Now that Star Trek: Discovery has three seasons on CBS All Access under its belt and a fourth on the way (eventually), it’s easy to forget many fans were wringing their hands in 2017, worried this new series wouldn’t feel like “true Trek.”
I confess: I was one of them!
Right out of the gate, Discovery adopted a visual style and struck a thematic tone different from any televised Trek we’d seen. But as I recently rewatched its pilot episode, “The Vulcan Hello,” I noticed how many moments in it gave me thrills only Star Trek can.
Here are five moments where Discovery’s pilot episode proved the show’s writers, performers, and whole creative team were serious about delivering Star Trek’s unique sense of wonder.
1. The Klingon Torchbearer’s Funeral
T’Kuvma’s opening of the dead Rejac’s eyes, his invocation of the Black Fleet, and his appeal to honor evoke Klingon customs and beliefs established in Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. So does the mighty howl the Klingons sound as Rejac’s sarcophagus ascends to join others on their vessel’s hull.
Rejac’s funeral makes the Klingons feel more alien than ever while leaving no doubt: This is the species we’ve come to know and, by turns, fear and love over Star Trek’s history.
2. Burnham and Saru Square Off in the Discovery Ready Room
As First Officer Michael Burnham and Science Officer Saru argue the pros and cons of inspecting what turns out to be the Klingon vessel, Captain Georgiou listens to both sides and weighs the options for herself, as Kirk often did listening to Spock and McCoy hash out an issue.
The scene deftly establishes Saru and Burnham as characters—he, cautious; she, impulsive—and spotlights Georgiou as the commander who balances both. (How different from her Mirror Universe counterpart we’ll meet later in the season!)
Thesis, antithesis, synthesis—a classic Trek characterization triad.
3. Sarek Counsels Burnham
In Discovery, James Frain creates a Sarek just as complex and “fascinating” as Mark Lenard’s, and he begins here, in the pilot episode.
His holographic huddle with Burnham contains the ostensible disdain for emotion we expect from Spock’s famously aloof father. Yet we also see his logic at least bend when he decides to share knowledge of the Vulcans’ “shoot first” approach to Klingons with her. Frain’s performance suggests Sarek does so against his better judgment, only because Michael, his child, asks.
4. Burnham Rockets Away From Discovery
From Ensign Connor’s pitch-perfect parody of an airplane captain’s weather report to Burnham’s laughter as she accelerates toward the Klingon vessel, her high-speed thruster pack trip is a joy to watch.
What Star Trek fan wouldn’t want to experience the pulse-pounding exhilaration of an EVA mission like that? The sequence perfectly captures the spirit of adventurous exploration at the franchise’s core. As we watch it, we, like Burnham, are, as Georgiou says, “having fun.”
5. “Not Exactly a Circle”
When Georgiou and Burnham become lost in a desert on the Crepusculans’ planet, Georgiou calmly leads her first officer in what Burnham wrongly assumes to be a large circle. The two women are, in fact, tracing in the sand the iconic Starfleet delta. “I set a star,” says Georgiou—and sure enough, the U.S.S. Shenzhou uses the symbol to find and rescue them.
The scene is the perfect opening to Discovery’s pilot episode. That insignia announces the series is committed to Star Trek’s legacy, even while boldly going forward in new and exciting directions.
What do you think were the “Star Trekkiest” moments in the first episode of Discovery? Let us know in the comments!