With the deadline for this review looming, I was growing desperate. Three episodes in, and very little about Star Trek: Discovery – the first new Star Trek TV show in 12 years, since Enterprise went off the air – had grabbed me.
Sure, we had a Malaysian in a role as a Starfleet captain – Michelle Yeoh as the USS Shenzhou’s Philippa Georgiou, thus far the most “old school” Star Trek authority figure on the series – and an intriguing lead in Michael Burnham (The Walking Dead’s Sonequa Martin-Green), the only human to have gone to the Vulcan Science Academy and a foster child of Sarek (James Frain), the father of Spock!
The pre-release hype told us that Michael would be Capt Georgiou’s first mate on the Shenzhou. But knowing that Jason Isaacs was cast as the Discovery’s captain Gabriel Lorca, many fans suspected it would not be long on the show before some catastrophe or other would break up the team and send Michael to the titular ship.
And so it was that after a clumsy two-part opener which saw war haphazardly triggered with the Klingons – one of the franchise’s most popular alien peoples – the show then took its main character to the Discovery itself.
It was a hotchpotch third episode, resembling the love child of Event Horizon and Doom 3 (the video game), and populated with characters who seemed to go out of their way to be unlikeable or annoying. Show of hands – who did not want to smother the butthead engineer or airhead roommate in their sleep?
So there was the quandary: set review phasers to kill, or hold out hope for something stunning to issue forth from the writers’ conference room?
Thankfully, that hope was not in vain.
The series finally got on with some decent Trekking in its fourth episode despite the overwrought title, The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not For The Lamb’s Cry – of course, continuing a tradition from back in the days of the original series.
Promising future for the series?
This instance sprang from one of the wilder elements from the previous episode: the weird creature that ripped apart a dozen Klingons and was somehow captured and imprisoned by Lorca to be exploited as a possible weapon against the Klingons.
That Michael refused to see it as such, and instead set about trying to determine its true nature, was perhaps the best manifestation of Star Trek’s ideals on Discovery to date.
Also, the subsequent exploitation of this unfortunate critter by Michael’s own crewmates looks set to pose some difficult moral questions in coming episodes.
This gave me hope that the show has a promising future, if it can fix some of the problems in time.
For one thing, it’s fine if they want to have everything revolve around a war, but the way it was sparked, and how it is being depicted, is rather clumsy. (Also, for something described as a “cold war”, it sure seems full of overtly hostile actions. And don’t give me that “In space, all warriors are cold warriors” line.)
Then there’s Discovery itself – a science vessel co-opted for war, along with the revolutionary technologies it is developing.
Because all this takes place about a decade before the original series, and neither that nor any subsequent Star Trek series mentions this fancy tech, is the series going to be a chronicle of its failure?
Hints of complexity
Of course, an engaging story could still be spun out of this failure.
But for that to happen, the show will also need to make up its mind about its characters, fast.
Michael’s duality – human by nature, Vulcan by nurture – is only just being used to good effect after some initial hints of her complexity (her reactions, mostly awe and a convincing sense of wonder, in that breathtaking spacewalk sequence from the first episode, for one).
But the whole mutiny angle was so badly done that it was almost a relief to have her just go surly and stone-faced for most of the second and third instalments.
Lorca is a bit of an enigma still, and Isaacs portrays him with enough of a balance between ruthlessness and humanity to interest the viewer in finding out more about what makes him tick.
So far, however, the rest of the crew has not won me over, and it’s going to be a challenge getting invested in their continuing adventures if the writers don’t start giving them something resembling a genuine personality soon, instead of general character outlines.
And I still don’t know what to make of Discovery’s interpretation of the Klingons; it has made them look even more alien, and act even less honourably, than all previous Trek incarnations.
This is where Enterprise and now Discovery, both set before the other shows in the franchise, try too hard to be different and attempt to rewrite the future – so to speak – instead of focusing on creating convincing characters through whom they can tell good stories. An all-too-human foible, perhaps, rendering the show ironically in need of some unemotional logic to give it more heart.
New episodes of Star Trek: Discovery are out every Monday on Netflix.