Chapman Reviews… THE VOID
October 10, 2017

Chapman Reviews… STAR TREK: DISCOVERY

Star Trek: Discovery has finally aired, and now that I’ve had a chance to sit down and watch the first two episodes, I now have a clearer idea of what the show is about. The real question now is do I like it? While it has some positives to it, I still feel that I need to see more episodes to truly get an idea of what this new Trek plans to bring to the table.

Star Trek: Discovery is set approximately 10 years before the adventures of Kirk, Spock, and the Enterprise crew. This is a period where the Klingon empire has largely been broken, and the Klingons are scattered throughout the galaxy. One Klingon warrior, T’Kuvma (Chris Obi), plans to reunite the 24 Klingon houses together to form a stronger and more glorious empire.

While the Klingon plot takes the bulk of this new entry’s story arc, we are also introduced to Captain Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh), and her First Officer, Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), of the USS Shenzhou. The first episode focuses on this new crew (primarily Burnham), and the reintroduction of the Klingons as the Federation’s adversaries.

There are several familiar beats that feel like a Star Trek episode, especially the more “war” based episodes found in Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. A full on battle in space takes place, along with a heavy reminder that the crew of the Shenzou is not the focus of this new series. Each episode ends on a cliffhanger, and by the end of the second episode, it’s clear that these episodes were primarily meant to establish Burnham’s story (Officer Daft Punk, I shall miss you most of all).

Two episodes in, and we still haven’t met the true crew of this new Discovery series. It’s an interesting premise that favors both Burnham and the resurgence of the Klingons. For a long time fan, it’s a little jarring to establish a connection to a crew and then pull back because they’re not the main focus of the series. In many ways, there were ample connections to the Star Trek universe, but its place in said universe still seems unclear.

Aesthetically, nothing connects to The Original Series. Ships are far too detailed and futuristic. Both Enterprise and Deep Space Nine visited elements from The Original Series era, and followed the designs, fashions, and styles of Kirk’s (William Shatner) era. Are we to believe that the Federation regressed and simplified all of its technological advancements within a decade’s time? Did the Federation go through their own retro ’50’s diner trend like people went through in the 1980’s?

The Klingons are radically redesigned, bearing no resemblance to The Original Series, cinematic, or Next Generation eras, and some plot elements simply do not mesh with any of the expansive continuity. Again, both Enterprise and Deep Space Nine attempted (often humorously) to reconcile the differences between the “Flat-Headed Klingons” of Kirk’s era versus the “Ridge-Headed Klingons” of everything else, but once again, ship design, uniforms, some beliefs (Klingons traditionally view the bodies of their dead as “empty shells”, not funeral rite worthy), and even the look of the species bear no familiarity to anything before it. So there’s three types of Klingons now?  Candidly, I am not a fan of the new Klingon design.

Additionally, Michael Burnham is the ward of Sarek of Vulcan, more commonly known as Spock’s Father. Burnham has never been mentioned in any era by Sarek or Spock, especially with the seeming importance that she is set to play in this new series. Burnham’s not a one-off character like Spock’s half-brother Sybok, and while her adoptive Vulcan upbringing has the potential to make for interesting storylines, she could have been tethered to a less famous family to allow for less story restrictions. Also, when did Sarek master cross-galaxy telepathy?

Granted there are familiar Federation ship noises, and phasers surprisingly look like the set period, but it’s similar to how The Phantom Menace‘s design was so vastly different, but threw in elements like lightsabers and R2-D2 to remind you that it’s still Star Wars. In many ways, Discovery could largely be any science fiction show.

For a show that is all about moving forward, Star Trek has spent the last few years of its existence focused on the past. Discovery feels like it would be a better fit for either the J.J. Abrams Kirk’s (Chris Pine) Kelvin Timeline reboot due to its tech upgrades and use of lens flare, or post-Star Trek: Nemesis.

There are some critics that feel that continuity doesn’t matter, but it would be like putting electric lamps, central plumbing and air conditioning equivalents in a Western period piece, and expecting people to accept it as part of the era. The producers swear that Discovery fits into continuity, but it still remains a “wait and see” moment for me to see how this all fit. And I could be wrong: Perhaps fans familiar only with the reboot films simply won’t care about the five decades-plus worth of contradictions.

As for myself, I am curious enough to continue watching the show and seeing where this all goes. I am ready to meet the actual Discovery crew that we are set to rally behind, as well as seeing what new elements are they going to introduce, while revisiting a (supposedly) familiar world.  At present, Burnham’s character seems impetuous and prone to poor decision making.

It’s ironic that The Orville feels more tonally in-line with classic Star Trek while the new Star Trek series feels like unfamiliar territory. Still, I am pleased that there are two shows to pick and choose from, as well as Star Trek returning to television after too long a hiatus. I am hoping that Discovery will eventually win me over, as it took the other shows to find their places as well.

As I found myself at the end of the second episode, we’ll wait and see….

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