For better or worse, this was the moment all Star Trek fans had been waiting for: the oft-delayed and skeptically-anticipated premiere of ‘Star Trek: Discovery,’ the first new Trek TV show to see the airwaves in over 12 years. If you’re reading this, then you’re probably already knowledgeable about the major points of the show’s journey to the small screen – and that you’ll have to subscribe to the monthly paid streaming service CBS All Access if you want to see any further episodes beyond the first ep that aired nationwide on CBS. So, then – let’s jump in and talk Trek!
WARNING: Spoilers for this episode of ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ lie ahead, obviously. If you haven’t seen the episode and don’t wish for any of its content to be spoiled for you, the time to turn back is NOW!
RECAP: Since we’ve got a lot to talk about in the Observations section below, we’ll keep this recap fairly brief. The show centers heavily around Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), First Officer of the USS Shenzhou. Through flashbacks, the audience discovers that Burnham was raised on Vulcan by Sarek (biological father of well-known Trek character Spock, although no mention of Spock is made here in this episode). Now, the Shenzhou finds herself at a binary star system on the edge of Federation space; they’ve come to repair a damaged satellite and find an object that seems to be intentionally confusing the scanners, making it difficult to ascertain what – or who – might be out there.
The object doesn’t stay a mystery for long, however: it’s a Klingon ship, under the command of T’Kuvma, a leader of some type of ancient or hidden Klingon house, and he seeks to unite the other 24 houses in a war against the Starfleet and the United Federation of Planets. Sure enough, the other houses answer his call, and suddenly the Shenzhou finds itself staring down a sizable Klingon armada…
- There’s a lot to talk about here. I want to start with what I thought was one of the most inane series-opening scenes of all time, with Georgiou and Burnham in the desert storm. I didn’t mind the character-building aspect – in fact, I wish there was more of that throughout the entire show, more on this in the next bullet point – but whichever writer thought they were so clever with the “let’s use our footprints to make the Starfleet insignia” had no problem tossing logic out the window (an impressive feat for an episode so Vulcan-heavy to boot). Georgiou walks around for a few minutes and makes the Starfleet insignia in the sand, and then magically the Shenzhou is able to hop on into the atmosphere right above the duo, to pick them up. There’s a desert storm in progress – the tracks would have been almost-instantaneously wiped away. They walked for like 2 minutes to make the insignia – how big could they have realistically made it? Big enough for a starship to visually see from orbit during a storm that’s clearly whipping sand into ominous clouds hundreds of feet high? This “perfect storm” of ridiculousness is really the first thing you want to show people who are hoping to buy-in to your show?
- I feel like I’m being mean, and I’m sincerely not trying to be – but this is ‘Star Trek,’ and expectations are high. One thing the show is going to have to focus on if it wants to retain viewers, for sure, is the fleshing-out of the supporting characters, something we get almost nothing of in this first episode. I understand – first episode, the need for exposition to situations and plot lines is high and screen time is at a premium, but truly: with the exception of a few quick lines trying to introduce Lt. Saru’s brand-new Kelpian species to the audience, we get zero info about any of the other bridge officers of the Shenzhou. There are two helmsmen, a communications officer, and a medical doctor all seen on-screen at various times in the episode – did any viewers out there even catch their names? Even the Klingon characters, who we’re told were going to be less caricatured warriors and more nuanced individuals didn’t get any sort of specific back-stories, just a general “we are the outcasts of the Empire” type of vibe.
- The visuals & aesthetics of ‘Discovery’ are certainly impressive, but it has to be said: this visual representation of Starfleet and the other details of the universe simply do not match up with what we’ve been told was happening during this period in the Star Trek “Prime Universe” timeline. This episode, we’re told, takes place in 2256. The original Enterprise NCC-1701 launched under the command of Captain Robert April in 2245 – nine years before the events we see in this first episode. Yes, we’ve never technically seen April and his command on-screen, so we don’t officially know what the Enterprise looked like then – but, according to the detailed info at the Star Trek Memory Alpha Wiki, Captain Pike took command of the Enterprise roughly around 2254 – two years before the events we see in this first episode, and we’ve seen that crew and the starship clearly detailed on-screen before. Seeing a pattern here? Yes, I’ve heard and understand the argument as to why things in ‘Discovery’ look so different: our TV-making technology is significantly advanced beyond what we had in the 1960s, so why wouldn’t we make things look flashier, and is there even a way to make something that old look cool? Well, there is: multiple iterations of other recent Star Trek shows, most notably the ‘Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’ episode “Trials and Tribble-ations” were able to perfectly recreate the “classic” Original Series vibe and visual aesthetic, so it totally can be done. Can a retro look be cool and functional in sci-fi? Four words for you: ‘Star Wars: Rogue One.’
- Also, if my memory doesn’t fail me here: wasn’t the original Starfleet as shown in The Original Series comprised of only 12 Constitution-class ships? Where the heck did this Walker-class USS Shenzhou come from?
- Also – someone help me, I’m falling into “angry old man on a rant” mode here – the logo insignias on the Starfleet uniforms are all wrong for the year (2256) that this show takes place in. At this time in the established Trek timeline, each ship was wearing its own insignia patch; the well-known A-shape “starburst” that all Starfleet officers are shown wearing in ‘Discovery’ belonged exclusively to the USS Enterprise – which, if I may remind you, is in active duty somewhere else in the galaxy at the time that this show is happening.
- You don’t need me to tell you how wrong the Klingons are in ‘Discovery.’ I almost don’t have the mental energy to do so. Instead, here are some quick-hit thoughts for you: don’t all Klingons follow the doctrines of Kahless? Why was T’Kuvma, then, so up in arms about the other houses having “lost their way?” Notwithstanding their physical appearance, which seems to extend to the entire race here in ‘Discovery,’ why are they so tame and talkative instead of warrior-like and fight-y? The Klingon “call” to the other houses was essentially a light beacon… in space. Where light isn’t supposed to be able to travel. This one is super-nitpicky, I know, but that’s just the state of mind I’m in right now.
CLOSING THOUGHTS: I’ll try to sum things up fairly succinctly here: as a generic science-fiction show, this is a good opening episode with lots of potential. As a Star Trek show, however, it is a bad one. This is based mostly on the decision that Paramount, CBS, Bad Robot, (yes, they all have a hand in creating this show, did you know that?) and the showrunners have made in presenting the series visually and aesthetically a certain way that puts it at odds with the rest of the previously-established Star Trek canon. Short of the series being planned with a specific endpoint that portrays this flashy version of Starfleet essentially imploding on itself and being reborn as the visually chunky-clunky Original Series (and even that doesn’t line up with canonical timeline activity), I don’t see how the creative team can expect viewers to ever reconcile the fact that this “Point A” could ever realistically resolve itself 10 years later into the “Point B” of The Original Series.
After the premiere episode, I saw people online saying things along the lines of “hey, it’s okay, we did get a good new Star Trek show this year – it’s called ‘The Orville.'” At this point, it’s hard for me to disagree with them.
PRINCIPAL CAST FEATURED IN THIS EPISODE:
Sonequa Martin-Green as Michael Burnham
Doug Jones as Lieutenant Saru
Michelle Yeoh as Phillippa Georgiou
James Frain as Sarek
Chris Obi as T’Kuvma
Kenneth Mitchell as Kol
‘Star Trek: Discovery’ features new episodes Sunday nights at 8:30pm online via CBS All Access.