My reviews of Season One and Two

Discussion in 'Star Trek: Discovery' started by Charles Phipps, Oct 11, 2019.

  1. Charles Phipps

    Charles Phipps Commodore Commodore

    Sep 17, 2011

    I decided to do a binge watch of Star Trek: Discovery with my wife and enjoyed watching the first two seasons. I actually started by reviewing every individual episode on my blog but removed those because I wasn't able to follow them up. My opinion on Discovery is mixed despite my fandom. There's episodes that I absolutely love, episodes I don't feel much for, and choices I don't agree with.

    Generally, I definitely think this is a Star Trek series worth sticking around for but it comes with quite a few caveats. They aren't going to be the ones like, "The Klingons look different" or "It doesn't look like the time period." I have my own complaints regarding that. However, I will have some criticisms. I hope you'll stick around to reading them. If not, just know that it has my endorsement but it's a 7 out of 10 rather than a 9 out of 10 like I'd hoped. That's the short version. The long version? Well, that'll take a bit.

    The premise is that it is a prequel to the original Star Trek series and takes place roughly ten years before the events of "Where No Man Has Gone Before" but after "The Cage." Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) is the adopted daughter of Sarek and Amanda Grayson as well as foster sister to Spock. Having achieved Commander in Starfleet, she is the second-in-command of Captain Phillipa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) on the U.S.S Shenzou.

    The Klingons, under sinister cult leader T'Kuvma (Chris Obi), are restless and start a war that Michael is blamed for after a series of disastrous decisions. After serving a brief prison sentence for mutiny, Michael finds herself recruited as a work-release hire by charismatic but ruthless captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs) on the top-secret Starfleet vessel Discovery. They are possibly the Federation's last hope against a warrior race that grows stronger the longer the war goes on.

    I feel like this is a show that had some definite rewrites and struggles behind the sets because it feels like there were multiple visions of the show that contradict each other. As I understand it, that's exactly what happened. The Klingon War is a factor in the series but not nearly the focus of the series you'd find in, say, Deep Space Nine with the Dominion War or even Babylon Five. It's a background element that is resolved in the first season and almost feels like the most interesting elements of it (T'Kuvma and Voq) are written out early on.

    Indeed, the best episode of Season One "Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad" has almost nothing to do with the Klingon War and is a standalone episode involving Harry Mudd (Rainn Wilson). I'm not going to complain about the visual continuity but I am a bit confused about the storytelling continuity. Harry Mudd is a pimp and a con artist in the Original Series but it's hard to believe Captain Kirk would let him go if he knew he was involved in terrorist acts against the Federation during a time of war.

    On the other hand, I have to say that I genuinely like the cast of characters. Ensign Tilly (Mary Wiseman) is one of my top ten favorite Star Trek characters period and maybe has cracked the top five. I very much enjoy Saru (Doug Jones) and the fact that he's an alien who gives us an insight into the idea of fear the same way Spock did with logic. Fear dominates Saru and it is something that he finds both beneficial as well as debilitating. Both Michelle Yeoh and Jason Isaacs elevate the material they deal with to the point you kind of wish they were headlining the show for the indefinite future.

    I feel like the show missed an opportunity to interact with both T'Kuvma and the Terran Emperor since both are set up as the socially relevant radical ethnic nationalist leaders of their peoples. Cosmopolitanism is the heart of Star Trek as is the idea of embracing people of as many diverse backgrounds as possible. Having the heroes confront that head on and the appeal of such things would have made for an engaging set of episodes, IMHO. Why do they fear diversity and change so much and what is the best way to confront such fear?

    I feel like the show also missed an opportunity to develop many of the characters that it established. The Discovery bridge crew is visually interesting and I very much would have liked to have learned about them all. On the other hand, the fact we've got a fairly large crew this time around means that we aren't really skipping out anyone. Security Chief Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif) and Chief Engineer Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) make a pretty good impression. In a better late than never situation, Paul and Chief Medical Officer Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz) are the first gay couple in Star Trek. Well, the first gay main characters period. If I had a complaint about the characters, its the fact that it kills quite a few that are quite interesting.

    If I had to summarize Discovery's storytelling problems, it's that it feels like it jumps around too much and has one foot in serialized television while keeping its other in episodic. I feel like this series could have benefited from a stronger commitment to one or the other. I think it's to the series credit that I actually do like its episodic content and serialized episodes both. I would have happily watched a less special-effects heavy 26-episode series of them investigating new planets while exploring their characters.

    There's also a couple of more problems that I do feel addressing. I like the character of Michael Burnham but I feel like the show doesn't know who, precisely, Michael is. She's an extremely emotional person when she's not extremely stoic. She's an idealistic Federation officer when she's not throwing the rules to the side completely. She's incredibly pigheaded and bigoted against Klingons until she's not. Contradictions aren't necessarily a bad thing to do with a character but she feels a bit schizophrenic like Captain Janeway did at times. Her best moments are when she's acting off another, more coherent character like Phillipa, Saru, Sarek, Tilly, or Captain Lorca. Indeed, that's the irony that the star really works best when being a supporting character.

    Finally, there's another element that I feel distracts from my enjoyment of the series and that's the fact the science is nonsense. I don't mean in the usual Star Trek way of warp drive, space amoebas, and salt vampires. No, I mean you might as well say the ship is powered by rainbows and imagination. Nothing about the spore drive makes sense to fourth grade science, not the least being that space is not full of fungus (that requires atmospheres to grow as well as water--it also doesn't give you the power to teleport). I'm generally very "soft" in my sliding scale of soft versus hard science fiction but this goes beyond my limits--and is done with the utmost seriousness.

    Nevertheless, this is a series that has a lot going for it. The show is full of action, amazing special affects, and some surprisingly good character moments. James Frain's Sarek is a surprisingly solid piece of recasting. We actually get a few moments that add to the original series like why he felt such a sense of betrayal at Spock leaving the Vulcan Science Academy for Starfleet. His episode, "Lethe", is one that does a great job of showing both the ups as well as downsides of the Vulcan race. Its not surprising when a show works better on characterization that pew-pew or big special effects but this is definitely one that does.

    If I had to make a judgement, I'd say that while "Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad" and "Lethe" are my favorite character episodes, the series mostly picks up in its second half. The Mirror Universe episodes are actually my favorite of that series. I never liked what Deep Space Nine did with the world-building and this take on them feels less sexist as well as just as goofy fun. I also loved how the Klingon War is ended in the grand finale as it shows the writers fully understood what Star Trek is about.

    In conclusion, I recommend purchasing a month of CBS All Access and binge-watching buying the first season separately. It's not the best Star Trek but it isn't the worst by far. Disco just has a rocky footing and yet there's still plenty of good here. If nothing else, the solid actors on display here are able to compensate for a lot of the weaknesses in the storytelling. I'd rather have too much than too little.

    Last edited: Oct 11, 2019
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  2. nutshell

    nutshell Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

    Aug 30, 2017
    I probably give it an 8 out of 10. Thank you for your well thought out, non-ranting opinion. Great job!
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  3. King Daniel Beyond

    King Daniel Beyond Fleet Admiral Admiral

    Nov 5, 2008
    King Daniel Beyond
    I thought it was a huge missed opportunity that "the great unifier" T'Kuvma never returned and that his place in the mirror universe was taken by Voq, but then we learned of the actor's real life legal issues and it all made sense.
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  4. Charles Phipps

    Charles Phipps Commodore Commodore

    Sep 17, 2011
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  5. Charles Phipps

    Charles Phipps Commodore Commodore

    Sep 17, 2011
    Original Post:


    I binge watched Star Trek: Discovery with my wife and it's lent me an interesting perspective on the show, one that I might have not normally have had. I think this is one of those shows that lends itself well to binging with plotlines better appreciated in the serialized format over episodic content. Ironically, I feel like the Short Treks are doing a better job with the episodic writing and kind of wish they would have all be expanded to full episodes. There will be some mild spoilers in the review but nothing that is going to ruin anyone's enjoyment, IMHO. Consider yourself warned.

    The alien here was VERY rude. Not you, Saru.

    As I mentioned, the problem with the show has never been its characters, its actors, or even its ideas: its problem has been that it jumps around so much that it never really commits to anything so audience investment is hurt. There have been three major captains headlining the Discovery by the start of season three and poor Saru gets replaced every time he thinks he's going to sit in the big chair permanently. I actually felt sorry for the guy by the end.

    The premise is that Captain Pike (Anson Mount), captain of the Enterprise in pilot "The Cage", has been assigned to temporarily captain the Discovery after the disastrous reign of two psychotic Mirror Universe nutbars. Pike immediately proves to be a popular, if out-of-step, officer who assigns them to investigate bizarre red lights that have appeared across the galaxy. Each of these lights appears over a crisis that our heroes have to involve themselves in. They also prove to be somehow connected to the recently incapacitated Lieutenant Spock (Ethan Peck).

    Here, the story and characters are much more consistent. The Red Lights storyline is all connected with the subplot about Section 31, Michael's past, her relationship with Spock, and other details. Indeed, it's a little too neatly connected as we get another example of "small universe" syndrome with Michael. She's not only Spock's foster sister and blamed for the start of the Klingon-Federation War but we find out her biological parents were incredibly important as well. Indeed, as game changing as the Spore Drive is, it is nothing to the invention they create. But more on that latter.

    I ship it.

    Really, Captain Pike and Spock are the highlight of this season and that's something of a problem with this story as you shouldn't have your guest stars be the most enjoyable part of the story. Captain Pike brings a much needed TOS levity to his character and a lighter idealism that contrasts him sharply against the grimmer harder crew of the U.S.S Discovery. While Spock goes through a terrible crucible, Peck manages to give a dignified performance with several standout moments. My favorite is when he has Spock successfully deconstruct Michael Burnham's savior complex in what is probably the season's best scene.

    Ansom Mount's Pike also incorporates a good deal of the character's brief TOS history. This is post "The Cage" and we have scenes taken from the original episode. Pike longs for his lover from Talos IV while also being terrified of his future quadriplegic status (that he gets a glimpse of with some Klingon relics). He's an interesting character to put on the discovery, being of a slight mystical bent that isn't so quick to dismiss the inexplicable as Michael Burnham. I really liked him and am in agreement with those who say they would watch a Star Trek: The New Original Voyages series starring him, Rebecca Romijn's Number One, and Peck's Spock.

    The villain for this season proves to be Section 31, though it's not actually the ideological extreme of the Federation this time but an evil computer controlling it ala Person of Interest. A similar plotline existed in the Star Trek novelverse but this is apparently two people coming up with the concept independently. Control is not a particularly interesting villain and I'm not sure I buy his ability to wipe out all life in the galaxy. Did he gain control over the Omega Particle somehow? You'd think Q or the Borg would have something to say about that.

    I also ship it. Even if it's wrong.

    I like Section 31 as a concept but purely in the context of being villains for our heroes to oppose. I prefer it to be more like James Bond's SPECTER or Mass Effect's Cerberus than treating it as Starfleet's black ops division. That's the way it's presented here with none of the previous series' secrecy. Of course, given how they nearly get the entire galaxy Skynet-ed, I'm of the mind that this would be a good reason to disband the organization. Another being Admiral Cartwright being its head during The Undiscovered Country but that's only true in my Star Trek Adventures campaign.

    Overall, I think this season is slightly better than the previous one. I didn't dislike season one but I felt that it suffered from an insufficient commitment to its Klingon Arc and having a problem with its main characters: Michael Burnham and Gabriel Lorca. The former suffered from going from multiple personality extremes while the latter had a very interesting character tossed out for the revelation he was not who he said he was.

    I cannot be upset at Michelle Yeoh as a Space Vamp.

    Another matter is the story contains a fairly large bit of Empress Georgiou from the Mirror Universe vamping it up. I find Michelle Yeoh entertaining in just about everything she does and she's clearly having a ball. Yet, I'm not sure the characters would indulge her the way they do with her casually admitting to multiple counts of genocide (and she's the LESS racist ruler of her universe). Whenever Gul Dukat was entertaining on DS9 (and he was frequently very entertaining), Sisko could never manage more than tepid politeness since he knew Dukat was a mass murderer.

    Season two feels like the writers tried to address some of the fans' complaints. The Klingons have hair now, which looks better but makes the redesign even less necessary. We also get some explanation of the various bridge officers' backstory (some of which is quite good). The fact that the adventure is based around exploring strange new worlds and visiting new planets is also a welcome relief from the disjointed Klingon War and Mirror Universe episodes of season one. The horrible death of Hugh Culber in the first season is addressed, which is fortunate since that was a poor way of treating Star Trek's first gay couple (not counting Trill).

    I love the remade Enterprise. Continuity be damned.

    Unfortunately, I do feel like the show is a bit too crowded as is with all the new characters to develop the cast as well as they could. Also, it all ends up being about Michael in the end as well. I like her but less is more sometimes. To use an analogy, Blofeld doesn't have to be James Bond's brother to make their relationship interesting and personal. Spock and Michael have some great scenes but their incredibly intense relationship and animosity comes from the fact the latter once called him a racist name once. I mean, seriously, Spock. Be like Elsa and let it go.

    The best episodes of season two are definitely "New Eden" which deals with the conflict between faith and science as well as the episodes dealing with Saru's homeworld ("The Sounds of Thunder" and "Light and Shadows"). Unfortunately, these are the episodes that have the least to deal with the actual main plot of the game. We also have the climax of the story deal with events using a character from Short Trek's first episode, which really should have been incorporated into the main plot.

    Klingons have time-wizards. I unironically love this.

    I think it summarizes the problems with this show that the best part of the season is the individual personalized episodes as well as the guest stars. This isn't because Discovery's cast is bad or even underwhelming. No, I want more Tilly, Ash Tyler, Stamets, and Saru. Lots more. I want more bridge officers too. It's just that the show keeps throwing everything and the kitchen sink at the wall in hopes something will stick. It feels way too try hard. Why visit Talos IV? I dunno, because it's that thing you remember and liked if you're a hardcore Trekkie. Why is the ENTIRE UNIVERSE at stake? Because that makes the story bigger and this show is obsessed with bigger and bigger.

    Still, Discovery's second season is never boring. It's always entertaining. The fact there's too much stuff going on isn't the worst flaw for a space opera to have. The characters are entertaining, everyone seems to be having fun, and if Michael's history is approaching Chris Claremont's X-men's Summers Family Tree levels of ridiculousness then it's in good company. I just wish the writers would slow down and stop being so loud as Taylor Swift would say (my second musical reference in this review).