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Star Trek Dis - Season 1 - Episode 01

Star Trek Dis - 1x01 - The Vulcan Hello

Originally Aired: 2017-9-24

Synopsis:
While patrolling Federation space, the U.S.S. Shenzhou encounters an object of unknown origin, putting First Officer Michael Burnham to her greatest test yet.

My Rating - 8

Fan Rating Average - 6.31

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Problems
- The holo-communicator featured in this episode was portrayed as a new piece of technology in DS9: For the Uniform. We have to assume that the technology came in and out of fashion several times throughout the 23rd and 24th centuries to justify its continual appearance and disappearance. Indeed, even in DS9 the technology didn't stick around long and was quickly abandoned shortly after its first appearance.
- The warp drive effect in this episode has been altered in such a way that is extremely difficult to square with other Star Trek series.
- It is established in TOS: Turnabout Intruder that women cannot be captains in Starfleet. Likewise in TOS: The Cage Captain Pike was quoted as saying, "It's just that I can't get used to having a woman on the bridge." This kind of sexism was a difficult thing to suspend disbelief on at the time, but since women were shown to be captains not much later during the TOS films, it was assumed this sexism existed prior to the late 23rd century only. Star Trek: Enterprise further complicated this by depicting female captains in the 22nd century, narrowing the window of time for this sexist period in Star Trek's history to only the 23rd century. With Star Trek: Discovery, the issue is complicated even further by depicting a female captain (Georgiou) grooming a female subordinate (Burnham) to rise to the captaincy only a decade prior to TOS: Turnabout Intruder and only two years after the sexism of TOS: The Cage. This narrows the window of this sexist period of Star Trek's history to only a small number of years, making the episode even more difficult to rationalize.
- When Burnham places the call to Sarek, he picks up the phone almost immediately. Like within seconds. Was he waiting at the holo-communicator or something?
- Spock states in TOS: The Tholian Web that there is no record of a mutiny on a starship before. We have to assume that this event somehow goes unrecorded.

Factoids
- This episode establishes that there are 24 warring houses in the Klingon Empire at this time.
- This episode takes place on May 11th, 2256. A Sunday. This is two years after TOS: The Cage.
- Lieutenant Commander Saru is the first member of the Kelpien species to appear on Star Trek. His world "does not have food chains" and refers to his "species map" as binary: either the hunter or the hunted. His species, the hunted, was similar to livestock at some point in its history. He says his species was "biologically determined for one purpose: [...] to sense the coming of death."
- There is an Andorian colony at Gamma Hydra.

Remarkable Scenes
- T'Kuvma's impassioned speech stoking fear about the Federation.
- Burnham: "You do understand that being afraid of everything means you learn nothing? There's no opportunity to discover. To explore."
- Burnham accidentally taking out the Klingon and being launched into space unconscious.
- T'Kuvma's memorial for the fallen Klingon. That howl! So chilling.
- The flashback to Burnham's childhood attending a Vulcan school under Sarek's tutelage.
- A Klingon ship decloaking in front of the Shenzhou.
- T'Kuvma honoring the albino Klingon, Voq.
- Burnham's phone call with Sarek.
- Burnham Vulcan neck pinching Georgiou and attempting to assume command.
- Saru accusing Burnham of mutiny.
- Georgiou pulling a phaser on Burnham and reassuming command.
- A Klingon fleet arriving.

My Review
Before discussing the story itself, the elephant in the room needs to be acknowledged right at the start: this is the third Star Trek prequel in a row and like the others it introduces a litany of continuity problems, perhaps more than ever before. That aspect of the premise is quite problematic, but this review will dwell on that as little as possible, focusing instead on reviewing this series primarily on its own merits, rather than on how it impacts and possibly diminishes the rest of Star Trek's canon. For more on that, see this article.

With that out of the way, The Vulcan Hello is without a doubt the strongest Star Trek pilot so far. This touching and compelling story weaving Burnham's traumatic and quirky childhood with Klingon nationalism is some of the richest drama portrayed yet on Star Trek. This terrific shift in tone for Star Trek is captured brilliantly by the significant departure in the style of the opening theme as compared to previous Star Trek series. This new opening theme is stylized more like a James Bond film than previous Star Treks, and that's a good thing, as this is a different kind of Star Trek; one which grapples directly with the dark side of exploration: sometimes fantastic new discoveries lead to fantastic new terrors. Generations ago, the invention of warp drive led to the discovery of the Klingon Empire and the commencement of a cold war that lasted a century.

This contrast is best captured when Burnham explores the Klingon beacon. She has no idea what it is, nor does she understand the danger it represents, but is nevertheless awestruck by the beauty of its architecture. Her sense of wonder at her discovery is palpable and infectious. And her precocious recognition of its threat due to her personal history with the Klingon Empire, a rare experience during this time period, is a powerful piece of foreshadowing of the danger the Klingons pose to the Federation of this time period. Her explanation of "The Vulcan Hello" also neatly foreshadows how the Federation eventually makes peace with the Klingons: "Violence brought respect. Respect brought peace." That quite accurately summarizes Federation-Klingon relations in the 24th century as depicted on TNG and DS9.

The portrayal of Klingon tribalism and nationalist unification was a particular highlight also. The decision to show lengthy scenes entirely from the Klingon point of view in their native language subtitled was a fantastic way to elicit empathy for them rather than depicting them merely as the violent, savage, one-dimensional antagonists they sometimes seemed like in some past Star Trek productions. Framing their xenophobia as an issue of "self-preservation" and seeing diversity as a threat to their cultural identity evokes powerful comparisons to real life nationalist movements all over the world, both historic and modern. This is a natural fit for Klingon canon and can even be seen rippling across the Empire as late as DS9: Tacking Into the Wind when Ezri Dax confides in Worf that she views the Klingon Empire as dying, and deservedly so; a judgment made in reference to a culture she saw as too attached to tradition for its own good. Worf was uncomfortable with that assessment, but seemed to agree.

Star Trek: Discovery's pilot is not without its flaws, though. For starters, the ship Discovery is nowhere to be found. Given that this is a serialized drama, it seems obvious that the story will get to it eventually, but it seems equally obvious that if you're going to name your show "Discovery," you should find a way to work the ship into the pilot somewhere, at least as a framing device to match the show title. Another rough edge was Burnham's spacewalk. It was pretty contrived to force her out there in a spacesuit. Not having a shuttle "maneuverable enough to navigate the ring" seemed like a pretty weak excuse for that. Similarly, drawing the Starfleet logo in the desert as a plan B rescue plan was pretty campy, as was Sanu's hair literally standing on end when he got scared, and frankly the whole concept of an alien species whose magic superpower is to "sense the coming of death" is the lamest thing since Wesley Crusher's sweaters.

We could have also done without Ensign Danby Connor's annoying airline pilot announcement joke, a piece of filler dialog that is so overused in space opera by this point that it's a genuine cliche; one that was never funny to begin with. Then lens flare is a likewise unwelcome aesthetic continued from the Kelvinverse films and while the subtitled Klingon scenes are mostly awesome, the subtitles fly by a bit too fast sometimes.

All things considered though, despite prequel fatigue among most Star Trek fans, this is a strong prequel. It doesn't quite have Rogue One levels of polish, especially with regards to careful treatment of continuity (visual and otherwise), but it comes close and delivers an exceptionally strong story so far.

The following are comments submitted by my readers.

  • From Kail on 2017-09-26 at 6:00pm:
    "It is established in TOS: Turnabout Intruder that women cannot be captains in Starfleet. This was a difficult thing to suspend disbelief on at the time, but since women were shown to be captains not much later during the TOS films, it was assumed this sexism existed prior to the late 23rd century only. Star Trek: Enterprise further complicated this by depicting female captains in the 22nd century, narrowing the window of time for this sexist period in Star Trek's history to only the 23rd century. With Star Trek: Discovery, the issue is complicated even further by depicting a female captain (Georgiou) grooming a female subordinate (Burnham) to rise to the captaincy only a decade prior to TOS: Turnabout Intruder. This narrows the window of this sexist period of Star Trek's history to only a small number of years, making the episode even more difficult to rationalize."

    I have ALWAYS taken Lester's comment "Your world of Starship Captains doesn't allow women" as Kirk's obsession with becoming a Captain left no room for her, not that female Captains are not allowed.
  • From KosstAmojan on 2017-09-27 at 8:23pm:
    You're konwn as a reviewer not only of Star Trek series but also of some other SF series. Did you also planning reviewing of The Orville?
  • From Kethinov on 2017-09-27 at 11:48pm:
    I have been struggling with that question. I was leaning towards not reviewing it assuming it would be strictly parody, as I have no interest in reviewing things that feel like Galaxy Quest. But having seen some early episodes of The Orville, I'm starting to think it might be worth reviewing, as it's not strictly parody.

    FWIW, I am also planning to review The Expanse, Killjoys, Dark Matter, the Star Wars films, Stargate, Babylon 5, Extant, and update several of the old reviews with expanded content. So stay tuned for, uhh... years to come. As this will take time haha. This site will also be relaunching with the brand new design I've been promising Real Soon Now™️. It's close to being finished, but not quite there yet...
  • From KosstAmojan on 2017-09-28 at 9:43pm:
    Wow! Just wow. Nice to read :).
  • From John C on 2017-10-02 at 10:08am:
    Just to say..glad to see you keeping up with it all! Been looking at your reviews since we started watching TNG two or three years a go and now we're half way through Voyager. We had a peep at this episode also, my son liked it "because it was modern".
  • From Claus on 2017-10-02 at 2:25pm:
    Fantastic! This is the first time in history, that I have seen a Star Trek episode when it was brand new. TOS was never broadcasted in Denmark, and the other shows were broadcasted (or sold on DVD's) with years of delay.

    Star Trek Discovery looks amazing, and I really like the new darker tone. As one could expect, the pilot has a lot of action. And although it looks great, it is also a little bit boring. I would rather have all the characters introduced first in a slower paced episode. But is is certainly a very promising start.

    It is very clear that Kethinov LOVES continuity. Over the last 2 years I have seen/revisited all episodes in all the Star Trek series (TOS and DS9 for the first time). And after each episode I read all the comments in here. Often I agreed, but also many times an episode gets a much too low ranking, just because of some continuity problems.

    As for this new series, no one can expect that designs on spaceships, uniforms, weapons etc. would be consistent with the older series. Also, no one can expect that younger viewers have seen TOS. So I think it is very natural to update all of this and not take into account how klingons looked like 50 years ago when the budget was very limited. Furthermore, who really cares what Spock said back then about female captains or mutiny...
    In short, I think most of the issues in your "list of problems" should be rephrased "design and reboot updates".
  • From kevin on 2017-10-02 at 8:52pm:
    Some good, but overall was a bit hard to watch with how it was filmed. Odd camera angles, lens flares that were not even from the lens, and a lot of zooming in and out. Need to watch a few more to decide. Right now "The ORVILLE" seems to be closer to real Star Trek.
  • From Kethinov on 2017-10-03 at 11:10am:
    Claus, I strongly disagree that continuity problems should be papered over as "design and reboot updates." In fact, I just finished an entire article outlining why it is terrible storytelling to ask your audience to treat aesthetic canon as disposable here: http://kethinov.com/startrek_selectivenostalgia.php
  • From Claus on 2017-10-04 at 11:01am:
    Kethinov, I have read your article, and it's very well written. However, it is also a bit disturbing how seriously you view things. I think it's possible to be a Star Trek fan without being a fanatic. In the end it's all about entertainment, it's not a religion (even though many trekkies might see Star Trek as a kind of a religion).

    You are right about that there are too many remakes out there (especially regarding movies). But not all remakes are bad. I love it when somebody dares to break convention and try out a whole new path. Just look at the very much alternative X-Men series Legion. Incredible! Or Twin Peaks The Return. I salute you Lynch.

    In my mind nothing is sacred. To say otherwise is to restrict the creativity of the artists.
  • From Kethinov on 2017-10-05 at 10:16am:
    This disregard for aesthetic canon is bad storytelling, not "religion" or "fanaticism." If you think about it beyond the surface for just a few minutes, it's easy to see why.

    What if each season on Discovery they "updated" the uniforms with a new design? What if they redesigned the interior sets? Or the exterior design of the ship? What if they totally overhauled the makeup for Saru? What if these changes persisted in flashbacks?

    Wouldn't it eventually get to the point where your "nothing is sacred" attitude about aesthetic canon would reach its breaking point?
  • From Claus on 2017-10-06 at 4:40am:
    Well, we can discuss from now on and forever, but I don't think that will change anything. The main reason is, that I simply don't buy the concept of an "aesthetic canon". It's good fun to watch how the older series looked like, but that's it. I'm not attached to it. So if anyone wants to bring things closer to how it "should have looked", then go for it.

    Example: I'm a HUGE Game of Thrones fan. And of course I noticed that the look of the Children of the Forest was changed significantly from season 4 to season 6. I was like, ok, that is also a good interpretation. They looked good before, and now they look even better (but in a very different way).

    We are all glad that we now actually have a new Star Trek show. So let's enjoy what we have, instead of being upset about what we don't have.
  • From Kethinov on 2017-10-06 at 10:34am:
    That's a pretty good analogy, because visually rebooting the children of the forest in Game of Thrones is another good illustration of this kind of shoddy storytelling, and you're right that your indifference to it (whereas it bothered me and plenty of others) captures the core our disagreement pretty well. Where I'd quibble with you there is the visual changes there were pretty subtle. Nothing like the total overhaul we're seeing today on Star Trek.

    What's happening on Star Trek would be closer to if Game of Thrones suddenly totally reimagined the dragons to look more like European dragons (with four legs and wings) than the present Chinese-like dragons for no reason, or recast an actor to someone who looks totally different, e.g. what happened Daario Naharis. Sometimes this stuff is unavoidable (e.g. if actors become unavailable), but they could've at least recast him to a similar looking actor. They didn't even try.

    Those things are all good illustrations of bad storytelling because this is a visual medium, not a novel series. Good stories on visual mediums take visual continuity seriously. And a lot of people value it. Their anger at this is valid, and you should not go around telling people to stop caring about aesthetic canon simply because you don't see why it matters to so many.

    You said you shrugged when Game of Thrones made those minor visual tweaks, as if that sufficiently answers the question I asked you about when you'd reach a breaking point if the changes became more frequent and with greater magnitude. But that doesn't really answer my question. So I encourage you to reconsider the question, and take it more seriously this time:

    What if each season on Discovery they "updated" the uniforms with a new design? What if they redesigned the interior sets? Or the exterior design of the ship? What if they totally overhauled the makeup for Saru? What if these changes persisted in flashbacks?

    Wouldn't it eventually get to the point where your "nothing is sacred" attitude about aesthetic canon would reach its breaking point?

    Or, put another way:

    What if each season on Game of Thrones they replaced all the actors? Changed the anatomy of the dragons? Totally overhauled the makeup for the White Walkers? What if these changes persisted in flashbacks?

    Wouldn't it eventually get to the point where your "nothing is sacred" attitude about aesthetic canon would reach its breaking point?

    You tried to indirectly answer "no," but that's hard to believe. Most people have a breaking point with this stuff. Many Star Trek fans have reached theirs. And justifiably so.
  • From Claus on 2017-10-06 at 6:07pm:
    Sorry I didn't answer your questions. I just thought they were meant as rhetorical. Because, it goes without saying, that everybody has a breaking point to what they can accept. I'm just more flexible than you.

    If Discovery updated the uniforms, interior sets and exterior design each season, I would properly frown upon that. But if it was done nicely, I could certainly live with it. And as for Saru, they are very welcome to change his make-up. His current face does not really look alive. It should be improved.

    If the look of the dragons and the Others (White Walkers) in GoT were changed to the better, I also wouldn't mind. I think my breaking point would be if the dragons were changed so they looked like the fellbeasts from LOTR (the Nazgûl dragons). Or if Tyrion was replaced by a non-dwarf. :-)

    However, I don't think it's fair to compare changes BETWEEN tv series 50 years apart (from TOS to Discovery) to changes WITHIN a single tv series (from Discovery season 1 to the next season). It is obvious that the show runners have more freedom of creativity when a whole new show is being produced, than when producing the next season of an existing tv series.

    Finally, I would like to point out that the attitude of "nothing is sacred" is quite common in my country. I have never met anybody who would be upset by things from your "list of problems". We prefer to just enjoy the show and to shrug off inconsistencies.

    Apparently, you are also able to shrug off things, since you gave the first two episodes very high rankings at 8 and 9 respectively. That's kind of admirable. If it were me, and I was very annoyed by something in an episode, I would punish it by a low ranking ;-)
  • From Kethinov on 2017-10-06 at 8:46pm:
    It's important to note that the high ratings Discovery's pilot received here are not a tacit approval of how they're handling aesthetic canon. A good reviewer will separate critiques of the premise from critiques of the execution. Discovery is getting high ratings here because while the premise (with regards to setting and aesthetic canon) is bad, the story is good. Good reviewers should always give a good grade to a good story, even if it's just a well executed bad idea.

    Meanwhile, the critique of the premise as articulated in the separate article still stands. Throwing out two generations of painstakingly maintained aesthetic canon will serve only to damage the long term health of the broader Star Trek franchise for no real gain.

    Future generations who watch Star Trek in chronological order will be subjected to unnecessarily painful transitions, going from Enterprise, to Discovery, to TOS. Before Discovery aired, the transition from Enterprise to TOS was relatively smooth, due to context clues about the upcoming change in industrial design aesthetics that were foreshadowed in various episodes, most notably when Ent: In A Mirror, Darkly foreshadowed the transition by having 22nd century characters interact with (accurately portrayed) 23rd century technology and comment on the differences.

    Likewise in the Star Wars franchise, you can watch the prequels, then Rogue One, and then the original trilogy and it works incredibly well because the producers carefully managed the aesthetic transitions between episode 3, Rogue One, and episode 4. Three generations of Star Wars films can be watched in rapid succession, but they feel aesthetically consistent. What a remarkable achievement!

    That's an ideal Star Trek should've aspired to. But Discovery takes Star Trek in the opposite direction because the producers were too lazy to do this right like the Star Wars folks did with Rogue One, or even like Gene Roddenberry did with the original series films and TNG by setting them further in the future each time he wanted to update the look. The producers of each of the five previous series understood this and worked hard to integrate visually into their predecessors' aesthetic canon. After fifty years of doing it right, Discovery comes along and demolishes all that hard work in a single episode for absolutely no coherent reason whatsoever.

    I think that sad and unnecessary decision has irrevocably damaged the Star Trek franchise's future. And I don't think history or future generations will look kindly on it whether Discovery's actual story turns out to be good or not.

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