Last night, CBS finally took the wraps off its oft-delayed new show, Star Trek: Discovery. The two-part debut (“The Vulcan Hello” and “Battle at the Binary Stars”) gave fans the first new TV Trek since Star Trek: Enterprise ceased subspace transmission in 2005. And they were ready for it—last night’s premiere set a single-day record for new signups for CBS’ All Access streaming service. Those who ponied up for an account got both parts of the debut; those who didn’t only got the first episode, which aired on broadcast like something from the 1990s.
Is it worth the money? Was it worth the wait? WIRED writers Adam Rogers and Brendan Nystedt, two life-long Trek fans, boldly agreed to discuss the newest venture. Shields up! Red alert! Spoilers ahead!
Adam Rogers: All right, Brendan. My mind to your mind; my thoughts to your thoughts. How are we feeling? On the one hand, I am glad to have some Star Trek to watch, and while I got all aflutter watching a Klingon armada get #disruptive on the United Federation of Planets, some part of my brain was definitely spinning on the story problems and possible solutions I wrote about last week. Like, it spent two hours on the kind of character deployment and story set-up that Deep Space Nine could’ve knocked out in a single cold open. And this definitely wasn’t explore-strange-new-worlds-seek-out-new-life Trek. This was dark Starfleet at war, with a captain who meets her Kobayashi Maru and a promising officer who ends up sentenced to life in the stockade for mutiny.
Hey, relatedly, there is no piece of culture I can embrace wholly where Michelle Yeoh dies an ignominious death. I didn’t like it in Sunshine and I don’t like it here. She was in Heroic Trio, for pete’s sake. She coulda taken that Klingon.
Brendan Nystedt: I saw it coming from a lightyear away but still, ouch. What I didn’t see coming was that they’d also kill the Klingon cult leader, T’Kuvma.
Overall, even with my quibbles over the first two episodes, I’m still holding off judging it entirely. I think the two-parter backstory was an intriguing way to open this new show but it also worries me that the CBS All Access “first taste is free” thing means we don’t have a sense of what the bulk of the story will involve because the network is putting a lot of window dressing in the episodes people can watch for free. Maybe fans who didn’t like the introduction would learn to love where it pivots to next.
Was the opening dark? Yeah, it was. I appreciated that Michael Burnham wanted to get out there and check out the OUO (object of unknown origin) and that they bring up the balance between exploration and war. I think that darkness is something this time period can exploit more since we’re firmly in the “cowboy diplomacy” days of Kirk.
Even with my Star Trek brain fully engaged (heh), I was surprised that the drama worked on me. When Burnham disables the captain with a perfectly-executed Vulcan Nerve Pinch, I was stunned. When that Klingon ship took out the USS Europa while de-cloaking, I recoiled. As much as I was scrutinizing the uniforms and the Klingon makeup, the show worked for me on a basic level.
Rogers: Yes, yes. Me too.
But be honest. If the set up for this show was that it is set 100 years after Voyager rather than a decade before TOS, would it be any different? In what sense is this a prequel? The Klingons do not look like Klingons we have seen. The instrumentation on the ships is new. The uniforms are new. The pew-pew of the phasers and photon torpedoes are new. The Federation starships don’t look anything like the ships of the era—were no Constitution-class starships deployed at that point? Why don’t the Bussard collectors have the light-up pinwheel spinny effect? Why don’t the warp nacelles have to be as far from the crewed parts of the ships? What are these Star Wars communications holograms doing here?
Flip side, I loved seeing the rethought handheld phasers and communicators; they really are elegant. And I liked the bridge noises being the TOS bridge noises. But other than knowing Sarek is Spock’s dad, what’s prequel-y about this?
This isn’t necessarily a complaint. I like the story so far. I just feel about it the same way I did about the reboot movies’ alternate timeline. As a fan, I don’t need it. I dunno; maybe it’s all a set up for the last shot of the season being a TOS-authentic Constitution-class Enterprise heading off on Captain Pike’s five-year mission.
Nystedt: The look of the show is something I’m still reconciling, but Trek has been here before. Whether it’s the retcons of Star Trek: Enterprise or especially the 1979 Motion Picture, designs and tech change a bit to suit the time. I’ve never believed that the movie Enterprise was the same Enterprise as the TV show, and yet it’s known to be a “refit.” Unless it’s the ship of Theseus, the movie Enterprise just can’t logically be the same as the one from the show!
I digress … I’m also unsure why they decided to make this a prequel, especially if it’s going to try to do its own thing. I’d understand if it were for the sake of fanservice but as of yet there have been a limited number of references to the universe. I’m hoping they’ll at least hint at conforming to a style closer to what we know from TOS, but I’d be OK if that were a reinterpretation, too.
The Klingons were another sticking point: I was cool with showing this rogue gang of Kahless-worshippers but when the rest of the house leadership Skypes in to T’Kuvma’s sarcophagus ship I was disappointed. Enterprise tried to give the makeup and characterization changes of past Klingons some kind of sense, but I felt like even that explanation couldn’t remotely cover for why all these Klingons looked different. At least they were completely subtitled—that I really dug.
Rogers: I liked hearing all that Klingon, too—and then seeing the universal translator kick in when T’Kuvma called the Shenzhou. Cool starship names all around, actually. I loved the references to a USS Yeager.
Speaking of, though, you make a good point that we don’t even really know what the story of this show will be. We haven’t yet discovered the Discovery, presumably the ship we’ll spend the bulk of the season on. And despite my gripes, I’m psyched for it. I don’t know if a lot of people will spring for this show, but I’m glad it exists, and I’m looking forward to the season. Glad there’s more Star Trek in my life.
Can I tell you a separate story? I know that the first ep did great in the ratings, 9.6 million people. And CBS is staying that it got a big pulse of new subscribers to All Access, but not giving out numbers. So OK. Last night I watched the first ep on my DVR and then went to subscribe to All Access to watch the second.
First I tried to do that via Apple TV, but apparently my Apple TV is so old that it doesn’t really know how to do two-factor authentication. You have to get a verification code from your phone and then type it in along with your password, apparently, but timed with the deftness of a longtime gamer, which I am not. I gave up.
I went to the app on my iPad, which seemed ready to let me sign up, until it decided that my zip code was invalid. Several times. (Narrator: It was not invalid.) Finally I logged all the way out and then logged in with Google, which somehow convinced the app my zip code was real. At which point I learned that payment was going via my Apple account, which makes me wonder why I’m paying CBS instead of just Apple. This all took about 45 minutes to figure out, by the way.
This is not an onboarding process anyone should be proud of, is my point.
Nystedt: That’s a huge bummer! I had signed up for my All Access account earlier in the day through the website, but that wasn’t ideal either. Like, I’m happy to give my money over to Trek, but I wish it were more streamlined. One disappointment for me is that even though Discovery is a launch title for the service, the rest of the Star Trek offerings are a mix of HD and non-HD. Voyager and DS9 haven’t been restored (and they might not ever be) but only about a half of The Next Generation and none of the original show appear in their HD incarnations.
And so, even though we get a new show, Trek continues to get dissed. It’s a treasure of global popular culture but it just doesn’t get the respect it deserves, whether it’s from CBS or Paramount. I’d go so far as to say that MGM is giving Stargate better treatment with its upcoming streaming service, offering up just that show’s back catalog (and movies!) for a flat rate plus the promise of new content to come.
And when you have to look to Stargate to find a decent single-franchise online service, you know it’s gonna be a long road… But, I got faith of the hearrrttttt!!!
Rogers: No Sto’vo’Kor for you, pal. Eesh. Anyway, no matter what these streaming services show or don’t show, they can’t take the sky from me.
Nystedt: Awww man I was looking forward to seeing my ancestors in the afterlife. One thing I enjoyed seeing yesterday was how fandom reacted to the show. Definitely check Twitter for #OnFleet—some excellent, funny commentary there, particularly from nerds of color and women fans.
So, next Sunday, we finally get to see the titular ship. Somehow, Burnham gets out of her life sentence, and I guess we’ll get more Saru, too. I’m on the Discovery train, are you feeling optimistic?
Rogers: I’m with Ambassador Spock. There are always possibilities.
Nystedt: LLAP and tune in next week.