Review: Star Trek: Discovery (S2 Ep1 & Season 1 Retrospective)

Review: Star Trek: Discovery (S2 Ep1 & Season 1 Retrospective)

by Alan Grant
article from Thursday 24, January, 2019

A NEW EPISODE of Star Trek: Discovery was released recently and, as a Trekkie who didn’t have a culture column to write when the first season came out, I felt like it was a natural fit for this week’s review. However, since these reviews are normally reserved for feature length films, full series, and theatre shows, in order to avoid the possibility of taking an episode out of series, I’m also taking a look back at the first season of adventures for the newest crew to boldly go… wherever the plot needs them to. 

So, with a fresh delivery from my Indian restaurant of choice sitting on my table and a cold beer poised nearby on a coaster, I dove into both the food and episode one of season two of Star Trek: Discovery – only to find that they had quite a bit in common. 

Both my meal and the episode were of average quality for the people who produce them; which is not the snarky comment that it would seem to be because even the average instalment of both is better than most other things out there.

Season two’s opening episode does everything that a recap episode of a television series ought to. It doesn’t wallow in the left-overs of the first season while still recounting previous events in a concise and accessible way and spends the rest of its running time setting up the widest possible frame of reference for what is to come. Each of the key characters get just enough time to hint at what’s in store for them and our big tease – a signal that the crew of the USS Discovery seem set spend future episodes investigating – is presented effectively.

While the mechanics of season two’s kick-off episode are by the numbers and perfectly serviceable there are still highlights; mainly in the form of our new characters. Our new version of Captain Christopher Pike, Discovery’s new witty and no-nonsense captain played by Anson Mount, is very enjoyable to watch and promises to continue Discovery’s fresh direction for the Trek cannon. Also, Tig Notaro is brilliant as the super-sharp, competent but dithering, new character Jett Reno – who revels in one of the best character introductions I’ve ever seen. In short, we’ve got some cool new folks to add to Discovery’s already impressive roster – good things, it would seem, lie ahead.

Therefore, the “too long; didn’t read” version of my take on the first episode of Star Trek: Discovery season two is this – it’s of the usual standard and the new guys we meet are interesting enough to make me want to see more of them. 

Clear? Good! Now, on to the retrospective bit…

As the reviews at the time made it clear, there’s a lot to like about this latest in Netflix’s slew of original content.

Most notably, Discovery is a fresh take on a format we’re all very familiar with. Where previous Star Trek series have focused on a multi-character set up, played out episodically but with the occasional longer storyline and placed the emphasis on the different relationships the characters have with one another on a personal and professional level, Discovery is different in so far as it absolutely has a protagonist – the human-born and Vulcan-raised Michael Burnham, portrayed brilliantly by Sonequa Martin-Green, whose career positioning and role in different settings forms the bulk of season one’s plot. Sure, other characters, like Saru, played by Doug Jones, Paul Stamlets, portrayed by Anthony Rapp, and the soft-hearted Sylvia Tilly, brought to life by Mary Wiseman, are all well-formed and complex – there’s no doubt that this is Star Trek: Discovery – The Story of Michael Burnham and it benefits from having a grounded, but still aspirational, character anchoring the odder parts of the plot.

However, obvious nods to progressive messaging aside (side note: if progressive messaging puts you off Star Trek then don’t bother… with any of it… Star Trek has ALWAYS leant heavily on the liberal side of things, sorry Reddit), there’s quite a bit of Discovery that panders to us long-time fans too. From a hauntingly familiar, and goosebumps-inducing, final note in the opening theme to some unmistakable sound and visual effects, there’s enough of what we’ve grown to like to make it clear that, although it is very modern, Discovery is very much part of the Star Trek universe and is proud of its lineage.

As much of a cop-out as it may be, your enjoyment of Star Trek: Discovery will depend heavily on which perspective you’re coming from.

If you’re new to the mythos, you’ll probably enjoy the slick graphics, high-concept sci-fi feel, clever dialogue, and occasional knowing winks to those elements of the other series that have become key parts of popular culture. However, you’ll probably be left reeling by some of the story elements and the furious flurries of science jargon that make some of the characters sound like Sir Humphrey Appleby in a jumpsuit with a laser gun. Go one episode at a time and see how you go; after all that’s how us Trekkies all started.

Alternatively, if you’re the kind of hardened and jaded Trekker who thinks everything after The Original Series/Next Generation/Voyager/Deep Space Nine, or whichever series you grew up with, sucks and are unwilling to let the cannon evolve then the gleaming visuals and long-form story telling will kick you out the airlock immediately. Basically, if you’re still debating Kirk v Picard, you’re probably not going to enjoy the adventures of the Discovery crew… they’ll be too different to what you know and like.

Finally, and most statistically significantly, if you’re somewhere in the middle of those two extremes – maybe you’ve seen a bit of the old Kirk and Spock show, or enjoyed Star Trek: First Contact, or maybe even went to the cinema to leer at Chris Pine and ended up enraptured by the latest movie cannon but don’t have an old Starfleet uniform hanging up, then you should probably give it a go. To my eyes, Star Trek: Discovery is best enjoyed if you know a bit about Trek to help you get all the refences but you don’t need it to be your Mastermind specialised subject – a week’s course in Trek is adequate, you don’t need a PHD from a Klingon university.

So, should you check out Star Trek: Discovery ? Given that your most likely to be in them latter of the three categories outlined above, the logical answer would be yes.

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