Star Trek Discovery "S1E1&2: The Vulcan Hello" - Review: Trekflix Goes in Bold
Even the most battle=hardened Trekker must concede the gravitational anomaly creating a downward trend in TV Trek. That since Deep Space Nine, the quality has been decreasing through Voyager and Enterprise, which doesn’t bode well for anyone else looking to take the chair. Yet a lot has changed since Captain Archer called it a day. With the film Universe rebooted and re-energized, there’s a whole new generation of fans out there on off-geek world colonies willing to give some episodic “boldly going” a shot. So out of the wormhole, from the awesome quadrant, comes a new but wealthy race, “The Netflix”, willing to help with this mission: codename Star Trek Discovery. Will it be a star date to remember? Well, this opening double venture is anything to go by..... I think it will.
Episode 1, The Vulcan Hello – After investigating a damaged communication array on the edge of Federation space, The Shenzhou, led by Captain Georgiou (Michelelle Yeoh) and 1st Officer Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) encounter a strange alien artifact and a dangerous situation.
First up, for clarification, this Trek series is confirmed as being separate to the current film series (despite some clear visual nods to them). Don’t make the mistake of calling that a weakness because it gives the show storytelling freedom without the hindrance of cine-verse continuity (compare Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 1 Vs season 4 for justification). It terms of overspanning chronology, Discovery is set in the same era, original series riffling era, as it focuses on the cold war between Federation and Klingon Empire. With Starfleet even going 100 years without encountering the Klingons while they but Bat’leths in extensive civil war.... until something and someone would seek to unite them. This is territory that the franchise has not explored in any detail for a long time and Federation/Klingon material is a welcome place to dock. Initial impressions are strong.
Like many of its bigger named properties, Netflix has clearly put a decent budget behind the show and as a result, the visuals look spectacular. From space to the various planets and feature ship, The Shenzhou, the show will light up your sensors like a solar flare. The Metroid style space suit and “fly by” being a particular highlight. It must also be noted in the log that despite its weekly dispatch this is still a more typical Netflix show with the whole season being made as one continuous story. This may feel a little alien to Trek fans used to the highly episodic format of past shows. Yet there’s also a lot here that will be far more familiar to fans than the more action-orientated recent films. Discovery does not shy from the science aspects of science fiction and favours the kind of methodical-paced dialogue that served TNG so well. It shows its Star Fleet crew as both diplomats and explorers rather than soldiers. The overall analysis is that while Discovery is very much a show of present times, it has not forgotten how to be a Star Trek show. It’s also well-paced, keeping steady on the impulse, never to feel like its rushing.
The damage report appears to be characters. Although it’s likely many will improve with time, Discovery does not boast the usual strong ensemble cast feel amongst its central crew. Leading lady and 1st Officer Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green – Walking Dead’s Sasha) come across well as a reverse Spock, a human-raised by Vulcans, to shoe the most promise. The token alien crew member, science officer Saru (Doug Jones – Hellboy’s Abe Sapien), feels a bit too much of a Shelton Cooper duplicate but his heavy paranoia does give personality and differentiating presence among the crew. Then that’s about it. The rest of the bodies on the Bridge feel like its laundry day for their Red Shirts. As for the Klingons..... my jury is still out on them because their vastly altered appearance will take some getting used to. Their race and culture are presented well with good emphasis on strength and honou. However, there’s just too much facial prosthetics all over them to the degree of vastly hindering the expressions of the actors underneath. It really mutes the emotion within their dialogue and makes you miss the TNG era Klingons with their mouths and face free to wrench and contort around every aggressive syllable.
Episode 2, Battle at the Binary Stars – Under the chaos of battle between the Federation and Klingons, Burnham escapes the brig to help Captain Georgiou capture the Klingon leader, T’Kuvma in the hope of preventing widespread conflict.
Well so much for Star Trek being all about talking as this episode offers plenty of good ship-to-ship combat action as the two rival fleets engage. What really works well here is the scales. It’s a larger conflict presented from the smaller perspective of The Shenzhou or even just Burnham. The ship blasting visuals are great but the real value comes from seeing the crew dealing with the worsening situation and provides Captain Georgiou with much better material to convay her resolve. The episode’s story is minimal, being more the Deathly Hallows Part 2 to the opening episode’s establishment but there is enough going on break up the battle scenes.
The flashbacks offer some interesting duality between Burnham and T’Juvma as both aspired to be more from their own difficult upbringings. The first meeting between Burnham and Georgiou is a very effective reinforcement to the split Human/Vulcan nature of her character. The flashback shows her with shields on double Vulcan compared to her more relaxed and Human present day composure. While it’s a shame the show isn’t developing other characters anywhere near as well, they are doing a great job with Burnham as her logic-based problem solving now feels natural against her more emotional scenes.
It’s an interesting tease to finish on both sides that completes its assigned mission: giving us a reason to keep watching. There’s clearly much more to come as we haven’t even met the titular ship Discovery or Jason Issacs (Lucius Malfoy) as its Captain. It’s also worth noting that the show has no shortage of ways to trigger hardcore Trekkers or that its slower pace may not suit casual fans wanting more of the film’s style. So Discovery may take some time to find its audience but I for one, have shipped out with it and look to forward to seeing out 2017 aboard the crew.