Hey, that looked pretty cool–but it doesn’t feel like a Star Trek show. Which means it’s the perfect intro, because that’s Star Trek Discovery in one sentence. Pretty cool, but not Star Trek.
I have some free time this week if you want me to review all the Star Trek show intros (the movies would be harder). However, I didn’t put down Star Trek: Enterprise for its lack of a Star Trek-ish intro. I put it down because the rest of the show followed suit, and sadly this series is the same way. Heck, it was marketed outside of commercials celebrating having a woman of color in charge…but she’s the first officer. There is an Asian lady as captain, which is a first, but she’s being replaced by a white man on the ship that we’ll actually be following. And yet she’s still more likable than Katherine Janeway. A shame to lose her, actually. My point is the Star Trek universe is one in which color and gender aren’t supposed to matter, which it didn’t for the ads I saw. Of course we can debate that based on some episodes, but that’s a whole other topic. What the real question is…why doesn’t this show work when it so easily could have? There are going to be spoilers here, including a big one that I have to talk about.
The focus is not on the captain but the first officer, Michael Burnham. (Not Michelle but Michael. I’m pretty sure that’s a male name. Are there women named David in this future? Men named Nicole? Must confuse them when they come across Johnny Cash’s “A Boy Named Sue”.) In this episode aired on CBS (the second episode is available for streaming if you really want to spend EXTRA money for CBS’s streaming service) she is actually first officer of the Shenzhou, although the actual USS Discovery, the ship that the show is actually named after, will come later. Her family was killed when the Klingons attacked a joint Vulcan/Starfleet research station thirty years ago. She was raised on Vulcan and trained by Sarek himself, but she still retains her emotions so I don’t see the point there. During a satellite repair mission the Shenzhou comes across a Klingon beacon, but there hasn’t been contact with the Klingons in over 100 years…except for the aforementioned attack of course. As the captain sits on her butt doing nothing the beacon activates and summons more Klingon ships. Despite Bernam learned from Sarek how the Vulcans formed a peace with the Klingons, the captain immediately rejects it because Starfleet doesn’t fire first, even if that’s what the Klingons respect.
Okay, where to begin here. How about the positives? The show has a few flaws in the story, but overall it was well-written and well performed. The special effects are pretty good for a webseries, even one produced by CBS, and it was interesting to watch. I’ve heard a lot of talk about the Klingons representing Donald Trump in a negative sense, but he actually accepts the pale-skinned Klingon as a brother despite his lack of a house to represent, so what am I missing here? They’re a warrior race who rejects Starfleet’s ideals of peace. Yeah? So? Maybe it gets more insulting later on? I don’t follow.
Speaking of the Klingons, that’s where we begin to lose the Star Trek flavor. Why redesign the Klingons a SECOND time? In the original series Klingons had a darker complexion, particular facial hair, and that was it. For Star Trek: The Motion Picture they oddly gave the Klingons rigged foreheads and the long hair that they’re known for today…despite being on-screen just long enough for V-Ger to disintegrate them and that was it for the Klingons in that movie. That was a waste of time too, and I’m sure Michael Dorn would have been happier had they stuck to the original look.
But now we have Klingons with no body hair, those ridiculous outfits, and they look like they were dipped in bad chocolate…except for the pale guy who gets accepted so I’m not understanding the supposed racism angle. They hate non-Klingons? Yeah, what else is new? Until the events of The Undiscovered Country that was the norm and even in the TNG era it was an unsteady peace, as we saw in that show and DS9. The problem is they’re decent enough alien designs…but they’re so not-Klingons that they didn’t have to BE Klingons. Just make them a whole new race or give them the right prosthesis and there would be no problem here. The part about covering their ship with the coffins of their dead is a bit weird so I’m hoping they’re some splinter cult or something.
We also get one ship’s log, and they give a normal Earth date rather than the usual Stardate. Yes, this is a big deal if you’re not trying to piss off the diehard fans and confuse the casual fans who still know Star Trek uses Stardates. Why not just use a Stardate and there wouldn’t be a problem? We are also introduced to Georgiou and Burnham as they open up a well on a planet that should be violating the Prime Directive just by being there, according to other Star Trek episodes. Maybe it wasn’t established yet? You’d think it would be by now, especially after Captain Archer’s constant bungling.
One big misstep is the introduction of Saru, the science officer of the Shenzou and later Discovery I guess, according to Wikipedia. When previous shows introduced a new species, going as far back as “Where No Man Has Gone Before”, the first aired pilot of Star Trek, time is taken to establish something about the new species early on, as an introduction. I wasn’t going to compare the two shows but this is one of two points where I have to because even The Orville got this right, establishing the rest of the cast (except for Grayson, who came later) and this included Mercer familiarizing himself (and the audience) with the non-human characters. All we learn about Kemplers (and I had to look that name up because if it was mentioned on the show I missed it) is that their planet has no food chain…everybody is both predator and prey, and thus Kempler have a sense for knowing when death is coming. And that’s just foreshadowing the coming events. Also…no herbivores or are all the animal and sentient species omnivores? I’m no biologist but I’m not sure how that would work.
And it’s not just the species. This is the first of two parts, the second only available if you pay extra, and there is no hint of the ship and crew that is the center of the show. This is Star Trek Senzou, not Star Trek Discovery. The entire first episode doesn’t take place on the titular ship. Compare that to EVERY first episode for a Star Trek series. The ship we’re going to be following is the first ship we’re introduced to, except for Deep Space Nine which quickly moves Sisko from the ship he captained at the Battle of Wolf 359 to the station before the first half hour was done. We finish episode one of this show on the wrong ship, and this is supposed to excite us for a show taking place on the Discovery enough to fork out more money each month in addition to our usual cable/satellite fees (required at least for internet access even if you don’t use landline phones or television) and either Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, or some combination of the three. Plus Disney and DC Entertainment launching their own services. And that’s only five services you have to pay extra for to stream with instead of something ad-based like Sony’s Crackle or the few “free with ads” offering on Vudu. And of course YouTube’s offerings plus their paid channels and YouTube Red. Yet all of their time is on the wrong ship and with mostly the wrong crew. You’re getting the viewers tied to the crew of Senzou when they’re going to probably be gone after this battle next episode. What’s the point?
The thing is I do like Burnham, and it’s too bad we’re going to lose the chemistry she had with Captain Georgiou…you know, before trying to neck pinch her so Burnham can go ahead with firing on the warrior race after learning that was how the Vulcans maintained peace with them because Klingons respect strength. I know she has a history with the Klingons but give her the benefit of the doubt! The last time you didn’t was a few hours ago when you didn’t believe she saw them simply because she took in a lot of radiation. She was right then! I know Starfleet is all about peace but they’re also about seeking out new civilizations, which includes learning to deal with a culture that isn’t theirs. And yet Georgiou, who seemed pretty smart until now, made a bonehead move. Even Johnathan Archer would have fired. Of course, he hates Klingons almost as much as Burnham.
And did Burnham have to be raised (as has been claimed, although here we see more of a sensei/padawan relationship) by Sarek himself? You’ve messed up all the other Star Trek references except for the bridge sound effects and the look of the Phasers (that look closer to the regular Star Trek than a bridge between Enterprise and the first pilot, “The Cage”, which is canon thanks to “The Menagerie”) so why stuff Sarek in here? I’m not sure James Frain comes off as a young Mark Lenard myself but he is a good Vulcan. Certainly better than Enterprise. Even Gary Graham couldn’t save that.
However, these are mostly complaining about the trappings, mostly because they’re such easy fixes. The only story beats they messed is the Kempler and TITLE SHIP introductions and how quickly Burnham’s opinions are not even considered despite her supposedly being such an exemplary first officer that the captain is looking to give her a ship, plus Burnham trying to neck pinch her own captain, which apparently she isn’t so good at as well as the 100 years/attack 30 years ago mistake.
What is the biggest thing that pulls the Star Trek out of Discovery? It’s one of the problems Enterprise had as well. It’s very dark. The lighting is dark, the ship we see is barely a step up from the ships in Enterprise, and outside of the scene on the planet where Georgiou and Burnham are joking around, it lacks that bright vision that Roddenberry had instilled in the series. This that other comparison to The Orville I mentioned. That show gives the impression of being the utopia Starfleet is supposed to be. The ship’s bridge and the ship itself are bright colors, the bridge looks comforting and positive. I like the bridge of that ship. I haven’t seen that in Star Trek (from official shows anyway) since The Next Generation. Even the Abrams bridge is just too futuristic and kind of weird, especially when the engine room looks like a boiler room for the soundstage. This isn’t inviting and cheerful. It’s dark and a bit of a downer. The Orville isn’t Star Trek so they can do whatever they want. But I link you back to my commentary on characters versus concepts, and that includes the look and feel of the show. It looks cool, but it isn’t Star Trek.
And so we come full circle with the biggest fault of this show. The effects are cool. The characters are likable. The ship is neat to look at. The story problems aren’t insurmountable. However, I just didn’t feel like I was watching a Star Trek series. I felt like I was watching something completely different, and if it had been I would have been more inclined to watch it. I know, all the rumors say that most of the people involved didn’t want to make a Star Trek series…so why did they? Because the name is popular. It was an okay show, but even as its own entity it wasn’t good enough to spend money on CBS All Access to see more. So I’m not sure what the point of Star Trek Discovery even is beyond money when it isn’t even going to help in that department. It’s not something I’d recommend to fans but not a much watch for non-fans unless there are other shows on the service they really want to see. In the last video co-producer Alex Kurtzman was talking about wanting to get new fans to enjoy Star Trek as much as he does, but it’s at the cost of the old fans like him because at the end this isn’t Star Trek. And that’s the biggest shame of it.