My husband and sister and I watched the first episode of Star Trek: Discovery when it aired, but declined to subscribe to CBS’s streaming service to get the rest of it. I was uncertain whether I wanted to watch the rest anyway, because on the basis of that first ep, I had a bad feeling the show was basically Star Trek: Grimdark. But my husband went ahead and bought the discs when they became available, and I figured, fine, I’ll give it more of a chance.
It is not Star Trek: Grimdark. It is, in fact, an active and wholehearted rejection of that concept.
Now, it would be fair to say that it’s Star Trek: Gritty. There is a lot more blood and gore and sex here than I expected, a lot more characters making morally questionable choices or getting into conflicts that cut all the way to the bone instead of being resolved in a scene. There is a war on, and it feels a lot more like a real war than anything else I’ve seen in Star Trek (full disclosure: I haven’t seen a lot of it, precisely because the surface-y nature of a lot of its conflicts has left me unengaged). But in the long term, the first season is about being put in situations where it feels like you’ve got to compromise your principles in order to achieve your goal, and saying: No. I will find a better way.
Which I really, really appreciate.
The show also has much better long-term plotting than I expected out of a Star Trek offering — most of their previous shows being heavily episodic in their structure. This one is Arc-Plot Ahoy!, which lets it pull off some narrative stunts toward the end of the season that genuinely impressed me. Mind you, that’s coupled with a number of premises that are pure grade-A Science Cheese, to an extent that made me roll my eyes even though I knew coming in that Star Trek is not the place to look for anything resembling actual science . . . but I can forgive that for conflicts and characters I’m invested in.
Its other flaw is that I just really don’t care about the Klingons. Which is a problem when they’re a goodly chunk of the plot. But every time the scene cut to their internal politicking, I felt myself tuning out. I don’t find their society interesting, and I think the extensive use of the Klingon language contributed to the problem; because it was designed to sound weird, it contains a high density of difficult-to-pronounce sounds, which means that every single Klingon actor delivered their lines in essentially the same ponderous tone. Combine that with massive prosthetics, and you have a recipe for flattening their ability to act into a pancake of boredom.
But whenever it got back to the Federation characters or the people around them, I checked right back in. And I especially liked the sheer number of women and people of color — many of them human women and people of color, rather than using aliens as proxies for real-world diversity. I loved the fact that Admiral Cornwell is a woman over the age of thirty who actually looks like she’s over the age of thirty: she’s not cover-model beautiful and botoxed to hell and gone, she’s an ordinary-looking middle-aged woman just like all the ordinary-looking middle-aged men who manage to get jobs on shows like this. I loved Tilly being socially awkward and fantastic. I loved that when we get to the Orions, there are scantily clad male dancers as well as female.
I have no idea what they’re doing with the plot of the second season, but I am definitely interested in watching it.