This article contains spoilers for all the episodes of Star Trek: Discovery.
As a lover of good science fiction I was really happy to hear the announcement of Star Trek: Discovery. I have not watched all of old Star Trek. But from the few that I have watched (Mostly Star Trek: Then Next Generation), I have come to love the Trek universe and the way it handles science fiction. I feel that of late, science fiction is leaning too much towards dystopian themes. I like the occasional story about a world in nuclear winter but I like optimistic or neutral science fiction far more. It appeals to the part of me that gets excited about science and my penchant for the cool technologies and knowledge that it generates. So stories like Contact and Rendezvous with Rama is much more up my alley. I consider even movies like Interstellar as optimistic science fiction since even though the premise is that the earth is becoming uninhabitable, the story is that we work together to build the technology to colonize the stars. I consider Her science fiction although the focus of the movie was the relationship between Theodore and Samantha. The movie portrayed beautiful cityscapes and a future which looked distinctly post-scarcity as the characters seemed to not have to worry about basic needs and could live comfortably while doing basically whatever they wanted. In the case of Star Trek (at least for Star Trek: TnG) the episodes that I’ve watched so far fall under very optimistic science fiction.
One of my biggest fears about Star Trek: Discovery was that it would devolve into an action flick - especially because of the way the trailer was cut. It seemed to focus more on the action and less on the discovery/science/exploration part while also making the whole thing look like yet another dystopian sci-fi series. I felt that first two episodes seemed to run with this theme so much that they turned me away from the series initially and I took a break from it for nearly a month. But I came back to it one weekend when I was bored - and I’m glad I did. The episodes got better and so did the themes in them. While there was still an appreciable amount of action, they did not ignore the exploration and discovery part of things and. I also like that they specifically included characters whose biggest motivation was scientific curiosity. Here are some parts of the show that I particularly enjoyed:
1. The Warp Capable Tardigrade
Basing the strange creature on the real world tardigrade was a really cool idea. Apart from the fact that the creature looked really cool, I like that they treated it with kindness (at least in the case of Burnham) and let it go at the end.
2. The Mycelial Network and The Spore Drive
I was nerding out when the show started talking about a giant fungus spanning the entire universe because it’s actually based on an amazing real world fungus called the Armillaria ostoyae which is often reported as one of the largest living organisms in the world. There’s a single fungal colony of this type in the Malheur National Forest in the Blue Mountains of eastern Oregon, U.S, spanning 8.9 square kilometers. It’s estimated to be 2400 years old. The spore drive animations are amazing and it’s a creative plot device too.
3. The Imperfect Captain
In the older Star Treks, I felt that the captains tended to be very “perfect” characters (Kirk, Picard). They tended to be the kind of characters that are obviously good. However, the captain of the U.S.S Discovery is quite a bit less than perfect. In fact, he does quite a lot of things that are decidedly in the gray zone. In fact, the way he was introduced in the series is very similar to how villians are sometimes introduced in films. This gave me an initial sense of apprehension about the character - I got a fleeting sense that this dude is a bit evil and might not up to any good. In fact, I spent most of the episodes expecting something sinister to happen and for Lorca to pull an Admiral Marcus (Into Darkness) and reveal that he is in fact on the dark side of the force. But that never happened. Now I feel like he is a good captain who just has some unusual interest in war and does the odd unethical thing to get what he wants. Whatever the case, he added a lot of interest and depth to the new Star Trek and I like that he was not the same type of Captain as Kirk or Picard. In fact, I thought that Gabriel Lorca was a more interesting character than Michael Burnham (who I feel the showrunners are trying to make the main character.).
I feel that Star Trek: Discovery was well executed. While it is not exactly the same as the original Star Treks, I feel that the parts that were changed added more to the story than it took away. I like the mid season “finale” in which the crew of the Discovery were stranded in what seemed to be an alternate dimension. It is reminiscent of the TNG episode “Where No One Has Gone Before” in which the crew does some crazy new warp technique to go to the edge of the known universe. I look forward to seeing release of rest of the season next year. I’m curious to find out how they will handle the parallel universes thing.