Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Star Trek: Discovery: Season One ★★★★★

Star Trek has been many things over the years, often exemplified by the captain and their various idiosyncrasies. Kirk relied on his senses, never afraid to throw a fist at a perceived problem. Picard tended to prefer the cerebral approach, while Janeway never gave up on her mission to get the crew home. Archer was the first of his kind, while Sisko was a static target, always trying to outmanoeuvre his enemies in an intriguing political landscape.

Discovery breaks from tradition almost immediately, this time placing the focus on the second in command. Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) may not be a captain, but she’s next in line under Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) of the USS Shenzhou. She’s the Riker to Georgiou’s Picard, who fills in as a mentor for the Vulcan-raised human.

Things begin to unravel fairly quickly, which makes sense given the timing of the saga. Events take place a decade before Kirk’s exploits, which means there’s a war with a retconned Klingon empire to deal with. The Battle of the Binary Stars is a major plot point in the history of the Federation, but the marauding alien race only takes up half of the plot in a season that’s packed with twists and turns at every corner. Jason Isaacs is soon introduced as Captain James Lorca, serving at the helm of the experimental USS Discovery. As a wartime leader, he offers new insight into the role of a Federation officer when the pressure is on, enlisting Burnham in the process.

Discovery is still a sci-fi show at heart, but there’s a strong emphasis on drama and a serialised plot. Burnham is forced to deal with her emotions as she struggles to keep up with the turmoil around her, and the story moves forward at a satisfying rate. Cadet Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman) also fills in as an audience surrogate to help new viewers so you don’t have to be a fan of Star Trek or the genre to enjoy the story, although it will help the process. A lack of high concept episodes is a slight flaw, but less filler ensures that the story stays in the forefront. There’s always something going on, although it does take an episode or two to get going properly.

In another break from tradition, less time is spent on the bridge, which is still an impressive sight to behold. Almost every backdrop is stuffed with generous dollops of detail, and nothing seems out of place, from the blockbuster starship battles to the reimagined Klingons and their battle regalia. The same can be said for the violence itself. There’s certainly a darker tone in the latest update to Star Trek, along with a season-long arc which concludes in a fairly satisfying fashion. Morals and choices are a major theme at play, which is fun to watch when overlayed with the Federation’s strong sense of idealism. There are a few growing pains when it comes to the dialogue, but it all wraps up nicely in the end. With a second season on the horizon, it’s interesting to see what the second season holds for the Discovery crew.

Like her predecessors, Burnham isn’t afraid to throw a fist, but she also relies on logic heavily thanks to her Vulcan upbringing. She’s the first non-captain main character, and she’s an iconoclast for the Klingons who would love nothing more than to see her dead. Partly influenced by all of the protagonists before her, she and the surrounding cast work to build a more believable universe for a modern audience, and arguably the second-best big-budget sci-fi show out right now behind The Expanse. 

James Millin-Ashmore

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