Welcome to the first of the weekly Star Trek: Discovery post. Every Wednesday, we’ll recap, react and ruminate about the latest episode. I’ve decided to do these posts on Wednesdays to give everyone a couple of days to watch the latest episode, as they are being released on different schedules depending on geography and platform.
This post will contain mild spoilers, so don’t read ahead until you have watched both “The Vulcan Hello” and “Battle at the Binary Stars”. These posts won’t be containing lengthy recaps, but instead focus on the basics of what we learn. In the case of the first two episodes, it more about what we are introduced to in Star Trek: Discovery.
Star Trek: Discovery Episode One: “The Vulcan Hello” Recap
“The Vulcan Hello” follows the format of “Broken Bow” more than other Star Trek series pilots. Instead of having scenes dedicated to, “And now we are going to tell you about this character through a lot of supposition,” Discovery does a lot more showing rather than telling. Yes, there is some supposition, but it’s found in much lesser quantities and isn’t as painfully obvious.
We learn that it’s been 100 years or so since the Federation last had contact with the Klingons. We learn that First Officer Michael Burnham was raised on Vulcan and struggles with her humanity because of childhood trauma. In fact, she struggles so much that she commits mutiny. We learn that the Klingon empire is deeply divided, on levels more profound than during the (future) Klingon Civil War. We also know that there is another Vulcan hello that has nothing to do with living long, prospering, or coming in peace.
Star Trek: Discovery Episode Two: “Battle at the Binary Stars” Recap
It is in this episode, that we begin to really see what the theme is going to be: Colonization and imperialism but instead of the normal outward focus, the focus is inward on the Federation. More on that when we ruminate below.
We also learn more about Burnham and why she is on the Shenzhou. We learn a little bit more about the fractured Klingon empire and the Klingon distaste for the Federation.
Then there is all the action which, for me, felt like the tension found in Star Trek: First Contact with hints of Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, even with its lens-flaring touches.
The first two episodes of Star Trek: Discovery did what modern pilots are supposed to do: Set up the story and draw people in; creating anticipation and a thirst to learn more about the little pieces of substance dropped in here and there.
Star Trek Discovery: Reactions
I’m the owner of a large Star Trek community. Every week, I’ll pull some reactions from there and include them here. I invite the readers of GeekDad and GeekMom to add their own reactions in the comments below.
The overall reaction was very positive.
There are a few people who had outstanding questions about the appearance of the Klingons as we were promised their changed appearance would be explained. To this, I said: I swear some looked different but it was hard to tell because some had veils on their faces. The story has enough social commentary in it to keep me happy. I’ve always been about the human stories and not the window dressing, so I can more easily forgive these things. That said, because the Augments played such a big role in ENT to explain TOS Klingons, if they don’t work it in, I’ll be cheesed. I suspect that part of the history is what divided the houses.
There were also some other small quibbles about aesthetics. However, even those who found themselves quibbling about the window dressing were pleased overall with the meat that has been promised in these first two episodes.
Everyone likes the fact that Discovery will be following a character rather than a ship.
As expected, there is a lot of complaints from Americans about how the series is being delivered to them. But from a business standpoint, this model has worked out very well for CBS.
I think one of the comments from the community that wraps up the consensus about how well Star Trek: Discovery was received is the following:
I just finished watching both episodes on Netflix. OMG THIS SHOW IS AWESOME! I love everything about it. There’s Trek, exploring, fighting, Vulcans, humans, Andorians, hull breaches, honor, logic, emotion. I think it was a superb start for the new show and hope they can keep up the pace, the story and the emotion. Great to see women in lead characters as well. Can’t wait for next week.
Star Trek: Discovery Ruminations
While there isn’t a whole lot to ruminate and explore as far as the social commentary found in Star Trek in relation to the Discovery premiere, there are a couple of discussions we can start and expand upon as the weeks go on, while adding more topics to the mix.
The first of these is Michael Burnham. I think Burnham is the type of character where people’s life experiences are going to play heavily into their reactions.
While people in my Star Trek community are overall positive about this character, discussions on Twitter have been a little bit different. There are many people who don’t like how Burnham has been setup as an anti-hero and think what she did was unimaginable for a Starfleet officer.
I find this reaction curious.
For me, how her childhood trauma resulted in a strong desire to disconnect from emotion and humans and how disassociating is necessary for survival, these things are highly relatable. I’m a survivor of severe childhood trauma. As a result, I have C-PTSD. Connections to humans are difficult. To add to this, when you are currently being triggered, you will go to great lengths to make the psychological and somatic responses stop.
Also, I’m autistic and often see things in terms of very strict binaries. I can understand on an objective level why she made the specific choice she did. That said, it did lead to an out-loud reaction of, “Well, you’re going to pay for that exercise in logic.” And an internal thought of, “Your ship mates won’t understand why that is your logical conclusion.”
I think over the next couple of episodes, we’ll learn even more about how both her past and time aboard the Shenzhou have created a complex human who isn’t an anti-hero but instead, you know, complicated and heroic, and will cause us to examine how our lived experiences profoundly affect us. These things aren’t good or bad, even if they can be difficult to understand. Especially if those lived experiences are not shared. Sometimes, even if they are shared, how they shape us will be different. It’s like with siblings and how their unshared experiences have more influence in shaping personality than shared experiences.
Humans are puzzles worthy of their own exploration instead of using an android or a Vulcan to do so. I’m looking forward to exploring these complexities.
What are your initial reactions to Michael Burnham?
“We Come in Peace” – How Other Societies React
If you’ve paid attention to interviews prior to the Star Trek: Discovery premiere, then you knew that instead of limited social commentary and associated themes to one or two episodes, it’s going to be a long in-depth discovery (excuse the pun). We were also told that part of the big theme will be about the Federation’s assumption that they are always welcomed.
How we react to this exploration will vary greatly depending on where we live in the world and our experiences with either being on the receiving end of colonization and imperialism, and other histories. It will also depend on personal privilege. It’s going to be a difficult but worthy discussion.
While I’ve always loved the communal ideals of the Federation—each member planet contributes according to their means and in return, they get what they need—there has been a part that always bugs me. That is: There is the Prime Directive, but to become part of the Federation, the planet seeking membership must exhibit certain ideals. If they don’t exhibit those ideals, they must change or they will be denied entry. This leads to increased suffering by the rejected planet. While the Federation is made up of a lot of diverse cultures that are celebrated, there is still an amount of imperialism that goes on.
This has always bothered me. I like the communal aspects but there is still some individuality that has to be scarified to be a part of it.
It could be because I’m Canadian and part of Canadian identity is “We are not American” because we fought wars to not be American. Part of the push for confederation was to keep our sovereignty as a British dominion because of conflicts that occurred during the U.S. Civil War. Maybe it’s because Canada is currently going through a Truth and Reconciliation process and I’m highly sensitive to the issues having grown up around indigenous people and saw first hand what “peaceful” Canada has done to people.
My Canadian identity also had me rooting for the Dominion because how dare the Federation think their lives are worthier than Dominion lives. I rooted for the Cylons for similar reasons. Who are we to say our culture or way of living is better than another’s?
There are a lot of things about my Canadian identity that cause me to look forward, with great anticipation, to the exploration of how and why another sovereign empire would not look at the Federation as coming in peace. I can also see how this is going to make some people uncomfortable and may not want to ruminate over these issues and examine how we as individuals may play a part.
There is also general anticipation surrounding if this overall theme will also be tied to current global tensions. Current global tensions in relation to Star Trek: Discovery may be too political to discuss on GeekDad during our weekly chats, but those chats are already happening elsewhere.
What are your initial thoughts on this theme?
How to Watch Star Trek: Discovery
If you live in the United States, you’ll get a new episode every Sunday night on CBS All Access.
If you live in Canada, new episodes will air every Sunday on Space, with a Monday evening release on CraveTV.
If you live outside of the United States and Canada, you’ll get a new episode every Monday on Netflix.
There will be a mid-season break between the beginning of November and the beginning of January.
Until next Wednesday when we will recap, react, and ruminate about “Context Is for Kings”.