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Last year, at San Diego Comic Con, Star Trek fans watched 1:45 minutes of slow-mo spacecraft action, and it became clear Star Trek: Discovery was going to be emotional. Then, in May, Sonequa Martin-Green and Michelle Yeoh walked across a sand dune together, and it became clear that Star Trek: Discovery was going to be EMOTIONAL. Major new mainstream sci-fi where two chromatic women talk to each other? Major new mainstream sci-fi where two chromatic women are engaged in a mentor/mentee relationship? This is most definitely the future liberals want.

It's difficult to disentangle a project like Star Trek: Discovery from the weight of expectations. Not only is it a new version of a beloved science fiction institution, it is a culturally important new piece of mainstream science fiction. While I've seen people calling it 'just ok', I for one loved the first episode - The Vulcan Hello. Much like Wonder Woman, Discovery is an open-hearted piece of sci-fi built around a female character who confidently strides out into the world excited to embrace whatever comes her way. With its understated, space-loving heroine, simple, yet imaginative, science fiction aesthetic, and its conversations between women who are clearly important to each other it is just the kind of space adventure I could watch for hours.

Please don't let CBS kill this series.

Here are four reasons I loved the first episode of Discovery. (Spoiler: Michael Burnham is an important part of three of those reasons.)

Aesthetics

When I heard that Bryan Fuller had parted ways with Discovery I was prepared for the show to look a bit underwhelming. Fuller has a fantastic, distinctive visual eye, and I was excited to see the way he'd style Star Trek. And, while Fuller's involvement in the first two episodes is credited, it's been mentioned that things like the uniforms looks very different to what he'd imagined.

Turns out my fears about Discovery looking a bit naff were totally unfounded. It looks AMAZING! Not only is it very visually distinct from the rebooted film franchise, it is gorgeous in its own right.

So, what is Discovery's aesthetic? Well, I'd say the creative team have chosen to present a very pared back science fiction universe. The show features wide, simple science fiction vistas; like the sand dunes Michael and Captain Georgiou walk across.



And its uncluttered backgrounds, and very clean, minimal sci-fi overlay effects, all add up to one visually confident production. Discovery doesn't feel like it needs to overplay its science fictional hand to convince anyone that it gets science fiction.



Let's talk about that word 'clean'. Discovery makes a virtue of simplicity; turning the pared back into the opulent by accenting simplicity with a few stunning otherworldly effects, including the display on Michael's visor when she takes her space walk. It's like the kind of shiny, perfectly simple, orb you might find in a modern art display. Or a really smooth chocolate mirror glaze if Bake Off is more your sort of reference. And it works very well. Even the inside of the spaceship, usually the least convincing element of any sci-fi show, looks sensible and suave.

And how about those uniforms? Oh, I love the uniforms.



Their dark blue colour links back to the blue uniforms worn on Star Trek: Enterprise but the cut is much more tailored, and the fabric holds shape more. The choice of fabric and cut seems to link the new threads to classic Star Trek uniforms like those worn by Captain Janeaway and Captain Picard. Their dark colour, and tailoring makes them incredibly understated, and this restraint of design makes them effective. Not only do they scream Star Trek, they manage to be both inoffensive to modern science fiction sensibilities (not too silly) and futuristically retro. The creative team present a set of uniforms made to look as if they have been designed by someone divorced from our own society's vision of what 'futuristic' looks like. And that sets this show in its context as a show that comes before the explorations chronicled in the other Star Trek shows.

I also love that the uniform's ranking system is so easy to see and understand at a glance. And, the classic Star Trek badges are just the simple touch these costumes need to definitively link them to one of the longest running science fiction franchises. These uniforms politely cough to let you know that Star Trek, science fiction, tradition, and a drive for futuristic exploration are all going to be encapsulated in this series.

Speaking of costumes, don't even get me started on Michael's space suit which is a work of jaeger inspired glory.



I even like those fancy credits. Me, who is thoroughly sick of seeing shows open with artsy credits they just don't need (Strike I am looking at you)! They were delicate, pretty, not overly long, and full of delightful homage to the franchise. I don't think I've liked a set of credits so much since Orphan Black brought those uber-weird, swirly openers to our screens.

Michael Burnham



So, we've established that Discovery looks amazing but TV cannot build a fanbase on looks alone. Even Hannibal needed standout character to make it work. How do Discovery's characters stack up?

Obviously, I have to start by talking about Sonequa Martin-Green's wonderful character Michael Burnham. The Vulcan Hello firmly establishes her as the show's protagonist. She is an active part of nearly every plot development. The viewer sees glimpses of her past. And, perhaps most importantly, the show gives her plenty of space to speak her mind. Michael definately has a personality, not just a backstory or a character type, and that personality is built in layers. If you come away with an impression of any character from Discovery's first episode it's going to be Michael. She dominates this episode, and that's exactly the way it should be cuz she's the LEAD.

If I had to sum up Michael's character after The Vulcan Hello, I would say that she is confident in her own judgement but not immovable. In the desert she is sure of her approach, her course, and her Captain. On the bridge with Saru she is familiar but professional; a woman clearly used to negotiating complex interactions with humour to temper the fact that she's in charge. However, she's also clearly used to having the chain of command recognised. And she's happy to pass command to others, demonstrating how secure she is in her ability to delegate. She both allows others to get involved, and calmly displays confidence in her Captain's direction. She is able to politely but firmly insist on her own point of view. You can see why Captain Georgiou thinks Michael is ready for a command of her own.

As the show progresses, we see Michael's judgement about the Klingons questioned. Yet, she remains convinced of her own plan of action. Much like many male characters who are well meaning 'loose canons' she goes around authority when they refuse to follow her lead. The show allows characters to hint that Michael's judgement may be obscured due to her personal history with the Klingons, but (as with many male loose canons) Discovery never seriously questions her soundness. What sets Michael apart from this type of male character is that while the show eventually proves Michael right it doesn't laugh off insubordination with an adoring 'rogues will be rogues' nod and a wink. It treats it as a serious subject, and forces Michael to (briefly) confront the breach of trust she has committed.

Discovery then quickly goes on to show that all her concerns were right; temporarily erasing immediate concerns about her mutiny, and providing her with a similar textual pass to those adventure seeking, mutineering bros often get. I appreciate the equality of perspective Discovery shows here, even though I'm not typically a fan of this model of heroic action. It often joins up with a 'the means justify the ends' Jack Bauerish philosophy, which acts as a get out for every deplorable action a hero may take in service of 'justice'. When it comes to Michael's role as Star Trek's first African American, female lead, the idea that Michael be proven right, and given this textual pass, is incredibly important but it will also be interesting to see how Discovery develops Michael's character from here.

Michael clearly believes in helpful intervention. She makes the case for heading out to restart a well in order to keep a species alive, even though they've been surviving on their own for hundreds of years, at the start of this episode. And, as Sarek's foster daughter, she's been trained in the logical behaviour of the Vulcans. So, when an action seems the most logical to her, and a particular path will get her there, she will weigh it up and want to take it. If the most logical move is 'doing what is necessary', like using the vulcan death grip on her Captain, she won't shy away from it. This makes her characterisation subtly different from the 'loose canon' archetype (she operates on strict logic, not volatile passion) but the final result looks roughly the same.

However, Michael's personality is not just informed by her training under the Vulcans. As she tells Sarek, she actively tries to find a way to let emotional concerns inform her logic (yet another example of her confidence in herself, and her view of the world). She deliberately mixes these two elements when interacting with colleagues; as demonstrated by her banter with Saru on the bridge. And, she seems to believe logic and emotion can be complementary partners rather than destructive opposites. This is why it's so frustrating for her when the Captain questions her 'fire first' approach to the Klingon ship, and brings Michael's personal history into the mix. Michael has spent her life in deep self-analysis, and to have someone question her ability to 'know herself' is difficult. This sets Michael apart from many other characters who cloak their emotional motivations under a supposedly logical exterior (all the time deriding logic when it asks them to make hard choices).

Of course, it's also very necessary for Michael to be questioned by those around her. Even psychiatrists see psychiatrists of their own to interrogate their world view. And it will be interesting to see how Discovery props up, or shifts, Michael's view of the world throughout its first series. I'm hoping the show will really work this line of investigation, and develop Michael's knowledge, without tipping over into making her continually learn deeply humbling lessons (a recurring theme in TV shows starring women). Based on The Vulcan Hello, I'm cautiously optimistic but I worry because we all know Jason Issacs is on his way as ' a messed up Captain' after the second episode. It would be way easier to take any kind of 'Captain's life lessons' from the mouth of an older, female chromatic character. Just saying.

Space - The Final Frontier

Is this section also about Michael Burnham? Let's see!

One of the things I loved so, so much about The Vulcan Hello, and about Michael's character, is that both show that Discovery is in love with space. Michael's space walk scene is a really obvious, hearts over the 'i's,love letter to space (as well as a clever wink to the technique of shooting Star Trek in the early days) and it is glorious. Her early scenes among the sand dunes shout 'Yes, space is unknown and can be scary but look how amazing it is out there' and then throw chocolates at space's feet. Michael's practical, exposition drop of an opening speech quickly turns into 'I remain optimistic. It's hard not to be in the face of such beauty.' and a discussion of a binary star system while looking out onto beautiful space vista. Star Trek: Discovery <3's space. Hard.



The fact that this optimism, wonder, and deep love of space is part of Michael's personality is so, so wonderful! She's the heart of the show, and the heart of the franchise's WE HEART SPACE philosophy, and the embodiment of Star Trek's essential optimism. I shouldn't be so surprised about that because she's the main character but I am. And we all know why.

Michael Burnham & Captain Phillipa Georgiou

Allow me to finish this post on a strong note of joyful fangirling.

Oh my gawd, these two ladies!! Their respect for each other! Their friendship! My heart when they both take off their masks on the sand dune!



I love them so much - please write a billion pieces of backstory fan-fiction about them, internets.

You probably know why seeing Michael Burnham & Captain Phillipa Georgiou together is so satisfying. You knows why the choice to cast Michelle Yeoh and Sonequa Martin-Green, two chromatic women (one South-Asian and one African-American) was important. You know why having these two characters work together, have conversations, and just generally appear on screen at the same time is important. You know why it's important that they're not just colleagues but mentor and mentee (as well as friends). You know why it's particularly important that both of these women work in high ranking positions. You know why it's so, so important that these two chromatic women appear on screen in a mainstream science fiction production; why images of the future that feature chromatic women are so vital. You know why Michelle Yeoh's decision to keep her Malaysian accent was important. You know why having, what by Hollywood's standards, is an older actress Captain a freaking Star Ship is such a big deal.

There's probably no need to belabour the point but indulge me. Chromatic women just aren't well represented in mainstream, visual science fiction; particularly not in major, long-running, beloved franchises. Older, chromatic actresses do not often get to fly spaceships. Female friendships are near totally absent from the sci-fi stories we see around us. Professional relationships between women are again, often missing, or are presented as unhealthily combative wars between women.

Yes, many, many (many) genres have the same problems in both their visual, and written, media. Yes, science fiction is full of people, many of them chromatic women and men, trying to expand the genre. And they're succeeding. Still, we're in an age where seeing just two chromatic women, in positions of authority, on screen together, talking for an extended length of time, in the latest Star Trek series, feels like a major deal. And that means we need to see those two women in screen with the force of a thousand suns.

Returning to my feelings about their onscreen relationship - PLEASE SEND HELP! They are just so natural together, sharing soft jokes about Saru, and discussing strategy. Ugh, it's just so wonderful I could die.

I barely made it through the Captain pointing a phaser at Michael for a few seconds at the end of The Vulcan Hello. How will I survive the second episode when I know exactly what is coming? And tbh, how will I feel about Star Trek: Discovery after what happens has happened? I already know how I feel about the basic choice the creative team made (my reaction rhymes with SHOW!) but how will I feel after I actually see it? The only way to find out is to move on to Battle at the Binary Star.

Cross your fingers, internets - I'm going in!

Date: 2017-09-29 11:55 am (UTC)
kerkevik_2014: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kerkevik_2014
I'm understanding that one of the major selling points to get me trying to find a way to watch has already gone. It's very rare these days that I watch a show for the lead characters, so I'll wait and see, but I'm lot more cautious these days. Really glad I decided to watch The 100 anyway after the character was attracting me to it was killed off, but while I love what I've seen of the actor playing the lead role, I'm not sure at all about what I'm hearing about the rest.

At the moment I'm fifty-fifty; not that it matters as I have no way of watching it for the foreseeable future anyway.

Mostly I'm not hearing the Queer content I was hoping, probably foolishly, for.

kerk

Date: 2017-09-29 03:47 pm (UTC)
monanotlisa: (spock profile - st:tos)
From: [personal profile] monanotlisa
I adore this review; this was the core sentence for me:

"Michael has spent her life in deep self-analysis, and to have someone question her ability to 'know herself' is difficult."

This, so much.

Thanks for taking the time. Will link.

Date: 2017-09-30 04:04 am (UTC)
lynnenne: (janeway: the big chair)
From: [personal profile] lynnenne
Michael and Captain Georgiou were my favorite things about this episode. I have hearts in my eyes.

Love your comments on the show's aesthetic. It is unexpectedly gorgeous.
Edited Date: 2017-09-30 04:04 am (UTC)

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