Star Trek: Discovery: Episode 1: The Vulcan Hello: Thoughts, Rants, and Déjà Vu
There is great Star Trek on television again, and its called The Orville. (No, I’m not kidding, but I’ll come back to that.)
In the interest of full disclosure, I have only seen the first episode of Star Trek: Discovery, and will not be signing up for CBS All Access. I will buy it on DVD when it comes out and watch it then. CBS made a stupid decision to put the show on its own pay service, and an even worse one to only air the first half of the pilot. Had they gone with Netflix, Amazon, or Hulu, at least there would be plenty of other content to watch. I have Netflix now. I will most likely get Hulu when Marvel’s Runaways premieres. At least I can watch 11.22.63 and The Handmaid’s Tale.
I’m really glad they delayed the release of Star Trek: Discovery. Had it premiered when it was originally scheduled to, I might not have known as much about it prior to watching the premiere. I was able to temper my expectations. I enjoyed the first episode, but I have no regrets about deciding not to subscribe. I have never shied away from Star Trek that is “different” than before. I love Deep Space Nine, which is as different from anything that came before as you can get. I love the Abramsverse…sorry…Kelvin Timeline (I still like the name Abramsverse better). My problem is not the new direction of the show. My problem is that those who are making this show doesn’t seem to care that they are working in an expansive universe with a rich history and established canon.
Let’s start with a review of the episode. This is not meant to be in depth, more of an outline.
The Vulcan Hello opens with Klingons who seem to be uniting against the humans in the name of Kahless. This is one of the few Klingon elements of the episode that does not fly in the face of everything we know about Klingons.
On a desert planet we see First Office Michael Burnham and Captain Philippa Georgiou of the Starship Shenzhou. They are apparently there to open a well to save the inhabitants from a drought. Burnham mentions staying clear of general order one, aka the Prime Directive, aka the Non-Interference Directive.
With a storm coming, and communications down, the captain had them walk around in the shape of a Starfleet insignia.
Next we hear Burnham recording a log. Odd that it’s the First Officer and not the captain recording the log in the pilot.
They are examining damage to an interstellar relay and don’t know if it was an asteroid strike or sabotage.
I did not take notes when the episode aired, and at this point my DVR apparently screwed up, so the next thing it jumped to was Burnham in the space suit jetting off to look at the mysterious object they found. As I recall, Burnham wanted to take a look and had to convince the captain to let her go.
Burnham discovers a very old-looking object and runs into a Klingon wearing an idiotic looking space suit that looks as un-Klingon as I can imagine. She kills him with his own weapon, a ridiculous looking Bat’leth.
Next we see a Klingon funeral. The casket is attached to the outside of their ship.
We see some flashbacks of Burnham as a girl and learn of her past. Burnham wakes up in sickbay being treated and runs to bridge to report the encounter with the Klingons. The captain orders red alert and targets the mystery object. A Klingon ship uncloaks.
Then there is this whole thing with the Klingons that I didn’t completely understand, but apparently lighting this beacon will bring ships from across the galaxy.
An albino Klingon is given the task of being torchbearer in place of the Klingon that Burnham killed.
The Admiral orders them to stay where they are and take no action unless provoked.
The beacon is lit and Burnham leaves bridge to contact Sarek.
Sarek theorizes that the Klingons are trying to unite behind war, which they are. I love Vulcan logic, but this seems like a little bit of a stretch to me.
Burnham tells the Captain they have to fire on the Klingons. The first Vulcan ship that encountered the Klingons was destroyed. Afterwards the Vulcans fired first until relations were established. This show of strength led to respect. The Captain balks, having no intention of shooting first.
Burnham pushes too far and the Captain calls her into her ready room. When Burnham can’t convince the captain to attack she Vulcan nerve-pinches her and goes onto the bridge to order an attack. Burnham lies to crew and orders preparations to fire.
The second officer is suspicious and accuses Burnham of mutiny. The Captain comes onto the bridge and orders the crew not to fire, and points a phaser at Burnham.
A fleet of Klingon ships arrive and the episode ends.
So, there are some major issues with this episode.
First off, the show is called Star Trek: Discovery, and we never even talked about that ship or most of the cast. CBS should have aired both parts of the pilot.
I am not at all clear on why Burnham and Georgiou were even on that desert planet. If this is a primitive planet that does not know about life on other planets, then they shouldn’t be helping them at all. If they are aware of life on other planets and have asked for help, then I don’t know what General Order One would have to do with anything. Now, there have been many times that we have seen captains ignore the Prime Directive to save lives, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here. They really needed to make it more clear what they were doing there and why.
How the hell was the ship supposed to see their footprints through the storm? I know the insignia in the sand looked cool and dramatic, but it made no sense at all.
The rest of my issues fall into two categories, Michael Burnham and Klingons.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Child loses family in an attack by a hated alien foe and is taken in by a member of a different alien race where they just don’t quite fit in. Are you fucking kidding me? They stole Worf’s back story. Didn’t someone in the writer’s room put up their hand and say, “um…I think that’s been done”?
They stole part of Spock’s story too. Burnham is a human who has trouble fitting in among Vulcans. Spock is a half human who has trouble fitting in among Vulcans.
Now, maybe I could forgive them for that enormous turd of unoriginality, though I literally yelled at the television I was so pissed off. But the unoriginality didn’t stop there.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before. The First Officer of a Starship gets in a space suit and flies off at high speed to investigate a mysterious something, gets injured, and returns to the ship with critical information on what they are facing. Now, I realize that Star Trek: The Motion Picture is not exactly beloved, but every Trekkie must recognize that they stole that entire sequence right out of the movie.
Did they seriously think nobody would notice? If so, they clearly don’t understand Trekkies.
I thought it was a joke when I heard that Michael Burnham was Sarek’s adopted child. They need to fire whoever came up with that immediately. The last time Spock had a previously unknown sibling show up we got Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, one of the worst movies ever made. It was so bad that it nearly killed the whole franchise. (I fully believe that Spock using the Vulcan nerve-pinch on a horse is the lowest moment in the history of cinema.)
None of this bodes well for the series in my opinion. Is it fatal? Of course not. We’re only one episode in. The show could end up being fantastic, but It certainly doesn’t fill me with a lot of faith, and failed to convince me that I should sign up for CBS All Access.
I think it’s great that they cast an African American actress as the main character in the show. If he (I think I’ve got the right pronoun) is transgender, that’s great too. Star Trek has always reflected the times, and been a platform to discuss important issues. Star Trek featured the first ever interracial kiss and one of the first ever lesbian kisses on television. They have tackled the hard issues head on (racism, homosexuality, individual’s rights, and sexual assault) in such classic episodes as Let That Be Your Last Battlefield (TOS), The Outcast (TNG), Half a Life (TNG), Measure of a Man (TNG), Devil in the Dark (TOS), and Violations (TNG) just to name a few.
Those episodes all have something in common. They all tackle these issues with a twist, in way that no other show on television can. I love that about Star Trek.
But CBS has been a little too-cagey about whether or not Michael Burnham is transgender. Why not just tell us? Are they waiting to reveal a great Star Trek twist? I would like to think that’s why they have kept it secret. There is no other logical reason not to tell us. Not everything Star Trek does has to have a twist, but if you’re going to make something such a big secret, then I will be really disappointed if there isn’t a twist.
Star Trek has done a character who experienced some of the same kinds of issues that I imagine a transgender person faces. Jadzia Dax was Curzon Dax. There were a number of episodes that dealt with her having been Curzon and now being Jadzia.
Does it really matter if Michael Burnham is transgender or if there is a twist? I suppose it doesn’t. I’m already sold on him/her as a great character from just one episode. But that they are hiding it makes me think they are more interested in this aspect of the character than they are in making a great Star Trek television series.
It does occur to me that by not addressing it, they are trying to say it does not matter. Problem is that, by doing so, they have made it into more than it needs to be. If they had just given an answer, I wouldn’t have even mentioned it.
I am really bothered that they are calling Michael Burnham the “main character”. Star Trek doesn’t have “main characters”. Star Trek has always been an ensemble. Sure, Captain Picard and Captain Sisko were front and center in an awful lot of episodes, but there were also episodes that they hardly appeared in. I do not like the idea of this being one character’s show. That seems to betray what Star Trek is about.
One last thing about Michael Burnham. From the previews, I gather that even though Burnham has committed mutiny, his/her knowledge and skills are needed, blah, blah, blah for a special mission. I can’t imagine that actually happening. Picard had to be convinced to take Ensign Ro aboard his ship, and what she did was way-less serious than mutiny. They’d better have some really good reasons, or I will find it very hard to buy.
Okay, moving on from Michael Burnham.
Are you fucking kidding me? Those Klingons look like ass and so do their awful uniforms. They look like the result of someone who once saw a picture of a Klingon describing it to a makeup artist who has never seen one. They look like Klingons who were stung by a swarm of bees and got all swollen.
Having said that, if you watch The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, you will note that Worf’s makeup changed just about every season. I hate these inconsistencies, but they are not inconsistencies of canon, but of the reality of making television and movies. They usually get these things right the first time. The Next Generation Borg are awesome. The movie Borg are nowhere near as cool. (I would make the same argument about the Dementors in Harry Potter. They were never better than in The Prisoner of Azkaban, but I digress.)
So, yeah, the look of the Klingons sucks, but that isn’t what really bothers me. For the longest time everyone just accepted that the change in the look of Klingons from The Original Series to The Motion Picture was an evolution of makeup prosthetics and not something to dwell on. That was fine for seventeen years, until it wasn’t anymore. Then came Trials and Tribble-ations and in one sentence that all was changed forever.
“We do not discuss it with outsiders.” – Worf, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine “Trials and Tribble-ations”
I remember first watching that. I couldn’t concentrate on anything for a week. I was freaking out that we would never get an answer as to why the Klingons looked more human in the past. (I believe that is the epitome of a first world problem.) Eventually we did get an answer in an episode of Enterprise. It wasn’t a great answer, but it was an answer. You can read all about the Klingon Augment Virus on Memory Alpha.
Memory Alpha is already assuming that given the events of the Star Trek: Discovery pilot that either some Klingons, or just the High Council, were either unaffected by the virus or cured. That’s fine. I can live with that. I’ve always believed that part of canon is explaining the inconsistencies with reason and logic. We can get around what we’ve seen so far, but if we keep seeing more Klingons who haven’t been affected by the Klingon Augment Virus, it won’t be so easy to explain away.
The writers of Star Trek: Discovery need to make a priority of explaining this and then make sure they stay consistent with that explanation with all Klingons we meet during the series (either having or not having cranial ridges). It’s not like you need a whole episode to explain it. You just need a few sentences that explains why these Klingons have cranial ridges, and make sure we see the ones who don’t when we should.
If they choose to just ignore this, then no matter what Paramount says, Star Trek: Discovery MUST take place in an alternate universe where the Klingon Augment Virus never happened. Period. They either explain it, or just say they are doing their own show outside of the established canon. To do neither is a catastrophic paradox. It essentially invalidates the Star Trek universe.
I don’t know what the hell that god-awful weapon the Klingons had was, but it was not a Bat’leth. These are Bat’leths.
A Bat’leth is an elegant and deadly weapon. It is one of the most iconic weapons in science fiction history. I don’t know what the fuck this is.
Whatever it is, it is not a Bat’leth. It looks like it’s covered in turd. I can’t even tell if it’s metal, stone, or wood. A Bat’leth is metal. From a purely practical standpoint that blade sticking out at an off angle on one end would probably screw up the balance, though with blades pointing both away from you and toward you, I’m not sure how one could actually use this thing without impaling themselves. It seems way too long to be effective in close combat. Whoever came up with this should be sentenced to discommendation. I had not seen the photos online, so as I was watching the episode I was stunned to see them trying to pass off this ridiculous looking piece of crap off as a Bat’leth. It looks like something out of Lord of the Rings, not Star Trek. Everyone involved with the show should be embarrassed to be associated with this thing. Please let this be some ceremonial pieces of crap. Now I don’t expect to see Bat’leth’s that look identical to those we saw in The Next Generation. This is a hundred some odd years before, but it does need to look like something that could have later evolved into the Bat’leths we know.
The Klingon funeral is another violation of canon. Klingons do not have funerals. They look into the eyes of the dead/dying and scream to warn the dead that a Klingon warrior is about to arrive. They then consider the body “an empty shell” to be disposed of. In Star Trek IV: The Voyager Home there was a mention of a “Klingon Mummification Glyph”. We don’t know how long ago that was used, but we can assume a long time. There is no way that in a hundred some odd years from Discovery to The Next Generation that the Klingons went from putting their dead in coffins on the outside of their ship like a bumper sticker to the Klingon death ritual seen in The Next Generation. In the distant past the Klingons must have had different rituals, but in this time period, it makes no sense at all.
I am floored that the writers know so little about Star Trek that they gave the Klingons cloaking devices. The first time a Klingon ship ever had a cloaking device was in an episode of Star Trek: Animated Series (if I remember correctly). Prior to that, Romulans were known to have cloaking devices. This is another disastrous failure to understand canon.
Other than the above issues, I rather enjoyed the first episode, but I can’t say it excited me the way previous Star Trek series premiers did. It was no Encounter at Farpoint (TNG), Emissary (DS9), or Caretaker (VOY), but it wasn’t a terrible start. I guess when it comes out on DVD, I’ll find out.
For those of us who are not getting CBS All Access, there is another option to sort of watch Star Trek on television. The Orville, Fox’s new Star Trek-esque , comedy is a really good show. The characters are interesting, and they are telling some really great science fiction stories. I love the design of the ship. It doesn’t quite hit the serious beats of Star Trek, but I’m really enjoying it. Plus it’s free. Free is always good.
Update 10/9: Ever since I watched the episode, something about the Klingon leader bothered me. He looked like someone, and I couldn’t put my finger on it. Tonight it hit me.
Thanks for reading!