I’m going to apologize in advance for the length of this review, I can go on about my Trek. There is a TL;DR at the bottom, if you want to scroll down, I get it. Also, there are some prologue spoilers, but it’s just prologue spoilers, I don’t count those, but if you do, you’ve been warned.
So I’ve been a huge Trekkie for many years and I’ve been looking forward to this latest Star Trek instillation for quite some time and I have to say, I’m really impressed with Discovery so far. But it’s not the Star Trek many of us are used to, and that’s good in many ways, but there’s one huge effect of that difference that makes me kind of sad.
Discovery is much different from any Star Trek series we’ve seen before. Before the series started, I read up on lots of what to expect and that helped prepare me. It also helps to go in with an understanding of the main themes of Star Trek: diversity, exploration, and an emphasis on peaceful existence with other species we encounter as we explore the universe. And honestly, there are many reasons why it’s good that Discovery’s not like the other series, one reason; there are too many remakes around these days as it is.
So the things you should know: this series takes place in what is called the Primary Universe, this is the same universe that the show is normally based in; many terrible episodes and the latest movies are based in the Mirror Universe *basically a universe where humans didn’t learn mostly peaceful ways before exploring space*.
*I’m going to go ahead and briefly chime in on my opinion of the movies here; I’m in agreement with many of the series’ stars and writers that while the movies are cool looking and good, for movies, they do not have enough time to get to the themes that are the heart of the Star Trek series. Special note on that: Please don’t go into any Star Trek series, with the exception of The Next Generation (TNG), expecting it to be like the movies.*
It would take a long time to explain why the series has never focused on a war before, but it’s mostly because of Roddenberry’s original vision of the show and the emphasis on peaceful co-existence I mentioned earlier. Discovery is unique because it is the story of a war. One that Roddenberry referred to, but never showed. It’s set about 10 years before Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS).
Our heroine for ST:Discovery is Michael Burnam, brilliantly played by The Walking Dead’s Sasha; Sonequa Martin-Green. This is the first Trek series that followed one main character, it’s a unique way to tell the story, but it works extremely well because of how Michael was brought up. Although she’s human and is serving on a mostly human Starfleet ship, her parents were killed in a Klingon attack when she was a child and she was raised among Vulcans. And not just any Vulcan, but Spock’s Vulcan father, future Ambassador Sarek and human mother, Amanda. This gives Michael so many interesting and familiar connections and traits.
Michael is the Second in Command when her ships encounters a rogue Klingon ship in forbidden Starfleet space and she uses her knowledge from the Vulcans having battled the Klingons so many times before to attempt an action that could prevent a full out war. But her plan is foiled because to avoid war, she has to go against her mentor and ship’s Captain. Instead of preventing the war, she is labeled as a mutineer and is blamed for starting the war.
Thankfully, in steps Captain Lorca and the USS Discovery. Captain Lorca is unlike any other Star Trek Captain we’ve seen. In comparison to other Captains, Lorca is a war-monger; aggressive while others are diplomatic, making decisions that are frowned upon in times of peace and against most of what Starfleet stands for, but necessary to win wars. Lorca studies the battle that started the war and he studied Michael Burnam and he sees the sense in her botched attempt to prevent war, so he pulls her into service on his experimental war-time ship, USS Discovery. Then Lorca gets a glimpse of Burnam’s knowledge and boldness and becomes more convinced that she’s a good addition to his team.
So far, I’m really impressed with a few things about ST: Discovery:
First, many visual effects were borrowed from the latest movies, but not so much that it distracts from the action on screen *looking at you and your screen flares, Abrams*. There are several moments, especially in the prologue, where it’s actually quite stunning.
Second, the series is about a war, but it does a wonderful job of showing that the war was nearly unavoidable because the Klingons were hoping to pull Starfleet into it.
Third, at this time in the Star Trek Universe there’s still much animosity between many Vulcans and humans *Vulcans used to be intensely emotional and they were plagued by war constantly, often with the Klingons, until there was a movement where they practiced suppressing their emotions and basing their entire way of thinking purely on logic. Vulcans have emotions, they train to suppress/ignore them*, and Michael’s actions to prevent war is seen by many humans as being a cold decision made by someone who is seen as not quite human because of her emotion-discouraging Vulcan upbringing, but the show shows us how her actions are based on her emotions more than her logic. And I love how they’ve shown her internal conflict between her logic and emotions.
Fourth, Captain Lorca is unlikely to become my favorite Captain *that position is held very firmly by TNG’s Captain Picard*, but I can appreciate his war-like style of leadership, despite it being the opposite of what you normally want in a Starfleet Captain.
Fifth, while the overall story arch focuses on the war, but the themes at the heart of Star Trek are still there. They discover they can travel far and fast, but at a cost of harming something, so they risk the great gift it gives them to stop the harm. Also, great emphasis is placed on how fit a soldier is for duty after he’s captured and tortured. High-ranking Starfleet Officers still take very risky steps in time of war to be as diplomatic and peace-seeking as possible. I feel the heart of Trek is in Discovery, but some Trekkies don’t agree, and they’re welcome to that opinion.
The thing that makes me sad about Discovery is that while it can still be awesome and inspiring, with the diversity, and the peace seeking intentions, because of the violence of the show, they’ve made it a series that only adults should watch. While it doesn’t ruin the series for me, it makes me a little sad.
My favorite thing about Star Trek has always been it’s optimism. The main reason I prefer Star Trek to Star Wars is because Trek is a realistic vision of what we really actually can achieve as humanity, we’re not likely to get midichlorians, but peace and a brighter future might be attainable.
It makes me sad to think that while it still has some of Star Trek’s inspiring themes, it’s unlikely to lead to a story like the one told by actress Nichelle Nichols who played Lt. Uhura in TOS. She was thinking of leaving the series after the first season to return to her stage career when she got an invitation from a fan to meet that turned out to be Martin Luther King Jr. At the meeting he told her how it was the only show his family was allowed to stay up late to watch the sci-fi program weekly to see her, black and a woman, not as a servant, but as a Lieutenant, the fourth in command of the Starship USS Enterprise.
Again, to me, this isn’t all bad, it’s just an element that places Discovery in a different category that the other Star Trek series. I think it’s pretty cool that Discovery has embraced it’s adult themes. There are LGBT characters and violence and f-bombs are dropped. It might be kind of unfortunate that it’s not kid friendly, but it makes for a good adult series.
CBS has already signed up for Season 2 of ST: Discovery and if it continues as it has, I’ll be watching.
TL;DR: Not your Dad’s Trek, not even our old Trek; excellent adult entertainment, but it probably won’t inspire The Next Generation.