Sunday evening I, along with many others like me, settled in for an evening of television wonder that we haven’t had a fresh view of since 2005. CBS was granting everyone the opportunity to view the first episode of their newest vision of Star Trek with the premier of Star Trek: Discovery.
The events of the series take place roughly ten years before Star Trek: The Original Series and about one hundred years after Star Trek: Enterprise. A whole new batch of characters will be introduced during the series, with just a few of them getting screen time in the first two episodes.
!!There be spoilers below!! Warning!
Sonequa Martin-Green is the lead actress on the series. She portrays Commander Michael Burnham. Along for the ride in the first episode is another primary character, Science Officer Saru (the brilliant Doug Jones), the always-available-when-you-need-a-Spock-connection Sarek (portrayed by James Frain this time around), and the excellent Michelle Yeoh as Captain Georgiou.
After a brief tease of the new look Klingons (the rigidly talking T’Kuvma, portrayed by Chris Obi), we find the captain and her number one on the surface of a desert planet. Their mission is to pop a hole in a well that has dried up in order to provide a water source to an alien race before they all die of dehydration. This reminded me an awful lot of the Enterprise’s mission at the beginning of Star Trek: Into Darkness where Spock freezes a volcano in order to save a race from being completely destroyed. It also reminded me of The Waterboy.
After successfully striking water, the duo trek off into the desert. Burnham questions the captain’s directions as they appear to be wandering around an awful lot, but they are actually making tracks that form the Starfleet insignia and the captain references it as being a “star” to aid her ship, the USS Shinzhou, in finding their coordinates. It’s obvious that there is a lot of trust and respect built between these characters. This will be tested later in the episode.
As the episode moves along, the Shinzhou pushes out to the edge of Federation space in order to investigate a damaged satellite and discover an unknown entity. In a very Trek-like manner, interference renders the ship’s technology almost useless and Burnham volunteers to jetpack over to the entity and investigate. Realizing that it is Klingon and then realizing that there’s a Klingon behind her as he’s about to attack, Burnham makes a dash to escape and accidentally kills the Klingon.
She is then rescued by her fellow crew members and takes a radiation-exposure forced nap for about three hours. When she awakens, and against the wishes of her doctor, Burnham returns to the bridge to reveal her findings to the captain.
The show then starts to pick up pace and a stand off with the Klingons begins. The Klingons, headed up by T’Kuvma, reveal their cloaked ship and send out a beacon calling for the other Klingon houses to join with them. It’s at this point that Sarek is called upon by Burnham for counsel. In what seemed out of character to me, Sarek mentions giving the Klingons a “Vulcan Hello.” This is an “attack first to establish your role” strategy that the Vulcans began to use after their initial meeting with Klingons resulted in the death of all aboard their ship. Sure, Sarek didn’t technically tell Burnham to use this strategy, but he definitely didn’t discourage her, either. Georgiou seeks the advice of the Federation and it is made clear to her that they should do nothing until more Federation ships arrive.
The captain and XO have a confrontation over what should be done, and in a very hard to stomach way (especially considering how the pair seemingly respect each other), Burnham uses a Vulcan nerve pinch to subdue the captain and makes an awkward attempt at firing on the Klingon vessel which, thanks to Lt. Saru confronting the XO, never comes to fruition. Georgiou appears on the bridge, phaser in hand, reclaiming her ship. Burnham is arrested and then a poop ton of Klingon vessels arrive on the scene and…..you have to pay to see the rest.
I left out the bits where we learn that Burnham was raised by Sarek whenever her parents were killed by Klingons and the flashbacks we get of their deaths and of Burnham attending the Vulcan Academy in order to shorten my summary, but they should be noted here as they are important to the story.
So, what did I think of the episode? Well, to quote Kaylee from Firefly, it was definitely “Shiny.” It’s very obvious that a lot of money (around eight million per episode) was put into the production of the show. The bridge is extremely slick and reminds me a lot of J.J. Abrams’ vision of the bridge from his films (all the way down to lens flares), but it also appears that the maintenance man has been slacking on the job considering how dark the bridge is all of the time. I also liked the overall design of the Shinzhou (but not of the Klingon vessels).
The external shots in space looked brilliant. Heavy on CGI, but still beautiful in their presentation, these shots were some of my favorite things about the show. Overall I would give the cinematography an “A” for a solid job.
The acting was hit and miss. Doug Jones seemed to have a solid grasp of Saru, and portrayed the character as both intelligent and skittish (with good reason). He reminded of C-3PO, but not as mouthy. Michelle Yeoh’s performance was okay, but her line delivery was very stiff, especially during her desert scenes with Sonequa Martin-Green. Martin-Green’s character was all over the place. For someone that was raised on Vulcan, she’s extremely emotional and a bit erratic. Yes, I know that her parents were killed by the Klingons, but that doesn’t explain why someone who supposedly learned so much self control from the masters of self control would fly off the handle and attack her beloved captain. I also didn’t care for James Frain as Sarek. His body language hinted at, you guessed it, emotions, and I just could not fully buy into him as a Vulcan. The Klingons were extremely stiff as well, and spoke as if they were falling down stairs and grunting with each smack on the steps. Hopefully these misses were a result of poor direction and they were remedied in the second, pay-to-see episode with a different director, Adam Kane, at the controls.
The episode ended on a cliffhanger. I’m one of the few people that defended the cliffhanger ending of The Walking Dead last year during the season split, but I felt that the Discovery cliffhanger was a snub at fans unwilling to pay for CBS All Access, the streaming service that will be the exclusive home of Star Trek: Discovery in the United States for the time being. It’s as if CBS wanted to give us a taste of the show in the hopes that we would all spring for the service to see what happens next, but what I saw wasn’t impressive enough for me to take the plunge. I also see it as a disservice to potential new fans of Trek, as they might not want to pay for a service in order to see the rest of a series based on just one episode. Oh, and they only gave us one episode, so that’s what my judgment is base upon.
I have a few friends that paid for the service and witnessed the second episode, but I didn’t buy into the service. No, I’m not one of those old dusty Trekkies that demands that their Trek be free to all and I don’t judge anybody that did pay for the service. I simply feel like CBS is trying to put the success of their three-year-old (and unimpressive) streaming service on the backs of Star Trek fans that have been with the series for a long time. We are all well aware of how loyal Trek fans can be. We know how finicky they can be as well.
There will always be hardcore fans that will accept and love any Trek put in front of them. I can see the CBS heads sitting in a room envisioning the stereotypical Trekkie, living at home with his/her parents, with a pile of cash that doesn’t go to a mortgage, food, kids, or any other expenses. It’s just sitting there begging to be spent on entertainment.
You and I know that this stereotypical vision just isn’t true for most fans of Star Trek. I’m sure that there are plenty of Trekkies out there with expendable income, but I’m betting that the majority of them have a mortgage or rent, a car note, credit card bills, possibly a student loan, children and a spouse, or any other of a multitude of expenses that come first. Yes, it’s just six to ten bucks a month, but $120 can be spent on things that are much more important than another streaming service.
I’ll patiently wait for the series to be released on Blu-ray or on the U.S. version of Netflix sometime in the future. I won’t scream bloody murder if anybody spoils any episodes either. I’m fully aware of what I’m missing out on, I just wasn’t impressed enough to pay for CBS All Access in order to see more episodes.
As always, thanks for reading. I know that many of you have a different opinion, so please tell me what that opinion is in the comments section.
Live long and prosper.