Star Trek: Discovery

⭐⭐⭐½ based on 2 reviews.

tl;dr: A bold new direction for a beloved franchise. It falters a little, but the characters it creates are interesting and the stories are solidly entertaining. For fans, a worthy watch; for everyone else, enjoyable enough.

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Star Trek

Season One

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

I'm not a Trekkie by any means. I've watched bits of the original series, TNG, DS9, and even Voyager, sure, but it's always been sporadic. The only time I've ever committed to a series was the last time they tried to "bring Star Trek back" with Enterprise and even then I don't think I watched more than a single season. Despite that, I've always enjoyed the Star Trek universe and the ideals it holds to, so when they announced a return to those stories on Netflix I was quite excited. At least the budget would be there, and maybe they could take in a new direction.

Well, I'd definitely say a new direction has been attempted. Discovery is a narrative-driven drama rather than an episodic, "monster of the week" type deal, which I actually think was a good move. That they've set the main characters within the midst of the Klingon wars also provides a different look at Starfleet outside their normal emphasis of peace and friendship. It also means we get to dive into Klingon culture, which I think has been a solid decision. Others may not like the "new look" Klingons, but I actually think they've done it quite well, and overall the world-building is on point.

Similarly, with (yet another) Vulcan/Human character – even if she is biologically fully human, she has clearly embraced her Vulcan upbringing pretty completely – we get some nuance to the role that the Vulcan civilisation is playing in the ongoing disputes. I'm not sure I needed her to be Spock's half-sister, though; that feels a little contrived.

Still, the season starts with a (literal) bang and an intriguing premise. It's a bit overdone but it serves to cement the Klingons as a legitimate threat and provides a good introduction to both the Discovery and her crew, as well as Micheal herself. For the most part, I really enjoy the characters that they've created as well. Michael is a little irritating at times, but I absolutely love Saru (both from a creature design perspective and as a character), Tilly started off a little annoying but warmed on me throughout the season, and the Stamets/Hugh relationship is brilliant. I still don't know how I feel about Hugh's death, but it was well done and extremely emotional, so it didn't feel tokenistic at least. And then there's Captain Lorca. The first half of the show presents him as a compelling and nuanced character, someone befitting his military position but who still appears to idealise the core tenents of Starfleet.

But then the mid-season twist hits. I think, by the end of the run, I'm okay with the direction they took. Not being a huge Trekkie means I didn't know the "mirror universe" was a thing, very much considered canon. That fact does make the second half of the season much more acceptable, and it's well-paced with plenty of tension, as well as giving us some very useful character development arcs. Tilly, in particular, grows tremendously as a result of everything that happens and that feels positive. Still, the show gets significantly better when we get back to the prime universe and the Klingon war.

Which ultimately brings us to the conclusion. I enjoyed the evolution of the Klingon prophet, Voq, and how that all became caught up with Tyler, L'Rell, and Burnham herself, and I thought they ended that arc well. The positioning of Starfleet as being happy to take part in genocide is a little disturbing, but this show has been about the darker side of their philosophy so it felt fitting enough. Still, with some rocky moments, it's hardly a plotline to really go out on and I hope that season two sees them deviate considerably from where the show has already been. Boldly go and all that...

Season Two

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

After a slightly confusing first season, the Discovery crew return with a solid second outing. The war is over, the mirror universe all but a memory – even if mirror Georgiou is still knocking around – and we've got a new captain in Pike. The show is all the better for it. Pike is a great character and I thoroughly enjoyed his arc; he's far more traditional Starfleet than anything we've seen so far, and the makes him a useful foil against the Section 31 crew. Again, my lack of deep knowledge on the universe meant that Section 31 were new to me – and again knowing they are a consistent part of canon makes their actions and appearance a lot more acceptable – as was Pike. Now that I know he was the "original" captain in the pilot episode, I actually really like their decision to use him. It's a nice piece of universe building and fan service all in one.

As for the new plot and introduction of Spock, I actually enjoyed both quite a lot. I don't think there's anything groundbreaking or particularly revolutionary here, but as time travel tales go it was interesting and allowed the show to really built out several characters by being a slow-burn in the background. In particular, the deep dive into Saru's back story and home planet were fascinating, and I thought the Sphere was an interesting take on the Watcher/Ego/Pandora style concepts of planet-sized intelligences that devote their immortality to observation. I also really enjoyed the teases and ultimate revelation around the Red Angel, even if it was a bit telegraphed and corny.

Plus, whilst I had been a bit annoyed by Burnham being Spock's step-brother, I actually really liked his inclusion this season. Not only did he make sense of Pike's involvement – giving us even more fan service by way of the Enterprise popping up from time-to-time – but he was extremely well-acted and a genuinely interesting part of the overarching story that felt like it was beneficial both to the show and Spock as a character overall. In hindsight, I'm also very glad they addressed the whole "Spock's relative but we never see Spock" thing head-on and just incorporated him, as I think two seasons of "offscreen" references would be a bit much. I'm not sure we needed the whole Burnham/Spock hatred plotline but I also didn't hate it, so it gets a pass.

I also enjoyed the Control arc as a rampant AI, especially as it helped tie together the signals and everything else going on. Is it a bit of a tired trope to have time-travelling heroes journey back to stop the emergence of a universe-ending artificial intelligence? Sure, but it was still fun and it worked neatly alongside Section 31 and Tyler's inclusion, as well as giving us some pretty huge stakes which kept the pace moving forward. Similarly, the revelations around the mycelium network felt fairly well done and helped explain away why this technology is lacking from other series even though they are set in the future. If that also meant we got a fairly heartbreaking, emotional rollercoaster that gave us back Hugh, well, I'm all on board. I normally hate retcons like this but he was such a great character that I was excited to see him return.

Basically, Discovery took the bits that I felt worked from the first season and made them more of the focus, whilst coming up with some entertaining new stories that helped develop characters in new ways. I'm excited by where the show concluded and think they've set up a great premise for the next season to be a little more introspective and more calmly paced; I hope they follow through with that promise.

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