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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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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Your Star Trek News Scan

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It’s been a busy month out on the final frontier, for both the new Star Trek television series, and a couple of our favourite actors.

Where to begin?  Since every Star Trek fan is waiting in anticipation for the new series to air, it’s probably a good idea to kick off our scan with Discovery.

What do Harry Potter and Star Trek: Discovery have in common?

Lucius Malfoy, or, more specifically, actor Jason Isaacs who played Lucius in the Potterverse, and will now be playing Captain Lorca, the commanding officer of the titular USS Discovery.

Seriously, how freaking amazing is this cast turning out to be?

Jason Isaacs… Michelle Yeoh… Sonequa Martin-Green… has any new Trek series had this many big names attached to it?

Alongside the announcement of Isaac’s transfer to the final frontier, came news that Mary Wiseman has also joined the cast as Starfleet Academy cadet “Tilly”.  All we know about Tilly is that she’s in her final year, doing placement aboard the Discovery.

If you’d like to learn more about Jason and his extensive acting career, visit his IMDb page here.  To learn more about Mary’s career, visit her IMDb page here.

In other Discovery news, a good number of the cast were seen out having a meal together in Canada, courtesy of Chris Obi’s Instagram.  Cast photo?  Not quite, but it will do for now.

Star Trek Discovery Cast Out to Dinner

The occasion?  James Frain’s birthday.

Despite CBS not having officially confirmed Sonequa Martin-Green’s casting, she was there alongside the entire cast.

Do we have any word on when Discovery will air?

No.

Last month we heard from CBS that the May launch had been pushed back, and that the series will now hit our airwaves in the US’s late summer or early Autumn (Fall).  No date has been given, and we’re all left feeling a little nervous about it all.

This is the third delay.  Chances are they just want to get as many episodes in the ‘bag’ for those in fandom who like to binge watch shows on their streaming services, but it’s more likely they’re still ironing out the kinks on the first season scripts.  The fact that we only just had Jason cast as the captain of the Discovery shows us that the casting process has taken longer than anticipated.  Which means, most likely, that pre-production has taken longer than everyone hoped it would.  Though the first episode should, by now, have wrapped filming, there are another dozen or so to go and if I were a writer on the series, I’d be doing my best to reduce the possibility of a ‘dodgey’ first season – something Star Trek series’ have all suffered from.

In other Star Trek news, two of our favourites have received Daytime Emmy Award nominations!

Congratulations to the eternally beautiful Nichelle Nichols, and everyone’s favourite Ferengi Armin Shimerman.

Nichelle has received her nomination for her appearance as Lucinda Winters in The Young and The Restless.

Armin has received his nomination for his performance in the Digital Daytime Drama series, Red Bird.

For more information, visit the always wonderful TrekCore here.

To wrap everything up for our first Astrometrics article (just a fancy name for a news roundup), we’ll close with a little more on Star Trek: Discovery.

Anthony Rapp, the new Trek’s Lieutenant Stamets, has spoken a tiny little bit about how proud he is, as a gay man, to be playing one of Star Trek‘s first openly gay characters.

If Discovery had been launched a little earlier, Rapp would have played the first openly gay character in Trek history, but of course last years’ Star Trek Beyond stole that mantle by revealing that everyone’s favourite helmsman, Hikaru Sulu, is gay.

To read the article on Anthony, check out TrekCore again, right here.

That’s it from Astrometrics.

Star Trek: Sentinel will be back as soon as any new information surfaces on the new series or the next film.

Live long and prosper.

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There’s Klingons on the Starboard Bow!

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Things are definitely amping up!  CBS has made another casting announcement in the last few hours, presenting us with three new faces – all of them playing Klingons.

New crews indeed!

As reported recently, Michelle Yeoh, Doug Jones and Anthony Rapp have joined Star Trek: Discovery.  Now, so too have Chris Obi, Mary Chieffo and Shazad Latif.

Who will they be playing?

All three actors will be portraying Klingons.

Before we get into the characters they’ll be playing (and a little speculation), if you’d like to learn more about these actors check out Chris’s IMDb page here, Mary Chieffo’s here, and Shazad Latif’s here.

Chris will be playing T’Kuvma, a Klingon leader who is trying to unite the Klingon Houses – which gives us an interesting insight into the political dynamics at play at this point in the history of Star Trek.

This could be a hint that there’s some sort of resurgence of the angst that happened post the Klingon Augment Virus.  As some of you may recall, Star Trek: Enterprise finally answered the question of why some Klingons had a ridged forehead, and some didn’t (post the original series).  A virus was responsible.  Even worse, it was a virus the Klingon’s themselves created as they tried to engineer a stronger, better warrior.  Initially, the virus threatened to wipe out the Klingon species, but timely intervention by Doctor Phlox stopped that – but did leave the Klingons “horribly disfigured”… which was a Klingons ‘polite’ way of saying “human looking.”

While that angst did settle, so much so human-looking Klingons rose to the top of Klingon society, the virus was still a stain on the Klingon psyche in the time of Picard, Sisko and Janeway.  It might be back as a plot device to help orient new-Trekkers to the series (in case they want to explore all incarnations of Star Trek).  That’s all only guess work!  I have zero inside knowledge.  The way Klingons are, I could see the Houses falling out with each other over the Augment Virus even though 101 years have passed since the virus first emerged in 2154.  Power struggles often beg some sort of rationale and why wouldn’t one of the older Houses, one unaffected by the virus, not use it as a political football?  It would also be nice allegory as we continue to debate genetic intervention and stem cell research.  What I’d really like to see is a mixed Klingon crew – those with a ridged forehead serving alongside human-looking Klingons.  That would be a great homage to Treks past and ‘future’.

But I digress.  A lot.

Mary will be playing L’Rell, who is the Commander of the Battle Deck of a Klingon vessel.

Shazad will be playing Kol, the Commanding Officer of the Klingon vessel in question.  He’s a protege of T’Kuvma’s.

That’s all we really know for now.

No news on the story yet?

No.  All we’ve been told is that the series will start in the year 2255.

Looking at the known timeline of events that happened ten years before James T. Kirk’s historic five-year mission starts in 2265, we know that the Talosian encounter was a thing, we know that a relatively unknown incident happened on Rigel VII, and we know that the Sheliak Corporate broke off contact with the Federation in 2255 (as mentioned in the ‘Ensigns of Command’ episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation).

There’s no mention of a war or diplomatic incident between the Klingon Empire and the Federation during that time period that I can find.

If someone pointed a phaser at me and said “GUESS or DIE!”  I’d say it’s either something to do with Rigel VII or it’s the Sheliak Incident.

The inhabitants of Rigel were a pre-warp civilisation and it is conceivable the Klingons were somehow involved in whatever happened there.  I really feel like it’s the Sheliak… but I have nothing to base that on other than the fact they appeared to be a really interesting species – what we saw of them.

The Sheliak were non-humanoid and xenophobic but capable of travelling between worlds.  The Sheliak felt that humanoids in general were unintelligent and an inferior lifeform which is why they wanted nothing to do with them.  There is no mention of the Klingons by the Sheliak in the ‘Ensigns of Command’, but we did learn that the Federation ceded certain worlds to the Sheliak Corporate back in 2255 and maybe one of those worlds was a planet the Klingons felt was theirs?

As more news comes to light, it will get reported here!

Bring on May 2017.  I’m having fun speculating, but I just want to KNOW!

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