Star Trek Guide

Star Trek: Discovery's Season 1 Premiere Is Weak - But It Gets Better

Star Trek: Discovery season 1 is now airing on CBS outside of CBS All-Access' paywall, giving non-subscribers the chance to finally see the first new Star Trek series since Star Trek: Enterprise was canceled in 2005. It's a new and startling experience in many ways because Star Trek: Discovery took bold chances that defied both fan expectations and established canon. While visually stunning, Star Trek: Discovery season 1's premiere, "The Vulcan Hello," is also a bit of an unnerving experience — but, with the series now about to begin season 3, it does get much better.

Setting Star Trek: Discovery as a prequel happening a decade before Star Trek: The Original Series was just one of the series' early controversies. Discovery is also the first Star Trek series where the Captain isn't the main character; instead, the show's central heroine is Commander Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), who makes a grave error and commits mutiny in "The Vulcan Hello." It's understandable if Trekkers who are accustomed to perfect Starfleet Officers applying sound moral judgment to problems are turned off by Burnham's glaring flaws; while Michael is clearly intelligent — she was raised on Vulcan by Sarek (James Frain), which retcons her as Spock's adopted sister — it's unforgivable that she turned on her noble Captain, Phillipa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh), even if Burnham thought she was preventing a war with the Klingons.

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Star Trek: Discovery's unwelcome revamp of the Klingons is the biggest problem with the series, and it isn't truly remedied. While interesting Klingon characters do emerge as season 1 progresses (keep an eye on the albino Klingon, Voq), Star Trek: Discovery's bald and thoroughly alien version of the fan-favorite warrior race is a hard sell. These Klingons not only violate established canon, but Star Trek: Discovery season 1 also ignites a Klingon War that was heretofore unheard of by Trekkers. Unfortunately, the Klingons are the main villains of Star Trek: Discovery season 1 and they remain part of the series into season 2, although they become deemphasized. Still, a fascinating Klingon subplot does later emerge that ties into the classic TOS episode "The Trouble With Tribbles".

It's also strange that the pilot episode of Star Trek: Discovery didn't introduce the titular starship, the U.S.S. Discovery. Instead, the action takes place on Captain Georgiou's starship, the U.S.S. Shenzhou. Georgiou herself is a classic Star Trek Captain, a wise explorer-philosopher who also will fight when needed, but Lt. Commander Saru (Doug Jones), her Kelpien Science Officer, is a curious alien who openly expresses fear and suggests retreat in the face of the Klingons. These are further chances that Star Trek: Discovery takes, but the characters do grow and change, and they are very different by the start of season 3. Other issues, such as the Shenzhou possessing anachronistic holographic technology, aren't truly resolved, although the series does later attempt to rectify this break in canon.

As is evident in "The Vulcan Hello," Star Trek: Discovery season 1 explores issues of identity and rising above your worst mistakes. The Klingon leader T'Kuvma (Chris Obi) styles himself as a Messiah and he wants to unite the combative Klingon Houses into a war with the Federation in hopes of reclaiming and redefining the Klingon race's identity. In contrast, Starfleet in the 2250s is riding high but also hiding flaws within itself. The weaknesses of Starfleet will be exacerbated by the Klingon War, forcing our heroes to reexamine and reclaim their own nobility, in order to define what Starfleet stands for in this era of Star Trek.

Every Star Trek series faces challenges in their first seasons, and "The Vulcan Hello" is undeniably a dark beginning for Star Trek: Discovery that portends even more tragedy to come. The series borrows heavily from the tone and style of J.J. Abrams' Star Trek movies and there is plenty of action, death, and unnerving moments in the offering. But there are also great surprises, genuine wit, endearing characters (most of whom haven't been introduced yet), classic Star Trek tropes reintroduced, and a gradual turnaround ahead as Star Trek: Discovery slowly reveals its best qualities. Star Trek: Discovery season 1 is a bumpy but wild ride through a thrillingly different new era of the final frontier but the best is yet to come.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 1 airs Thursdays @ 10pm on CBS.

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