Episode 8 Recap and Review

Episode 8 Recap and Review

Episode 8 is a welcome return to form, and is the most Star Trek episode of Star Trek: Discovery to date in story and theme.

It feels nice saying that, because I’ve said it almost every review now, which means (to me, anyway) that the writers are on the right track and the show is growing stronger every week.

It needs to be said, Kirsten Beyer wrote the crap out of this episode.  Kirsten is a Star Trek novelist, and this is her first television writing credit.

You couldn’t tell.

If this episode has a flaw, it’s in its run time.  There was so much story and not enough time was given to some aspects of it, but, more on that later.

The Facts
Episode Number:
108
Episode Title: “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum”
Written By: Kirsten Beyer
Directed By: John S. Scott

Quotable
Lorca to Rhys
: “Mr Rhys, could I trouble you to fire at something?

Stamets to Tilly: “What are you doing down here, captain?

Michael to Ash and Saru: “We can’t touch that transmitter now.
Ash to Michael: “General Order One?
Michael, in response: “No, Order One restricts us from revealing ourselves to sentient beings that aren’t warp capable.  We’re well beyond that.  Now our duty is to follow First Contact Protocol, and we can’t borrow or alter their property without them understanding our objective, and agreeing to it.

Michael to Ash: “The needs of the many…
Ash to Michael: “Are worth fighting for… are worth dying for… but so are the needs of the few.
Michael, in response: “Or the one?

Tilly to Stamets: “Okay.  What is going on with you?
Stamets, in response: “Excuse me?
Tilly back to Stamets: “At first, the tardigrade DNA booster seemed like a good thing, but now you’re back to your old persnickety, grumpy self.  So what’s the deal?

L’Rell to Cornwell: “What happens to those who Starfleet captures?
Cornwell, in response: “In war?  They’re imprisoned.  Interrogated – humanely.  Eventually, they’re returned to their people as part of any final peace settlement.
L’Rell, in response: “So, you do not… execute them?
Cornwell: “The Federation has no death penalty.
L’Rell: “I wish to defect.

L’Rell: “First, I am ensuring the end of Kol’s days.  He neglected T’Kuvma’s message.  He desecrated this vessel with his fetid presence.  Before we depart, I will set the ship’s warp core to overload.
Cornwell: “He really disappointed you!
L’Rell: “He disgusts me.  My only regret is that I will not be able to see his pretty painted face as he takes his final breath.

Interesting Bits and Pieces
– “Si Vis Pacem Para Bellum” was originally slated to be the last episode of the first half of the first season.  Episode 9 was made the last episode for the first half a few episodes into the current run.
– The USS Gagarin, we assume, is named for the Russian cosmonaut, Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin.
– Kelpiens can run at up to 80 kilometres per hour!
– This was Kirsten Beyer’s first professional television or film credit, as mentioned above.  Prior to being recruited by Bryan Fuller to work on Star Trek: Discovery, she was (and still is) the author of 10 Star Trek novels, with two more on the way.  Eight of those novels are based on Star Trek: Voyager.  For information on Kirsten, see her Memory Alpha page here.
– We get some insight into what is happening to Lieutenant Paul Stamets via an exchange in the mess hall with Tilly:
Okay.  I’ll admit that something has been happening to me.  One minute I know where I am, who you are, what I’m doing, and then, all of a sudden, what I know… changes… it gets jumbled…

The Recap and Review
We kick off with a bang after another cold open (no teaser before the credits), with a brand new Starfleet vessel, the USS Gagarin, in a fierce battle with the Klingons.

Sadly, the Gagarin is getting its warp nacelles kicked.

The USS Gagarin

The Discovery drops in to save the day… but can’t, and the Gagarin is blown to pieces.

It’s a demoralising moment for the crew as they engage the spore drive and jump out of the battle to safety, with Lorca (almost showing a drop of compassion) telling them there will be a time to grieve, but later.

Star Trek: Discovery throws together a nice battle sequence.  The effects are always top notch, though at times there are some unusual direction choices that are made that don’t quite allow the scenes to ‘pop’ as much as they could.

I do miss the more traditional phaser fire of past series – sustained beams of light rather than the more Star Wars like bolts of energy, but that’s a small thing.

This entire opening shows Lorca in his element.  He’s a dynamic captain who looks like he wants to jump through the viewer into the midst of the battle, and physically beat the Klingon ships into oblivion.  This is no Kirk or Picard, calmly or with restrained intensity, commanding an engagement from the captain’s chair.  Lorca paces like a caged animal, unleashing the fury of his ship on the enemy.  Jason Isaacs makes you believe it’s personal and he is convincing as a man who has lost a lot to the Klingons and wants to deal them a decisive blow.  He is such an excellent choice for this new Starfleet captain.

Even though Lorca doesn’t get a lot to do in this episode, every shot he’s in adds to his character – and that’s all thanks to Jason’s acting ability.  Last episode he was the fall guy for Mudd’s craziness, but every line delivery imbued Lorca with personality.  I love watching this very talented man work.

If Ash is Voq, Lorca is going to lose it and watching Jason Isaacs chew the scenery over that one will be an Emmy-winning moment.

Stamets Connected to the Spore Drive

After the destruction of the Gargarin, we visit with Stamets and Tilly and quickly learn that the spore-drive has more of an effect on Stamets than we were initially led to believe.  He staggers out of the reaction chamber like a man waking from sleep.  He’s confused, disoriented and says to Tilly “what are you doing here, captain?

Is he jumping timelines?

Tilly has stated that she intends to be a captain.  Has becoming “unstuck” in time thanks to the tardigrade DNA allowed Stamets to see or even actually visit future or alternate timelines?  He’s in a chamber infused with spores… is he actually IN that chamber?  Is something else mysterious going on while he’s hooked up to the machine?  This brief scene was very nicely set up last episode, and you can bet this one is also planting a seed or two that will bear fruit in episodes to come.

As Paul pulls himself together, he goes from confused to snappy in a heart beat.  Shroom-happy, huggy Stamets is gone.  Not-so-happy and eternally grumpy Stamets is back.

We leave Tilly and Stamets to visit with Lorca and a Vulcan admiral, where Lorca once again shows his disdain for the chain of command, walking through the hologram image and speaking abruptly, even dismissively, to the Vulcan (sometimes he’s more respectful with his subordinates).

The Vulcan admiral tells Lorca that they need to find a way to defeat the Klingon cloaking technology, or all might be lost.

We quickly leave the ship and FINALLY visit a planet, Pahvo, where a Landing Party of Saru, Ash Tyler and Michael Burnham are trekking through a forest that gives a slight nod to the very first episode of Star Trek ever, “The Cage”, with blue tinted foliage and an eerie, ethereal, ever-present background musical noise that sounds like it incorporates old school Trek sound effects.

Ash, Michael and Saru on Pahvo

This is the first planet a Landing Party has visited since the Shenzhou Landing Party in the very first episode… and it is beautiful.  Everything about Pahvo is interesting and thought provoking.  I had a really visceral reaction, and was swept away and engaged on every level by the scenes on the mystical world.

The team are trekking through the wilderness in search of a giant crystal spire that ‘sings’ in the hope it can help them detect cloaked Klingon vessels.  Saru is a bit annoyed, because, compared to a Kelpien, human’s are physically quite slow – also, the constant hum and vibration of the planet is doing Saru’s head in.  His senses are more refined than a human’s and he’s struggling through the background ‘noise’ of Pahvo.

We eventually learn that the whole planet may be sentient, as that sentience manifests itself as a beautiful, slowly undulating and swirling cloud of blue/white energy.  The manifestations/emanations choose to communicate with Saru and end up having quite an effect on the Kelpien First Officer.

Ash Tyler and Michael Burnham on Pahvo

More on that later!

Alongside this main plot, we have a secondary plot that involves the Klingons (with the odd visit back to the Discovery).

Yes.  When I saw the Klingons I groaned and looked away, wondering if I should just hit pause and come back to the episode later or go grab a coffee while they growled and pontificated at each other, but thankfully the stilted dialogue and posturing ended quickly and we got to see Admiral Katrina Cornwell again, a character I’ve really come to enjoy.

The Klingon scenes start with L’Rell convincing Kol she can be of use to him as an interrogator, and he sets her the task of getting information out of the Admiral.  She pays a visit to Katrina with a collection of nasty looking weapons in tow, and after getting the Admiral to scream, quite quickly asks to defect.

L'Rell and Cornwell Face Off

L’Rell and Admiral Katrina Cornwell need their own spin-off.  Both Mary Chieffo and Jayne Brook are excellent together.  The scenes between both women sparkle.

In the first exchange between L’Rell and Cornwell, we learn L’Rell hates Kol.

I mean really HATES Kol.

I believe her.  I believe the character’s contempt is genuine.

Does she want to defect though?  That, I’m not so certain of.  I want her to.  I’d love to see more of her and I’d love her to hate Kol so much she works with the Federation to destroy him, then double-crosses our heroes in an attempt to rebuild the Empire.

L'Rell and Cornwell Bond

I don’t know if that could ever happen… but it’s a tiny little fanboy fantasy I have!

Sadly, the exchanges between these two powerful women are too brief, and eventually end with the apparent death of Admiral Cornwell.  In the last half of the episode, L’Rell is taking the Admiral to her ship when they’re discovered by Kol.  In that moment, there’s yet another nice exchange between both as they confirm neither is what the other expected, and then Katrina grabs a weapon from L’Rell’s belt, attacks her, and L’Rell pushes her into a power conduit after some nifty hand-to-hand combat.  Being held against the conduit as it sparks and flashes seems to kill the Admiral.

I’m hoping, desperately, that Cornwell isn’t dead, but I’m honestly not sure.  L’Rell’s statement to her when Kol sees them together in the corridor suggests otherwise – “At least you won’t die in a cage, Admiral.”  So either she killed her, or she’s alluding to their eventual escape that is yet to come.

It is telling that L’Rell offers to get rid of the body… so, who knows?

The scenes between L’Rell, Kol and Cornwell are the best scenes to feature Klingons to date.

Back on the planet Saru gets high on sparkly happy dust and, we eventually learn, loses all fear.  Sort of.  He seems to maintain the fear of losing his loss of fear – if that confusing sentence makes sense?

Saru is Given a Gift From the Pahvo

I don’t know if Saru goes native or not, but he definitely changes.  He crushes communicators, deceives his colleagues, and donkey-kicks Burnham in an attempt to stay on the planet.

Very un-Saru behaviour, and definitely not behaviour that is becoming of an officer.

Before that craziness though, we see Burnham and Tyler take a step closer in their relationship in what is ultimately an awkward scene.  This was a perfect example of how this episode needed more time.  A few scenes needed just one more minute each to make this entire episode something outstanding.

With Ash and Michael, one minute they’re talking about trout, the next Burnham is saying she’s probably going back to prison, and then there’s a touching exchange that evokes Suraks’ teachings (and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan), that turns into a kiss.

The scene works, and our head-canon can say that stuff has been building off-screen, but it would have been so much better to see that build.  As it was presented, the scene seems wedged in because the writers thought we needed to have these characters kiss because their last kiss got wiped out of existence.

Thanks, Harry!

Ash and Michael Kiss

So, nice moment, then craziness.  It all ends in Saru once again expressing his frustration and anger at Burnham for, in his opinion, ruining his life.

It’s a powerful moment, but not as powerful as it could have been.

This episode was touted as an immensely emotional outing, and wasn’t.  While it was emotional it didn’t live up to the hype – which made me certain I’d shed a tear or two.  Unfortunately, it just didn’t quite rise to the occasion.

The episode starts to wrap up with a beautiful scene between Saru and Michael that continues the theme of healing that’s been subtle but present in most of their interactions since Burnham’s invitation to join Discovery.  It takes place in Sickbay and goes a little something like this:
Saru.  Please look at me.  Are you alright?
I lied to you… and Lieutenant Tyler.  I attacked you.  I could have killed you.”
“You weren’t yourself.
But I was.”  Beat.  “We are born afraid, we Kelpiens.  It’s how we survive.  As such, my whole life I have never known a moment without fear.  The freedom of it.  Not one moment… until Pahvo.

This is what I meant when I mentioned earlier that Saru found himself devoid of fear, but ultimately still acted out of fear.

This scene also makes me wonder about Saru’s suitability for command.

The last scene is an exchange on the bridge where they learn that the Pahvo have invited the Klingons to come chat… and they take up the invitation, warping in.  The Pahvo are dedicated to harmony, and want to make Starfleet and the Klingons play nice together.  I think we know that that isn’t going to end well!

Saru in Sickbay

So… all in all, a really satisfying episode.

Next week’s episode is “Into The Forest I Go.”

Predictions
I don’t think Lorca and Stamets are going to make it out of the series alive.  A few weeks ago I said I didn’t think Lorca would be alive by the end of the season, and now I’m no longer sure about Stamets.  He’s “unstuck” in time.  His story feels like it’s going to end in tragedy.  He might make it into the next season, and possibly others, but we know the spore-drive doesn’t work and no doubt Paul’s fate will be tied to it.

I am now almost completely convinced Ash is Voq.  Listening to Ash’s voice, listening to Voq’s.  The vague similarity in facial features.  The simple fact that this would really hurt Michael and writers like to torture their main characters!  There would be no more cruel or shocking way to torment Michael than to have her fall in love with a representative of the race that killed her parents – AND her surrogate mother (Georgiou).

Saru will step down as First Officer.  Ash will succeed him (because Lorca makes non-traditional choices, as we’ve seen).  Ash will be revealed as Voq, Burnham will receive a battlefield promotion and her sentence will be commuted, and she’ll become the new First Officer.

In the wishful fanboy category… Cornwell is alive.

Scorecard

4 Deltas

This was an exceptional episode, whose only weakness was in its length – it needed to be longer, and not just because I loved it.

It loses a delta for how “crammed” the story felt.  The story was excellent, and by and large the pacing was good – we just needed more in some scenes because really big things happened in this episode… the possible death of Admiral Cornwell, the kiss between Michael and Ash, L’Rell wanting to defect, the exploration of Saru and the healing journey he and Burnham are on… these are all huge, and just as important, the dynamic between all of these characters, like Michael and Ash, Cornwell and L’Rell and Michael and Saru, deserved more time.

The episode was only 41 minutes long.  That might be the shortest live-action Star Trek episode in history?  They could have included more.  I don’t know if they thought they’d bore us if they extended those scenes, but if so – hear us, oh writers room, you wouldn’t have!  Trek fans love that stuff.  We’re not paying to see this show to watch special effects, we’re paying to be a part of these characters’ journeys.  What’s more, modern viewing audiences love character and story too.  Excellent production values are important, but we want to know and walk side by side with these characters.  Don’t rob us of the opportunity.

Star Trek: Discovery airs in the United States on CBS All Access, with new episodes available Sundays at 8:30pm ET.  In Canada, the show airs on the Space Channel at 8:00pm ET.  Outside of the US and Canada, Star Trek: Discovery airs on Netflix with new episodes dropping in the UK at 8:00am BST Monday mornings, and in Australia at 6:00pm AEDT, Monday evenings.

One more episode left before the mid-season break.

By the way, what torturous, horrible person thought up mid-season breaks?  Not a fan.

Join us in a few days time for another review, the last one for a few months.  Until then (and always), Live Long, and Prosper.

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Episode 3 Recap and Review

Star Trek Discovery Update 22062017

I am so conflicted.

I really enjoyed this episode, but there were a couple of things that gave me pause.  More on that later in the review.  First… the basics:

The Facts
Episode Number
: 103 (Season 1, Episode 3)
Episode Title: “Context Is For Kings”
Writers: Aaron Harberts, Gretchen J. Berg and Craig Sweeny
Story: Bryan Fuller, Aaron Harberts and Gretchen J. Berg
Director: Akiva Goldsman

Interesting Bits and Pieces
We get to see our first Jefferies Tube!
There is a different Starfleet delta badge worn by some officers on the Discovery.  It’s all black.
A boarding party is a boarding party, not an away team (like on TNG).
Amanda is mentioned, and Spock is hinted at when Burnham talks to Tilly about her childhood.
Lorca has a Tribble.  That is hopefully neutered!
Lorca has a Gorn skeleton in his private area.  This is a little annoying, because I’m pretty sure we don’t officially meet the Gorn until the TOS era?
The robot is called Airiam and appears to be a Lieutenant Commander or full Commander?  I hope they explain this soon.  It looks like Data may have been the first “human-looking” android and not the first android in Starfleet.
The Discovery uses “breath” ID scans to access sensitive parts of the ship.  It actually looks kind of silly.
Last, but not least, Lorca and Landry are up to something together, and seem to have a relationship that goes back a while.

The Recap and Review
The first few minutes of “Context Is For Kings” did not grab me on the first watch.  On the second watch, I was far more interested because I knew what was coming and the scene made more sense.

We start on a prisoner transfer shuttle six-months after the events of “Battle At The Binary Stars.”

Burnham is in old school command mustard-gold, though it’s not a Starfleet uniform she is wearing, it’s prison garb.  She’s not in a good head space.

Sharing the shuttle with her are three not very nice individuals, one woman, two men, all human.  They’re unpleasant in every way, and this works.  The scene does a few things.  It shows us we’re not yet in the utopia that the Federation will become in the Picard-Sisko-Janeway era and it shows us that, as a species, humanity is still working itself out and is still trying to cast off some of its less desirable traits.

We quickly learn that Burnham is infamous as one of the prisoners tells her, with considerable anger, that she lost a family member in that battle.

Before things get violent, some kind of life form that feeds on energy starts to drain the shuttle of all power.  The pilot does an emergency EVA to try and fix the problem, but her tether breaks and she shoots off into the distance.  It’s all a little weird.  The scene is filmed in a very flat and undramatic way.  It’s devoid of intensity and energy.  Even the pilots death lacks drama.  She just shoots by a window.  I think that’s Akiva (the Director) helping us to climb into Michael’s mind – but initially I didn’t like it.

The prisoners go into a panic but Burnham sits there, quietly, almost with an air of relief, accepting her fate.  Perhaps even looking forward to it.

That, the second time around, was actually quite powerful.  It’s as if Burnham wanted to die and thought she deserved it.

Suddenly, a beautiful looking starship drifts languidly into shot, tractor beam extended, to save them.

USS Discovery

After two episodes, we finally get to see the USS Discovery.

I know the Discovery‘s design has divided fandom, but I love it.  It’s recognisably Starfleet, but is it’s own thing – and it’s stunning.  It’s design influence is a little alien, and I wonder at that.  I don’t recognise any particular Star Trek race’s ‘fingerprints’ on the design, but find that I want to know who developed her and whether or not they were guided by an alien aesthetic.

That’s the Trek geek in my coming out!

From the moment Discovery sails in to save the day, the episode kicks into high gear and we finally get to meet most of the principle cast.

Rekha Sharma as Commander Ellen Landry is entirely unlikeable.  She doesn’t seem to like or dislike Burnham, but treats everyone with what feels like contempt.  Equally.  Except for Gabriel Lorca.

Jason Isaacs plays our new Captain and you never know, from one moment to the next, whether or not Lorca is a good guy or a bad guy.  He is entirely mysterious, almost menacing, and completely compelling.

Mary Wiseman’s Ensign Sylvia Tilly is fantastic in every way.  She’s someone a lot of us can relate to.  This show is serious and tense, and Tilly brings a lighter touch which is needed.  I admit, I adore her.  She’s awkward, a ball of anxiety, allergic to almost everything, and is just a really good and really sweet human being.

Anthony Rapp’s Lieutenant Paul Stamets is arrogant, dismissive and entirely obsessed with his work.  He’s going to be an amazing character.  He doesn’t seem to like Lorca, and I’m not sure if he’s Starfleet or civilian?  It seems, from his dialogue, that he might have been drafted.

We reunite with Doug Jones’ Saru, and there’s also a brief, dialogue free reunion with a cybernetically altered Lieutenant Keyla Detmer from the Shenzhou, played by Emily Coutts.

Neither reunion goes well.  Gone is the brother/sister vibe between Saru and Burnham.  Saru is now the first officer of the Discovery, and he makes it clear that he considers Michael dangerous.

Keyla?  She just stares at Michael with barely constrained hatred and turns away.

Michael is temporarily put to work in Engineering with Stamets and Tilly while the shuttle is repaired.  It’s made clear she’ll ship out with the other prisoners and resume her journey when the transport is fixed.

As she gets to work, and gets a little break-and-entery, the mystery that is Discovery and her mission starts to unfold.

We learn that the Discovery has a sister ship, the USS Glenn, and the Glenn goes silent after upping their mycelial propulsion experiment.

Discovery shoots off to investigate.

Burnham, Tilly, Stamets, Landry and our first red-shirt (sorry… bronze-shirt), Ensign Ricky, shuttle over to what turns out to be a ship of horrors.

The experimental propulsion system on the Glenn has done something terrible to the biological lifeforms on the ship, and we go from Star Trek to horror-Trek in a matter of moments.  Disfigured, dismembered crew litter the ship, and it appears the Klingons tried to board her as we see one – before he’s quickly eaten by some kind of slug/beetle hybrid.

It’s a scene that is both amusing and horrifying.  One moment the Klingon is “shushing” the Discovery crew, the next he’s set upon by the monster and sucked into its toothy maw.

After a tense chase scene, that includes Michael reciting lines from an Alice in Wonderland book, our heroes escape, and, we learn, so too does the monster… though escape is probably the wrong word.  It ends up in some sort of menagerie aboard the Discovery thanks to Commander Landry.

The episode ends with Lorca asking Burnham to stay on as a consultant.  She declines, saying she committed mutiny and deserves her punishment, giving context to her despondency in the first scene.  She also doubts Lorca can over rule Starfleet.  He tells her he has a wide latitude in his mission, and insists she’s someone he needs.

She initially thinks its to engage in clandestine, barely legal activities in the name of the war effort and challenges him on this.

In a moment that gives us some welcome insight into Lorca’s cold and suspicious behaviour, he says it’s not.  He needs people who think on their feet, and are capable of doing what is necessary to save lives.

Burnham accepts his offer, affected by Lorca’s argument: “you helped start a war, don’t you wanna help me end it?”

What will her role be?  We’ll have to tune in to the next episode to find out.

“Context Is For Kings” is an excellent episode.  Akiva Goldsman really can direct.

The entire episode is tight, though there is a lot of treknobabble it doesn’t get in the way, and the exposition is light.

The performance of every single actor is superb.  There isn’t one weak actor in this show.

The writing… well, it feels like it’s been written by a committee and suffered as a result.  Previous Trek shows have an almost lyrical narrative flow, but Star Trek: Discovery hasn’t found that yet – and I think it’s because so many people have their fingers in each script.

That might eventually prove to be a good thing, but right now it is clear the writers are still trying to find their groove.

What gave me pause?

This new way of flying.  Unless I’m missing something, the Discovery appears to be mushroom-powered.  Which is okay.  In my day job, one part of the business I work for is looking into the science of mushrooms and how they can purify water and reclaim waste – and I am almost convinced mushrooms might save our planet, but there are four Trek series set in the future where there is zero mention of or reference to mushroom powered vessels.

Also, Lorca.  I admit I love his character, but I can’t work out if he’s a genius or a sociopath.

It rubs me the wrong way that Starfleet has given this man carte blanche to find a way to defeat the Klingons.

Context may be for kings, but I need more context.  We all do.  Is the war going so badly after six-months, that Starfleet is willing to consider chemical weapons or some other horrific tool as a means of stopping the Klingons?  Is this a Section 31 thing?  Are the black markings on the Discovery a symbol it is somehow different from other Starfleet vessels?

Lorca’s moral ambiguity is both fascinating and disquieting.

The shows writers and producers have gone to great pains to assure us it will all make sense, so I’m happy to suspend my concerns and enjoy the ride, but I do hope things become a little clearer soon.

Overall, this is an intense and enjoyable third episode… or actual pilot, if you prefer to see it that way.

Scorecard
This series is shaping up to be something very different and uniquely wonderful.  Four delta’s out of five!
4 Deltas

The next episode of Star Trek: Discovery has the second longest title in Trek history (I think).  It’s called “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry.”

The longest episode title in Trek history?  To my knowledge, it’s “For The World Is Hollow, and I Have Touched the Sky.”

We’ll be back with another review in a few days time.

Star Trek: Discovery continues to look incredible, and while the show still feels a little uneven I have no doubt it will find its voice soon, and its place in Star Trek canon.

Live Long, and Prosper.

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Pilot Episode Recap and Review (Parts One & Two)

Review Banner

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:

Spoiler Alert

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.

Huh?

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.

Scorecard
4 Starfleet Delta’s out of 5.
4 Deltas

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.

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