The writing was on the wall for Star Trek: Discovery at the very least since Comic-Con. I felt an unyielding impression from hearing its creators discuss the show that the people putting it together - regardless of their averred enthusiasm for Trek - had only a surface-level idea of the franchise’s history, functionality or fandom. The most obvious example is the fact that Discovery is arbitrarily a prequel that chooses to invent an entirely different visual Starfleet and Klingon aesthetic but, for fans!, keep recognizable phasers and communicators.
Sadly, that sinking feeling in your gut while looking at the new tricked-out Bat’leth, has proven correct. Yes, we’re only two episodes in, but nothing is going to change the fact that this show is both rough in general, but also a poor iteration of Trek. It’s possible (though very unlikely) this may prove a decent show in its own terms. But it is utterly awful Star Trek.
Discovery essentially wants to boil down the ingredients of prestige television and present it in a hip, new Star Trek shell. It’s an interesting, novel approach to a franchise that can admittedly be stiff and nerdy. Here we have a Jon Snow Klingon, flashbacks, big space action and a central conflict intended to grow and evolve as the show continues. And if nothing else, they’re really going full sci-fi with it. The whole thing would be very exciting were it at all enjoyable to watch.
I get that things change and a modern Star Trek show has to roll with the times, so I was willing to put aside a lot of these aesthetic cheats and the fact that this would be a heavily serialized season-long story. If the show had given me one - just one - character to like, I would have been more on board with giving Discovery a chance. But none of these characters pop like that. No one speaks like a human or has any charisma. All the dialog is either technobabble or wooden, obvious exposition. Character expression is blatant “Hi, I’m nervous”, “Hi, I’m headstrong” type stuff, and its attempts at cutesy humor fall completely flat. These first two episodes only have a few characters to begin with - show lead Michael Burnham, resident Spock Lt. Saru, “Special Guest Star” Captain Georgiou, and a main Klingon guy - only a couple of which will make it to episode three. Maybe the Discovery crew members will be better, but based on the dialog displayed here, I doubt it.
Plot-wise, this two-parter would actually be heavy shit were it perhaps the end of a season that actually let us meet these people first. It revolves around the Starship Shenzhou as it comes across a Klingon plot to get nasty. By the time it ends, Starfleet is essentially at war with the Klingons and our main character has enacted a narratively justified mutiny. That right there is how not Star Trek this show is.
Things are going to happen later in this season that I can’t predict, also that I probably won’t see. But there’s no way this show can avoid what it already is - a CGI-ridden, poorly executed hodgepodge of Star Trek playacting. It’s like people read a few Wikipedia articles and felt they had a general idea enough to make something cool. JJ Abrams was way more successful at this, if only because he had great actors breathing life into their characters. No one really comes off well here, though Doug Jones gets closest.
The preview we saw for future episodes indicate these two as something of a prologue to what will prove the “real” story, in which Michael boards the Discovery and deals with a more permanent crew. Many great adventures may await, but after these two hours I’m far less inclined to join her on them. While it’s true I’ve been suspicious of the show for a while, that doesn’t mean I’m not desperate for more Trek on television. Those hopes came crashing down the moment Michelle Yeoh walked a Starfleet insignia in the sand as a giant “help me” sign, and everything else went downhill from there.