Star Trek: Discovery – fails to catch on (spoiler alert)

Verdict: stars 2

-Include spoilers-

I had high hopes for Star Trek: Discovery (2017). The mere fact that Michelle Yeoh was in it was enough for me. However, the fact that her character, Captain Philippa Georgiou, is killed off early in the season was a real disappointment. Then, the story carries on with a focus on winning this war with the Klingons. I guess that would have been fine, but for a few special effect distractions and the lack of comradeship developed among the crew members. I’m just not rooting for anyone. Not sure if they want us to feel/follow the human story or the Klingon story. Why is it important to give us a constant glimpse into the Klingons’ inner politics, with the distinct purpose to evoke our sympathies for  T’Kuvma and L’Rell? It isn’t working.

The most distracting thing about this new installment of the Star Trek franchise is the prosthetics of the Klingon. Looks great as a still shot, but with the moving image, you soon see the rigidity of the masks. It is impossible to catch any significant facial expressions, as we can’t see any. All other previous incarnations of the Klingons the prosthetics did not cover the whole face like this and therefore allowed the ‘acting’ to come through. – Making it possible to see emotion, anger and all those other wonderful human expressionism that we can relate to. You may say: Hey wait a minute!?…what about Avatar and Gollum in Lord of The Rings and the motion capture techniques used to create alien and other fantastical characters? Well, the key phrase here is MOTION CAPTURE. This technology has made it possible to capture the actor’s expressions, so we are in fact seeing real-time acting even if covered by blue skin and cat-like eyes. Align that with the actors verbal delivery, laden with feeling and words we can relate to, you have a winning combination. Animated cartoons show more emotion than the masks in this Star Trek.

Although the Klingons’ prosthetics and makeup look great in Star Trek: Discovery…and yes…they do look more fierce; they have left us nothing to connect with as an audience. The mask makes it difficult to capture the emotion. Even the eyes have colored contact lenses on them, making it impossible to see the feelings through the eyes. You can just feel how rigid the transformation is..even restricting the actor’s body movement (including the neck). The mask is also constricting the movement of the mouth and lips. This was particularly evident in last week’s episode with the female Klingon character,  L’Rell. You could see the actor’s real lips move distinctly from the added prosthetics. Very distracting! The problem is that this hinders the actors to facially and emotionally deliver their lines, which is also made worse by the fact that they are expressed in Klingon. This leaves us only with the emotion expressed in the voice and a few jerky body or head movements to convey what might be delivered. We don’t really know because they speak in Klingon. The dialogue is delivered in a staccato fashion which just adds to whole rigidity and lack of fluidity in the lines. Again, I have a feeling it is constantly delivered like this because of the rigidity of the prosthetics. Even with subtitles, we cannot tell which of the Klingon words (unless you speak Klingon) are the emotionally charged ones in relation to the translation. If they had left part of the actor’s face free from the mask and allowed the eyes to come through, we may have had a much stronger emotional connection with the delivery of the Klingon words. That has certainly been the case with Klingons in previous installments in the franchise.

Mary Chieffo as L'Rell in Star Trek: Discovery (2017)
Mary Chieffo as L’Rell in Star Trek: Discovery (2017)

I am sad to report that I think they have missed a real opportunity here. The space CGI is amazing. It is plain to see they have spent money on this…even on the transformation of the Klingons, but as it is not CGI’ed with motion capture, we are catching none of what makes a face expressive and thus taking away the actor’s talented deliveries (as I’m  sure they are underneath all that plastic). The whole ‘face’ is frozen as if filled with botox. A real pity.

In fact, at this point, I would much rather see the story of Captain Philippa and Michael’s 7 years together. Now that would have been an amazing story. Giving both of them a character arch that would be have been wonderful to follow.  Much like Captain Janeway and Seven-of-Nine in Voyager.

Michelle Yeoh and Sonequa Martin-Green in Star Trek: Discovery (2017)
Michelle Yeoh and Sonequa Martin-Green in Star Trek: Discovery (2017)

Sadly, in the case of Discovery, we are not boldly going to places not seen before. I predict there will be a regurgitation of set pieces (like the visit to a planet for the silliest reason) and pointless space fighting scenes (while they try to find this elusive cloak detecting device) that ultimately ends with them going Black Alert to get out of there, having accomplished nothing.

Perhaps the final flaw is the fact that there is no comradeship being developed here. There are too many storylines that are forcibly converging. There is not enough interaction (during the setup of the story to start with) to make this happen. Michael and Sylvia are ‘friends’ because they are roommates, and mostly to deliver some comic relief to the seriousness of the ‘Vulcan-raised’ Michael. Then, the romantic interest has been inserted in the form of Ash Tyler and the ensuing romance not smoldering at all. It is rushed and you are not quite sure what it these two actually have found in each other. Perhaps because they need to fit all this CGI war drama; Klingons’ internal politics (subtitled and with no expressions), Captain Gabriel Lorca’ struggle with his inner demons; Michael’s struggles trying to appease for her treachery, the Black Alert travel catalyst Paul’s transformation and Saru’s constant fear induced state of mind into one episode?

The only character I would have liked to see more of at this point is Captain Philippa. Michelle Yeoh is an amazing actress and a real Titan of this cast. An opportunity has been missed with an actress of her caliber.

My prediction: I don’t think any new seasons (than the ones already shot) will be commissioned.

Update: Apparently, another season has been commissioned, so CBS must still think it has potential. You can watch the current installment of Star Trek: Discovery on Netflix. Season 2 dates not released yet.


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