Major spoilers for “Star Trek: Discovery’s” first two episodes.
“Star Trek: Discovery” always had a lot to live up to. It’s the first new “Star Trek” TV show in over a decade, so it has to be both a new take on the franchise and a tribute to the original series. There’s over 50 years of canonical history to pick and choose from, but how do you do it without outright copying a previous installment, especially when the J.J. Abrams films have been just that?
As the flagship product for CBS All Access, the network’s new streaming service, it also has to convince people to fork over $5.99/month. It’s the first starring role for Sonequa Martin-Green, who previously wowed audiences on “The Walking Dead” but has never been the lead of an ensemble filled with classic genre actors like Michelle Yeoh and Doug Jones.
Then there’s the issue of diversity. “Star Trek” has always been a franchise about promoting peace and unity among races — both alien and human — so that’s built into the show’s DNA. However, “Discovery” is airing on CBS, which has come under fire for not greenlighting a single new series with a woman in the lead role. “Discovery,” like it or not, also has be the thing that helps the network’s reputation.
So there’s a lot riding on “Star Trek: Discovery,” which was screened for press ahead of the Sunday night premiere. There was some hesitation in the air, especially after trailers and early footage garnered mixed reactions. CBS said they weren’t going to release screeners to press for review, which in the case of movies, signals that something is doomed to fail critically. The word around the theater wasn’t optimistic anticipation, but skeptical sighing.
1. There’s a reason for the secrecy
After watching the first two episodes, it’s clear why some story points were kept secret.
With how many things occur and how much is set up for the rest of the series, it’s less of a premiere and more of a standalone film. Cast members — some who were the most high-profile names on the roster — die, which might be the biggest shock for some, but ultimately, the most fascinating transition comes from Martin-Green’s character, First Officer Michael Burnham.
We knew a couple of things about her before the premiere. We knew that she was raised by Vulcans (specifically Spock’s father Sarek), worked with Michelle Yeoh’s Captain Philippa Georgiou and that she would be our lead. However, we weren’t prepared for how the make up of her character can spark an entire war. She’s confident, intelligent and headstrong, but she’s stubborn and selfish, always going with the decisions she thinks are best, even when it gets people hurt. Knowing these basic things about Michael are helpful, but don’t touch upon how much we learn and how much she affects just in the premiere. And watching that unravel is one of the joys of the first two episodes.
2. The Klingons might look weird, but are fully-developed antagonists
There was hesitation surrounding the design of the new Klingons. While the alien species has looked different over certain incarnations, there’s an accepted, canonical look — the one introduced in “The Next Generation.” First looks at “Discovery’s” Klingons highlighted that it was going in a new direction, but fans were worried that it would go too far. Questions arose about what the point was regarding the redesign and why it went so far into a certain direction.
It’s still not fully clear why certain physical aspects of the “Discovery” Klingons exist, but after two episodes, things have become apparent. While fans might not accept the new look, the Klingons are still inherently the Klingons and, in fact, might be more interesting than other versions of the race. The Klingons here take a lot from established lore, specifically aspects of history regarding Kahless the Unforgettable, a messianic figure that founded the empire. The Klingons have motivations that don’t boil down to pure evil and inner conflicts that create their own tensions. The audience is used to rooting for the Federation but the Klingons are sympathetic as well.
3. Don’t worry about the special effects
There are a few moments where you can see the seams, but for the most part, the visuals in the trailers are representative of an incomplete process. “Discovery” looks stunning. The budget was put in the correct places so that the fight scenes look sprawling, while the debates between crew members look intimate. The fight scenes are especially impressive considering you’re watching ships go at each other. It’s very much in the vein of old-school “Star Trek” battles, just with more ships and more visual flair. A sequence towards the end where a Klingon ship crashes into a Federation one is especially jaw-dropping.
4. It adds to the “Star Trek” universe
“Discovery” was always going to be held up in the shadow of the “Star Trek” installments that came before it, but even in the first two episodes, it manages to add something new to the canon. The biggest change is with the addition of Lt. Saru, played by Doug Jones, who is a part of a newly introduced alien species called the Kelpiens. On Saru’s planet, there are only predators and prey, and the Kelpiens are prey. They have one sole purpose: to sense oncoming death, which he does in a foreboding scene.
Then there’s the matter of the Klingons. As stated earlier, “Discovery” uses a lot of the Klingons’ previously-established history to turn them into sympathetic antagonists, but it also clarifies some things as well. Cloaking technology has always been a tension builder in previous series, but in “Discovery,” the Federation encounters the first Klingons to ever use it. This is a big deal for “Trek” history buffs because it hints at a brand new piece of Klingon lore never touched upon before.
5. You’ll want to see what happens next
The first two episodes of “Discovery” are self-contained, but end on an explosive and tragic cliffhanger. It depends on whether you connected with Michael as a character, but there’s so much story to be told. You get a good idea of what’s to come in the last couple minutes and you want to see it play out because it’s going to be so drastically different than what the first two episodes introduced.
It’s unclear whether this will be enough to warrant a spike in CBS All Access subscriptions, but if the sneak peek is any indication, you’re going to want to tune in.