TL;DR – We started with a group of people on a ship in space, and over the season, as adversity after adversity piled up, we ended with a crew. I mean I just wrote 1000 words just on the cast, the show is that good.
Score – 4.5 out of 5 stars
This year has been a strong year for Sci-Fi on TV we have Lost in Space, Altered Carbon, The Rain, as well as more Westworld, 3%, and The Expanse. In the middle of all this was a release, which for me was probably anticipated more than anything else, a new Star Trek series. Now the fact that I really like the Star Trek franchise should come as no surprise, indeed a wrote an article all about my love for Star Trek Deep Space Nine. However, there was also a lot of trepidation going in, since DS9 we had Voyager that had some great individual episodes but nothing really came together as a series, and Enterprise that took three seasons to find out what type of show it wanted to be and when it got there decided to end on just about the most insulting note that it could (yes I know it was not meant to be a series finale but still). However, I went into this thinking that I can at least give it a season, and boy what a season it was. So in the first season of Star Trek Discovery the broke it up into different chapters, we took a look at Chapter One here, and today we are going to take a look at Chapter Two which was the back half of the season but also some of the themes that transcend all of the season, you can also see all of our reviews for the individual episodes here. With this in mind, just a warning that we will be looking at the season as a whole, and as such there will be some major [SPOILERS] discussed in this review. So caution is advised if you have yet to finished Season One of Star Trek Discovery, and we would recommend you giving the first season a watch.
So to set the scene, it is 2256 (nine years before the start of The Original Series and about 101 years after Enterprise ended for those playing at home) and we open in The Vulcan Hello (see review) with the USS Shenzhou patrolling near the edge of Federation space near the Klingon border. The Klingon Empire had been in a state of almost civil war for the last 100 years and outside of the odd skirmish and terrorist activity, have been busy tearing each other down. Because of this most races have given the Klingons a wide birth as the self-immolate, well everyone bar the Orions. Well, that is until the USS Shenzhou stumbles on something weird in a binary system. On board, Captain Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) and First Officer Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) are at a loss as to what it is when they discover that it is Klingon, and it poses a potential threat to the Federation. Well at this point Burnham gets some truly bad advice from Sarek (James Frain), and attempts a coup against Georgiou so that she can attack first. This fails and the Klingons attack anyway ushering the first major war between the two powers, in which Georgiou is killed and Burnham imprisoned. Months later, we see Burnham on a prison transport when it is damaged and is rescued by the USS Discovery. The Discovery is a highly-classified science ship desperately researching technologies like the spore-drive to help give The Federation an edge in their losing battle with the Klingons. Seeing the potential in Burnham, Captain Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs), forces her to help with the new spore drive that Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman) is working on. Though this is a step on the path of redemption for Burnham it is not an easy one as many of the crew of the Discovery are the former crew of the Shenzhou like now First Officer Saru (Doug Jones). Now as we will be looking at all of Season One of Discovery there will be [SPOILERS] ahead if you have not watched it yet.
When we are looking at the season as a whole the first thing that jumps out at me is growth when it comes to the characters. Take Burnham, at the start of the show she is someone who is suffering from the traumas of the past and some issues with regards to her parents, both real, step, and metaphorical. All of this leads to her doing something, let’s say rash, and leading to the death of Georgiou. This is a weight of guilt that she is carrying around with her, but as the season goes on she becomes more and more confident in herself and there was a point in the second half of the season that I had forgotten that she was technically a prisoner because she had the confidence of a Starfleet officer. As well as this, you can also see this growth in Saru, who is from a planet where they are not the top of the food chain so he is acutely aware of danger around him. Right from the start, he sees Burnham as a threat, and for good reason, but as the season goes on, once again more and more he has to stand on his own two feet and lead. Add to this the actor Doug Jones has to emote all those feeling under very restrictive facial prosthetics, which was an amazing achievement. This growth meant that when in What’s Past Is Prologue (see review) Saru had to trust Burnham about Lorca he did so without hesitation because that bond had organically grown throughout the season. We also get to see Stamets lighten up a bit throughout the season, though part of that may have been the effects of the Spore Drive.
More than this we actually see this in the crew of the USS Discovery as the series progresses. As we discover in Chapter Two, Lorca is not our Lorca, which of course puts everything he did for the whole season into perspective. However, one of the things he did was constantly keep all the crew off-balance, so that they were against each other rather than working out that their captain is not all that he seems. This actually led to a bit of a disconnect for me at the start of the show because this was not feeling like a Federation starship. However, once Lorca was removed from the position and Saru found his calling, you could see the rest of the crew like Keyla Detmer (Emily Coutts), Rhys (Patrick Kwok-Choon), Owosekun (Oyin Oladejo) and Airiam (Sara Mitich) actually become the crew that the show needs. This is important because if we don’t care about the crew then the show doesn’t have stakes, and a moment like when Ash (Shazad Latif) killed Culber (Wilson Cruz) wouldn’t have weight.
Now, of course, this leads us right to our two undercover boys, Lorca and Ash Tyler, though only one of them knew they were undercover. Here we get a weird dichotomy of love and lust playing themselves out. Lorca was bonding with Burnham because he longed for the relationship he had with her mirror-universe counterpart where he is from, a relationship which feels like it had creepy undertones. He is someone who wants what he wants and he will do anything he can to take what he wants irrespective of anyone else’s wishes. To say he has some parallels with what’s going on in the world today would not be unkind. On the other hand, we have Ash who is also Voq, a Klingon operative. It is not clear how much is Voq and how much was Ash. However, one thing is clear is that Ash fell in love with Burnham, which was a problem for L’Rell (Mary Chieffo) because that messed up her conditioning that was meant to allow Voq to reawaken. In the end, the creepy lust guy did not make it but love, well love still has a chance, maybe, but then also probs not.
Finally, before we move on from the cast I want to take a moment to talk about the wonderful guest actors that appeared throughout the season. When Harry Mudd (Rainn Wilson) first appeared in Choose Your Pain (see review) I thought it was a fun little nod to The Original Series. But then when he reappears again in Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad (see review) and Rainn gets to cut loose, well it was both a joy to watch and it also led to one of the most unique takes on the Groundhog Day reset storyline that I have seen since the original. Add to this we have three really powerful women in the supporting cast that appear throughout the season that really give the show strength. Michelle Yeoh as both Prime and Mirror Georgiou is just a delight to watch as she played two very different roles, yet both of them still were just as captivating. As well as this, we also have Katrina Cornwell (Jayne Brook) are main go to Admiral in Season One. She sees the best in people but that does not make her weak as her Klingon captives found out the hard way. We also have L’Rell who is a very difficult character in some respects because it is not clear at the start with regards to her non/consensual relationship with Ash/Voq. However, Mary plays her with such power, once again through heavy prosthetics and mostly just speaking Klingon. All of this comes to a head in the Season One finale Will You Take My Hand? (see review) So at the end of the episode, Cornwell got Burnham to give Mirror Georgiou her freedom in exchange for the bomb who she then encoded to L’Rell so she could force the Klingons to retreat back to their borders and unite as a people. Four women in power making decisions for entire quadrants, that is rare in science fiction let alone modern media and it is something that needs to be explored more.
Moving on from the cast, the next thing I want to talk about is the production design for the season. There are many facets that make up a Star Trek show and part of that is how the ships and uniforms are designed. There is a design language that you need to at least acknowledge when you are creating in a space that has already been worked on and here you see that in the details. So for example, all the designs of the Starfleet starships fit within that design language, indeed, with the USS Discovery actually being based on an unused design for the USS Enterprise in the Star Trek Phase 2 that was dropped in favour for the films. You also see that design language in the uniforms that feel like a step in the right direction towards the bold primary colours of The Original Series. The USS Discovery is also one of the more interesting ship designs I have seen and the first time I saw the spore drive in its full glory I was honestly mesmerised. Also if you are a cosplayer I don’t know if you delighted in or cursed all the small gold details on the uniforms but they do look amazing. We also see that care in many of the big sets that were constructed throughout the season. The first was the main bridge of The Sarcophagus the big Klingon capital ship that dogged the Federation. The set was so large that you could take a camera and put it on a rig and rush it across the bridge from the upper balcony down to the lower level and zoom in on the action on the ground. This is repeated in the throne room of the Mirror Universe ISS Charon that has a clever use of columns to make the room feel taller than it actually is, as is befitting her most Imperial Majesty, Mother of the Fatherland, Overlord of Vulcan, Dominus of Kronos, Regina Andor.
The final set that really encapsulates this is the Orion Embassy on Qo’noS which was a kind of part Embassy, part Bazar. It is here that as we wander around the stalls and shops we get references to all across the Star Trek canon. You can see a Trill in the tattoo parlour, Nausicaan guns, even the eels from Ceti Alpha V, which now has me wondering what parasitic mind eels taste like. This is one of the ways I think that the writers showed that they cared about the lore of Star Trek (okay they are a bit flexible with the canon but we’ll get to that) and you can see that right throughout the season. For example, for just about every episode up until their big reveal dropped a little Andorian reference almost like a game of ‘did you catch the reference this week’. It is the small details, like that Gorn skeleton, throwing out Mintaka and Betazed etc. that help ground your story. There are of course some changes I’m still not completely on board with, but many of them have grown on me over the season after the initial shock wore off. For example, we have the Klingon redesign, which I guess I now know the feeling of some when there was that big jump from The Original Series to The Next Generation, which I missed. I’m still not completely sure about it, but I think the gusto the Klingon cast Shazad Latif, Mary Chieffo, and Kenneth Mitchell put into the roles really helped. So while there are a lot of things with the show that might not quite work with the existing canon, the Spore Drive, etc, the one I am still a bit not there with is the holographic communications, which was something they didn’t have until Deep Space Nine, before, maybe it is just something that comes in and out of fashion.
Speaking of the story when we look back at the season as a whole I think the narrative that they were trying to tell was quite successfully delivered. I have been quite critical in the direction that Star Trek had been drifting for a while, Enterprise spent three seasons trying to find what it wanted to be before finally discovering (too little too late, unfortunately) that it shout be Star Trek, and I have been critical of Alex Kurtzman’s reboot films in the past, and he is also a creator of this show. However, here you can see all the things they put in place at the start of the season, but also how they left room for the show to develop organically over the season while shooting. I really liked that pull throughout the season of what the future direction of the Federation will be. It did feel plausible that a Federation caught with its metaphorical pants down would ignore what Lorca is doing if he got results, a fact that the terran exploited to try and get home. However, while this is going on we have that light on the hill with Prime Georgiou of what a good Starfleet Captain should be like, and the crew has to decide which direction they are going to go in. That ideological tug is at the heart of the season and I think it is something we can all relate to at the moment. It is also a show that took Star Trek’s mantra for diversity and inclusion and took up a step from the past. Thankfully this was not just for token effect, the relationship between Stamets and Culber had an emotional weight to it. I think for some it might be a show better watched in more of binge than a weekly episodic format, as you don’t have to wait a couple of months to see if that worry of Lorca not being a good captain being worked out.
In the end, do we recommend Star Trek Discovery’s first season? Yes, we really do. It delivers on the many aspects of what a good Star Trek show should be. It looks at moral quandaries and explores them, it has interesting characters, travels to alien worlds, and upholds the mantra of the Federation equality, freedom, co-operation. If you haven’t seen it, or stopped, can I recommend that now you can watch it all at once that you give it another shot.
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 – Douglas Aarniokoski, David M. Barrett, Chris Byrne, Hanelle M. Culpepper, Jonathan Frakes, Akiva Goldsman, Adam Kane, Olatunde Osunsanmi, Lee Rose, John S. Scott, TJ Scott, David Semel & David Solomon
Written by – Jesse Alexander, Gretchen J. Berg, Kirsten Beyer, Sean Cochran, Aron Eli Coleite, Bryan Fuller, Akiva Goldsman, Aaron Harberts, Bo Yeon Kim, Alex Kurtzman, Erika Lippoldt, Jordon Nardino, Kemp Powers, Joe Menosky, Lisa Randolph, Ted Sullivan & Craig Sweeny
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, Emily Coutts, Oyin Oladejo, Patrick Kwok-Choon & Sara Mitich