“We Come in Peace”: Star Trek: Discovery’s First Arc

We’re rewatching Discovery because my boyfriend hasn’t seen any of it, and we need to at least get through season 2 before Strange New Worlds comes out, and I’d also like to show him the actually-good season 3, and I haven’t seen season 4 yet.

1×01: “The Vulcan Hello”

It’s been five years and I’m still mad.

They teased us with an episode of the perfect Star Trek series, y’all. The captain and the first officer were two women of color who loved each other and amplified each other’s power. Georgiou was explicitly grooming Burnam for a command of her own. She was so proud of her. And Burnam, in turn, was so devoted to her.

Their first mission sees them on a drought-plagued dustball of a planet. Their mission, open a well to enable the planet’s inhabitants to survive, and avoid being seen in order to follow the Prime Directive. (This is, by the way, a much better application of the Prime Directive than you get early on in TNG. Heck, even Star Trek Into Darkness has a similar take and it’s just blatantly better.)

Just one problem: Georgiou and Burnam are unable to contact their ship, and appear to be in danger of being stranded on this planet. Georgiou, seeming unconcerned, tells Burnam to follow her and starts walking. She starts discussing Burnam’s progress and thinks she’s ready for the captaincy. Burnam says she’s honored, but would be even more honored if she thought they were likely to ever make it off this planet. Still calm–almost amused, it seems like–Georgiou asks what she would do if they did end up stranded. Burnam gives a very practical, realistic response about how she’d do her best to conduct xenoanthropological studies on the natives from afar. Georgiou agrees that her approach is very logical and considered. Burnam then asks Georgiou what she would do, and the Captain responds, “I’d escape.”

The Shenzhou arrives soon afterwards, and both women are beamed aboard as the perspective changes to an overhead wide shot, revealing that Georgiou has used their seemingly aimless walking to trace a huge Starfleet delta in the sand to help the Shenzhou find them.

This is easily, easily the best character introduction in the history of this franchise. And Georgiou continues to model the absolute best qualities of Starfleet with poise and courage for the rest of her brief time on the show. If they hadn’t senselessly squandered the character of Phillipa Georgiou I firmly believe there would be absolutely no debate who the greatest captain in the history of Star Trek is.

The Shenzhou is also just a drastically better-looking ship than the Discovery? It’s so much more… Star Trekky??? And the crew is great (I mean, half of them are the Discovery’s crew). I just… I just wish we could have kept following this ship.

If you just delete the weird changes to the Klingons and the mutiny, this would be one of the best episodes of the entire franchise, and it would’ve launched a show that I would have been devoted to from the very beginning instead of it taking two entire seasons to get there.

This is still probably the best series premiere in the history of Star Trek, but it could have been so much more.

(A-Rank)

1×02 “Battle at the Binary Stars”

So, after spending an entire episode selling me on Burnam being the most devoted first officer in the fleet before committing mutiny, you pile on by opening this episode with a flashback that is basically a meet cute between her and Georgiou that even further establishes that she would absolutely not do a mutiny.

Cool. Cool, cool, cool.

The part with Burnam escaping her cell by arguing with the computer until it engages its ethical routines is great, and the fact that Georgiou is still willing to listen to her mutineer first officer after everything warms my heart. But the show squanders this by wasting one of the greatest characters in the franchise’s history. Plus a majority of this episode was about their weird fanfic version of the Klingons.

Like, this isn’t bad so I can’t really rate it lower, but it isn’t Star Trek. This show did a hard turn from “Star Trek” to “Not Star Trek” towards the end of the first episode and didn’t look back for quite some time.

(B-Rank)

1×03 “Context Is for Kings”

I was so angry when I saw who they replaced Georgiou with. I’m so, so, so glad that you’re not supposed to like him, because this show was just insufferable at this point. I still think having someone like Lorca in the center seat even if he turns out to be a bad guy all along is the least Star Trekky thing ever, and this entire first arc really suffers for it.

Stammets comes off like an asshole in his early interactions with Burnam, but with the benefit of hindsight he is clearly on edge from having to interact with “that warmonger, Lorca,” and I actually appreciated the way he was written a lot better this time around.

Tilly’s introduction rules. So does the last scene where Lorca explains the spore drive to Burnam, but this episode didn’t earn it. I just hated this show at this point the first time I watched it, and it’s still not exactly fun to revisit.

(C-Rank)

1×04 “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry”

Burnam’s parts of this are great, as she’s right now the only crew member actually demonstrating Starfleet’s values. (That’ll change in the next episode, but still.) And Captain Georgiou’s posthumous message to her made me genuinely tear up. Everything else is… ugh. I’m sorry, guys, I just don’t want to talk about any of this.

(C-Rank)

1×05 “Choose Your Pain”

Well, despite all the weird, unnecessary changes to them I still want the Klingons to step on me. So, you know. There’s that.

Having Harry Mudd back is cute I guess, but having him be a gritty reboot of Harry Mudd is… kinda whatever. Just this entire season in a nutshell.

On the other hand, Tilly’s “I love feeling feelings” is her entire character in a nutshell, and is why she’s absolutely saving this fucking show right now.

Nice to have Culber and Stamets join Burnam on team “hey let’s maybe not torture an animal.” Saru’s insistence on proceeding anyway is… deeply upsetting, but easier to understand upon revisiting given that Lorca has clearly been manipulating him (and everyone else) and encouraging his worst instincts. It doesn’t make what he did okay, it was very not okay, but ordering Burnam to find a way to save the animal’s life at the end of the episode was touching.

Stamets really comes into his own in this episode, risking sacrificing himself rather than subjecting the tardigrade to further harm. And hey, that actually parallels the whole “choose your pain” thing going on on the Klingon prison ship. (Yeah, I would really love to be on a Klingon prison ship. Even with their new designs. Hell, I might be more horny for their new designs considering they doubled down on the space orc thing, even if they make me roll my eyes as a Star Trek fan.)

Annnnd the episode ends with a quiet, realistic domestic moment between Culber and Stamets that’s extremely sweet, and if this show isn’t giving us anything else at this point at least it’s giving us gay characters.

Unfortunately at this point the show is still just… transition episode after transition episode. They refuse to tell a self-contained story. I’m going to give this one higher marks because at least some of the things in it are great, but the show is still really not in a great place at this point. It has a lot of pieces that will make it a great show later, but I just wish they hadn’t shot themselves in the foot and decided they needed half a season of an awful show and a season and a half of an okay show to get there.

(B-Rank)

1×06 “Lethe”

Having Michael Burnam be Sarek’s secret daughter is one of my least favorite things about the show. I don’t mind having her be raised by Vulcans (though, I’d prefer to have an actual Vulcan on the crew), but having it be Sarek specifically is just deeply upsetting to me. Like, why does this guy keep having to have secret children. I do like the actor who plays him, and I do appreciate him half-apologizing to Burnam, I guess.

It becomes increasingly transparent at this point that Lorca is being manipulative (all the stuff with Cornwall, and he damn near admits it to Burnam at the end of the episode), and like, great, thanks, I’m glad he’s not supposed to be a good guy but you know this was a totally unforced error right? We could have just… not done any of this?

(C-Rank)

1×07 “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad”

This is a drastically better Harry Mudd episode than “Choose Your Pain.” It’s even pretty Star Trekky with all the time travel and whatnot. I still don’t like the evolution of Mudd from con artist charlatan to cold-blooded murderer, but whatever.

I never really liked Burnam and Tyler’s relationship, but this episode almost made me root for them? I liked their interactions here a lot better than any of the other interactions in their relationship throughout the show, and I liked the music and lighting of the dance scene. Burnam swallowing that dark matter whatever it was to force Mudd to reset the timeline was badass, fuck.

Stamets being mushroom-addled is adorable, and I love that it lets him be the only one to notice the time loop. It’s just such a fantastic choice.

And yeah, I was pretty horny for the whole idea of Discovery being sold to the Klingons. Like, yeah. Yes, please.

(A-Rank)

1×08 “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum”

This one also feels pretty Star Trekky in a way, with the landing party exploring a wondrous new world. I don’t like the way Saru is written in this one at all, though, and like half of the episode is more weird Klingon space orc stuff, which… horny brain says yes, Star Trek fan brain says no.

(C-Rank)

1×09 “Into the Forest I Go”

Lorca continues being a manipulative asshole, but the weird thing is I actually remember kinda finally liking him at this point the first time I watched the series? In retrospect it’s pretty obvious that you can’t reconcile the bloodthirsty side of himself he shows elsewhere with the person he appears to be when he’s manipulating Stamets and the rest of the crew, but I guess he was playing me, too.

Tyler’s PTSD is the most visible, though not first, sign that mental health is actually going to be A Thing on this show, which is probably the single biggest contribution the series makes to the Star Trek franchise until season 3.

Burnam, Tyler, and Stamets all get to shine in this episode, and Stamets and Culber get another wonderfully gay moment. All things considered, this first arc ends on one of its better episodes, and a pretty great lead-in to the next arc.

(B-Rank)

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