It’s been a long time coming.
“Star Trek: Discovery” is the first Star Trek television series to air since the end of “Star Trek: Enterprise”, which ended its run twelve years ago back in 2005. In terms of its place within the Star Trek universe, “Discovery” is set between “Enterprise” and the original “Star Trek” television show. And it has nothing to do with the reboot movies.
But the question is, was the wait worth it?
I must admit…I was initially skeptical of the show when I saw previews of it. I was afraid it was going to go too far into the dark, gritty realm of things. But after watching the first three episodes, I can safely say that while the tone is a bit more grim than the usual Star Trek fare, it works for the time period of the show.
When the show starts, we find ourselves not actually on board the Discovery, but rather a ship known as the USS Shenzhou. The first two episodes can basically be considered one as they form a two-part pilot which serves as a prologue to the series. In the first two episodes, we meet Michael Burnham (played by Sonequa Martin-Green) the first officer of the Shenzhou, who is quickly established as the main character and the lens through which we view most of the events.
The two-part prologue does a good job of setting the backdrop for the rest of the series. We see the Shenzhou encounter the Klingons, an encounter which sets into motion the war between the Klingons and the Federation (something fans will remember being part of the original series as well). To be fair, the first two episodes are a bit uneven. There’s a little too much witty quipping at the beginning for my liking, and some moments feel a bit rushed for time’s sake. An example of this would be from the second episode when the Vulcan character Sarek, who from what I can tell was Burnham’s mentor as a child, telepathically speaks to her over thousands of light-years because they once melded minds a long time ago. It’s a scene that just feels out of place and weird, not to mention its only purpose is so that Sarek can essentially tell Burnham not to give up.
Speaking of Burnham’s childhood, that’s something the pilot episodes handle really well. We get snippets of Burnham’s past which fleshes out her character as someone who has experienced tragedy and hardship, as well as dealing with differences between cultures (Burnham ends up living with Vulcans for some years). It helps set her up as a conflicted and nuanced character, one who will make drastic decisions whose consequences impact the arc of the show. I would have liked a little more time spent on these however, as most of the flashbacks last less than a minute.
I don’t want to say too much more about the first two episodes so as not to spoil it for people who haven’t watched it yet, so let’s move on to the third episode. While the first two episodes feel more similar to the recent Star Trek movies, the third episode introduces us to the meat of the show. It picks up six months after the events of the pilot. Burnham’s circumstances have changed a lot, and against her will she finds herself suddenly on board the USS Discovery. There, she meets Captain Gabriel Lorca, who is immediately mysterious about his motivations. In fact, Discovery’s whole mission is shrouded in mystery. In the third episode we do get a decent bit of information about what Discovery is trying to do, but even so at the end of the episode it’s hinted that there might be more going on.
In terms of quality, the third episode is definitely the best. It’s the most consistent and engaging of the three I’ve seen, and it sets up a nice, enticing mystery for us to get invested in. Some might object to the whole “science co-opted by military” theme going on, but I think it makes sense considering the time period. Starfleet is desperate for an edge in the war against the Klingons, so it makes sense that they might resort to more drastic measures. And I like the idea that no one is perfect. Sure, everyone loves Captain Kirk and Captain Picard, but they were men for a different time. Television is much different than it was back in their eras, so it wouldn’t make sense to just replicate their shows but with higher quality effects. Hardcore Trek fans may nitpick on a lot of things, but Star Trek needs to show that it has a place in a more nuanced storytelling landscape.
My only major concern with the series is that, due to it being a prequel to the older Trek Shows (aside from “Enterprise), everything they do might turn out to be moot. For example, that big information reveal in the third episode revolves around the Discovery’s main experiment, something that would give them a drastic edge in the war against the Klingons. Only we know that it can’t work out because it’s never used at all in any of the other shows. My fear is that this will become a recurring trend with “Discovery”. They’ll build up these new, awesome experiments Discovery is doing, only they’ll all fail because the continuity of the Star Trek universe demands it.
That being said, one of the small things I enjoyed was that “Discovery” has elements of wonder in it, something that I missed from the recent movies (which are basically just sci-fi action flicks with a Star Trek skin). There’s a scene in the first episode where Burnham is struck with awe at the majesty of space, and it’s something that stuck out to me. Hopefully, that sense of wonder doesn’t get completely lost in the mix, because it was a crucial element to why I liked Star Trek in the first place.
I have been impressed with what I’ve seen so far, so I highly recommend it to any sci-fi fans looking for a new show. Sure, you have to subscribe to CBS’s All Access program to watch it, but if there was one show that would make it worth it, it’s “Discovery”.
Although there are…other ways you could watch the show. Don’t worry, I won’t tell.
Thanks for reading. Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.