All in all, the first season of Star Trek: Discovery was something of a roller coaster. While the series has a lot going for it, there are a number things the show has to work on moving forward. We haven’t given up hope that it can fix these problems; both The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine started out poorly, and flourished into great shows eventually. For Discovery, the potential for greatness is still there. Here is what Discovery got right in season one, as well as what it got wrong.
What Star Trek: Discovery Got Right
The foundation of every Star Trek series is always its cast, from the original series on down. Discovery is no different. Sonequa Martin-Green as Michael Burnham is a great main character from the moment she is introduced in the two-part pilot as a flawed and complex series lead. Doug Jones’ Saru is a welcome addition to the company of beloved Trek aliens, and is the one character who is almost always written well.As for the rest of the cast: Anthony Rapp as Lt. Stamets is endearingly grouchy, and Sylvia Wiseman as Cadet Tilly always brings a welcome bubbly joy to even the most dire episodes. As far as the Captains go, both Jason Isaacs as Captain Lorca and Michelle Yeoh as Philippa Georgiou manage to win you over whether they’re playing good or evil. While I may wish this cast were given better material to work with (we’ll get to that), I am never in doubt of their talents.
Let’s be completely honest: Star Trek has never been the most visually stunning of sci-fi franchises. No Trek fan has ever topped their list of favorite elements of the franchise with a commendation of the special effects. But Discovery is maybe the first Star Trek series to truly take advantage of a decent SFX budget. In fact, the series holds up even to the recent slew of Star Trek feature films. Whatever else I might think of this show, it consistently looks gorgeous.
What Star Trek: Discovery Got Wrong
As great as the cast on Discovery is, they can’t make up for some truly bad writing. This is an issue that affects every member of this ensemble, starting with the lead, Michael Burnham. Ostensibly, this series was supposed to be about Burnham’s journey from Starfleet’s first ever mutineer to decorated officer by the end of season one. But it wasn’t really much of journey; Burnham may not have had the rank, but she was never really treated differently by the crew of Discovery. During the first season, she gets a best friend, the respect of her captain and crewmates, and even a boyfriend.
Speaking of her boyfriend, the writing was equally wonky in regards to Lt. Ash Tyler ( Shazad Latif), the Klingon/human sleeper agent who falls in love with Michael despite his mission aboard the Discovery. For starters, Tyler never suffered believably severe ramifications for the murder of Wilson Cruz’s Dr. Culber (more on that later), roaming the ship freely thereafter and not even getting too harsh a reaction from Cruz’s life partner Lt. Stamets. Just as vexing is when Ash confronts Burnham about why she doesn’t want to date him anymore, he actually suggests to her it’s because “she’s afraid to love.” No, it probably had something to do with the time you tried to strangle her. (C’mon, guys. You can do better by these characters.)
To that end, the show relies on surprise twists and deus ex machina plot contrivances way too much. The fact that the final episode of the season found the resolution to the season-long Klingon war, which is described as having nearly devastated the Federation to the brink of collapse, by having a character drop a doohickey down a well is, I must say, pretty laughable.
Although the writers of Discovery love to talk about how they are respecting the overall Star Trek canon with Discovery, the truth is: they really don’t seem to care. If this show were a complete reboot like the J.J. Abrams movies, that would be one thing, but the producers keep trying to sell the established fanbase on the idea that the series “fits” into established canon of the five previous television series. In season one, despite a few name drops here and there, the show flies in the face of tradition completely. The Klingons don’t look like any Klingons we’ve ever seen before, and the aesthetic of Starfleet is totally different from what was established for the time period in the Star Trek universe.
What with 50 years of special effects advancements, no one expected the Discovery to look exactly like the Enterprise circa “The Cage.” But for an example of how to bridge these gaps correctly, look at Star Wars. Rogue One came out some 40 years after A New Hope, yet takes place at the same time. Yes, the effects are obviously much more advanced in Rogue One, but you can play that film and A New Hope right after the other, and it works. Why? Because the filmmakers went out of their way to make sure that aesthetically, they lived in the same world. The same is true of Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049, two films separated by 35 years. And now the beloved original Enterprise has rolled in at the end of Discovery’s first season….and it looks far different from what we remember. Either make the effort to make it work, or just say it’s a reboot. But stop lying to the fanbase about it.
Those were the ups and downs we experienced while watching Discovery‘s first season. What were some of yours? Be sure to chime in with your thoughts down below in the comments.
More from the final frontier
- The 12 most essential episodes of Deep Space Nine
- Drunk History takes on Nichelle Nichols
- Star Trek: TNG as written by a predictive keyboard is hilarious
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