We did our waiting.
Twelve years of it.
But Star Trek has finally returned to television with Star Trek: Discovery.
There was already controversy from its inception, when it was announced that the series would be distributed in the United States on CBS All Access and Netflix everywhere else, instead of being broadcast on linear television as Star Trek traditionally has been in the past.
It was hoped that an original Star Trek series could boost the subscriptions of CBS All Access, a service that was otherwise not widely used, as well as attracting the Netflix audience to the rest of the Star Trek canon, which has now been made completely available to stream (including the ambiguously placed animated fourth Star Trek season).
Before we knew anything about the series – even its title – there was doubt that its distribution method was a good idea.
Would the CBS All Access service be able to gather the kind of audience to make such a highly-budgeted series a success, even if it had a new Star Trek series on it?
In the run-up to the launch, there were behind-the-scenes displacements, as the show-runner departed and there was uncertainty that anyone knew what they were doing or how to do it well.
But all of these factors are irrelevant now.
There series has launched.
The world has seen its first two episodes – The Vulcan Hello and Battle at the Binary Star.
Now, finally, we can judge the series for what it is.
While we’re still only one week in of many, there’s still a long way to go before we can get a complete picture of what Star Trek: Discovery is intended to be.
It’s too early to gauge an audience reaction before the second week numbers are in.
How many people were interested in the series is not as important as how many of those people will remain interested.
But these two first episodes, for what they are, work for me so far.
They may pale or improve in comparison to future episodes, but they make me watch the rest of the series.
The production value is cinematic, certainly more than previous Star Trek series.
It feels like it fits into the modern incarnation of Star Trek visually.
Immediately, the first shot sets the tone of how ambitious CBS All Access are being, and how seriously they’re taking this as a series. It’s not a gimmick, it’s not a ratings stunt.
This isn’t just a sci-fi series with “Star Trek” in the title.
It’s a real Star Trek series.
And it’s actually good.
The narrative scope is the most impressive thing here; to tell the story of the Federation/Klingon war from both sides of the battle lines, while being sympathetic to both parties… and then to throw in the spark of conflict that launches a chain of events which challenges everything we expect from a Star Trek series.
Until now, they’ve followed the formula of being the Original Series with a different ship and bridge crew filling the same roles for purposes of comparison.
But this time, Star Trek has abandoned that and decided to tell a story in the Star Trek universe following only the characters that are required.
Why has this not always been the way Star Trek is done?
There are certain things which define what makes Star Trek the thing that it is, and as long as you maintain those things, you can otherwise do what you want.
Star Trek: Discovery does change things, by making it into a hardcore action drama, but then Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan made it into a submarine thriller.
Both of them have Nicholas Meyer in key creative positions.
The reason that Meyer’s two Star Trek films are so beloved is partially because of how it depicts Star Trek characters, which it did by developing them like they should.
And in comparison to these three exhibits, the rest of the Star Trek universe is about following the same plot structure every week, where every character gets their own moment even if nothing in the narrative calls for it, and by the end nothing has really changed.
Star Trek: Discovery is a series in-which things begin by changing.
This is how storytelling works the rest of the time, and introducing this into Star Trek shouldn’t be controversial because this is how it should have been from the beginning.
Compare these two episodes with the premieres of prior Star Trek series – if this had been anything like them, we’d already be on the Discovery, we’d already have met Captain Lorca and he’d be the protagonist of a forgettable filler episode about escorting an ambassador to a diplomatic conference.
So far, we haven’t met the Discovery or its crew, we’ve begun with a completely different series and have watched it been torn apart before it could get off the ground.
Therefore, the stakes have been established at the beginning.
Anything can happen.
It’s the Psycho Paradigm.
Now, we know that there is nothing which cannot happen.
And when we do eventually get to the Discovery and Capt. Lorca, they’ll have value, because we’ll understand their place in the story of a singular protagonist that drives the plot with more focus, instead of being spread out over boring, forced subplots.
This is almost certainly going to divide the audience, but that’s because it throws down the gauntlet at the beginning to separate the viewers too weak to handle it from those that are strong enough to handle it.
One thing you cannot fault a series for doing is establishing at the beginning who it’s for.
Most series take a few episodes to get into, and that may well be the case with Star Trek: Discovery.
But at least the audience will know whether it’s the kind of the series that they even want to get into.
It has its audience in mind when most series don’t.
Premieres function as prologues working as extended trailers for the rest of its series.
These two episodes do that by saying, “This is the kind of series this is, watch it or don’t”.
You don’t have to watch it, but at least they’re helping you make that decision now instead of hooking you into something that will only disappoint you by not giving you much information until you’re several episodes in.
For the people of my generation, this is how television works, because there’s so much more choice now that we need to be convinced more.
In the old days of Star Trek, there were only a limited number of channels, but since then we’ve spread out across a galaxy of instantly-accessible entertainment.
We need warp speed.
We want to know what we’re going into, so we know whether or not we should keep watching or find something else.
And in this brave new world, television has (mostly) improved, because there’s more space for comparison now.
We can no longer be taken for fools.
A rising solar tide raises all star ships.
This is not the first Star Trek series to be produced during this Golden Age of Television, but is the first to reflect as such.
If this is consistent, and not just a bold opening to an otherwise disappointing series, this will be the Star Trek for my generation.
Yes, the dialogue is a bit gimmicky and over-expository, and explains too many obvious things and not enough details that won’t be familiar to any new audiences.
Yes, the Human characters speak Hollywood English, where they don’t talk like real people.
But this is the same on most series, it’s a problem endemic to American television rather than Star Trek: Discovery.
And yes, the technology used by the Federation is far advanced to that in the Original Series that takes place ten years later.
But as it is, on both series, technology is only a plot device telling the story, and are yet to influence what that story is.
They may as well be the same, at the end of the day it’s just special effects.
What’s important is that Star Trek: Discovery does what no other Star Trek series has ever done: introduce moral complexity and ambiguity.
There are good Klingons and bad Klingons, and sometimes Humanity doesn’t act in ways that would make us proud.
We’re not in the 1960s anymore.
Our grand narratives of ideologies can no longer explain a chaotic world in-which we can’t always understand why certain things are happening.
We need ambiguity, because good vs evil is no longer realistic to us as it was during the Cold War.
Protagonist Michael Burnam is a Vulcan-raised Human, who’s struggling to find a happy medium between these two cultures.
This is character complexity developed from something pre-existing in that universe.
It’s also a very appropriate method of investigating the incompatibilities between cultures.
The Klingons used to be the Soviet Union.
But things have moved on, and now we have a story telling their point of view.
The 28 Klingon houses must unite to defend themselves from the Humans and their battle cry of “We come in peace.”
Things are grey.
Personally, I’m seeing parallels between the Klingons and the indigenous American civilisations, who found themselves uniting against the Europeans that came with the same message.
Star Trek: Discovery acknowledges the Human capacity for violence in a way not normally depicted in Star Trek so vividly.
But one thing we know is that the Klingon/Federation cold war ultimately is solved with a peace treaty.
If Star Trek: Discovery intends to tell the story through to that logical conclusion, this is all to maintain the image of an optimistic future.
Our values must be challenged to be reinforced.
Good will shine through, but requires a stage in-which to do so.
Our weaknesses will, as always, make us strong.
If you’re a Star Trek fan of old, and you’re not sure about the series – I see the potential that’s been present in all Star Trek.
But as Star Trek teaches us, potential takes many forms.
It is in everything.
So challenge your preconceptions.
Or your preconceptions most certainly will challenge you.