Boldly going where no Star Trek series has gone before, Star Trek: Discovery has certainly divided Trekkers with its first season. But it’s also brought something fresh and unpredictable to a show that has been running for over half a century now.
MILD SPOILERS FOLLOW:
With J.J. Abrams’ rebooted Star Trek movie universe doing its own thing, and doing good box office, it was only a matter of time before Trek returned to TV – this year in fact, steered by showrunners Bryan Fuller and Alex Kurtzman.
Early word on Star Trek: Discovery suggested it would be a much darker and grittier take on Gene Roddenberry’s creation, and after the first few episodes, you might be left wondering if you’re actually watching Star Trek.
Set 10 years prior to the Enterprise voyages of the original series, Discovery feels like it inhabits a bizarro universe version of the utopian future synonymous with Starfleet and the United Federation of Planets.
It’s pessimistic, cynical, and the crew of the eponymous vessel is a mercurial bunch, led by the unstable Captain Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs). They all still make grand speeches about upholding the Starfleet Prime Directive, and then constantly break it. At one point, Lorca even considers genocide as a solution – WTF?!
Where previous Trek shared the load across a cast of characters, Discovery is told from the perspective of protagonist Michael Burnham, played by The Walking Dead’s Sonequa Martin-Green. Yes that’s right, she has a male name, and it’s something that may continue to bug you throughout the series. But it’s an interesting and distinctive touch.
The other thing that feels off-kilter about Michael is that she’s a mutineer who somehow winds up in a key position aboard the USS Discovery. Are we in the Mirror Universe here, or what? And if she seems a bit emotionless and unlikeable at times, that’s because she’s a human orphan raised by Vulcan parents.
Then there is the ship itself – a top-secret Starfleet science vessel fitted with a ‘spore drive’ that allows it to jump instantaneously across the universe by accessing an interconnected network of intergalactic fungus – yes, really! Warp 9 is now a mere crawl.
While all of this might rankle purist Trekkers, they’ll be grateful that the show avoids recycling the same old stories they’ve seen countless times on TOS, TNG, DS9, Voyager and Enterprise. And while every new series takes a season or two to settle in properly, Discovery’s barmy twists on established Trek (and Klingon) lore will keep you invested from the very beginning. The downside though is that major conflicts and story arcs, which would have spanned a season in prior series, are neatly – and frustratingly – wrapped up after only a few episodes.
Star Trek has always been a trailblazer when it comes to breaking down barriers. TOS gave the world TV’s first interracial kiss back in 1968, and Discovery continues the trend with the first gay romance aboard the ship. Not shocking today, but what might raise fans eyebrows like Spock is the level of graphic violence, a Klingon sex scene, and the first use of the F-word in a Trekseries!
Yes, Discovery is Star Trek, but not as we know it, boldly going where no Trek series has gone before. You may not like the new direction at first but stick with it; by the mid-season cliffhanger, you’ll be well and truly hooked.