(warning: geeking out about Star Trek).
I was cautiously excited when I first heard that Star Trek was going to come back to television. It was a good sign, I think, when they hired Bryan Fuller who had worked on Deep Space 9 (DS9) and Voyager (VOY). It was less auspicious when they fired him and brought in people who had never worked on the series. I was troubled when I first saw the visuals in various trailers were reminiscent of JJ Abrams Kelvin timeline, despite the fact that we were being told that the series was to be set in the original or “Prime” timeline ten years before Kirk (two years after the first pilot of The Original Series (TOS), The Cage). Still I wanted to keep an open mind; as Garak would say “The essence of intellect”. I was hoping that having a series on television would be better than not having a series on television, even if it made a bit of a mess with canon. There were other things in my life so we didn't watch it right away. Maybe my skepticism kept me away, but I did always intend on watching it. This week I started seeing other fans tweet about the series, and I thought it might be good to watch the thing before someone spoiled it, so last night Lena and I sat down and watched the first two episodes of Star Trek: Discovery.
First let me say what I liked. I thought the casting was broadly very good. The first two episodes did not include much of the regular cast, but we did get to meet the central character Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and her mentor/captain Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh). The teaser was also pretty fun, I really enjoyed the overhead view of the desert with the starfleet insignia made by the pair's footsteps as the geek out about science.
Things that I didn't like. As mentioned this series looks very much like the JJ Abrams films, which have had their good parts, but I am really tired of the visual style. They have toned down the lens flare a little, but not enough. This series is supposed to be set two years after the The Cage and ten years before Kirk takes command of USS Enterprise, yet it looks nothing like it. I get that when you are making a new series that you want to make it your own. (I also have heard that the series is being produced under the same license as the JJ Abrams films and thus does not have full access to the entire intellectual property of the Star Trek universe; hence the visual reboot). Instead of throwing away visual (and technical) canon, I think it would have been better to set the series in the 24th century, chronologically after Voyager (VOY). In a dramatic sense I think it would have been better as well. Star Trek is supposed to be about the future. Why do they keep setting it in the past? (I was of this opinion of the series Enterprise (ENT) as well, although that show did grow on me in the last two seasons). Coincidentally, Lena and I have been watching through Deep Space 9 (DS9) recently (I am jealous that she hasn't seen it before and is able to watch it for the first time now), and one of the most enjoyable episodes was the one where they go back in time and are digitally inserted into the TOS episode The Trouble With Tribbles. That is the sort of thing that you just cannot do when you toss out the look and feel of the classics.
The Klingons look like a racist caricature of the savage “other”.
Some of the casting is really terrible, in particular I really dislike Sarek (James Frain). In my opinion, if you can't cast someone with the gravitas of Mark Lenard you shouldn't be writing him into the series. (I have my reservations about Harry Mudd who is set to appear in later episodes, but I consider him to be a less serious, less important character).
Lena said that it just didn't feel like Star Trek, but couldn't put her finger on exactly why. I think for one thing you have Martin-Green's character advocating an unprovoked attack on the Klingons, assaulting her mentor/captain and attempting mutiny. In the course of a few minutes. Wait. How did we get here from “You should have your own command” so quickly? You have a starfleet officer in a state of shock take a wrong turn on his way down to the sick bay into the brig ask the lead character “what are we doing fighting? We're supposed to be explorers.” Right before he gets sucked out into space. I see what you did there. You have the Vulcans egging on the humans into violence, which is out of character.
I really liked the mentor relationship between captain and number one, but as mentioned it is completely destroyed when she commits mutiny. I feel like the relationship should be irredeemable at that point, but somehow she is back on the away team a few minutes later?
If you try to forget this is Star Trek, and try to forget what this probably unfairly has to live up to, then you still have two episodes of well produced sci-fi culminating in a dazzling space battle that is at times plodding. I don't see anything so far that justifies the 82% on rotten tomatoes (as of this writing). I think the pacing would have been better if this had been one episode. It might have been even better as a teaser for the “real” pilot which is supposedly coming next week. I am thinking of the contrast of how Ben Sisko was ably introduced in the teaser of the DS9 pilot by showing him at the battle of Wolf 359. I think the producers are trying to do the same thing; to introduce Martin-Green's character. Unfortunately in doing that, what is missing in Discovery so far is “the crew”. The story focuses so much on Martin-Green, it eschews the ensemble nature of TNG, DS9, VOY and ENT.
I'd like to keep in open mind. I do hope it gets better. Maybe when we see the series namesake USS Discovery and her crew next week, things will fall into place and it may start to feel like Star Trek. The first two seasons of Enterprise (ENT) were rocky and played a little fast and loose with existing canon, but I feel there was something redeemable in the last two seasons. (I may be the only one who feels that way). We will keep watching for a while yet.
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