“What have you done out there, on the edge of Federation space?”
Here we are with another new Star Trek television series. And it’s been a while too! Following the end of Enterprise, we’ve only seen three new movies. Enjoy them or despise them, their rebooted formula dared to make new waves and yet somehow tread familiar ground. Personally, I enjoyed the rebooted approach to Kirk’s growing up and his eventual enlistment. We get to see the end of an era and the start of a new one in the 2009 flick, a reimagining of a familiar adversary in the second on. Finally, the third one graces us with a unique new story based in part on the events witnessed in Enterprise.
All of the films vastly different from one another. Yet Star Trek has continued to shine its brightest when put into a television format. Each saga has it’s own approach to space exploration and more often than not, each one started with a glimpse of the wider universe.
Each serial, we see first hand how vast the final frontier is. All five of the Star Trek TV shows showed the audience how beautiful and dangerous life was outside the solar system. The Next Generation was practically notorious for Q warnings to humanity about the perils of what lies beyond. And we’re certainly no different in this inaugural episode of Discovery.
The year is 2256. The USS Shenzhou has been dispatched to investigate a damaged relay on the edge of Federation Space. In her log, the first officer is curious as to what may have caused it; either intentional destruction or merely a result of impacting space debris. The chief science officer posits theories as to the nature of the damage but is soon quelled by the first officer, who insists on listening to the facts first and foremost.
Within the captain’s ready room, the first officer relays to her superior that perhaps this is an intentional attempt to grab the attention of Starfleet.
On the bridge, something is picked up by sensors within the nearby planet’s rings. After a moment of tracking by the science officer, they’re finally able to focus in on the anomaly. There’s some debate as to what it may be and how to approach it, so the first officer volunteers to fly out in a space suit. (if you recall that bit in Star Trek: The motion picture, you’ll remember Spock doing the same thing)
Naturally, the science officer doesn’t agree and the two characters continue their debate as he warns her of the risks involved. But she defiantly assumes she can arrive back in time safely, insisting he puts fear to one side and focuses on exploration, not irrational fears.
Finally, once the bickering ceases, the captain insists they work together to recon whatever it is, knowing that they’ll each have one another to rely on. After an amusing announcement by one of the bridge crew, Commander Burnham is launched towards the object. Her suit deftly sidesteps numerous obstacles within her path, while communication with the ship becomes more difficult the further away she is. Within minutes she’s finally within visual range of the object in question. But at this point, there is too much interference to relay her findings back to the Shenzhou. Unperturbed by the lack of communication, she continues onwards.
The object appears less of a random element of nature and more like something constructed. She remarks how ancient it appears, perhaps carved from something larger. She is awestruck by the sight of the object and makes a risky, perhaps impulsive choice, to land upon it. Once she lands, the structure seemingly reacts to her landing. Immediately thereafter, the suit’s computer notifies her of something near to her. She turns to see an armed individual staring back at her. Her computer almost instantly recognises the unknown humanoid’s suit as Klingon. Before she can fully introduce herself, the Klingon strikes with it’s Bat’leth.
Yet as soon as the fight begins, it is quickly over as the Commander launches herself at the Klingon and impales him with his own sword. Using this momentum to her advantage, she makes a course back to the ship. There’s a tense moment of the crew re-establishing contact but all options to rescue her falter. She is succumbing to the effects of the radiation and slowly spins out of control.
A funeral for the deceased Klingon gives enough furore to their leader as he delivers a damning eulogy. The casket is summarily whisked high above the crowd of Klingons and they roar at their fallen comrade.
Back aboard the Shenzhou, the commander is being treated on a medical bed, her radiation burns painfully obvious. As the treatment continues, a flashback occurs and we see her within a Vulcan school, learning about the Klingon culture. The questions become simple trivia until those from a human/Vulcan outpost are illustrated on the screen in front of her younger self. She hesitates to answer, including a question pertaining to survivors. Before it becomes too much to bear, she demands the questions stop. Emotionally wracked by the onslaught of disturbing images, a Vulcan by the name of Sarek approaches. He cooly remarks her human nature is the reason why she cannot sacrifice her emotions for Vulcan logic.
She wakes up from the flashback and is astonished to see the surrounding medical equipment. Outside, the medical staff remark it has been three hours since she was beamed aboard. WIthout further ado, she steps out of the medical facility, much to the staff’s chagrin about the incomplete treatment. Once aboard the bridge, she is confused by the calm of her colleagues. She mentions seeing a Klingon but the captain reminds her that it’s been a century since the species was last encountered.
Due to her scans being corrupted upon her return and her current physical condition, she is believed by no one. Yet she still insists there are Klingons out there. Looking back at her first officer, the captain sees the truth in her eyes and orders the ship to red alert. The Commander tells of the aliens appearance and her attempt to kill her, plus theorising how the initial scattering field may be concealing further members of their race. The science officer insists that they leave immediately, while the captain insists they stay, as this is Federation space.
On advisement from the Commander, the Captain opens fires on the Klingon structure, with the intention of warning and not all out destruction. As soon as weapons are locked, a ship suddenly uncloaks itself close to the Federation ship. The Captain orders to break the weapon lock and asks firmly that the Commander return to sickbay to resume her treatment. Then she asks her comms officer to inform Starfleet that they’ve engaged the Klingons.
Hails are sent out to the unknown Klingon ship but to no avail. Aboard the ship, the brother of the fallen Klingon is called forward. Unusually he questions the will of their leader in their grievances with the Federation, insisting that he cannot lead him people with simple ancient prophecy. Before the humiliation continues further, someone else within the ranks steps forward to accept their leader’s wishes. Having no family and without house representation, he is deemed unworthy. Regardless of his lack of ties, he insists his faith with Kahless will be enough.
Taking a moment to examine the newcomer, their leader announces his role as the new torchbearer, and those around them immediately rejoice.
Aboard the Shenzhou, the Klingons remain steadfast in making no attempt to communicate. The science officer shows the Commander a schematic of the Klingon ship and remarks how the exterior armour is more symbolic as opposed to a tactical. Numerous biological readings emanate from the external lattice. Dead Klingons, from recently deceased to centuries past spawl all over its surface.
Looking at the readings of the ship, the science officer reflects on his own species from his homeworld. Having been bred in captivity, he understands when a predatory species means to conquer. With the current situation those feelings have returned.
In the ready room, the Captain relays her findings of the Klingon vessel to a hologram of a Starfleet Admiral. As he dismisses the apparent presumption of the first officer, he orders the Captain to hold the Shenzhou at its current position until other Starfleet vessels arrive. Once the hologram disappears, the two of them argue the current situation. The Captain appears optimistic of trying all options long before open combat, while the Commander insists she looks at the alternative and braves the inevitable assault.
Without warning an incredibly bright light blooms in space and the two individuals return to the bridge. The cause appears to emanate from the original Klingon structure. The blinding light is accompanied by painful sound. Upon closer inspection, the light and sound seem to be in the form of a message that resonates with the hull of their ship. The Commander theorises this may be a distress call from the Klingons to bring in reinforcements, as they themselves did to the Federation.
The Commander asks to leave the bridge. From within a private room, she accesses the computer’s communications and opens a channel with Sarek. She explains bluntly that she asks for help in their current predicament. Sarek responds with his own thoughts regarding the matter, about how it’s unusual for the Klingons to be suddenly unified during this encounter. He notices the apparent power needed within an individual to accomplish this task. He warns her gravely of letting her assumptions and feelings govern her behaviour in this delicate standoff. But she insists her tragic past has nothing to do with the current situation.
She presses Sarek into revealing how the Vulcans themselves achieved an understanding with the Klingons.
Returning to the bridge, the Commander insists they fire upon the ship with everything. She references a case where a Vulcan ship was destroyed while making the first contact. From then on, it had been Vulcan policy to open fire upon the Klingon aggressors immediately. This appeared to be the way to gain respect from the Klingons, ensuring peace between the two civilisations.
The captain dismisses the war-like approach but her Commander presses on. She brings mention of her continued services and that denying this one request may bring them into all-out war. But the Captain insists as Starfleet officers, they should never be the ones to fire first.
This outburst prompts the Captain to remove her from the bridge and into the ready room. Naturally, she chews out her subordinate on her lack of discipline in front of the other staff, while the Commander insists they must strike first before it’s too late. Finally, the Commander concedes to her superior but it’s all a trick to catch the Captain unaware. Without warning, she reaches out and performs a Vulcan nerve pinch, incapacitating the other woman.
Alone, she reappears on the bridge and takes command. She orders torpedoes to be ready immediately, much to the disbelief of the science officer. He watches her stressful appearance and gauges the woman is going against the best wishes of the Captain. Warning her it may be mutiny to proceed further, she continues ordering tactical to prepare for firing. However, the order interrupted by the Captain’s reappearance, with a phaser pointed at the Commander.
Before anyone can react, the bright luminescence outside quickly fades and sensors maps fill up with Klingon vessel signatures. Klingon ships are warping in and surround the lone Shenzhou.
Personally, I think we’ve set off on the right foot with this new series. It feels secure within traditional setting for the fans, yet feels simplistic enough to welcome newcomers too. Introducing a new crew into the ST universe is always going to be a rocky beginning. Especially one that reunites the audience with a familiar species. I’m reminded of when TNG reintroduced the Romulans. Viewed as a rather brazen villain in the original saga, this new appearance is a delicate war of words, rather than all-out aggressive.
However, the Klingons pull no punches about their hate for the Federation Long before the empire holds sway in TNG and DS9, a fractured Klingon race is vying for reunification. We see an entire culture that not only craves conflict but its antagonistic nature is the foundation for their way of life. And without the insight from Michael, we would have seen the Shenzhou destroyed that much sooner. Their portrayal in this series is naturally much better than the human-like thugs in the original saga. Yet we only see slices and moments of their lifestyle within the new incarnation. At this point, it’s still too early to see if their aggression is a just cause.
We see in the prologue how the captain is willing to bend rules to save a race from dying out. She is still a typical Starfleet captain in that she’ll consider all available options. And she knows when to listen or deny suggestions made by her first officer. Yet she can still surprise those under her command with her own ideas.
While on the other hand, Commander Burnham sticks to her logic like glue. Born human and raised by Vulcans, we would expect no less. Her blunt, honest and outspoken personality is evident of her Vulcan upbringing. While sometimes deemed cold and unfeeling, Vulcans generally understand which is the better course of action. Their lack of emotion gives them a clear advantage in difficult situations. She certainly has no qualms about taking the larger risks, as is evident with the space suit.
The look and feel of the new series is just the right amount of sci-fi. The Shenzhou itself is quite a sight to behold and feels reminiscent of the reboots. Computer consoles especially feel as advanced as the ones used in the recent films. Sound effects for doors and consoles bring a tinge of nostalgia. There is the occasional moment of technobabble but the solution to most issues doesn’t revolve around it. The strength of the characters is within their resolve for the most peaceful course of action.
This alone is the cornerstone of Star Trek in my opinion. The incredible technology lets our crew reach the stars in a matter of days, but it’s the people’s actions and test of strength that usually prevails. It’s far from the luxury of TNG and DS9 and feels rather similar to ‘Enterprise’, especially when we see Sarek frowning upon the current activities. Every discovery is a milestone, while the Vulcans and Starfleet pass judgement in the background.
Without going too much into comparative detail, the show feels like Star Trek through and through. I personally enjoy the mix of characters being either cynical, fearful or optimistic. The first officer reminds me a lot of Will Riker, in that Cmdr Burnham isn’t blindly agreeing with orders. Even tempting her with her own command makes a nod to Picard’s number one. As mentioned before the Klingons are as powerful and self-assertive as they’ve ever been. While we barely glimpsed them in Star Trek Into Darkness, every prior confrontation with them has been full of drama.
Though their crew are struggling, their Captain is confident. And quite frankly, so am I. There’s enough to please both die-hard fans and newcomers. The plot is linear enough for those unfamiliar with various organisations and races. While the ‘good guys’ are unsure of how to deal with this species, the Klingons know what to do. Driven by prophecy and lore, we’re about to embark on something dangerous.
Isn’t that the core of Star Trek though? Daring to explore the unknown? Not every alien species is warm and flurry, like it was fifty years ago.
“If you can’t take a little bloody nose, maybe you ought to go back home and crawl under your bed. It’s not safe out here. It’s wondrous, with treasures to satiate desires both subtle and gross. But it’s not for the timid”
5 out of 5