When it was first announced last year that the new Star Trek series would only be debuting on CBS’ fledgling streaming service, I was as pissed as the next guy, in fact more so, as I am a die hard fan of the franchise since I was a young child. I do not, however, identify as a Trekkie or a Trekker because I am a grown adult but I do support my fellow fans in all incarnations, if that’s how they want to identify. That said, I rankled at the departure in leadership of the talented, visionary Bryan Fuller to the inclusion of Alex Kurtzman and Akiva Goldsman in EP roles because they both, for the most part, completely suck. I scoffed in disgust (still do) at the ship design when it was released, clearly someone saw the hideous Ralph McQuarrie concept art and said “That looks like a good idea.” I rolled my eyes when the first trailer dropped and it looked… kinda good. And when the premier date rolled around I swallowed my stupid, bitter, salty pride and subscribed to CBS ALL ACCESS. Because I need my Star Trek. I need it and the last film was a hot pile of garbage. And it is with great relief and a wary but building feeling of hopeful optimism that I report Star Trek: Discovery is… pretty damn good. It’s not The Next Generation and it’s not quite the Abrams-verse, but instead straddles a line between the two, borrowing social commentary and allegory from the former and the scary, realistic space aesthetic of the latter. It’s something the film reboots emphasize emphatically, that this is not a bunch of folks in pajamas having debates on a studio set, this is people living in space, where a bulkhead shatters and there’s nothing but cold, unforgiving blackness on the other side of it. And the atmosphere, like this new incarnation, is fully alive with promise.
So far, with only the first two episodes released, Star Trek: Discovery seems to be a different kind of animal than the earlier ensemble series. Instead, the focus is primarily on the confusingly named First Officer Michael Burnham, portrayed by the excellent Sonequa Martin-Green. By the end of what is obviously more of a pilot mini-movie, it’s clear that her journey is the one we’re going to be following rather than a large cast of personalities that hit reset every week like Voyager, DS:9, or TNG and this is fine. In fact, the finale of what seems to be a prequel to the first season’s events takes a very unique turn and I’m excited to see what the rest of the show has to offer, if also somewhat let down that the show is abandoning the tried and true formula established by Gene Roddenberry. It’s also nice to see Doug Jones, frequent collaborator of Guillermo Del Toro (he’s this guy), getting a nice solid role to work in where he actually gets to speak instead of just be lanky and creepy in a nice prosthetic suit. Michelle Yeoh is also, unsurprisingly, fantastic in the captain’s role and brings an undeniable gravitas to the whole experience.
Discovery also does something that the films mostly failed to do beyond a brief spot in Into Darkness and that’s revive one of the most important and compelling alien species from the original series. Rather than portray them as laconic, brooding monsters in the dark, both of these episodes do an amazing job of setting up the Klingons as a fully realized, complex species with their own customs and personalities. In fact, there’s a ton of time spent with the characters rattling on in the completely real Klingon language, it’s cool to just sit back and watch them develop in a way that hasn’t been done since The Next Generation. There’s also a clear and unfortunately appropriate allegory going on with their leadership and motivations, one that is, in its roots, about racial purity and nationalism and this was, again as an old school fan of the franchise, incredibly refreshing and compelling to see. The Abrams-verse took a stab at some complex issues in Into Darkness and, in my opinion, fell flat on its collective face by creating what is on the surface an exciting action/revenge film loosely inspired by Wrath of Khan but turned out to be a thinly veiled metaphor for the false flag operation 9/11 “truther” and writer Roberto Orci believes the 2001 attack on the WTC actually was. On either side of that were two mostly mindless exercises in entertainment, one fun, the other directed by Justin Lin so it’s nice to see this series has woken up to the potential this Universe and that all good science fiction has, to be a reflection of our own.
I shared an interesting and inspiring post about this show earlier this week and a friend pointed out some of the amazing (moronic) conversations that were taking place in the comments section, with this gem of an exchange standing out among the others:
I don’t know “Jed Evnull” personally, but he’s either lying about watching the Original Series when it aired or is confusing the show with something more casual-friendly, like Lost in Space. Artie has the right idea, however. Because the thing that has always separated Star Trek from other sci-fi shows has been the political and social allegory that takes place in a lot of those “well-told” stories. Take this episode, for example, where the crew encounters a race of aliens that are at war with each other over the fact that some of their species are all black on the left side and all white on the other, while others have this feature inverted. And that’s the only reason why, because of this arbitrary physical attribute. I guess Jed missed that episode or perhaps the metaphor was too complicated. Or this episode in The Next Generation where a species of aliens who all identify as genderless cast out one of there own for identifying as female. This character is being threatened with a ‘reprogramming’ to identify as androgynous and was the first episode of any of the series to broach LGBT issues. The point is, although I am as new to this new crew and new series as anyone else, and although I was already sold on the show from the first two episodes, I, for one, am now fully behind this show and its crew for clearly knowing what Star Trek, and Gene Roddenberry’s unique, optimistic, and inclusive vision, is supposed to be about. And I genuinely can’t wait for more.