Star Trek Discovery Season One – Review and Critique (Spoilers)

Star Trek Discovery has just finished its first season. Some Star Trek fans love the show… some hate it passionately. As for me… I’m underwhelmed.

Anyone who has seen my review of the first two episodes in the guise of Q probably realizes I thought the beginning of the seasons was weak and lazy. Nonsensical things done by characters for a cheap payoff later. But I did have some hope that the series would improve. Which it did. And then it didn’t.

(If you would like to check out Q’s Review of the first two episodes of Star Trek Discovery, click here.)

There were some decent stories from time to time. And some excellent characters. Cadet Tilly is a fun and empathetic character and Saru… masterfully portrayed by Doug Jones… is one of the most alien… aliens… in the history of Star Trek. (Well, unless you count Hortas… but they are a little stone faced.)

Saru, played by Doug Jones

But there are plenty of flaws in the story and characterization. In this review, I’ll touch on some of them. There will be plenty I won’t mention for the sake of time. (Feel free to leave comments on others you think should be acknowledged.

So, to start off…

Our main character is a mutineer… and that’s OK?

Michael Burnham in her prison uniform

Michael Burnham, in the course of the first two episodes, committed an act of mutiny and was imprisoned for it. But it doesn’t take long for her to find a new place on the U.S.S. Discovery. We do find out later that Lorca manipulated events for this to happen, but it does seem that his abilities are incredible in this regard. And the crew… who know of Burnham’s crimes… quickly comes to accept her despite her part in starting a destructive war. Those who object to her presence quickly either die due to their own stupidity or realize they are being too harsh. Really?

She was raised where?

Another inconsistency is Burnham’s emotional decisions. She makes them constantly. Yet she was raised on Vulcan and in many flashbacks we see her exercising the emotional control that’s a hallmark of their philosophy. Yet it didn’t take long for her to become much more emotional once she joined Starfleet. It’s surprising the teachings of her youth were so quickly pushed to the side.

These are NOT the characters we know.

We’ve come across two characters we know from the original Star Trek… and neither seemed right.

Sarek is played by a great actor; James Frain has been wonderful in many roles. But I don’t know if it’s the writing, the direction, his take on the character… or a combination of all three… but he emotes far more than Sarek has in the past. Even when he asked for the refusion for Spock in Star Trek III, he seemed correctly uncomfortable with showing the emotion that he did. Frain does not have the Vulcan mode down pat. Or he’s been directed to not be so unemotional.

Sarek played by James Frain

Harry Mudd- a well known scoundrel and trader. While he was definitely portrayed as putting his own interests ahead of anything… he never seemed the type to go full on vengeful and kill with impunity. Plus he always had a habit of having his schemes backfire… while the Harry Mudd in the Discovery episode seemed a lot more dark and competent. I realize using Harry was their way of tying in Discovery to the Original Series. But it was a name drop that shouldn’t have been done, showing how little the writers know about our lovable scoundrel Harcourt Fenton Mudd.

Two Harcourt Fenton Mudds

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

While many fans wondered if the Discovery was set in an alternate universe, the creators assured us it was not. Then they gave us a storyline that showed us the Terran Empire in all it’s glory. While it was definitely an interesting concept… and one that was easy to see coming… it seemed like they used this storyline way too soon in their narrative. Deep Space Nine and Enterprise also had Mirror Universe episodes… but had established themselves on their own before visiting this fascinating aspect of Trek lore. To have it in the first season seemed like they were shoving their best ideas out all at once to wow the audience into staying with the series… and believing they were watching true Trek.

“Vaulting Ambition” — Episode 112 — Pictured (l-r): Michelle Yeoh as Philippa Georgiou; Sonequa Martin-Green as Michael Burnham of the CBS All Access series STAR TREK: DISCOVERY. Photo Cr: Ben Mark HolzbergCBS © 2017 CBS Interactive. All Rights Reserved.

I will admit having Lorca be originally from the Mirror Universe and having him manipulate events for his return was a clever move. Though I honestly don’t know where the sensitivity to light came from… I don’t recall it in any other Mirror episode. If I’m wrong, let me know in the comments. But I think it was a detail invented just for the sake of having this crucial clue for Burnham to discover.

The Mirror episodes weren’t bad… but how can they account for Spock? He was the first officer of the I.S.S. Enterprise under James Kirk… but if Sarek is with the rebels, how would his son become an officer of the Empire? Not to mention the xenophobic attitude of the Terran Empire pretty much precluded having aliens as members. How would Sarek even meet Amanda and produce offspring? Even if they did, how would Spock not be raised as a rebel?

I have heard they had a group of Star Trek experts as consultants. I have also been told if the consultants said something the show runners didn’t like, they ignored them. I get the feeling those consultants were ignored most of the time.

The good of the few doesn’t outweigh the bad of the many.

While there were some good episodes… and some good scenes… and even, as mentioned before, some good characters… it really doesn’t make up for all of the bad points or the clumsy attempts to surprise us.

Ash Tyler was pretty much pegged as a Klingon from day one. They used a holodeck for battle training… when holodecks, even primitive ones, didn’t show up until Star Trek: The Animated Series… and weren’t in general use until the TNG era. The midichlorian drive… sorry, spore drive… was far beyond any technology shown even in the TNG era… and the throwaway line that Starfleet had decided they wanted a non-lifeform interface seemed far too weak of a reason to give up on it.

And the war… where the Klingons were basically about to wipe out the Federation… was over in a snap. They give the detonator of a bomb that would destroy Q’onoS to a Klingon so she can call off the attack and unite the Klingon Empire. Really? Seems a far-fetched (and oddly abrupt) way to end a war. Especially with a race that doesn’t put store in threats, but in action.

Plus the aftermath of this war should be terrible. It would take years to rebuild after such a conflict. The loss of life would have lots of people angry and scarred. In the 10 years (well, 9 or so) from the end of the conflict to the time of Kirk’s five year mission, there would still be people who would react to the Klingons quite violently. But in the TOS era, it seemed like the Klingons were regarded as untrustworthy rivals, not hated enemies who killed so many less than a decade before. Wouldn’t there be crew on the Enterprise who had lost family and friends in the war? If you could imagine the feelings of much of Europe towards Germans in the 10 years after the end of World War II… there were probably still a lot of hard feelings.

It’s the Era that’s the Problem

While there are issues that are just the result of lazy writing (but could have been fixed very easily), the main issue with the entire series in the time frame. If this show had been 5 years after the end of Voyager, it would be an awesome Star Trek show. Instead of changing the Klingons, they could have easily created a new race as antagonists. Instead of having James Frain play Sarek… maybe they could have introduced him as the son of Spock (from the awesome novels by the late, great A.C. Crispin), named Zar, who was only a quarter Vulcan and could have emoted all he wanted. We’d be in uncharted territory, going where no Trek series had gone before. But instead they decided to do a prequel… and as Enterprise didn’t last the 7 years that TNG, DS9 and VOY did… didn’t they learn from their mistake?

Why is Burnham so Important?

Michael Burnham played by Sonequa Martin-Green

We know why Burnham should be important to us. She’s the main character. So obviously we are supposed to be in her corner.

But despite being a mutineer, in the end she is the one to school a Starfleet Admiral in what it means to be Starfleet? She’s the only one to have objections to this plan? And she’s the one who has to convince the Admiral to change their plan? The same Admiral who was stupid enough to give the former head of the Terran Empire captaincy of the Discovery?

And Burnham’s speech at the end. Why was she the one who was speaking? Why is she so important to be telling hundreds of Starfleet officers and personnel what Starfleet is about? Maybe Sarek pulled strings, but I don’t see why he would. It would have been more realistic for her to be speaking to a few shipmates who were having doubts about Starfleet and giving that impassioned speech. There wasn’t enough context and it seemed rather pompous of Burnham to lecture everyone. It was the season finale on a service that CBS owns. They could have made the episode a bit longer to explain more.

The Cliffhanger

So we come to the last scene of the season. One which has lots of fans buzzing. A distress call from and the sudden appearance of the U.S.S. Enterprise, registry number NCC-1701, under the command of Captain Christopher Pike.

The U.S.S. Enterprise and the U.S.S. Discovery

Don’t get me wrong. I’m curious (and a little worried) to see how they are going to portray the Enterprise. Especially with the different uniforms and with Spock serving on that ship. It’s a good hook.

But to bring in the Enterprise as the hook to bring viewers back for a second season… that pretty much seals it. Discovery hasn’t been allowed to truly flourish on it’s own. And it needs a famous Constitution Class starship to save them.

A Final Word

There are some positives about the show.

The visual effects are cinematic in their quality. The cinematography… sound editing… the overall quality is excellent.

More than that, I have to say I was very excited they were having a diverse cast, women in command positions, representation in the show for the LGBTQ community. These were positive things because that is a reflection of the world we live in and the world we should live in. Equal opportunity regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, sexual identity… these are ideals we should all strive for. They do have an excellent cast of actors. It’s just unfortunate that the stories provided for them to convey don’t match the level of the talents these actors bring to the table.

About Kyle Williamson

"Captain" Kyle Williamson is a cosplayer, actor, writer, fan and author of "The Elements of Cosplay: The Costume and Beyond." He has also interviewed hundreds of actors, authors and cosplayers and has moderated panels for conventions such as Wizard World, Retro Con, Terrificon, Farpoint and Shore Leave to name a few. You can follow him on Twitter @captainkylepa and Instagram @captainkylephilly.

View all posts by Kyle Williamson

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.