We liked the first hour of Star Trek Discovery that aired on CBS last night, but we loved the second hour. The first hour sets all of the pieces in motion, introducing a few new characters and a new vision for the show; this new show looks much more like J. J. Abrams’ movies than any of the previous series. The second episode, however, delivers strong action and well-designed battles. If you felt a little underwhelmed by episode one, just make sure that you want the second installment. We still don’t know much about the crew, the captain, or what the ship will look like, but I already excited about where this new series intends to go. I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to that other intergalactic series I’m hugely devoted to: Mass Effect. Here’s the connections I see between the two and what I think Mass Effect should take from Star Trek: Discovery.
What Star Trek Learned From Mass Effect
The first two episodes of the new series are really just an introduction to the show. If this were a movie, all of this action would take place before the movie’s titled even appeared. And, more than anything, it reminded me a lot of the introduction to Mass Effect 2 (please note, mild spoilers follow). The enemies introduced here seem appropriately overwhelming and they deal a devastating blow to the heroes early on. I was reminded of Mass Effect 2’s intro in which your hero is actually killed before the game even begins. These events aren’t so dramatic as that (and what could be?), but they function the same way by raising the stakes and establishing a sense of unpredictability. This isn’t a show where the good guys will win by doing the right thing (much as you can’t win at the beginning of Mass Effect 2 no matter what you do), but – beyond that – it’s not even always clear what the right thing is.
What Mass Effect Needs to Learn: Make the Hero Appropriately Serious and Generally Cool
One of my least favorite aspects of Mass Effect Andromeda is the protagonist(s). The Ryder twins (whoever you chose as your hero) were inexperienced and brash, hoping their charming personalities and would compensate for their naivete and impulsivity. They very much felt like Nathan Drake in space. Michael Burnham, on the other hand, is excessively serious and overly logical due to her Vulcan upbringing. She’s impressively – but not infallibly – smart and exceedingly capable in a variety of situations. Her failures also weigh on her, unlike the Ryders who seem to bounce back from emotional turmoil without blinking. She actually seems to react to the events around her, she seems damaged by the losses she’s suffered, and I’m extremely interested to see how she moves forward from here.
Also Make It All Her Fault
Burnham spends the first two episodes making some very large mistakes that weight heavy on her….at least I think they’re mistakes. She seems to have pulled the Federation into war with the Klingons in an attempt to save her captain (and if that’s the case, it’s a neat inversion of Spock’s “the needs of the many” philosophy). This puts her squarely at the center of the driving narrative going forward. What I really like about this is that I’m still not sure whether she did the wrong thing (though she definitely did it badly). She clearly has much to learn. Ryder never has been put in this kind of position before; she’s more of an outsider interceding to rescue others. What if, instead, her actions set everything in motion? What if it was all her fault and she had to carry that and learn from that (and was actually affected by that)? To me, that’d be a much more interesting approach than casting you as the outsider riding in to save the day.
Also, Give the Enemies’ Motivation That Makes Sense
Finally, the bad guys in these first episodes are the Klingons, led by T’Kuvma. The Klingons tend to be belligerent generally so their presence here as villains isn’t surprising. What I really liked about them, though, is their motivation. These Klingons here hate the Federation’s benevolent expansion because they see it as the soft assimilation of their world and culture (and I’m not sure they’re wrong). I like this so much more than the villains of Mass Effect Andromeda, who seem to be using some ancient technology to enslave a race of cat people. The villains of Mass Effect act as a larger threat that leads the indigenous people to turn to you; it would have been much more interesting if they were leading the resistance against invading foreigners (i.e., you). Better, what if they were competing with you in attempting to rally races to their side (instead of just enslaving everybody). For all the moral choices in Mass Effect, there is never a lot of moral ambiguity. That’s one thing that Star Trek seems to be exploring and it would be cool to see Mass Effect do that as well.