The JJ Abrams aesthetic has overridden the classic campy look, but I’m hopeful for a character driven show that packs a punch. Star Trek has always been at its best when it focuses on the individuals that make up Star Fleet.
Star Trek has the charm of a stage play: soaring rhetoric, grand visions, and character dilemmas that carry the show. This is because each series only uses three major reoccurring sets: the bridge, the mess, and crew quarters. These setups serve to emphasize the claustrophobia of space.
I know Kirk’s love interests, and Spock’s inner struggles. I learned how principled Picard became when he was tortured. Sisko learned that being a father was probably more important than being a good commander. Worf showed me what it’s like to be caught between two cultures.
The ship is also a character. This is something the JJ Abrams shiny reboots don’t get: it’s not a prop to blow up.
Discovery started off with lots of explosions. That’s sort of thrilling and eyeball-punching to be sure, but as viewers, we have no attachment to a ship yet. Sensational explosions can be a way for shows to distract from plot issues.
For instance, the crew of the Shenzhou beams a bomb onto a fallen Klingon warrior being retrieved by his commander. The body blows when it gets back on the Klingon ship, which makes for a clever move of sabotage by Star Fleet. However, directly after, Captain Georgiou and First Officer Burnham are beamed onto the Klingon ship to take prisoners. Why not just do that with the bomb in the first place?
Perhaps there was some hand-waving to explain this away, but I missed it, because BOOM goes the Klingon ship! Fight scene! Don’t think about it!
This is my worry, going forward. I don’t want a show that tries to build tension off of bad or questionable decisions made by the characters. Discovery is going to be slick, shiny, and it’s going to show off its budget. I contend that this is not the show’s strength.
So, what’s working for this show? Burnham’s character, for one: a human raised by Vulcans because her parents were killed by Klingons. While I think Sonequa Martin-Green needs to grow into the character a bit, I think she’s up to the task, and that Burnham has the potential to move viewers by showing us the inner conflicts of her heart. (A few lofty lines delivered by Martin-Green fell a bit flat for me, but I think she’ll get there. For instance the whole, “Sculpture is spirituality given form” might look nice on paper but the delivery was so-so.)
Burnham’s mutiny carried the dramatic punch it should have, and I hope the show dwells on her betraying Georgiou, because I want this to be more emotionally devastating for the viewer as the show progresses. Georgiou cannot merely be collateral damage, like the rest of the blown-to-smithereens Federation fleet that we’ll forget about in a week.
Now, a note on the Klingons: I’m wondering if we’ll see more human looking tribes with less brow-ridges? There’s a frustrating scene in Deep Space Nine where the crew goes back in time to the Enterprise. Worf looks very different than the Klingons on the Enterprise, and his crew-mates ask him why.
“We don’t talk about it,” he says cryptically, signaling to the viewers that the writers don’t care about continuity, or are unwilling to bridge the gaps. What a missed opportunity!
Discovery’s Klingons are cool. I really like them. They look like dark elves with the convictions of Spartans. But if I were writing this, I’d take Worf’s hand-wave dismissal as a challenge, and definitely go there. We’ll see?
I have high hopes. Let’s see what the show can do.