Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Star Trek: Discovery S101 and S0102 review

    I was debating reviewing this episode and almost had decided not to before I remember. Wait a damn minute, this was a Star Trek review site originally. I kind of have to review Star Trek: Discovery, don't I? I admit, my lack of enthusiasm for the project is based on some extraordinarily petty reasons (as well as some extremely not ones). The fact this show is locked behind a paywall, is a subscription service which is weekly rather than all at once, and has been an extraordinarily troubled production is something that all made me very leery.

    Then there's my other objections, which are all due to the fact I'm a Trekkie. Basically, I'm annoyed this is taking place in the past of the already fully explored original timeline (as well as the past of the Abramsverse so it's technically canon to both) which is the most half-measure choice they could have made. I was also nonplussed by the fact they seem incapable of installing a proper lighting system on the ship. I was also skeptical because I've been watching The Orville and enjoying it as a "proper" Trek with optimism and brightness. Would I really want to watch a show about the Klingon-Trek war which led to the whole Prelude to Axanar business?

I like these characters for their contrast.
    Wait, I love Klingons, of course I want to watch this damn show. Now, I can't speak Klingon despite owning the dictionary. I don't own a bat'leth. I've never dressed as them. However, I am one of the proud sons of Kahless. If I lived in the Alpha Quadrant, I would live among the Klingons first then the Bajorans. Well, I wouldn't live among the Klingons since I would have been left to die as a baby or killed by bullies in officer school but it would have been a warrior's death! So, I was already on the Discovery train as soon as I knew it would be about the Klingon war. I just wouldn't be rooting for the Federation--which may be bad.

    So, first business, what do I think of Discovery's Klingons? Well, they've been redesigned to look like orcs. I mean, there's no dancing around the fact they look less like the sons of Oo'noS (Kronos) than the space armies of Bara-Dur. Personally, making the Klingons look LESS human and more like monsters rather defeats the point of Roddenberry's idea we can make peace with our enemies but I'm not exactly a orthodox scion of his church either. Deep Space Nine remains my favorite of the franchise and I'm willing to accept the TNG Klingons were in bad need of an upgrade. I'm also not one of those insane fans who feels the need to explain in-universe why Klingons from the 1960s look different from 2017 ones.

I side with the Klingons on everything.
    I'm actually more worried about the fact they've apparently decided to have them speak actual Klingon (i.e. from the dictionary) versus English. I mean, it's pretty obvious the actors are phonetically speaking the lines and that seems a serious problem for getting casual viewers to understand them. The fact we have to read subtitles doesn't make the complicated plotline or politics any better, either. I mean, you're explaining the Klingon political system, religion, and so on to new audiences so at least allow them to hear what all this stuff means. The Universal Translator exists for a reason--so we can get on with the plot.

    The short version of the plot is T'Kuvma, who sounds like a Disney song, is one of many Klingon warlords in a disunited Westeros-esque Klingon Empire. There's apparently no Klingon High Command at this point in the timeline or Chancellor of the Great Houses. Things have gotten so bad, we actually flashback to the fact a gang broke into T'Kuma's castle and beat the crap out of him once. T'Kuvma has the Genghis Khan-esque vision to start a war with the Federation and unite all of the Klingons together under his banner. T'Kuvma actually doesn't care if he's Emperor or not, despite comparing himself to Kahless a.k.a. Klingon Moses, a few times. It's a solid plan and I appreciate the guy practices what he preaches as he isn't afraid to die to get the Klingons back on track. I probably shouldn't be on T'Kuvma's side in this but I am as the Federation needs the occassional butt whooping to remind it the universe isn't safe.

The Prime Directive isn't so strict now.
    At the risk of pointing out the obvious social relevance, Star Trek: Discovery is the Star Trek take on the War on Terror about twenty years too late. They badly handled it in Star Trek: Enterprise (coming down on the conservative side for a libertastic franchise), handled it well in Star Trek: Into Darkness (which I love every bit of EXCEPT Khan), and pretty much ignored in Star Trek: Beyond. A bunch of disunited religious fanatics join together against a society they feel threatened by, only for the society to overreact and start doing things which make them question their moral values. I'm spoiling a bit for the third episode but I already knew they were going this direction with the fact Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) had her parents killed by Klingon fanatics.

    I'm actually cool with this since they have their heads on straight about what they're going for now. Battlestar Galactica's reboot already handled this take on the War on Terror but they've pretty much been unable to do any accurate social commentary otherwise. It's not like the conflict between the United States and terrorists have died down any. Just as Vietnam and the racial tensions of sixties America inspired the Original Series, so should the present climate do the same. I will say, though, I hope they avoid taking any lame pot shots as the current administration versus broader themes and I say that as a self-professed leftist nutjob.
Some amazing space shots.

    I have some minor continuity issues with the show as well. Not the fact everything looks super-advanced for a decade behind TOS (because, again, I'm not an idiot--don't complain about stupid things). It's the fact the main character is yet another unknown sibling of Spock and apparently one even more embarrassing since while Sybok (who I insist is canon--no matter how bad the movie was) just wanted to meet God--his adopted sister is integral to the start of the Federation-Klingon War.

    No, I'm serious, she's the previously unmentioned human daughter of Sarek of Vulcan. Not that Sarek was a mentor figure to her or a friend but he literally raised her while his son was off in Starfleet. I mean, yeah, I'm loving the actor's take and I'm always glad for more Sarek but that's a pretty big retcon. Anything else which bugs me like the fact Klingons care about their warrior's bodies (which is an established part of their religion as not being true) will only bother a serious Trek nerd.

I like the design of the ship too.
    The visual effects are easily movie quality and you see the money the entire way through. In fact, if they had wanted to just can the series then this would have made a perfectly serviceable Star Trek movie in it's own right. If you'd ended it slightly different, you could have shown it in theaters. Michael's space flight in her suit through an asteroid thicket (which doesn't exist in real life) was particularly amazing.

     Are there flaws? Yes, a few of them. At the risk of spoiling the third episode, much of what happens in this episode is actually irrelevant as the Discovery and it's crew doesn't make an appearance. The episode also wastes some fascinating and interesting characters. It does, however, set up the central conflict well as the Klingons even if I feel the Klingons are being portrayed as less a rational race of beings than the armies of Sauron.

Let us all light the beacon of Kahless.
      Sonequa Martin-Green does an excellent job as Michael Burnham with her gender-blender named character being absolutely crazy but in a subdued emotional way that shows two decades with the Vulcans didn't actually teach her squat about resolving her emotional issues.

      Doug Jones' "I am an alien with one cultural element to define me" Saru is going to get very annoying since his hat is his people are afraid of everything but given everything in the Star Trek universe is trying to kill humanity, I intend to cut him some slack. Michelle Yeoh's Captain was a tremendous guest star and I'm sorry she's not the actual captain-captain.

    So, yeah, I'm sold. I'm not sold on the main character, necessarily, and none of the new crew have jumped out at me yet save the antagonist but it wasn't a trainwreck either. I just hope they keep the focus on the Klingons because it's a good day to die, brothers and sisters. Is it worth subscribing to CBS' ridiculous streaming service? Well, I did but I have the money for it. If things are tighter, I recommend people wait ten weeks and buy a month before binge watching it then unsubscribing. Hopefully, they'll also allow it out on DVD or other services.


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