Star Trek Discovery episodes 1 and 2 review: Change is gonna come (spoilers)

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To paraphrase the song: ’it’s been a long time comin’, but a change is gonna come’.

Star Trek fans have waited a long time for the show to return to their TVs. It’s twelve years since Enterprise insulted its previous 97 instalments in the so-called ‘prime’ timeline by winding down with holodeck episode. Yes, there have been three excursions into the ‘Kelvin timeline’ of the movies, but they have knowingly set themselves apart from the shows we’ve known and loved to fluctuating levels of success.

So here we are, after all the hype, the behind the scenes drama, rumour and conjecture. 80ish minutes of brand new Star Trek that sits, apparently – and despite some markedly different design decisions – in the same timeline as all the previous Star Trek TV outings. At least as far as we know.

Where exactly the events of these two episodes sit compared to the ongoing story of Discovery itself is far from clear, though.

After Trek presenter Micheal Mira described ‘The Vulcan Hello’ and ‘Battle At The Binary Stars’ – two great epsiode titles, by the way – as a “two-hour cold open”. He’s pretty much spot on. They throw us into the action with little explanation of what’s to come in the next thirteen episodes.

These tales are full of misdirection. Thus, coming into episode three, we still haven’t seen the titular ship, it’s Captain, or its crew – though the recurring character of Saru hints that there will be limited continuity in that respect. Whether the correlation between the two crews is by chance or design, however, remains to be seen.

Side note: Saru is played by Doug Jones, a man who seems permanently fated to sit in a make-up chair. Having played prosthetically endowed characters in any number of films – current fave The Shape of Water, Abe Sapien in the Hellboy movies, Pan’s Labyrinth’s iconic Pale Man and Fauno, Buffy The Vampire Slayers‘ Gentlemen in the classic episode ‘Hush’ – and he promises to bring a real touch of class to proceedings with his uncanny ability to project emotions through all that rubber.

We could debate the future of this show ad infinitum right now. A lot comes down to exactly what sort of ellipsis of time we get before the events of episode 3, though. The first handle we get on Discovery’s place in time comes when Sonequa Martin-Green’s Micheal Burnham offers up an opening First Officer’s log: star date 1207.3 (“May 11th 2256, a Sunday”). This plonks the events of these two episodes nine years before the beginning of Kirk’s five-year mission in the prime timeline. Meaning, if all the assertions of the producers hold water, the Enterprise is out there, somewhere, under the Captaincy of Christopher Pike – with a certain Mr. Spock serving as his science officer.

We also learn early that, at that point in time, Burnham has been serving on a ship called the Shenzhou for seven years under  Cpt. Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh). More importantly (at least until Georgiou meets her untimely end), we discover that she was raised as the ward of none-other than Sarek – Spock’s father – as the only human to attend the Vulcan Learning Centre and Science Academy.

This, courtesy of a little basic math, means she is delivered to Star Fleet by Sarek at just prior to Spock turning down his place at the Science Academy in order to also join, and thus become the first (half) Vulcan Star Fleet officer. I’ve read that the show will seek to explain why Spock never mentioned this trail-blazing member of his family group, and fans will probably demand that it does so.

It’s best not to get bogged down in such details, though. And enjoy Discovery for what it delivers to the screen – a fresh, modern Star Trek fit-for-purpose, and exciting as a prospect.

Thus, now we’ve talked about time, it’s time to talk about change – ‘cause, frankly, that’s the more interesting element of Discovery. Again, not the physical changes in design aesthetic from the original series, which – we’re told – it predates by only 10 years. Nor the changes to the physiology of the Klingons we meet very early on – that’s a subject that was somewhat retconned in Enterprise episodes Affliction and Divergance.

Instead of that, let’s talk about a change of mindset.

Let’s talk about Star Trek trying to break free of the shackles of its own history – and, let it be said, it’s own fandom – while showing them both the respect they deserve. Let’s talk about how Discovery‘s intro episodes puts two kick ass women in the lead roles and makes no big deal of it. Let’s talk about how it references some seriously deep Star Trek lore while looking deep into the history of Klingons, and how they became the warrior race we know, by invoking the figure of Kahless. Let’s talk about those lush special effects. Those sets. Let’s talk about that wonderfully subtle opening title sequence, which is literally re-drawing the Trek universe from the ground up before our very eyes. Let’s talk about those phasers. Oh, those phasers…

Any of those things are more relevant than picking apart a show we haven’t yet seen for what may or may not be problems with a fictional timeline.

So where are we, story-wise? Nowhere skywards of its foundations, really. T’Kuvma, the Klingon offered up to us as the big bad of the opening double bill is now dead, but who or what will come in his wake? Will he become the martyr Burnham predicted, will the fanatical Voq carry on his cause with the same zeal? It’s almost certain that Discovery will concern itself with the fallout from events here – both on a micro and macro level.

Executive Producer Aaron Harberts described these episodes as a “prologue” to the main fayre, to allow the audience to understand Burnham better. He has also commented that the production team considered episode 3 to be the show’s true pilot, where we will meet the people with whom we’ll travel through this first series. That means next week we can finally say hello to Jason Isaacs next week, and find our exactly what machinations are going to extract our Burnham from a life sentence – and what Discovery is really going to be about, and whether what we’ve seen so far is what we’ll see going forward.

I, personally, hope it is. Trek was ready for a change, and Discovery brings it – without, thankfully, the self-referential nods of J.J. Abrams’ universe. If it’s not your thing, there’s always The Orville to look forward to – no seriously, that’s not half bad, either.