DeFlip Side #182: Voyage of Discovery

DeFlip Side #182: Voyage of Discovery.mp3

Welcome everyone. I’m Christopher DeFilippis and this is DeFlip Side.

After months of hype, delays, behind-the-scenes drama and a seemingly endless stream of fan vitriol, Star Trek: Discovery has finally launched. And after seeing the first three episodes, here’s my one-sentence review:

The premiere kinda stunk, but the show has gotten progressively better and I’m not quite ready to write it off — yet.

Now you’d think a life-long Trek fan would have a lot more to say, and I certainly do. But for now I prefer to remain deliberately circumspect — lest I be just another fanboy venting his spleen.

The Star Trek fan community has been sharply polarized in the run-up to Discovery’s premiere. While most were thrilled at the prospect of Trek’s return to television, a predictably vocal contingent wrote the show off — unseen — based solely on visual aesthetics and larger questions of continuity.

If the show is set ten years before the Original Series, that means the Discovery is a contemporary of Pike’s Enterprise, as seen in the original Star Trek pilot, “The Cage.” Given that, why then does the ship look so advanced compared to the Enterprise, and why aren’t they wearing gold, blue and beige uniform tunics and is that a female captain and look at those fancy phasers and they want me to PAY to watch it and I’m angry because this is not what I’m used to!!!

Reality check: Would you have preferred the show to embrace the sexist notion of Star Fleet’s “No Female Captains” rule? It’s a ludicrous 1960s artifact best left on the ash-heap of history.

As for aesthetics, prequel series or not, any fan who thought Discovery would adhere to Cage-era design was delusional. Twenty-first century television has much more rigorous visual demands, and the producers creating the vanguard series of a new digital streaming platform were never going to be beholden to a low-budget 1960s version of the 23rd Century.

And while I embrace these realities, I still had my own continuity sticking point. The Enterprise mission patch. It was omnipresent in the show’s marketing. And while it does eventually become the iconic delta representing all of Star Fleet, at the time Discovery takes place, each ship had its own unique patch. So I found myself angrily asking what gives?

Then I stopped thinking like a nitpicky fan, and accepted the fact that at this point, the Enterprise mission patch is the Star Trek brand, and will grace any new Trek incarnation, wherever it happens to fall in the timeline.

But honestly, am I the only one heartily sick of seeing it integrated into every aspect of Star Fleet design? From phaser appliques to fabric patterns to freaking boot buckles, it’s everywhere you look. It’s annoying and distracting and makes we want to scream, “We get it! It’s Star Trek!”

Which, I guess, points out that I’m as prone as anyone else to irrational fan rage. And that’s why I didn’t want to review Discovery right out of the gate. I needed time to let it sink in. Because I want to be able to talk about it not for what it isn’t, but for what it is.

And after three episodes, I can honestly say it’s intriguing. And my interest mainly hinges on two characters.

The first is Michael Burnham – played by Sonequa Martin-Green. One thing I learned from watching Green on The Walking Dead is that she does flat and fraught equally well. And as those have been Burnham’s chief personality traits, the casting so far is perfect. Whether she’s emulating the cool Vulcan serenity of her adopted homeworld or a Star Fleet officer desperate to prevent a Klingon/Federation war, she’s magnetic — and a terrific choice for the series lead.

And Jason Issacs is a wonderful mystery as Captain Lorca. He has the world-weariness of Pike, Picard’s vision, and Sisko’s doggedness. He’s edgy and complex and is obviously willing to chart his own course for his own reasons, despite regulations. Which also gives him a touch of Kirk, I guess. The best thing is that he seems like he might go off the rails at any second. I can’t wait to see when he does.

But none of this excuses the fact that “The Vulcan Hello” was a weak series premiere that focused on action instead of character building. The why of this becomes more understandable as the show progresses, and honestly the pilot plays better on subsequent viewings within this broader context. But I honestly don’t know how CBS was counting on “The Vulcan Hello” to assuage already skeptical viewers.

But maybe that’s the point. Because Discovery seems intent on breaking the Star Trek mold.

The biggest departure so far has been the conspicuous absence of Roddenberry’s vaunted vision of a secular humanist utopia amongst the stars. This undoubtedly has many longtime Trekkers seeing red. But for me it’s turning out to be Discovery’s biggest draw.

I’m tired of seeing crews that are essentially homogenized happy families dispensing the Terran Kool-Aid to all comers. Discovery has so far focused on conflict and human drama, but the eponymous ship’s mission is about using technology to forge a more positive future.

All of this aside, in the end, it boils down to a single question: would I still watch this show if it wasn’t Star Trek? To which I answer resoundingly: Sure. Probably.

Maybe not the most enthusiastic endorsement, but the show has my attention. And these days, that’s saying a lot.

And for those of you who may still be struggling with the show’s visual disconnect, here’s my pet theory on how they’re going to square it:

Discovery instigates massive skirmishes in the Federation/Klingon war that decimate the entire quadrant. Things get bleaker and bleaker for the Federation as the show progresses. This prompts Burnham to travel back in time in a last-ditch effort to prevent the war from ever happening. In so doing she transmutes reality and *POOF* everyone is wearing velour. The so-called “Prime” universe we’ve always known and loved is the reboot. So showrunners aren’t lying when they say Discovery is set in the Prime universe.

Trippy, huh? Remember folks, you heard it here first! And I for one intend to stick around and see what Discovery has in store.