So the new Star Trek series has arrived on Netflix, with high-budget visuals, big-name cinema actors and a properly gothic and scary version of the Klingon empire. What’s not to like? Well, there’s a certain bleakness to proceedings that, while in tune with current global politics, betrays the optimism of the other series and surely the very spirit which saw humankind voyage to the stars in the first place. The refrain ‘We come in peace’ is not only mocked by the remorseless Klingons but also revealed by the plot of the first two episodes as being as childish as it is foolish.
[Vague spoilers] The main ‘dilemma’ of the opening two episodes is whether the Federation captain (ably played by Michelle Yeoh) should open fire first on the extremely menacing Klingons. Her commander (also well played by Sonequa Martin) – advised by her Vulcan mentor Sarek – insists that shooting first is the only language that Klingons understand. Sounds intriguing? It isn’t. There isn’t really a dilemma at all, you see. The captain is in no doubt that initiating the violence is simply ‘not what the Federation does’. The commander promptly attempts a mutiny, so adamant is she that the Vulcans are right. Hmm. No one actually wrestles with their conscience.
Throughout, then, the main (human) characters of the piece do not feel fully rounded. That means we also struggle to identify with or care about them. It’s all a bit meaningless and pointless, a feeling that is only increased when it turns out it doesn’t really matter what decision is ultimately made in an attempt to save the day, because it all goes belly-up anyway. It’s a very pessimistic view of things. An individual cannot make a difference in such circumstances, apparently. There are no heroes.
When individuals and moral integrity mean so little, what’s left? Only failure, desperation and suffering. It’s grimdark sci-fi basically. There are attempts at humour and banter to lighten matters, but when the characters are simply victims of their circumstances, such humour is only peevish, pathetic and ultimately empty.
Don’t get me wrong. The new series has important and relevant messages for the viewer. It could never be accused of being anachronistic. However, certain audiences may well feel that something valuable has been missed or lost. It’s definitely going to divide audiences, I think, much like Marmite. A matter of taste, then. Take a look and see what you think. For me, it’s an 8 out of 10 (jury still slightly out).