Star Trek: Discovery – Revised Impressions

So, you’ll remember a couple weeks ago, I watched the first two episodes of Star Trek: Discovery when they were released on CBS All Access. I was… not impressed. It seemed like an alright show, just not a particularly Star Trek ish one, nor one I would be particularly interested in much beyond that point. I figured I’d give it the first season and see if it changed my mind at all. Well, this week, I watched episodes three and four, and I figured it would be worth it to check back in. Spoiler time!

I think a lot of my problem with the pilot episode(s) were with a faulty assumption on my own part. Now, to be clear – I still don’t like those episodes. But to be even clearer: I didn’t like Encounter at Farpoint, Caretaker, or Breaking Bow, the pilot episodes for TNG, VOY, and ENT respectively (I did like the pilot of DS9, Emissary – that’s some good shit right there). Maybe Star Trek just isn’t good at pilots. Episode three of Discovery, “Context is for Kings”, was actually a really solid episode. None of the stilted dialogue or lumpy, half-formed characters that were in The Vulcan Hello or The Battle at the Binary Stars.

The big thing that Context is for Kings did for me that the previous episodes did not: it gave me a great deal of reassurance regarding the character of Michael Burnham. While I found her very compelling in the pilot, I wasn’t sure if she was the type of character I actually like (there is a big difference between finding a character interesting and liking them as a person). She seemed much more morally gray in the first two episodes than she did in the latter two – 3 and 4 reassured me that she was a good person, which I needed. Captain Gabriel Lorca says it best when he identifies Burnham as the type of person who would do the right thing at enormous personal cost (for example, losing her rank and spending the rest of her life in a military prison). She is a morally upright person in a morally gray world (which I’ll get to in a bit).

I also liked the characterization of the secondary cast members, particularly Lieutenant Paul Stamets and Cadet Sylvia Tilly. I, uh, I love Cadet Sylvia Tilly. She is adorable and great and I want to protect her and make sure that she remains a pure and kindly spirit in this dark, dark world. I also really appreciate Stamets, because it’s really rare in Star Trek for people who are assholes to also be “good guys”, and I think Stamets is. His grief at the loss of the USS Glenn (and his dear friend aboard it) is clear, as is his complete unwillingness to allow his scientific research to be turned into a weapon.

One of my problems with the pilot was that the secondary characters except for Saru seemed really, really flat and boring. Turns out they weren’t meant to stick around for more than those two episodes, so maybe it didn’t matter. Saru, however, has been transferred to the USS Discovery, Captain Lorca’s ship, and I’m really excited to see the interplay between him and Burnham grow and change over time, as I think it will. And I’m glad the other crew members of the Discovery have more, well, character to them than the other crew members of the Shenzhou. One of the appealing things about Star Trek, to me, is the ensemble casts. Specifically, ensemble casts who love each other and are damned good at what they do.

So, uh, Jason Isaacs as Captain Lorca. He’s really, really good. Jason Isaacs is just a great actor overall, and I think this is a great character for him. I say this because Jason Isaacs is really good at playing evil guys, and I don’t think there’s much dispute at this point that Captain Gabriel Lorca is kind of evil. He’s an anti-Picard (though he is still clearly an intellectual and a renaissance man, as all Starfleet captains are apparently required to be). In fact, I think Lorca is kind of like what Picard would be with Sisko’s pragmatism and Janeway’s “get shit done no matter the consequences” attitude. I like it, and I think he’s going to provide a very, very interesting foil to Burnham.

I think ultimately, this show might be an odd way to get what I’ve asked for for years (I didn’t wish on a monkey’s paw, I promise). I’ve always felt that the TNG/DS9/VOY era setting is well-developed enough to support shows in other genres – a police procedural, a spy drama, a charming sitcom, the world was fleshed out enough and widely understood enough to support these things without a lot of additional context needed. I think Discovery is a fairly tense political spy drama set in the Star Trek world. And that’s okay. It’s not really what I wanted when I had this in mind, but I think it’s a good thing to exist and to pave the way for other things potentially.

At its core, though, there is still enough of Star Trek here to support the show – a morally upstanding protagonist, a deep love of science and exploration, even if it has to take the backseat to the war with the Klingons, as they did to the Dominion War in DS9. It’s a familiar show in a different flavor. I still don’t love it, I’ll be honest about that. I like my captains to be a little less evil, for one thing, and I’m not sure how I feel about the ship’s secret mission (and the potential founding of Section 31, which is admittedly a wealth of plot and drama any Star Trek writer would be an idiot to ignore). But I’m a lot more invested than I was two episodes ago. I find it easier to care about this than I did about the plot of the first two eps. And I’m legitimately really interested to see how this turns out.

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