Star Trek: Discovery – A First Season Review

Ordinarily, when reviewing TV shows, I would watch 4 to 6 episodes to get a good feel for the program. With Star Trek: Discovery, I decided to wait until it concluded its first season before doing a review because I honestly could not decide how I felt about it. This latest Star Trek spinoff has been the most difficult to form an opinion about. It has many commendable features, yet there are so many aspects about it that misfires so badly, that we have to wonder if the creators behind this spinoff understand Star Trek at all. Major spoilers will follow.

Star Trek: Discovery takes place in the 2250s, which makes it a prequel to the original Star Trek. Then again it does not feel like a prequel but more like a remake. Naturally, it does not recreate the mood and production of the original because it would have been laughed off and this is part of the reason why it is so controversial with fans. Overall, this show has to be accepted as a remake rather than a reboot because there are many attempts to stick to canon and some elements established in the original Prime timeline, such as numerous Easter eggs, references and sound effects. On the other hand, they’re not always consistent with sticking to canon, which can be irritating. But once you put aside these feelings about this latest Star Trek spinoff, it becomes easier to watch.

Star Trek: Discovery is updated to today’s standards in terms of special effects, set design and writing. The entire show is beautifully executed and each episode feels more like a feature-length film than a TV show. While this is welcome, at times the creators went too far in reimagining Gene Roddenberry’s futuristic universe. A case in point is the unnecessary re-do of the Klingons, the show’s main enemy race. The poor actors portraying the Klingons seem to be drowning under all the heavy makeup and wardrobe and we have to wonder why the showrunners thought this was an improvement over the perfected Klingon look seen in the other spinoffs and films. Be that as it may, the subtle updating of other alien races like the Andorians and the Tellarites are executed well.

The Star Trek spinoff follows the story of Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), a former first officer who mutinied against her captain and was jailed. Her actions helped spark a war between the Klingons and the United Federation of Planets and most of the first season is devoted to this storyline and her redemption. Burnham is freed by the captain of the U.S.S. Discovery, Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs), and enlists her to his crew for some ulterior motive. He assigns her to aid the ship’s science officer Lt. Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and find a way to utilize an experimental spore drive being tested on the Discovery to win the war against the Klingons. Eventually this results in Stamets using himself as a conduit for the spore drive, which allows the ship to instantaneously travel anywhere.Even though Burnham is the main protagonist, Lorca has emerged as the most fascinating character thanks in part to Isaacs’ exemplary acting and the way he is written. Lorca was introduced as a mysterious, and unusually brutal commander who was obsessed with winning the war. He was not above tossing aside ethics to get the job done, and pushing people beyond their limit, yet he was a capable commander. But in the second half of the season, the Discovery wound up in the Mirror Universe where humans are evil and it was revealed that Lorca himself came from this reality. This confirmed many suspicions that fans had but in the end, this development was a disservice to Lorca who became a moustache-twirling villain and unremarkable. Hopefully, some way can be found to return some version of Lorca in the second season.Therein lies the fault and strength of Star Trek: Discovery and this is typical of its conflicting nature. Some characters are compelling and well developed like First Officer Saru (Doug Jones), a lanky and fastidious alien, Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman), a bubbly young cadet, and Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif), a Starfleet officer who is actually a Klingon that was surgically altered into a human in order to infiltrate Starfleet. While others are interesting background bridge crewmembers  that  the show largely ignores. I’m not even sure what their names are, I just know them as the cyborg lady, or the woman with the metal implant on her skull. They barely have any dialogue and are begging to be examined more closely.

The stories themselves are also just as uneven. Some episodes are genuine classics and belong up there with the great Star Trek episodes. These include “The Wolf Inside”, “Despite Yourself” (two fantastic Mirror Universe tales), “Lethe”, “Choose Your Pain”, and “Into the Forest I Go”. As great as those were, Star Trek: Discovery is also weighed down with some downright clunkers that are poorly plotted and clumsily executed. One example is the first episode that aired for free on CBS, “The Vulcan Hello”, which needed to be great to entice people to subscribe to the CBS All Access app that streamed the rest of the episodes. Unfortunately, the season also ended on a less-than-thrilling note with a two-episode storyline that ended the war too quickly and unsatisfactory. However, the final shot of the last episode “Will You Take My Hand?” brought a thrill when a sparkling and graceful Enterprise appeared on the screen.Despite these faults, I have to admit that I genuinely enjoy Star Trek: Discovery. As far as first season Star Trek shows go, this is the best one since the original Star Trek. Unlike some other Star Trek spinoffs that first started out, this show is rarely dull and takes some genuine risks, even if they do not pay off. Of course, the criticism is valid that unlike its predecessors there isn’t any exploring done. This is something that is a vital essence of Star Trek, but it does push the envelope, chiefly with its characters and focus. The captain is not the main hero but a broken and disgraced former officer. Many of the characters are out to prove themselves and most of them do, which is why they are so easy to watch and root for.Another thing to note is that putting aside all the action and eye-popping visuals (seeing the Discovery spin its saucer while it goes into spore drive never gets dull), certain elemental truths about Star Trek are still there. We just have to recognize them: accepting diversity, seeking diplomatic solutions, and bettering yourself. As Alexander Courage’s iconic theme played during the end credits of the season finale, I found myself eagerly waiting to see more from Star Trek: Discovery, and for that reason the show is a success.

José Soto

 

 

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Star Trek: Discovery Launches Trek’s Return To TV

For one night only, Star Trek returned to TV. On CBS, Star Trek: Discovery premiered, but for one episode only. Want to see the rest? Then you have to subscribe to CBS’ streaming service CBS All Acess, which will leave many frustrated, especially with the way the first episode ended.

Sonequa-Martin-Green-Star-Trek-Discovery-screen-grab

Titled “The Vulcan Hello”, the first episode of Star Trek: Discovery introduced viewers to a new slate of characters starting with Commander Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), the first officer of the Federation starship Shenzhou (the starship Discovery does not appear in the first two episodes). As the main character, she is rather mysterious and has an interesting back story that was only partly revealed in the first episode. After her parents were killed by Klingons, the Federation’s arch rivals, Burnham was raised by Sarek (James Frain) in the logic-oriented Vulcan culture. Now a grown woman, Burnham is having trouble balancing her human and Vulcan upbringing. By the way, yes, this is the same Sarek that is Spock’s father.

In the pilot, the Shenzou comes across an ancient-looking artifact on the edge of Federation space and Burnham volunteers to investigate it. Her curiosity quickly escalates a tense situation that brings the Federation to the brink of war. What is worse is that her actions afterwards are what make war more and more likely.On the whole, this was a solid and enjoyable episode. There were many issues with it, but most open-minded fans will be pleased with Star Trek: Discovery. What’s good to great about it? First of all, unlike the J.J. Abrams reboot films (except Star Trek Beyond), this feels like Star Trek, only modernized. There are many references and adherences to Star Trek lore that should satisfy hardcore fans.

Time is taken to explore characters and themes. The driving one in this episode is about how cultural misconceptions can be disastrous. This has been explored in other Treks, but this issue is still relevant given today’s fragile political climate.

The production values and special effects are absolutely stunning and rivals what you see in theaters. Yes, that includes the Star Trek reboot films. Every dollar spent is up there on the screen. The show is just beautifully filmed.

“The Vulcan Hello”, which was directed by David Semel, does a good job of building a sense of unease and tension thanks to liberal usages of Dutch angles and editing. You truly feel that this crew on the Shenzou is out there on their own. This creates a barely concealed uneasy feeling among them and us. The character that best expressed this anxiousness was Lt. Commander Saru (Doug Jones), a lanky and cowardly alien who is the first one to recommend that the Shenzou hightails it out of harm’s way.

Star Trek: Discovery takes place in the original Star Trek universe and is a prequel to the very first show. But being a prequel presents the show with many problems that comes with being a prequel. While the technology is stunning eye candy, it looks more advanced than even the later Star Trek shows so how can this be a prequel to the original Star Trek with its clunky sets and limited technology? This gives critics a good argument that it doesn’t take place in the Prime Universe and is more at home with the Abrams reboots. But that is just nitpicking.

The bigger flaws with Star Trek: Discovery lie with its script and some execution. The dialogue is often stiff and clunky, unlike the show’s new rival, The Orville. Most of the time, when characters speak, their speech comes off as wordy and does not feel natural. This is a problem because it sometimes brings the show’s pace to a grinding halt and it happens whenever the Klingons appear.

psuedo klingon

Scenes with the alien race are probably the biggest stumble for Star Trek: Discovery. All their dialogue is spoken in a clumsy tongue with tiring subtitles. Honestly, they are nothing like the violent and popular Klingons of previous Treks. Even their look is different and downright ugly, and not in a good way. Previous Klingons appeared imposing and hulking with their brow ridges and fur-covered armor. These new Klingons lack hair and wear hideous, bony tunics that Liberace would have loved. They look more like the poorly received Abrams version of Klingons, which were also disappointing. It makes you wonder why producers keep insisting on changing the classic look of the Klingons. They were perfect, why mess with the look?

Issues aside, “The Vulcan Hello” heralds an auspicious beginning for the latest incarnation of Trek. For too long, we waited for new Star Trek and now we have it. But there is a big catch.

In order to keep watching Star Trek: Discovery it will literally cost you since it’s on a streaming service. Outside of North America it is streaming on Netflix, so if you have not subscribed to the service then it is worth doing so to continue watching the adventures of Commander Burnham.

But in the U.S. fans are being forced to subscribe to CBS’ own streaming service. This begs the question, is this show worth a subscription? Sadly, the answer would have to be no. As good as “The Vulcan Hello” was, it did not hit it out of the ballpark. Plus, the cliffhanger ending, which forces viewers to subscribe to find out how the story ends, will infuriate fans. Sure, some will say just spend the six to ten dollars a month. But for just one show? Seeing the commercials for the other programming on CBS All Access is enough to convince me it is not worth the money. Frankly, I have no interest in watching CSI: Insert an American City or Survivor. Not only that but it usually takes three to five episodes of a series for me to decide if it warrants continued watching. One episode simply is not enough to convince me to subscribe to another streaming service. If you are that much of a hardcore Star Trek fan and have to get your fix, then go ahead and subscribe to CBS All Access. I can wait to see the entire show on a later date. After all, I have the other Star Trek show to watch, The Orville, and I do not have to spend extra money to do so.

José Soto