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Star Trek: Discovery isn't amazing


It's fair to say I'm a Star Trek fan. I've watched most of the shows and all the films, except Voyager (which was incredibly boring IMO). Deep Space 9 is probably my favorite show, followed by either The Next Generation or Enterprise. I might write another post about how great Enterprise is at some point, because honestly, it gets too much hate.

But that's not what this post is about. Today, I want to share my thoughts about the latest entry in the long-running franchise - Star Trek: Discovery. This is a show that had very high expectations, as it was the first Trek show in over a decade (since ST: Enterprise ended in 2005). Discovery is set 10 years before the original series, and revolves around the crew of the USS Discovery in the middle of a war between the Federation (aka United Nations in space) and the Klingon Empire (the bad guys).


This isn't going to be an actual review of the show, more of a rant about my complaints with it. If you're looking for a well-rounded review, look somewhere else. As of the time of writing, there have been five episodes released.

What I like

The first thing that stuck out while watching the first episode, 'The Vulcan Hello,' was the production value. The sets are incredibly detailed, the special effects and CGI are great, and the makeup/costume design is fantastic. The show's main theme (at least the music) is also good.

Despite what many seem to believe, I don't think this show is in any way a 'cash grab.' Sure, it's exclusive to CBS All Access instead of airing on normal TV, but 'cash grab' implies the show's quality is a low priority. Instead, there is a clear attention to detail, like CBS hiring 'fact checkers' to make sure Discovery's episodes followed existing Trek canon. CBS could have ignored all past material, especially since reboots are popular in Hollywood these days, but they didn't. The writing, for the most part, has been pretty good.

Also, the cast is excellent. To my knowledge, I haven't seen any of the main characters in any other shows or movies before, except Sonequa Martin-Green (Michael Burnham) from The Walking Dead. Everyone has been pretty great so far, especially Martin-Green, Jason Isaacs (Captain Lorca), and Michelle Yeoh (Captain Georgiou).

The war and backstory

My main complaint with Discovery is the show's main focus - war. While I'm not opposed to the idea of a war-centric Trek show in theory, since some of my favorite sci-fi (The Expanse, Battlestar Galactica) is centered around conflict, but it seems poorly executed here. Let me explain.

[spoilers for Deep Space 9 ahead]

There have been a few war-related story arcs in Star Trek before. The best example is the Dominion War from Deep Space 9, which was the primary story arc from seasons 3-7 (most of the direct conflict occurred in the last two). I think some of the war episodes are among the best Trek episodes to date. Some of my favorites include In the Pale Moonlight, What You Leave Behind, and Sacrifice of Angels.

In DS9, we can clearly see the effects of the war on the station's inhabitants, as their personalities and outlooks change drastically. DS9's serial format meant that the war's events had longing effects on the main characters, whereas The Next Generation and Voyager often disregarded previous events with every episode.


One of the show's most popular scenes (shown above) has Captain Sisko making a log entry at the end of In The Pale Moonlight. It's a great example of how the Dominion War influenced DS9's characters. Sisko, one of Starfleet's finest officers, resorted to lying, cheating, and killing two innocent people to win the war.

[end spoilers for Deep Space 9]

But there's a huge difference between DS9's Dominion War and Discovery's Klingon War. While DS9 had 3-4 seasons of character development and lore building before the war broke out, Discovery had about 20 minutes. We don't see a pre-war Federation, or any other ships, or most of the characters that become the main cast. There is a short mission on a pre-warp planet, then the USS Shenzhou flies to a relay satellite to repair some damage. That's where they find a Klingon ship, with the war breaking out shortly afterward.

We do get flashbacks of Michael's past, but it's mostly just for her character development, and doesn't reflect what the Federation is like. Discovery is almost akin to watching a World War I documentary without knowing anything about Europe in the 1800s and early 1900s; we know what happens after it, but not so much what the pre-war world was like.

You might expect that, at the very least, previous Star Trek shows or movies would fill in the story gaps. You'd be wrong. The closest piece of media preceding Discovery's first episode in chronological order is 'These Are the Voyages,' the finale of Enterprise that aired in 2005. That episode takes place in the year 2161, while Discovery starts in 2256. That's a gap of 104 years.

There are established events during that gap, like the creation of the Federation and a war with the Romulan Empire, but they are never shown on screen. The original series takes place 10 years after Discovery, so we have to assume that the Alpha Quadrant is similar to how it was in the original show, but we don't know for sure. I think Discovery, at the very least, should have had a few episodes leading up to the Klingon war.

The environments

Another issue I have with Discovery is the environments. On most previous Trek shows, it would be incredibly common for the crew to visit other planets (often on 'away missions'). Deep Space 9 is the exception, since the bulk of the show took place on the massive space station of the same name.

As of the fifth episode ('Choose Your Pain'), the entire show has mostly taken place on starships. This includes the USS Shenzhou and USS Discovery, two Klingon ships, and the abandoned USS Glenn. The Discovery and Glenn are sister ships, with the same sets used for both. We've seen the main bridge of one Klingon ship, and one prison room in another.

The USS Discovery bridge.

Don't get me wrong, the ship sets are very well done. But in most scenes, they are dimly-lit. What's the point of CBS building these awesome ships when they're dark all the time? Voyager had this problem too.

This argument might seem nitpicky, especially since we've only seen five episodes so far, and there could be several episodes this season taking place on planets. But so far, there's not much discovery going on for a show called Discovery.

The technology

Ships in the Star Trek universe typically have two modes of transportation. There's the 'Impulse drive,' which pushes a ship slowly along, and 'Warp drive,' which pushes the vessel to faster-than-light speeds for interstellar travel. A main plot point in Star Trek: Discovery has been the development of another from of transportation - the 'Spore Drive.'


I''ll save you the in-universe technical explanation, but it allows the Discovery to jump from one place to another instantly. But this has one main problem - it makes the ship overpowered.

The Spore Drive is never seen in future Starfleet ships, because I'm willing to bet it will be rendered useless in a future episode of Discovery. There's a biological component involved (either a mutated Tardigrade or a human with injected Tardigrade DNA), so maybe the Federation will decide it doesn't want to use animals or people to power the drive. There's also a chance that adverse affects could be discovered that make the drive unsafe, like how Warp Drive was discovered to be damaging a region of space in Force of Nature.

Anyways, back to the overpowered complaint. The entire Klingon war is being led by an individual named Kol. Why not use the drive to jump directly to his ship, bomb it, and jump away? There, war over, everyone can go home.

The Klingons

Klingons have undergone several visual changes over the course of Trek's history. For the most part, no in-universe explanation has been given for each change. In one episode of Deep Space 9, Worf (and others) were transported back in time to an episode of the original show, where he was directly asked why he looked different from the Klingons of the era. He simply replied, "We don't discuss it with outsiders."


Once again, Discovery has brand new Klingons that look entirely different, again with no explanation given (so far). The new design is a pretty radical departure from the other incarnations, and honestly, they don't look bad at all.

A Klingon from Star Trek: Discovery

My issue with the show's Klingons is actually with their scenes. There have been scenes in several episodes that take place on Klingon ships with the Klingons talking to each other. Instead of making them speak English, like on every other Star Trek show, CBS has opted to make them speak in their native language with subtitles.

This, put simply, was a horrible decision. It would be acceptable if the scenes only lasted a minute or less, but they often drag out for much longer. Who wants to read words on the screen for 10 minutes at a time?

Conclusion

All of my points might seem like nitpicking, but it's because I don't think there's any reason for Star Trek: Discovery to be anything but incredible. There's something of a golden age for sci-fi television going on right now. Syfy's The Expanse, HBO's Westworld, and Netflix's Stranger Things are amazing - so why can't Trek be too?

Of course, everything I've said here is my opinion, and I have seen people that love every second of the new series. If you love it, that's awesome, and I'm not trying to rain on your parade. I just wanted to express my issues with the show, partially because I like talking about Star Trek and partially because I had some free time today.

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