The first two episodes of Star Trek: Discovery are a prologue to the true show. Trek series often start in medias res, with all its’ cast in their set roles which they’ve had for some time. Discovery takes a different approach. The first episode starts with a crew that is fresh to the experience that will drive the plot of the season to come; War. “The Vulcan Hello” did a great job of characterizing it’s core trio of officers. Michael Burnham (played by The Walking Dead’s Sonequa Martin-Green) plays an orphaned human adopted by Vulcan parents and is Star Trek’s first main character not currently in the role of Captain. That ranking belongs to Phillipa Georgiou (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’s Michelle Yeoh). Her ideology as captain is based primarily on hope. When she sees the object of unknown origin (a Klingon religious site), she suggests it could be a ship in distress. Science Officer Saru (Hellboy’s Doug Jones) cautions fear and skepticism in consideration of the object, even advising retreat.
I really enjoyed the balance of this trinity in the first two episodes. Like Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, of the original show, each member represents a certain worldview. Kirk was a man of ego and brazen action. Spock acted with cold, detached logic. And Dr. McCoy was empathetic and passionate. This new trinity is about two polar opposites and how Michael walks the line between hope and fear, as well as logic and emotion. She is capable of that signature Vulcan logic, but can also be very headstrong and committed to an idea once she believes in it. Similar to Kirk in the 2009 Star Trek film, Michael disobeys orders to try and save the whole ship. Her reckless actions and failure place the blame squarely on her shoulders. The repercussions of her violent insubordination end episode one, with Captain Georgiou awakening and returning to deck just as dozens of Klingon ships drop in.
It felt odd and rushed that T’Kuvma, this visibly disrespected leader, could so easily gain the ears of all the houses. All the houses of the remaining Klingon are united with a single showing. I wish the motivation for the villains was written better. In episode 1, the writing felt rushed to have Michael conveniently kill a Klingon by accident and make it so comms were down so any recording of her being attacked first was not saved. I hope the religious undertones of this new Klingon order is further explained throughout the season so we may understand this prophecy better. T’Kuvma is a very showy villain. His speeches are an obvious analogue to troublesome real world movements. T’Kuvma exclaims that the Federation want to start a war against Klingon “individuality” and his mantra is “remain Klingon.” This clearly evokes themes of white nationalism and xenophobia. Trek has always commented on the times and it is great to see that writing return.
The budget of the show shines through in this episode. The space battle was spectacular to watch with many ships, on both sides, viewable at once. Both sides cheated a bit in an attempt to end the battle. The scene where a cloaked Klingon vessel rams into the USS Europa was striking. The federation ship then blows itself up in an attempt to take the Klingons with it. The crew of the Shenzhou then decide to attach a bomb to the floating corpse of a Klingon, which is beamed back onto T’Kuvma’s ship. It’s only episode 2 and we’re in for a dark Trek show. In another similar scene to the Star Trek movie, Michael and the Captain board the ship, blasters at ready, to put an end to T’Kuvma. After a hand-to-hand fight scene, Captain Georgiou is stabbed with a Klingon spear. Michael then shoots T’Kuvma with a lethal phaser shot. Before she can reach her captain, Michael is transported off her ship. Both of the important leaders established in the first episode are dead.
Where the show goes from here will be very interesting. The first two episodes acted as a prologue. Michael is now in jail, stripped of rank, and free to be picked up by the USS Discovery presumably. Here she can rise through the ranks and reestablish herself. The show could have started here, but I’m glad it didn’t. Not only because it is always better in screenwriting to show not tell, but also because it gives light to just exactly how grave an action Michael was part of and the war she had a hand in starting. Her old ship and captain are gone. T’Kuvma died a martyr for the Klingons to rally around like Michael predicted. The status quo has been shattered, something very anti-Trek. It’ll be sad to see Captain Georgiou go. I loved the flashback scene to Michael and Georgiou’s first meeting. Their verbal sparring was great and ended in both respecting each other’s accolades. Another favorite part of mine was Sonequa Martin-Green’s effortless Spock eyebrow raise. But this unstable ground is also great for the many possibilities the show can go. And that’s what a Star Trek show should be about. You should have no idea what’s coming next.
For reviews – Cole Hickey