Alright so much has already been said about the first two seasons of Star Trek Discovery. From what I’ve seen online, the general opinion of those who’ve actually seen the show is favorable. Most fans also seem to agree that season two is far better, though it doesn’t mean the first was bad.
I’m here with my impressions of Star Trek Disco so far. I’ll talk plot, characters, actors, VFX, and also how it’s been perceived. To paraphrase Captain Pike: let’s get it done!
Season One – Shaky Ground but Steady Course!
Season one kicked things off with a bang. Right off the first double episode, we were thrown in the midst of a galactic war with the Klingons and the start of all this – our main character, Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), now a mutineer. Starfleet’s first, however difficult to believe. Okay – cool, cool. Steady the pace, commander – we don’t want to go too fast.
© Copyright CBS Television Studios 2018-2019 for all images in this article.
The sights were set on grandiose. The set design, the lighting, the VFX, and the packed action all felt like watching a movie – a Star Trek movie, but a movie nonetheless.
However – beyond the Dutch angles and lens flares there was some good writing there. It makes sense that our protagonist would revolt against Captain Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) because to her mind, showing fear in front of Klingons is tantamount to suicide. And she’s right!
For novice Trekkies, understand Klingons function in an honor-based society that values bravery above anything else. Their motto is “today is a good day to die!” and their worst insult is a guttural, bellowing petaQ [p’tahk] meaning something worse than “coward.”
Yet, because of the hesitation and the mere chaos of battle, it all goes wrong.
The premise by which Michael Burnham revolts is logical and comes straight from her anthropological studies and upbringing in Vulcan society.
Then we meet Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs). The whole shebang slows down to a more digestible pace and we’re thrown into a starship unfamiliar. Lorca is brash. He’s no Picard, Janeway, or Kirk. If anything, Lorca seems closest to the genocide-prone Captain Sisko of DS9. But maybe more towards Mirror Universe Sisko.
Your reaction to Lorca was probably one of two: like him or hate him. Satisfying it was for both sides, however, when he was revealed to not be from around this universe. But everything about him said “hold on, this isn’t right!”
Lorca justified his trigger-happy nature by saying he lost a whole ship and its crew, and that he had survivor’s guilt which made him ruthless. From that standpoint it sort of made sense, but the inner workings of this Starfleet officer that had a war trophy room (!!!) did not seem in line with traditional Star Trek. And it justifiably pissed off some longtime Trek fans.
The biggest giveaway to Lorca’s hidden nature was his irritation and unfamiliarity when crew members started questioning his decisions in favor of a moral high ground.
One such moment that stood out was when Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) blatantly disagreed with a direct order in front of the entire crew. Lorca’s answers made me feel like I was also guilty, in a way internalizing a pang of guilt that shouldn’t even have been there in the first place because Stamets expressed valid concerns.
To Stamets’ protests, Lorca screams: “We are at war, Lieutenant!” and then follows it up with an ugly grimace and “I understand that you lost a friend today, but this is not a democracy.” Marvelous delivery by Jason Isaacs and good acting by everyone involved.
Speaking of involved. Praise has to be given to most of the characters and a lot of the actors. Mr. Saru (Doug Jones) is Michael Burnham’s closest friend – but now they’re at odds with each-other. He truly cannot with her stubborn self-righteousness. It all culminates on the planet Pahvo where Saru finds some semblance of peace. When Michael reminds him of the mission, he fights her, and in the midst, she asks where his treasured peace has gone:
You have taken it from me! You won’t stop taking!
Much then happens in this first season with the crew. Stamets and Tilly discover that they can use Tardigrade DNA to navigate the mycelial network with the spore drive. Dr. Culber (Wilson Cruz), one of the most interesting characters in the series, is killed off.
The Klingons struggle in a war that seems as much against the Federation as amongst themselves. They plant a sleeper agent in the form of Lieutenant Ash Tyler (Shazad Latiff) which is an interesting way to explain the Klingon look change after the Original Series.
The writing in the first season is decent, but what really drives the show are the performances of the actors. There’s a nerve-wracking gloom over the whole crew this season. The anxiety and tension reach incredible heights in one episode, only to be elevated in the next.
The Mirror Universe
And in the midst of all this, Lorca sends the whole crew to the Mirror Universe. The plot is dense. It would take several articles just to understand all the undertones. It’s here that we discover who Lorca really is, why he went to the Prime Universe to get everyone, and what his motives are: to overthrow an empire – no biggie.
Michael and the crew continue to play Lorca’s game, up until the very end when he reveals himself to Burnham. She then justifiably decides Emperor Georgiou (yeah that’s right) is arguably better than Lorca and she helps her kill him (falling into a star – 10/10 VFX team).
The Discovery makes a run for it back to their own universe, but Burnham cannot resist and takes Mirror Georgiou with her. This decision by the writers felt very calculated – but it made sense. Suddenly, the logical and calculated, Vulcan-raised kid is not so sure of her feelings anymore, because she’s been through a hell of a lot in the past year.
My favorite episode: The Wolf Inside. Burnham wakes up in her room. Looks at the ground in dim light. Everything feels like a nightmare. She looks at the stars but they’re not as bright as she remembers them. Mirror Saru – a slave – comes to give her a bath. She has to act like she’s okay with having her best friend as a slave.
The End of the War
Admiral Cornwell (Jayne Brook) greets everyone back in our universe. But temporal anomalies sent them 9 months in the future – whoops. The war is almost lost. Panic.
This honestly is my biggest critique to season one – pacing. The writers seem to have had an incredible amount of good ideas and couldn’t make sense of them except to cram them into a limited number of episodes. Five more episodes and this season would’ve been perfect with the same amount of plot, just moments that lasted longer.
With the help of Mirror Georgiou, Burnham and her crew manage to install L’Rell (Mary Chieffo), the Klingon mutineer, as head of the Klingon High Council through nothing other than blackmailing them with the destruction of Qo’nos, their home world.
The season ends with a giant ceremony, Michael meeting her and Spock’s mom in Paris, and the Discovery encountering the Enterprise in the middle of empty space. Talk about hopeful cliffhangers!
Discovery season one was good but it felt overpowering, heavy. It was teeming with good characters, good performances, good plot decisions, good science, but the pace made it all seem like a bit too much. Mash that up with a different tone compared to previous Trek, and anger seeped in between the fanbase dividing it. Still, probably the best first season of any Star Trek series.
Season Two – A Confident Leap to Times Future!
The Captain II
Right off the space dock, we’re thrown in with a new Captain – Cristopher Pike (Anson Mount) – *fans cheering in the background*.
A look of careful enthusiasm gripped our faces witnessing him step off the transporter pad, all official, but reassuring, with a smirk.
A wave of anticipation beamed upon our widened eyes as he made his way to the bridge.
And a collective sigh of relief could be heard across all subspace frequencies as he voiced his first speech in front of the whole bridge crew:
I’m Captain Cristopher Pike, up there [points at viewscreen] are my commendations… my diagnosis of childhood asthma. Ah, the big red F – that was my failing grade in astrophysics at the academy.
I know this is a hard left turn. You were en route to Vulcan to pick up a new captain. I was briefed on the classified details surrounding your last one. I know he betrayed this crew. If I were you, I’d have my doubts about me as well. But I’m not him. I’m not Lorca.
With a petition to have spin-off series with Captain Pike reaching 28K signatures (as of this writing), it’s safe to say that a large group of fans fell in love with Anson Mount’s character and his interpretation of him. And the supporting Enterprise crew isn’t bad at all.
Number One (Rebecca Romjin) absolutely kills it and is an instant fan-favorite. I love how they managed to keep that 60s look while also making her a very strong character. And Spock is… well…
Honestly, Ethan Peck’s performance as Mr. Spock was flawless. The writing was good and it fits with the overall story. I’m sad we won’t see more Michael – Spock interactions but who knows. That being said, it feels like the writers had to roll for acrobatics before every Spock scene, revelation, or flashback. Hear me out:
Spock is a very well-established character. Michael Burnham is a very new character, who’s also his sister. How do you merge the two? Would you have done it better?
The writers went to astronomical lengths to calculate why Spock wouldn’t have at least mentioned his sister throughout the span of the Original Series.
Did they succeed? Maybe. It does seem plausible yet the plot feels a tiny bit forced.
The moment when Spock shaves his beard and dons the traditional blue science uniform was very powerful. They didn’t have to give us that, but they did, and it made all the difference.
Keeping Up with Michael
So you could sum up the premise of this second season like this: the Discovery chases after 7 signals, finds a giant Sphere with insane amounts of data freebies, finds the 7 signals, tries to escape Section 31’s supercomputer “Control”, and (spoiler!) manages to do so by jumping *thunderous voice* 900 years in the future.
Breathe in. Steady. One, two – go. So Michael is thrown in at a very odd angle to the plot. She’s no longer central, while still being central. Water bear in mind, this will play a point later on. We find out that she’s not really on speaking terms with Spock. Oh, yay, drama.
Furthermore, upon seeing Captain Pike, Burnham realizes that Spock is gone. Enter a long arc to search for Spock, who apparently is now a fugitive for killing some random personnel and a doctor at a psychiatric unit. Cool. Except he didn’t do that. Control did. And Section 31 was, unbeknownst to them, framing a decorated Starfleet officer.
Michael, in all of this, tries desperately to be the hero everyone considers her to be at the end of season one. You can see it on her face however – she doesn’t believe any of that. She started the Federation-Klingon war. She’s a mutineer. To her mind, every step she takes on a Starfleet vessel is a privilege and she has to remind herself of that every moment:
Michael Burnham’s an insufferable, self-righteous, and egotistical drama queen with a heart of gold, genius mind, and to be fair… I kind of like it.
I have a feeling Michael will change. There are moments where I really like her, and moments where she’s exactly like Emperor Georgiou describes her before she almost kills herself for the sake of the mission.
This is stupid. You’re flinging yourself into the future like some galactic rubber band with a martyr complex. It doesn’t have to be like this. […] You’re very invested in being selfless, Michael, and I’m not the only one willing to exploit that, you know.
Michael acknowledges that these are “her gaping character flaws”. She is insufferable in these holier-than-thou, unbearably self-righteous moments, but I guess you kinda wanna do that when so many people died in a senseless war with the Klingons that you caused.
My hope is Michael changes and comes back down to Earth, so to speak, since it shouldn’t and hopefully won’t always be about her.
Mr. Saru & The Crew Part II
Oh, how the writers toyed with our feelings this season! Upon encountering the Sphere, the overload in empathy triggers what Kelpiens consider to be their death process in Saru. While the crew desperately tries to make sense of the readings from the Sphere and save the ship, Michael realizes Saru is part of her family just as much as Spock is. And Stamets finds Culber in the spore network.
Uhm. Yes. Turns out the dead doctor was ALIVE this whole time. Poor Hugh. He had been trapped in the mycelial network, running away from sentient spores in a sort of “upside down”, just like in Stranger Things. He is “rebirthed” by a cocoon of mycelial mumbo-jumbo and is now pristine and very naked.
The acting that went into Hugh Culber and Paul Stamets’ interaction is the stuff Emmys were made for. Not only are the two extremely far from any trope of LGBT representation, but they also don’t immediately reconnect after what would’ve been a devastatingly traumatic experience for both. Add some serious acting chops to that and ta-da. All of the awards.
Speaking of awards. Doug Jones. For Mr. Saru.
Of course, he doesn’t die. But we were so close to believing it, it was painful. Saru transitions to adulthood. Turns out – his species is the predator species and the Ba’ul are the prey. Yet through their technological achievements, the Ba’ul have for centuries managed to enslave the Kelpiens, making them believe the natural adulthood process of Vahar’ai is actually the coming of death (so they sacrificed themselves to the Ba’ul).
After learning the truth, of course we launch into an epic fight spearheaded by Saru (now with less fear) to save the Kelpiens from subservience! Beautiful writing, cool planet, cool species, and especially cool how Michael and Saru drank tea in a peaceful village with his sister Sirana.
For next season: make Saru captain already!
A Bold Leap
Cue epic music from when Michael makes the jump as the Red Angel to cause the 7 signals. There’s an insane number of things I could write more about. Liked something a lot? PLEASE leave a comment and I’ll write about it:
|how the Short Treks tie in|
|the mycelial network and sentient spores|
|the incredible Jett Reno|
|Tilly – everything Tilly|
|how Star Trek Disco subverted expectations about LGBTQ representation|
|more about Captain Pike, Spock, and Number One|
|Airiam *only sad reacts*|
|Captain Pike’s moment of bravery on Boreth|
|The Red Angel|
|Michael’s relationship with “family”|
Seriously. Tell me about it – let’s be excited about Star Trek together!
The season was incredible. Take away the pacing issues – heck, leave them in – it’s still the most entertaining Star Trek season ever and the most beautiful. It’s easy to take away from the writing and the acting and say too much show, too little substance – only because there’s so much show! Look at this shot:
Yet the substance is there and it is plentiful. A sweet combination of the familiarity of Trek with a sleek sheen that covers the surface. A universe of possibilities opens now that we’re jumping 900 years. How the frick can they make it work?
Guess we’ll have to wait and see, Commander. Until then, Bogdan out. LLAP 🖖
A writer, a lover of all things Star Trek, a word magician with a vision… too much? Yup. These are all things (sort of) about me. I also love other stuff geeky: from Star Wars to the MCU, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, to lots and lots of video games, and don’t forget books and comics, and movies.
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