Star Trek: Discovery is off to a stellar start. As a follower of the TV franchises, I’m glad to be getting a new Star Trek series and I like what I’ve seen so far. Star Trek: Discovery has a mix of the classic elements from the previous TV series along with some exciting action sequences reminiscent of 2009’s Star Trek.
Set about 10 years before The Original series, Star Trek: Discovery centers on Lt. Commander Michael Burnham, played by Sonequa Martin-Green (Sasha on The Walking Dead). Burnham was raised by Vulcan ambassador Sarek (Spock’s father) after her human parents were killed by Klingons when she was a child.
Before I get too excited, it’s important to note that the first two episodes are considered to be a prologue. What a typical episode will look like and how a serialized narrative is going to play out over the 15 episode season remains to be seen. Further, not all of the main characters have been introduced yet.
Star Trek: Discovery doesn’t reinvent the wheel although it should appeal to a modern sci-fi fan audience. One of the critiques of the previous Star Trek shows is it’s sterile. While Discovery’s aesthetics are still true to Star Trek, environments appear a bit more lived-in and character dialogue aren’t always as formal. The camera work, lighting and overall visuals are closer to film quality instead of a cookie-cutter TV show. In addition, Discovery doesn’t have a claustrophobic feeling where the settings are confined. Discovery’s good CGI helps take the story off-world and off-ship in a believable way.
Out of the gate, Discovery delivers a compelling series lead. Even though Spock has never mentioned her, it’s a good idea to connect Burnham to the bigger Star Trek lore by having Sarek as her surrogate father. Her familial history is central for her character and is something that can be explored further as the series progresses.
I like how Burnham’s human emotions interplay with the logical mindset from her Vulcan upbringing. This very quality made Spock very endearing because it’s relatably human. The initial episodes do a good job of showing us who Burnham is through the occasional flashback but more importantly by the decisions she makes in the present. Martin-Green’s performance is great too. I can see why the show producers waited for the actresses’ availability in order to build the show around her.
In the role of Captain Georgiou, Michelle Yeoh brings instant likability. The Captain is a strong mentor figure for Burnham and Yeoh’s chemistry with Martin-Green is very good. Actor James Frain as Sarek is expressive just enough without being either emotional or monotone. Science Officer Saru (Doug Jones) as an alien prey species has traits similar to Cowardly Lion from Wizard of Oz. I will need to see if this supporting character will grow on me more over time.
The central source of conflict are the Klingons. They look different. And they talk in Klingon (ie. lots of subtitles to read). The Klingons are fan favorites so it’s a smart move to make them a focal point rather than inventing a new species that no one has heard of before. I don’t mind if the show respectfully expands upon Klingon mythology.
So while the first season’s arc is about the Federation-Klingon cold war, I would imagine that Discovery’s core tenet is exploring strange new worlds and to seek out new life. We needed an updated take on Star Trek for television and Discovery does just that. Despite being a prequel, Discovery doesn’t feel or look out-dated. I’m cautiously optimistic. The cautious part is that the two-part premiere might not be indicative of what future episodes will look like. And only the first hour was aired on CBS. How are people going to watch this series? In Canada, it’s on Space Channel and in UK on Netflix. However, for American audiences it’s streaming on CBS All Access. The optimistic side is that the set up and lead character make a solid foundation for a new Star Trek series.