Star Trek: Discovery

Credit: Simin Li/Art Editor Credit: Simin Li/Art Editor

The newest iteration of Star Trek aired two weeks ago on CBS. To fans of the franchise, it is a long-awaited modern take on the universe and stories that we love. The last TV iteration of Star Trek, Star Trek: Enterprise ended in 2005 and was not nearly as well received as previous shows such as the Star Trek: The Next Generation or Star Trek: Voyager. To me and other fans, Discovery feels like a breath of fresh air in the Trek universe, even more than the reboot movie series that began in 2009.

For those unfamiliar with the franchise, Star Trek has had five previous iterations on TV:

Star Trek (with Bill Shatner as Capt. Kirk and Leonard Nimoy as Spock), 1966 - 1969

Star Trek: The Next Generation (with Patrick Stewart as Capt. Picard), 1987 - 1994

Star Trek: Deep Space 9 (with Avery Brooks as Capt. Benjamin Sisko), 1993 - 1999

Star Trek: Voyager (with Kate Mulgrew as Capt. Janeway), 1995 - 2001

Star Trek: Enterprise (with Scott Bakula as Capt. Archer), 2001 - 2005

These Star Trek shows tell the stories of distinct Starfleet crews on distinct vessels in Earth’s future, when it is the center of a peaceful intergalactic alliance known as the United Federation of Planets. The Federation stands for peace, and its foremost policies are that it does not interfere in cultures that are incapable of interstellar travel, and that it never initiates conflict. Star Trek, like the Federation, stands for a future in which humanity has moved beyond aggressive conflict and has learned to coexist and collaborate with hundreds of other alien species. It paints a beautifully optimistic picture of the future and gives us something to aspire to.

Discovery breaks the norms of Star Trek shows in some ways. It follows the story of Michael Burnham, a female Starfleet First Officer serving on the USS Shenzhou. It is the first Star Trek series to center around a first officer rather than a captain, and the first to openly display the protagonist’s character flaws as an integral part of their character from the outset. It is also the first show to be set immediately during wartime.

In previous shows, Captains have tended to be poster children — exemplary officers whose flaws are few and rarely revealed. Wars have played significant parts in Star Trek series, but have always developed later in the plot rather than earlier. It is clear from the first three episodes of Discovery that it does not intend to follow the bandwagon of rosy-cheeked optimism with perfect captains and peaceful times. It is a more direct, in-your-face realist’s view of life in a Federation at war.

That said, Discovery still manages to hold on to some of the optimism and wonder that made Star Trek so beloved and that continue to make it relevant. It actively comments on the events and society today and encourages change for the better. Historically, Star Trek has made an effort to include a diverse cast that not only represent humanity, but that comments on ongoing conflict. The original series featured Japanese, Russian, and black characters in the midst of the cold war and the civil rights movement, and even aired TV’s first interracial kiss. Discovery is the second Star Trek show after Voyager to feature a woman in the leading role, and the second after Deep Space 9 to feature a black protagonist. It features an asian captain, a supporting character with special needs, and hopefully more as the show develops. Although it is too early to tell if Discovery will grow to be as loved as older Star Trek, it shows great potential as something that will preserve the spirit of Star Trek, but infuse a fresh sense of realism and vigor that past shows did not always have.

Star Trek: Discovery airs weekly on Sunday at 8:30 p.m. on CBS. It is available to stream on CBS All Access and on Netflix (for users outside the U.S.)