Star Trek: Discovery, the CBS All Access sci-fi series (**½ of four stars) that premiered Sunday with two episodes (the first on CBS), soars in ambition and devotion to Star Trek history and mythology, but stalls with certain plot details and stilted dialogue.
Next week's third episode, which sets the series on its true course, features more promising plot twists and character possibilities, something to consider when deciding whether to pay for the streaming service. (After a brief free trial for new subscribers, the monthly fee is $5.99 with "reduced commercial interruptions" and $9.99 without commercials.)
Discovery, set 10 years before the events of NBC's original 1960s TV series, centers on Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), first officer of the United Federation of Planets’ USS Shenzhou serving under Captain Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh).
Burnham’s background offers rich story potential: The brilliant human girl was raised on Vulcan by Mr. Spock’s parents, Vulcan ambassador Sarek (James Frain) and his human wife, Amanda.
Sunday’s episodes followed the Shenzhou to a remote corner of the galaxy, where the brave Burnham’s deadly encounter with a Klingon triggers a war.
Too many actions worked against character or logic, perhaps the result of bumps in development that delayed the premiere and led to the departure of executive producer Bryan Fuller.
Early on, Georgiou won’t tell her second-in-command why they’re walking in an odd pattern on a desert planet, seemingly to surprise viewers with the revelation they’ve traced the Star Trek insignia so the Shenzhou can find them. Later, the pair proceed on a likely suicide mission against the Klingons, a move that seems only to steer the plot forward. That’s what redshirts are for!
Introductory exposition hampers many pilots, but Discovery's can be especially clunky, as when Lt. Saru (Doug Jones) explains his Kelpien species to Burnham as if he's reading from Wikipedia.
Martin-Green, who developed Sasha into an engaging character in The Walking Dead, has the necessary charisma and substance, but her characterization of a human conflicted by Vulcan emotional self-restraint doesn't immediately gel.
Sometimes, Burnham appears too emotional; her mutiny seems rash, especially compared with Spock’s masterful takeover in the 1966 two-parter, ‘The Menagerie.’ At other times, Vulcan training is signaled by having Burnham spit out a precise computation of numbers.
Burnham's scenes with Sarek are engaging, however, and in one flashback, she skillfully blends emotional opaqueness and intellectual arrogance.
Discovery shows more promise in its third episode. Burnham merges human and Vulcan sensibilities a little better. Jason Isaacs is captivating as Captain Gabriel Lorca, but a comedic crew member needs toning down. A surprising scientific experiment offers intriguing story potential.
Visually, Discovery shines. Space and action scenes have a cinematic quality, and aliens are believable, illustrating meticulous attention to detail.
Extra exposure for the Klingons is a plus and leader T'Kuvma's sarcophagus ship is a welcome addition to Star Trek lore. T'Kuvma's demagogic leaning and interest in racial purity connect to current social issues, as the original series did in the '60s.
With its level of talent and commitment, Star Trek: Discovery has a decent chance of getting on course to complete its mission.