Recurring Cast: Sonequa Martin-Green, Doug Jones, Mary Wiseman, Shazad Latif, Anthony Rapp and Jason Isaacs
There are always going to be Star Trek adaptations. Ever since William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy started voyaging the depths of space, the story of the USS Enterprise and Starfleet has been deeply engrained into pop culture. There have been several re-imagining throughout the year going from flashy cinematic reboots to prequel series. With the latest Star Trek series, we get Discovery, set ten years before Shatner’s run, the visual effects updated with flashy new effects and a story that dives deeper into the characters than ever before.
It is pretty crap. That first episode, that introduced the character of Michael Burnham, a human orphan adopted by Vulcans, the Science Officer to Michelle Yeoh’s kind captain, went down like a ton of bricks. While the series met kinder reviews from the fans, as the story built steam, introducing the series-saving Jason Isaacs, as a morally-complex and mysterious Captain, the truth is that the momentum of the series hid the common problem that brought the whole thing down. With all Star Trek series, the writers need to stamp down their own identity on proceedings. Going back to the first spin-off series, arguably known as the best, The Next Generation, the key trademark that made that series so well-received was its ability to break away from the shadow of the past. Roddenberry wanted The Next Generation to feature none of the species or characters that came before and, while the older faces began to bleed back in, that vision gave TNG its own two feet to stand on. Discovery doesn’t have any of that. The story takes place, neck-deep in the war between Starfleet and the Klingons. Because Discovery seems to think its USP is a slower story, this means that we are trapped with the villainous Klingons for the majority of the story. These versions of the Klingons are pretty dull, the series spending prolonged scenes getting to grips with the Klingon culture. Three-dimensional villains are built up slowly, only speaking that language to add some foreign flavour to proceedings, but, deep down, they always amount to the same angry, misunderstood extremist. The Klingons are pretty over-used anyway, when you consider the Star Trek universe as a whole, and most of the plot points available to the species have already been broadly covered. In essence, Discovery might dive deeper into the cracks of the narrative than ever before, it is still the same fundamental story. Needless to say, it gets tiresome pretty fast. When rather than write a new villain, you dig Harry Mudd from the archives, you know you are onto something pretty naff.
Instead of breaking new ground in terms of over-arching plot, Discovery puts more stock in its sub plots. The reinvented Starship crew consist of some interesting faces. Burnham, a disgraced criminal – explained in the first two episodes – who is fighting to prove that she isn’t the disgrace everyone believes her to be. Jason Isaacs is the war-hungry Captain, blinded by his disdain for the Klingons that he often cannot see the bigger picture. There is fine work from Doug Jones – most commonly known as Guillermo Del Toro’s MVP – as a Kelpian First Officer (finally, an original species!), whose race’s first instinct is to run from danger. Shazad Latif joins the team later in the series as a soldier suffering post-traumatic stress disorder that Isaacs’ captain pushes too soon into the fight. Rounding up the team are the plucky female with dreams of making captain, Mary Wiseman, and Anthony Rapp’s homosexual Chief Engineer. Both quietly subvert stereotypes, although the writers cleverly let their personalities do the heavy-lifting and rarely make a big deal out of it. There are enough strands of story to make the new crew interesting and all of the performances are well-suited to the task at hand. But in focusing Discovery’s story on character building, rather than doing much more with its Klingon bad guys, the show descends into a dull soap opera in space. Romances blossom under dire circumstances, weak crew members find heroism… the sad thing is that a lot of the stories aren’t overly new as far as Star Trek goes, but Discovery clings to them, like a lifeline. Inevitably, it struggles to stay afloat.
As the series concludes, it manages to find some interesting moments. The second half of the season takes the crew into unusual waters. This moment turns a lot of character arcs on their heads and one of the main characters unleashes a twist that really gets the tension going for a short while. That being said, Discovery almost loses control of the strong scenes by diving back into its slower approach to story-telling. Ironically, the slower the narrative, the easier the twists are to guess. The finale also peaks two episodes too early, so rather than going out with a bang, the show returns to the same old Klingon narrative we almost escaped to bore us some more, before it ends. Discovery will likely get a renewal, and perhaps plenty more, down to a loyal fan base, but Discovery, when we’ve polished away the shiny new look, is a shadow of its former self.
Final Verdict: Discovery is one of the weaker Star Trek series yet, with dull story arcs and too much time spent on character arcs.