Star Trek finally returns to the small screen after a twelve year (yes it’s really been that long!) absence. I wasn’t old enough to appreciate any of the older series during their original airing, but I’ve seen bits and pieces of them through re-runs. With how successful the J.J. Abrams reboots have been paired with the excellent ensemble cast, I was all-in for Star Trek: Discovery. Although these are two separate episodes they really act like a two-hour pilot so let’s jump in.
Synopsis: While patrolling Federation space, the U.S.S. Shenzhou encounters an object of unknown origin, putting First Officer Michael Burnham to her greatest test yet. (IMDB)
Writer: Bryan Fuller & Akiva Goldsman (Episode 1)/Nicholas Meyer & Bryan Fuller (Episode 2)
Director: David Semel (Episode 1)/Adam Kane (Episode 2)
Running Time: 86 mins (2 43-minute episodes)
The first episode of this two-part premiere is the expository portion as we are introduced to the main character First Officer Michael Burnham as she traverses the galaxy on the U.S.S. Shenzhou under the command of Captain Philippa Georgiou. Right away it’s evident the production value that went into this show because it feels on par with the J.J. Abrams films in both style and substance.
Burnham, played by the fantastic Sonequa Martin-Green (The Walking Dead), is an orphaned human who was raised on Vulcan under the guardianship of Sarek, Spock’s father. This allows her to be a truly complex character as her Vulcan upbringing clashes with her humanity and it plays an immediate factor. She also clashes with another officer on the Shenzhou, Lieutenant Commander Saru (Doug Jones). As longtime crew members their banter is reminiscent of Spock and Bones which should certainly win over a few fans.
The first episode also introduces the main adversary of the season, the Klingons. They look much different from how they did in previous Star Trek stories, falling in between the designs from the current film franchise and Next Generation. These Klingons appear to be borderline religious fanatics as they worship Kahless the Unforgettable, the founder of their empire. The current leader of the Klingons, T’Kuvma, is especially devoted to these ideas as he wants nothing more than to see the Federation crumble.
So we have met the good guys, and we have met the bad guys, but there’s no real tension there yet. That’s until Burnham explores an unidentified vessel and ends up killing a Klingon warrior. Finally a catalyst! She returns to the Shenzhou where she spars with Captain Georgiou over their course of action. It’s revealed that Burnham’s family was killed by Klingons and she may have some unresolved hatred towards them. While Georgiou wants to wait for backup, Burnham demands action and ends up nerve-pinching her superior to try and commandeer the vessel. As she is about to fire on the Klingon ship, she’s stopped by the Captain who throws her in the brig for mutiny just as dozens of Klingon ships arrive. And that pushes us into episode two.
The second part of the premiere is the action portion as it focuses primarily on the conflict that will most likely not only drive the first season, but the series as a whole. The Starfleet ships arrive and help even the odds for the Shenzhou, but the Klingons engage easily destroying the Federation. In a very cool sequence, Burnham’s cell is exposed to space, but she uses her Vulcan training to logic her way into surviving.
She arrives at the bridge and warns the Captain that they cannot kill T’Kuvma as it would just make him a martyr and spark an intergalactic conflict. They opt to try and capture him for his crimes and beam aboard his ship. However, of course during the conflict something needs to go wrong and T’Kuvma kills Georgiou which causes Burnham’s human side to take over and shoot T’Kuvma, doing exactly what they didn’t want. The episode ends with Burnham being sentenced to life in prison for mutiny and basically starting a war.
So first off, shame on CBS for only airing the first episode on TV. This show is unfortunately going to be available online as a ‘exclusive’ paid subscription show. However, it’s a little hard to gauge if you’ll like this show from just a pilot which really only introduces two main characters and the backdrop for the series. It’s especially hard when you only get to see half of that pilot for free. What if you decide to subscribe because you love Michelle Yeoh’s Captain Georgiou in Episode 1 only to learn she doesn’t make it past Episode 2?
Aside from that obvious marketing issues, this show seems pretty promising. It blends the feeling of the older TV series with the modern franchise that allows them to have some big space battles and epic set pieces showing that CBS has spared no expense. It’ll be interesting to see where they go with this show considering the protagonist is no longer an officer, but I’m sure that will be remedied within the first few episodes when we are actually introduced to the show’s namesake: The U.S.S. Discovery.
It also appears as if this show will run as more of a serialized story rather than episodic, which may be a bit disheartening to fans considering the whole idea of Star Trek is to explore strange new worlds each week. However, that doesn’t mean episodic storytelling will be completely eradicated from the series as many shows have implemented both with just a bigger accent on their overall series arc. A prominent Sci-Fi that comes to mind is Doctor Who.
Overall, this was a great start to the series. The two-part premiere gave a glimpse into the world for both new and returning fans while showing off its impressive budget. While we weren’t introduced to the majority of the cast, Burnham’s complex character and her relationship with Saru made for some banter that shows promise for an entertaining and compelling series.