Star Trek: Discovery season 5 episodes 1 and 2 review | The beginning of a very familiar end

Star Trek Discovery season 5
Share this Article:

The final season of Star Trek: Discovery sets off, and stays close to the tone and theme of the series to date. Our spoiler-filled thoughts on episodes 1 and 2:

NB: Inevitably, spoilers lie ahead…

A generation’s final journey begins. Words used over 20 years ago to describe the sunset of another crew who relaunched the Star Trek franchise for a new era, The Next Generation, which feel appropriate for the final fifth season of Paramount Plus’ Star Trek: Discovery.

The Next Generation proved in 1987 that Gene Roddenberry’s series had legs beyond the 1960s, plus the nostalgic rebound of big screen 1980s adventures for Captain Kirk and his original starship Enterprise crew, all kickstarting what would ultimately be Star Trek’s first golden age in terms of popularity and reach. It became the dominant sciene-fiction franchise on television, if less so cinema, across the 1990s.

Star Trek: Discovery, conversely, pulled a similar trick in 2017, 30 years later. Thanks to the initial efforts of Bryan Fuller, later parlayed into the longer-term work of Alex Kurtzman, Star Trek: Discovery pulled Star Trek from a 12-year small screen oblivion following a steady ratings decline and pop cultural decay as The Next Generation’s formula became stale and over-familiar. When it returned, it came loaded for bear with a streaming-era approach.

Whether it worked or not, it was arguably what Star Trek needed in order to find relevance again in a vastly overpopulated market, within the realm of ‘peak TV’.

Star Trek: Discovery started with bold intentions – initially a conceptual anthological series set in different eras; a mutinous lead who wasn’t the Captain in (the oddly named) Michael Burnham; an entirely new means of technology revolutionising warp travel; and moving full bore into serialisation to a degree even previous Star Trek series experiments hadn’t attempted.

Numerous dedicated showrunners came and went across the first two seasons that fluctuated strongly in tone and tempo, but come the end of a second season that was in part designed to lay foundations for spin-off series Strange New Worlds, Discovery settled on narrative and character choices that would define it: a far far future setting, freeing Star Trek: Discovery from the ever-thorny issue of ‘canon’, and theoretically allowing the series to chart a fresh, bold new course.

The third and fourth seasons simply failed to deliver on that promise. Star Trek: Discovery placed Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) in the command chair it always wanted her to be in, as the first female commander of colour in the series, and constructed a familiar main and supporting cast around her after the false starts of the first two seasons (though they ironically had featured some of the best actors – Jason Isaacs, Michelle Yeoh – and most interesting characters to grace the show).

However, the storytelling suffered.

Under showrunner Michelle Paradise, Star Trek: Discovery fell into a trap that has defined much of the Star Trek-era it launched – serialised narratives built around galaxy-ending threats and hammy villains. Both seasons fell foul of these problems, as did Star Trek: Picard across the three seasons it ran. Lessons were simply not learned as Kurtzman’s stable seemed determined to build Star Trek in the aesthetic mould of a hybrid Star Wars and Doctor Who, eschewing science for space magic and futuristic fantasy.

Around that, Discovery became Star Trek: Discovery for character work that could charitably be described as ‘emotional’. Mawkish would be a more effective description. Rather than Starfleet officers displaying critical rigour and professional conduct, the Discovery crew found every opportunity to wear hearts on sleeves. Burnham was (perhaps a mite unfairly) thought of as ‘the crying Captain’, but it reflects a sea change in Star Trek’s evolution. This is a world that values talking through emotion rather than using thematic storytelling to discuss such ideas.

It is where Star Trek: Discovery and I part ways in many respects, which I should preface before discussing the first two episodes of a final season I have little doubt will be any different from especially the third and fourth seasons.

Discovery is what it is now, and it feels important to try and analyse it on those terms. The way it approaches character and story is firmly rooted in late-millennial groundings – overtly diverse; a blurred line between cast and character; and a devotion to pulp, action-driven stylistics over measured, thoughtful storytelling.

Star Trek Discovery season 5

Some of the above is to be celebrated, and Discovery opens season five, in Red Directive, with all of these guns blazing. Specifically when it comes to how the narrative is constructed.

Immediately, Burnham and her crew, amidst a reconstructed and celebratory revival of the United Federation of Planets, are thrown by the sinister Dr Kovich (David Cronenberg, having fun as Star Trek’s Cigarette-Smoking Man), into a race against time to stop a pair of hi-tech thieves stealing an ancient Romulan box which contains, well… let’s not spoil it, because it is a neat tether to an earlier series episode, that it’s amazing nobody outside of non-canon book form ever followed up on.

The result is a propulsive episode built on thrills, whether it’s Burnham clinging onto a ship at warp in a spacesuit trying to break in, or a furious Mad Max-esque chase on a sand planet as a mountain falls on Burnham and Book’s (David Ajala) heads (shades too of a certain moment in Star Trek: Nemesis here). In fairness, many of these sequences are handsomely and technically well mounted by director Olatunde Osunsanmi (the stalwart directing force of the show for numerous seasons now), even if they never feel especially fresh.

Star Trek: Discovery's intent is clear – to throw us back on a whirlwind journey with stakes that will endanger the entire galaxy. The usual, basically, and credit I suppose for not trying to reinvent itself at this stage of the game. It works to balance such shiny action theatrics with spots of character work, be it Burnham’s unresolved issues with the redemptive Book, or Stamets (Anthony Rapp) seeking a legacy, or Saru (Toby Jones) contemplating a move into ambassadorship. You can see clearly where all of these plot strains might be heading. There is little nuance. Structurally at least, the intent is clear.

We find much the same in second episode, Under The Twin Moons, as the Discovery’s quest moves into the next phase.

One key element to the show, in fairness from the off, has been Burnham’s determination to go off book (no pun intended), a trait of all Starfleet heroes but taken to the Nth degree at points in this show. Discovery very quickly forgot that Burnham was initially designed with a Vulcan detachment, which made her mutinous actions as a Spock-like XO figure all the more intriguing, but she has retained the refusal to simply follow orders and steamrolls ahead in the belief that the bigger picture is what matters.

This second episode, written by Alan McElroy, does at least try and interrogate how Burnham’s and general reckless Starfleet decisions have real, potentially fatal consequences, but the idea of an inept upper strata in a monolithic block such as the Federation acting against people’s best interests is such a played out Star Trek trope these days, it simply feels tacked on to add dramatic weight to a fairly flimsy overall construct. If anything, it is more about establishing the rogue but honourable new character of Captain Rayner (Callum Keith Rennie) as a significant new player in the show.

Come the end, I’m left as I often am with Star Trek: Discovery: feeling that I have eaten a very quick, easy hamburger as opposed to a hearty meal.

The fifth season, once again, exchanges substance for style, depth for emotional conversation, and much in the way of episodic individuality to serve the greater plot at large. I can remember names and specifics of many Star Trek episodes in previous eras in a way I simply cannot do for much of Discovery. Each season blends, with a few exceptions, into a homogenous mass.

At this stage, there is nothing here for any new fan. Discovery is for lifers, of Star Trek and this show in particular. We’re in it ‘til the death, no matter the quality. If that’s not you, sail on. If you’re one of us then, I suppose, let’s fly.

You can find A J. on social media, including links to his Patreon and books, via here.

Thank you for visiting! If you’d like to support our attempts to make a non-clickbaity movie website:

Follow Film Stories on Twitter here, and on Facebook here.

Buy our Film Stories and Film Junior print magazines here.

Become a Patron here.

Share this Article:

More like this