A Cold War In Space
♦ Tripwire’s senior editor ANDREW COLMAN takes a look at the first two episodes of CBS’s new Star Trek: Discovery series, showing on Netflix outside of the US, and on now…
Star Trek: Discovery
The Vulcan Hello
Battle At The Binary Stars
Directors: David Semel, Adam Kane
Stars: Sonequa Martin-Green, Doug Jones, Shazad Latif, Anthony Rapp, Michelle Yeoh, Jason Isaacs
Twelve years after the previous Star Trek series, Enterprise, comes yet another iteration of the brand. Showrunners Gretchen J. Berg and Aaron Harberts would no doubt have been aware of viewer fatigue regarding the franchise, so have opted for a different tack on this occasion – a cold war setting focusing on the reigniting of hostilities between the Federation and the Klingons.
Despite its taking place ten years prior to the original Star Trek series, there are no red and yellow shirted crew members here. The cinematography and art design is far colder and darker, the show itself a straight drama as opposed to the generally lighter series that preceded it. The first episode introduces Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), a human brought up by Sarek (Spock’s dad, played by James Frain) who has risen through the ranks to become second in command on board the USS Shenzhou to Captain Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh).
The first episode, The Vulcan Hello, is as clunky and expository as one would expect from a series that has so much plot to get through– the dialogue is at times wearisome, with some of the actors, (especially Yeoh) uninvolving and trite. The story takes what seems an eternity to click into any sort of gear, with Martin-Green’s Burnham an enervatingly earnest presence. This isn’t helped by a welter of heavy-handed flashback sequences, along with the Klingons’ (very ornately dressed, it has to be said) grindingly slow scenes. The foreshadowing is laid on with a trowel as she points out that something is amiss on the perimeter of the Federation’s territory.
After sensing covert Klingon activity, our heroine volunteers to investigate what is an ancient carved vessel, where she is set upon by a warrior Klingon. As she tries to escape, she kills him, giving T’Kuvma (Chris Obi), the leader of the Klingon Krew, an excuse to initiate hostilities under the populist banner of identity politics, Klingon style (yes, there’s allegorizing afoot). Burnham attempts to head the Klingons off at the pass, and gets sent to the brig for her mutinous efforts.
As it turns out in the following instalment Battle At The Binary Stars, it’s all moot in any case, as the Klingons amass a fleet to attack the Shenzhou and other ships in Starfleet, easily outmanoeuvring them. In the end Burnham and the captain gain revenge by killing T’Kuvma, although the captain perishes as well. In the aftermath, Burnham is sentenced to life imprisonment for disobeying orders. Episode two is a marked improvement, with the program accomplishing a credible mood and undertow, not to mention some excellent battle scenes. It’s all much pacier and more compelling, with Burnham’s incarceration a surprising move. Clearly the series is as much about Burnham’s arc as the Discovery, which is a reasonable departure.
According to the previews of later episodes, a few of the familiar characters from the original series will materialize, hopefully in some cases providing comic relief and some much needed ironic commentary. From what I’ve seen so far, the show does look promising, regardless of the sluggish pilot (Jason Isaacs as Discovery captain Gabriel Lorca looks to be an excellent foil for Number One). Assuming Martin-Green settles into her role, this could prove to be an appealing series for Trekkers and non-fanatics alike.