Set 10 years before The Original Series, which makes no sense in terms of continuity with the technology, aliens, and characters for longtime fans, Star Trek: Discovery debuted on CBS before the series moved to the streaming channel CBS All Access. The episode “The Vulcan Hello” set forth some interesting premises and expands the boundaries of what a Star Trek series will deal with, which may be too far for some.
After a brief reveal of yet another variation of Klingon, Captain Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) and First Officer Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) of the USS Shenzhou are on a planet breaking the Prime Directive to help with an impending 89-year drought by opening a well. Setting aside this major violation, it makes no sense why a science team hasn’t been given the task nor why the well couldn’t have been opened by phasers from the ship. That is until the sequence comes to a close when it’s clear that the creative team wanted a “wow!” moment of the USS Shenzhou entering the planet’s atmosphere after somehow seeing that the women created with their footprints in the sand a Starfleet logo, a wink to the fans that will generate both smiles and groans. After so many odd choices by the producers and writers by this point, the opening didn’t generate a lot of confidence.
Next up for the Shenzou crew, they investigate a damaged relay. Risking radiation, Burnham gets a close-up look in a space suit and has a skirmish with a Klingon. A war is building between Federation and Klingons, led by T’Kuvma (Chris Obi), who wants to reunite the 24 great Klingon houses. There’s a religious component driving him, reflecting modern geo-politics, but not one I remember previous Klingons having.
While unconscious in recovery, viewers learn that as a child Burnham was on the planet Vulcan training under Spock’s father Sarek (James Frain) and her family were victims of the Klingons. After she awakes, a cloaked (did they have this technology already?) Klingon vessel is discovered. Georgiou has orders to wait until reinforcements arrive, but Burnham wants so badly to attack, she takes control of the ship, leading to a big showdown, which is assumedly resolved in “Battle at the Binary Stars”. Since I have no interest in paying for another platform, who knows when I’ll find out, but I am curious.
The series is reportedly spending $8 million an episode and that money is clearly on display in this episode’s production design and visual effects, but the Shenzou looks so shiny and fantastic that there needs to be constant reminders that the series is set before TOS because of how advanced everything looks.
An even tougher sell is Burnham, who is more flawed than she is heroic, so making her the main character is a risky choice. She makes quite a few bad choices during “The Vulcan Hello”, so it’s hard to believe she would be second in command on a starship.
Star Trek: Discovery seems better suited for those who know little about Star Trek and those without hard, fast rules of what it should be. I like some of the new ideas brought to the franchise while other choices I could do without. I don’t understand why this show couldn’t have been set in the franchise’s future instead of the past, which limits some of the story outcomes, unless this is a different timeline. It will be curious to see how this business experiment works out for CBS and the impact it will have on the future of the series.