Now that we've hit the halfway mark in the first season, some more refined thoughts on Star Trek: Discovery.
Short version: I like it, it is proving to indeed be good Star Trek as well as good sci-fi, though the "spore drive" that much of this season relies on stretches the "sci" part of things pretty far.
Longer version follows...
- The quibbles I had from the pilot episodes have been mitigated somewhat; our lead character is still a bit ambiguous in terms of likability, but she's in a cast full of semi- or outright-unlikable characters that we somehow still like, so I'm digging it. Michael Burnham may be living with her mutineer stigma forever, but she's owning it. And though I still think we the audience are supposed to believe she did "the right thing" in mutinying, it's absurd for me to go there. Captain Lorca is evidently cool with knocking out your commanding officer and trying to take over under the circumstances, he defended it with the pronouncement that "universal law is for lackeys; context is for kings." (OK, we can maybe give him some benefit of the doubt as he doesn't know the actual circumstances, which no reasonable human would consider proper context.) Burnham is becoming more relatable and vastly more interesting as things have progressed, but more likable...I don't know. She still has an "I do what I want!" modus operandi.
- The Klingon scenes are a bit less awkward now, either due to relative brevity or the actors getting more comfortable with the prosthetic teeth and the dialect. New quibble, though: since all of our Klingons are seen/heard speaking subtitled Klingon to each other, why do we not see/hear the Vulcans speaking subtitled Vulcan to each other? There was only one sequence where it would have been appropriate, I suppose, but still. Probably it's because nerds had already fleshed out an entire vocabulary and structure for Klingon ahead of time and nobody wanted to do the same for Vulcan (yet) for a meager exchange between two characters in one episode. (It's not really a quibble, I might even prefer if they scaled it back with the Klingons.)
- Our regular crew has shaped up nicely in that I find all the major characters compelling and fun. Burnham is awkward and self-righteous and arrogant and well-intentioned while being massively insecure and emotionally scarred and stunted; I relate to those traits quite a bit, though I'm hopefully less scarred. Saru was initially the most interesting character of the bunch, and he still has the potential to be utterly fascinating, but to me he's been overshadowed by Lorca, who is a mystery wrapped in an enigma of secrets. Captain Lorca's PTSD and suspect motivations and willingness to let ends justify means make him loathsome, yet I'm still somewhat sympathetic; as his secrets get revealed he may turn out to be more respectable or an irredeemable asshole, it remains to be seen. Which is kind of cool. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Stamets is fantastic—when we first meet him he's a cantankerous angry guy that's sort of a more pissed off Bones McCoy in demeanor due to his science being appropriated for military purposes; he's still willing to learn new things from new people, though, and he and Burnham come to a kind of detente that eventually puts him in the 'Shroom chamber and makes him super weird in ways that we still don't have a handle on and we see the Many Layers of Paul Stamets over the course of the story. Stamets is easily my favorite character thus far, and Anthony Rapp brings a fantastic range to the role. (Hippie Paul is, indeed, pretty groovy and would probably enjoy jamming with his uncle's Beatles cover band.) Cadet Tilly is a hoot, and probably a high-functioning autistic, which is pretty cool; her awkwardness is great, but she may be developing a bit too fast. In recent episodes she's been more the competent support system for both Burnham and now Stamets than the spazzy motormouth we were introduced to. Then there's Ash Tyler. The Interwebs are all abuzz with theories—is Tyler what he appears to be? Is he a Klingon spy? Is he the outcast Klingon Voq from the pilot that was told he would have to give up "everything" to continue in the fight? If he is Voq, does he know it or is he a "sleeper agent?" What of the real Ash Tyler? We do know that his POW story doesn't add up—when we first meet him aboard the prison ship he tells Lorca that he's been there for seven months, and his reasons for not being in worse shape than he is involve the ship's captain having made him her boytoy, but we know that captain has not been there for at least the first six of those seven months. So either he lied about that or he's telling a tale that was implanted in him somehow. He's an interesting character as Ash Tyler alone, so if he does turn out to be a Klingon it might be hugely disappointing.
A nice moment between socially inept Burnham and 'shroom-addled Stamets from "Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad"
- The secondary characters are pretty compelling too, from the feel-good presence of Wilson Cruz's Dr. Culber to the conflicted personal loyalties of Jayne Brook's Admiral Cornwell (I really hope she's not dead). We know next to nothing about the rest of the senior officers, but Commander Airiam sure looks interesting. What the heck is she? Why does she make those odd motorlike noises? A nice touch in a recent episode: Mudd referring to "random communications officer man," which is basically how we the audience know the bridge crew.
- Speaking of Mudd, the ties to the original Star Trek have been reasonably well played. I didn't get the need for Sarek in the pilot, but it's worked out so very well with the revelation of backstory that illustrates the Sarek-Spock estrangement we've known about forever in much greater detail, and seamlessly so. A brilliant bit of retconning, if that indeed qualifies for the term. The initial appearance of Harry Mudd didn't really work for me in that it could have been any gruff, selfish jerk who'd been taken prisoner by the Klingons, being Mudd didn't bring anything to the story. But the next time we see him we get a little bit of fun with his history with Stella, the wife he tells (will tell) Captain Kirk he fled into space to get away from. Still, Mudd in Discovery is more ruthless and violent than the Mudd we see in TOS, which is a little weird (though not inexplicable). The more subtle tie of utilizing Alice in Wonderland as a piece of Burnham's childhood is a terrific "easter egg" type of thing harkening back to the animated Star Trek. (Quibble: Sarek's name is constantly mispronounced. Jane Wyatt, Shatner, Nimoy, Kelley, et al. established it plainly as "SAHrek" and everyone here says "SEHrek." On the other hand, loving the proper pronunciation of "Klingon" with the separation of syllables between the "n" and "g.")
- My earlier complaint about Burnham and Sarek's psychic entanglement is now withdrawn as that was explained well in the episode "Lethe." I still find James Frain's portrayal of Sarek to be considerably lesser than Mark Lenard's original, but had there not been a Mark Lenard version, I would probably be complimenting Frain's ability to play a convincing Vulcan, which is not an easy task.
- Some things have been set up and seemingly forgotten, and I hope we'll get back to them: What's up with the black badges? Lorca's got some stuff in his secret lab/trophy room that's mighty curious. How did Lorca manipulate things to get Burnham on his ship? And why? If Dr. Culber isn't the CMO, who is? Will year two delve into this faction of violent Vulcans that wants out of the Federation?
What's the deal with Airiam???
There really isn't much I don't like in this series thus far. Some of the visual stuff not being consistent with other Treks is the only thing that kind of rankles me, and that's just nerdy nitpicking. (Would any of us recognize those Klingon ships as Klingon? I think not. But then, the Klingons themselves aren't really recognizable either, so...) And the music doesn't really grab me, but no big deal. I read somewhere that part of the conflict that former showrunner Bryan Fuller had with the CBS powers that be was over the design aesthetic—Fuller wanted more consistency with the original (maybe even "The Cage" style costuming and such) and the suits thought that was too silly for 2017. If it had been up to me, a middle ground between TOS and what we ended up with would have been the goal. But if you don't worry about things like visual consistency between this show an one that was made 50 years ago on a tiny budget, it's all pretty great.