Star Trek: Discovery S01E01&E02 Recap: 'The Vulcan Hello' & 'Battle at the Binary Stars' [Series Premiere]

**Warning:: Spoilers for the first two episodes of Star Trek: Discovery follow below.


The endeavor of creating a Star Trek in 2017 that would be palpable to all kinds of fans of the franchise is at best an exercise in futility. Along with our culture's current affair with the idea of nostalgia, we live in a time of epic divisiveness, be it political, cultural or idealogical. This may seem like the perfect time for new Star Trek, and I'd be willing to agree, but we can't seem to even agree on what we want Star Trek to be in this current landscape. Over the course of Star Trek: Discovery's seemingly endless development this past year, we've had a front seat to a reactionary internet scrutinizing every single decision, every step or misstep deemed to have been made by CBS and the people behind the show. From CBS's decision to stick the show behind their own streaming service instead of one of the more popular ones or even their own airwaves, to the decision to set the show before The Original Series instead of some time after The Next Generation era. So no matter what had ended up on screen on this night, with the show's two-episode premiere, there was bound to be an incessant amount of complaining and nitpicking.

But when I speak of division, I mean more than just about what fans of the series think about CBS's business practices. Division has been an unfortunate tenet to our rapidly changing society. As those who are habituated to the customs of the past are exposed to new realities, resistance is an inevitability that is often paired with ignorance, as well as predisposition to violecen and intolerance. We've even seen this kind of thing lobbed at Discovery specifically, after, for example, its diverse cast was announced. It's a form of zealotry that has manifested itself in government, in religion, in media and other aspects of our every day being, not only in North America but around the world. What I'm getting at is that existence is just kind of hard these days for a lot of people, as society strives and unfortunately struggles to better itself. Saving the planet from climate change is hard. Being exposed to cultures different than the ones we're used to is hard, as is altering the state of being that we're accustomed to in order to make room for what's new or different. This is society's biggest obstacle at the moment, and instead of moving forward and towards the utopia that Gene Rodenberry envisioned when he pitched "Wagon Train to the stars to the networks in the sixties, we've taken steps back that have likely gone even further than the race and scarcity based World Wars that Star Trek cannon predicted.

So while this may be different for others who tuned into Star Trek: Discovery tonight, for me, "proper" Star Trek would need to reflect that, as proper Star Trek always took the issues of the day and applied them to a futuristic setting where humanity must come together to overcome outside threats. Think to how, in The Original Series, Klingons and Romulans may have been not-so-subtle allegories to America's Cold War enemies. But Klingons as a vague, possibly racist canvas for some violent, overzealous foreign threat is not relevant in that classic form anymore. And that's why the redesign of Klingons as a race, despite lamentations from the fanbase, might actually be my favourite thing about Discovery.

The main antagonist for the first two episodes of Discovery ("The Vulcan Hello" and "Battle at the Binary Stars") is a Klingon named T'Kuvma (Chris Obi), the leader of an ancient order who seeks to unique the 24 Klingon houses under Kahless and his rule. T'Kuvma is a religious fanatic who believes that Kahless personally tasked him with accomplishing this task. He seems to follow old orthodox beliefs and exists outside of the usual way of doing things in the Klingon empire. His vessel, a gigantic structure under which federation starships pale that has been passed down generation to generation, is adorned with ancient sculptures as well as the coffins of its dead. His followers follow him blindly, and it appears as Klingons from his fellow houses either fear or resent him. His belief that Klingons must once again rise to prominence takes a route through war with the Federation, as he provokes the Shenzhou, the ship of our protagonists in these early episodes, not for any specific tactical reason but because of one of identity. T'Kuvma believes that the Federation's diplomatic supremacy is a threat to the very nature of being Klingon, so they must therefore be provoked and destroyed in order to properly united his race, which is famously based in conflict.

T'Kuvma doesn't represent any specific modern-day figure, and that's likely by design, but he seems to more generally represent the threats currently facing progressivism; Klingon interactions are even describes as terroristic in nature throughout the show. He's old school, he's violent, he's set in his ways, and to those willing to listen, he's charismatic and capable of getting things done. This is a dangerous cocktail of attributes which leads to a messy confrontation in the show's second episode. And as the cherry on top of the shit sundae that he's creates, T'Kuvma winds up dead, an outcome that our main character, Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) predicted to be desirable on his part, as it makes him a martyr in the eyes of his followers (notably Voq, a rare albino Klingon).

Where the show takes this story is unclear, but for these first two episodes, T'Kuvma and his story are a big focus, and for me, it's one of Discovery's biggest early bullseyes. He's a believable, frightening villain who may wind up transcending his existence, and he sells a massive overhaul of the kinds of Klingons we know. In all likelihood, many of the changes we see to the traditional Klingon design that we know and love will wind up being addressed, but the fact that it's so different, so in your face and brazen is almost purposeful in its provocation. Discovery is seemingly trying to tell a story that touches on some sensitive issues, and I believe that they succeeded in the early going in what they set out to accomplish.

Of course the majority of the action is spent aboard the Shenzhou, where Burnham discovers this Klingon threat and comes at odds against her captain, Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) over how to handle a Klingon threat that the federation hasn't seen head-on in a century. She has personal history with Klingons, as they murdered her parents before she was taken under the wing of Sarek (James Frain), who we know to be Spock's father. Her early arc is about the conflict between his humanity and the Vulcan sensibilities instilled to her by her mentor. Sarek informs her about a strategy used by the Vulcans in conflict against Klingons, but Georgiou doesn't want to consider it, leading Burnham to mutiny against her captain and attempt to shoot at the Klingon vessel before they have a chance to be joined by their cohorts. It doesn't work, and Burnham spends much of the second episode in the brig while the Federation fleet is engaged in combat. By the end of the episode, she winds up stripped of her rank and sentenced to life in confinement. I'm not sure Burnham's arc took me as much as the stuff with the Klingons did, but I'm willing to see how all of this pans out.

Overall, I do like Burnham as the show's central character. She's smart, she's unique and brings a perspective not often seen from a main character in Star Trek, as she starts her journey from the bottom. I liked her interactions with her fellow crewmates, particularly Saru (Doug Jones), a Kelpien science officer who can literally sense oncoming death. And generally speaking, there was more about these two episodes that I liked than I disliked. In fact, outside of some questionable choices on the part of pilot director David Semel, this was a largely successful, entertaining and thought-provoking premiere that did a lot to launch Star Trek into the 21st century, where it desperately needed to be, all the while, desperately leave me wanting more (and being brazen enough to leave half its main characters and its titular ship out of both episodes), which, these days, is the best compliment for any new show.

For that, "The Vulcan Hello" and "Battle at the Binary Stars" get 8.5 ancient Klingon vessels out of 10.