After a long year-and-a-half of rumours and waiting, we finally have some semblance of an idea about what Star Trek: Discovery will look and sound like. To say that a lot’s riding on Discovery is something of an understatement. With the movie series seemingly stalled after the mixed results of Star Trek Beyond, Paramount/CBS is banking on Trek making waves in its natural habitat: the TV set, but TV’s changed a lot since Star Trek was last in our living rooms over 12 years ago. Fortunately, by the looks of Discovery’s first trailer (which was released this past week), it seems that the past is being left in the rearview.
First, let’s look at the trailer if you haven’t already, and if you have already seen it, why don’t you look at it again.
One of the first things that struck me watching Lieutenant Commander Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and Captain Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) wander across an unknown alien desert for an unknown reasons is that this is the first time I remember seeing a female captain with a female first officer. Presumably, such pairings in Starfleet are numerous, but on screen, this is the first time we’ve seen two women fill the two most powerful positions on a starship.
And the main starship in question seems to be the U.S.S. Shenzhou. We see Capt. Georgiou have what seems like the age old discussion between Starfleet skippers and their first officers: When the heck are you going to get off my ship and get a ship of your own? As for the Shenzhou, it seems like the production design borrowed design cues not from the original series, but from the look of the U.S.S. Kelvin in the opening of 2009’s Star Trek. Scenes on the bridge have the slightest hint of lens flair, and the shot of the Shenzhou at warp seems to be an amalgam of the warp effect of from the new movie series, and the wormhole effect from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. And hey, is the Shenzhou bridge on the underside of the main hull? That’s different.
Lt. Cmdr. Burnham herself has been a figure shrouded in mystery. She’s the first junior officer who’s been thrust front and centre of a Star Trek series, but it seems that she’s bound for more than taking orders from Capt. Georgiou. We see hologram Sarek (played by James Frain) tell her, “Great unifiers are few and far between, but they do come. Often such leaders will need a profound cause.” Is that what the Shenzhou finds on the “edge on Federation space”? More personally, what is Burnham’s relationship with Sarek? We see Burnham as a little girl on Vulcan being told her tongue is “too human” to master the Vulcan language. Was Burnham raised by Sarek? Was he her teacher? That seems like an intriguing note to this series that holds on to that classic Human/Vulcan ying-yang from the original.
Speaking of aliens from the original series, what is up with the Klingons? Some of the online reaction has been, ahem, less than kind, and that reaction is two-fold, they either hate the new look of the Klingons, or they hate that there’s heavy make-up on the Klingons for continuity reasons. We’ll deal with the second concern in a minute, but there’s no doubt that the make-up design on the Klingons has gone a little overboard. This is another touch we can probably blame on the J.J. Abrams‘ movies, but at this point are these even the same species?
Another fan gripe being made note of is the moment at the end of the trailer with Burnham and Georgiou seem to get into a heated argument over attacking… someone; Burnham says they have to do it, but Georgiou is emphatic that Starfleet doesn’t strike first. Aside from what they’re arguing about attacking (The Klingons? The mysterious something on the edge of Federation space?), one of the recurring themes of the original series was that sometimes Starfleet officers don’t just ignore the rules, they make them up as they go along. Think of “Patterns of Force” where Federation cultural observer John Gill introduces Nazism to the Ekosians as a way to quickly civilize them. It did not work out so well. Starfleet officers, in other words, are not infallible.
And continuity has been fairly big sticking point. Why does nothing on Discovery, which takes place 10 years before the original series and in the same universe, not look like it was designed in the image of what the future would look like in the 1960s? The answer should be obvious. It’s the same reason Klingons suddenly had bumpy heads in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, because times change. Let us not get hung up on continuity. Addressing the old school qualities of the original series are fun when you’re doing it meta-textually like in DS9’s “Trials and Tribble-ations” or the Enterprise two-parter that aimed to explain why original series Klingons had smooth hands, but you’re shutting out casual viewers that are going to look at a remixed 1960s view of the 23rd century, and will not see the kitsch, but will rather see cheapness.
That’s a long-winded way of saying let’s give the series a chance, because there’s still so much left unanswered. For instance, what’s the deal with the floating Klingon sarcophagus, and why is the Klingon death ritual shown so prominently? The mysterious alien Saru (Doug Jones) can sense death, a useful skill to be sure, but why have his people evolved it, and how will that come into play over the course of the series? Notice too, that there seemed to be no sign of the titular ship in the trailer. Where is Discovery? Eagle-eyed viewers noted that the Shenzhou’s registry number is NCC-1227, which comes long after Discovery’s NCC-1031. So is Discovery part of the mystery?
One thing can be affirmed from the trailer, and that is there’s clearly a confidence to the production that belies some of the behind the scenes turmoil and the delays. Looking at the trailer, Star Trek: Discovery has its proverbial stuff together. There’s clearly a level of confidence here in the material, which is supported by the fact that the episode order was increased by two to 15, and there’s so much in the trailer itself that will give fans a lot to chew over for the next couple of months. (So many different aliens on the bridge there.) There may be some doubters, but there’s more than enough here to get an open-minded Trekkie excited about the series. Bring it on, and let’s boldly go!
Trek Bastard is a semi-regular column that looks at the issues, history and art of Star Trek over its first 51 years.