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The One Element ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Needs ASAP

“Star Trek: Discovery” is boldly going where virtually all of its predecessors have gone before.

The new series, available on the CBS All Access streaming service, just completed its fall season with nine episodes. Its premiere season will wrap in early 2018, and the network has already renewed the series.

Star Trek: Discovery - Official Trailer

“Star Trek: Discovery’s” star isn’t sitting in the captain’s chair this time around. Sonequa Martin-Green of “The Walking Dead” fame plays Starfleet pariah (and maybe savior) Michael Burnham. Set a decade before the exploits of James Kirk and Leonard McCoy, Burnham is caught up in a Klingon power struggle The clash eventually leads to war with the heroic federation.

The result is considerable bloodshed – and even a couple of F-bombs – that are a first for a “Trek” series. At this point, though, “Star Trek: Discovery” has little more to boast than that.

Martin-Green is given a tall task – playing a human raised by emotion-shunning Vulcans. Original series legend Leonard Nimoy nailed the concept in the late 1960s as the human/Vulcan hybrid Spock.

But make no mistake – Martin-Green is no Nimoy.

Her difficulty in grasping human concepts – even after being second in command of a starship for seven years – isn’t nearly as convincing as Nimoy’s character. It’s a critical flaw for the show, as the series will ultimately need to leverage Burnham to explore the human condition from the outside in.

Star Trek: Discovery - "Dance With Me"

A hit-or-miss supporting cast eases some of the pain. Jason Isaacs as Capt. Lorca and Anthony Rapp as an irritable scientist turned navigator are the high points. Doug Jones as the alien Saru is a slow burn – annoying in the initial episodes, but eventually becoming more interesting as the half-season progresses.

The rest of the cast looks like they’ve been ripped from the pages of a CW Network casting agent’s playbook.

Previous “Treks” have succeeded with middling casts before. To be truly “Trek,” the show must be socially relevant – the “Wagon Train to the stars” concept that original series creator Gene Roddenberry dreamed of.

So far, “Discovery” just feels like more of the same.

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One episode dealt with a series of time loops in which the ship is constantly being destroyed. The story practically ripped off the concept from a superior “Next Generation” episode from the 1990s.

Another reintroduces us to original series rapscallion Harry Mudd (Rainn Wilson). Even the concept of “Trek at war” (don’t we have “Star Wars” for that?) was handled masterfully by “Deep Space Nine.” There’s no railing against workplace harassment, climate change or religious freedoms.

Those socially conscious parables – whether you agree with the teachings or not – are what makes Star Trek Star Trek. The show must ultimately find its humanity. Otherwise, it’s not “Trek” but just another sci-fi show.

Despite its flaws, “Discovery” show more potential than perhaps any other “Trek” incarnation. The visuals are amazing (despite, once again, changing the look of the Klingons). The cast is good enough that they can still gel (though I’d be surprised if the showrunner don’t kill off several characters each season, the new industry standard). And Martin-Green may be able to shed that tough Vulcan persona and find her humanity.

Given enough time – and patience from fans and CBS management – the show may become a “Trek” worth taking.

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2 Comments

  1. I concur that this evolution will be an acquired taste. Sadly, they killed the most compelling character thus far, in the first episode. Martin-Green is no Nimoy, nor should she be. She can still portray the human conflict between reason and logic, without cloning Spock. She is human and they need to consider the possibility that nurture means far less than nature. The new Klingons are plastic and pathetically predictable. To me it is unreasonable to posit an advanced interstellar race than never progressed beyond the caves as a society. They have always been “barbarians” by Western standards, but the truth of being deemed bargarian has always been effectively defined as anthropomorphic polytheism, not behavior.

  2. No mention of the Orville, which is eating this show’s lunch by simply being Star Trek? The Fox show is produced by Brannon Braga and has featured Liam Neeson, Charlize Theron, Robert Picardo and has an episode coming up featuring Patrick Stewart. Directors have included Jonathan Frakes and Robert Duncan O’Neill.

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