It’s been 12 long years, but finally Star Trek is back on television. Sort of. It was on television in the US for a night, and then switched to a streaming service… but you know what I mean!
The event also coincides, give or take a few days, with the 30th anniversary of another Trek show that gave birth to 18 years of science fiction adventure – Star Trek: The Next Generation.
TNG was a ground breaking series for its time and gave birth to a shared universe before the Marvel movies made the idea popular. Though beloved now by most Star Trek fans, back in the day people were swearing they would not give it a chance because of how different it was: the command uniform colour was red, red-shirts were suddenly gold-shirts, the ships only looked vaguely familiar and Klingons were on the bridge. Some Trek fans do like to get their knickers in a twist and make a fuss.
A fuss most certainly has been made about Star Trek: Discovery. For those of us who were in our teens (or older) when the new series was first in production, all this ‘noise’ is annoyingly familiar. We also saw it when Star Trek: Enterprise went into production.
I’ll give the more rabid among us this though, the job is harder when the new show is a prequel, especially one that is set in a timeframe we all already know so much about.
In Australia, “The Vulcan Hello” and “Battle of the Binary Stars” dropped on Netflix only a few hours after they had premiered in the United States and Canada. I quickly downloaded both episodes, finished up work for the day and headed to my car, fully intending to watch both episodes when I got home… only I couldn’t resist taking a peek.
Promising myself I’d only watch the first 15 minutes, I turned the car engine on, left it in park, hooked my phone into the car’s speakers, cued the first episode up on my pone and 40 minutes later I had to stop and just drive.
I eventually finished both episodes later that night in the comfort of my own home, with a nice warm feeling inside. This was the new normal. Star Trek on tap once a week, once again.
What did I think of the two-part premiere?
I enjoyed them. I didn’t outright love them. I was fully prepared to love them, I wanted to love them, but I didn’t quite get there. I loved a lot of what I saw and I could see with ease the promise of an amazing series (which you might doubt when you read the review below), but it wasn’t there yet. Nor should it be, it’s a pilot and every series has to find it’s feet, however, having just written that, I loved “The Emissary.” With that pilot, I was sold. It remains my favourite introduction to a new Trek series ever – and boy was that series different!
It was the same for Star Trek: Voyager. I loved “Caretaker.” That was an excellent pilot and ranks second on my list.
Star Trek: Enterprise‘s “Broken Bow” I enjoyed but had issues with. The soft porn gel rub down in the decon chamber struck me as gratuitous and ruined that pilot for me. It still does.
Next Gen? Well, I was 15. I loved it, but the adult me now sees how touch and go it was. I still enjoy it (thanks nostalgia) but we all know it had a lot of issues.
“The Cage” vs “Where No Man Has Gone Before”… I love “The Cage.” It wins out for me. I loved Pike and I loved Number One. Of course, I love Kirk and his crew too, but “The Cage” resonated with me when I first saw it when it was finally released on video many years ago.
Star Trek: Discovery? I still don’t know. It’s a little telling that I haven’t watched the two parter since that first night, I will, I just haven’t yet. I strongly believe it will be an amazing series, but it upsets me that I didn’t immediately love it.
Why didn’t I love it?
I think they made a few mistakes that were avoidable – not Kelvin timeline level mistakes, but mistakes that shouldn’t have happened with that many executive producers nurse-maiding the series to air.
Before I go any further, it’s only fair I give you this warning:
The Recap and Review
Now that that is out of the way, I’m going to go a little spoiler crazy. This won’t be a blow by blow review, but I will highlight some of what gave me pause.
The first episode starts with the Klingons, and I think that was a mistake.
They look fantastic. Yes, they are different from the Klingons we’ve known and loved (or been sick of for years because they’re so over used), and that is a little jarring, but they are recognisably Klingon, a more ornate version with very ornate costumes and intricately detailed sets, but they are without doubt Klingon.
The problem is that the makeup/prosthetics are so heavy I couldn’t work out what they were saying. I don’t understand Klingon, but there is a cadence and familiarity we all have with that language, which was absent.
I wasn’t engaged by any of the Klingon scenes. Not that opening scene or any subsequent scene. They were laborious. Slow, plodding and full of mangled guttural sounds. I don’t believe that was the fault of the actors, but of the heavy prosthetics, the producers and the two director (part one and two had different directors).
It wasn’t a smart way to start a series.
The second misstep was the scene on the desert world with Georgiou and Burnham.
It was the second scene and it served no purpose. We weren’t given a chance to be invested in the aliens they’re secretly helping, and though we were given an insight into Georgiou and Burnham’s relationship we get better examples of that later on. Watching it, it felt like an excuse to mention “General Order One” to reassure us they were playing by the rules, and to set up Burnham’s fall from grace – being told she’s ready to command her own ship, only to have that all fall apart later on.
The worst part of that scene was the Starfleet delta in the sand. I had hoped it was an insert by CBS that was used only for promos, but no.
Georgiou and Burnham walk a delta in the sand to help the Shenzhou spot them from orbit.
Let’s not even talk about how big that delta would have needed to be. The biggest sin, besides the stupidity of the delta, was showing the Shenzhou break through the clouds only to jarringly cut to a shot of her hovering over the desert floor. They wasted what would have been a stunning shot.
BUT, from there, the show really took off.
After a ‘different’ kind of opening credits sequence that is good but derivative, with music that is almost perfect (it dips in the middle which shifts the whole theme from awesome to average) and a list of credits that has us all asking “just how many Executive Producers does one show need?” we jump straight to the Shenzhou and their encounter with a mysterious object. Suddenly, you forget all the executive producers, the muffled Klingons and the sand-delta because the show becomes Star Trek. Everything starts to click.
The bridge and design of the Shenzhou owe more to the ships of Star Trek: Enterprise or to the USS Kelvin and USS Franklin of the J.J. Abrams films than to any TOS ship, and the uniforms are unlike anything we’ve ever seen in any Star Trek, but suddenly, for me, it all fit.
The designers have linked the old with the new in a way that works. They couldn’t ignore the Kelvin timeline, because a smidge of it takes place in the Prime timeline – so it suddenly made sense that we’d see a mix of TOS and Kelvin and Star Trek: Enterprise design aesthetics in the show, mixed harmoniously together. There wasn’t enough TOS, but we have been told that will come. We’ve even been told we’ll see the original uniforms in some version. On that, apparently the new uniforms, as seen on Pike and his crew, are being phased in, like the DS9 and Voyager uniforms were phased in, in Star Trek: Generations before they changed entirely for the eighth film.
It wasn’t just all of those things clicking in my head that made the show take off – it was everything that happened in those first scenes on the Shenzhou. It worked. The cast were great. I’ve read a review or two that suggest the acting was wooden, but I didn’t see it. There were a couple of moments where I questioned a performance or two, but it was the first episode and that sort of thing is going to happen.
From there, pretty much everything was excellent. There was one more misstep, and that was in episode two where things happened too fast. The actual battle with the Klingons and the appearance and almost instant annihilation of the USS Europa and Terry Serpico’s character were a wasted opportunity. The episode was really building and then suddenly it felt like everything was over far too quickly.
If I have one major issue with these two opening instalments, it’s their pacing. In places it’s off.
But that’s okay. By the end of both episodes you realise you haven’t actually seen the pilot. You’ve seen a prequel to the prequel.
The Shenzhou does not make it out. Georgiou and most of the other characters we’ve been getting to know don’t live. There is no resolution for the main character, there is life imprisonment for mutiny. There is no USS Discovery and we don’t meet most of the actual main cast.
I liked that. I hated it because I was really liking Georgiou and Danby Connor, but I liked it because it was unique and a wonderful device for getting exposition out of the way.
The real pilot we’ve since been told, will be episode three.
So… everyone dies? Almost. But yeah, most of the characters we meet don’t make it to the last act.
There are two impactful deaths in this two parter, for me, and both were handled beautifully.
I fell for Georgiou and Ensign Connor immediately, thanks to all the lead up about their characters, and they both go out in style. Connors’ death is a shock. But it’s what would happen in a space battle. It’s so jarring and unexpected I forgot to breathe for a few moments.
Georgiou’s death we knew was coming, there was no way she was making it out alive, but it still surprised me, and Burnham’s reaction was perfect. It was a heart-breaking, emotionally powerful scene. Throughout the episode there were hints Philippa Georgiou was like a surrogate mother to Michael Burnham, and we see that play out meaningfully in her death.
Sonequa Martin-Green was incredible.
I won’t go any further into the episode because you need to watch it. There is one more major death which is completely unexpected, but I don’t want to spoil that one. It surprised me.
Yes, I’ve been critical of this two-part opener for the new series, but it really is excellent science fiction and it IS Star Trek. I know I’ve spoiled quite a bit, but there are many more things to discover (no pun intended) that I haven’t talked about.
To wrap up:
Sonequa Martin-Green and Doug Jones (as Burnham and Saru). AMAZING. 10 out of 10.
Michelle Yeoh. Why did they kill her off? She is one of the best Star Trek captains I’ve seen on screen. 10 out of 10.
James Frain as Sarek. He does it. He honours Mark Leonard meaningfully, while making the character his own. The only issue I had with Sarek was when his hologram sat on something in Burnham’s quarters from thousands of light years away, but that’s a nit pick I don’t have the energy to go into. It’s one more thing the executive producers should have picked up on and didn’t. Seriously… what do they do on the show? The sitting hologram is not James’ fault and it didn’t detract from his performance.
The rest of the cast. Just kick-ass. I wanted to spend more time with them and am disappointed I didn’t get to. We were promised “new ships” and got them, but I would have liked to see them stay around for longer. 10 out of 10.
Costumes and sets. Blew my mind. These surpass anything we’ve ever seen before on film or television. 10 out of 10.
Writing. Needs a bit of work. Some simple plot structure mistakes were made, some dialogue was a bit clunky, and some of what we saw on screen was silly. Which ever writer or producer thought the delta in the sand was a good idea and that immersing us in the political nonsense of the Klingons was going to be interesting needs to sit out the rest of the season. 7 out of 10.
The overall story. It’s great. Personally, I love it and I have no issue with the Spock connection. 10 out of 10.
Music. The opening theme is beautiful, but strays in the middle which does affect it. The music throughout the show was brilliant. 9 out of 10.
Direction. Good. I don’t know why they had to tilt the camera angle all the time, it annoyed the crap out of me. 6 out of 10.
Special Effects. BEAUTIFUL. 10 out of 10.
Pacing. Needs a bit of work, especially in the Klingon scenes. They rushed stuff they shouldn’t have rushed, like most of Episode Two, and set far too languid a pace for some scenes that they should have just smashed through. 7 out of 10.
Editing. I’ve separated this from pacing, because I think the pacing was a writing, directing and producing issue. The editing was perfect except for that one scene in the opening with the Shenzhou. I didn’t feel thrown out of more than that one scene by the editing choices made. 9 out of 10.
Tone. This was Star Trek. It felt like Star Trek, it looked like Star Trek, it sounded like Star Trek. So much so, the strangeness of the uniforms and the Kelvin timeline like effects and sounds faded into the background. 9 out of 10.
4 Starfleet Delta’s out of 5.
There is room for improvement, but they kicked a goal and I really pleased to say “Star Trek is back.” I’m proud of what these guys have accomplished and I believe Star Trek is in the right hands. I’m putting all of what annoyed me down to the reality that this is a new series finding its feet.
Bring on Monday! I can’t wait for the third episode.