TL;DR – A fascinating start to the new show, and a great platform to develop and move forward with.
Score – 4.5 out of 5 stars
So today we are going to take a quick look back at Chapter One of Star Trek: Discovery’s first season. Look to be honest, straight from the start I am just glad that I get to talk about Star Trek, and not just Star Trek, but really good Star Trek to boot, and I’ve not really been able to say that since Deep Space Nine. In our review today what I want to do it take a moment to look at four facets of Chapter One that I found really interesting, the story, the enemies, the technology, and then talk a bit about the future. Now let’s dive in and take a look at the story, and of course, because we are looking at this part of the season as a whole, there will [SPOILERS] here, so proceed with caution if you have not watched the whole season. To read our reviews of each of the episodes of Season One so far: See Here.
One of the more interesting parts of Chapter One has been the overarching storyline, so we are going to look at that as well as tone and themes in this section. So Discovery is set after the founding of The Federation and before the time of The Original Series. This is an interesting time for The Federation and Starfleet as they are finding their feet in the galaxy and trying to work out what sort of organisation they will be, it is exploration, is it military, or is it a bit of both. You see this debate at the heart of Chapter One as shown by the different captaining styles of Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs) and Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh). In the two-episode mini-arc at the start of the season Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) commits mutiny because she feels that firing at the Klingons first is the most logical course of action. Georgiou sternly rebukes her, because that is not what The Federation does, they don’t fire first and ask questions later, they are diplomats that only use force as the last resort. On the other hand, you have Lorca, he is a man of a single focus, and that is trying to make sure The Federation survives. He is a man who studies weapons to find out ways to increase their destructive potential, he is a man that destroyed his ship rather than letting his crew be captured, and he is someone who if Michael had asked would have fired on the Klingons first and asked questions later.
This divide pulling characters in two different directions is one of the core themes of the season and we see this across the show as many of the main cast struggles with it. Saru (Doug Jones) is from a planet where his species was not at the top of the food chain, so biologically he is programmed to sense and flee from danger, however, sometimes to be a captain of a starship, you need to attack your problems head on and not flee. Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) is a scientist, who at his core wants to be off in a lab working, and he is here because this is the place that will actually let him do the research that he needs to do. However, with that comes compromises, compromises to ethics, and compromises to his very health. Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif) is a charismatic security officer, but all of that is a cover for the deep scars that linger from his time as a prisoner of war. He survived by being raped by his captors, and this bears more deeply into his soul that he lets on, and as we saw in Into the Forest I Go (see review) maybe even more than we knew. Michael is torn between the two sides of her life. She is fully Human but was raised on Vulcan by Vulcans after the death of her parents. This pull between the two sides of herself is something that has taken years to find out how to balance, and it is not until the end of the season where we see her find the calm, it might have been sooner if Sarek (James Frain) had been honest with her. We even have the Vulcans finding this divide with some wanting to return to an isolationist society based on logic only, and others instead embrace The Federation, knowing that this is the best and most logical future going forward. Now one area where I don’t think the story worked was that across Chapter One there was a very consistent dark tone, and while it can be great for films to have a constancy of tone, for a TV show it can get draining if it is the same each and every week. I was really glad that they started to change things up a little bit towards the end of Chapter One with Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad (see review), which was not only one of the highlights of this first part of the season, but would quickly jump into the top ten Star Trek episodes of all time for me.
Now, this leads us into looking at the main antagonists for the season and that is the Klingons, also Harry Mudd (Rainn Wilson), but mostly the Klingons. In Discovery The Klingon Empire had for all intents and purposes collapsed in the years since Star Trek Enterprise. Instead of a united High Council working under the guidance of a Chancellor, the Great Houses have turned against each other in a brutal quasi-civil war. This is changed when T’Kuvma (Chris Obi) the leader of an ancient house rebuilt the Sarcophagus and ignites the Light of Kahless forcing the waring houses to come together. But the question is come together to do what? Well, that is simple, it is to destroy The Federation. T’Kuvma is right that Klingons had lost their way, but like most despots out there he focuses on the purity of the people over diversity, he harks back to a golden age which may or may not have existed, and he lumps all of the problems of the world into the laps of other people. For you see, it is not the Klingons’ fault that they are waring with each other, it is The Federation for wanting to be friendly and welcoming. Gee, I wonder if that is at all relevant to the world we live in today … yes, the answer is yes.
This new story for The Klingons adds to the dynamic view that we have of them starting in The Next Generation and continuing into Deep Space Nine. Now, of course, T’Kuvma starts the war and gets what he wants for all of a moment, and then he is killed, but what he started can’t be stopped. This is especially true when selfish self-serving members of the political elite adopt his populist message to use as a way to increase their own personal power, yes the writers are not being subtle. So for the followers of T’Kuvma like L’Rell (Mary Chieffo) and Voq (Javid Iqbal) this is a war about the purity of the Klingon race or at least for forwarding T’Kuvma’s power, but for Kol (Kenneth Mitchell) it is all about using this as a platform to win the War of the Houses. Now this conflict is solid because of the acting of the main Klingon leads, that create interesting characters even whilst acting under makeup that takes hours to put on. Now, of course, it that make-up that is one of the more controversial aspects of the new show, as they have made a similar jump in design as The Next Generation did from The Original Series. Now, to be honest, it did take a bit for me to get used to the new design, I think it is the lack of hair that is the big difference, but then maybe going hairless was all the rage in Klingon fashion at this point in time. The writing and the acting create compelling characters, that sometimes you start to root for like when L’Rell and Cornwell (Jayne Brook) team up to escape the but then part of you remembers just what L’Rell did to Ash. It will be interesting to see how they continue this conflict and develop the Klingons further when the mid-season finale ended with a decisive victory against them.
Now while the changes to the Klingons make-up were controversial, they pale in comparison to the role technology plays in Discovery. For an introduction for those not familiar with genre works, there exists this concept called canon, this is information that is considered official in the universe. For Star Trek, at least in the Prime Timeline, that canon includes everything in The Original Series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise, as well as the movies. Unless it appears in the before mentioned shows, the canon does not include The Animated Series bar that one episode of Spock’s backstory, any of the produced novels, and it does not include the new Kelvin Timeline, also we all kind of collectively agreed to forget Star Trek 5 and Threshold happened. Now for some people, canon is really important, there is a whole site called Memory Alpha devoted to chronicling it in minute detail. Indeed, there are even some that argue that anything not made by Gene Roddenberry is not canon, I am not one of those people. What I want is that the writers/showrunners understand the universe they working in and show that understanding, and you see this all throughout Discovery. You see it in the maps, you see it the ship design, you set it in the sets, and the language. So sure the USS Discovery might have force fields, holograms, and other things, but it is also a brand new top of the line ship and it might be getting these new features before they end up with the fleet. Remember the USS Enterprise was actually quite an old ship by the time of The Original Series. I can sort of handwave away most of the discrepancies, and I know that they have an end plan for the spore drive so I’m not too concerned. However, there is one thing, I think there is a bet going where the writers have to sneak some reference about Andorians into every episode, ok fine, they are my favourite Star Trek race, but could you like show one, once, that would be great.
Now Chapter Two is about to release tomorrow we are in an interesting place when we can get to speculate knowing that in less than 24 hours this could all be proven wrong. It will be really interesting to see where the USS Discovery actually ended up at the end of Into the Forest I Go. Was it somewhere in this galaxy, did they get sent to a different quadrant, a different galaxy, are they even in their own timeline anymore. So will they get back, and what will be waiting for them when they do, remember there is the Cornwell dilemma waiting for Lorca when they do. It has been a long time since I have been really excited to see a new episode of Star Trek, and think that has to do with the characters that they have created and the fantastic job the actors do in portraying them. I want to see them succeed because I care for them, in a way only good TV can do. The one thing I do potentially see in the future is that Burnham is probably going to have to decide what sort of captain she wants to be, or work under, and I think that’s going to be an interesting development to watch.
In the end, do we recommend Chapter One, yes, yes we do, the mini-arc is fascinating, when they get into the USS Discovery it is intense and a fantastic new take on the show. We have loved every moment of Star Trek: Discovery so far and I am looking forward to reviewing every episode of Chapter Two this year.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
Have you seen Star Trek Discovery yet?, let us know what you thought in the comments below, feel free to share this review on any of the social medias and you can follow us Here. Check out all our past reviews and articles Here, and have a happy day.
Trailer – Click Here to View (all trailers have heavy spoilers)
Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Star Trek Discovery
Directed by – David Semel, Adam Kane, Akiva Goldsman, Olatunde Osunsanmi, Lee Rose, Douglas Aarniokoski, David M. Barrett, John S. Scott & Chris Byrne
Written by –Bryan Fuller, Alex Kurtzman, Akiva Goldsman, Gretchen J. Berg, Aaron Harberts, Craig Sweeny, Jesse Alexander, Aron Eli Coleite, Kemp Powers, Joe Menosky, Ted Sullivan, Jesse Alexander, Kirsten Beyer, Erika Lippoldt & Bo Yeon Kim
Based off – Star Trek created by Gene Roddenberry
Created by – Bryan Fuller & Alex Kurtzman
Starring in Season 1 – Sonequa Martin-Green, Doug Jones, Shazad Latif, Anthony Rapp, Mary Wiseman & Jason Isaacs with Michelle Yeoh, James Frain, Jayne Brook, Chris Obi, Mary Chieffo, Rainn Wilson, Kenneth Mitchell, Rekha Sharma, Damon Runyan, Clare McConnell & Wilson Cruz