As a long-time Star Trek fan, I have to admit that Star Trek: Discovery took some getting used to. Everything was so different from the costumes, set design, bridge layout and cinematography. I wondered for some time whether or not the series was set in the Kelvin timeline.
The series has a big budget feel and the long form storytelling is different. But as I watched After Trek after each episode and searched the internet for information, I came to accept that it is definitely set in the prime timeline.
Star Trek: Discovery is Canon
Star Trek: Discovery joins Star Trek: Enterprise the shortlist of prequels that were criticised out of the gate for not being ‘real Star Trek. I admit, I disliked Enterprise initially but it grew on me. Prequels give us the opportunity to explore how the federation started, why the Prime Directive is a thing and so on.
As a prequel show, Discovery had to establish itself within the Trek canon pretty quickly and used a few stunts to do that. The most obvious was having Michael Burnham played by Sonequa Martin-Green (The Walking Dead) be Spock’s adopted sister. This plotline had me scratching my head wondering how they were going to explain why Spock has never mentioned having a sister.
The next was to have a Klingon plotline. Nothing says Star Trek like Klingons. But I get it. You have to make fans feel like this is really Star Trek. An overdose of Klingons and playing in the mirror universe helps to establish that.
In the first episode titled The Vulcan Hello, we get an introduction to the Klingons and exactly what they think of the Federation and its “we come in peace” message. The Klingons were so distrusting of the federation a war seemed inevitable.
We get an introduction to Burnham and her relationship with Captain Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) and her relationship with Saru (Doug Jones). Saru seems to compete with Burnham for the captain’s attention and it comes across as childish. I did find Saru’s ability to sense the coming of death fascinating.
There is a lot of exposition in this episode and although burdensome it was necessary to build this new world for us.
Long form storytelling
The storytelling is very different from other Star Trek series with the season long story arc but I didn’t mind that because I’m a big Battlestar Galactica and Babylon 5 fan. I enjoy long form storytelling and season long story arcs. My only issue with the storytelling is that there was so much story to tell and the writers seemed determined to cram it all into 15 episodes.
We had to get to know the main protagonist Michael Burnham and the rest of the crew and understand how Discovery fit into the Star Trek landscape. This was done at breakneck speed and at the end of it all, although I did get a sense of who Michael Burnham, Saru, Tilly (Mary Wiseman) and the main cast members were, I did feel Captain Lorca’s (Jason Issacs) development was a bit of a waste. The whole mirror universe in fact. Although we did ger Michelle Yeoh back as Emperor Georgiou so that’s a plus. But that’s not my biggest issue with season one.
In the early nineties, we were lucky to have three Trek shows on at the same time. In the Next Generation, the crew of the Enterprise were very close-knit, playing cards together and sharing holodeck adventures in their downtime. Even when exploring humanity’s dark nature, the show was pretty upbeat compared to Deep Space 9 (DS9). DS9 displayed a darker side of the universe with the Cardassian enslavement and genocide of the Bajorans and later in the series, the war with the Dominion.
In Voyager, Janeway stuck to federation principles throughout. Sometimes it took other members of the crew such as Tuvok and Chakotay, to look beyond the precious Prime Directive to get the crew where they needed to go.
Out of the gate, Star Trek Discovery is much darker than even DS9. Michael Burnham commits mutiny within the first episode, chain of command be damned. Captain Lorca uses the war with the Klingons to allow all manner of wrongdoing, including allowing Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) to become a human interface with the spore drive. It’s very not Trek which made it all very interesting because the federation surely had missteps along the way to becoming this shiny beacon of puppies and kittens.
From the original series of Star Trek, we are introduced to a world with this great beacon of hope called the Federation. Everything is sunshine and lollipops for the most part as mankind has overcome many of its isms and schisms.
In the prequel series, Star Trek Enterprise, the Federation was in a fledgling state and despite Discovery taking place 100 years later, the Federation principles don’t appear to be front and centre which makes for some interesting conflicts.
With that being said, there are many things about Discovery that I didn’t like.
Let’s start with the obvious: the Klingons. The only reason I think I’m annoyed by the Klingons is that I felt that they hid the actors behind all those prosthetics just to pull off the Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif) is a Klingon… oh surprise! This plot point was annoying as a few episodes after his introduction to the series we get a sense that there is something not quite right with him.
In the episode Into the Forest I Go Ash and Burnham attempt to rescue Admiral Cornwell (Jayne Brook) from the Klingons and Ash get flashbacks to what appears to be him being tortured but there was enough information there to get my brain going down another direction. Which made the reveal that he was indeed a Klingon unsurprising.
Setting that aside, I actually like that the showrunners weren’t afraid to make the Klingons look more alien. I know that sounds weird after what I just said. As Discovery is a new series, made in a time of much better technology, it made sense to upgrade the Klingons.
I was mostly put off by the way the Klingon language was spoken. The speech tempo was too slow and none of the actors seemed able to get a good flow going. In the end, I blocked out the words and focussed on the subtitles.
Bury your gays
Another thing I didn’t care for, aside from the Burnham and Tyler relationship, was the death of Doctor Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz). On set and behind the scenes, the cast of Discovery is extremely diverse so having a bury your gays moment was disappointing. I remember the outcry when Lexa was killed off on The 100 and Denise was killed on The Walking Dead. There was carnage and rage quitting in the fandoms. Why would discovery want to invite that mess on themselves?
Doctor Hugh was one of my favourite characters. If his death was to make us empathise with Stamets it didn’t work for me. Just like the Ash/Burnham thing didn’t work.
Stamets has already been established as the guy I’m going to love to hate as he is rude and so full of himself. Having Hugh as a husband made me feel, that if a nice guy like Hugh can love him, he can’t be all that bad. So, killing off Dr Hugh, was horrible for me. There were other doctors to choose from is all I’m saying.
Burnham, Ash and the lack of chemistry
Getting back to the Ash Tyler storyline. As a side character, Ash would have been okay. When it came to Burnham and Ash, I just disliked most of their plotlines. Ash helping Lorca escape the Klingon ship in Choose Your Pain, was fine. Ash and Burnham as a couple. Yuk!
From the first episode of the season, I got the feeling that although Burnham committed mutiny, we weren’t supposed to hate her. Yes, she got her captain killed and gave the Klingons the excuse they needed for an all-out war but that didn’t make her a bad person, just a deeply flawed one.
The Ash Tyler romance thing seemed to be included to show a softer, vulnerable side of Burnham but for me, it failed. The relationship felt forced. The episode Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad was meant to show us how Ash and Burnham became close but, it’s a time loop episode. So even though we see various conversations between Ash and Burnham at the end of the day, those conversations are reset every time by Mudd.
The only one who remembers anything is Stamets. But the connection between Ash and Burnham is made and we have to believe that over the next four episodes, she’s really into him even though the chemistry between the two is extremely lacking.
When it’s revealed that Ash is in fact a Klingon, I wasn’t surprised. It just seemed like another way to dump on Burnham so that we’d feel sorry for her. I mean, I did feel sorry for her because this was her first love and he turned out to be the enemy. I just didn’t care for the storyline.
So, what did I like about the series so far?
I really like the idea of the spore drive. A ship that runs on mushrooms is the kind of technobabble I miss. And Stamets being the only one able to fly the ship makes him even more full of himself and overbearing and I love to hate that.
I like the ship or at least what we’ve seen of it so far. I like that the bridge is big and spacious and there are more crew members on deck than previous ships. I’d really like to put names to the faces of the bridge crew at some point.
I did like Jason Issac’s performance as Lorca and despite not loving the mirror universe storyline, his wanting to get back to his universe showed us what the spore drive was capable of.
I liked the effort that was put into Burnham’s hair game and how the styles matched her circumstances. When she was Commander Burnham, her hair was short and straight and very Vulcan like. When she goes to prison her hair is in its natural afro state. I imagine getting hair products in prison is difficult. Although Lorca frees her from imprisonment Burnham keeps this style throughout the rest of the season. It’s like she’s figuring out who she is.
My favourite character so far has to be Saru and I’d like to know his back story. I also really like the fact that some of the Discovery crew were from the U.S.S. Shenzhou, which was destroyed by the Klingons in episode one. It will be interesting to see if there will be conflicts between them and Burnham especially Detmer (Emily Coutts) the pilot with the augmentations. She was obviously seriously injured during the attack on the Shenzhou.
Saru has already told Burnham what he thinks of her actions and by the end of the season, the two seem to have an understanding. A familial bond almost.
And finally, I like that we have a new Star Trek series to look forward to. There are some kinks to iron out with the fast-paced, “throw the kitchen sink in there too” storytelling but all in all, Star Trek: Discovery is worth watching despite what others have said. With so many great actors and interesting characters to explore, I’m sure it will find its feet soon enough. I’m looking forward to season two, especially to find out why Enterprise has shown up and why Spock never mentioned having a sister. We didn’t meet Spock this season but we do see a lot of his father Sarek, played by James Frain (Gotham, Orphan Black).