November 26, 2018
$41.99 DVD, $50.99 Blu-ray;
Stars Sonequa Martin-Green, Doug Jones, Shazad Latif, Anthony Rapp, Mary Wiseman, Jason Isaacs, Wilson Cruz, Michelle Yeoh, Mary Chieffo, James Frain.
“Star Trek: Discovery,” the sixth live-action series to carry on the “Star Trek” legacy, in many ways seems like an attempt to reinterpret the classic elements of the iconic science-fiction franchise to fit them into the modern age of television. Values such as exploration, diversity and tolerance that have been hallmarks of the franchise since the original series debuted in 1966 are all foundational underpinnings of this new show as well.
And yet, in its modernization, the show has trouble meshing with the aesthetic and historic trappings of the franchise familiar to its most dedicated fans. Not the least of these issues is the setting of the show 10 years before the original series, yet presenting ships and technologies that seem far more advanced than what has previously been established about that era in the franchise’s timeline, not to mention the drastic alterations to uniforms and aliens.
This likely owes a lot to the “modernization” aspect. Previous incarnations of “Star Trek” always felt a bit quaint and old-fashioned, as the various shows had to dance around a canon rooted in the 1960s’ vision of the future (especially tricky once the actual timeline no longer matched what was predicted in the original series). “Enterprise” had the biggest challenge in that regard, as a prequel set 100 years before the days of Kirk and Spock, in that it had to present technology that looked advanced to a 21st century audience without accentuating how much the original series looked out of date.
Certainly, the big-budget flagship show for the new CBS All Access streaming service shouldn’t be expected to constrain itself along the same lines if it had any intentions of competing in the ever-growing marketplace of content.
The producers of “Discovery” seem to have taken a looser approach to franchise consistency, keeping the general idea of things intact while designing a prequel to a hypothetical version of the original series had it been created using today’s visual effects. It would almost seem more at home with the look and feel of J.J. Abrams’ film reboots if it didn’t quite align with what’s established in that timeline, either.
So, what we have is a generally interesting sci-fi show that wants to appeal to fans’ sense of “Star Trek” history without fully connecting those nostalgic punches. It’s probably better to think of it as its own thing, as a part of an alternate “Trek” where it more or less lines up with its own versions of all the hundreds of episodes of established continuity that came before.
And, really, it’s not like it’s too far outside the lines to really line up with canon, anyway. If we’re being completely honest, the first five series weren’t exactly flush with storytelling consistency either, and even the original series was known to contradict itself several times when it came to the future history of Starfleet and the Federation. The point being: just go with it.
A couple of the biggest points of departure “Discovery” makes from traditional “Trek” storylines are the emphasis on a serialized format, and a shift in focus from an ensemble crew to a central protagonist with supporting characters. While previous “Trek” shows dabbled in serialization, most notably the later years of both “Deep Space Nine” and “Enterprise,” the latter point is perhaps the biggest break from the formula, in that the main character is not in command of the show’s title vessel, as was the case in all previous “Trek” shows.
Even more interesting is that the U.S.S. Discovery isn’t even introduced until the third episode. The initial episodes introduce us to Lt. Cmdr. Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), first officer of the U.S.S. Shenzhou, which finds itself at the center of a war with the Klingons when Burnham disobeys an order.
Months later, stripped of her rank and en route to prison, Burnham is recruited by Discovery’s Capt. Lorca (Jason Isaacs), who needs her expertise with an experimental engine that could turn the tide of the war. Burnham’s chance at redemption then becomes a unifying thread for the various plotlines that twist and turn through the first season’s 15 episodes.
And that experimental engine is what really takes the show into some realms that seem better suited for a general sci-fi show and not “Trek” in particular. But hey, once again, just go with it.
The four-disc Blu-ray includes a handful of deleted and extended scenes, including one that was previously released online as it seems to point toward a plot thread in the upcoming second season. The deleted scenes are connected to the episodes they were cut from and accessible through the relevant menus on those particular discs. There are also promos for almost every episode and a trailer for the entire season.
There are also more than two hours of behind-the-scenes featurettes spread across the first three discs. These are typically 10-15 minutes each and focus on different aspects of the production, such as the writing, sound effects, production design, props, costumes and visual effects. While most are available in the discs’ special features sections, one on disc three is available through an episode menu as it deals specifically with the creation of the food for an elaborate dining scene in that episode.
These featurettes all speak very well of the hard work, craftsmanship and detail that is poured into creating the series (even as some of the producers might make a pronouncement about “Trek” history that could raise the ire of hardcore fans).
Finally, the fourth disc includes a 40-minute filmmaker retrospective about the season’s story arcs, recapping the adventures and plot twists encountered episode-by-episode.
Not included are any of the episodes of “After Trek,” an hour-long panel discussion released with each episode. You’ll have to stick with CBS All Access to see those.