Warning: some spoilers for the first season of “Discovery” follow. Read at your own risk.
Space…the final frontier.
I mentioned this already when I did a brief review of the first three episodes, but “Star Trek: Discovery” initially inspired little more than skepticism in me. It seemed like it was going to go too hard into the dark and edgy territory, forgetting what Star Trek’s roots were all about. But after watching the entire season, I can safely say my fears were completely unfounded.
“Discovery” not only succeeds as a show, but proves that Star Trek still has a place in modern television.
Back when I reviewed the first three episodes, I said that the two-part premiere had some rough spots. And, looking back on the season as a whole, I can definitely say that it is probably the weakest of the entire season. It does its job well enough, but it throws a lot of elements at you at once. It sets the tone for the rest of the season, and gives the crew of the Discovery motivation to do what they’re doing.
I won’t spoil too much, but suffice it to say that Burnham’s character becomes infamous after the events of the two-part premiere. She’s being carted off to a new prison roughly six months later when her trip is interrupted and she finds herself on-board the USS Discovery on the whim of its captain, Gabriel Lorca. He offers her a position on the ship, which she initially refuses but quickly comes to terms with what her options are and decides to accept.
At first I thought the show was going to revolve around the mystery of Discovery and what was happening on the ship, because the first episode (episode three) that features the ship gives it a very mysterious air. But the mystery of what the ship is working on is very quickly revealed. I wouldn’t call it a detriment though, as most shows that hinge on a mystery like that tend to get drawn out and stale. Rather, dealing with it sooner allows “Discovery” to move forward and into new territory. And that seems to be a common theme. The show shifts and changes as the season goes in, due in large part to some serious re-tooling going on behind the scenes. The original show runner, Bryan Fuller, was asked to leave the show about a year before it premiered. Some of his original ideas were left in place, but the show seemed to struggle with them. Eventually, it seems that the show moved off in a different direction, and all for the better. The second half of the season is even better than the first.
One of the greatest successes of “Discovery” comes in how it was able to combine the meaningful plots of the older Star Trek shows with the lighter, more action-oriented pacing of modern television. But what might be an even bigger success is how it managed to create an appealing, engaging cast of characters so quickly. Paul Stammets, Discovery‘s engineer, is a breakout favorite among show watchers, but I grew particularly fond of Sylvia Tilly as well.
Tilly is one of those characters whose defining trait upon first meeting her is her social awkwardness. She talks a lot when she’s nervous. Much like my initial reaction to “Discovery” as a whole, I was prepared to grate my teeth and be annoyed by her character, because television shows usually play up this trait so much it becomes annoying. But Tilly becomes a great character in her own, taking on the mantle of Stammets’ protege. She is often a source of comic relief, but doesn’t become the useless character I feared she might. She’s actually given a decent amount to do. And later on in the season, when Stammets is out of commission for a time, she is given an opportunity to show off what she knows and directly contributes to the success of the ship’s missions.
One of my favorite scenes with her happens fairly early on in the season. Take a look.
Speaking of characters, it’s also one of the only major places where “Discovery” drops the ball. Most of the show’s issues can be chalked up to the re-tooling going on behind the scenes and are forgivable. But there are a couple of character arcs that could have been better. For instance, Michael Burnham herself, who functions as the lens through which the audience views everything. I mentioned before that Burnham becomes infamous after the premiere episode, and that’s due to a key choice she decides to make. Well, at the end of the season the show attempts to tie together her character arc, insisting that she’s learned a lesson about violating principles and that her character is a better person for it. And that’s nice and all, but I don’t feel like it’s entirely earned. After the premiere and first couple of episodes, Burnham’s character development is mostly left on the back-burner in favor of the rest of Discovery‘s crew. Sure, she’s is typically front and center when it comes to the action sequences, but it isn’t really until near the halfway mark when she gets a love interest that her character begins to show more development. The second half of the season definitely showcases it better, giving her situations of moral complexity that force her to make decisions based on her principles. But the sudden “I’ve learned my lesson” speech in the season finale seems a little misguided to me.
Another disappointment comes in the form of Discovery‘s captain, Lorca. When he’s first introduced, there’s a distinct air of mystery around the character. What his motivations are and why he decided to recruit Burnham in the first place are some of the questions that go unanswered for most of the season. The only problem is, once the mystery around him is cleared up, Lorca becomes a very one-note character, almost cartoonish in a way. It’s a disappointing endpoint for such an ambiguous and interesting character.
I could go on and on about “Discovery”, but I’ll spare you the time. All I’ll say is that it’s definitely worth a watch, especially for those Star Trek fans who have been pining for a new show ever since “Enterprise” ended back in 2005. It doesn’t do everything right, but everything that is there is damn good. It’s a first season worthy of the Star Trek name, and I’m glad that they wrapped up the major plot lines in the season so that with the second one, they can go in newer and better directions.
Because let’s face it: an entire show about a war would get tiring eventually.
Thanks for reading! Check back on the third Wednesday of March for another post, and as always, have a wonderful month.