Star Trek: Discovery is the beloved franchise‘s return to the small screen after 12 years.
Set ten years before the original series, Discovery follows Federation officer Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) who unexpectedly finds herself at the forefront of a war between the United Federation of Planets and the Klingon Empire.
Though its updated visuals add a layer of polish reminiscent of the series’ recent blockbuster outings, Discovery’s biggest accomplishment is how it manages to capture the feel of classic Trek. For example: the new series’ first episode finds its main cast debating the ethics of firing their weapons first. It’s the central conflict of the episode and one that drives much of the narrative of the first half of the series. It has its fair share of flashy action scenes—the ethical dilemma takes place over a backdrop of 24 Klingon ships on the verge of attacking—but, like its precursor, the show takes steps to weave in bigger philosophical questions throughout its episodes.
The original Star Trek was also very progressive, with the most diverse cast on television at the time, two of whom shared television’s first broadcasted interracial kiss. It tackled issues like racism and the Vietnam war through thinly-veiled metaphors, examining social issues by fictionalising them. Discovery continues in this tradition, with a cast more diverse than most other television shows, though like the original series, it treats this diversity as a given; there isn’t any racial tension or sexual discrimination on the USS Discovery, because Discovery takes place in a future where humanity has progressed past that. It’s this hopeful vision of our future—one characterised by its commitment to justice and fairness, and its unquenchable curiosity for planets and adventures unknown—which cemented the original as a classic. The television market is saturated with bleak, dark visions of the future; that’s exactly why Discovery’s classic hopefulness stands out.
When it works, it works. The show is fun, engaging, and consistently watchable. Even at its weakest moments, its pace allows for the show to quickly move the story along. Its overarching plot is grand and epic in scale; similar shows, like Battlestar Galactica or SyFy’s The Expanse, might take multiple seasons to go through the same plot points, but Discovery plows through them at a breakneck speed. This makes for exciting television, and lets a lot of things happen in each episode, allowing for quicker-arrived, more dramatic character moments.
Unfortunately, Discovery falters far too often to earn more than a passing grade. Most noticable is the writing, which crumbles underneath the plot’s enormous weight. Too often, otherwise-engaging characters suffer from awkwardly-written, stilted, robotic dialogue, and plot points are rushed and underdeveloped. It’s telling that the best episodes are the most self-contained ones; while the writers can pull off outstanding episodes—episode 7’s time loop stands out—their output just isn’t strong enough to sustain season-long story arcs
Star Trek tried to give viewers a bright, thoughtful, at times clumsy, and ultimately inspiring universe. Discovery manages to capture that magic in fits and bursts, but falls short of being genuinely good. It’s a show that’s very easy to like in spite of itself, because although it’s deeply flawed, it still manages to be more interesting, engaging and charming than it has any right to be.
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