Discovery Premiere Not Exactly Other Star Trek
I had the good fortune of being invited by CBS to watch the two-part world premiere of Star Trek: Discovery in LA earlier this week. They made a huge splash and undoubtedly spent a lot of money for the event. Not only were the cast of Discovery present, so were a large number of cast from previous Star Trek television shows. Being at the premiere felt somewhat like a convention on steroids, getting to bump shoulders with plenty of Star Trek royalty.
I flew in from Toronto early in the day, watched the premiere, and then flew straight back home that evening. The whole ordeal was quite the whirlwind so it breaks my heart to think that the two episodes I watched, while fantastic for the most part, weren’t immediately what I would consider to be Star Trek. When a CBS exec asked my opinion, I expressed these concerns.
Then I watched it again.
The Vulcan Hello and Battle at the Binary Stars, the two-part premiere episodes, were fantastic science fiction, that truly understands what Star Trek is and carries the torch. While the premiere was mostly strong, there were scenes I disliked or even detested. In fairness, if the premiere didn’t have the “Star Trek” label attached, I probably wouldn’t have been as bothered by them. Like many Trekkies and Trekkers, I hold Star Trek to some pretty high standards. Not impossible standards though; goodness, I’ve enjoyed some really bad episodes.
Some Scenes Aren’t Perfect
There are scenes in Discovery that I take exception to specifically because it claims to be Star Trek.
Take for example when Burnham drops Georgiou with a Vulcan neck pinch, (don’t those work with touch telepathy?) followed by some outlandish and frankly unbelievable subordinate actions. It’s unbecoming of a Starfleet officer. How Burnham, a seemingly unstable person, has a career that’s taken her as far as Commander is questionable. These type of mutinous actions have happened in Star Trek a few times but are almost invariably the result of some alien infection, possession, or other strange happening – there’s always something to explain away the actions because as every fan knows a Starfleet officer wouldn’t do that in their right mind. It’s part of what makes Starfleet officers so great and admirable. But Burnham had no legitimate excuse, and I hated that.
All this could just be part of the larger issue of throwing away a Roddenberry tenet of non-conflict between human officers.
There’s the scene in Battle at the Binary Stars (second half of the two part premiere) where Burnham is being tried for her crime. Starfleet, in all their wisdom, acceptance, and belief in the rehabilitation process, sentences Burnham to life in prison. Yup, the rest of her life. How terribly un-Starfleet-like of them. It’s so counter to what Starfleet is supposed to stand for that I initially thought it was a dream sequence. And the trial scene itself is ridiculous. Three Starfleet officers condemning her from their darkly-lit positions as though belonging to an evil organization that exists only in the shadows. For goodness sake’s, this is Star Trek not something from George Orwell.
Where so few scenes fail, the show triumphs.
A Large-Scale Science Fiction Epic
While there are a few elements I can’t ignore, there’s also so much about Star Trek: Discovery to be liked. It truly is epic science fiction that dares to be different yet familiar, and the premiere is clearly preparing context of the series in a bold way. The scale and world-building of the show is unmatched by any other television sci-fi – ever.
Not since Deep Space Nine have we seen season-long story arcs, but Discovery takes that approach to all new levels right from its beginnings. This type of long-form storytelling will undoubtedly lend to character and plot developments that go farther than any Star Trek series before it. While it won’t deliver a weekly social commentary like episodic Trek did, Discovery has already touched upon present day social context and concern in a way that isn’t necessarily obvious – albeit not as deep as Star Trek is known for doing yet. But that doesn’t mean it won’t. At the end of the world premiere, we were shown a teaser of future episodes and Discovery definitely looks like it’s going to become more Trek-like and dive much deeper. Even a CBS exec told me that episode 3 would be “much more Trekish than 1 and 2” and one they “think will feel like the [Star Trek]” I know.
Star Trek: Discovery may not only continue to be epic science fiction, but become epic Star Trek. It’s intelligent like true Star Trek, not treating the viewer as anti-intellectual or mindless, and doesn’t ignore what’s at stake.
Big Action Interwoven Masterfully
Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s premiere episode Encounter at Farpoint had Q, an omnipotent being as a rival. Emissary (DS9) had a flashback to the Borg at Wolf 359 and had wormhole aliens. Voyager had the Caretaker and Kazon to content with, and Enterprise had Klingons and the Suliban. Star Trek premieres have a tradition of incorporating more action into them than a typical episode would.
When it comes to Star Trek: Discovery, these are all small in scale by comparison. Discovery dramatically pits Starfleet against the Klingons in battle in a way that sets the stage for not only what is to come in Star Trek: Discovery, but because of it’s timeline what is to come in canon for the next 100 years. Somehow the action sequences are nicely book-ended by scenes of intelligent conversation and storytelling that progress the show. Not since Battlestar Galactica have we seen sci-fi do this so well.
As hard as it is to admit, upon watching the premiere the first time, I wasn’t fully on board with the series. After having a watched it a second time now (during the TV premiere), my mental dust has settled and Discovery‘s premiere undoubtedly has positioned itself well within the Star Trek legacy.
As for beyond the premiere… having seen teasers for future episodes, Star Trek: Discovery will definitely continue to be worthy of carrying the franchise torch, with writers that have meticulously worked out ways to stay within canon, but still manage to throw twists and surprises at us. And of course we’re certain to explore new territory along the way.