I’ve never seen a single episode of Star Trek. Here’s what I thought of the Star Trek: Discovery premiere.
With my only experience of the Trek universe being J.J. Abrams’ two cinematic outings (I know, I know!) I wasn’t sure if I should bother to tune in to Star Trek: Discovery.
I’m not a complete neophyte — anyone who has lived in the pop culture sphere has a basic grasp of Starfleet vernacular — but I knew there would be concepts, references, tropes, and morays that would pass me by entirely. Would this limit my understanding and enjoyment of Star Trek: Discovery? Would diving into the deep end even be worth it?
What swayed me in the end was the promise of characters — particularly the two female leads, played by Sonequa Martin-Green and Michelle Yeoh. Two women of color leading the new guard of a legendary sci-fi series? Star Trek: Discovery definitely deserved my attention.
And so last night, I undertook that rare ritual in the age of on-demand digital viewing: I turned on my television to channel 2, and settled in to watch a commercial-laden broadcast of network TV.
…And was subsequently treated to an Oprah segment on 60 Minutes that ran long and seriously hurt my sci-fi vibe. Nevertheless, I persisted, and here are my thoughts on the premiere of Star Trek: Discovery, “The Vulcan Hello.”
These Klingons are a little much
Going into the Star Trek: Discovery premiere, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what the Klingons were about. Weird heads, incomprehensible yet popular language, mean guys — what else was there to know?
Apparently, a lot! The Klingons of Discovery, who pop into the first episode with jarring frequency, clearly have a lot going on. Conveyed amidst the ugly faces and (let’s face it, kind of awkward) guttural anger is a super bloody mythology, topped off by that most fantastical of fantasy elements: A prophesy! (Guys, I thought this was a sci-fi show.)
Even to my untrained eye, it seemed clear that — at least for now — the Klingons are going to be Star Trek: Discovery’s way of presenting the darkness of religious violence. (Are we going to get another angle on this in a series famous for its benevolent atheism? I dunno.) Super ritualized in their brutality, the Klingon crew aren’t driven by Vulcan logic or human emotion, but by a base zeal that apparently both motivates and justifies their fondness for large-scale murder.
Case in point: That one guy who puts his hand in a fire for like five minutes, and it’s a good thing.
Okay Discovery, message received. These Klingons aren’t just mean, they’re straight-up Bad. I could actually do with a little less of this next time.
Holy crap, this show is beautiful!
My exposure to televised Star Trek properties until now has begun and ended with GIFs of Tribbles and Patrick Stewart. Suffice to say, they are not exactly the best-looking bits of visual media I’ve ever seen.
Of course, I expected Star Trek: Discovery to look significantly nicer than its predecessors — cool and modern, certainly. (Even though I think Discovery takes place before the original series, which means we have the Star Wars Reverse Technological Aging issue on our hands again… but I barely go here, so who cares.)
But I was wrong. Star Trek: Discovery doesn’t look like your standard, decent-but-unremarkable sci-fi series; it’s actually gorgeous to watch. A desolate planet is dimensional and lovely; the cold reaches of space seem lush with energy and unexpected color. Even the modular interior of the bridge and corridors of the USS Shenzhou (thanks, Wikipedia!) are cool without being chilly, clean without seeming sterile. The crew’s warm blue and gold Starfleet uniforms add even more richness to the palate, amidst seamless holographic projections and sparkling displays.
CBS clearly spent their money on Discovery, and it shows. It’s a visual treat — too bad it’s mostly going to be seen on our computer screens.
These ladies are awesome ladies and I don’t want them to die
One of my concerns going into Star Trek: Discovery was being able to connect with its characters. The Pure Science Fiction nature of Star Trek has been reiterated to me many times (usually by people crapping on Star Wars, but let’s not go there!) and in my experience, that kind of story often prioritizes concepts over character.
Not the case here! Though of course, it’s still very early, Discovery’s cast definitely provides enough grit for me to become quite fond of them. It’s easy to love the Shenzhou Captain Georgiou (thanks, Wikipedia!) whose wit and quiet power steamroll over the clunky dialogue she’s given. Already, I’m nervous for Georgiou’s safety on what’s shaping up to be a pretty violent show, and I really hope she sticks around.
It took me a little longer to warm up to Star Trek: Discovery’s heroine Michael Burnham. Lightyears braver than I am and clearly good at her job, Burnham’s stilted, formal affect highlighted the show’s dialogical shortcomings and left me confused. But the premiere did its work well, offering enough context to Burnham’s history that I was able to glimpse the real character underneath.
It doesn’t hurt, of course, that Burnham proves to be significantly more ruthless and definitive than she seems at first. Those unseen depths are clearly news to Georgiou as well, and the tension between the long-time friends makes for an excellent start to the drama.
I feel a spiritual connection to that alien guy
I’m usually not one to go for the super-alieny characters, but Doug Jones’ Lieutenant Saru (thanks, Wikipedia!) has won me over.
The dude is right. Yeah, they should stay on the ship! Yeah, Burnham should go back to sick bay! Yeah, the Shenzhou really should get the hell out of there! Yeah, this is all really, really bad!
We get each other, Saru and I. If he wants to form the Starfleet of Overly Cautious Beings, I’ll be right there with him.
Is this whole plot seriously pivoting on racial profiling?
Toward the end of the Star Trek: Discovery premiere, matters start to get a little bit dicey, morally speaking. I know it’s quite early, and I’m not making any firm judgements… but the premiere really seems to be in favor of using racial profiling methods on the Klingons, to deadly effect.
Sure, Burnham makes reference to the difference between race and culture (Klingon culture, as mentioned, seems unrelievedly bloodthirsty.) But isn’t that still the kind of generalization that bright-minded shows like Star Trek usually reject? Are we really going Dark Trek here? Just how deeply are we supposed to consider this clear contradiction in morals, when it’s our main character who is espousing a philosophy of kill that has eerie parallels to our own tumultuous culture?
I’m not sure yet. Discovery, reporting a befuddlement.
Wait… that’s it?
For those of us without subscriptions to the CBS All-Access streaming service, the end of the Star Trek: Discovery premiere was… well, kind of like biting into a great big air sandwich. Just as the episode hit its peak of drama and excitement, poof! We all had to go back to the internet to watch more.
Sure, it’s CBS’ right to toss out one half of a two-part premiere like a crumb of nerd catnip. It’s their prerogative to pop Trek onto their paid service that I guess someone must actually use. But it’s still a shame.
Because while this Star Trek virgin is certainly intrigued by this new series, I’m not sure it’s a “paid subscription to watch only one show” type of intrigued. I suspect that many casual fans will feel the same.