CBS has weathered a lot of obstacles, mostly self-inflicted, to bring the latest iteration of Star Trek to the small screen.
There was one huge positive in last night’s episode. The visuals were at least as good as the recent films, and about as far above The Orville as The Orville bested the NG/DS9/Voyager era. There was a sense of wonder both on the planet (and for a routine mission!) and in space. If this continues, there might be some hope. I can’t believe a big corporation would get visuals so right and get the essential element–storytelling–so wrong. Also, the opening credits were different for a Trek series, and I think I liked them.
I’ll also give this Trek braintrust some credit for something of a novelty: a multi-episode story told over the course of a “season.” There was something of that in DS9’s Dominion War narrative. But there’s some long story with the lead character Burnham envisioned from the start here.
But there are some wrongs. One biggie: going back to the “past,” placing the new series a decade before classic Trek. I wonder: are they angling for a Chris Pine guest appearance to lift sagging ratings in some far-off (or near) future? I’ll have to wait to see how the story unfolds, but I saw nothing in this episode that couldn’t have been written, say, a generation or two in the future from Picard.
This first episode wasn’t as awkward as Voyager’s* but it had some big holes. The lead character leaves the bridge in the middle of a crisis to consult with a mentor long-distance. If I caught the scene right, somebody light years away has seen a “beacon” set off by the Klingons. Maybe it was a sub-space broadcast as well as a bright light, but still … In Star Trek you can communicate in real time, but seeing objects across interstellar space? That usually takes decades or centuries.
There’s a binary star system that should be a lot more chaotic than two fairly neat rings of merging debris. Bad science on tv and in the movies is a big distraction. And a needless one, as one star could move this story as well as two.
Klingon corpses are “yelled” into the afterlife, as they are in Worf’s Trek. But in this iteration, the show’s braintrust has forgotten that dead bodies are considered empty shells and disposed of with no further ceremony. Somebody forgot to inform Klingons have no coffins.
I can imagine the show’s creators are eager to develop their lead character’s story line. But getting her to a crucial moment was awkward. There’s a clumsy disagreement with her captain that brings up some traumatic childhood moment–not what you’d expect from a Vulcan-trained human savant. It seems this conflict will drive the next eleven episodes. It’s fine to have a life-defining moment in a crisis. Writers need to work harder to help it make sense.
So, CBS wants trekkers to pony up $6 to $10 a month to watch this show online. I think UPN blundered on that point in the last generation hoping Voyager would launch a new network. Maybe it will work better this time. But I didn’t see enough to convince me. Pretty pictures I can get here any day. Science fiction writers in both long and short forms are lapping writers for big screen and small. For endless wonder where no one has gone before, I’m still taking the local option, like this one.
My final verdict: CBS needs to work harder to earn my entertainment dollar. But maybe they will.
*In a universe filled with water planets, they conjure a reason for a seven-year journey home that needn’t have happened.