TV Review: Star Trek: Discovery (2017-2018)


Title: Star Trek: Discovery
Release Date: 2021
Creator: Bryan Fuller and Alex Kurtzman
Season: 1
Episodes: 15
Production Company: Secret Hideout | Roddenberry Entertainment | Living Dead Guy Productions | CBS Studios
Summary/Review: As a long time fan of the Star Trek original series and Star Trek: The Next Generation, and all their spinoff films,  I’ve been eager to watch this newest Star Trek universe series. My feelings after viewing the first season are mixed.  The show veers away from the Gene Roddenberry rules into darker territory than previous series, but it also has a tendency toward ludicrous plot twists over effective storytelling. Keeping in line with 21st-century television, Discovery is a serialized program as opposed to the mostly stand-alone episodic approach of its predecessors.

Unlike other Star Trek shows which centered on the captain, the main character of this show is  Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green, who was great in The Walking Dead), a science specialist on the U.S.S. Enterprise.  She is a human who was orphaned in a Klingon attack as a child and raised as the ward of the Vulcan Sarek (James Frain), essentially making her Spock’s adopted sister. As the series begins, she is a first officer being groomed to be a captain, but convinced that the Federation must make a preemptive attack on the Klingon Empire, she attempts a mutiny and is busted down to the lowest levels.

The first half of the season deals with Burnhams attempted mutiny, the start of the Federation-Klingon War, and Burnham’s recruitment to the Discovery by the eccentric military captain Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs of Lucius Malfoy fame but with an American accent). The early episodes are hit and miss but I think do a good job of establishing Burnham and her regrets and hopes for redemption while also introducing the rest of the characters. It also shows some developments of an experimental technology on the Discovery,  the spore drive.  Basically it uses a galaxy-wide mycelial network (yes, space fungi!) to jump to different places in space.  It sounds weird, but then again, so were dilithium crystals.

The second half of the season is set primarily in the Mirror Universe, a plot device going back to the original series of an alternate universe where everyone has evil duplicates.  Unfortunately this half of the season is pretty much mediocre as the creators indulge their desire to make the show “gritty and dark.” There’s a definite influence of the 2000s Battlestar Galactica without that show’s gravitas. The second half of the season also has multiple characters being revealed as not who they were, but not in very effective ways.  It feels like the twists were thought up first and then the stories were filled in later.  Thankfully, the final episode builds on the hope on optimism that is the corner of Star Trek storytelling and gives me hope for future seasons.

The show is set ten years before the beginning of the original series making Discovery essentially a prequel. There’s wisdom in this as it appears the creators wanted to tell a war story and why not have the Klingons as antagonists rather than creating a new villain, albeit I don’t think they ultimately used the Klingons to their best storytelling potential. Despite the earlier time period, the crew of Discovery have access to more advanced technology than in earlier shows.  I’m mostly fine with this, because the 1960s Star Trek did their best to show future technology with the special effects available at the time, so there’s no reason the 2010s show shouldn’t do the same.  Ultimately, though, they are going to have to explain why the spore drive doesn’t replace the warp drive by the time of The Next Generation.

The best part of the show so far is its characters.  In addition Martin-Green, the show’s main cast includes:

  • Doug Jones (creature specialist of Pan’s Labyrinth and The Shape of Water fame) as Saru, who is of a rare species known as Kelpien, serves as the first officer, and is the conscience of the ship. He’s my favorite character thus far.
  • Mary Wiseman plays Sylvia Tilly, Burnham’s roommate who is nerdy and socially awkward, but nonetheless highly-skilled and ambitious.  She’s my second favorite character.
  • Shazad Latif plays Ash Tyler, who is rescued from a Klingon jail by Captain Lorca, appointed security chief, and becomes a romantic interest of sorts for Burnham.
  • Anthony Rapp plays the sometimes crotchety/sometimes goofy chief engineer Paul Stamets who develops and maintains the spore drive.
  • Wilson Cruz plays Hugh Culber, the ship’s medical officer, and Stamets’ husband, and is the more sensible of the couple.
  • Michelle Yeoh has a recurring role as starship Captain Philippa Geourgiu who is Burnham’s mentor.

Due to the aforementioned twists, it appears that several of the characters will not be appearing in future seasons, although none of their endings are written in stone.  I’ll find out soon.

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