In spite of all the delays and controversy surrounding this new incarnation of Star Trek, come Sunday night, I was giddy with excitement. I am a lifelong Trekkie and whether good or bad, I have always managed to find a little something good in every series, every movie.
Discovery takes place during a unique period of the Trek timeline. Awkwardly placed between Star Trek Enterprise and the Original Series, some ten or so years prior to the classic five-year mission of Captain Kirk’s Enterprise.
The Vulcan Hello
A chance encounter with the Klingons after a hundred years of silence sparks new tensions between the Empire and the Federation. Captain Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) of the USS Shenzhou and first officer Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) attempt to determine what the Klingons may be up to and the best course of action on how to deal with them.
The Klingon Empire has been in chaos for decades, but now a self-proclaimed messiah is trying to unite the Empire by using Starfleet’s encroachment as an excuse for war. Out of all the details of the Trek universe that were updated for this new series, the Klingons had me and a lot of fans update. Their new look is a radical departure from anything we’ve seen. Their evolution over the past fifty years has gone from greasy, dark-faced thugs, to honorable ridged-faced warriors, to their present almost cat-like features has had fans concerned. What was one of my greatest concerns turned out to be my favorite aspect of Star Trek Discovery.
To my delight, these new Klingons speak the same language (or a close enough facsimile) as the language customed created for them by Marc Okrand. I was able to understand many words and phrases used, which filled me with a sense of comfort. It eased my mind so that maybe this new Star Trek wouldn’t be as foreign as I initially thought. The makeup and prosthetics used for the Klingons were very impressive but it’s obvious already how difficult it is for the actors to act underneath all of it. There are quite a few other discrepancies that are likely to annoy some fans and be the cause of much conversation.
From the very beginning, the dialogue between the characters, especially Captain Georgiou and Burnham was very stiff and unnatural. Nothing really flowed the way it should have. Nearly every word was practiced and failed to deliver any authenticity. Things seemed a little better in the second episode Battle at the Binary Stars. The action ramped up and the tension was a little more real. Martin-Green was still a disappointment in her delivery and one can only hope that it was due to her character’s background. Sonequa is a good actress, her time on The Walking Dead is proof.
The most annoying things that fans are sure to reject is the teacher/student relationship between Burnham and Sarek. Although James Fran does a passable job portraying one of the most famous Vulcans in the Star Trek universe, the notion of how Burnham converse is a little hard to swallow, even for Star Trek. At first, they are able to communicate via a special subspace diplomatic channel that only Burnham as access to. She is allowed to leave the bridge during a time of crisis in order to seek advice from Sarek. Later we learn that they share a special connection as the result of a mind-meld between them decades earlier. This gives Sarek the convenient ability to show up whenever the plot deems necessary in order to provide Burnham with his council.
Battle at the Binary Stars
After failing to convince Captain Georgiou to fire a preemptive strike against the Klingons, things go from bad to worse. As additional Klingon and Federation ships arrive on the scene, the situation escalates as T’Kuvma convinces the Klingon High Council to follow him.
Luckily, subscribers of CBS All-Access were able to watch the second episode of Star Trek Discovery. As stated early in the development of the series, Discovery would not follow an episodic flow as past Trek series have. This became evident as, after two episodes, we have yet to actually see the Starship Discovery. Everything so far has happened on the Shenzhou. Details about the series have been closely guarded, with very few leaks. Therefore there are several details that have become clear now that we’re two episodes in.
This second episode is a bit stronger than the first but still suffers from some of the same issues. Dialogue delivery is still weak. Martin-Green is still stiff and unconvincing. Michelle Yeoh also shows the same practiced and unconvincing performance. Even Doug Jones turns in a less than satisfactory performance as Lt. Saru.
Not everything about Discovery failed to launch. The writers, some who have a background with Star Trek, were able to add in some great throwbacks. Trek writers have also named Federation starships after significant people or events in history. The starships featured in this episode bear names like Clarke, no doubt after sci-fi writer Arthur C. Clark. Shran, after the Andorian Commander Shran from Star Trek Enterprise. T’Plana Hath, matron of Vulcan philosophy mentioned in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Ride, no doubt after Sally Ride, the first woman in space. Earhart, after Amelia Earhart. Edison, after Thomas Edison. And Yeager, after General Chuck Yeager, the first man to break the sound barrier.
Another positive was the special effects. As promised, they were spectacular. Although it was interesting to see that phasers and disruptors were represented as bolts and not beams as used in past Trek series. Personally, I was always more fond of the beam type weapons but this is a factor I can easily let go. The same effect was used in the three latest Star Trek movies.
Sound effects also contained remnants from past Trek series, most notably from Star Trek The Next Generation and the Original Series. All of these factors go into making Discovery fresh while maintaining a familiar link to the past. It’s hard to know the future of this series. Its success is certainly mixed. CBS is reporting a significant rise in signups to its CBS All-Access app, the exclusive home of Star Trek Discovery in the US and Canada.
Will Discovery Boldly Go?
Is Star Trek Discovery good enough to warrant paying $5.99 monthly? It’s too early to tell, the app only provides a one-month free trial. After that, it’s $5.99 a month or $9.99 for a commercial-free option. That exclusivity may be what saves the show. Without having to conform to normal network rating guidelines, it might be an asset early on. If the show truly takes off, it may break HBO’s Game of Thrones record for “most pirated” series.
Star Trek pilot episodes have a history of not being well written or performed. They have all suffered a period of adjustment. Some of the worst have gone on to be stellar series in the long run. Even the entire first season of Star Trek The Next Generation had some of the worst writing and acting than any Trek series that followed it. Hopefully, fans will give Discovery some time to steady its course.