Like late-season DS9, it doesn’t have the normal charm and satisfaction of the self-contained traditional Trek storytelling format, but from what I can gather so far, the best way to view the show is as a single fifteen-hour episode, where that characteristic Roddenberry story payoff doesn’t happen until the very end. Last night’s two-hour premiere was just the cold open to that fifteen-hour episode, setting some motivation and context for the main character; the real “first episode” doesn’t drop until next week. (We haven’t even seen the eponymous ship yet.) In the light of all of those important qualifications, I think the show will be absolutely fantastic.
I hadn’t allowed myself to get excited about—or even seriously to think about—the new show until pretty much yesterday afternoon. Given how much the franchise has veered from the Roddenberry vision in recent years, I just didn’t want to get my hopes up. But then yesterday I saw this.
The show’s theme began with the first few notes of the TNG open and ended with the same from TOS, and I found myself getting get a little misty-eyed and emotional when it occurred to me that—holy shit—a new Star Trek show was going to be on the air and it might actually be real Star Trek, of the kind that we really haven’t seen since “Endgame” aired in 2001. Given how much of my life I spent re-living and re-watching the good old days of Trek, it occurred to me how significant this could be. I found myself getting nostalgic excitement for those heady days in the 90s when DS9 and VOY were coming on the air.
And I have to say, I wasn’t disappointed. Given the narrative structure, I want to reserve final judgement on its Roddenberrian creds until having seen the whole first season, but unlike the JJ films or even to some extent Nemesis and Enterprise, this actually felt like Star trek. There were Sun Tzu quotes, a strong and thoughtful Captain playing classical music in her ready room, lots of Vulcan casuistry, delicious technobabble, crazy production design, witty banter that didn’t come off as trite, and lots of ethical hand-wringing: in short, my definition of the perfect background elements to a Trek show. While I prefer the comfortable, well-established Starfleet of TNG, the slightly grittier texture of the new series is largely surface-level and makes a kind of historical sense at this era of Federation anyway. VOY was superficially dark as well; what matters is whether the story is ultimately leading somewhere light or dark, and everyone involved in the production insists that DSC is leading somewhere hopeful in the end. Indeed, one can perceive the embryo of that in just these first two hours.
It is important to compare these first two hours to the first two hours of all the other Trek shows, and frankly, by that metric, this stands to be the best Trek series ever created. It is so much more polished and better-acted than, say, Encounter at Fairpoint as to be comical. I’d even go so far as to say that the first hour of the show was better than the first two seasons of TNG, and coming from me, well, that’s truly saying something.
In short, I say there is reason for great optimism. Knowing that I have an entire season of this ahead of me has infused me with great hope and excitement for the coming months. I feel a bit like a kid again, waiting for next Sunday’s episode of TNG. I shall relish the anticipation of next Sunday’s episode all week long—and I can’t tell you how happy that makes me.