Warning: If you haven’t seen the first three episodes, there are going to be spoilers.
After the first two episodes of Star Trek: Discovery, I was on the fence about the new series. The first two episodes were a bit too action oriented for me. I was afraid that they were going to take the series in the same direction that JJ Abrams tried to go with the movies; more of an action than sci-fi; more Star Wars than traditional Star Trek.
However, after episode 3 I think those fears were unfounded. The first two episodes just set up the back story of Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and Saru (Doug Jones) and set up the conflict that will drive the rest of the series.
The story that the third episode sets up is that of a mysterious scientific research vessel during a Federation War with the Klingons. We have a Captain (Jason Isaacs) that we don’t really trust; A human-raised-on-Vulcan officer (Burnham), who had previously been serving a life sentence for mutiny and who no one fully trusts, A by the book First Officer (Saru) who was on the ship where the mutiny occurred; A hard-line Chief of Security (Rehka Sharma); a cynical Science Officer (Anthony Rapp) who trusts no one; Cadet Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman) who is ambitious and smart but awkward, nervous and lacks confidence and we have a number of characters who have yet to introduce themselves.
All in all the story has elements that will be familiar to classic Star Trek fans but it is a different story than we’ve seen before. The captain is not automatically respectable and the crew is not a tight unit. There is no mutual trust or respect among them and the potential for interpersonal conflict is high. In fact, it is almost guaranteed.
This is not the Federation seeking new life and new civilizations, this is Star Fleet at war. It is not humanity as refined and dignified as they appear to be in the Next Generation, DS-9 or Voyager. This is humanity a few hundred years earlier in its development.
Early last year, Charlie Jane Anders wrote a piece for io9 called ‘The Essential Difference Between Star Wars and Star Trek‘. In it she made the case that “Star Wars is about fighting the Man, and Star Trek is about being the Man.” In ‘Discovery’, the Federation isn’t ‘the Man’ yet but they are trying to get there.
So, while the first two episodes didn’t sell me on the series, this is now a story I want to see play out and one that I’m willing to believe belongs in the Star Trek universe that Gene Roddenberry created.
I would also, and this is likely to be just wishful thinking on my part, a new series years down the road with Sylvia Tilly as captain. There is a point toward the end of the episode when Tilly is trying to bond with her roommate, the mutineer Michael Burnham. She says “Here’s something not a lot of people know about me: I’m going to be a Captain someday.”
It would be amazing if that claim came true. This series focuses on war with the Klingons. Unlike in the other Star Trek series, important characters will probably die before it is over. It would be amazing to watch the bright-eyed cadet grow into a battle-tested veteran and Star Fleet officer; to know the challenges she’s overcome, the people she’s lost and watch her become the Captain in the post-war series.
As a fan it would have been amazing to watch Kirk, Picard, Sisko or Janeway evolve from a young cadet and know their whole backstory from the moment they walk onto the bridge in the first episode. If this series does well, we may get that kind of introduction this time.
Whether or not we get that, the series and its cast are worth your time. If you bailed after the first episode, or have avoided watching because of negative things you’ve heard, it’s time to tune in again.