When Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) first meets Captain Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs), his room is dimly lit. He mutters something about an eye condition requiring low light, but, as with most of his statements, there appears to be information the captain is deliberately refusing to share.
Lorca’s lair is far from the only interior on “Star Trek: Discovery” that is shadowy. As Burnham frequently negotiates dark corridors and murky settings, one thing becomes clear: “Discovery” is trying, with some success, to convey that this is not your father’s “Star Trek.”
It might be your mother’s, if she is a fan of “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” which is widely considered to be the best of the “Trek” TV efforts. (To forestall nerd debates, yes, each Federation series has its merits, but “Deep Space Nine” and “The Next Generation” top most critics’ lists.)
The later seasons of “Deep Space Nine” depicted an array of conflicted characters — led by Benjamin Sisko, an African-American captain played by Avery Brooks — fighting a grinding, complicated war that sapped their energy and challenged their ethics even as it strengthened their bonds of friendship and love. It was serialized — a rarity back then for any drama, let alone a “Trek” series — and it grew more and more character-oriented over time. At first glance, “Discovery” appears to be paying some homage to the spirit of “DS9”: Ongoing story arcs are woven through the first three episodes (and clearly will continue beyond those hours), and its resourceful protagonist has as many challenges in front of her as Sisko often did.
Of course, “Discovery” has yet to prove itself a worthy successor to “The Next Generation,” “Deep Space Nine” or “Battlestar Galactica” (where several “DS9” writers ended up after that “Trek” series ended). But there are reasons to hope that “Discovery” will be promising addition to the “Trek” canon. If it capitalizes on the conflicts at its core, and if it embraces the ambiguity and complexity baked into its DNA, “Discovery” could provide viewers with the kind of character-driven, space-set sci-fi narrative that has long been missing from the television scene. It’s early days yet, and the CBS All Access drama, which contains some wobbly elements, may let lapse into the usual array of alien-of-the-week
formulas, but this voyage has potential.