Reviewing Star Trek: Discovery

Star Trek: DiscoveryStar Trek: Discovery has arrived! I’m not really a Trekkie, although I’ve seen everything Star Trek except for the cartoon and the latest movie, but this had me excited. A slightly darker Star Trek, with a female protagonist. So, I watched the first episode on Netflix last Monday.

The story

The Klingons have not been seen for a century, but in the opening sequence we see them stirring. They’re preparing to take on the Federation.

Switch to the starship USS Shenzhou, traveling to a remote part of the Federation to fix a defective beacon. The crew discovers an object that distorts sensors and investigate.

Dum-dum-dum.

If I write any more, I will spoil the first episode. As far as beginning go, this isn’t a bad one. I’m glad they didn’t start with the ‘well, let’s take this starship/station on its maiden voyage with a new crew’. Because that was more or less how every other Star Trek series started.

On the other hand, it isn’t anything special. Compare it to Firefly, where the story opens with the crew running an illegal salvage operation in deep space. Or Killjoys, opening with one of the main characters being tortured, and the other escaping being raped with a crotch gun.

The characters

The protagonist in Discovery is Michael Dunham, played by Sonequa Martin-Green. She survived a Klingon attack in her youth and was then adopted and trained by Vulcans. As Star Trek protagonists go, she’s relatively scarred and flawed, which is a good thing. On the other hand, she already goes off the rails in the first episode because of it.

The problem is that she follows a course of action that could either save the day, or cause death and mayhem. This action is clearly a result of her flaw: the extreme hatred of Klingons. If her actions prove correct, the story is validating her flaw. If her actions prove incorrect, she’s a complete bitch. I guess episode two will tell us which she is, but neither is very endearing.

The captain of the ship, Captain Georgiou, played by Michelle Yeoh, is very competent and comes across as a mother-figure for the protagonist. And that’s about it. There really isn’t anything conflicting or unique about the character.

Then there’s Lieutenant Saru, the ship’s alien science officer, played by Doug Jones. He’s a coward. No really, his race are genetically cowards. They’re herbivores. Predators hunted them, so they evolved into cowards. I would say ‘he’s a complex character that is cautious’, but Discovery just establishes that he’s a coward and he the protagonist is right to berate him for it. In other words, the character dynamics aren’t working (yet).

There are more characters in the show, but they are nothing more than names after the first episode. Maybe they’ll get more screen time later. All in all, a very small basis to build a story on.

Conclusion

I have to wait and see. The second episode might provide more depth. At the very least I hope it actually shows the ‘USS Discovery’ that the show is named for. The first episode felt as if it was cut short. Perhaps they wrote the beginning as a double-length starter and only cut it into two episodes later. If so, that was a pretty stupid decision.

Even if that’s the case, the build-up and characterization are not well executed, even in just this episode. Writers shouldn’t push the characters over an emotional edge without first establishing them firmly. Much like you shouldn’t immediately floor the gas peddle on a new car the second you start it.

Worse, the rest of the characters are flat to the point that they’re only a name and a face. The characters don’t work together very well either. That could improve. Or not, in which case I don’t see a bright future for this new Star Trek franchise.

Author: Martin Stellinga

I'm a science fiction and fantasy writer from the Netherlands

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