Star Trek: Discovery premieres its third season without any sign of the actual Discovery, leaving the show - and the constipatedly earnest lead character of Burnham - free from the shackles of formula, and with a great new co-star to keep her in check.
Discovery is a strange creation, born from the Alex Kurtzman mold of modern Star Trek reboots, and very much enjoying the same energy and tone as its Big Screen counterparts, whilst also dialling up the melodrama, overacting and - oddly - tonally flat comedy, in favour of big 'Small Screen' entertainment. Effects were excellent, some of the setpieces enjoyable, and the concept of following somebody other than the Captain an intriguing avenue to follow. Unfortunately, it frequently got lost in its own worm hole, spinning up spore drives to the frustration of canonites, playing out silly plots and stupid character arcs and losing a lot of fan goodwill along the way.
Despite everything, it's a generally pretty entertaining show. Frustrating, stupid, but generally pretty entertaining. Unfortunately, perhaps as a part of the fact that it doesn't follow the tradition of getting behind the Captain of its titular vessel, it was also prepared to regularly jettison / transmute it's best characters - ironically, the Captains - season upon season. Michelle Yeoh, Jason Isaacs and, most recently, Anson Mount - easily the best characters in the show (notwithstanding Doug Jones' underrated regular) yet all pushed aside in favour of following Sonequa Martin-Green's frequently outclassed overacting, as she frowns her way through entire seasons.
Despite everything, it's a generally pretty entertaining show. Frustrating, stupid, but generally pretty entertaining
Season 2 gave us The Enterprise, and Anson Mount's pre-Kirk Captain Pike, but come the end, we're launched hundreds of years into the future, leaving behind all past continuity and characters - and possibly even the Federation itself - and launching SMG's Burnham into the wild unknown.
In terms of the season premiere, this works exceptionally well, with almost nothing from the Discovery Season 3 trailer in this first episode; almost a standalone entry following Burnham sans-Discovery, and introducing the enigmatic, charismatic new character of Book, played by David Ajala. Book's intergalactic courier more than holds his own against Burnham, reluctantly taking her with him for a wild ride, which bodes well for this new season but - given the trailer - is also likely not the direction they'll stick with for long.
For many, there's a big love/hate relationship going on with Discovery, and that's pretty understandable as it's really all over the shop, giving us really silly characters doing really stupid things, taking us on pointless trips with blunt messaging, and - as stated - often sidelining the best elements of the show. But it's flash, and stylish, and has a fair few imaginative adventures and, hell, it's Trek.
Furthermore, SMG's Burnham is a tough character to get behind because she's a pretty one-note actress, but maybe Discovery has finally learnt its lesson there. Here she's immediately outclassed by Ajala (badly cast in Supergirl but easily the best thing about Netflix's Nightflyers) who thankfully tempers her earnestness with a nicely witty dismissive edge. Their dynamic works, and, coupled with some suitably goofy (but effective) truth-serum hijinks, Burnham actually doesn't have to spend a whole episode looking soulful.
It's a solid season premiere and that's probably more than a lot of people were hoping for
The future landscape - and tech - is only briefly explored, but to good effect, from the opening sequence to the portal-jumping action at the end, and whilst it's nothing we haven't seen before in other, often better, productions, it's new for Discovery and perhaps, for now, that's good enough.
It's hard to discern where we might go from just one episode - the trailer probably betrays more about the direction the show's going to go in - but it's a solid season premiere and that's probably more than a lot of people were hoping for. Free from the shackles of entrenched Star Trek lore, age-old timelines and even The Federation, perhaps this season of Discovery can finally boldly go in a new direction.
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