A Review of CBS’s Star Trek: Discovery Premiere Episodes
It happened for me in 1987 and again in January of 1995 and the last time in September of 2001. When Star Trek Enterprise went off the air in May of 2005, I had no idea when I would get to say this again. But here we are. Here I am. And here it is:
Star Trek premiered last night.
I am talking, of course, about the Akiva Goldsman directed series Star Trek Discovery which premiered its’ first episode (The Vulcan Hello) on CBS and the second episode (Battle At the Binary Stars) immediately thereafter on streaming platform CBS All Access.
Long in the works, and with its fair share of controversy, delays, rotating writers and general die-hard fan apprehensions the show finally landed (despite all of that) on Sunday September 24th 2017 with a great deal of success. In fact, according to a CBS press release, Discovery “broke a new record for subscriber single-day sign ups, eclipsing the previous record held by the 2017 Grammy Awards”. It managed to reach 9.6 million viewers during it’s initial broadcast.
From the opening credit sequence, we knew that this is not a normal, standard Star Trek show. Instead of glorified panoramic shots of a ship’s hull or dramatic fly-bys on a backdrop of space and nebulae and star dust we get highlights of universe-appropriate technology like communicators and tricorders. Throughout the show, we get the perspective of the First Officer instead of the ship’s Captain. We get, at first, a ship that is not the show’s namesake. We get T’Kuvma’s fleet and crew of Klingons that don’t speak English and look like nothing John Colico when he invaded Organia but yet are absolutely Klingon. Yes we get not only Klingons but really for the first time ever the perspective of the Klingons and a deeper dive in to their culture and their world. We get a new Deck but with rather familiar notes and tones and pings from the various station kiosks. We get the slick hyper-polished feel and brightness (and lens flare) of J.J. Abram’s Kelvin-based movies blended with the heart and soul of the Prime-based original series and even The Next Generation. We get Sarek and Harry Mudd and a certain bottle of wine with an all-too familiar name… Chateau Picard. We get heart and emotion of the First Officer and Kelpian Science Officer Lt. Saru balanced with the logic and pragmatism that a Ship’s Captain requires. We get the massive scope and scale needed for a space exploration show (Burnham’s solo space flight was fantastic) but the intimacy of Trek.
Those are examples of something this show does very well. Discovery is able to find the perfect blend of the familiar and the new. It blends what fans are expecting with the completely unexpected. Bryan Fuller and Alex Kurtzman both understood what the core of a Star Trek show needs to be about. They understood the need to respect canon and the generations of fans who grew up with one of the Starfleet crews. It’s this blend of all this and different eras and different time lines that makes it something fresh and new and yet familiar. It’s not in-your-face-Trek. But it’s absolutely Star Trek.
Discovery takes place at a time touched-upon but never explored in Star Trek canon and that is the dawn of the war between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. But at the core of the show is a humanistic one, the struggle inside of Sonequa Martin-Green’s Lt. Cmdr. (and First Officer to U.S.S. Shenzhou’s Captain Georgiu. ) Michael Burnham. She will continually deal with her struggles with being both Human and growing up Vulcan and the question of what her actions have caused and if she’d not done anything would people still have died? Should she have so quickly and blindly followed Sarek’s advice? These are questions that lend themselves rather well to the serialized format of the show and the exploration she needs to do within herself. These are deep questions that require a decent amount of exploration without being wrapped up with a tidy bow at the end of each episode. It’s a long-play, long story that needs a long-format to work.
And – so far – it does. I will say that this series opening is the most fun I have had with an opening, premier arc since “The Cage”. And I will also say that Sonequa Martin-Green is definitely a star and one well equipped to lead this cast through the stars literally and metaphorically.
From traditional television to CBS’s wave-of-the-future streaming platform, Star Trek Discovery is boldly going where no show has gone before. And I’ll be along for the ride.