Details: First aired in 2017 on CBS All Access, CBS’s streaming service. There are fifteen episodes in this first season with each episode at around forty-five minutes to an hour-long.
When I first heard that they were making another Star Trek show for television, my first response was one of dread. After reading through some comments on a few online forums, I found that I was not alone. My fear as well as the fear of many others was that they would try to make this “dark.” How many times has it happened already where some show business executives take an existing franchise and try to make it “gritty,” or more violent, or more “real?” Too many times by my count, and many of those times resulted in shows that mostly sucked. Surprisingly, Star Trek: Discovery is not one of those shows. It is actually surprisingly good and remains surprisingly loyal to the tone of prior shows in the franchise.
Very few spoilers ahead. Just a brief description of the premise.
As more information trickled out, it certainly seemed as if “darker and grittier” was the direction in which CBS was taking this show. Star Trek: Discovery would take place during the war between the Klingons and the Federation, very likely going into the ugliness of war, making comparisons with the wars of the real world that we have going on today and likely centering on the ideological compromises that Starfleet would likely have to make in order to win the war. As a long time Star Trek fan, this is not the Star Trek I wanted to see.
Historically, the Star Trek television series has always been about optimism and idealism above all else. No matter how badly things would go, Starfleet would stick to its morals and overcome based on those morals, no matter what. That’s what made Star Trek compelling in my eyes. It was escapism into a world at peace and in which character would never compromise on right and wrong, no matter the cost, and the good guys would still win. It was about exploration and learning new ideas and ways of seeing things.
The recent Star Trek movies largely ignored that and opted to go the big Hollywood action movie route. That isn’t true Star Trek to me. True Star Trek to me is exploring a foreign environment, learning about something that is either morally reprehensible or shows us how we are morally reprehensible, then reconciling the differences to achieve an outcome that abides to the highest levels of morality. The world is an ugly place, but at least in Star Trek, we never bowed our heads to cruelty or evil.
If you live in America and have been following news headlines, you know that we live in a fairly conflicting time. A lot of people in this world hate a lot of other people and the threat of conflict and war is always hanging overhead. In this context, I did not want to see another show where we as a society need to compromise our morals so we can kill the enemy. I needed to live in a world where we make nice and try not to kill or dominate one another, even if that world was fictional. The rumors trickling out prior to the air date and what occurs during the first few episodes of Discovery did not assuage this fear.
Star Trek: Discovery takes place ten years prior to the events of the original Star Trek (the one with William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy). Starfleet and the United Federation of Planets are in a tense situation with the Klingon Empire and war may break out at any moment. We follow the character Michael Burnham aboard the USS Shenzhou as the tension escalates and the crew and the rest of the Federation must deal with an increasingly aggressive Klingon Empire.
The first few episodes only confirmed my fears of a “darker” Star Trek series. However, as the show progressed it became clear that my fears were unfounded. This show is undoubtedly the spiritual successor of the prior Star Trek television shows and retains the optimism and weirdness those shows often had. In fact, it is likely a deliberate bit of deception and playing with expectations on the part of CBS to surprise viewers and give them the kind of Star Trek show that was loyal to the themes and style of the prior shows in the franchise, except with a bigger budget.
One of the more interesting aspects of the show is that it takes place in the “main” continuity. If you’ve watched the movies, you’d know that they time travel in the movies, creating a divergent timeline to the continuity of the television shows. Discovery takes place in the continuity/timeline of the television shows, which helps it remain true to the tone and themes of optimism that the shows had.
Furthermore, the show goes even further to show its loyalty to past shows by heavily referencing relatively obscure plot elements from prior Star Trek shows. I won’t say what those things are, but if you’ve been a long time Star Trek fan, there is a lot for you to recognize and smile at.
Visually, this is the best looking Star Trek television show yet. Obviously, the movies have better special effects, but the special effects on Discovery are still pretty great. The sets are also good and help with the immersion into the story.
The acting is also pretty great with Martin-Green at the forefront as Michael Burnham. The rest of the cast is also great and it was nice to see Michelle Yeoh and Jason Isaacs again. I haven’t seen either of them in anything in a while.
Overall, Star Trek: Discovery is one of my favorite shows if not my favorite show of the season. It reminded me of how television has been lacking in science fiction shows centering on adventure, exploration, and optimism. Moreover, Discovery’s story took so many twists and turns that both surprised and pleased me. The only glaring downside to me was how rushed the ending to this season felt, but that disappointment was quickly overwritten by the cliffhanger and implications suggested for next season. I really enjoyed this show and I’m already looking forward to next season.
Additionally, CBS All Access streaming service is one of the stupidest things I’ve ever seen. CBS simply doesn’t have enough shows to make the streaming service worth it. Either put Star Trek: Discovery on network television or put it on the more competitive streaming services like Netflix or Hulu.