I’ve been meaning to do a post about Star Trek: Discovery for about a year now. Originally it was going to be a “here’s what I hope” post, which then morphed into a “Oh man, this is gonna suck” post and now here I am writing a “Q be praised, it’s actually good!” post. It’s been a journey of twists and turns, is what I’m saying.
But yeah, having watched the first three episodes I can happily report that despite a year of negative hype, swirling rumours of backstage drama and basically the entire Star Trek fandom having written off the project as DOA, it’s not only surprisingly good, it’s probably the strongest opening of any Star Trek series since the original show. (Granted, that’s a low bar, Star Trek series are notorious for rocky starts).
I’m not going to do an episode by episode review, so here are just a few random thoughts about the show in no particular order. Mild Spoilers ahead but nothing too major.
The premise is cool but could create major problems further down the line
Discovery is set in 2256, ten years before the original series and around ninety years after Enterprise and shows the Federation getting dragged into a war with the Klingon Empire which will apparently be the backdrop for (at least) the first series. Cool. I can dig it. A series exploring one of the Lost Eras (the gaps between Enterprise and TOS and TOS and The Next Generation) will be pure Trekker catnip and, despite Gene Roddenberry’s pacifist vision, war stories have produced some of the very finest Trek so this is a good, solid concept. My only concern is that the series has set itself an absolute nightmare of a task continuity-wise. Not only does it have to keep faith with everything that’s happened previous to the events of the series in Enterprise, it has to ensure that it doesn’t contradict everything that happens afterwards in TOS, TNG, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and TEN feature length films (plus around five minutes of Star Trek 2009). That’s around 540 hours of continuity to keep on top of. It’d be a problem regardless, but positioning the series right in the middle of timeline makes it especially challenging as you have to keep looking in two direction at once, so to speak.
It’s very different, in a good way
From The Next Generation onwards new Star Trek series have started a very specific way; a two-parter where we meet our crew (particularly the captain who will be our main character), get introduced to the ship (or station), establish the premise of the show (boldy going, guarding the Bajoran wormhole, escaping the Delta Quadrant, whatever) and by the end of that two-parter the pieces are basically all set up and will stay that way more or less until the series ends. Discovery don’t play that way. For starters, our focus is not on the captain (who doesn’t appear until episode three) but on First Officer Michael Burnham, the first mutineer in Starfleet history, as she tries to pre-empt a Klingon attack, gets arrested and then recruited by the suspiciously shady Captain Lorca to join the crew of the USS Discovery. The series keeps a tight focus on Michael and ensures that we know as little about Discovery’s crew and true purpose as she does. This would be like if TNG spent three episodes showing us Picard’s final battle on the USS Stargazer. Instead of being in a rush to get the show’s status quo in place, Discovery is taking its time to tell Michael’s story. It also means that we the audience have no idea how each episode is going to end. That’s excellent. Rigid adherence to episodic formula hobbled Voyager and outright killed Enterprise and the franchise as a whole so a Star Trek that doesn’t feel the need to hit the reset button at the end of every episode is exactly what we need.
It looks smurges
Star Trek has never looked this beautiful. The production design, the CGI, the costumes, the sets. It’s all just so beautiful.
Love the new title, not sure about the music
Speaking of, the new opening titles are absolutely, jaw-droppingly gorgeous (but then Bryan Fuller produced this, so you were expecting what exactly?). My only quibble is the opening theme. It’s very pretty and atmospheric, but it kinda lacks its own identity. There’s snippets of the themes of The Original Series and The Next Generation but it feels like the composer set down to write an homage to Star Trek rather than craft a unique theme for this specific Star Trek show. Also, it lacks the crucial element of any Star Trek theme: Dadability.
What, you’ve never heard of dadability?
They’re memorable, is what I’m saying. The Discovery theme just kind of washes over me.
The cast is great
The cast is large and, at this point, it’s not entirely clear who is going to be a regular cast member and who’s just passing through but so far the casting director hasn’t put a foot wrong (except for one foot that I’ll get to). Doug Jones as scaredy-cat alien first officer Saru is a delight and Jason Isaacs is by turns charming and sinister as Captain Lorca. But by far the MVP is Sonequa Martin-Green as Michael Burnham. She’s got a really tricky line to walk, playing a human being with human emotions who was raised by Vulcans and has adopted many of their mannerisms and she nails it. Speaking of…
How I learned to stop worrying and love Spock’s never-before-mentioned adopted sister
So Spock has a secret semi-sibling that he never mentioned.
Michael being the adopted daughter of Sarek and Amanda caused a lot of controversy when it was announced, but so far, I gotta say, it’s working for me. It’s not like Michael is going around saying “HAVE I TOLD YOU ABOUT MY LITTLE FOSTER BROTHER SPOCK?”. But episode 3 ends with Michael recounting how Amanda used to read Alice in Wonderland to her and how, as the only two humans in the home, they shared a special bond. It’s a lovely little moment that deepens Michael as a character, but also adds a lovely little grace note to what we already knew of Amanda’s story.
As for the fact that Spock never mentioned her, well, why would he?
Oh, speaking of Spock’s family.
I’m not expecting anyone to be able to fill the shoes of the late, great Mark Lennard (and I’m actually very fond of Ben Cross’ portrayal in the JJ Abrams movies) but James Frain’s performance just isn’t working for me. He plays Sarek as sarcastic and condescending but with none of the dignity and immense sense of moral authority Lennard brought to the role. Swing and a miss.
Love Discovery, hate Discovery
Alright this is an incredibly nerdy nit-pick but Star Fleet ships do not have and never have had triangular secondary hulls that’s a Klingon design it shouldn’t look like that it’s wrong and I hate it I hate it I hate it…Oh, and speaking of poor design choices related to Klingons…
“Those are Klingons?”
Okay, so probably the biggest controversy prior to Discovery’s airing was the…interesting re-design of the Klingons. One of the rumours I’ve heard is that this had to be done because, while the creators of Discovery had the rights to make a Star Trek series they didn’t actually have the rights to the visual designs, hence the new ships, uniforms, and Klingons that look like they owe less to the teachings of Kahless than to those of Master Splinter.
Now, this is not the first time the Klingons have gotten a makeover. When they first debuted in TOS the creators decided to go with a “Brown People are Scary” theme and the Klingons were literally just white dudes in brown face.
When the time came for the Klingons to appear on the big screen, they were re-designed as Crab Faced Space Vikings (coincidentally, my favourite Saturday Morning cartoon show) and that’s the design that stuck. For a long time, everyone just agreed to pretend that no change had occurred, but when Deep Space 9 did an episode where the crew travel back to the Original Series era they actually have the crew meet the old, ridgeless Klingons and be all “What the hell”. It made for a fun gag, but now that it had been acknowledged it kinda had to be addressed. It fell to Enterprise to do a story arc explaining that genetic engineering gone awry had caused the Klingons to lose their ridges and so the whole business was more or less neatly tied up.
Aaand then Dicovery just shows up and blows all that to Gre’Thor.
My problem is not the new look Klingons per se. The Klingon Empire is usually depicted as being of comparable size to the Federation which means Klingons living on hundreds of worlds which means a staggering amount of genetic diversity and theoretically you could have bald, four-nostrilled, turtle-headed Klingons. So fine, they are Klingons, Doctor Bashir, and it is a long story. The problem is, we see Klingons from all across the empire in Discovery and we don’t see any classic Klingons, ridgeless or ridged which just doesn’t jive with later depictions.
But setting issues of continuity aside, this re-design just strikes me as a bad idea. It looks great when they’re standing still, no question. The costumes and makeup work are exceptional. But when you see the actors staggering around under half a ton of latex and armour you realise the problem. It looks near impossible to act in all this getup. There’s a reason the ridged Klingon designs put all those stale Cornish pastries on their foreheads but left the bottom half of their faces clear. Because that’s where the actors do their acting. Right now these Klingons will make good monsters, but good luck making them into characters.
I’ve made a conscious decision not to let the tech anachronisms get to me
Discovery features all kinds of technology that is a perfectly reasonable extrapolation of current tech trends and makes absolutely zero sense for a series set ten years prior to TOS.
Buuuuuut, Enterprise already completely shat the bed by introducing the crew to holodeck technology which would be like Abraham Lincoln writing the Emancipation Proclamation on his iPad so whatever, I’m just going to retcon Kirk and his crew as a travelling troupe of Space Amish who shunned advanced technology.
Anyway, Discovery is awesome, check it out if you haven’t already.
Live long and prosper.