STAR TREK is back.
It’s been twelve years since I could plop down in front of a TV and watch new STAR TREK. Yes, the new show, STAR TREK: DISCOVERY, will only be available on CBS All Access after the first episode. However, for those glorious sixty minutes, Star Trek was back. My thoughts on the first two episodes are extensive, so bare with me.
STAR TREK: DISCOVERY has had a controversial inception. From the moment it was announced nearly two years ago, it was met with skepticism, strife and turmoil among erudite fans. The first controversy was that it would be airing on a brand new streaming service, a first for a STAR TREK show that wasn’t airing repeats. Then, it was executive producer Bryan Fuller’s departure, then delays that changed its release date from January 2017 to May 2017 and then to last night.
Fans have complained about the visual aesthetic of the show and the choice to set the story ten years before Kirk, Spock and Bones. On a personal level, I’ve never felt beholden to continuity. I view these franchises like evolving pages of a comic-book. When new artists and writers come onboard, some elements get discarded in favor of others. There are times when characters and universes are rebooted entirely. The Kelvin Timeline films were smart to create an alternate timeline to address some of these concerns. While DISCOVERY appears to be set in the Prime Timeline (the timeline of the original TV shows), its look and general visual aesthetic has more callbacks to the Kelvin Timeline films than anything in THE ORIGINAL SERIES, besides a few nifty sound cues.
I can look past inconsistent continuity or aesthetic differences. I understand some fans can’t, but I can. I’m simply looking for a good story, with compelling, well-written and engaging characters. Does DISCOVERY have that? Well, from the first two episodes, it appears that it does. The story of “The Vulcan Hello”, the first episode, jumps right into the narrative. If you are unfamiliar with the basic conceit of DISCOVERY, i.e. that it takes place a decade before THE ORIGINAL SERIES, the writing does not hold your hand to tell you what time era DISCOVERY takes place in. Instead, the narrative jumps right into a brewing conflict between the Federation and the Klingons, whom Starfleet hasn’t made contact with in over a hundred years.
Right out of the solar system, I was enamored with how cinematic DISCOVERY looks. This is the most visually appealing STAR TREK show I’ve ever seen. That may upset some purists, but for me I don’t mind. There’s sweeping vistas, truly alien looking species, fantastic makeup, wardrobe and sets. The CGI is entirely convincing – unlike some of the CGI in past Trek, like ENTERPRISE, where you had to suspend your disbelief. You don’t have to do that with DISCOVERY. There’s a certain “wow” factor, not to steal a line from Michael Burnham, and that shows in every detail of the set design, or the makeup of the Klingons, or the visual construction of the entire show.
As for the characters, I was immediately hooked by several of them. The show’s lead character, Michael Burnham, has a very intriguing backstory. She is a human raised by Vulcans who must re-assimilate to human culture. That’s a really interesting backstory for a STAR TREK character. The actress playing Burnham, Sonequa Martin-Green, brings a lot of energy and zeal to the role. She makes Burnham vulnerable, but not unlikeable. The writers behind DISCOVERY take Burnham into some really fascinating directions that are both bold and captivating. While I didn’t agree with all of Burnham’s decisions, she is clearly a character that’s going to grow and develop of the course of the show. As of right now, I’m totally on-board to follow this character’s journey and see where that takes her.
The show’s supporting characters are all very memorable and well-written. Michelle Yeoh is a real standout as Captain Philippa Georgiou, a courageous commander that’s well-tempered and trusting. She exhibits all the characteristic traits of a worthy starship captain and I hope we see more of her in way of flashbacks as the season progresses. The other standout character for me was Doug Jones as Lieutenant Saru. I’ve been a longtime fan of Doug Jones, an actor who has excelled in character transformations over the years. He is finally given a role that really speaks to his talents as both a physical performer and an actor. Saru is a truly enthralling character, and Jones brings a great sense of physicality to the role that makes him one of the show’s most interesting characters so far. I can’t wait to see his relationship with Burnham invariably deepen and develop as the show continues.
As for people complaining DISCOVERY doesn’t feel like STAR TREK, well… people said that about DEEP SPACE NINE as well. As I consider DEEP SPACE NINE to be one of the best, if not the best, STAR TREK show of all time I don’t pay attention to those kind of complaints. Yes, DISCOVERY takes some radical departures when it comes to the aesthetics of the universe, the Klingons and some of the storytelling choices. To be honest, a lot of DISCOVERY reminded me of some of the best of DEEP SPACE NINE. We’re only two episodes into the show, and almost every TREK show besides THE ORIGINAL SERIES and ENTERPRISE had seven seasons to develop its characters, stories and themes. If fans can give VOYAGER seven seasons, they can certainly look past some decisions and give DISCOVERY more of a chance.
For all the complaints about DISCOVERY not “feeling” like STAR TREK, there were moments where the characters discussed the complexity of firing on an unknown vessel without cause. There were brutal, searing moments like a dazed Starfleet officer mistakenly entering the Brig and lamenting that “We’re Starfleet officers… we don’t go to war”. DISCOVERY takes the time to fundamentally explore the consequences of war, the suffering of loss and the inexplicable reality of defeat. These are dark concepts, but DISCOVERY isn’t afraid to go into dark territory. There are hints of hope, and redemption, and isn’t that what STAR TREK is all about?
STAR TREK: DISCOVERY isn’t a perfect show at this point, but to expect it to be perfect this soon would be unrealistic. I have some problems with the show. I think the decision to put actors in thick alien makeup and force them to speak in an alien tongue might’ve been a bit overkill. It works in small increments, but in the first two episodes DISCOVERY has many long scenes where actors try to act through thick prosthetics and it doesn’t always work. However, besides a few moments of clunky exposition, the questionable decision to have these Klingons have entire dialogue scenes in a foreign dialect is really one of my only legitimate complaints. At least, so far.
I’m excited for episode three, which I hear is when the show really starts to hit its stride. More importantly, I’m excited that STAR TREK is finally back, in a serialized form of storytelling, where it belongs. It’s been a long road, but I believe DISCOVERY can reach any star and can do anything at this point… because I have faith of the heart. And yes, I just quoted the ENTERPRISE theme song. You’re welcome.