Initial Impressions of “Star Trek: Discovery”

“First Officer’s Log: Stardate 1207.3. On Earth, it’s May 11, 2256 — a Sunday. The crew of the USS Shenzhou has been called to the edge of Federation space to investigate damage done to one of our interstellar relays….” — Commander Michael Burnham of the USS Shenzhou

Immediately prior to the above voiceover are the opening credits and theme music for “Star Trek: Discovery” (DIS or DSC), and I have to say, it’s not bad. Neither the visuals nor the music left me with goosebumps exactly, but they weren’t bad — especially, the nice homage to the original series’ theme at the very end. Many (including myself) would have preferred starscapes and swooshing through space, like the shows prior to “Enterprise” (ENT) had. But, I understand why they went with something different, and I thought it was kinda neat. At least, there weren’t some semi-sappy lyrics to go along with it, since the theme was all instrumental and, I thought, in the same vein as its predecessors.

Well, that’s my opener. Since I have only viewed the pilot, which basically serves as a prologue for the rest of the series, the rest of my review will, of course, be limited to the people and things introduced so far in those two episodes.

SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER!

I don’t have much to say, really, about the casting. Probably the best choices were James Frain as Sarek and Doug Jones as Saru. As much as I like Michelle Yeoh, and she makes a fairly worthy captain, I found her accent distracting. Sonequa Martin-Green, who plays Cmdr. Burnham, isn’t bad, but I keep thinking of her character from “The Walking Dead”. She has an interesting character-arc, though, and I hope it allows her to stretch her acting capabilities and provides the audience a well-fleshed out and nuanced character. I suppose Christopher Obi did fine as T’Kuvma, but all he really did was walk around and give speeches in a near-staccato style. The rest of the characters were not seen/heard much or weren’t even introduced, yet (e.g., Capt. Lorca, Lt. Stamets, and the Discovery herself).

I have to say, I’m not thrilled with the Starfleet uniforms. You would have thought they’d be much closer in appearance to those in the original “Star Trek” (TOS), which begins 10 years later. Instead, they look much closer to the blue jumpsuits from ENT. Those wraparound collars look none too comfortable, either. Still, that’s nothing compared to the ornate plating and spikes on the Klingons’ outfits, including what looks like a double-skirted outer jacket. Of course, some of that seems to be specific to T’Kuvma’s house, since the other house representatives had their own styles. (Aside: Why did only 8 of the 24 houses join the conference call?) They all seem a bit overwrought and impractical, though. Even the bat’leth is too ornate, though that might be a ceremonial version. I wonder if the united houses will adopt a less ornate and more homogeneous style….

Same goes for the Klingon ships. The familiar Klingon designs were absent, though that may be explainable from having been a fractured empire, each house developing its own vessels. T’Kuvma’s ancestral vessel, the “Sarcophagus Ship”, seemed particularly ornate, like a cathedral — at least, inside that large room he kept returning to. (I assume that was the bridge, though I didn’t hear or see any obvious workstations or displays.) The real question, and there have been many to point this out, is “Where the heck did he get cloaking technology?!” This series is supposed to take place in the original timeline, and it has long been established that the Klingons wouldn’t get that tech until many years later, probably from the Romulans who sold them warships. That, my friends, is an anachronism, and it’s enough to set long-time Trek fans’ teeth on edge.

T’Kuvma at podium

Another big issue for Trekkies/Trekkers is the appearance of the new Klingons. The “Blingons” from the JJ-Trek films were bad enough, but at least they were (mostly) recognizable as Klingons. This new version, however, is almost a totally new race. Sure, they still speak Klingonese; they’re still a warrior race who sing of Sto-Vo-Kor and honor Kahless the Unforgettable; and they still have pronounced cranial ridges. (This last was an innovation introduced in “Star Trek: The Next Generation” (TNG), but they were still recognizable and the “enhancements” were explained in ENT.) But, the elongated skulls, absence of hair, double nostrils, pigmentation variation, and additional physiological modifications, along with the aforementioned uniforms (diversified in color and style), are going to be darned difficult to explain — again, assuming this series truly takes place in the original timeline (as opposed to JJ-Trek’s Kelvin timeline), as producers have told us. I wouldn’t mind them as a totally new race. But, beyond the new writers/producers wanting to make their mark on the franchise (or something like that), I see no reason for this extreme redesign of an established and beloved alien race. This is what sports fans call an “unforced error”.

Allow me to detour briefly and say that the F/X on this show look great! Thanks to CGI and a number of other advances over the years, the show looks light-years ahead of TNG, “Deep Space Nine” (DS9), and even “Voyager” (VOY).

Back to Starfleet…

The Starfleet vessels and technology look fantastic, for the most part. As with the uniforms, though, the ships look much closer in appearance to those seen in ENT (set ~100 years earlier) rather than those in TOS (set 10 years later). This is most obvious from the gray metal exteriors and bulkheads to the blue lighting and displays. (Btw, the Shenzhou has an awefully large bridge for only a medium-sized ship.) The tech appears a mix of more analog-looking stuff, which would fit both ENT and TOS, and some much more advanced-looking, digital stuff. The latter is disconcerting, because it shouldn’t look more advanced than a Constitution-class vessel (e.g., USS Enterprise from TOS), or even its refit decades later.

Another major concern is the anachronistic use of somewhat advanced holographic imagery to communicate long distances, whether between Starfleet ships/stations or from a Starfleet ship to a Klingon ship. As fans of previous Star Trek series know, this technology is not supposed to be so advanced at this point in the timeline. (Not until seen on the USS Defiant (DS9) toward the end of the Dominion War.) Furthermore, more conventional, window-style viewscreens (or “viewers”) were regularly used for communications by the Federation and other starfaring races and unions it had dealings with at least through the late 24th century. Yet, not only did the DIS pilot show Starfleet ships like the Shenzhou and Europa employing this holo-tech, so did the Klingons. So, are we supposed to assume that the holographic method would be universally abandoned for some reason within the next 10 years? Or, do we just ignore it and chalk it up to “This ain’t the ’60s anymore. Get over it.”?

USS Shenzhou

That said, here is an interesting note from Memory Alpha, which I did not remember:

“While it is a subtle effect, the viewscreen seen throughout ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ clearly displayed 3-D images. This effect was created in some scenes by providing multiple angles on the viewer, with the image on screen displayed at a corresponding angle, rather than a flat, single angle shot.”

Now for a few observations and questions about key scenes…

In the opening scene, Capt. Georgiou and Cmdr. Burnham are shown walking through a desert area occupied by the (mostly) absent Crepusculans, whom they intend to save by unblocking their well — once they find it, that is. Now, Burnham is a xeno-anthropologist, so I guess her presence makes sense. (A little less so, since they are trying to avoid the natives.) But, why did the captain have to go on this particular mission, given the danger of being stranded? I’m also unclear on why they couldn’t have used ship’s scanners to find the well and then beamed down directly. As it was, a few Crepusculans — well, at least one we can be sure of — did see them, and that’s even before the USS Shenzhou swooped in from the clouds to beam up the senior officers. So, Starfleet’s well-intentioned Prime Directive — “No starship may interfere with the normal development of any alien life or society.“ — was once again unceremoniously cast aside.

Based on how many times the Prime Directive is violated by the various ST crews, either intentionally or unintentionally, it really should be renamed something like the Prime Suggestion-Unless-$#!+-Happens-and-You- Need-to-Save-Someone’s-Life-or-Avoid-a-Major-Inconvenience.

Re Burnham’s Insubordination/”Betrayal”: Why was Georgiou so incapable of understanding Burnham’s rationale for what she did, even if she disagreed with it? I and (I’m pretty sure) most of the audience were sympathetic to her reasons, and many of us would have done the same. But, then, I haven’t been trained in a (para-)military organization, which naturally stresses following orders and respecting superior officers. So, in a similar circumstance, maybe I’d feel differently. Thing is, Burnham was raised by Vulcans. Wasn’t her plan the “logical” thing to do, especially given the intel provided by Sarek? Subsequent events seem to have somewhat vindicated Burnham’s efforts, as well.

Re the “away mission” at end of Part 2: In typical Star Trek fashion (esp. TOS), they once again sent the two highest ranking officers on a near-suicide mission. Question: If they intended to abduct T’Kuvma, how were they going to do it? If by slapping a “tracer” for the transporter to lock onto, why didn’t Burnham do it? Was she really so undisciplined that she killed him to avenge the death of her captain/mentor? Plus, she shot him in the back!

Saru, Burnham, and Georgiou on Shenzhou bridge

Other than these incidents, I’m not going to whine too much about the plot and dialogue. I’ve seen some complaints, but I didn’t think either was horrible. It was a decent storyline, and it had some good scenes that were quite reminiscent of previous Treks. So far, I wouldn’t say the Trek-feel was really strong, but it’s there. I also have to remember that, as with previous Trek series, it takes a few episodes for the writers/producers to hit their stride and for the cast to really “inhabit the shoes” of their characters. I’m willing to overlook the annoying aspects (for now) and try to enjoy the show for what it is: new Star Trek!

By the way, the preview of subsequent episodes (the first of which has already aired, at the time of this writing) look to be even better than the pilot, and I am quite intrigued to see where they go from here, as a disgraced Burnham deals with the tragedies of the “Battle of the Binary Stars” and finds herself added to the mysterious Captain Lorca’s crew on the USS Discovery. Fingers crossed, count me in!

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