Airing in the US on CBS All Access Sundays at 8:30 pm ET and at 12pm on Mondays in the UK on Netflix
Story by: Bryan Fuller and Alex Kurtzman
Teleplay by: Bryan Fuller and Akiva Goldsman / Gretchen J Berg and Aaron Harberts
Directors: David Semmel / Adam Kane
Essential Plot Points:
- T’Kuvma (Chris Obi) has a plan to unite all 24 Klingon houses. He’s going to light an ancient beacon to bring them together “to lock arms against those who’s fatal greeting is we come in peace.”
- First officer Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and captain Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) are on a mission to save a species without their knowledge, so as not to break the Prime Directive.
- The USS Shenzhou, a Walker-class vessel, is sent to check on a Starfleet satellite. It appears to have been destroyed, possibly to draw them in, and as they investigate they find an object that can’t be locked onto or scanned.
- Burnham suits up to do a flyby. When she lands on the ancient artefact, a Klingon warrior attacks her. In firing her thrusters to escape, she kills him.
- T’Kuvma covers his ship with coffined Klingons killed in battle, as members of the Black Fleet. Torchbearer Rejac joins them.
- Burnham dreams of her childhood learning on the Klingon homeworld, following the death of her parents in a Klingon attack.
- Burnham wakes up and despite massive radiation damage leaves the anti-proton chamber, risking genetic unspooling, to warn the crew of the Klingon threat. Georgiou believes her and takes them to red alert.
- When Rejac’s brother is not keen to take his place as Torchbearer, a pale, outcast Klingon steps forth – Voq, son of none. Holding his hand in a flame he shows his faith and T’Kuvma embraces him.
- Saru (Doug Jones) warns Burnham that his species was biologically purposed for one purpose alone, “to sense the coming of death. I sense it coming now.” He asks her to warn the captain.
- The impossibly light and loud beacon is lit.
- Burnham calls Sarek (James Frain) to ask how the Vulcans dealt with the Klingons and ended their war. She tells the captain they have to give the Klingons a “Vulcan hello”, by firing first.
- When she challenges the captain in front of the crew, she’s ordered into the ready room. Burnham can’t convince the captain so she gives her the Vulcan death grip and heads out to start the attack.
- The captain returns before she can fire. Suddenly the beacon stops transmitting and more Klingon ships arrive.
- Episode 2! The first meeting between Burnham and Georgiou, when Sarek delivers her to the Shenzhou.
- We’re back in the room. Twenty-four ships have shown up – one for each Klingon house. Despite Burnham’s continued protestations, she’s sent to the brig.
- T’Kuvma’s origin story is shown as he addresses the leaders of the houses and asks them to join him in battle to protect the Klingon way of life.
- Starfleet’s backup arrives. The Shenzhou is finally able to hail the Klingons but they ignore the calls for peace and attack.
- The Shenzhou is badly damaged and Burnham is knocked unconscious. We see Sarek save her at an earlier time, during which it seems a connection was created.
- The Shenzhou is disabled but the Klingon battle cruiser doesn’t finish it off, preferring to let it drift into the binary stars and be destroyed there instead. The Europa arrives and saves them with its tractor beam.
- The admiral calls for a ceasefire and T’Kuvma agrees but secretly sends one of his cloaked ships to crash into the Europa. The Europa self-destructs for mutually assured destruction.
- All Klingons except T’Kuvma leave. Burnham escapes her cell joins a mission to capture him alive and end this war before it goes any further.
- T’Kuvma tractors his dead warriors so Georgiou plants a bomb on one of them. Georgiou and Burnham then beam aboard to try and capture T’Kuvma.
- T’Kuvma kills Georgiou and Burnham kills him.
- Burnham is charged with dereliction of duty, assaulting a fellow officer and mutiny. She pleads guilty and is sentenced to life in prison.
Full disclosure: we had heard from a pretty high-up source that episodes one and two were a little weak (to the point where CBS was seriously considering showing episode three first, then doing a flashback to the first two episodes). It’s therefore gratifying to say that if CBS really does think this is a weak opener, there’s got to be some mighty good stuff coming up – because Star Trek: Discovery kicks off with a bang.
It feels as if we’re very much in the rebooted JJ Abrams Star Trek universe here, as the lens flare suggests. While that won’t please everyone, it should play well in a weekly TV show (no boxset binging here, with CBS making one episode a week available online). The dialogue is bright and breezy – the back and forth between Yeoh and Martin-Green seeming particularly natural, like a long-time couple arguing over who read the map wrong. Even stern Vulcan Sarek manages to do the zen logic thing without sounding too preachy (or coming off like the Sphinx in Mystery Men).
In particular, Lt. Saru (Doug Jones) is a breath of fresh air. It’s a scary universe out there and it’s about time someone on a starship was afraid of it. The rest of the crew are as go-getting as you’d expect from Starfleet crew – they like their job, the views, the new discoveries, and Saru’s more cautious nature is a good fit alongside that.
There are some wrinkles – this is supposed to be set 10 years before Kirk, Spock, Bones et al began their five-year mission yet there’s some pretty cool tech on show that they didn’t possess. Still, we wouldn’t want the female crew to be forced to wear miniskirts to fit a sexist vision of the future so we’re willing to let these prequel differences slide to some degree.
Being set before The Original Series, naturally the bad guys have to come from an existing pool, so mainstays the Klingons are on hand to start a war with the Federation. There’s an interesting dynamic here: would-be leader T’Kuvma is willing to embrace those Klingons shunned by their race and make them a part of his house, while simultaneously sounding like the Klingon Trump and wanting to build a wall to keep the rest of the Federation out. Throw in some religious fervour and there might be some interesting parallels with our society to explore – good sci-fi should always mirror our own world, after all.
Sonequa Martin-Green, late of The Walking Dead, also seems to be a great casting choice. But these first episodes take a gamble with how we’ll view her for the remainder of the series, in what is a brave character swerve as she goes against a superior she clearly has the utmost respect for. With her punishment laid down at the end of episode two, her road back to captaining a starship should be an interesting one.
- Ensign Daft Punk!
- Where have the Klingons been hiding? There’s a lot of them for no-one to have seen any in 100 years, as the script suggests, especially given how belligerent they are. Klingon Netflix is obviously pretty good at keeping them home.
- The Klingon scenes being shot with that language and subtitles is admirable but does slow the pacing down.
- Georgiou’s death might have carried more oomph if she hadn’t been billed as a guest star from the start. It’s not exactly a surprise when it comes.
“When emotion brings us ghosts from the past, only logic can root us in the present.” – Sarek
“How rare to meet one’s demons in the flesh.” – Sarek
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