‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Season Premiere- Episodes 1 & 2: One Step Forward…Two Steps Back

Introduction

Hello, everyone!

Before we get started, I should probably let you all know where I stand in terms of my fandom of “Star Trek” as a whole, just so you know what you’re getting into. I was a hardcore horror fan growing up, but I had several friends that were die-hard sci-fi fans, so I was exposed to plenty of “Trek” along the way, in particular the OG series and “The Next Generation,” plus I saw most of the movies.

I haven’t seen a whole lot of “Deep Space Nine,” “Voyager” or “Enterprise,” though, so if there are in-jokes related to those series, they admittedly might sail right over my head. But I know about most of the show’s tropes and recurring stuff, i.e. Vulcans, Klingons, holodecks, tribbles, the Borg, et al.

So, I’m not a complete neophyte, even if I don’t quite qualify as a “trekker” or “trekkie” or whatever fans are calling themselves this week. (Creator Gene Roddenberry preferred the latter, so I’m going with that in deference to him.) But I may occasionally miss some of the references that come up here and there, so my apologies in advance.

Here’s the thing, though. Since the early days of the internet, there are PLENTY of places you can go for the hardcore fan perspective, so I feel like moderate fans could use a slightly more layperson’s viewpoint for something like this. A happy medium between a big fan and a complete newbie, in other words.

So, that’s where I stand as a fan. Decide where you do now, and act accordingly, because trolls will not be tolerated. If you’re one of those people that thought female “Ghostbusters” were the end of the world and that Hollywood needs to stop doing all these female-centric remakes and reboots, you’ve also come to the wrong place.

You’ve also apparently missed the point of the entire series. Since the very beginning, and long before it was “politically correct,” the show has been forward-thinking and progressive. The original crew was a mixed-race, mixed-gender, mixed-culture group, and even tackled interracial relationships long before other shows dared. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, “Star Trek” featured the first interracial kiss on TV, period.

Going in, I was thrilled to see that action star Michelle Yeoh, who is a total bad-ass (check out this, if you haven’t seen it- she used to do all her own stunts!) and who I’ve been a fan of for ages, was the new captain of the ship and that the main story will be told, for the first time, from the perspective of the first officer, who just so happens to also be female and an African-American, Sonequa Martin-Green, of “The Walking Dead” fame.

As a horror fan, you better believe I’m a fan of Green’s, and even more so as a fellow Alabamian, which is where I’m writing from at the moment. (Yes, I know. Despite recent current events, not all of us are heinous racist a-holes. Just like the rest of America, we’ve got a little of everything here, good and bad. Remember what I said about being all judgmental for no good reason?)

Now, don’t get me wrong. None of this means you can’t correct me if I get something wrong- that’s fine. I’m sure I will make the occasional mistake here and there. Just don’t get all snooty about it, if you please. We’re here to (hopefully) have a good time, right? Perhaps needless to say, spoilers from here on out.

Okay? So, let’s get started!

Episode One

We open with a scene involving the Klingons, as grumpy and rabble-rousing as ever. I’m sure there will probably be some grousing about the overall look of the Klingons, which are markedly different from past incarnations, but I didn’t mind it that much. Special effects have grown since the old days of the show, so it’s only natural that things would be a bit more advanced on the whole- at least in this area. (More on that in a minute.)

I found it interesting that they included that bit later on about how the leader of the ship, T’Kuvma (Chris Obi, “American Gods”) was accepting to all kinds of his people, including the fair-skinned one, who he later determined to be like looking at his own reflection, meaning that the man reminded him of himself, in terms of his overall disposition and attitude.

We will discover later on that he’s got a sort of “Island of Misfit Toys” thing going on with his ship, which is interesting, particularly in light of the current racial climate of our own nation. Apparently, even freaking Klingons are more accepting of different skin colors and what have you than a certain White Nationalist contingent and our own President, lol. Or this Klingon is, at least. Go figure.

(On a side note, Seth MacFarlane’s new live-action sci-fi show “The Orville” also recently did a variation of the old “Rudolph” animated special, albeit much more overt than the one here, down to actually showing the special and discussing it at several points. If you prefer the OG “Star Trek” to more modern versions, “The Orville” might be more your cup of tea, even more so than this show, if you can get past the occasional silliness.)

We then shift to a planet that Captain Georgiou (Yeoh) and First Officer Michael Burnham (Green) are visiting. Note the gender-fluid first name of Burnham, which I can’t imagine was a mistake. This is obviously going to be a show that reflects the current times we live in, just as the past shows did before it.

I don’t know about you, but even as a moderate fan, I admittedly was amused by that opening, pre-credit, overhead shot that showed what the captain had been up to with all that walking around. Yes, it was a bit cutesy, but nonetheless, pretty cool. Ditto the credits, which featured a lot of familiar objects for fans.

The main plot of the first episode revolves around the sighting of an unidentified object that the main crew of the USS Shenzhou (the name of which is a nod to this) spots near a damaged satellite near the border of the Federation’s territory. Burnham opts to go out for a closer look, as, for some reason, they can’t get a clear image of the object.

She finds an ancient-looking vessel, and is almost immediately attacked by a Klingon, who she kills, almost by accident. Needless to say, the other Klingons aren’t too happy about this development, unintentional or not. They reveal themselves to the Shenzhou and the crew immediately goes into panic mode over what to do.

A returning Burnham, whose own parents were killed by Klingons, wants to fire on them before they can do anything else, but she is overridden by the Captain. After knocking out the Captain with the patented Vulcan nerve pinch, Burnham tries to do it, anyway. However, the Captain catches her before she can successfully complete doing so and has her thrown in the brig for attempted mutiny.

Episode Two

The Klingon ship has a conference with the others in his clan, 24 in all, which he seeks to unite, in the tradition of Kahless, the “Unforgettable,” in order to fulfill an ancient prophecy. Some of them are decidedly skeptical, but share with T’Kuvma an inherent mistrust of the Federation, at least.

Reinforcements for the Shenzhou arrive, as the Captain attempts to broker peace. Naturally, the Klingons aren’t having it and open fire and a full-on battle ensues. Among them is Admiral Anderson (Terry Serpico, “Designated Survivor”), who tries again to reach a truce, but is attacked by another cloaked ship. The two ships take each other out when they crash into one another, with the Admiral’s ship intentionally self-destructing in the melee.

The Starfleet beat a hasty retreat, recognizing that they are losing the fight, and leaving the Klingons to collect their dead. The Shenzhou is seriously damaged in the battle, and Burnham uses this to her advantage to escape her imprisonment, using the ship’s computer to trigger a loophole that aids her in getting out of there before her area is completely rendered a danger zone that could kill her and actually does send a fellow shipmate careening into space.

Shortly before this, Burnham also engages in a mind meld with Sarek (James Frain, “Orphan Black”), aka Spock’s father, who raised Michael as his own- and in the Vulcan tradition- after the death of her parents. Sarek encourages her to fight for her life and to not give up, but also to not let her blind hatred for the Klingons get in the way of thinking rationally.

We also have a great scene at the opening of the show, in which we see Michael first getting assigned to the Shenzhou and Captain Georgiou. Having been raised by Vulcans, Michael’s demeanor is amusingly akin to that of the vibe of Spock’s relationship with Captain Kirk, but her humanity eventually comes through via her inability to not get emotional about certain things, which we have obviously seen on a much more involved level with her reaction to the appearance of the Klingons, which got her jailed in the first place.

I don’t know about you, but I got a tingle from watching two intelligent, strong beautiful women interact in such a meaningful way, and I don’t mean that in a sleazy sense. (Okay, maybe just a little, but in a good way, not a trashy one, lol.) It’s so great to see two women in leading roles like this, but alas, it is all too short-lived, as we will discover, no pun intended.

Burnham returns to the bridge and says that they need to capture T’Kuvma, not kill him, as she first suggested, realizing that killing him will only make him a martyr to his people, which wouldn’t be good. This time, Georgiou agrees and the two hatch a plan to board the Klingon ship, by sending over an explosive along with one of the corpses of one of their dead.

The gambit works, but Burnham is forced to kill T’Kuvma in an attempt to save the Captain, who sadly, is also killed. I swear. Already down from two strong female leads to one and we’re only on the second episode! As if that weren’t bad enough, Burnham is beamed out and is made to pay for her crime of treason via life imprisonment, so no more First Officer, either.

Obviously, from the preview at the end of the episode, Burnham will be a prisoner moving forward, but will be set free to aid the captain of her new ship, Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs, aka Papa Malfoy from the “Harry Potter” series) in something or the other, to the objection of many. Yep, yet another male captain.

It’s almost as if the writers saw the rejection from fanboys coming and launched a preemptive strike before they could bitch too much about it. This is why we can’t have nice things, people. Ugh. Nothing against Isaacs, though. Hopefully we’ll at least see a little more Yeoh in flashbacks and the like, seeing as her tenure as captain was so short-lived. That would be a nice concession prize.

As it stands, though, that is basically where we end the episode, which means that a lot of what we saw in the trailers was a big old fake-out, leading us to believe that Yeoh would be a major character, when obviously such is not the case. I mean, I get it. They wanted her death to be a big surprise and it was, but it was also a kind of a letdown, too, especially to a long-time fan.

Conclusions

There was a lot I liked about the first two episodes of “Star Trek Discovery,” but also a lot of issues as well, and I’m not just talking about, say, Klingon make-up design, which was clearly intentional. For instance, this series is supposed to take place approximately ten years before the original series, yet the technology on the ship seems way more advanced, even allowing for better FX overall.

I mean, I’m not complaining that, say, the scenes outside the ship are much more impressive and, I guess, more realistic, for lack of a better term. That’s fine. But the tech we see on the bridge of the ship is noticeably more advanced than the ones on the original series and that’s even taking into account some of the jankier special effects and allowing for better ones.

I mean, I get that they don’t want the weapons to look like kids’ toys and the communication screen to look as green-screen-ish. But even beyond that, the ship’s computer looks leaps and bounds ahead of the one on the Enterprise, as does a lot of what we see, period. Maybe this is my nerdier side rearing its ugly head, but I don’t think so. I think purists are going to cry foul, for sure.

You could also cast shade on the fact that it was never mentioned at any time that Spock had a sister, adopted or otherwise, but I suspect they’re at least going to try and retcon that one, so I won’t bitch too much about that yet until I know a little more. I suspect others will though. Fans aren’t exactly known for their patience. (For the record, I haven’t read any other reviews yet, as it’s my practice to write mine BEFORE checking out other people’s, so it won’t affect my own judgment.)

That said, though, there was much to enjoy as well. However short-lived, it really was nice seeing two women in charge of a spaceship for a hot minute, and I liked that the show wasn’t afraid to show that they clearly had decidedly different opinions on how to run things, and that they weren’t afraid to stand up for those respective beliefs, even if it got them into trouble.

As a horror fan, it was also great to see Guillermo del Toro favorite Doug Jones (“Hellboy,” “Pan’s Labyrinth”) in a prominent role, as the sort of “Data” of this incarnation of the show, Lt. Saru. He’s great, and thankfully, as seen in the preview, he will be sticking around to continue to be a thorn in Burnham’s side.

The overall plot was interesting, less so the Klingon business, which was fairly standard, than the general set-up. As much as I’m upset that the show eliminated Yeoh’s character so quickly, it is admittedly a neat idea to tell the main story from the perspective of a character like Green’s, who was not only a human raised as a Vulcan, but is now a prisoner guilty of mutiny that will be released to help out the captain, and no doubt have to earn her way back into a more official ranking.

This is a genuinely unique approach to a “Star Trek” show that sets it apart from others in the franchise. It’s also overall not too far removed from the vibe of the most recent movies in the franchise, which I quite enjoyed, though I recognize that some purists did not. I’m no purist, though, so all that matters to me is if I was entertained, and I was, at least by the first two. (The third was a bit iffier, admittedly.)

I was also entertained by “Star Trek Discovery” on the whole, despite its faults. Whether I will be entertained by the rest of the season is up for grabs, especially given how different the vibe will likely be, so we’ll just have to wait and see on that one. But for now, I liked what I saw, and I like most of the main cast that we’ve met thus far, especially Green and Jones.

It will be interesting to see what the hardcore fans think, or even the moderate fans like myself. I’m also curious as to whether CBS made a big mistake in making this for their “All Access” on-line streaming service, rather than for the main network- meaning that if one wants to see it, they will have to subscribe to a pay service to do so, like “The Good Fight” before it.

That show was successful enough to be renewed, but will this one, with its no doubt much-higher price tag, be compelling enough to drive fans to pay for it? We shall see. I think it just might, but definitely expect some grumbling along the way, with some holding out for home video or Netflix, which co-owns the rights to it and will air it on down the line, after the first season runs in its entirety.

CBS no doubt invested a lot of money into this gamble, so it remains to be seen whether it will be worth it. I think a lot will depend on the buzz surrounding the show from fans and whether it is largely positive or negative. As we know by now, fans have the power to sink a show if they don’t care for it, and with all these liberties “Discovery” is taking, it might not fly with some of them- and that’s just those who opt to pay to watch it, which many might not.

In the meantime, as a moderate fan of “Star Trek,” I would have to say that I, well, moderately enjoyed the premiere episodes. Would I pay for them if I weren’t being paid to review them? Hard to say, but more than likely I would be among those who waited for Netflix, and even then, only if the fan buzz was positive enough to compel me to watch it in the first place.

As it stands, I liked it well enough, and that’s without any outside influence, for whatever that’s worth. Only time will tell if the show gets better with age, but for now, I’m in. What say you?

Thanks for reading, and be sure to sound off in the comment section, whether you liked it or not!