Discovery: A Review & Some Thoughts The last Star Trek series, Enterprise, ended the night before my youngest kid was born. My daughter is now 12, and here we are with a brand new Star Trek series. I was excited to watch Discovery. The preview clips and trailers all seemed very compelling, and the prospect of returning to the Prime universe was very much a thrill. I could barely contain my excitement as the moment finally arrived… The first thing we see? Klingons. Well, they are “Klingons” – the redesign to make them all look like Egyptians was, in my opinion, very off-putting. While I found the notion of multi-racial Klingons (white, various shades of black and brown etc.) refreshing in Star Trek (humans, after all, come in many colors; why shouldn’t aliens?), the Egyptian aesthetic was just… weird. I don’t care for it. I found the redesigned Klingons that were utterly wasted in Star Trek Into Darkness much more visually compelling. I get wanting to develop their culture and all that, but we already know so much about them and now it’s very hard to see how they’ll get to what we know, from where they are now. We then move on to the Shenzhou, captained by Michelle Yeoh because of course it is. The relaxed and easy dynamic of Yeoh’s Captain Georgiou and Sonequa Martin-Green’s Burnham is immediately obvious. The two come off as old friends who have been through a lot together, and it’s a very believable relationship. The writing in this scene is probably the worst in the entire episode, as Burnham explains to the captain – who no doubt already knows why they are on the planet because she’s the captain and would have been briefed already and likely would have had to approve the mission – in some incredibly lazy and forced exposition. I have a lot of issues with this scene. Aside from the insanely lazy writing, I was immediately forced to ask why such a trivial mission requires the captain AND first officer to be present in a potentially dangerous situation? After realizing what they were doing (fixing some kind of water distribution issue for a race of beings that is neither space-fairing nor overly intelligent, and did not ask for their help), I also have to question why these two Starfleet officers are violating the Prime Directive. The arrival of the Shenzhou was also forced drama. Apparently drawing a giant Starfleet delta shield in the sand somehow enables the ship to see them from orbit, despite the fact that sensors don’t work that way and if the sensors are down due to storm interference, visuals won’t help much either. I digress. Those are minor nitpicks, I admit, and in the face of a strong story with relatable and interesting characters and a solid setup for the show, they are easily forgiven. Unfortunately, we don’t really get any of that. The next hour is actually rather tedious, highlighted only by a bit of fun and familiar banter between crewmates (Michael and Saru’s interactions are particularly amusing). In short, the Shenzhou is sent to check out a damaged communications array to determine what happened to it and why. It was intentionally damaged by a Klingon named T’Kuvma; a warrior who apparently had a bad experience with the Feds at an early age and decided to pursue revenge against them because of course he did. His diabolical scheme is to unite the 24 “great houses” of the Klingon Empire by giving them a common enemy around which to rally: the Federation. Now, I find this particular story to be quite interesting. I like the idea of a broken empire that requires direction, and I like the idea of starting a war to provide it with one. The Klingons themselves, despite their garish new looks, were nearly as compelling as they were in the prime of TNG, when Gowron and Duras struggled for control of the Empire, with Worf caught between them. T’Kuvma’s plan isn’t bad, but the execution in the pilot is tedious and a little silly. They damage the communications array and then hide in a star’s accretion disk (where have I heard this before…) in the hopes that the responding Federation ship will stick around long enough to start some shit. Lucky for them, Michael Burnham doesn’t like leaving things unknown and once they find some weird technobabble signal (the Klingon ship) they go after it. Now: here is where modern marketing and social media can create problems for storytellers. See, most people knew going in that Georgiou wasn’t going to survive. She was even credited as a “special guest” and Jason Isaacs is cast as the captain of the Discovery, so… we know this situation here isn’t permanent. I was fully prepared for the Klingons to destroy the Shenzhou the moment they were discovered, leaving Michael stranded (as she was outside the ship), and this would start the war. But that didn’t happen. In fact, Michael returned to the Discovery (after killing a Klingon that, for some reason, was on the hull of his ship) and then made it back safely. In fact again, the Klingons and the Shenzhou (lord I hate typing that name so much) have a bit of a face-off where the Klingons basically ignore the Feds and go about a weird ritual that is kind of like the old school Klingon death rites but way more complicated and featuring a transforming sarcophagus that looks like something you’d find in a pyramid. It’s here where things really drag; there’s an expectation that something is going to happen, but nothing does. It’s a lot of talking. And more talking. And more talking. It’s not particularly interesting talking either. There’s some background between Michael and Sarek (which was a highlight to be honest, though Sarek already HAS a son, so… why is he so keen to be such a good father to Michael when he and Spock always had a strained relationship), and some more background about Michael joining the crew and so on. We learn that the Klingons attacked when she was young and killed her parents, because of course they did. (I bet we eventually find out that T’Kuvma or some future Klingon recurring villain led the attack, too.) Sarek raised her (funny that Spock never mentioned his human “sister” isn’t it?), and taught her the Vulcan way, and so on. By now, the show starts to feel very suffocating. The ship isn’t going anywhere or doing anything. The crew is mostly just filler (because anyone who has seen any promotional stuff for this show knows most of them are canon fodder), yet it keeps rolling on as if all of these interactions will ultimately mean something. Somehow, by the end of the pilot, Michael’s emotional overreaction to the Klingon presence, tempered with a bit of Vulcan logic, puts her at odds with her captain. She gives the captain the ol’ nerve punch and orders them to fire on the still-silent Klingon ship. The captain shows up and pulls a phaser on her officer (where have I seen this before…) moments before a crapload of Klingon ships arrive. At this vague point, the first episode ends and CBS made the very stupid decision to force you to sign up for CBS All Access if you want to watch the second part of the pilot. I very nearly didn’t. Part 2 sees Michael in the brig and charged with tons of crimes, Starfleet shows up to talk, and T’Kuvma somehow convinces all 24 great houses that they should go to war with the Federation because they say “we come in peace” a lot and are totally liars about that. There’s a big space battle, lots of explosions, expendable crew members start to die, but for some reason Michelle Yeoh still doesn’t. Michael is taken out of action in the brig where she talks to Sarek telepathically (seriously… what?) and he encourages her to get off her ass and escape the contrived drama of a hull breach and collapsing force field. I guess this is supposed to be a moment of growth as Michael outwits the ship’s computer (which is way more advanced than the Enterprise-D’s for some reason) and escapes the brig, only to find she probably would have been let out soon anyway. Then more stuff happens, people die, the Klingons betray a cease-fire because of course they do. Michael and Georgiou come up with a contrived plan to disable the Klingon ship and kidnap T’Kuvma so he doesn’t become a martyr. In a battle devoid of any emotional connections, the captain is FINALLY killed and Michael rage kills (thus, martyring) the Klingon. So much for building up a season-long bad guy. The pilot episode ends with Michael being sentenced for all the stupid crap she did during the pilot. I wanted to be excited about this show, but I found it to be mostly tedious nonsense. While the producers said on the live after-show that they felt “this story needed to be two hours” I completely and utterly disagree. When DS9 opened, we didn’t need a two-hour battle of Wolf 359 to establish the emotional stakes for Sisko. We got the point damn fast. All the pilot did was develop a ship and a crew that is now eviscerated. Saru appears to be the only character returning to serve on the Discovery. Everyone else is either dead or unimportant. It felt like the pilot was taking itself way too seriously. There were no real moments of levity. None of the joy or awe that is inherent in and intrinsic to Star Trek. It was gloomy, plodding, and at times, even tedious. Worst of all, though, it was a waste of time. There was no need to see this entire story played out over the course of two episodes. It was a two hour cold open, when ten minutes would have sufficed. I don’t feel the show succeeded much in setting up any of the larger universe or context for the show, because we aren’t going to get to the Discovery, and the ACTUAL crew, until episode 3. A pilot is supposed to set the tone, but this one wasted two hours on developing things that don’t ultimately matter. If this story HAD to be told, a web series or something might have been a better way to do it. Supplemental material, rather than an outright pilot. I know in this Walking Dead / Game of Thrones world it’s popular to drag things out for weeks and weeks and “build up to” every single moment, but it did not work here at all. I know it sounds like I hated it. I really didn’t. There are some high points: Sonequa Martin-Green is spectacular. I love her character, and I find her connection to Sarek interesting, if very odd and out of place. I hope we aren’t rehashing the whole Kirk thing with her hatred of Klingons, though. Sabu promises to be a very interesting character. He’s a Kelpien, which is a new race to the franchise. I enjoyed his interplay with Michael a lot. He’s kind of a dick but it works. The series is gorgeous. Best looking Trek ever, easily. I like the design of the Shenzhou almost as much as I hate typing that name. It was reminiscent of the Abramsverse, which is a little odd since Discovery is set in the Prime universe, but everything about the show’s visuals and designs is truly top notch (except the Egyptian Klingons). Jason Isaacs – holy crap, I love this guy and cannot wait to see him. I wanted him in the pilot so badly, and was very frustrated when it just kept going on and on without him. Rainn Wilson as Harcourt Fenton Mudd – Oh Mylanta, YES. Now! It looks like, once we’re actually ON the Discovery, the show will finally settle in and get interesting. This pilot was little more than a prologue, and in my opinion a fairly unnecessary one. I am excited to see what this show really will be. I still argue, as a filmmaker, that this overly long cold open was not needed and that the exact same emotional resonance could have been achieved in other ways. But now it’s out of the way, and the real show can hopefully begin.