Star Trek: Discovery
Well, it’s a sci-fi extravaganza for this latest blog post. This past Sunday CBS and CBS All Access premiered the first two episodes of the long-awaited new Star Trek television series Star Trek: Discovery.
There’s a lot riding on this show, as it is Star Trek’s first attempt to reconquer the small screen after a 12-year hiatus. Before this, Trek had had an impressive run of 18 years of uninterrupted programming on the small screen – from the launch of Star Trek: The Next Generation in 1987 to the end of their last television show Star Trek: Enterprise in 2005.
Enterprise was the first of the series since TNG to be cancelled early, only reaching its fourth season instead of the usual seven. This, combined with the lacklustre box office of Star Trek: Nemesis, made for a lot of dead space in the Trek universe until the release of Star Trek: 2009.
The J.J. Abrams-produced film and its two subsequent sequels sparked life and, most importantly, interest back into the Trek universe and no doubt opened the door for where Star Trek shines the brightest, the small screen. And after much speculation, debate, and uncertainty, we have the first two episodes. My verdict is – they are winners.
I want to start by mentioning the hurdles this show had and still has to jump and how it has managed to do so fabulously in its first two episodes.
First, it has to please old Trek fans who have been waiting for more than a decade for a weekly series. They are the heart of the fanbase and most likely to tune into a weekly show as opposed to the casual fan who may dish out some cash to watch a Star Trek movie, old or new.
Second, the new fanbase needs to be catered to. Much to the chagrin of some in the old fanbase, J.J. Abrams brought in a new wave of Trek fans who expect a certain modern aesthetic and visual element to Star Trek that the older shows simply could not afford to have. The younger fanbase may never watch an episode of Star Trek: The Original Series or Star Trek: Voyager in their life, but they are part of the family now and the producers have to make a show that speaks their language too. Three, Star Trek: Discovery needs to operate in the rhythm and storytelling beats of modern television viewers. While it can surely take a deep breath and allow for moments of “Trek-
Three, Star Trek: Discovery needs to operate in the rhythm and storytelling beats of modern television viewers. While it can surely take a deep breath and allow for moments of “Trek-losophy” to fill the storyline, it also has to show that it can play with the big boys like Stranger Things and Game of Thrones in pacing and the visual and special-effects game. Discovery, to be taken seriously, has to adapt to today’s television standards or sink in the blackness of television space.
Last, the show needs to be accessible to non-Trek fans. It’s been 12 long years since Enterprise went off the air. There are plenty of people out there who haven’t seen any of the new movies and know little to nothing about the classic series and movies. They are the casual viewer who wants to escape for an hour and be treated to a well-produced television show. The show needs to operate on a welcoming level to this new fans, otherwise, it will lose them during the first monologue about the importance of the prime directive.
Star Trek: Discovery managed to do all these things on firm legs (with a few wobbles here and there) in its first two episodes and leaves all possibilities open for further exploration of Trek themes as the series continues. There were moments to please the old school Trekkie who loves universe-building and questions of morality in tough situations. There was plenty of modern special-effects wizardry and fast-paced action. The show also laid out its main storyline which will be followed throughout the season. And the show also did not spend too much time trying to explain itself, outside of its first opening sequence in the desert, where exposition was rattled off at copious amounts.
Star Trek: Discovery wasted little time flexing its muscles and thrusting us into the middle of a major conflict between the Klingons, led by the messiah-like figure of T’Kuvma, and Starfleet, led by Captain Georgiou and First Officer Burnham on the starship Shenzhou. T’Kuvna feels that the Federation is a threat to the individuality, purity existence of the Klingon race and the Shenzhou is drawn into his first move in a long chess match for power.
It seemed the writers were inspired by the more chaotic aspects of space life, best portrayed in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the most well-crafted and nuanced of the Trek-series when penning these episodes. It pits US vs THEM and questions the moral high-ground of The Federation. One of the most effective scenes is T’Kuvman’s mocking of the Federation’s catchphrase, “We Come in Peace.” Parallels to peaceful nations of our time that always manage to find themselves in some sort of military conflict are not lost in that message, and as this series is set in the early days of The Federation, it’s quite possible that they themselves are still working those kinks out.
The acting on the show felt a bit wooden at times, but I dare you to find a Star Trek series that doesn’t feel wooden on first viewing. In fact, almost all of them take nearly up to the third season before things really start to gel. Discovery lives in the television-world of “come fully produced or get canned,” though, so it can’t afford to wait three years before it gets going. This affects the series positively because although there are a few clunky scenes here and there, for the most part, the show felt sure-footed.
Discovery also managed to accomplish its biggest challenge, serving all of its masters! The action-packed premiere will no doubt keep the younger Trek fans and casual viewer happy, but the pauses that the show took to explore Michael’s character and flesh out some of the bridge crew leaves me to think that this is an area that Discovery will go back to in future episodes and pleased me as an old-school fan.
My favourite parts are the ones that seem to want to analyze the sacrifices and effects of war. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine went into this at length but almost always from the perspective of the senior officers. Here we are going to get a look at war from the perspective of those who don’t always have a say in the decision-making – the soldiers of war. Again, with all the conflicts raging across the world, this leaves room for Discovery to play out like the best of Star Trek in being a mirror for our own experience. When it was announced that the series wouldn’t be from a captain’s perspective, I was unsure of how that would work. Having watched these first two episodes and the previews for the season, it made me very excited about going on this journey with the crew.
Just so people don’t think I am glossing over the negatives, YES, there was a bit of an issue with too many dark tones and too much lens-flare, and camera tilts – but hey, new generation of fans happy. Thankfully the previews for the rest of the season showed a lighter colour palette and less shaky camera work. Episode two already felt like it shied a bit further from that, and I actually enjoyed it more for that reason.
Overall, I give Discovery high marks. Historically, it’s been nearly impossible to judge Star Trek series from their first outings. Perhaps only the original series came out of the gate being pretty much what it was going to be for the rest of its short run. Discovery was solid enough to make me want to see more, though. It not only proved that it has its feet firmly planted in classic Trek-tropes: light techno-babble, dialoguing and diplomacy, moral dilemmas and questioning of right and wrong, it also deals with more modern and down to earth tropes like sometimes having to fight or die, conflict between people’s separate viewpoints, not always succeeding in a mission and it has the visual spectacles to boot.
This is not your grandparents, nor even your parents, Star Trek, but that is not a bad thing. Every new Trek show tried to be a bit different. This is why there are throngs of fans who love Star Trek: Voyager but who can’t really sit through more than a few episodes of The Next Generation. There are also legions of fans who will swear by the greatness which was Deep Space Nine, while others who to this day think that show betrayed everything that Gene Roddenberry stood for. This is the beauty of Star Trek, it can be many things to many people while still existing in one universe. Let’s hope Discovery only gets better as the weeks unfold.
Star Trek: Voyager Season Three and Four
I was so happy with Season Three of Star Trek: Voyager. When the ship finally left the Kazon behind and Janeway let her hair down, it seemed the show flourished with new adventures and its very own brand of Trek. It became clear to me that Voyager would not carry on the serialized and dark nature of Deep Space Nine, nor would it take the lofty philosophical high-ground of The Next Generation. Voyager was about adventure, and The Original Series would be its closest member of the family. Once Voyager itself seemed to come to terms with this and produce high-octane stories to go along with their style of Trek, the show became much more enjoyable. Season Three is a culmination of this.
This season also impressed me with the cinematic scope that took on many occasions, most notably in the time-travel escapade of Future’s End: Part I and II and the season finale Scorpion: Part One. Voyager’s strength shines in its muscles. Janeway makes questionable decisions at times, but she follows through 100%. She shines in these moments when her back is up against the wall and her death stare has become one my
Voyager’s strength shines in its muscles. Captain Janeway makes questionable decisions at times, but she follows through 100%. She shines in these moments when her back is up against the wall and her death stare has become one my favourite things to watch out for. Janeway, much like Sisko, is someone I would not want to run into on the outer edges of space. Her ship, like his Defiant, is small but carries a punch.
There are a few clunkers in Season Three, but that’s expected of any Star Trek show, but for what it’s worth, I breezed through this season with the same momentum that I had while watching the back end of Season Two.
I was hoping that this fun-filled trek through the stars would continue onto Season Four, and for the most part, it did, except for one big hiccup in the name of Jeri Ryan’s Seven of Nine.
The issue is not her character, per say, she made for an interesting addition to the cast – even if her attempt to do robotic monotone gets on my nerves at times. The problem is that the producers understood how she became a rating’s draw and therefore shifted most of the show’s attention to her. As someone who had finally warmed up to Captain Janeway and her style of command, it was frustrating to see the focus of the show being adjusted elsewhere. Even Trek’s most beloved sidekicks, Spock and Data, were mostly explored through the lens of their respective captains. Janeway was not afforded this same treatment. There are more than a few rumors that Kate Mulgrew was not happy about this. After watching this season, I can understand her position.
The episodes in this season are well produced and watchable, for sure. But while season three took me a few weeks to finish, this one took me months. The development of Seven of Nine as a character bored me to bits, and kind of killed any momentum the series had carried over from its previous one and half seasons.
I know that many people really love Season Four of Voyager, and they especially love Seven of Nine, but I would give this season an average score. “The Seven of Nine Show” was not exactly what I wanted from what Voyager had started to become. The saving grace is that the scenes that Seven does have with Janeway prove how strong both women are as personalities and actresses. This interplay is crucial to warming up to Seven’s character and carries on to Season Five … which is a much better season – but more on that at a later date.
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