Well it’s finally here. After what felt like endless delays, teases, high anticipation and even higher frustration with the decision to run Star Trek: Discovery on the CBS All Access pay service, the show has arrived and the first two episodes are a doozy. The first episode aired on the CBS network but ended with a major cliffhanger that was designed to send viewers running to their computers to sign up for the service (which reported a record of new subscribers, and you can also sign up through the links on Hotchka).
What we got in the first two hours was a lot of set-up and character introductions. First and foremost Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green, late of The Walking Dead). As the Number 1 to Captain Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh), Burnham appeared human but spoke in highly logical, Vulcan-like terminology. And for good reason: she was basically raised by the Vulcans, most notably Sarek (James Frain) aka Spock’s father, after her parents were killed by Klingons. On their ship, the Shinzhou, they travel to the edge of Federation space to do some recon on a piece of Starfleet technology that’s been damaged, but it’s unknown if by accident or intent. But something else turns up in the asteroid field that can only be reached by something very small, in this case Burnham in a flight suit (with only a 19 minute travel time or she’ll be fried by the radiation of the binary stars they’re parked near). The object she finds is ornate … and also has a large alien lurking about, a Klingon. A fight ensues, Burnham kills the Klingon (whether by accident or in self-defense is not clear, but a murdering a Klingon is perhaps not the best way to reintroduce the Federation to the twenty-four houses). Side bar: it’s mentioned that the Klingons have not been seen in a hundred years by the Federation, so it’s unknown yet how, when and where Burnham’s parents met their demise.
The episodes cut back and forth between the Shinzhou and the Klingon ship and its crew, led by T’Kuvma (Chris Obi), who is a bit of an outcast in Klingon society. In fact, his entire ship is full of “misfits” of the Klingon empire and he’s not even recognized by the heads of the Klingon counsel, so when he summons them to reveal his prophecy about the humans coming to them with their “we come in peace” bullshit, he’s derided but a few still want to hear what he has to say. With the Klingons, the design team led by Glenn Hetrick and Neville Page’s Alchemy Effects, strives to make each house of Klingon look a bit different, and many of T’Kuvma’s crew are also different in appearance including Voq, who has a much different, much paler skin color than the rest. As good science fiction does, here it seems the writers are already setting up the premise that while there are different races and there are others who look different than “the norm,” we’re all human (or Klingon in this case) and need to come together to achieve a goal. Unfortunately in this case, it means wiping out the Federation.
There’s a lot going on in the first two episodes, but the central figure is Burnham (and there is no reason given for her having a decidedly male first name, at least in the spelling). It is Burnham who draws first blood, effectively starting a war with the Klingons and then trying to figure out how to stop it from escalating. As the twenty-four Klingon ships appear, Burnham seeks the guidance of Sarek, asking how the Vulcans have avoided war with the Klingons since their earlier battle. Sarek’s revelation that the Vulcans now always fire first at a Klingon ship is their way of keeping the peace does not sit well with the Captain, leading Burnham to give her a Vulcan nerve pinch and basically commit mutiny. But before she can fire on the Klingon ship, the Captain belays the order and sends Burnham to the brig … and all hell breaks loose. And that’s just the first episode.
In episode two, Starfleet has arrived to lend support, but they are greatly out numbered and can’t match the Klingons’ weapons. The Shinzhou is badly damaged and Burnham is basically cut off from the rest of the ship as there are many hull breaches around her cell. But she does find a clever and logical way to get the computer to override her lockdown, and on the bridge she tells Captain Georgiou that killing T’Kuvma will only make him a martyr, so they have to get on that ship and bring him back as a prisoner to basically humiliate him in the eyes of the other Klingons. The women beam over, but are caught off guard by T’Kuvma and Voq, with Georgiou forced into hand-to-hand combat with T’Kuvma which ends with … her death! Surprise! Unfortunately, it also ends with T’Kuvma’s death when Burnham shoots him. Once Georgiou’s life signs are lost, Burnham is beamed back to the Shinzhou before she can retrieve the body. The episode ends with Burnham on trial for mutiny, sentenced to life in prison! And we have yet to see the USS Discovery! Or meet Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs). Lt. Stamets (Anthony Rapp), Cadet Tilly (Mary Wiseman) or Harry Mudd (Rainn Wilson).
From the episode three preview, which the producers are calling a pilot reset, we’re left to wonder how Burnham goes from life in prison to the halls of Discovery, and how the surviving members of her former Shinzhou crew, including Lt. Saru (Doug Jones), Lt. Tyler (Shazad Latif) and Dr. Nambue (Maulik Pancholy), will figure into the series and interact with the woman who was responsible for starting a war and getting their captain killed.
I know many (many, many) people are really angry about the CBS All Access decision, but let me tell you, the $5.99 you pay for a basic plan is worth every penny. CBS has spared no expense on this show, and it’s not something you’d see on a basic network. The details in the costumes and makeup, the eye popping production design and special effects, this is all Game of Thrones quality … and you pay a little extra for that. And to be clear, unlike subscribing to HBO through your cable provider, there is no contract with CBS All Access … watch the show and then cancel the subscription if you choose, but maybe you’ll find even more to like if you give it a shot (and every episode of every Trek series is also available). The first two episodes were gripping and dramatic, but with the huge twist at the end and the coming reset, it’s hard yet to judge how the rest of the series will play out. We know that the Federation / Klingon war will be the backdrop for the first season (which will have more serialized storytelling rather than the standard “mission of the week”) and the producers plan to lighten things up, explore and hold to Trek canon while introducing new aspects and we could quite possibly see references to classic Star Trek as the series takes place just a decade earlier than the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. All we have to hope for now is that the writing will match the high quality of the production itself.
Star Trek: Discovery is the second original series to debut on CBS All Access after The Good Fight (another excellent show) with three more in development, not to mention the live Big Brother feeds, including for this winter’s celebrity edition. I’m on board, and while it may be a tough sell at first, perhaps after hearing more about the season as it unfolds you just may decide to get on board as well.
What did you think of the the show? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.