2017 became my year of Star Trek. It’s good timing with the return of Star Trek to television, but it wasn’t planned at all. I didn’t even know a show was coming out this year when I started watching. I’ve decided to do a weekly short review of Discovery episodes as they come out. These won’t be as in-depth or thought out as my comic posts usually are (and they shouldn’t interfere with those), but hopefully I can say some interesting things about a contentious show. What follows is my review of the opening two-parter.
My immediate thoughts were the strange politics of this show. Star Trek has a long history of idealistic progressive politics and politics is a core part of Star Trek. It was advertised as a progressive show, focusing on Sonequa Martin-Green and Michelle Yeoh and the present of LGBT characters. But by the end of this two-parter, the smart experienced women of color are both taken out of commission. Yeoh’s Captain Georgiou is killed and Martin-Green’s Michael Burnham is a war criminal held in prison. Not to mention, the show shifts from highlighting these two at the beginning of episode one, and will shift to a white male captain by the start of episode three for the rest of the series. I’m sure Michael Burnham will be exonerated over the course of the season, but this all just feels weird with the openly hostile war-supporting mood. “Don’t judge Klingons as a race, judge them as a culture” is in line with Star Trek when it’s used to justify non-action, but it feels awkward when justifying an intergalactic war. It doesn’t help that modern special effects (and a great budget) lend towards impressive gigantic explosions and battle sequences. I’m eager to see more of the show politically because it does seem conflicted on the level of production and the plot itself. Regardless, future episodes will definitely have lower budgets and shift into more idea-based stories.
The focus on Michael Burnham is an interesting shift for Star Trek. Not just as a progressive move, but as a narrative one. There was a major shift between TOS and TNG once TNG started often centering episodes around one character. These character-driven episodes and character-driven arcs modernized Star Trek and fostered great characters and stories while still remaining episodic. That structure is hardly possible in 2017 unless it’s in a cheap cop drama or sitcom. This show does center around a concept or event – “the Federation/Klingon War”, but it also centers around one individual more than any other Star Trek has. This is the journey of one individual. It will take time to find out if she’s a great character or I like her story, but this is a good move to modernize episodic Star Trek. I don’t love that she’s Sarek’s adopted daughter and Spock’s never before mentioned step-sister but there are possibilities in that setup and hopefully it isn’t too heavy-handed.
The other clear arc for the series is the Klingon Empire. The Klingons have a much more pre-defined arc than the Federation, unifying and modernizing over the course of the series. They have great potential as villains being a mix of ISIS (unifying states around a single radicalized belief) and white supremacists (fetishizing purity and uniformity). There’s potential for a space Game of Thrones within the Klingon Empire, and that would be a hell of a lot of fun. The over-use of Klingon language and the subtitles’ font was very overly serious, but I can forgive it for an opening story. Again, I don’t love the continuity changes with their design, but the characters are good enough that I can look past it.
Star Trek: Discovery has potential for greatness amidst the weird tonal shifts, strange continuity, and conflicted politics. “Encounter at Farpoint” is far from representative of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and by the end of the season I doubt “The Vulcan Hello” will be representative of Star Trek: Discovery. I was pleasantly surprised by a lot of little things between the explosions and awkward Vulcan sequences. I’m eager to see where this will go from here.