Star Trek Discovery Is One of The Best New TV Series, Wrongly Stuck Behind a Paywall (REVIEW)
Alright, let’s just get this out of the way. Star Trek: Discovery is a good show, and may have hinted at future greatness in judging its first two episodes. Premiering on September 24th, the episode “The Vulcan Hello,” starts the series from an interesting perspective – from that of one of its antagonists. Would-be Klingon unifier, T’Kuvma played by Chris Obi (American Gods, Ghost in the Shell) speaks of impending cultural devastation, perceiving threats from the outside and urging the inhabitants of his ship to “remain Klingon.” His words echo a markedly anti-colonialist slant as he warns that not all who come in the name of peace have the best intent. We’re less than two minutes in, and viewers may find themselves questioning not just their own ideologies, but those of Starfleet as well.
Dichotomies such as these tend to be representative of Star Trek at its core, so long-times series fans should find themselves feeling at home in no time. Created by Bryan Fuller and Alex Kurtzman, Star Trek: Discovery is full of deep-cut insider references, but manages to pull off its juggling act and remain accessible. While it isn’t mandatory to be familiar with the conquests of Kahless, or the importance of Sarek, the foreknowledge of long-time Trek devotees does come as its own reward. Interesting to note, the series takes place a decade prior to the U.S.S. Enterprise’s maiden voyage. Minor spoilers ahead.
We pick up with Captain Phillipa Georgiou played by Michelle Yeoh (Memoirs of a Geisha, Marco Polo) and Sonequa Martin-Green (The Walking Dead, Once Upon a Time) as Lieutenant Commander Michael Burnham providing Humanitarian aid on a desert planet. Without assistance in restoring the planet’s water shelf, its residents face assured death. This mission is handled deftly and while awaiting off-world transport, Captain Georgiou makes an interesting proposition; after serving together for 7 years, maybe it’s time for Burnham to command her own ship, a notion the lieutenant commander swiftly, but respectfully dismisses.
Prior to joining the U.S.S. Shenzhou, Michael Burnham was the only human to have attended the Vulcan Learning Center and Science Academy. She was brought under the tutelage of Captain Georgiou to learn Starfleet protocol, but also to reconnect with her humanity. Michael Burnham spent most of her life on Vulcan, after her parents were killed during her childhood. As a result, she’s home to both cold Vulcan logic and more heartfelt decision-making, again bringing the concept of duality to the forefront.
Star Trek: Discovery also marks the first time the series is starring women of color in the lead roles, and what a beautiful sight it is watching the chemistry at play. From their introduction in the “The Vulcan Hello” and on through “The Battle of the Binary Stars,” you believe in the comradery between Georgiou and Burnham. It’s no coincidence in their opening dialogue, trust and respect are the main themes. Later in the episode, Burnham makes an action that vehemently goes against her captain’s wishes, leading to serious repercussions for the character. However, once we come to understand her motivations, many wonder what they would do in the same situation when faced with similar stakes. This is testament not only to the way the characters were written, but also how well they’re portrayed by Yeoh and Martin-Green. Rounding out the crew/family dynamic is Doug Jones (Hellboy, Falling Skies) under prosthetic makeup, as alien Science Officer Saru, a Kelpian, who species is unique in their ability to sense the coming of death.
On the topic of alien races, I’m really enjoying the new Klingon design. As much as I loved Chris Obi’s performance, I also looked forward to scenes aboard T’Kuvma’s ship just to see how meticulously and seamlessly blended together everything is on a design perspective. From Klingon architecture to armor design, the Costume production team deserves commendation as well. The latest Starfleet uniforms are also well designed, and evoke the classic look, but as they are, may be my favorite of the series so far.
With a show as well-written, well-acted, and just plain nice to look at there’s got to be a downside, and in this case fans are left with an interesting conundrum. Though Discovery debuted on CBS television, watching the second episode and beyond will require a subscription to CBS All Access, the network’s new streaming service. Considering that the show is available outside of the U.S. on existing services such as Netflix, this move feels a bit greedy. This is particularly jarring since this show could provide the boost that the franchise has needed over the last few years, and shouldn’t be hidden behind a paywall. I’ve been a long-time fan of Bryan Fuller’s work, and while he may have written one of the best episodes of any TV show ever, I can’t find the value in paying a premium for one TV show, as enjoyable as it’s been. Shame on you, CBS.
Star Trek Discovery airs Sundays on CBS All Access for United States and Canada viewers while International audiences can catch it available via Netflix.