Monday, September 25, 2017

Star Trek: Discovery Lands. My Thoughts Watching the First Two Episodes

Last night, my wife and some friends and family members and I gathered to watch the first two episodes of DIS. For years this show has been building, changes to the production team changed, and anticipation grew. Fans took sides and debates raged along the spectrum. Some loved what they were seeing, while others saw it as the coming of the apocalypse. As the days to the premier counted down, the discussions got hotter and the opinions became more polarized. Then, last night, it happened. We had a new Star Trek series on television. I am not going to touch on whether or not CBS All Access is a good business model or a slap in the face of "true fans". I will not even touch the topic of "true fans" because that subject has beaten to death already. Instead, let me give you my thoughts and hopes for this new series.

First off, I liked it. I didn't love it, but I liked it. There is a lot to take in less than 24 hours later, but overall I enjoyed the first two episodes. I won't talk about any details in order to keep this spoiler free, but the show has some promise to it. I have not seen Sonequa Martin-Green in much of anything, but because of her work on "The Walking Dead" I had heard about her. I was impressed by much of her acting in these first two episodes, and her character of Michael Burnham is well established. The actions of Commander Burnham set a tone and a course for the story and the show, and she is a very unique character. It is refreshing to see a character that is not the captain as the central focus of the show. Hats off to both the writers and the actress for giving us someone we haven't seen the likes of before.

This, in a way, sums up my feelings on the new show. It is unlike anything in Trek I have ever seen before. This is why I can say I like it, but not love it...yet. Like many open-minded fans, I am reserving overall judgement until I see more. There are a few things that I can discuss, though, and maybe address some of the controversies and arguments that have come around before the show even aired.

First off, the production value is amazing. Special effects, sets, wardrobe, props, all of it is top quality. I am thrilled with that aspect of it. While I appreciate that some of the familiar sound effects are still being used, I do not mind it so much when updates are incorporated into the show. So many fans complained that the sets and technology the characters use are too "modern" for a show set a decade or so before Kirk and Spock were on the Enterprise. As I watched the first two episodes of Discovery, a thought came to mind. If Gene Roddenberry had the budget and technology in the 1960s that we have today, I suspect his show would have looked very similar to what we see on Discovery. Hind sight being what it is, that is mere speculation, but it is how I felt. The use of 3D/hologram projections for communications, for example, sounds like something that Gene would have loved to do. So while I get why some would have felt that those details should have been made to be more like what we saw in the 1960s, I give the show credit for giving us something fresh and sleek. I really think that if we tried to actually recreate a show made in 1966 to look exactly the way it did back then, few would watch it. 

Now, on to the Klingons. I had heard and read many theories on what was up with the new Klingon look. Some explanations have been given by fans, with the producers saying "Trust us, we got it. It will all make sense". I want to trust them, but I have to go on what I saw. Now that I have seen how the Klingons are in Discovery, I can say this: I hate and love them. What I don't like is the new look. I can tell that they are Klingons, but I just do not like the new look. I don't mind the updated ship and weapon design, but the makeup design they went with does bother me a bit. Having said that, when you look past the makeup, they have the essence of the Klingons just about right. When I think of TOS Klingons, I think of schemers who speak little of honor. It wasn't until Star Trek III and TNG that the Klingons really came into their own, and the Klingons of Discovery fit that mold much better. They have the language, the culture, and the soul of great Klingons such as Worf, Chang, Martok, Gowron, and so many others. Well-established parts of Klingon culture are not only incorporated but delved into further, adding to the rich history of this beloved warrior empire. So yes, the new look has a long way to go before it grows on me, but they got it right in most of the other important ways. I will also add that there may be a better explanation of the new look in future episodes, so I will hold off on final judgement until then.

One of my favourite parts about Trek is the development of intriguing characters. I already mentioned Michael Burnham, but some other important characters were introduced as well. Captain Phillipa Georgiou is a great captain, showing experience combined with instinct, mixing heroics with wisdom. She is a delightful mix of grit and compassion, grace and steel. We also meet Lt. Cmdr. Saru, a member of the Kelpian species. The Kelpians are a new species created for Discovery. His species developed as a prey species on his homeworld, and because of this Saru is a very cautious individual. As most Kelpians he has an innate sixth sense to approaching danger, which comes into play in the show. His constant fretting and worrying does make him a bit of nuisance at times. His potential as a character is large, and I look forward to seeing if he mellows out a bit as the season progresses. In the character department, I was a little disappointment that we still have to wait and meet some of the regulars, such as Anthony Rapp's Paul Stamets and Isaac Jacob's Captain Lorca. We did have Sarek, played by James Frain. While nobody in my mind will ever do a better Sarek than the original Mark Lenard, I did enjoy Frain's portrayal and hope we will see this cherished character again. 

Several fans raised concerns that there would be a loss of Trek with the announcement that they were going to ignore the Roddenberry Rule of no conflict between Starfleet officers. First, let me point out that this rule was ignored by Gene several times in TOS. Second, the conflict in most cases reminded me of the banter between Spock and McCoy, just with different approaches. It worked, and with one major and crucial exception, it is nothing too severe. The exception, though, is what makes the show stand out, so it is worth the watch. 

My biggest question mark with Discovery is how the new format of story-telling will play out. I like a good balance of stand-alone episodes and multi-episode story arcs in a series. I recognize that in today's television world that is evolving to be more serialized, but that does give me concerns. I enjoyed what I watched last night, but if every episode is just a lead in to the next, I do not know if I will continue to enjoy it as much. Seeing as how last night showed two episodes that were darker and grittier than any Trek show I have seen to date, I hope that there is something to balance out the feel. I am not convinced that a series that is only dark and gritty is what I want from Star Trek. In earlier incarnations the seasons had a mixed bag of light and dark. For every "Balance of Terror" there was a "The Trouble with Tribbles". For every "Yesterday's Enterprise" there was a "Data's Day". I hope we get to see the lighter side of some of these new characters. I hope we get to see some laughter and the odd bit of silliness. I always felt that Star Trek's greatest legacy was that it showed us that humanity has hope for its future. While there will always be some bumps along the way, I want to see Discovery give us that hope. I did not expect it from the get go, but it is something I want to be there. That, for me personally, is what will make this a Trek show I love versus a show that is merely enjoyed. 

So, while we have to wait another week for the next installment, I hope and wish the producers and stars of Discovery nothing but the best as they move forward. I know you won't please everybody, but if nothing else, I hope that this show will get more people introduced to this franchise that has come to be the influential piece of our cultural mosaic it is. I hope that they will continue to learn, grow, and more importantly, love this series. I hope more fans will keep an open mind and, if the show is worthy, support it in the best way they can. In essence, I hope Discovery lives long and prospers. 


  1. It was okay. I thought that the Klingons were awesome and Michelle Yeoh was great, but other than that, I could take it or leave it.

  2. I watched the first broadcast part eagerly, but it didn't convince me to purchase a subscription to CBS All-Access. While having elements of Star Trek, it was just too different as well. For me, it isn't worth the $6-10 a month for 15 episodes spread across the next 6 months.

  3. Star Wars Trek Michael 's character was not believable- as a Vulcan trained First in command. Her acting was very poor compared to her work on walking dead. When you can't buy into the lead character- it's hard to swallow the rest. Really weak writing.

  4. Firstly I'm deeply thankful it's on Netflix here in the UK. The CBS access thing is total bullshit.

    On first viewing I feel I was as cautious as you in my praise. I watched it alone, as my wife is notoriously negative about a lot of TV atm. With my first viewing I may have been a little analytical with my thoughts and not allowed myself to relax and absorb the experience. Perhaps after being burnt a little by enjoying the JJ-films on first viewing and then disliking them after I saw them again. I focused on things that niggled me, like the changes to the Kilngons, or the darkly lit sets and tone...

    However on second viewing I set these concerns to the back of my mind. And just watched. I found I enjoyed it more, I put the baggage of how I viewed/remembered Trek to the back of my mind and decided to enjoy it. I was never a big fan of Voyager and never got on with Enterprise, so it's been nearly 20 years since I've watched Star Trek regularly on the small screen.

    On second viewing I realised how excited I am about the return of the franchise, I began looking at the small details, the uniforms, the tech. I began wondering about the state of universe and federation at this point. I realised that I was enjoying the show.

    I think these episodes are the strongest opening episodes (or pilot if you will) for any Star Trek series. I think the themes of Star Trek are there. The show has often been an exploration of western, but more specifically the American psyche. Seeing the opening episodes pitched as a clash between the Nationalist Klingon Empire and the Multicultural Federation of Planets was a bold introduction.

    All in all, I'm really energised by this series. They've taken some brave decisions and I'm looking forward to seeing if they can pull it off....

    ...oh yeah and my wife didn't like it.