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COPYRIGHT WARNING: Star Trek Discovery, the featured image, and all images in this article are not public domain. They are used under fair use law.
Also, MAJOR SPOILER WARNING for Star Trek: Discovery.
This post will be a bit of a departure from my previous technical articles. Sadly, I only have one domain, so anything I want to blog about has to go here. Maybe if I can amass the budget I'll start a separate blog about media.
I believe that what really matters in a fictional production is twofold: how much you enjoy it and what you learn from it. How much a story fits into the established "canon" of previous stories is irrelevant unless it affects one's overall enjoyment of the story. In fact, it might be best to ignore canon when it is better for enjoyment of the show,
That being said, as a fan of Star Trek, I enjoyed Star Trek: Discovery. There were a few things I didn't like, but they didn't ruin the show for me. A lot of other people, though, disliked it,
When the first trailer for Star Trek: Discovery dropped, it was bombarded by negative comments online. Some people didn't like the fact that the trailer focused on the action, where Star Trek was known for focusing on moral dilemmas. Some people didn't like the change of appearance to make the show look more modern, as it broke the established appearance. Other, possibly racist fans simply decried the diversity of the show.
But no mention was made of the fact that a trailer scarcely reflects the quality of the show, that Star Trek has changed many times before, and that Star Trek has been very diverse since Deep Space Nine and has tried to do so even before that.
So, no one could tell how good Discovery was going to be until it came out. And for many in the Americas, including myself, they wouldn't be able to tell until afterwards, because it was a CBS All Access exclusive in the United States. Ultimately, I got to watch the first two episodes on a trip to Switzerland (where it was available on Netflix) and the other thirteen on DVD just recently.
Most people expected it to fail, and believing that a production will be terrible before you watch it negatively affects your perception of the show. So people thought it would fail, and then they saw it, and then they hated it.
On the other hand, I didn't expect Discovery to fail. In fact, I didn't know about it until a trip to Switizerland, where I saw it on Netflix, and my only preconception was that Star Trek, a very good show in the past, was back. I ended up enjoying it.
I will now describe, to the best of my ability, the main plot threads of this season and my thoughts on them; plot descriptions might be innacurate, as they are based on my memory. Spoilers begin here.
From the start, it was apparent that Star Trek: Discovery was going to be much different from previous shows. The premiere episode "The Vulcan Hello" reminded me somewhat of the Voyager premiere, "Caretaker", in that it established that the show would be different. In the episode, the crew of the U. S. S. Shenzhou discovers a mysterious artifact in space which is impervious to their sensors. Commander Michael Burnham discovers that the artifact is in fact a Klingon monument. She is then attacked by a Klingon warrior, whom she kills in self-defense. Meanwhile, a Klingon, T'Kuvma, attempts to unite the Klingon Houses in an alliance against the Federation, and meets an albino Klingon named Voq, who he names Torchbearer.
Returning to the Shenzhou, Burnham consults with her foster father, Sarek (the very same Sarek who was Spock's father). Burnham learns that the Vulcans fire on Klingon ships whenever they make contact, as a show of honor in battle, believing that Klingons will fire first if they don't. Burnham tries to convince Captain Georgiou to fire, but she scoffs at the idea, so Burnham attempts a mutiny. When she is stopped, several Klingon ships decloak, including the Klingon Ship-of-the-Dead which becomes important later on.
That's when the episode ends. It's a cliffhanger, leading into the next episode. I'm not sure if I like that. On one hand, it established the format of this new show - where, at least in the first season, the entire season is one long story, with lots of twists, and focuses on a science officer rather than a ship's captain. It also established that the visuals of the new series would be more impressive than any previous production, possibly even the J. J, Abrams movies. On the other hand, I feel like the next episode, "Battle at the Binary Stars" wasn't very independent as an episode, and in fact was more of "The Vulcan Hello, Part 2". As series premieres go, though, it's pretty good.
In the aforementioned next episode, the Shenzhou fights a futile battle against the Klingon armada, and Michael Burnham is released from the brig for her own safety. Returning to the Shenzhou's bridge, she convinces Captain Georgiou to capture T'Kuvma so that he may become a symbol of defeat rather than a saint or a martyr. They fail, however, and Burnham kills T'Kuvma in self-defense after Georgiou is killed. Burnham pleads guilty for mutiny and is sentenced to prison for life, ending the opening arc.
Six months later, Burnham is aboard a shuttle being transferred out of prison. When that shuttle is attacked by power-draining creatures, the shuttle's captain dies trying to remove them, but then the shuttle is picked up by a tractor beam belonging to the titular Discovery.
Apparently, Captain Gabriel Lorca wanted Burnham as a science officer the whole time. Burnham doesn't want to accept the role, believing that she should complete her time in prison. She is also suspicious of Lorca, following a series of top-secret Black Alert tests involving Proximates stellavatori spores. When she confronts Lorca, he reveals that Starfleet is testing spore drive, a new propulsion technology by Chief Engineer Paul Stamets that could hypothetically take the ship anywhere in the universe.
Soon afterwards, the Discovery's sister ship is found floating in space. The entire crew is dead, but they find a "tardigrade" inside the ship, which they capture, and discover that they can use it to gain increased control over the spore drive.
Eventually, though, the crew discovers that the spore drive is hurting the tardigrade, and that it will die if Discovery continues to use it. The only way to pilot it is to inject a human with the animal's DNA, which is impossible because genetic modification is illegal in the Federation. Chief Engineer Stamets secretly injects himself with the DNA, adversely affecting his health, but allowing him to pilot the spore drive.
The spore drive could have turned out like the enhanced dilithium seen in Voyager's much-maligned' "Threshold", with a lack of meaningful continuity. It didn't, and that's great. I liked the way the drive was used in Discovery. On the other hand, sometimes the uses of the spore drive felt cheesy, especially later in the series when mirror universe Stamets was discovered to be depleting the plane which the spores are native to.
In episode 9, "Into The Forest I Go," Stamets falls into a coma after piloting the spore drive into the Mirror Universe, an alternate reality first seen in the original Star Trek. The Mirror Universe is ruled by the evil Terran Empire, created by human fascists who believed that the only way to protect the human race from alien invasions was to conquer. They were ultimately defeated in the 24th century by a defensive alliance between Klingons and Cardassians.
Discovery is a prequel, so we get to see more of the Terran Empire before its defeat. In the mirror universe, Cadet Sylvia Tilly (one of the series' best characters, by the way) is actually Captain of the Discovery, and Captain Lorca is a fugitive wanted for Burnham's disappearance an attempted coup against the Terran empress, who is actually the Shenzhou's Captian Georgiou.
The Discovery crew disguises as their mirror universe counterparts, and Burnham takes command of the ISS Shenzhou (which she was apparently Captain of prior to disappearance). There, she is instructed to wipe out a group of rebels which includes the counterparts of Sarek and the Klingon torchbearer Voq. Instead, she warns them and asks them to evacuate before the Terrans attack, but Empress Georgiou appears in order to wipe them out, and calls Burnham to the palace ship Charon, where Georgiou reveals that the difference between Mirror Universe humans and other humans was that they were more light sensitive, which she suddenly realizes is also true of Captain Lorca. Captain Lorca rescues several allies from their torture chambers and prepares to kill the Empress.
Meanwhile, Stamets' soul is trapped on the Mycelial Plane, the native universe of Proximates stellavatori. He meets his mirror-universe self and an echo of Hugh, the now-dead medical officer of Discovery, who warns him than mirror Stamets has spread a disease into the plane. Apparently, if the plane is destroyed, all life in all universes will cease to exist (this isn't quite fully explained). Discovery subsequently prepares to attack the place ship Charon, where mirror Stamets' experiments have been occuring.
Burnham is ordered by Discovery to disable the containment field surrounding the Charon's spore drive, so she takes Empress Georgiou into the throne room and pretends to be an ally of Lorca's. She causes a battle between Georgiou's and Lorca's forces and uses the distraction to disable the containment field. Lorca is thrown into the spore drive and mirror Georgiou is transported to Discovery along with Burnham. Stamets pilots the spore drive back into the prime universe, only to realize that he's also travelled nine months into the future, and the Klingons are closing in on Earth, having taken over all of the Federation's starbases.
This plotline is good, but I feel that it's a bit weaker than the other elements of the story. The twist about Lorca is weakened because another twist about Lieutenant Ash Tyler was presented simultaneously, and it's hard to be excited about both. Additionally, the plot about the Charon's spore drive being a threat to all life in all universes felt rather cheesy.
The Federation-Klingon War is the main element of this season. Apparently the events of "Battle at the Binary Stars" led to a full-scale war against the Klingons. After T'Kuvma's death and the disappearance of his successor Voq, a Klingon named Kol leads the armada, and has no intention of keeping the Klingons unified.
Discovery uses its spore drive to defeat the Klingons at an important dilithium mining planet. Subsequently, Lorca finds himself captured along with con man Harry Mudd and Shenzhou lieutenant Ash Tyler. They escape and beam to Discovery, but Mudd is left behind. He later returns to attempt revenge on the crew. Ash Tyler is integrated into the Discovery crew.
Meanwhile, the Federation's continued attempts at dialogue are futile, and only result in the death of more officers. Admiral Cornwell, Captain Lorca's superior, is captured.
Saru, Burnham, and Ash Tyler form a landing party which attempts to use a powerful transmitter on the planet Pahvo to discover cloaked ships. The Pahvans mind-control Saru to convince them to stay, but Burnham manages to reach the transmitter alone. The mission ends with the Pahvans calling the Klingons to them, not realizing that doing so would create another confrontation with the Klingons. Burnham and Tyler beam to the Klingon Ship-of-the-Dead to plant sensors on it and rescue Admiral Cornwell. Simultaneously, Stamets completes 133 small jumps with the spore drive in order to expose the Klingon ship.
Burnham attempts a dialogue with Kol using her communicator's universal translator, eventually leading to a batleth duel which is cut short by a transport to the DIscovery. Ash Tyler's torturer, L'Rell, is also in the transport. Afterwards, in an attempt to go to a starbase, Discovery instead ends up in the mirror universe.
While in the mirror universe, L'Rell performs a Klingon prayer with Ash Tyler, and he begins to have unusual flashbacks. Chief Medical Officer Hugh discovers that his body has been altered, and then Ash instinctively kills him. When he meets the Klingon torchbearer Voq from the mirror universe, he realizes that he, in fact, is Voq, having transformed himself into a human spy. L'Rell decides to allow him to continue as Ash Tyler rather than turn him back into the Klingon.
When the crew finally returns from the mirror universe, they end up nine months in the future. Without the intelligence on the Klingons' cloaking device, the Federation has suffered repeated losses to the Klingons, who are no longer unified and are closing in on Earth. Admiral Cornwell places mirror universe Georgiou at the helm of a mission to the Klingon home planet Qo'noS in a desperate attempt to turn the tide of war. Discovery makes a jump to a cave beneath the surface of the planet. Cadet Tilly, Specialist Burnham, and Georgiou go to the surface and attempt to find a shrine at which a probe will be dropped. Georgiou's backhanded tactics are the most successful, getting her to the shrine. Tilly is lost and realizes she's inhaled volcanic fumes, and also that the probe being sent below the surface is in fact a bomb which would render the planet uninhabitable. Burnham and Tilly stop "Captain" Georgiou from detonating the bomb, instead giving it to L'Rell so that she may unify the Klingon tribes and end the war.
This plot thread was very well-executed. Like Deep Space Nine before it, Star Trek: Discovery deals with war rather well; rather than glorifying it, it tries to deal with the moral issues involved. It's hard to beat Deep Space Nine, though.
I haven't yet mentioned the great acting and characterization throughout the show. I particularly liked the characters of Paul Stamets and Sylvia Tilly, who had some depth of character despite not having a large role in the main story.
Though Discovery might have seemed at first like an action piece failing to imitate the likes of Star Wars and the Avengers, it actually continued to do what Star Trek does best. It is a decent exploration of war and its consequences, supported by a large but (mostly) well-developed cast of characters. It has a number of problems, as most first seasons do, but for a first season it holds up quite well. It's different, but different in a good way. I am excited to see Season 2 when it becomes available on DVD.