Kicking off yet another Star Trek series is a tricky undertaking in today’s market under the best of circumstances, and Star Trek: Discovery seems to be a venture hoping to handicap its possibilities as much as possible. CBS All Access availability is the most obvious limitation, but it also takes us to a prequel timeline, and kicks off with a space opera clash with the Klingons that leads to war. Worst of all, perhaps, by the time you get into the series a few episodes, the first two might as well have been a fifteen-minute flashback that builds the setting.
Our main focal point is Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), who was raised by Vulcans after her parents were killed by Klingons (which doesn’t seem to make sense in the timeline we have). She’s the first officer on the U.S.S. Not-The-Title-Of-The-Show, serving under Captain Not-Jason-Isaacs (Michelle Yeoh) when a mission to repair a communications relay leads to a confrontation with Klingons, who, according to the show, haven’t been seen for 100 years. The show offers up a fair amount of background, some of it ultimately unnecessary, and balances that with a massive helping of Klingon ritual and ceremony, most of which will prove wasted effort by the time the series really gets underway.
As we bob and weave through the layers that serve to distract from the fact that nothing ultimately happens in the first two episodes, Burnham goes from assessing the Klingon situation differently than her Captain straight to trying to open fire on them herself. Thus, once the going gets tough, largely because no one would listen to her, she’s stuck in the brig.
By the time we get anywhere, we realize that we’ve just watched the world’s longest trailer, and the Federation is going to be at war with the Klingons, which may or may not play a key role in the show.
As the premiere of Star Trek: Discovery approached, the internet was buzzing with news and rumors surrounding the content and theory of the new series, and nothing seemed to have more people talking than the fact that those behind the show were determined to break some of Gene Roddenberry’s rules. Key among the rules this series wasn’t going to follow was the idea that Federation personnel and/or a ship’s crew couldn’t have real, internal conflict or drama. Sure, Bones could spout off at and about Spock’s emotionless attitudes and decision-making process, but he couldn’t actually dislike Spock. The characters couldn’t portray a true animous towards each other. That’s out the window in the biggest possible way, because Burnham is going to continue the show on a new ship, with a new captain and crew, while wearing the label, “mutineer.”
That’s the sort of idea that is obviously going to mean that people aren’t friendly to her, but the series makes things much broader. She mutinied in the first place, which is ok if something has taken over your mind, but not if you made the decision, but this is a world with a very different attitude long before she decided she knew what was best for everyone. This is a crew, and bridge, where Burnham is introduced to us by literally shoving another member of the crew off their own station, and most of the people we get to see speak seem to have some level of distaste for whoever they’re talking to.
The decision to leave such rules behind, basically some of the driving forces and motivations of the show, means that the series plays out in a way that stumbles over itself. The conflict feels forced in the first place, such as when we dismiss out of hand the advice and intel of our most trusted officer, who has insider knowledge of previous interactions with Klingons, simply because she can’t mutiny if we listen to her. It’s backward writing of the worst kind and it’s delivered awkwardly.
This is a series that needs to wholly abandon its effort to connect to the recent film universe if it wants to establish a structure worth watching. I have a feeling that it’s aiming in that direction, and after a dozen episodes the swirling possibilities will coalesce into something that can just have some fun, but it’s impossible to tell what this show might pull out of its sleeve. It bolts out of the gates apparently riding high on both the idea that it gets to say “Star Trek” so it can do whatever it wants and delusions of grandeur.
Jason Isaacs has what it takes to rein this in and become a focus, but Martin-Green wouldn’t have been a strong sell if she were living up to her Walking Dead potential, and she’s not.
The first two episodes are tempting enough, though they don’t quite amount to much in themselves, but don’t expect it to cover the cost of admission. The real question may become one of episodic plot. To this point, it plays like a long movie and I’m not sure the long arc is what potential Star Trek fans are after, nor is it particularly sustainable.