Reviews: Star Trek Discovery

Discovery, season 1: good build-ups, weak payoffs

Star Trek: Discovery had a lot going for it in the beginning. There was a great war that could have fueled several seasons of strong, serialized plot. There was complexity, and conflicts that often had no clear right or wrong answer. There was a morally ambiguous anti-hero captain, dealing in shades of grey. There was some fantastic build-up...

...followed by disappointing, weak-sauce payoff.

What was set up so meticulously in the first half of the season, was then carelessly squandered in the second half. Moral ambiguity was replaced by heavy-handed preaching about Starfleet idealism. Dark and nuanced characters got killed off or Put on a Bus. The war got an anticlimactic and contrived resolution in a rushed and lackluster finale. In short, in its first season alone, Star Trek: Discovery got rid of all of its strongest assets.

It's almost like the writers got scared of this bold, brave direction they initially chose for this new Star Trek, and decided to backtrack on it to please the old fans. And, sure enough, those who spent the show's run complaining about the "grimdark" and how it wasn't "their Trek" seem pacified and pleased with how it turned out.

Don't get me wrong. It's still an entertaining, competently made and well acted show. It's just that it had the potential to be much better, if the writers stuck to their guns.

As things stand, those in love with Treks of the old may look into the future seasons with hope, but as a fresh fan who liked what the first half of Discovery had brought to the table, I see the show as a sad bundle of wasted potential.

Same crap as the rebooted movies

If you were thinking that returning to original Star Trek timeline would make this series more like the former Trek TV shows and less like the J.J. Abrams movies, forget about it. At least based on the first two episodes, Discovery is exactly like the rebooted movies: more violence, more grim and gritty action scenes, more brooding anti-hero characters... And less of the utopian ideas and cool sci-fi concepts that made TV Trek so unique.

Admittedly, pretty much none of the pilot episodes for other Star Trek series have been perfect, but at least all of them tried to explore some thought-provoking sci-fi themes, even if they weren't always that successful. Here, however, it's just Klingon and Federation ships shooting each other in space, protagonists arguing and shouting at each other, Klingons being stereotypically proud and violent and stupid. That's it.

Obviously you shouldn't judge a whole show based on two episodes, but after the first two Discovery needs to do a lot more to convince me it could become a proper Star Trek series instead of just a generic action piece set in space, like the Abrams movies are.

First Two Episodes

We were already into the first two episodes of Star Trek Discovery, and outside of it's title making for an unfortunate abbreviation, and some background belly-aching about how the diverse casting is somehow insidious (how little has changed in 50 years?), I didn't know a lick about it.

Well I've enjoyed it so far. Tonally, it has more in common with the recent films than the previous series, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. There are the bright lights and hey-wow! graphics, but also there is a strong driving thread throughout that carries us straight from one episode to the next. It is a continuous story, rather than "episodic", so to speak, ending on a cliff hanger so we have a real urge to find out what happens next. People have criticised the movies for their lack of depth and action emphasis, but here there are enough philosophical conflicts to imply it is going to at least be a little smarter. The main one is how our protagonists deal with their first interaction with the Klingons; a culture that only respects immediate attack, whilst the heroes have a culture of never being the one to attack first. It's nice seeing Michelle Yeoh (who's title credit "guest starring" gives you a good idea of how long she's going to last), and Sonequa Martin bounce off one another to justify their differing answers to the dilemma.

The other, not so far addressed is a fairly blatant war crime that the heroes commit to save the day in the second episode. I won't spoil what it is, but I'm somewhat concerned that none of the characters even seem to notice something is morally iffy at the time.

There are some cool characters in this. I like how much we are shown of the Klingons, and their own cultural conflicts. I also like the big, tall, fleshy pink thing that is one of the senior officers (forgive me, I'm not at the point of remembering character names yet). I even like how there is a daft punk style robot in the background, because really when was the last time we had a cool robot in a show that wasn't a creepy, sexy woman? I look forward to seeing how they will play into the story, assuming this thing doesn't get too wrapped up in following just the most senior officers.

So far the series has a lot of promise and I'll keep up with it. If you haven't already realised it was out, I strongly recommend giving the new Star Trek a try.