The home video release of Star Trek Discovery has been unleashed upon the world and I am still torn on how I feel about this show. I had originally intended to release this review some time ago with at the end of the series but I found it to be much more difficult than I thought it would be. While I wrote a quick review on the finale episode, I am still unsure if it was a good episode or not. Heck, I am torn on if it was really a good series or not. For the latter there are many factors involved in which I will get to later, for the former, I will be honest, I am disappointed with how easily the story was wrapped up in such a neat little bow.
I am getting ahead of myself, let’s start at the beginning.
The story follows Michael Burnham, the First Officer aboard the Shenzhou. When events occur that cause her to mutiny and her Captain to be killed in combat with Klingnot* warriors, Michael is arrested and sentenced to serve time for her crimes. Of course, being the main character, she is miraculously freed and ends up serving aboard the Starship Discovery under Captain Gabriel Lorca. Now, I won’t go into much more detail other on the first half of the season as I have already covered that Here. In case you don’t want to read that, here is a quick recap:
- One of the crew (Officer Stamets) basically becomes a key component for a mushroom engine that powers the Discovery. yeah… I know.
- One of the crewmen (Tyler) might be a Klingnot spy in a human body
- Michael is in love with Tyler the maybe Klingnot.
- Due to events possibly controlled by Lorca, the Discovery ends up in another universe.
- An evil female Klingnot named L’Rell has been captured and is in the brig.
*wait wait wait wait wait….I think you spelled that wrong. Why are you calling them Klingnots? Aren’t they called Klingons? . Well, according to the show they are, but let’s be honest….they look nothing like the Klingons we know and love. To me, that makes them Klingnots. I’ll explain more below so you’ll just have to trust me until then.
Okay, you all caught up? Cool.
So the second half begins and surprise, they are indeed in the Mirror Universe AND it is finally confirmed that Tyler is the Klingnot named Voq who we saw earlier in the series. The funny thing is that the show itself can’t seem to decide on just how Voq became Tyler or Tyler became Voq so I won’t even bother trying to explain. It’s a big mess. Needless to say, he figures out who he is and goes insane. Then they fix him. That’s pretty much his story in a nutshell.
The big part of this half is that they are in the mirror universe and must go up against the Emperor of the evil Terran empire in order to get back home. Lorca is sure that she is the answer because, guess what?, He was actually the mirror Lorca THIS WHOLE TIME! Oh my gosh!!!
yeah….saw that coming….
They eventually make it back to the main universe (with the Emperor who ended up being the Mirror Captain Phillipa Georgiou (the dead captain from above)) Only guess what, they are 9 months in the future and the Klingnots are winning the war with the Federation. Okay, if they were setting up the next season, nice only….not really. The final episode (reviewed here) rushes through a seasons worth of story and wraps everything up in a neat bow. So yeah….that seriously escalated quickly. Not sure how but it did.
Okay. Not that you are all caught up on the series lets talk big picture. The first question being, is this a good series?
This is perhaps the hardest question you could ask. You see it is a good series, in fact it is perfectly serviceable science fiction. The problem is that it is not perfectly serviceable Star Trek. In fact it doesn’t feel much like Trek at all. This is a multifaceted thing and hard to directly nail down but I will do my best. Lets begin with technology, creature and alien design and then go into tone.
With every new series it is fully expected to look and feel unique. This is done to differentiate the new show with others that are on the air, or in the case with Discovery, with the ones that came previously. However, in a series that has such a long storied history, changing the look and style of the technology for a prequel series is dangerous path to take. Sure it looks great! In fact, what is presented is one of the nicest looking series to date. It fits beautifully in with Enterprise in it’s look and feel but, this series is based 10 years prior to The Original Series and that is the conundrum.
Now, before you say it, I would never expect producers to go back to the sets and designs of the Original 1960’s tv series. If they did that, it would come off too campy and would never attract the new fans that they are after. I get that, I really do. The problem is we now have a continuity that goes from this:
All in just ten years. See the problem. Seems that Starfleet took a few steps back… But this is just an update to a classic TV series lack of budget, you say. Well, what further complicates this issue are two specific episodes of earlier series, namely Star Trek The Next Generation ‘Reunion‘ and Star Trek Deep Space ‘Nine ‘Trials and Tribble-ations‘.
In ‘Reunion‘, we find out that Montgomery Scott has miraculously survived in a transporter buffer and he is taken aboard the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D. While there he asks the holodeck to recreate the Enterprise bridge, but not just any Enterprise, the Original Enterprise Bridge (No bloody A,B,C..). In this, we see that the holodeck recreates the classic 60’s style Bridge in its entirety. Not a freshly imagined one and not even the refit version from the Motion Picture. Now, you can argue that this was merely a recreation and that the holodeck may not have been 100% accurate. Okay, well, how about time travel?
In the Episode ‘Trials and Tribble-ations‘, members of the DS9 crew are transported back in time to the original Enterprise with Kirk in Command. While there, guess what the Enterprise looked like? You guessed it, classic 60’s style. So, with this, it has been firmly established that the technology did indeed look that way in the 23rd century. In fact, Jadzia Dax even mentions how she ‘love the classic 23rd century design’. So this causes a huge continuity error. I could go on talking about how the discovery uses Holographic technology and an engine type that should never have existed but all of these are moot points. The main thing to take away here is, in order to properly do a prequel, you must follow continuity or at least make a serious attempt to explain why it has not been done.
However, the show looks amazing. For a sci fi series the production values are bar none. They clearly spared no expense in the design and execution of the series. Everything from the ship design to the costumes are incredible. Even the Uniform design is pretty nice and can easily be explained as a Starfleet Uniform Change. They did this in Deep Space Nine so it happens and makes sense . There is one other nit regarding the delta badge but that can also be explained away and is pretty minor for the most part. Overall, had this been any other series, there would be no issue in the eyes of this reviewer, however, it’s not.
In addition to the technology, we also have the creature and alien design.
Now, for a stand alone sci fi series, the makeup and design on the aliens is perfect. There are many individuals in this series that are unique and are fascinating to look at. This is a great thing for a science fiction show, making it clear that there are an abundance of non-human life forms that make up the universe. The designs are impeccable and, honestly, the makeup and costumes are very well done. There is one major problem, however.
When a series or a story establishes a design that lasts for 30 years, there is no reasonable explanation as to why that design should be changes so drastically that it is nearly unrecognizable as what is intended to be. This is especially important when the series takes place prior in continuity to the stories that have come to pass. This is what has happened to the race known as….The Klingons. I will reiterate what I said in my original review. In fact, here it is in it’s near entirety:
This is a Klingon from 100 years prior to the events in the Discovery and Original Series. In fact, this is the very first Klingon that the Federation encounters according to the Continuity established on this series. Note the prominent Brow Ridge, the bushy eyebrows, the long flowing hair, the unique facial hair and dark skin. He is clearly alien, and certainly not someone you wouldn’t want to mess with.
This next one is a Klingon from the Original series. Remember he is from 100 years AFTER the events in Enterprise but only 10 years AFTER the events in Discovery. Note the shorter hair, bushy eyebrows, unique facial hair, dark skin and lack of brow ridges. Keep in mind that this series was from the 1960’s so prosthetics were not commonly used due to budgetary reasons, but he is still clearly not a regular human character.
This next one is from the Star Trek Next Generation Era set 100 year AFTER the Original Series. Note the return to the brow ridge, the bushy eyebrows, the long flowing hair, the unique facial hair and dark skin. According to the story-line the Klingons had experimented on themselves resulting in the smooth foreheads from the original series. It was an embarrassment to them and not something they liked to talk about.
Now, this is what appears as a Klingon in Discovery. Please note that Discovery is supposed to take place only 10 years prior to the original series. So you would think they would look either like that of the Enterprise Era or of the Original Series Era but no. They look like this. WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?! Seriously. There is no way to can go from this to the smooth headed version in 10 years!
This really bothers me and every time I see one, it takes me out of the series immediately. Everything else, from the insane technology that doesn’t make sense 10 years prior to TOS to the uniforms that don’t make sense I can get over, it’s distracting at best. The only thing that would make ANY sense to a Trekkie like me is that Discovery takes place in the Kelvin Universe (click the link for an explanation) where the Klingons looked like the photo here. And you know what? That would have been awesome. A TV series set in the new movie universe would have been great as they would have been able to bring in the new version of Kirk, Spock and McCoy with little effort. Unfortunately the producers say that it is based in the Prime Universe and fits in with all the other tv series. Shenanigans I say. I won’t even get into the double organ easter egg…
Other than this, the creature/Alien design is perfect. We even get a mildly updated Andorian in an episode and that isn’t a bad thing. Outside of Enterprise, the Andorians have not been a major alien species that was focused on and Enterprise was 100 years prior, so some changes could be expected and honestly welcome. We even get a mutated Water Bear, so yeah, the creature/Alien design is pretty great, with exceptions.
This is really where the series has some issues. Star Trek has always been a series about hope and optimism. It is a series that envisioned humanity’s bright future after having nearly eradicated itself before Zefram Cochrane developed the warp engine and ushered humanity into a new era. Each series builds on this standard even when there is a major war, there is still hope and that has been one of the major Tenants of the series. Humanity will persevere and grow beyond their petty vices. It is with this promise that we have gone out to explore strange new worlds. Discovery, however, is quite the opposite.
Gone is the optimism, the hope and drive to be great. Instead we are introduced to a tortured crew and a dark world where the very concept of hope is all but extinguished.This series seems to have more of a tone similar to the newer Battlestar Galactica than Star Trek and this is concerning.
We are greeted by characters who all but despise each other and, while most of them learn to work together, they are at best a dysfunctional bunch. Now, I have read that this was done internationally, that they wanted to break Roddenberry’s core rule of no interpersonal conflicts between crewmates but that can be done without making everyone so sullen and angry. I get that there is a war going on but the war outside should not also create a war within the ranks. This will only lead to ultimate failure in a realistic setting. Yes, I know that this is fiction but even in fiction, real world constants must be followed.
The other thing that doesn’t work well is how the show is presented. The series does not use the classic episodic self contained stories we are used to and, while jarring at first, this is not a bad thing. In fact, if used properly it can really allow for a broader scope of story telling and character development. This format can also allow for much more defined world building so that the audience can forget that they are watching a series for an hour and become fully immersed in the narrative. Series such as Game of Thrones and Battlestar Galactica have done a terrific job in creating a believable universe where their characters live. Even Deep Space Nine played with the format during the Dominion Wars and it worked wonderfully. Sadly, Discovery doesn’t seem to understand how to use this style of storytelling, I can only hope it gets better with season two.
The series overall feels disjointed and self conflicted. It is clear that there was a jarring change in direction upon Fuller’s departure and this is a great shame. This is only compounded by the sudden shift midseason to the Mirror Universe (the only really great episodes of the season) and then even more apparent in the rushed finale. It feels that this would have been better served on a platform like Netflix to allow for binge watching as opposed to the weekly release format. Even so, it is obviously the child of committee and that did more harm than good.
Okay, how about the actors? Surely there is some good there?
This is a challenging point. For the most part the actors do a fine job with what they are provided with, which isn’t much to be honest. When they have a chance to shine, they manage a glimmer but we rarely see them glow.
Doug Jones does a marvelous job as the highly unlikable Saru. It takes Anthony Rapp half a season to find his character but when he does, he is amazing in every way. Jason Isaacs is, of course, Jason Isaacs playing a bad guy again but it works for the show.
Unfortunately our lead, Sonequa Martin-Green who plays Michael Burnham, isn’t quite up to snuff out of the bag. While she was great on Walking Dead as Sasha, she hasn’t seemed to shake that character and it feels that she isn’t completely focused on this new one. Many times her delivery is a bit wooden and flat which could be her attempt at playing a human raised by a Vulcan but it just makes her come off as two dimensional most of the time. It takes her most of the show to find herself and by the time you get to like her portrayal of her character, the show has ended.
I could go on about each of the rest of the cast, but honestly, they are mostly forgettable at best. Yes, even Tilly. While Mary Wiseman did a fine job in her role, Don’t get me started on her character.
Is there anything you actually liked, I mean this sounds like you really hate this show?
Yeah, in fact there was, but it is rather hard to quantify. As I stated before, this is a gorgeous series. It is really nice to see Star Trek represented in such a nice manner when it comes to a special effects budget. With all of my gripes about the pay per view model, if this is what is done with my money, I really shouldn’t complain all that much. Then again, they probably could have done the same on Netflix but that’s neither here nor there.
The other thing I loved was (SPOILERS) the inclusion of the Enterprise at the end of the season. To see an updated interpretation of this ship was just pure starship porn and I loved every second of it. Rumor has it that we will see Captain Christopher Pike in the next season and possibly Spock himself. We’ll see.
Most first seasons of any television series struggles to find its voice and I guess I had hoped for a new Trek series to be the exception. I have never seen any new Star Trek series as entirely new, but as a continuation of the last one. This is why I expect more out of any new entry as it already has everything ready and established for it. I guess this was yet another case of me not tempering my expectations.
The Bottom Line
There is good in the show if you can look past it’s many flaws and past the inherent desire to be a fanboy, it is actually well done. It is a series that, had the studio aired it on television or released it on Netflix instead of making it part of the paid service of CBSAllAccess, this could have well been the rebirth of Trek on screens across the nation. It isn’t for fans such as myself, it is for a new generation of fan and that is okay. Even though much of this article comes off as vehement dislike of the series, I will likely be there with every other Trekkie ready to watch season two.
I will leave you with one of the most gorgeous screenshots from the show with the hope of the greatness that is to come…
Late to The Game 12/1/2018
Thanks for reading, If you would like to read more reviews I have a weekly series called Key Movies Of My Life that comes out every Wednesday and also a complete review of Star Trek Discovery. Be sure to check out our contributor Darkmovienight with the New Movie Reviews every Sunday. You can also find a few of my other Music Reviews Here.
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