Star Trek: Discovery finally left the space dock this week, launching its first episode on CBS and its second on the new CBS All Access service, which is $5.99 per month. The episodes felt like they belonged as one long pilot episode, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does show that CBS is really hoping the Star Trek will be the lynchpin of its new streaming venture.
The episodes themselves were actually very good. I say actually, because I did not have much hope for this series. Between the chaos surrounding the lead up to the show, the different visual direction, and the relatively unknown answer to the question, “How much will the new films affect this show?” my expectations for this show as a huge Trek fan was not great. I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw on Sunday.
It is nearly impossible for TV series to escape common tropes, and here, Discovery uses “main character with a troubled past”, but does it really effectively. Characters in this show feel very realistic; flawed, genuine, and battling their own demons in a way that impacts the show meaningfully, rather than just as window dressing. The feel of the show is very, very different from The Next Generation or The Original Series, but I think time will tell if that will have a positive or negative effect on the show’s quality. One of the things I enjoyed about previous series was finding the line between the futuristic humanity of the Federation, while still being bound by the strict, military interactions necessary to complete a mission.
The other giant difference is the redesigned Klingon race. Without getting REALLY nerdy on why the Klingons look different in the established canon, I’m just going to say that I’m not sure where these new Klingons fit based on forehead ridges alone. Supposedly this series fits in between Enterprise and TOS, but I don’t see it. Klingon uniforms are gaudy, their religious devotion to Kahless is overbearing, and their parallels to the rise of the white supremacist movement are very apparent. I would have liked to see some more subtlety from what appears to be the main enemy of the show. Star Trek has benefitted from having complex antagonists, rather than straightforward enemies who are undoubtedly “evil”. The exception is, of course, the Borg, but that proves the rule more so than invalidates it.
The take-way message here is that, the show has a ton of potential. Even a generally well-respected series like The Next Generation didn’t hit its stride until about the third season, and Enterprise was a great show for four seasons but never got the viewership it should have had. Unfortunately, this appears to be another wait-and-see type of premiere. If the show runners can develop some long-term storylines, enforce real consequences, and develop these imperfect characters, CBS should have a hit. Although, CBS, if you’re reading this, giving Klingons a working cloaking device contradicts the very well-known TOS episode “Balance of Terror,” in which Kirk and crew are surprised by the existence of cloaking technology, yet you’ve already exposed the Federation to it in a series that supposedly takes place before the Kirk-era Trek. If you are hiring fact checkers, give me a call.
Rating: 8 out of 10
STAR TREK: DISCOVERY STREAMS SUNDAYS ON CBS ALL ACCESS