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Star Trek Dis - Season 1 - Episode 02

Star Trek Dis - 1x02 - Battle at the Binary Stars

Originally Aired: 2017-9-24

Synopsis:
Face to face with Klingon vessels, the U.S.S. Shenzhou prepares for the possibility of war if negotiations fail. Amidst the turmoil, Burnham looks back to her Vulcan upbringing for guidance.

My Rating - 9

Fan Rating Average - 5.8

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Problems
- Just when we think the Klingon forehead problem is solved, it turns out that just a decade before every Klingon is shown to be human-like, the entire Klingon high council is shown to have bumpy foreheads and no hair. At this point the best rationalization is to say that Klingon fashion is mercurial...
- The phasers are quite a visual departure from both the 22nd century, later 23rd century material, and the 24th century. Like the Klingon forehead problem, we might have to chalk this one to fashion as well. Perhaps phaser blasts (as opposed to sustained beams) became trendy during this decade for some arcane technobabble reason...
- In keeping with our fashion problems, the uniforms shown in this series are quite problematic. This series takes place two years after TOS: The Cage, and yet the uniforms look nothing like either The Cage or any of the material aired in later TOS episodes. To rationalize this one, we have to assume that like the uniform confusion in ST VII: Generations, Starfleet was playing around with different uniform designs and different ships got different uniforms...
- Which brings us to the ship interiors! Like the uniforms, we have to assume that Starfleet was experimenting with different industrial designs along with different uniform fashions. Notably, the Shenzhou is stated to be an older design. Indeed, it looks more like Star Trek: Enterprise than TOS. Perhaps all the ship interiors seen on this series are the older design along with the uniforms too?
- A member of the Klingon high council was depicted as female. This seems pretty unlikely given that in DS9: The House of Quark it was established that Klingon females cannot lead Klingon houses without a special dispensation. Likewise, the Duras sisters on TNG used a puppet male heir to control the House of Duras, as females were not allowed to lead a great house. It's possible the Klingon female in this episode did indeed possess a special dispensation though. It's also possible that Klingon culture was less sexist during this time period.
- Burnham's chance of survival for that decompression was probably much higher than 43%. So long as she exhaled first to prevent injury caused by holding her breath, there was little reason to doubt her survival absent perhaps the radiation concern from the binary stars.

Factoids
- Burnham arrived on the Shenzhou in 2249, seven years prior to the start of the series.
- This episode establishes that Burnham is the only human ever to attend the Vulcan Learning Center and the Vulcan Science Acadamy.
- The Shenzhou is stated to be an old ship.
- This episode establishes that T'Kuvma invented the modern Klingon cloaking device.

Remarkable Scenes
- Burnham's flashback to her awkward first meeting with Georgiou.
- Georgiou relieving Burnham of duty for insubordination.
- T'Kuvma summoning the entire high council to the beacon.
- The Klingons attacking.
- Connor: "Why are we fighting? We're Starfleet. We're explorers, not soldiers."
- Connor being suddenly blown out into space by battle damage.
- Sarek rescuing Burnham with a mind meld in a flashback. One wonders if Picard acquired Sarek's memories of Burnham from TNG: Sarek?
- Burnham observing the space battle through the brig forcefield into open space.
- The Shenzhou being rescued by the Europa.
- The Europa being bisected by a kamikaze strike from a Klingon vessel.
- The Europa self-destructing to take out the Klingon ship that rammed it.
- T'Kuvma leaving survivors only to serve as witnesses to his victory to spread fear throughout the Federation.
- Burnham talking the computer into letting her jump through a vacuum. While Kirk talks computers to death, Burnham talks computers into saving lives!
- Georgiou bombing T'Kuvma's ship using a dead Klingon body being retrieved.
- Georgiou and Burnham attempting to capture T'Kuvma only to see Georgiou killed by T'Kuvma and T'Kuvma killed by Burnham.
- Burnham being court martialed, convicted, stripped of rank, and sentenced to prison.

My Review
Star Trek: DiscoveryShenzhou kicks into high gear in this thrilling followup to the pilot's cliffhanger at the end of the first episode. It's nice to see lasting, painful consequences result from Burnham opening pandora's box with the Klingons. Georgiou is tragically killed, T'Kuvma is martyred, and Burnham is in prison for starting a war! Having the main character's life permanently upended in this way sets the stage for a kind of drama never before seen on Star Trek, a welcome change of pace.

This skillfully-written episode makes good use of foreshadowing and parallelism. Burnham's character is shaped by a traumatic attack by the Klingons which killed her parents, leaving her a ward of Sarek. While not depicted in as much detail, it turns out a parallel story played out for T'Kuvma as well, as he apparently lost his parents at a young age too and likewise engaged in a process of self-discovery after "discovering" his father's ship and vowing to restore honor to his house.

Their similar childhoods ironically make them particularly hostile to each other: Burnham fears the Klingons as much as T'Kuvma fears the Federation. Burnham is afraid that the Klingons could take something or someone else dear to her and T'Kuvma sees the Federation as an existential threat to Klingon identity.

Indeed, both of them suffer exactly that which they fear most. T'Kuvma succeeds in provoking a war with the Federation, but in addition to costing him his life, we know from other Star Trek productions that the war doesn't end well for the Klingons. Likewise Burnham watches Georgiou die at T'Kuvma's hands. Then in her moment of grief with her self-esteem at perhaps an all time low, she declares, "We are at war and I am the enemy," shortly before being stripped of rank and sentenced to prison. All this was nicely foreshadowed in the previous episode when Georgiou said to Burnham, "I trust you with my life, but it doesn't change the fact that you're lost." Georgiou's trust was misplaced and Burnham is even more lost now than she may have been before.

Another interesting piece of perhaps unintentional foreshadowing from the previous episode is when Georgiou asked Burnham in the desert how long the storm would take to come crashing down on them. She estimated one hour, 17 minutes, and 22 seconds, or roughly 77 minutes. If you think of the coming of a storm as a metaphor for the battle with the Klingons, the grimmest part of the battle for our heroes is roughly 77 minutes into the screen time of the Star Trek: DiscoveryShenzhou series so far.

While this episode is terrific overall, there are some flaws to take note of. Aside from the copious continuity problems introduced here and noted above, Sarek's mind meld across a thousand light years of space due to some kind of subspace katra bond strains suspension of disbelief pretty hard. And what was with that ridiculously dark room the court martial was conducted in? Shadowy figures convicting our hero isn't dramatic, it's dumb. Do judges in the real world turn off all the lights for dramatic effect when sentencing criminals? No. So turn on some frigging lights!

Those are small nitpicks for the most part though and by and large this was a fantastic piece of drama. Putting Burnham in such a dark place (the figurative part anyway...) is an incredibly compelling way to set up a gripping story about how she grapples with both her personal losses and her responsibility to Federation society for having started the war with the Klingons. It seems clear that Star Trek: DiscoveryShenzhou is not at all interested in repeating Star Trek: Enterprise's mistake of failing to depict the single most important event in the historical canon of the era that it is depicting. Enterprise failed to depict the Earth-Romulan war even with four seasons. But this series started the war with the Klingons in episode two. And that's awesome.

The following are comments submitted by my readers.

  • From Mike Chambers on 2017-09-25 at 10:57am:
    Here I am the morning after Discovery debuts, thinking "I wonder if there's a review on kethinov.com yet", and of course there is! You're definitely on top of things.

    I've had my worries about how this show would turn out for multiple reasons, and I'm happy to report that so far, my fears have largely been allayed! I am extremely impressed with the first two episodes. It feels very much like Star Trek, but perhaps with a bit of a darker tone than previous series. I may be disappointed in the future if it turns out that the entire series is this dark, as Star Trek is supposed to be optimistic overall.

    There is excellent drama here, and they have done a fantastic job so far with building these characters. I'm looking forward to seeing how their situations evolve from this point, and I am now officially excited to see future episodes.

    My only real problem is political in nature. They appear to be using the Klingons as an allegory for nationalists, but are mishandling it. They seem to be ascribing a bit of a racial purist motive to it, rather than the cultural and civic nationalism ideals to which the vast majority of nationalists actually adhere to. It's annoying, but this is a product of the entertainment industry, after all. It would be asking a bit much for them to understand the country outside of their bubble, so I'm not letting it ruin my experience.

    I have thoroughly enjoyed Discovery so far, and I want more!
  • From Rick on 2017-09-25 at 5:56pm:
    Star Trek being all about war is not Star Trek to me. It appears that this series will be about as far from Roddenberry's vision as possible, as all new productions since Enterprise have been. I understand that these type of stories are the modern tv way, but that way is not for me and apparently Star Trek no longer is either.
  • From Matthew on 2017-09-26 at 3:16pm:
    I found this gripping, particularly the last act of this part which sums up both my excitement and concern for how this series could go.

    It features principle and bravery plus the protagonists' plan not going their way with (crucially) very real consequences - that feels quite liberating in that it opens up a rich seam of story-telling. Even 'In the Pale Moonlight' (DS9) doesn't quite go that far (though that's a great episode and I bet the writers took some inspiration from that great 'It's a FAAAAKE' moment!) That could be the foundation of a great series. On the other hand, I worry slightly about the world-building and tone being undermined by aesthetic choices about it being a 'darker' show. That crass scene with the judges' faces in shadow was seriously grating and I'm glad it didn't just bother me.

    We'll see how it evolves - I'll definitely be watching (and I'm glad that we don't have to pay 6 dollars a month on top of Netflix to get it in the UK - my other big worry is that the economics don't work out for CBS and that it dies a death nothing to do with its creative merits!)

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