In the new CBS series Star Trek: Discovery, we unpack some new things in this episode that are improvements to some, and a bit jarring for others. The CBS All-Access series aired its pilot on the network for everyone to see with or without a subscription to allow you to experience just a taste of what this new series has to offer. I must say, this series exceeded my expectations and now I need to find someone willing to cough up a few bucks to help me activate an All-Access account. I’m still upset at the idea that CBS put up a paywall for such a revolutionary show featuring both Captain and Commander as women of color along with a fleet that has a diverse cast. However, I will add after watching the pilot episode, I can understand why there is a paywall for this show. The production value looks like it is completely off the charts and that the show was incredibly expensive to make. The show’s projected budget of $8-$8.5 million dollars per episode, has this show ranked as the most expensive TV show in history.
So how was the pilot? Was it worth the investment? We begin the episode with the Klingons announcing to lock arms and that their nation and community comes in peace. As I was live-tweeting the show, some viewers weren’t all too thrilled with the look of the Klingons. The hairless and more menacing-looking Klingons was off-putting to some viewers. I personally didn’t have an issue with the change, and I thought their costumes were a much-needed upgrade so I appreciated the alteration…pun intended.
Then we see a gorgeous wide shot of a desert planet with a 9-year drought, visited by Captain Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) and Commander Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green). Right away we get a sense that these two have a good relationship and have worked together for awhile. They’ve worked together for seven years. The chemistry right away between actresses Sonequa Martin-Green and Michelle Yeoh is excellent and these two play well off each other in every scene.
The show pays a nice nod to fans when Georgiou alerts the fleet to find them and we see the Starfleet insignia that we’ve all come to know and love indelibly printed in the sand.
Commander Burnham narrates the first officer’s log. It’s Sunday, May 11, 2256. And an investigation is being done by one of their interstellar relays. It’s unknown if it was damage done by accident or on purpose. Lt Saru (Doug Jones) who reminds me a lot of Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation, has sass and some speculations of his own of what could have caused the damage. Lt Saru is the so-called voice of reason and Burnham is more ambitious and a risk-taker. She insists that exploration and discovery are the answers to their quandary. The moment we see Commander Burnham in her space suit floating in the galaxy, I literally hollered. While Sonequa Martin-Green is not the first Black woman in the Star Trek franchise, its the first time we’ve seen a Black woman take on a mission in this way, and that was revolutionary for me to see.
There is some interference while Burnham is in orbit and she’s lost communication with the Starfleet. It’s soon revealed that it’s not debris that is the unidentified object but it is a Klingon. The Klingon attacks her and Burnham defends herself and pierces the Klingon in the chest killing him. When the Klingons see their deceased torchbearer Rejac, has been killed by The Federation they no longer come in peace but now have declared war and now have a new enemy to conquer. The show does a great job of setting up a conflict early on and we know that we are just touching the surface of a very complicated relationship among the Klingons.
We shift to a flashback of Commander Michael Burhman as a young 14-year old pupil. An AI program starts firing off trivia questions to Burham. A question about the most recent Klingon terror raid triggers something in young Burnham which gives us some insight into her backstory. We meet Sarek who is Burnham’s teacher after baby Burnham has asked the AI program to stop. And it is here that we realize that Burnham was raised by Vulcans. Sarek disciplines her with words after she asks if she can speak Vulcan. And that perhaps she can perform better with the questions that way.
Sarek says “your human tongue is not the problem, it is your human heart.”
I also believe her Vulcan haircut is a giveaway that Burnham may be part Vulcan herself.
Burnham advises the crew that she was attacked by a Klingon and of course everyone is skeptical of her response and thinks her concussion (she was injured during her battle with Rajac) has caused her to have an imaginary reaction to seeing a Klingon. Burnham suggests that they make the Klingon’s think they will attack by bringing them in using phase canon targeting. And they have now engaged the Klingons.
Federation Starship Shenzhou calls for a response and we cut to the Klingons. Now it must be determined who is next in line after Rejac’s passing. Rejac’s brother Or’Eq first volunteers but he is uncertain and has doubts about the light of the Kahless. He simply sees it as a fable. Another Klingon by the name of Voq steps up as a volunteer. However, he has no family blade or birthright and is seen as unworthy. Voq claims his faith is what makes him worthy and that he serves the light of the Khaless. Is it only me getting Game of Thrones vibes here? I was seriously thinking about Melisandre and the Lord of Light.
This is an interesting scene since we see that there is some racial and cultural context happening.
“Some may see the color of your skin as a mistake, I call it a mirror for I see myself in you”.
Apparently, the light-skinned Klingon’s are seen as less honorable than the dark-skinned Klingons. Now there’s some food for thought.
Another moment is with Admiral Anderson in which Burnham discusses how the Klingon’s are relentless and that battle is the only option. And that their motivation to destroy “is in their nature”. Anderson calls out Burnham for making this generalization about the Klingon race. He goes on further to say, “considering your background I think you would be the last person to make assumptions based on race.” This is yet another clue that she’s not fully human and likely part Vulcan. Will her Blackness factor at all in this story of complicated identity or will the show gloss over it?
There are a series of events that happen that could have been prevented had the Starfleet just listened to Commander Burnham. One of these days you will listen to us, because we always try to tell y’all.
The show doesn’t end there, but this review/recap will. Here are some things to think about:
- Is Burnham half-Vulcan and is Sarek her father?
- Did you see that Vulcan pinch she executed? How badass was that?
- Is the story arc behind the Klingon’s complexion built on a context of colorism?
- Do you think with respect to race will Michael Burnham’s Blackness ever be addressed in the show?
- Was the lens flare used on the episode a nod to JJ Abrams?
- And who else plans to use “The Vulcan Hello” when someone is getting on your last nerve?
- Overall what did you think of the pilot episode of Star Trek: Discovery and do you plan to catch the next episode?
I thought this was a strong pilot for this series and I was impressed with everything from the performances, the special effects, cinematography, and costumes. You can tell based on the production value of this episode that they put a lot of dough into it and definitely shows! Star Trek: Discovery has incredible character development, a sustainable plot, and production value that looks so good that it feels like you’re traveling in orbit right there with Commander Burnham and the crew.
Subsequent episodes of this series are available on CBS All Access, the Network’s digital subscription video on demand and live streaming service, and will be distributed concurrently by CBS Studios International on Netflix in 188 countries and in Canada on Bell Media’s Space channel and OTT service CraveTV.
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Jamie Broadnax is the creator of the online publication and multimedia space for Black women called Black Girl Nerds. Jamie has appeared on MSNBC's The Melissa Harris-Perry Show and The Grio's Top 100. Her Twitter personality has been recognized by Shonda Rhimes as one of her favorites to follow. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association and executive producer of the Black Girl Nerds Podcast.