effort. Tilly told her she was glad and confided that she intended to be a captain someday, but there were things about command she didn't yet know. Having read everything on Georgiou – which Burnham quietly corrected to "Captain Georgiou" – she suggested that Burnham could help teach her. Tilly was surprised when Burnham unpacked an actual, physical book, which Burnham handed to her: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Burnham explained that her foster mother used to read it to her son and Burnham, and that it taught her that the world is not always logical. When Tilly asked her name, Burnham replied, "Amanda." (DIS: "Context Is for Kings")
Tilly secretly helped Burnham, giving her spores to successfully tame and befriend Ripper. Burnham smiled, appreciating her help. Later, in her shared quarters with Tilly, the cadet congratulated Burnham on a job well done, but the tardigrade being utilized in a way that caused it to feel agony clearly weighed on Burnham, in spite of the heroic act. She then said she had another reputation growing. Tilly noticed Burnham hadn't opened the capsule containing Georgiou's will, and encouraged her to open it by noting her bravery and saying she wasn't afraid of anything. (DIS: "The Butcher's Knife Cares Not for the Lamb's Cry")
Tilly and Burnham later ate lunch together. Tilly told her roommate that she looked awful, and Burnham sarcastically thanked her. Tilly suspected something is wrong with her, but Burnham dismissed this. Tilly then assumed Burnham had made new, more interesting friends but she assured her it wasn't her. Burnham explained it is about her, having been preoccupied with Ripper's condition from the use of the spore drive that she has no job to do aboard the ship. Tilly told her that it was time to reflect upon herself, emotionally. Burnham said she didn't like that, to which Tilly responded, "Really? I love feeling feelings". Later, they worked on helping Ripper together. Burnham and Tilly released Ripper together. (DIS: "Choose Your Pain")
Ash Tyler EditAsh Tyler is one of the very few aboard Discovery who does not judge Burnham harshly for her earlier crimes and escaping justice. Upon meeting her, Tyler declares that he prefers to evaluate people based on their current behavior rather than their pasts. (DIS: "Lethe"). As time goes by, the two begin to form a friendship which eventually blossoms into romance.
Key dates Edit
- 2226: Born on Earth
- 2245–2249: Attends the Vulcan Science Academy
- 2249: Assigned to the USS Shenzhou under the command of Captain Philippa Georgiou
- Participates in the Battle of the Binary Stars. Abandons the Shenzhou with the remaining crew after the death of Captain Georgiou. Is later court martialed on charges of dereliction of duty, assaulting a fellow officer, and mutiny, which she pleads guilty to, leading to a loss of rank and a sentence of life imprisonment.
- Is assigned to the USS Discovery on the behest of Captain Gabriel Lorca.
- Given a position of bridge science specialist by Lorca.
Memorable quotes Edit
"We come in peace, that's why we're here. Isn't that the whole idea of Starfleet?"
"Hey – I taught you that."
"From my youth on Vulcan, I was raised to believe that service was my purpose. And I carried that conviction to Starfleet. I dreamed of a day when I would command my own vessel, and further the noble objectives of this great institution. That dream is over. The only ship I know in ruins. My crew... gone. My captain... my friend. I wanted to protect them from war. From the enemy. And now we are at war... and I am the enemy."
- - Burnham, after pleading guilty to her crimes (DIS: "Battle at the Binary Stars")
- "Sometimes the only way to find out where you fit in is to step out of the routine. Because sometimes, where you really belong was waiting right around the corner all along."
- - Burnham after gaining the courage to express her feelings over Ash Tyler (DIS: "Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad")
Background information Edit
One reason the first name "Michael" was chosen for this character was that Bryan Fuller often had female protagonists who had typically male first names (such as "Chuck" and "Jaye"). "When we all sat down, of course, the idea was going to be that she was going to have a male name, or typically male name," recalled Executive Producer/Writer Aaron Harberts. "We were just pitching around the writers' room. We had a couple on the board and I said, 'Well, how about Michael?' Because I had remembered a gossip columnist in Chicago. I used to work in Chicago in publicity, and Michael Sneed, she wrote for the Chicago Sun Times. Then, there was the bass player for The Bangles, a musician named Michael Steele. I'd always thought that the name Michael was just really cool and different. We pitched that to Bryan and he was like, 'Let me think about that.' That's how we seized on it." 
When she learned she had won the role of Michael Burnham, Sonequa Martin-Green was with her husband at a restaurant in Buenos Aires. "My team called, and they said, 'It's happening.' My husband actually recorded it. And so, I cried, and everything, and it's forever captured," she reminisced. "So, it was just... surreal. It was completely surreal. Like, 'Is this happening?!' My husband and I kept looking at each other, and we wouldn't say anything. We would just look at each other and go (she opened her mouth, and kept it open)." 
Bryan Fuller was the person who publicly revealed that the main character of DIS would be a female who wasn't a captain. He announced this news on 10 August 2016, during an interview session with journalists at the Television Critics Association Summer Tour. 
Burnham is not the first character to have been depicted as being adopted by Sarek; in the first draft script of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Sarek adopted a Vulcan male named Galt, who had been spying for the Klingons.
Burnham's backstory, involving her parents being killed in a terror raid by Klingons and she then being raised on an alien planet (i.e. Vulcan), also shares some similarities with Worf, whose father was killed in an attack by Romulans before he himself was likewise raised on an alien planet (i.e., Earth). This was pointed out to Aaron Harberts on After Trek: "Episode 1", but he stated that he hadn't previously thought of the similarities between Burnham's backstory and that of Worf.
Apparently, Burnham never attended Starfleet Academy; she graduated from the Vulcan Science Academy in 2249 and was immediately assigned to the USS Shenzhou.
Burnham is the second of two main characters to be canonically portrayed as being recruited aboard a series' main starship immediately after serving time in prison; Tom Paris likewise joined the crew of the USS Voyager after serving time at New Zealand Penal Settlement.
In the Pocket DIS novel Desperate Hours, Burnham became first officer in 2255, following the promotion of the previous first officer, Sonnisar ch'Theloh (β), who left to accept a post as the commanding officer of the starship USS Tereshkova (β).