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Monday, September 25, 2017

Discovering Discovery

SPOILERS for the first two episodes of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY

After a dozen years, Star Trek returned to television last night in its newest incarnation, Star Trek: Discovery. Set ten years before the events of the original television series, Discovery is the story of Michael Burnham, (Sonequa Martin-Green), a Starfleet officer and orphan raised on Vulcan by none other than Sarek (James Frain), father of Spock.

When we're introduced to Burnham in the first episode, "The Vulcan Hello," she's serving as the First Officer of the USS Shenzhou under Captain Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh). After rescuing some friendly crab-like aliens from a drought, the Shenzou is tasked with investigating a malfunctioning relay beacon at the edge of Federation space. When Burnham discovers the cause of the malfunction and the familiar aliens behind it, the stage is set for what I assume will be the series' first-season arc: war with the Klingons, reimagined here as a brutish "Make America Great Again" analogue.

The two-part opener (comprised of "The Vulcan Hello" and "Battle at the Binary Stars" gets the show off to a strong start. While burdened with some clunky exposition, moments of stilted line delivery, and one eye-rolling moment in the pre-credits teaser, Star Trek: Discovery succeeds where it counts, telling an interesting, meaningful story with flawed but sympathetic characters. Burnham makes a series of serious mistakes that arguably cost a great number of lives--and she faces believable consequences for her actions. The Klingons have an understandable motive for their actions, and they have depth; these aren't cookie-cutter cartoon villains. The supporting characters are well drawn, with the alien Saru (Doug Jones) a real standout.

As is usually the case with Star Trek shows, production design, costuming and special effects are all state-of-the-art for the era. The opening credit sequence is quite handsome and a real departure from those that preceded it.

Perhaps most importantly, the show takes chances. The two opening hours end without a trace of the titular USS Discovery or most of the show's main cast. Presumably they'll be introduced next week, in episode three, "Context is for Kings." Instead of a traditional pilot episode, we're given what amounts to two hours of backstory--but entertaining backstory it is, and should, in theory, add resonance to the show's first season arc.

Given the show's behind-the-scenes production drama and the involvement of Akiva Goldsman, my expectations for Star Trek: Discovery were very low. But I find myself pleasantly surprised. It's too early to say whether or not this will reach the heights of the original series, The Next Generation, or Deep Space Nine, I think it's safe to say it's already off to a more promising start than Voyager or Enterprise


Jeff Shyluk said...

Star Trek: The Next Lens Flare Iteration

You're more optimistic about this show than I am, but that stands to reason. It perhaps is one of the better outcomes out of a flawed and troubled production. If it weren't for the After Trek fan show afterwards, I'd have had more problems with these first two hours. After Trek had one of the producers and a number of the actors, who without giving away the surprises of the new season, were at least able to explain the rationale of a built-in "prequel".

I don't know about you, but in my broadcast region a football game ran late, so the network decided to push the show back twenty minutes, which screwed up my DVR. I ended up watching most of the show twice, and I didn't think the second viewing improved it - too much exposition, a strange dynamic with the captain and first officer, and a very, very gloomy battle that climaxes SPOILER ALERT with dead smirking admirals, ramming speed, cloaking devices, and Star Trek's most gruesome weapon of mass destruction, the loathesome corpse bomb.

Since the network pushed the show twenty minutes and I missed the ending the first time, the second hour was at least as melancholy as Star Trek Nemesis, with many cues shared between those two shows. The last five minutes however, features some form of consequence that Nemesis lacked, and it was those last five minutes that seem to maybe - maybe? - redeem the show for me. It's almost too bad that Michael Burnham won't follow through with her character arc to become a Khan-like character, since that opportunity clearly exists. Instead, she'll be offered redemption - which is good, yes, and very human at that - but too safe an option in a television galaxy that has Breaking Bad, House of Cards, and Game of Thrones, and too unlikely given the very strong military tone of the season opener... especially given the premise of The Vulcan Hello (should that not have been a lovely "Live Long And Prosper"? Michael Frain teases that Sarek and the Vulcan Academy may not have the same agenda... fascinating!).

susanRN92 said...

They could name a new laxative "the Vulcan Hello."