Over the past six weeks our crew has been eating up Star Trek: Discovery, and many of you have been following along with Andi’s amazing episode recaps, featuring sassy GIFs by Aaron Reynolds, a.k.a. @swear_trek.
But for those of you who have been holding out because you’re not really sure whether you want to pay for CBS All-Access in the US (or Crave TV up here in Canada), or because you’re just not sure this is the Trek for you, here’s my spoiler-free review of the show so far, and a list of some of the reasons you might or might not to dive in.
My Spoiler-Free Review:
I was cautiously optimistic in the lead-up to Discovery. I was excited about the casting of Sonequa Martin-Green and Michelle Yeoh, and the announcement of Anthony Rapp as the first openly gay character in a Trek TV series. But a couple of things concerned me. I was a little worried about Bryan Fuller’s departure as show-runner, and what that would mean for the show’s commitment to diversity. I was also really worried about the show’s plan to bring back the infamous TOS character Mudd and use him in more than half episodes this season.
But as it stands now, if Discovery stays this good, it might be a serious contender for my favourite Trek series.
Discovery is Trek like we’ve never seen it before, and that’s not all bad. Although I love the last fifty years of Trek, let’s be honest: its treatment of women, frequent tokenization of people of colour, and near-invisibility of LGBTQIAP characters was due for an update.
Back in 2014, with the help of some awesome volunteers, I ran the Bechdel-Wallace test on every episode of Star Trek. Every episode that featured two named women talking to each other about something other than a man passed. The results weren’t great: Voyager was obviously the high point, but Enterprise was a huge step back, with only 39% of episodes passing the test.
Discovery passed the Bechdel-Wallace in the first scenes of the first episode, in a scene that was highlighted in the trailers, where Captain Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) and First Officer Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) undertake a mission on a desert planet. It was all the more notable for the fact these were two women of colour. Two women of colour having a conversation about work, leadership, and the goals of the Federation. I was hooked.
Because Burnham is at the centre of the story and the overall casting is so much more diverse than any previous Star Trek, we’ve seen awesome conversations between women in every episode. And despite the wailings of a few fanboys, it’s not a zero-sum game: we have some really interesting and diverse male characters on Discovery who absolutely make their own impressions.
Plus the background diversity is stellar – Star Trek is finally starting to feel like it’s past just checking boxes for diversity, and moved to really integrating it into everything it does.
The main feature still missing for me is a well-done, prominent Indigenous character, something Trek still hasn’t really given us. There’s also been some valid critique around the way some of the women of colour characters have been handled, but unfortunately I can’t really go into it without spoilers. I will say that I’ve been pretty impressed by how engaged the cast and writers have been with the fandom since the show started, and Anthony Rapp’s response (spoilers at the link) to this particular critique is no exception. Maybe it doesn’t make it ok, but it reassures me that the creative team is listening and truly cares about representation.
In another example of this, I will be eternally grateful that Discovery got me to follow Jason Isaacs on Twitter, and that I have since been witness to his epic responses to racist and sexist Discovery trolls. It feels so good to know the cast of a Star Trek that’s on the air is taking a stand on issues you care about.
The other really big difference between Discovery and previous iterations of Star Trek – and probably the most controversial – is the level of darkness, conflict and moral ambiguity. I was one of those fans who wanted to see a post-Voyager series where humanity has already faced and conquered many of its demons, where the crew members of the Federation ship would be role models to aspire to.
Then Brexit happened, and then Trump happened, and assuming a rosy future for humanity started seem more than a little tone-deaf. More and more I find myself doubting whether humanity can even make it to the 24th century, much less move past racism and other forms of discrimination. Over the spring and summer I found myself craving the story of how we conquered our demons. I’m not certain, but I feel like that is the story Discovery will give us. Yes, it’s dark, and intense. It takes us right into the Pandora’s Box of questions raised by DS9 episodes like “In the Pale Moonlight” – what would you do in a time of desperation? Would you sacrifice yourself, or force others to suffer? Would you betray someone else in order to survive? How do you get back to what you know is right?
Discovery is Trek like we’ve never seen it before, but it is Trek. Amid all the darkness, there continues to be a glimmer of hope, symbolized by Captain Georgiou’s telescope, that we will find the way if we embrace discovery – both of science and of ourselves.
Ok those Klingons tho…
A lot of people take big issue with the Klingon redesign and extensive Klingon focus in this series. Andi definitely finds the Klingon stuff super boring, and I’ve heard that from others, but I’m digging it. When Grace and I were at Star Trek Las Vegas this summer we got to see the costumes in person, and hear from the writers, creature designers, and actors about all the work they put into the Klingons in Discovery. I love how much every detail has been obsessed over, from hiring a fan language coach to make sure the words are spoken properly, to the meticulous, intricate ornamentation on the Klingon armor and weaponry. The depiction of the culture and politics? You might like it or you might not, but if not, hopefully you can appreciate the attention to detail.
But can I watch this with kids?
Discovery is the first Trek to be rated MA (for mature audiences). So far the basis for that rating seems to be the level of violence, including torture. I wouldn’t say it’s an exaggeration to compare it to watching TNG’s “Chain of Command,” and because the story is a multi-episode arc, you know it’s not over when the credits roll.
You might have heard about the F-bomb in last week’s episode and for me, because it was said to emphasize a good thing rather than in anger, that wasn’t an issue at all. But it might be a factor for parents/guardians in watching with kids. I’m not a parent but I’ve seen a few parents who’d recommend against watching Discovery with young children. For me I’d probably watch it with my 13-year-old niece but not my younger nephews, because of the violence. But I’d hope that they could watch it when they get a bit older, because I think teens could get a lot out of seeing the diverse representation and considering the show’s messages.
P.S. If you’re looking for other Trek to watch with kids (girls in particular), you might want to check out this previous Women at Warp episode.
I’m still not sure I want to pay for another streaming service…
So yeah, if you’re in the US or Canada, you have a total right to be frustrated. In Canada we can watch it broadcast on Space channel on Sunday nights, but then you have to find someone that paid for that cable package, or you can do what I’ve been doing and wait until Mondays to see it commercial-free on Crave TV. My boyfriend and I watched the premiere live and then rewatched on Crave and it was so much better without ads. (Plus I found out Crave has a lot of good stuff, like pretty much all the Monty Python, as well as Drunk History and Six Feet Under, so that made the subscription that much more worth it.)
If you’re in the States, you can pay for CBS All Access and at least get the episodes on Sundays, but you have to pay extra to watch without ads. With relatively few other shows on the service I would’ve balked at the cost too.
But man, given what we’ve seen so far from Discovery, I wouldn’t want to be missing out.