Star Trek: Discovery isn’t going to appeal to everyone, but that’s the beauty of Star Trek as a whole.
From the original series to The Next Generation, Enterprise and everything in between, Star Trek has managed to alter itself with every new iteration, bringing a sense of undiscovered wonderment alongside a fresh-faced crew. Star Trek: Discovery is one of the more cinematic versions of the Star Trek universe; it has more in common with J.J. Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek film than it does the original series. Discovery feels like the rebirth of a franchise, much in the same way Star Wars: The Force Awakens did for Star Wars, and it doesn’t back away from boldly going where (almost) no Star Trek series has gone before.
I love Discovery. The show accomplishes its goal of bringing a new age of space exploration to television in its first two episodes. The most noticeable and remarkable aspect of the series so far is the visual effects it sits upon. Giant battles in the black sky pulsate; yellow and orange flares spark dangerously when a ship takes damage; holograms shimmy in the monochromatic rooms that line the U.S.S. Shinzou. The visual effects are special and I was worried that having to stream the series through CBS’ service, All Access, on a 2015 MacBook Pro would ruin that experience somehow. It didn’t, but Discovery is the type of show that should only be watched on a television set — if doable — where the higher resolution and better quality the better.
That’s not to say that Discovery’s only laurels are its visual effects. The acting is good; there’s room for improvement, and I’ll be interested to see how the acting comes into focus when the visual effects aren’t at the forefront. This is the caveat I want to make clear regarding our review of Discovery: we’ve only seen the first two episodes. These are designed to captivate, hook and lure subscribers in. The first two episodes have to be beyond brilliant in order for viewers to willingly chalk up another $6 a month for a service they may not have wanted otherwise. CBS All Access ain’t Netflix, after all.
The performances from the first two episodes are weaker than the special effects that guide them, but they’re not without merit. Sonequa Martin-Green (Commander Michael Burnham) is the stand-out actor, joined by James Frain (Sarek, Spock’s dad) and Doug Jones (Lt. Saru). The three actors delivered the strongest performances over the back-to-back episodes, with the dynamic between Saru and Burnham’s relationship providing the comedic relief the series needs in its most intense moments.
That’s not to ignore the entire batch of actors hidden under layers of masks and facial prosthetics. The Klingon have returned in Star Trek: Discovery and, as always, are one of the Federation’s most contentious adversaries. The Klingon aren’t going to hide their contempt for the various Starfleet ship members and will take immense joy in watching their ships burn from either afar or up close.
The Klingon present a predictable but intriguing enemy for Discovery to focus its attention on. These aren’t the standard Klingon we’ve seen in series past. The Klingon have new looks and, while their new aesthetic will be debated on mercilessly until the dawn of the next Star Trek series, there’s no question that they’ve never been more menacing. The Klingon are terrifying; more primal and monstrous in their design. Every inch of their face draws upon cannibalistic fears — but Discovery doesn’t just turn them into alien monstrosities.
Instead, the showrunners use their different look to start an important dialogue about the power of hate that accompanies the fear of anything different. The Klingon are representative of a larger issue that space exploration and turf wars. Former showrunner Bryan Fuller (who is still credited with the story for the first two episodes) doesn’t cram a conversation about accepting differences down the throats of viewers. Fuller guides them to see the parallels between what’s happening centuries from now and what’s occurring in our own society today.
That’s where Discovery finds its heart. Beneath the rubble of destroyed ships and eye-catching laser blasts, it’s the desire to unite as one, peaceful universe that carries the story of Discovery. In that regard, Discovery shares more in common with its Star Trek ancestors, making the move to a more cinematic, action-based Star Trek series a little easier to swallow for some.
It’s impossible to say whether Discovery will hold up as a series and not just a made-for-TV-movie format that we were treated to last night. For now, however, it’s one of the most promising new series on television this year. Star Trek is back on television and it’s very, very good.