Star Trek Discovery was announced by Bryan Fuller and Alex Kurtzman in 2015. It’s a prequel to Star Trek: The Original Series, taking place around 2255; this is roughly 10 years before the adventures of Captain Kirk and the Enterprise. This also places it about 100 years after Star Trek: Enterprise and over 100 years before Star Trek: The Next Generation. As such, they’ve chosen an interesting piece of Trek lore to focus on.
Discovery – ship of the line
The USS Discovery is a science vessel that, in addition to its many cutting edge experiments, is developing a method of travel that would allow a ship to travel instantaneously from one end of the universe to the other. This amazing development deals with an organic propulsion system known as a Spore drive.
This is based on the idea that there’s a ‘spore’ dimension intersecting our own, and if a person connects to it, they can travel instantaneously to any place in the cosmos and back again. Of course, this new tech has tremendous exploratory and military possibilities.
At war with the Klingons
Throughout the many incarnations of Star Trek, the warrior race of the Klingons have – depending on the era – been allies of the Federation, as well as bitter foes. Star Trek Discovery‘s section of franchise history gives us a different look at a chaotic time in Klingon history, where the internal warring factions (or “houses”) try to unite by destroying the United Federation of Planets, and Starfleet itself. War as a formula for unity. A good bit of Season One deals with the war between humans and Klingons.
The Mirror Universe
The other focus of Star Trek Discovery Season One is the Mirror Universe. This is an alternate dimension where history has played out very differently for humanity. In the normal timeline, we see the United Federation of Planets – humans partnered up with an alliance of other worlds – operating in the name of peaceful coexistence and exploration.
However, in the Mirror-verse, it’s the bloody reign of the Terran Empire that’s conquered and subjugated all other races in the galaxy.
We’ve seen bits and pieces of the Mirror-verse in The Original Series, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Enterprise. In each case, we’re shown Mirror versions of the cast, and they’re usually not very nice.
The main players of Star Trek Discovery
Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) is the protagonist of Star Trek Discovery, and the ship’s science specialist. An orphaned human child, young Burnham was taken in and raised by the Vulcan Sarek and his wife Amanda Grayson, the parents of The Original Series‘ Mr. Spock. Burnham was shaped by her Vulcan environment, and at the time Discovery begins, is next in line for command and considered to be an excellent officer on every level.
But many years ago, it was the Klingons who killed her parents, as she hid – terrified – watching it all. So the war she starts with the Klingons complicates her standing in Starfleet.
Usually, Star Trek series focus on the captain or lead officer of the show, but in Star Trek Discovery, Fuller and Kurtzman took a different perspective, seeing how a slightly lower-ranking Burnham interacts with those above and below her.
Saru (Doug Jones) is a Kelpien, and the first of his race to join Starfleet. This hoofed species was bred to be prey, and to be hunted. The Kelpians evolved into a species with enhanced senses and glands that could sense danger. They have a reputation for being cowards because of this.
Yet Saru made the conscious decision to join Starfleet and knowingly put himself in danger on a regular basis. Having served as acting captain in many scenarios, Saru has proven himself to be one of the bravest officers, and a fine leader.
Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) is a brilliant astromycologist (studying fungi in space) and the Spore drive is his baby. As he dives into – and truly becomes – a part of the Spore drive process itself, we learn more and more about the hidden reality buried just beneath ours. Stamets serves alongside his husband Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz) who plays a medical officer on board.
Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman) is a cadet, and Burnham’s roommate. A warm individual who talks too much, Tilly has an inspired intellect, and according to Fuller and Kurtzman she is the heart and soul of Star Trek Discovery.
Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif) is a Starfleet officer dealing with a very different kind of PTSD in relation to having once been a prisoner of the Klingons. His experiences often have dire consequences for the crew.
Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs) is the ship’s captain during Star Trek Discovery Season One. A brilliant military tactician, Lorca is a complicated and dangerous man, and he isn’t all that he seems.
Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) takes charge of Discovery for the show’s second season, which sees the crew investigate the mystery of the Red Angel.
Spock (Ethan Peck) is also introduced in Season Two – albeit a decade younger – and he’s integral to the Red Angel storyline.
Recommended episode viewing…
…is a bit tricky. Most Star Trek series of the past were episodic, telling a different story each week. But with Star Trek Discovery, each season has an overarching theme. And while there might the occasional diversion with the odd standalone story, each episode seamlessly connects to the next, making this show a good candidate for ‘binging.’
However, if you’re looking for interesting character arcs, that one’s a bit easier. Aside from Burnham, Saru, and Lorca, there’s Philippa Georgiou, played by Michelle Yeoh. The veteran actor (best known for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) seems to be having a good time giving us different takes on the Georgiou character across the various seasons – so much so that they’re in talks to give her a possible spin-off.
And speaking of spin-offs, Anson Mount as Pike practically steals the show in Discovery Season Two. At some point in the process, it was decided to take advantage of this particular decade in the Trek timeline and put the spotlight on Captain Pike’s tenure as commander of the Enterprise. Thus, in early 2020, production began on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, which will delve deeper into the character’s backstory.
Classified under penalty of treason
There are certain concepts and story elements in Star Trek Discovery that have seemingly disappeared by the end of Season Two, such as the experimental Spore drive, the Mirror universe, and finally the existence of Section 31. The latter is a shadow cabinet division of Starfleet that operates independently and without oversight. (It’s Starfleet’s version of Cardassia’s Obsidian Order, or the Romulan’s Tal-Shiar, if you know your Trek.)
These things, as well as the very existence of the USS Discovery, have been relegated to Classified status. No Starfleet personnel may utter a word about anything related to the ship or its crew, under penalty of treason.
When do they go from here?
With Star Trek Discovery still a relatively new entity, I won’t spoil all of the major twists and turns as they head into Season Three, but rest assured: Discovery is definitely going where no Trek series has gone before.
Are you excited for Season Three of Star Trek Discovery? Or are you going to dive in and start from the beginning? Let us know in the comments below.
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