‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Is the Show Fans Have Been Waiting For [Review]

Less than five minutes into “Star Trek: Discovery,” we’re pips-deep in technobabble, Klingon dialogue, and a callout to Kahless. This show isn’t afraid of going geeky and pleasing fans at the exclusion of outsiders, but it also looks as good as the big-screen blockbusters that draw opening weekend crowds in the millions. Most of those millions didn’t know Drax the Destroyer from Ronan the Accuser before flocking to “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and they may give “Star Trek: Discovery” the same benefit of the doubt if their knowledge of Gene Roddenberry‘s universe doesn’t extend past J.J. Abrams‘ big screen reboots, aka the Kelvin Timeline. But will the more casual fan care enough to pay for a subscription to CBS All Access, where the show will live exclusively after its premiere?

The CBS show is set about 10 years before the original series (in the Prime timeline), and Spock’s father Sarek (James Frain) shows up in the premiere as the adoptive father of our human protagonist, Commander Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green). She is first officer on the U.S.S. Shenzhou, serving under Captain Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh). Though the episode “The Vulcan Hello” begins with the Shenzou on a standard mission, they’re quickly pitted against the Klingons. “Battle is not a simulation,” Captain Georgiou says, as her crew faces the possibility of war. “It’s blood and screams and funerals.”

Star Trek: Discovery

The premiere and its follow-up, “Battle at the Binary Stars,” are focused more on war than on exploration, but ‘Discovery’ still exhibits the franchise’s trademark sense of wonder at space and solid special effects that leave the audience in as much awe as the characters on screen. These two episodes also stay true to progressive politics and diverse crews of “Star Trek.” ‘Discovery’ continues the previous series’ commentary on our contemporary Earth, with the Klingons’ desire for unity and cultural purity sounding far too familiar to anyone who has watched the news lately. We still haven’t met most of the show’s cast, but even the glimpse we get here puts the show in line with its predecessors, with even more to come.

Though it’s exciting in itself to see an expensive sci-fi show led by a black woman, show creators Bryan Fuller and Alex Kurtzman and showrunners Gretchen Berg and Aaron Harberts haven’t given Burnham that characterization of her identity and stopped there. Raised by Vulcans, she’s a fascinating blend of logic, precision and risk-taking. There’s plenty of action in these early episodes, but Martin-Green is just as adept with fight scenes as she is with the moments of big – and little – emotions. *minor spoiler ahead* She also has a moment of serious conflict with another Starfleet officer (historically a no-no in Roddenberry’s creation), which shouldn’t work this early on in the show, given these characters’ newness to the audience. But thanks to the work that the actors and writers’ room does, we buy not only the seriousness of this rift, but also the close relationship that it arises within. *end spoiler*

Michelle Yeoh, Star Trek: Discovery

While “The Vulcan Hello” is a solid episode that balances nuanced character development, gorgeous special effects and some laugh-out-loud dialogue from Fuller and (gulp) Akiva Goldsman, “Battle at the Binary Stars” seems unsure of how to fill its time outside of the titular fight. There’s a filler scene or two, and it ends so abruptly at 40 minutes that I wondered if there was an issue with the app (nope). The cliffhanger is likely engineered to hook audiences who used CBS All Access’s free trial to watch the first two episodes and keep them coming back for more. The show couples pure “Star Trek” spirit and references that will make fans grin, but it has enough action and compelling characters to draw in people who don’t know the difference between the Kelvin and Prime timelines. However, the question remains if there are enough of them to sustain such a costly show on a standalone platform. [B]

  • rayg

    Yes, I had been waiting for the premiere of this series. As I was watching it, my mind just kept going: “Wow! This is really boring.”

    • swell

      whereas Encounter at Farpoint was TNG’s finest hour. Clearly.

      Show is off to a pretty solid start… glimpse at where it’s heading at the end of the 2nd episode was pretty damn cool.

      Also, the show is going to get tweaked visuals and presentation. It’s over 50 years old. I’m old enough to remember the non-stop bitching about both the early seasons of TNG and DS9 (and the utter indifference to Enterprise and Voyager). Perspective.

  • rayg

    “an expensive sci-fi show led by a black woman” I think that show is called Killjoys on SyFy.

    Question: why does every new iteration of Star Trek have to change the appearance of Klingons? Trying to figure out how they go from what is in this show to what was in the Original Series set 10 years later to Worf in The Next Generation. If they continue the movie series with the alternate timeline, there is no telling what they will look like.

    • swell

      yeah, Killjoys. That budget buster.

    • MikeDK

      Agreed.

      And on a sidenote, I am pretty sure most casual viewers will find Klingon characters hard to watch. I was really annoyed with the amount of Klingon spoken so far. Give it a rest.

      And they are just really boring antagonists.

  • ziplock9000

    “‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Is the Show Fans Have Been Waiting For” You might want to take a closer look at what the fans have been saying. A large percentage have reservations with continuity or lack thereof. Which is more important to Star Trek than just about every other franchise out there.

  • Fernando Almeida

    Good thing that Netflix will air it here in Brazil

  • MikeDK

    “Raised by Vulcans, she’s a fascinating blend of logic, precision and risk-taking.” – No she isn’t. In the first 2 episodes, that character could have had any backhistory you could think of. There is nothing inherently Vulcan about her character. A fascinating blend. You should really get out more, if you find that “fascinating”.

    It was a fine 90 minutes, but lets not go overboard. The writing and acting was mediocre. Only really positive thing was Doug Jones’ character. I like him.

    • Philip R. Frey

      The writer clearly *wants* to be fascinated and so is. I doubt she’s an actual Star Trek fan or she’d know that very little in this show is what Star Trek fans were looking for.

      It reeks of another alternate reality to me. They should just say that it is and then do their thing. Then I can ignore it completely, like I do the Kelvinverse.

  • James Orr

    Can’t say I agree with that heading at all. As a TV show, its not bad. As a Star Trek series, its awful. It doesn’t encapsulate anything about the series ethos whatsoever. It also completely disregards any sense of continuity or in-universe lore. It might as well be taking a big ‘ol dump on the name Star Trek.