STAR TREK: DISCOVERY – Episodes 1 and 2 – Review

Commander Burnham in the brig

By M. Pilon

Summary

Good special effects and visuals. Beautifully executed opening animation but more of an homage to Game of Thrones than to Star Trek. Thoughtful portrayal of Klingons and Klingon culture. Well-established antagonism between the Klingons and the Federation denizens we met who survived to be part of those populating this iteration when we actually get started (by Episode 4 I’m told). The writing is the usual video game fare we’ve come to expect from J.J. Abrams and Alex Kurztman. We define ourselves, and our actions are determined, by who our enemy is at any given time so, we need to find or manufacture an enemy. If that’s what Star Trek means to you then you are well served.

Congratulations – it’s a prequel to the prequel!

It was a prequel, basically 1h43m excluding commercials and without a ship called Discovery. Couldn’t this backstory have been handled as a flashback segment or segments at appropriate times within the series? This way, it introduced Michael Burnham’s character in the worst possible light by heaping all the negativity on her all at once. I wanted to get into the actual series right off the bat. Instead we got it right off the bat’leth.

Captain Philippa Georgiou played by Michelle Yeoh
Captain Philippa Georgiou played by Michelle Yeoh

Michelle Yeoh had some good moments as the Captain of the Shenzhou and it was satisfying to see an Asian woman in a command position who’s more than a background player. I liked the beginning from when we find the two women on the surface of the planet till when after Burnham wakes up in sickbay and starts on her anti-Klingon rampage. I found Georgiou very likable and found myself wishing she’d be around for a few episodes even if I found her transitions from mother figure to gentle commander to angry mother bear to warrior a bit rough, as if she were donning a personality as opposed to already embodying all these elements within her.

Even though the Klingons are not my favourite part of Trek, I liked the beginning and I really liked the Captain of the Shenzhou and her First Officer on the planet. The dialogue was a bit stiff but I was willing to explore the relationship further. It was a bit of a drawback that I also didn’t want to get too invested in these two women’s relationships because logic dictated that Captain Georgiou would die at some point. Well, at least we would get a hint of what a Trek show led by two women (of mixed ethnicity at that) could be like. Wouldn’t have been more effective of a ploy to have Georgiou meet her fate as part of a flashback that would have slowly unraveled Burnham’s backstory on how she ends up on the Discovery?

I don’t like the costumes and I’ve already questioned the use of armour in the 24th century. But now please tell me what use this armour has if it can’t even protect you from a knife. I was expecting Georgiou’s death so no surprise there but from a knife while wearing 24th century armour, was a head shaker.

Once the women get back on the Shenzhou, the tone changes. We find Burnham squabbling with the Science Officer, Lt. Saru, (a little more Starfleet, a little less Jar Jar Binks please) like we were witnessing a playground pissing match with teacher Georgiou going, “There, there, children, play nice.” Really?

I found Burnham’s behaviour, especially after the Klingon encounter, rather hard to believe, it was fragmented, erratic, uncharacteristic of a responsible person in any command structure. After all these years on Vulcan and after 7 years on the Shenzhou, she’s squabbling with fellow officers, she’s wilful, undisciplined – with the-ends-justify-the-means-type of outlook. And when she doesn’t like the answer “Mommy” gives her about how to deal with the Klingons, she goes and asks “Daddy.” She likes that answer better which she uses to bully her captain and shipmates into doing what she wants, to the point of mutiny.

Commander Burnham Vulcan neck pinches Captain Georgiou
Commander Burnham Vulcan neck pinches Captain Georgiou

We should have been alerted to future trouble when Sarek took her to the Shenzhou – he had all the manner of a weary parent/guardian eager to leave a troublesome child at a reform school. It would have been helpful to have seen a bit of the conversation between Georgiou and Sarek that led to her showing up on the ship. What happened to her in these intervening 7 years that allowed her to advance to First Officer above all these other Starfleet Officers, even to the point of being ready for her first command? How does a xeno-anthropologist find herself unable to use her training and hopefully, the intense therapy she’s received all her life, to think reasonably and act accordingly.  That’s where the characterisation fell apart for me.

Vulcan Hello – We Come In Peace, You Leave In Pieces

I guess it was fitting that Star Trek: Discovery was delayed in the U.S. because of a football game. After all, isn’t that what Sarek said was the Vulcan strategy with how to deal with the Klingons? You know, the best defense is a good offense? Is that sports metaphor really how the entire universe asserts dominance?

And why Sarek? Could it not have been any other Vulcan? It would have spared us all the inevitable questions regarding continuity and the feeling that this was a ploy to get the fans onboard with believing that this iteration is classic Trek by reviving such a beloved character in such a contrived situation.

And here’s a thing that really bothers me and a lot of my female friends and acquaintances but is the butt of jokes with a lot of males (even as evidenced in the After Show). Mind-melding between consenting adults is OK but when it is forced, regardless of the reason why, it is at best, sexual assault, at worse, outright rape. And we got to see an adult male doing it on a female child. NO!

Sarek performs a mind meld with young Michael Burnham
Sarek performs a mind meld with young Michael Burnham

But it didn’t stop there. Sarek informed us that he also put a part of his Katra (soul, life essence) in Burnham’s consciousness. Wow, where have I heard of this before? Oh yeah, in another franchise where it was called a horcrux. Seriously? It wasn’t a good thing then, it’s still not a good thing now, even if you call it Vulcan to soften the blow.  Yes, I know living persons have been used before in the franchise as repositories of the Katra of dead Vulcans but that’s not what we have here.

Promising Series if you equate Star Trek with Us vs. Them mentality

I don’t understand how a Klingon-heavy prequel with Klingons set on starting a holy war to vanquish the Federation will appeal to non-Trek viewers. The Klingons are acquired taste. I was left with the impression that a lot of thought had gone into the Klingon characters and storyline and wishing that even half as much effort had gone into the characters and storyline on the Federation side. And didn’t the Reavers from Serenity drape corpses all over their spaceships? So the possible shock value that this was meant to have was lost on me.

And it bothers me that, with all the money purportedly spent on each episode, they still had the Klingons hiss their lines through their rigid prosthetics, which makes them sound like every other alien with vocally-impeding makeup and bad teeth. Couldn’t they have taken a few dollars and had them bark their line in post via ADR, or something? Chris Obi has a wonderful voice and I can only wonder what he could have done with the language had he been allowed his whole range.

Enough with the Dystrumpia already!

The Klingons are well thought out with believable motivation for their actions. The storyline leaves us with Voq, Son of None, to lead the Klingon forces (or maybe Kol) against, presumably, Michael Burnham, disgraced Daughter of None. I feel like I’ve been thrown into the dark side of the Mirror, Mirror episode of TOS with my only hope for this iteration being that we will eventually be given a glimpse of the light side by way of what Jonathan Frakes said would be a mirror universe episode. Or better still, have the whole first half be a bad dream and we’ll wake up in the second half in the universe Star Trek is meant to inhabit to give us a glimpse of two possible futures depending on which philosophy we choose to get ourselves out of today’s world-ending mess. Now THAT would be something to watch! And so very Trek.

You know, the side where Burnham will have been given the proper care, education and rehabilitation, instead of a life sentence heaped on her by a society at fault. Yes, it is how the world is today, but it is not how the world will be in 200 years because if we don’t change soon and fast, the only remnants of humanity, if there are any, will be living in a new stone age within the next 50 years.

The second episode ended in an unbelievable trial scene where Burnham is accused by three men in shadows who not only required her to plead guilty to a variety of charges but to say it loudly and then only to sentence her to life in prison. This was straight out of the Spanish Inquisition. It is not Star Trek.

Is There Hope?

Captain's chair aboard the bridge of the USS Discovery
Captain’s chair aboard the bridge of the USS Discovery

Based on these two episodes, the series is visually on par with what is out there, nice sets with good graphics and special effects. The Klingon costumes are interesting but the prosthetics are too rigid and plastic looking in close-ups to be believable. The Starfleet uniforms need a quick reboot.

I read a tweet that I think sums up my feelings about these first two episodes: “…Lorca will fix everything.” I sure hope so. But, from the calibre of the storytelling showcased in these two opening episodes, and everything I’ve heard of Captain Lorca and the inhabitants of the Discovery, I have grave reservations. All indications are that the Discovery will be a ship full of conflicted, secretive and morally-compromised people bent on annihilating an entire race that done ‘em wrong by any means they can get away with. Yes, maybe that’s representative of a lot of the leadership in our fragmented world at present, but it’s not faithful to Star Trek’s vision of where humanity will be two hundred years from now.

I have a feeling that I’m going to be taken for a tour of a ship that will be less Federation Starship Discovery and more Battlestar Pegasus with all its horrifying excesses.

Even the opening animation was not immune. It lovingly lingered over the mechanics, the technology and the weaponry in Star Trek. I wanted to see the vastness of the universe, the exploration, the peace and unity everyone’s talking about and trying to convince me is what this iteration is about. Where’s the hope? Where’s the joy of exploration? Where’s the leap of faith into the glorious unknown?

I want Star Trek: The Best of Us, I don’t want Star Trek: The Heart of Darkness.  I’m hoping that this is indeed a series starting on the dark side of Mirror, Mirror (or The City on the Edge of Forever) and that we will shift back to the real Trekverse midseason leaving us with a glimpse of what our future could be if we don’t make the good, courageous, diversity-encompassing choices now.

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About M Pilon

M Pilon is a retired TV Producer, Director and Writer who now spends her time developing and writing her own projects, satisfying her curiosity and trying to do her part to make this a better and more inclusive world. M Pilon credits TOS with influencing the course of her life, like thousands of other kids of her generation. She's maintained an interest in the franchise.

  • Mark McKarrion

    NOTE TO AUTHOR: It really should not be so hard for you to just come out and say this show really is not Star Trek. From the Klingoffs to the dark and broody Bridge, to the magical mind meld to the battles and the hothead first officer….this is not Star Trek, and if you are truly a Star Trek fan, you already know this.

    • a-m pilon

      Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment Mark. I agree that there are some serious concerns – from the racial shading of the Klingons to the tired old trope of a wilful woman who tosses out all her training, does something unforgivable and needs to be rescued by a white male. I am hoping that you will be reading my review of Ep.3. My outlook changed quite a bit when I saw the new Season 1 trailer. I think Eps. 1 and 2 were a big mistake and the story should have started right in the prison transport. However, this said, I agree that this is not Trek, it’s Trek Dark Mirror. I’m willing to go along with the story as I’m hoping (being a life-long Trekkie, hope is my middle name) that this is a morality play on what happens when we lack the courage to make the difficult choices towards unity in diversity. I’m hoping that TPTB on this iteration know that too and will eventually switch back to the real Star Trek universe we all want to inhabit.

      • Thabo

        ¨I think Eps. 1 and 2 were a big mistake and the story should have started right in the prison transport.¨Ditto! Still reserving on 3, 4, and 5. Definitely it being Trek Dark Mirror, and that doesn´t matter much to me . . . at this point.