In an ideal move to show returning Star Trek fans that the lore of past Star Trek series will not be forgotten, the first scene of the opening episode of “Star Trek Discovery” on Sept. 24 featured the return of Gene Roddenberry’s 1966 Original Series Star Trek enemy: The Klingons. These familiar aliens were the greatest adversaries of Star Trek legends Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner), Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and Doctor Leonard “Bones” McCoy (DeForest Kelley), and when the Klingons joined the Federation (the good guys) in the second Star Trek Episodic addition, “The Next Generation,” a fierce enemy was lost. But no longer. Due to “Discovery’s” unusual timeline, placing it after the 2001 spin-off prequel series, “Enterprise,” but only ten years preceding the Original Series, the Klingons are back, as are numerous other familiar faces and throwbacks to past series for those returning fans who are paying careful attention.
Of course, it’s been 51 years since the first Star Trek Episode featuring Klingons, “Errand of Mercy,” aired, and technology has changed drastically — so Klingons are not quite the same. Since their original debut, graphics have only improved, budgets have only increased due to the show’s popularity and costuming and makeup departments have continued to master the art of turning a human into something totally unrecognizable. So, unlike the very humanoid villains who tried to overpower the Federation in the 60s, these Klingons brought Roddenberry’s original Star Trek vision to life with costuming so realistic the actors enclothed underneath are completely unrecognizable. These same updates in technology and makeup were also used to create several new types of aliens, including Kleptian Science Officer Lieutenant Saru (Doug Jones) who serves on the USS Shenzhou during the opening episode. With hooves for feet, pale pink skin and little to no nose or lips, Jones is unrecognizable and a new species was born.
As the next scene opened, viewers were introduced to both Discovery’s crew, as Captain Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) trekked planet-side with first officer and main character, Commander Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin Green), and new viewers were introduced to the mission of Starfleet — all without wordy dialogue, excessive preaching or anything feeling out of place or awkward. With no guns blazing or praise expected, two females saved an entire civilization from extinction all the while discussing their futures in StarFleet. Not only did this highlight these characters’ personalities, but it also showed the familiarity they have with this task of saving the world without anyone knowing and with no weapons. This is the mission of StarFleet — the Prime Directive of non-interference. To allow cultures to develop as they normally would except in times of crisis where the inhabitants do not know of the danger — that way they can not question what stopped the danger. Without this one, innocuous scene, newcomers to the franchise would not have been able to understand why certain species in the show are feuding or why the Klingons’ future plans are so terrifying.
These two scenes began and concluded before the title sequence commenced, yet they set the pace for the rest of the episode and hopefully, for the rest of the season. They showed a balance between the new and the old. One that will reassure returning fans that, no matter what else might change — such as Spock suddenly having another sibling, the previous Star Trek eras and the heart of the show remain. On the other hand, new viewers were provided with details about the franchise in an intense, fun way rather than through monotonous dialogue explanations, and were given a taste of what has made Star Trek continue to be so successful 51 years later.
At the heart of the show, Star Trek is about acceptance despite appearance, the ignorance of making general assumptions and doing all you can to help when you see something is wrong no matter the odds. While there are only rumors of what challenges “Discovery” will pose to the world so far, “Discovery’s” creators have already begun to pressure norms through their casting of two female leads of varying ethnicities, a mimic of Roddenberry’s casting of Nichelle Nichols, an African American woman, to play a Command Role during the 60s original series. During his time as showrunner, Roddenberry also confronted societal issues by writing episodes confronting racism, world governments, biases based off of appearance and so much more. If “Discovery” continues to follow in Roddenberry’s footsteps, then this show is about to get very, very interesting.
There may only be one easily accessible episode of “Star Trek: Discovery” available right now due to CBS streaming it exclusively on CBS All Access, but this episode left fans old and new begging for more. Leaving the question less “if fans will watch” and more “how?” But, when there is a will… even fans protesting the purchase of a new streaming service will find a way.