Pilot Episode Recap and Review (Parts One & Two)

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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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A Brave New Adventure

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We’ve been a little quiet here at Star Trek: Sentinel because there has been so much Star Trek: Discovery news coming out that we kind of just wanted to enjoy it and let it wash over us, and didn’t feel the need to comment on it.

Now we stand on the eve of the launch of a brand new series and a bold new experiment in Star Trek.

Since the new series was first announced and up until today, we’ve all seen people expressing hope and excitement for the show and people nit-picking everything and heaping disdain on this new series every Trek fan should be looking forward to.

Georgiou and Burnham

It’s probably no secret that I am incredibly excited about the show.  I love Sonequa Martin-Green as an actor, I’m a huge fan of Kirsten Beyer, Akiva Goldsman and many other behind the scenes creatives, and I admire the risks everyone has taken to make this version of Star Trek relevant.

I’ve been disappointed, even upset by some of the negative coverage coming from some sites.  The amount of it coming from one particular sci-fi site (not a Trek one) has caused me to delete it from my favourites and move on.

Now that we’re literally only hours away from the first brand new episode of Star Trek television in 12 years, I thought it might be a good idea to point you guys toward a handful of excellent articles out there right now on websites staffed by professionals who are genuinely excited to see Star Trek: Discovery.

There are two sites in particular that have had extensive and exceptional coverage over these last few weeks:

TrekMovie and TrekCore.

TrekMovie, in particular has suddenly become one of the best, if not the best, Trek site ever.  Their coverage of Star Trek: Discovery has been spectacular.

TrekCore have always been amazing, and though they may be following a close second behind TrekMovie, their coverage has still been excellent.

Inside the Discovery

Here are some great articles from both sites.

Let’s start with the coverage of the recent Premiere, held a couple of days ago in Los Angeles – attended by many of the cast and crew of Star Trek: Discovery, and Star Trek royalty, Nichelle Nichols and William Shatner.

Nichelle, Sonequa and Bill

Sonequa and the cast get a blessing from one of the most significant women in modern science fiction, Nichelle Nichols.

TrekMovie gives us some photos from the Hollywood Premiere.

TrekCore‘s coverage of the Premiere.

For more on the “blue carpet” premiere event, visit both TrekMovie and TrekCore and look through their most recent articles.

Of particular interest to fans, the Season One Press Kit for Star Trek: Discovery has finally been released.

It’s beautiful.  The images above, and one a little earlier on in this article are from that kit.

TrekCore got the scoop on this one, so go check out their article focusing on the kit here.

Some of the things we’ve learned over the last few weeks are that the Klingon War with the Federation will play a major part in Season One of Star Trek: Discovery.

We’ve also learned that the war story will be wrapped up by the end of the 15 episode first season arc.

We don’t know what Season Two might hold, but it’s interesting that the Klingon conflict will fade out to be replaced by something else.

I think that’s a good idea.  Multiple years focusing on a war might get a bit a much – plus, there’s a lot more to Star Trek than Klingons and the war-arc has already been done and done well in Trek’s illustrious history.

Star Trek Discovery EW Photoshoot 1

If you want to catch up with all of the Star Trek: Discovery news, visit those two wonderful sites.

Right now, I am eagerly counting down the hours to Star Trek: Discovery‘s release on Netflix.

If I could have one wish over these next few days, it would be for my fellow Trek fans to give this show a chance.

A great deal of incredible talent has been brought together to bring this show to us, and a lot of love and care has gone into it.  Yes, it looks different to Star Trek: The Original Series and probably shares more in common with Star Trek: Enterprise and the J.J. Abrams Trek movies, but that’s superficial and necessary if we want to attract new viewers and keep Stat Trek alive.  The show and it’s producers are doing everything they can to be faithful to canon and to make us something we will love.

The internet has become an horrifically nasty place where people seem to think it’s acceptable, even ‘cool’ and funny, to be negative and sometimes even abusive, but Star Trek fans are better than that, and the worst of us are nothing more than a vocal minority.

I hope other fans who love all things Trek for everything that the shows stand for, and respect and attempt to live the ideals of Star Trek, embrace this new show and love it and ensure it continues for many years to come.

We’ll be back in a couple of days with a review of the pilot episode, which is titled “The Vulcan Hello.”

Until then, may we all and may Star Trek: Discovery especially, live long and prosper.

In the United States, Star Trek: Discovery premieres on CBS on the 24th of September with all subsequent episodes airing on CBS All Access.  In Canada Star Trek: Discovery will premiere on the 24th of September also, on Bell Media’s CTV and the Space Channel.  For the rest of us, Star Trek: Discovery will launch on Netflix on Monday the 25th of September.

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WTF, CBS?

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We have more casting news out of CBS, but still no news on when the next Trek series will air.

And it’s driving me nuts!

With these latest casting announcements, the group of actors closely associated with the new show grows to 18.

First, before I have a wee bit of a whinge, the casting news – which includes one existing actor changing roles!

CBS have announced that Rekha Sharma, Damon Runyan, Clare McConnell and Kenneth Mitchell have joined the cast of Star Trek: Discovery.

Rekha is well known to genre fans, having put in an outstanding performance in SyFy‘s phenomenal Battlestar Galactica re-imagining from a few years ago.  Rekha will be playing Security Officer Commander Landry.

Damon is coming on board as a Klingon named Ujilli.

Kenneth has joined the cast as Kol, the Klingon Shazad Latif was originally slated to play.  Don’t worry, if you’re a fan of Mr Latif, he’s still in the show.  He will now be playing a Federation Science Officer called Lieutenant Tyler.  Why this change?  That’s a really good question, and one that will hopefully be answered at some point.

Last, but certainly not least, Clare McConnell has joined the team as another Klingon, Dennas.

Um… do you get the feeling the Klingons are going to play a really big part in this show?

Of the 18 actors announced over the last few months, we’re not sure who will be members of the regular cast, other than the obvious, and who are guest stars like (I assume) James Frain and Rainn Wilson.

It’s starting to look like the Klingons will be regulars, but we don’t know how regular.  Chris Obi gave us a hint about that recently when he posted to social media about leaving Canada until he was needed on set again.

If we attempt to apply some logic to what appears to be a very chaotic process, six out of the 18 actors are well known, with four having a considerable following.  It’s safe to assume they will have sizeable roles.  In the past, the main casts of Star Trek have been made up of between seven and nine main characters, so it’s possible those four could make up part of that group, mixed in with some of the less famous faces to round it out.  The big question is, can we assume that this show will focus on a similar sized group of characters?  If we do, does that mean that all of the other actors are only filming guest spots?

The original announcement for the series promised “new crews”, and many of us wondered what that might mean.  It’s starting to look like it could mean at least two Federation vessels, and one Klingon ship!

New Crews.

If that’s so, then maybe all of the actors that have been announced, with the exception of James Frain and Rainn Wilson, will be main characters based on three different vessels and that we will be following three main stories that interweave and intersect throughout each episode or every couple of episodes.

Your guess is as good as mine!

Creatively, having three interweaving stories is smart.  As an audience, we’ll be exposed to different perspectives, unique insights and entertaining character dynamics.  It will also give the writers something fresh and innovative to play with every week, increasing the possibility of the series lasting past its first season.

It will be interesting to watch this series unfold.  Right now, using past Treks as a template, the cast is too big so I don’t think we can judge this series on anything that has gone before it.  Big casts can work.  Babylon 5 juggled an enormous cast, as did Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and the aforementioned Battlestar Galactica, and each of those shows was excellent.

We can probably bet that this series will not be your run-of-the-mill Star Trek with an A-Plot and B-Plot story and a ship encountering a new “challenge of the week” every time the show airs.

That’s exciting, but the excitement is starting to dampen a little for me with the lack of information around a release date.

I read a tongue-in-cheek article on io9 recently where one of my favourite writers from that site, Katharine Trendacosta, was saying that she and many of her colleagues were starting to think the series was never going to happen.

I read the article and chuckled, not yet at that point.  I was patiently waiting and believing they’d nail down a date soon but they haven’t.  It’s taken me a long time, but I am now officially concerned.

Seriously.  WTF, CBS?

I get that they want to make this the best Star Trek it can be, but there’s one element to this Trek that has never existed before: they’re asking people to pay to see it, rather than view it via more traditional media.  I was fine with that, as an Australian I’ve been paying to see Star Trek most of my life because it would take forever to reach our screens, and then would often disappear.  Those Trekkers who aren’t used to paying and weren’t keen on the idea, were slowly coming around, but the date changes or refusal to set a date is starting to get us all worried.

It’s been suggested that CBS suspected the possible upcoming Writers Strike, and that that is why they’re being so coy.  They’re safeguarding the series.  If that is so, then tell us.

CBS, PLEASE.  Get it together.  Either explain why all of these delays are happening, and be open and honest with the people you’re asking to pay for this, or just set a date and stick to it.

A new rumour that has sprung up in recent days suggests that CBS All Access has bitten off more than it can chew.  Star Trek is nothing like regular television, and it’s only vaguely similar to most other science fiction television.  Maybe the new rumour has substance to it, and CBS are being forced to go slow because of how complicated the series is.

Let’s hope that the next media release from CBS includes a firm release date or at the very least an explanation as to why the goal posts have shifted so often.

Star Trek: Discovery is being produced by CBS All Access and stars Sonequa Martin-Green, Michelle Yeoh, Jason Isaacs, Chris Obi, Shazad Latif, Anthony Rapp, Doug Jones, Mary Chieffo, Mary Wiseman, Rekha Sharma, Damon Runyan, Kenneth Mitchell, Clare McConnell, Maulik Pancholy, Sam Vartholomeos, Terry Serpico, James Frain and Rainn Wilson.

It’s due to be released some time this year.

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