TV: Star Trek Discovery S01 E01 and E02 - Reviewed

Sunday night saw the premiere of Star Trek: Discovery, the first Trek show since Enterprise ended its run in 2005, and the newest incarnation after the rebooted alternate-timeline J.J. Abrams film series. I should say now that I consider myself a fan of Star Trek, but by no means am I a Trekkie, or Trekker, depending on one’s preference. I grew up watching episodes of The Next Generation – Picard will always be MY captain - and later seeing the films that followed on the big screen in the late nineties with my dad. It was only later in life that I came to appreciate the original series and the perfection that is Wrath of Khan.

Discovery is very much its own thing, for better and (at times) worse. What’s clear from the very beginning, and perhaps most refreshing, is that the show has done away with Gene Roddenberry’s strict “no conflict rule” as far as the characters go, something that Bryan Fuller - the co-creator of Discovery and (briefly) its showrunner – was adamant about. Sonequa Martin-Green leads the show as Michael Burnham, Frst Officer of the USS Shenzhou, a human who was raised by Spock’s father, Sarek, and close friend of Shenzhou’s Captain, Philippa Georgiou (played wonderfully by Michelle Yeoh).

This chair is comfy. You should try it out sometime. 

The first episode, titled "The Vulcan Hello," explores Burnham and Captain Georgiou’s friendship, as well as their differences when it comes to leading missions and their diplomacy with the Klingons. It’s obvious that Burnham wants to, and probably should be the captain of her own starship, as it’s made clear multiple times that she’s served under Captain Georgiou for seven years, but she’s hesitant for reasons that I’m sure will continue to be explored. Despite the focus on Burnham, however, I found myself much more interested in Captain Georgiou. Yeoh is a terrific actress and she commands every scene she’s in with perfect confidence. In other words, she’s an excellent captain on screen and off.

We’re supposed to be rooting the entire time for Burnham to be right when she and Captain Georgiou disagree, and yet I found myself mostly agreeing with the captain, if nothing else because of Yeoh’s performance. On the other hand, the appeal of Burnham is that she is flawed, perhaps more so than Trek fans are used to, which gives her a refreshing edge and unpredictability. The ending of the first episode – involving a ballsy move by Burnham - came out of left field, at least for me, which made me glad that I could jump right into "Battle at the Binary Stars."

“Battle” is much more action-heavy and deals with the fallout of Burnham’s insubordination, making it a slightly more energetic and fun piece than the first hour. I would strongly advise watching both episodes back to back, as they essentially act as one pilot, but that, of course, is up to you. The conundrum I found myself in after concluding episode two was that I was very intrigued about the show’s direction going forward, despite not completely enjoying what I had just seen. In other words, the first two episodes are somewhat dull, yet they set up some fascinating questions and potential arcs for the rest of the season. I’m surprised that my reaction wasn’t as favorable as I expected, given that Fuller’s involvement with the show ends with episode two. He’s a writer I’ve admired for many years, whose career began on Voyager, and who, in my opinion, should be in charge of Discovery.

Do a Google search and you can easily find most of what went down, but the short version is that Fuller and CBS did not see eye to eye, the result of which appears to be a mishmash of ideas displayed on screen. Fuller objected to David Semel being chosen to direct the first hour, and I can see why. There’s no life to the cinematography, no awe, no wonder, and sadly, no excitement. Regardless of whether you’re a Trek fan or not, Star Trek should be exciting. Abrams, for all his flaws, at least understood that, and it’s a shame that things seem so muted with Semel’s poor direction. (Fuller apparently reached out to Edgar Wright to direct in the early stages. That would have been spectacular.)

This suit protects me from all the hate. 

The result is a show that is rife with ideas and limited on visual imagination. Fuller is someone who understands visual storytelling. If you’ve watched Pushing Daisies, Hannibal, or American Gods, you know instantly that Fuller knows what he’s doing. He chooses exceptional directors – David Slade’s work on Hannibal and American Gods is unlike anything I’ve ever seen on television – and brings a polished level of craft to his shows. They’re inventive, fun, and most of all original in their storytelling. It’s something that Star Trek desperately needs, and hopefully something that Discovery can still pull off.

A lot has been set in motion with these first two episodes. Let’s hope that despite Fuller’s non-involvement, the team he assembled can get the job done. Maybe Discovery will finally go where no one has gone before.


-Matt Giles