‘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!

  • Doug Brecht

    As a “purist” and First Generation Trekkie (I saw the original Series when it aired in the 60’s) I enjoyed your perspective on Star Trek Discovery. The episodes were entertaining but the series is not original timeline Star Trek. From the opening Title Sequences, to the Klingons, to The Federation Bridge scenes, it is apparent that this is something new.

    This is would be a great precursor series to the alternate time line presented in the 2009 and newer “reboot” movies but does definitely not fit within the “Enterprise”-“Original Series”-“Next Generation”-“Deep Space Nine”-“Voyager” universe.
    The thing that made the reboot movies acceptable to the “purists” was that they weren’t claiming to be part of the original timeline. They were an alternate universe.

    Any good science fiction author will tell you that when you create a universe you set out the “laws” of that universe, including its history and you have to abide by them. If you depart from them you are in essence creating a new universe with a new history and different laws. JJ Abrams admitted that he was doing just that. The creators of Star Trek Discovery need to step up and admit they have done the same.

    As a new series and precursor to the “reboot” movies (we know very little about the Klingons of that timeline) it is very well produced, well written, well acted, thought provoking and entertaining. As an attempt to be part of the original Start Trek Universe it falls short of the mark.

    I recommend enjoying it for what it is instead of hating it for what it is not.

    • Mark Trammell

      After writing this review, I did indeed go online to test out the temperature of the fan crowd, which, as I suspected, was hotly divided- no shocker there. I think at least some of it was the fact that people were upset that they only got the first episode free, then had to pay for the rest, which clearly they resented and then took it out on the show subsequently.

      While I certainly get that- I’m not sure if I would have paid for the show if I didn’t already know someone with access to it- I’m not here to review CBS’ dubious business practices, really. I’m here to review the show, period. And for what it was, I enjoyed it.

      I liked that it took some risks, even if that meant wiping out what we thought was going to be the new cast, as it definitely threw me for a loop, being as how I didn’t expect it at all going in. My friend definitely agreed with your assessment of the timeline being wonky, but didn’t seem that phased by it.

      I get the sense that you’re right and that the new show is going by the timeline established by the JJ Abrams films, rather than the ones established by the original series and the ones that followed. He did try and explain it to me, but I told him, it was fine, I wasn’t going into this claiming to be an expert, nor was I going to try and make sure every detail was spot on.

      I think, as I said in the review, that there are plenty of places one can go for a more “expert” review, so it’s fine if I get things wrong here and there. He did promise to help me avoid any glaring mistakes, though! Hopefully, between him and readers like you, I’ll be okay moving forward!

      Thanks for your comments!

      • Sterling Archer

        I saw both ends, and what you saw you felt that many fans were “taking it out on the show”, was completely justified. This is by far one of the WORST Iterations of Star Trek since 1979’s Star Trek; The Motion Picture. The story seems like a bunch of loosely inter-connected plot points that were planned around effects shots. Overstuffed visuals. Bad acting (yes, WORSE than Shatner). Actors standing around posing as if they’re in a cosplay contest. Klngon prosthetics so heavy that it impairs actors ability to recite dialog, and even that felt like they were reading it off of cue cards (which they probably were). Bad writing that wouldn’t pass muster on a soap opera. And a main character who is so utterly INCOMPETENT that if she is an example of Starfleet’s recruiting standards, then it’s a MIRACLE that the Federation hasn’t collapsed due to it’s own self inflicted STUPIDITY. I’ve read in places many defending this vile piece of garbage by saying “this is not your father’s Star Trek”, and in one sense, they’re right; In your father’s Star Trek at least the Federation isn’t portrayed as having a Three Stooges level of ineptitude.

        Michael Burnham is by far the DUMBEST character I’ve ever seen in a Star Trek series, but to make matters worse she actually thinks she’s the smartest mother f**cker in the room. Everything that happens is her fault. For someone who was raised by Vulcans she exhibits NONE of the Vulcan logic they value so highly. She’s so utterly incompetent that she falls for a plan that would even make Cobra Commander say “that’s just stupid”. The thing is at the end of the second episodes (and let’s make no mistake here, this was supposed to be a ninety minute episode, as part two was only 35 minutes long) when she’s sentenced to prison, her story comes full circle and you can close the door on her and nobody would mind. She’s committed treason against the Federation, and for the audience it would be fitting if she was never heard from again, because you’re not invested in the character. And since when are Vulcan’s “jedi”, that they can project their spirit across the galaxy?

        But what ticks me off the most as a fan of Star Trek is the utter contempt for the source material. It’s as if CBS, Alex Kurtzman and company are taking fifty years of history, throwing it out the window, and saying “Shut up and we’ll TELL YOU what to like!!”, and certain fans out there either don’t better, or simply do not care enough to reject this travesty.

        Jason Isaacs said that they were throwing out the legacy of Picard and Kirk, and boy he wasn’t kidding.

        • Mark Trammell

          But how do you REALLY feel, lol?

          Thanks for your comments- people definitely seem to either love or hate this one, that’s for sure- there is no in between.

          I’m just going to try and judge it the best I can for what it is, rather than comparing it to what came before.

          But I completely get that some people have trouble doing that, and longtime fans have every right to be upset if they don’t care for it.

  • ptjackson

    So, like Doug, I also watched the original series in the 1960s – in fact, I would tag along with my older brother’s friend’s house because they had a *gasp* color TV!

    I do not really consider myself a purist, though, since I enjoy Trek in all forms, including the animated series. Yeah, some stuff is better than others, but I do not abhor the reboot movies as some fans do – and in fact, look forward to them.

    That said, I only watched the first free hour of Discovery. I was told by my daughter, who was raised on Trek in all forms, that the second episode really is necessary to understand the first, and really, I felt empty after the first episode. I just do not know if I want to pay the steep price for one program. The rest of the stuff in their “vault” is something I don’t need. Darn you, CBS!

    But, I am confused by what Doug said that this is not original series timeline – perhaps he was just offering his opinion, but I thought I read it was meant to be original series timeline, being set 10 years before the original 5 year mission. Now, Enterprise changed the Klingons and did some genetic *garble* stuff to explain the differences in appearances between the Klingons of Enterprise and the Original series, and again the articles I read said that they would not be going back to 1960s tech to make the ship look like the original series Enterprise, and I was willing to accept that fact since who wants to see the 1960s version anyway?

    But, the main thing I want to weigh in on is something Marina Sirtis said and I read recently – that the reboot movies are not really Star Trek because the Roddenberry era series and movies had a point. The reboot movies are great action-adventure movies, with lots of thrills, but are lacking, in her opinion, the big ideas that Roddenberry was known for. I think that is an interesting point of view, but need to muse more on it to see if I completely agree with her.

    In the meantime, I will continue to stew about CBS and their business practices.

    • Mark Trammell

      According to the after show I watched and several other sources, it is indeed within the OG series timeline, hence my being a bit dubious about the tech being so advanced in comparison to the original show. I don’t mind the Klingons looking different, but either set this show in a different timeline or keep the tech in line with the original if you’re going to go with it being a prequel to it. I’m just saying.

      Beyond that, I didn’t dislike it, and I am genuinely curious as to where they go next with it. Your daughter is right that you needed to see both parts to grasp what they were going for here, but I can’t say I blame people for not wanting to pay 10 bucks or whatever for one show. I probably wouldn’t be watching it if it weren’t for a friend of mine, who WAS that determined to see it.

      On the plus side, it will be hitting Netflix soon after it airs, where you get more bang for your buck and it’s more worth it. So, hang in there for that, maybe.

      • ptjackson

        Hmmm… well, for me personally, I do understand why they went with the more advanced look. But, there were some throwbacks – like the bridge sounds were identical to the old show! The problem, IMHO, with using the old tech, buttons, and joysticks, is that people have moved past that, and I just am not sure the modern young viewers would be on board with the cheezy look of 1960s tv!

        And, if it is going to Netflix – where did you see that? – what is the point of making a big deal about it being exclusive content? I mean, does that mean it may eventually make it to dvd? Sigh. It should not be this hard to be a Trek fan. Darn you, CBS!

        • Mark Trammell

          You make a good point there- I guess I was just being nitpicky. Trust me, though- you can find WAY worse online. People are NOT happy that they have to pay to see this show at all, for one.

          I looked online and Netflix does indeed have rights to air the show, as co-funders of it. They are already showing it internationally, as CBS All Access is not available overseas. From what i understand, it will hit US Netflix on down the line, and I’m sure a DVD/Blu-Ray will eventually be available as well.

          I wouldn’t be surprised if it hits Redbox as well- I’ve seen other TV shows on there, so why not? Don’t quote me on the the Redbox thing, though. But it absolutely will be n Netflix eventually- they co-own the show with CBS.

          • ptjackson

            Tee hee… Oh, trust me, I know what Trek fans are like, having been one for probably longer than you have been alive. LOL… yeah, I am that old! The problem is that there are so many voices – this happens in an old fandom as you add new voices, and such very strong opinions. I get it, since I have a very strong opinion about another show that has soured the milk, so to speak.

            I do not have Netflix either, but am glad Discovery will go there – I am a patient woman, and could wait for that… because there are so many other shows to watch at the moment, I can’t even keep up with the free ones!!

            • Mark Trammell

              Tell me about it- I have so many TV shows I either want to see or haven’t gotten caught up on…it’s an impossible goal, but also an embarrassment of riches, with so much good stuff out there. Maybe one day I’ll get caught up with everything…

              I’m sure I will go through one of these fandom things eventually- like if they ever “reboot” Buffy in my lifetime, which they probably will. I DID sort of go through it with Twin Peaks, which was the first show I fell in love with as a kid. Even though it was more of a continuation than a “reboot” or remake. But people def. had a lot of opinions on it, that’s for sure!