*Warning: This article contains spoilers for “The Vulcan Hello”. Continue reading at your own risk.
I did not grow up with Star Trek. Were it not for my mother’s partner, I would likely still have not been exposed to the world. His enthusiasm for “The Next Generation” was something I could never quite get into. While “The Best of Both Worlds” was decent viewing, the few other episodes I happened to watch never grabbed me. Apart from a few scenes here and there that I happened to view from Deep Space Nine, there was very little dedicated viewing on my part. However, Enterprise, which I believe is widely disliked by a majority of the dedicated fanbase, ended up being the first and only Star Trek series to really interest me.
All of this should pretty clearly establish myself as NOT a trekkie in any sense of the term. That said, I’m not uninformed in regards to the universe, having played a fair amount of the CCG (which is still ongoing) while also reading a fair amount of Memory Alpha. I know my Vulcans from my Romulans, my TOS from my TNG, how Riker growing a beard was a sign of great things to come, and how wearing a red shirt and having just one name was a death sentence.
Now that you know the background I have coming into it, let’s talk about Star Trek: Discovery. This article is the first in a series of articles that will be picking apart each and every episode. Let’s get straight into it then with “The Vulcan Hello”.
*SPOILERS START HERE. TURN BACK NOW IF YOU DON’T WANT TO SEE THEM*
*SERIOUSLY! THIS IS YOUR LAST CHANCE!*
*OKAY. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED!*
So we’re immediately introduced to these guys:
Very quickly, we find out they’re the Klingons, and they’re trying to bring their people together and light some kind of beacon (more on this later). After a great bit of dialogue involving a twist about “coming in peace”, we jump to a desert planet, where a captain and presumably a crewman (later revealed to be the first officer) are discussing droughts, storms, and death.
Did I mention that neither of them are white nor men?
While this is not particularly new for Trek (Deep Space Nine’s captain was black [though a man], and Voyager’s captain was a woman [albeit white]), the fact that two women, one Malaysian Chinese, the other black, were the first human characters on screen, and that they hold the two highest positions on the ship, is not something that went unnoticed. Kudos for that.
The two characters are Phillipa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) and Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), and their interactions and relationship are a key focus of this opening episode. After some casual chatter back and forth, including a line about how Burnham should have her own command someday, the two are beamed back to the ship, the USS Shenzhou (a nod to the real-life spacecraft still in use by China today, and yet another indication of a Star Trek for the modern audience). The opening credits roll, and we are greeted with a first officer’s log entry on our return. Something has damaged a Federation relay, and the Shenzhou is sent to inspect it.
We get brief looks and introductions to other crew members, most notably Saru, the science officer, who serves as something of a foil to Burnham throughout the episode. Burnham wishes to go out and explore a mysterious entity they find despite the danger, while Saru advises against it. Of course, this is a series where people boldly go, not boldly stay away, and inevitably Burnham is allowed to go and explore.
That’s when we get this view…
Star Trek in the 2010s is beautiful.
Anyway, she ends up finding the source; a mysterious construction, beautifully crafted. As she lands on it, however, she’s ambushed by a huge humanoid (a Klingon, surprise surprise) and, despite attempts at communication, is attacked. Turning the Klingon’s own weapon against him, Burnham kills her foe, but badly damages her equipment in the process, leaving her drifting in a highly irradiated area.
We get some flashbacks of Sarek, a character long-time fans will be quite familiar with (the father of Spock), overlooking a younger first officer Burnham as she struggles with her emotions over a question about a Klingon terrorist incident. It’s only later on that we are able to piece together that her difficulty with answering the question, and her hate of Klingons, stems from her parents’ deaths at their hands.
Things escalate quickly after Burnham wakes up and heads back to the bridge. She manages to convince Captain Georgiou about what she saw, even though “almost no-one has seen a Klingon in a hundred years”. The ship goes to red alert, and prepares to engage with what they believe is the Klingon ship.
This is where we’re once again treated to a look at the Klingon council, and are introduced to the albino Klingon Voq, “Son of none”, who bravely steps up to the mantle of being the torchbearer for the great mission. Kahless, another name fans may be familiar with, is brought up several times during these scenes, and a brief funeral scene for the Klingon killed by Burnham, combined with subsequent demonstration of how fallen Klingons are “honoured”, intermix to paint the impression of a spiritually guided Empire; fanatic, perhaps, but not evil.
Back on the Shenzhou, the crew are debating what course of action to take next. A meeting with the admiral serves as a reminder that the Feds are the good guys and they don’t shoot first. Georgiou and Burnham talk about the optimism and high ideals of a diplomat versus the senses of a soldier. Burnham convinces Georgiou to turn their weapons on the Klingons, but not to fire. Saru mentions sensing death coming, and soon after a blinding light emits from the Klingon ship, jamming sensors.
Burnham consults Sarek and asks him about how the Vulcan’s achieved a diplomatic outcome with the Klingons. Turns out they fired on them first, a course of action which Georgiou completely refuses. This causes a fiery argument between the two mains, which results in the captain getting Vulcan nerve pinched and Burnham taking command. Just as she’s about to give the order to fire on the Klingon ship, Georgiou appears with a phaser aimed squarely at her mutinous first officer. The episode ends with sensors blaring, as a plethora of Klingon vessels break out of hyperspace and arrive, presumably rallying to the torch.
That’s the Shenzhou on the left, by the way.
What Did I Think?
I thought the episode was a very strong opener, and it has certainly set my expectations high for what comes next. A great, diverse cast, two very strong personalities at the helm, beautiful visuals, and a cliffhanger ending? What a way to grab me in.
The relationship between Georgiou and Burnham was definitely a highlight of the episode. While the two clearly have history together, it doesn’t stop them from having heated disagreements over the correct course of action. This comes to a head near the end of the episode, where Burnham’s confidence (arrogance, even?) in regards to her suggested course of action drives her to insubordination, and mutiny against her captain and her friend. Whether Burnham is driven by her human emotion or the Vulcan logic that she was taught is yet to be seen, but I highly suspect that this conflict will be a focal point in the future too.
The Klingon story is also an interesting one, primarily because they are not positioned as villains, merely antagonists. Sure, they dislike the Federation, but the opening scene hinted at the Klingon Empire being grievously wronged by them in the past. Just as Burnham’s disdain for the Klingons is understandable, so too is the Klingon antagonism towards the Federation. I hope that there remains some ambiguity about just who the real bad guys are.
1. Georgiou will die. The fact that Michelle Yeoh is a guest star, there was talk of Burnham deserving her own command, and that Saru sensed death coming, point all to neatly at the death of this captain.
2. Georgiou’s death will come at the hand of the Klingons, which will then solidify Burnham’s hatred of them. Despite the two’s argument and Burnham’s insubordination, the pair are still friends and allies deep down, and this blow will hit her hard.
3. The Shenzhou will flee from the Klingon fleet, and warn the Federation about how they were attacked by Klingons. Shock will ensue, and the Federation will declare war on the Klingon Empire, solidifying the Klingon’s ideas about the Federation.
That’s all for today. Tune in next time as we see just how comically off my predictions were!