Star Trek: Discovery – “The Vulcan Hello”

It’s been twelve-years since we had a Star Trek series. What does 2017’s Star Trek: Discovery bring to the family?

Cast & Crew

Sonequa Martin-Green as Michael Burnham
Michelle Yeoh as Captain Phillipa Georgiou
Doug Jones as Lt. Saru

Directed by David Semel

Written by Bryan FullerAlex Kurtzman, and Akiva Goldsman

More…

Summary

While patrolling Federation space, the U.S.S. Shenzhou encounters an object of unknown origin, putting First Officer Michael Burnham to her greatest test yet.

High Points

  • Visuals are gorgeous
  • Bridge crew banter
  • Michelle Yeoh

Low Points

  • Lt. Saru is already annoying me
  • Burnham makes Kira Nerys seem level-headed
  • It feels like scenes were cut for time and/or things are rushed
  • Burnham leaves sick bay, risking her life, when there’s probably a comm button mere feet away
  • No actual Discovery in the pilot episode
  • CBS AllAccess. Seriously, this blows

Review

It’s not going to blow you away, but it’s decent. Let’s face, no Star Trek series is ever good right out of the gate. They always need to find their footing after a season or two. That said, there are some underlying concerns here. This is a show about Michael Burnham. Not the crew of the Shenzou (or the Discovery whenever they decide to reveal the titular ship). And that focus may well be the undoing of the show.

Star Trek has always been best when it’s about the ensemble, the crew, the family. The Shenzou feels like a family with Georgiou at the head as the tough-but-fun mom. There’s playful banter between everyone except Burnham. Even though she’s the XO, she feels like an outsider. Eventually she and Saru start to have some more interesting moments, but it’s clear the rest of the cast are expendable extras. And speaking of Saru, how does anyone that cowardly get to be a Starfleet officer, let alone one on starship? Exploration is not for the faint of heart. Remember, we’re supposed to be “boldly going” places not “Oh no, something’s suspicious! Run!” I understand the long tradition of the Planet of Hats in Star Trek, but making the hat “cowardice” feels like a bad idea (at least for a recurring character). Maybe they’re setting him up for an arc, but since it’s been explicitly stated that this is Burnham’s story, I don’t know.

And since the POV is supposed to be Burnham’s, the jumps from her to the Klingons are just jarring. If they want to go with 3rd-Person POV, then they should stick to it. Nothing was really revealed in the Klingon scenes, so more time spent on the Shenzou would have been a more effective use of time.

There is a lot going on in the pilot and no time is spent exploring anything. There’s a robot of some kind on the bridge. Why? What’s it doing other than moving and flashing during jump cuts? What’s up with these Klingons? How in tune with the universe is Sarek that he can sit on a desk as a hologram? Is there going to be a massive shortage of blue fabric in the next ten years so as to cause Starfleet to completely redo their uniforms?

OK, enough complaining. There are some good things. The visuals really are fantastic. There are shots that rival what we’ve seen in the recent movies. CBS did not skimp on this part of the show. Clearly they watched BSG and The Expanse and wanted to go big on the look.

And, despite my confusion, I am intrigued enough to watch the rest of the season to get some of these questions answered. Am I intrigued enough to pay extra just to watch one show? No. Matthew has volunteered to review the rest of the season, since he gets it as part of his Netflix package in the UK. I will probably grab a subscription once the season is complete and binge it straight through (and I get the sense that this show will be heavily serialized, so it may be the best way to watch it).

It’s not the Star Trek that we’re used to. Admittedly, TNG wasn’t the Star Trek we were used to when it rolled out, so I’m willing to reserve any broader judgement on it.

Scores

Originality: Well, it’s definitely different in tone and look from other Star Trek series but the story, thus far, isn’t well-defined enough to tell if it’s something new or not. Maybe that, in and of itself, is something new. 5/6

Effects: Very good looking effects. The Shenzou is nice looking ship in the tradition of Starfleet ships of old. 6/6

Production: The sets looks pretty good. It does not jibe with the fact that it’s ten years before TOS. I miss the color-coded uniforms for duties. I know they are here, but it’s so faint, you can’t tell. 4/6

Story: I’m genuinely confused as

all get-out as to what’s going on. Maybe it’s my brain trying to reconcile it with other Star Trek series. 3/6

Acting: It’s well-acted, at all levels. I can’t fault the producers for their casting job. I hope Michelle Yeoh is able to stay around on the show, because she’s becoming one of my favorite captains. 6/6

Emotional Response: I have to admit to being genuinely wound up about the story. I’m not sure if it was because I was into the characters or just a general “please don’t suck, please don’t suck, please don’t suck” nausea. 4/6

Overall: An OK start that teases you into wanting more (and buying a subscription). 4/6

Total: 32/42

22 replies on “Star Trek: Discovery – “The Vulcan Hello””

  1. JD DeLuzio says:

    Fortunately, on the Canadian side of the border, you don’t need a special subscription to watch Discovery.

    I agree, in the main: it has great visuals and promise– and some strong performances.

    But why, why, why are they setting it ten years before Kirk? The tech is more advanced. The design is different. The Klingons have been completed redesigned, far more than they were between TOS and the later series. If this takes place when they say it does, Spock is already serving aboard the Enterprise with Captain Pike. This isn’t remotely a depiction of that era, even allowing for improved effects.

    Why not just say this is a retooled, rebooted Star Trek, rather than shoehorn it into a timeline where it doesn’t belong? It’s what the franchise has needed, IMO, and the series would be better without the “prequel” expectations.

    • Brian says:

      The whole prequel thing is just something we’re going to have to learn to just accept from Hollywood. They insist on doing it, regardless of the giant mess it makes for fandom. It sounds like this story line would work just as well post DS9/Voyager (without Sarek, of course). There’s really no need for this to be a prequel.

      • And is there a particularly compelling reason for it to be Sarek? Wouldn’t any other Vulcan interchangeable, from a story perspective?

        As for why it has to be a prequel, I would suppose they want to use the Klingon temperament and the Federation/Klingon political structure, which we don’t see after Voyager. They could have used Romulans, but they’re less “action scene” and more deceptive subterfuge.

        • Brian says:

          My understanding is that this is supposed to be a long-lost house (hence the difference in look/culture). And that could still be handled post-Voyager. There was nothing (so far) that required Burnham’s foster father to be Sarek, other than being a touchstone for us fans.

          There must be some marketing voodoo that makes prequels so appealing. Outside of First King of Shannara, I haven’t found a prequel that was compelling.

    • zocalo says:

      Obviously only a first impression, but pretty non-plussed by it here; visually *very* nice, but I have to concur with every single negative point in the review and comments so far, especially about the prequel-itis/place in the timeline and Saru. Were I in the US, there’s no way I’d be paying CBS’s AllAccess fees just for this (maybe if I liked NCIS or some other CBS shows).

      I’m going to cut them some slack and assume they’re setting up some backstory for a story arc – the first season is supposedly two “chapters” or some such, one airing this year the other next. Likewise, I’m assuming the Sarek thing will serve some kind of purpose later – and I definitely want some kind of explanation as to why Spock never mentioned Burnham. As noted, it’s heavily serialised and Trek can take a while to find its stride, so I’m going to at least wait out the first “chapter” before forming any lasting opinions.

      Except about Saru. That character needs a do-over, and quickly.

      • I don’t get the Saru hate. He was an antagonist to Michael, but he didn’t strike me as being that horrible.

        • zocalo says:

          For me, it was the combination of the dual implausibilty of the sense of imminent death and the implications for predestination that implies combined with the liklihood that someone whose first instinct when confronted the unknown is to run away. On either a military or science/exploration ship that’s a bad career fit that shouldn’t even result in recruitment, let alone promotion to be the senior team member (I’m assuming there are multiple science staff). Yes, the Shenzhou is several years old and presumably not the state of the art so might not qualify for the top tier candidates, but it’s still too much of a stretch.

          • My wife and I had a discussion about the “Death Sense”. I hated hearing that in the trailer, but in the episode, the line was different. I don’t have it handy to review, but in the episode, it came off less as a “We know death is close” and more as “My species was prey. Being prey, but still evolving, we got better at knowing when a situation was dangerous and would lead to our death. I feel like I am in danger now.” Sort of like a sailor saying “I feel a change in the wind, storm’s-a-comin’!” That made a lot more sense to me than a predestination death sense.

  2. Vulch says:

    The bridge of the Shenzhou seemed far too big. The Constitution class were supposed to be the biggest ships in service but only had room for quite a small bridge. And the comments I’ve seen saying that the two episodes so far are roughly the equivalent of the pre-credits scene of the Battle of Wolf 359 in the DS-9 pilot seem spot on.

  3. Jethro says:

    I enjoyed it. I’m sad Michelle Yeoh was only a guest star, but hey.

    One thing that bugged me about the Klingons wasn’t the way they looked. It was the language. Every single actor sounded like they were really struggling with it, and they made the language sound a lot less harsh than it should’ve been.

  4. Brian says:

    Well, I’ll say one thing for Discovery, it’s sparked a discussion!

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