Instead of a character, though, the “Discovery” handoff seems to be lens flares. (O.K., fine, and Sarek, Spock’s father.) That’s the visual style that J.J. Abrams introduced to the universe with his 2009 “Star Trek” reboot. There are the tilted and shaky camera shots zoomed in on character’s faces in tense scenes. That movie was divisive among “Star Trek” fans, many of whom yelled at each other over whether it was actually “Trek” or not.
The newest iteration of TV “Star Trek” will engender those same discussions. But it has enough fan service to keep fans tuned in. Did I mention Sarek, Spock’s father, is here? A first officer is referred to as “Number one!” References to Kahless!
1. The opening theme
“Discovery” has the best opening credit sequence of any of the series. True, it doesn’t have anyone narrating that space is the final frontier. However, the theme song has the familiar pings from the original series opener before it seamlessly transitions into faster paced strings that evoke the score from the Bourne franchise, eventually crescendoing into a familiar “Trek” riff that has become ingrained in pop culture. Its overlaid with gorgeous animations like those of “Westworld” or “Game of Thrones.”
2. The look
Given the budget and advances in CGI, this is clearly the most visually stunning “Star Trek” pilot. It’s almost to the franchise’s detriment that the show is confined to being set before the original series, which, for obvious reasons, looks clunky in comparison. “Discovery” is going to have to get creative in showing off its cinematography while staying true to the timeline.
(On that note: What’s with the hologram technology? When Sarek is talking to his adopted daughter, Michael, remotely, is he walking around where he is and sitting on a desk at his location that happens to line up with Michael’s desk? Similarly, when Admiral Anderson (Terry Serpico) is dialed in remotely talking to Philippa, he turns his head to make a biting remark to Michael standing behind him. Did he turn his head where he was transmitting from? Is he sitting in his office randomly turning his head to no one in particular? And are you telling me that this technology would not have been used by characters from the “Trek” series that are set after this one? See what I mean?)
3. Captain Philippa Georgiou and Commander Saru
We don’t learn too much about the crew itself here — one of the many departures from typical “Trek” pilots — but both Philippa (Michelle Yeoh) and Commander Saru (Doug Jones), give commanding performances with limited material. Ms. Yeoh’s Philippa is vulnerable, capable, caring and loyal. Mr. Jones’s Saru plays a different — and seemingly more frustrated — fish out of water than Spock or Data. And his ominous delivery of the most quotable line of the episode — “My people were biologically determined for one purpose alone: To sense the coming of death. I sense it coming now.” — was flawless.
What didn’t work
1. The mutiny
I’ll admit: Michael’s mutiny brought me up from my sofa. It was a truly surprising moment. But it puts Michael’s character in a big hole. She has been under Philippa’s command for seven years. Philippa seems to value her role as mentor to Michael, even to the point of saying that she believes that Michael should get her own command.
There isn’t much evidence that Michael would ever attack her superior officer irrationally for not attacking a Klingon ship — let alone a mentor.
(The episode’s title is “The Vulcan Hello.” Michael describes this as how the Vulcans came to find peace with the Klingons, by pre-emptively attacking their ships, a plot point I am skeptical of, and one Michael was unconvincing in conveying.)
And how is the audience to view any of Michael’s future actions? To already put the viewer’s trust in the main character on shaky footing was a risky move. Kudos to the creative team for taking the leap. We’ll see if it pays off.
2. Where is the ship?!
We don’t see the Discovery. Not even a glimpse of the ship that is the namesake of the show. This is another departure from previous Treks. For any fan, it’s an exciting prospect to — ahem — discover the newest “Star Trek” ship. I understand the show is serialized now, but tease us at least!
3. The long Klingon scenes
In previous “Trek” series, even when Klingons are talking with each other, they mostly — for the viewer’s benefit — dialogue in English. It was a contrivance (Why did Klingons often know English and Klingon, while humans knew only one of the two?) but a necessary one. In “The Vulcan Hello,” the writers made the decision to fix that hole and show the Klingons talking exclusively in their language with subtitles. It interrupts the pacing of the show when the scenes drag as long as they do, especially as you have to scrutinize subtitles for long periods of time.
Did you catch that?!
A few Easter eggs and callbacks (or rip-offs) that I’d like to point out:
1. Early in the episode, the crew of the Shenzou are sent to the edge of Federation space to find out what happened with a relay. An object appears. Philippa asks Saru: “What am I looking at?” Saru responds, “An object of unknown origin.” Philippa snaps back: “Let’s get more specific.” In the “Voyager” pilot, after the ship is hit with an energy wave, Ensign Harry Kim (Garrett Wang) says to Captain Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew), “Captain, there’s something out there.” Janeway responds, “I need a better description than that, Mr. Kim.”
2. When Michael rushes out of sickbay and to the bridge to warn Philippa about an impending Klingon attack, it was very similar to Kirk sprinting out of sickbay in the 2009 film to warn Captain Christopher Pike about an impending Romulan attack.
3. When Philippa says, “We have engaged the Klingons,” I chuckled as I thought of Picard, in one of the most famous “Trek” moments in history, instructing Worf to tell Starfleet, “We have engaged the Borg,” another deadly enemy of the Federation not seen for some time.
4. And if you are really keeping close track:
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