“Star Trek: Discovery” Season 1 – An Exploration of Identity and the Cost of War

      “Star Trek: Discovery” is enjoyable, but not without its flaws. It is a very different kind of Trek and feels like a mixture of the Abrams Reboot Universe meets DS9. DS9 is the far better show but this show explores a lot of similar themes, such as the cost of war and issues of identity. These are the core reasons why I enjoyed the show, beyond the characters of the main cast.

The show was created by Bryan Fuller (of NBC “Hannibal) fame) and Alex Kurtzman (who co-wrote the first to Abrams Trek films.

The story follows Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) a human raised by Vulcans and a member of Starfleet responsible for starting the Klingon-Federation War, while a new Religious faction lead by T’Kuvma seeks to unite all the houses against the Federation. It is up to her and the crew of the Discovery lead by Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs) to find a solution to end the conflict she started.

SPOILERS Ahead

The Pros:

The Universe – I am a Trekkie, and this is a universe that at the core enriches what already exists in a Universe that spans The Original Series (TOS) to Voyager (VOY), from other universes like the Mirror Universe and Abramsverse. It is filled with countless aliens, conflicts and self-discovery. Star Trek: Discovery takes place 10 years before TOS and explores the details of the Klingon-Federation war. Characters are forced to take risks and pushed to their limits.

The Crew of Discovery – The crew is a diverse band of misfits. You have the Chief Engineer Stamets (played by Anthony Rapp) is gay, the ruthless Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs) the fearful First Officer Saru (Doug Jones) and Cadet Tilly (Mary Wiseman) is autistic. To say nothing of a human raised on Vulcan, the main hero Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and the conflicted Klingon sleeper-agent Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif). Their journeys drive the show and make it worth watching.

Cadet Tilly – As someone on the autism spectrum (aspergers) it was wonderful finally seeing a character explicitly like me on “Star Trek.” Tilly is a character whose arc involves growing into confidence and taking risks, as so much of what drives her is the safety of her environment. Which for the longest time, was what I needed. Getting out of one’s comfort zone is how a person grows and Tilly faces that challenge multiple times…from going undercover as her Mirror Universe counterpart (who is an evil Captain) to dangerous away missions. I think someday she will achieve her dream of becoming a Starfleet Captain.

Chief Engineer Stamets – Stamets is the first openly gay character in any Star Trek. He is also the core of the ship, when in the end, he is the only one who can work The Spore Drive…a device that can warp the Discovery through space, time and even between dimensions. His heart is torn out when his boyfriend is killed, but he finds balance and closure in one of the most beautifully executed arcs of the show.  He is my favorite “Star Trek” engineer at this point besides O’Brien and Scotty.

First Officer Saru – Another of my favorites out of “Star Trek” lore at this point is Saru. This character is a Kelpien. He is part of a prey species on his world, and was hunted by the larger beings. How they advanced so far has yet to explained but his arc is finding the strength to be Captain. Doug Jones who I loved as the creature in “The Shape of Water,” once again shows why he is the monster master. He gives so much expression with his inflection, and eyes. Saru is my favorite character on the show and the one person who isn’t morally compromised. He is Starfleet and I hope he can Captain the Discovery next season.

The Spore Drive -The discovery in Discovery is all tied to the Spore Drive. The Drive is infinite possibilities as the ways of riding the Spore Network are discovered. It also provides conflict too as to use the Drive, it has to be controlled by a living organism (who is at risk everytime they make a “jump.” The discoveries are what drive the action and they are all tied to the Spore Drive. Whether it is Stamets in the network talking to other versions of himself, jumping to the mirror Universe or jumping to many locations in an instant…these are only some of the countless possibilities created by this device.

The Mirror Universe – At one point we cross over into the Mirror Universe…a world familiar to Trekkies where our heroes are villains. This is a 4 episode arc with tons of twists and reveals. We discover darker sides of characters we didn’t know before (as they have to pretend to be their evil counterparts so the Terran Empire doesn’t discover them), and get some wrenching emotional payoffs. This arc is later in the show, but has easily some of the best storytelling.

War and Loss – The other theme of the show, beyond discovery that the Spore Drive grants is the cost of war. We see this in the Klingon-Federation War, and how it starts, when Burnham’s anger martyr’s the Klingon leader T’Kuvma, after he had murdered her Captain. We lose a lot of people in the war, from Voq (An undercover Klingon sleeper-agent on Discovery) killing Stamets’s boyfriend, to the destruction of the Klingon Death Ship (the flagship of their fleet), to near obliteration of Qo’noS (The Klingon homeworld). The war makes the Federation ruthless and we see just how destructive the Klingon Empire can be.

Exploration of Identity – Identity is a major theme of the story, with the characters who best represent this being Michael Burnham (a human raised by Vulcans) and Ash Tyler (a Klingon pretending to be human). In both cases it involves finding balance within themselves and letting go of anger. These two identities are the main arc of the show beyond characters dealing with the actions of their Mirror Universe counterparts. This exploration starts in the beginning at the Pilot and never stops until the end of the season as it is in the Finale that Burnham and Tyler find the inner peace they are looking for.

Okay:

The Pilot – The pilot is long and boring. Though it is beautiful and has great action it could have been one really long episode or revealed and flashbacks, which would have served the story better. All it really does is set up Michael Burnham’s backstory and the reason why she is now on Discovery. Beyond that, we knew this show was about the Klingon-Federation War and didn’t need every detail as to why the Federation was now fighting it, especially the war’s resolution is not played out within the first few episodes.

Ash Tyler – Voq is Ash Tyler’s true self. He is  the Torchbearer of the Klingons and he imprints Ash’s identity upon himself as to get the secrets on Discovery I liked the romance with Burnham, but I felt their needed to be more knowledge on both whom Tyler and Voq were. They are useful plot devices, but they never grow beyond that. They both deserved better given each is compelling in their own way but in them being 2 separate identities the exploration they both needed is never received.

Fanservice – Captain Lorca has a tribble (no payoff), we see Andorians, Tellerites and Vulcans (founding members of the Federation), Burnham’s adopted dad is Sarek and in the end we see the original Enteprise with Captain Pike. Some of this was good, the other species showing up was something I wanted when I heard about this show, but ending it with Pike was total fanservice and was like the Khan reveal in “Star Trek: Into Darkness.” It was not needed and only hurt the story.

The Cons:

The Klingon Scenes – Klingons only speak Klingon and in turn we get no time to know the characters, because we are reading the subtitles. Because of this, we are told how the Klingons are but we rarely get to see their actions beyond the fights with Discovery.

The Ending of Captain Lorca’s Arc – Lorca is the “ends justify the means” Captain. We learn how he killed his crew to keep them from being taken prisoner. We see that ruthlessness again when he saves Federation colonies and how he will do anything to save the Federation. Well, he’s a Mirror Universe rebel who just wants to be Emperor. That was such an awful payoff as they just made him a creeper villain. All complexity was erased so that his arc could be simplified. I hated it.

In future seasons I would like to see much less fanservice, more focus on discovery, more problem solving that isn’t through violence and some of the characters who left at the end of this season returning. The core of this show is great and even with all the flaws that brought it down, this a show that I will rewatch when it returns to Netflix. If you are a fan of “Star Trek,” chances are you will enjoy this show as much as I did. At the end of the day it captures the core ideas of “Star Trek,” and even the worst of the cons didn’t take way from my enjoyment of this season.

Final Score: 9 / 10. Solidly great even with all of the flaws.

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Star Trek Continues – A Beautiful Continuation and Honoring of the Best Parts of the Original Series

This is the first fan series or project that I’ve reviewed on the blog, and honestly after this, the standards for what fan films or shows I would watch is pretty high. A friend at work recommended it to me and I’m grateful he did. This is a professionally made production that looks just as good if not a little better than the Star Trek: The Original Series and has writing on par with the good and great episodes from that series.

The show was created by Vic Mignogna, who also stars as Captain Kirk in the series…and you can tell he’s a fan of the series. So much love and quality was poured into the making of this that I honestly wish CBS would show it. This is more than just a love letter to the series as it takes the lore seriously and expands on it, rather than going through the same beats.

The story picks up where the Original Series left off with the continuation of the 5 year mission of the Enterprise.  As part of that mission they are first to try out the Counselor test program (on whether starships should bring on full time counselors) bringing lieutenant Dr. McKennah to the crew.

The Pros: The Universe – This is “Star Trek.” The characters act how they do in the Original Series, the ships and galactic powers are in action, the Enterprise is exploring strange new worlds. Nothing feels out of place.

The Cinematography – The cinematography in this series is beautiful and it looks like a more polished version of how the Original Series was filmed of old. Whether it is fighting a Romulan Warbird or destroying a tiny object in space, or a fight on the ship or a planet…the sets look raw and real and it gives life to the show.

The Writing – The writing team and directors (who were largely Vic Micnogna working with a few other people but usually always at least directing) did an amazing job. The stories catch the morality of what make “Star Trek” great, whether it is feminism, equality and peace and understanding aliens and other beings. This is the through line through the series and it was one thing the Original Series didn’t always do (seriously, the sexism in some of the early episodes of TOS are horrifyingly bad). I won’t give away any spoilers but these episodes are so amazing I do plan individual reviews of them down the line, as well as a Top 3 post.

Connecting to Past and Future Treks – This is a series that connects the threads between TOS and The Motion Picture really well (and even ties into TNG with the Counselor program). In this you see what happens to the psychics, the Romulan Star Empire after the Klingon Alliance, Apollo, why we never seen any female captains and how things went down in the Mirror Universe. It is all done artfully while keeping the progressive strength of what made Star Trek so great in how it saw humanity’s potential in the future.

The Guest Stars – There are some pretty great guest stars, even though some of them I wish had gotten better writing. Colin Baker shows up as an alien leader, as does John De Lancie, Rekha Sharma shows up a scientist who Kirk had a relationship with, Marina Sirtis voices the Enterprise computer and Michael Dorn voices the Mirror Universe’s Enterprise computer. The guest stars in this are gold and they do a good job with what the writers give them.

Spock and Kirk – Spock and Kirk are the strongest part of this show and that is largely due to the chemistry between Vic Mignogna and Todd Haberkorn. Both have done anime voice work so my guess is that is how they must have met and formed the rapport. These are the two who receive the most exploration as we see both of their regrets as well as their dreams and aspirations. I won’t say anymore than that as the reveals of what those things are handled really well. Even when certain episodes were just good or fun these two kept me coming back as their acting was the strongest even in weak scenes.

Okay: The Rest of the Crew – Chris Doohan (James Doohan’s son) is fine, hell most of the crew outside of Kirk and Spock who aren’t guest stars are fine but none of them really capture the characters the way Kirk and Spock do. Part of the reason is they changed the McCoy actor after two episodes and Chekov, Uhura and Sulu really don’t get any more exploration than what they did in the Original Series, so that was a wasted opportunity and kept them from ever being good.

This is a series I highly recommend to any fan of “Star Trek.” This is a series that develops the characters further, introduces new threats and situations that have to be solved, is full of hope and inspiration for the future and beautifully captures all the good that has come out of “Star Trek.” Here is the website:

http://www.startrekcontinues.com/index.html

I highly recommend you check it out if you are a fan of the series. Seriously, Vic Mignogna created something wonderful that I will be coming back to again and again.

Final Score: 9 / 10 Solidly great fan series that connects TOS to The Motion Picture.