Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Concluding the Prologue: S1 E2 Battle at the Binary Stars

If The Vulcan Hello is the pizza base, this is your meat feast topping.

Battle at the Binary Stars does precisely what it says on the tin pretty much from the off with war coming to the Federation as the Shenzhou stands off against the Klingon fleet and Burnham attempts mutiny off the back of Sarek's "advice".

The serial nature of the show really comes into play here. There's no recap and you do need to have been keeping watch to know what's been going on from the previous hour. 

So, what's this one all about? Well, at 38 minutes it holds the record of being the shortest live action Star Trek episode in history but that doesn't mean it doesn't deliver. The Vulcan Hello was all about set up and introductions to Burnham and the cast onboard the Walker Class Shenzhou but in this follow up it's all about the conflict build up and the politics on both sides.

Burnham does seem to be sidelined a little for a period of this story, sitting it out in the brig (or what's left of it following the Klingon attack) while the Federation fleet engages in one rather impressive - if short - space battle. The graphics for this are just amazing and they are certainly on a par with those of the reboot movies. There's a ton of new starships to check out and for those who didn't catch the names, we're introduced to the T'Plana'Hath, Clarke, Shran, Kerala, Sue, Rye, Earhart, Dana, Edision, Yeager and Europa.

But Battle at the Binary Stars isn't just focusing on the Starfleet perspective and this appears to be a big difference in Discovery because they are taking time to build up the background of the Klingons and specifically the culture and influence of the 25th House. There's a lot of background to T'Kumva here but I would hasten viewers to keep an eye on Voq too because his role in this show is going to get much bigger as hinted by his own appearance on a character poster a while back.

There's a lot of Klingon diversity in the styles of the houses we are presented with via holographic comms (two are named as D'Ghor and Mokai plus we know of the House of Kor) - just check out the ornate headwear and armour worn by the various characters T'Kumva addresses pre-battle.

It's a brutal episode that starts heavy and remains that way to the end. There are a few questionable bits in there around cloaking devices but I can look around these since the House of T'Kumva has returned to the Empire and hasn't been actively involved in it for some time. Again as with the first episode, Chris Obi is superb as the Klingon "king" uniting his people and it all points towards this being a very bloody season so don't get too attached to any of the characters!

For a 38 min episode there’s a lot packed in - four deaths, two incarcerations and a Klingon Cleave ship too. That last one is a right beast and is directly involved in one of the episode's most impressive visuals. It really doesn’t let up for a second and still crams in more Burnham background ready for our ‘second pilot’ next week with Context is the King particularly around her introduction to Starfleet - interesting that her entire career has solely been on the Shenzhou which will no question add to the conflict on the Discovery

Burnham certainly is the key recipient of development here and that makes a lot of sense by the end of the story although you get the feeling we might be in for a lot more flashbacks to her career as the year progresses.

As to the conclusion of the episode, there’s a decent close quarters battle on the Klingon ship and I have to admit I was surprised that a few elements were wrapped up so neatly by the end of this second instalment. Indeed, the final moments with Burnham definitely betray a different path to the rest of the season than I was expecting but it does mean that Discovery is going to be full of twists, turns and surprises this year. 

Overall this is a satisfying half-hour of Star Trek. Totally different look but one that suits the 2010’s just as Star Trek suited the look of the 1960's and The Next Generation the 1980's. It’s moved rapidly with the times and the script for Battle at the Binary Stars seemed a lot more natural and flowing plus it's not been weighted down by a huge and unnecessary amount of technobabble. It was straight-forward to follow and maybe a little "dumbed down" in some respects from what we might have expected from a Voyager episode for instance.

Saru is still the stand-out character for me ahead of introducing the rest of the main cast in episode three. There's so much to do with the character and one that is unusually happier to remain away from conflict rather than face the unknown which is what we've been used to in every single iteration of the franchise to date. He is powerfully different in his opinion, aloof to the point of snobbery but still more than likeable. Doug Jones has done a marvellous job of realising the Kelpien onscreen but I could also easily heap praise onto any of the other cast such as Michelle Yeoh or even Sam Vartholomeos who performed superbly to introduce Star Trek to a brand new decade. 

I would have loved to see a bit more of L'Rell in these two stories but I can see how the Klingon segments were definitely focused on Obi's T'Kumva as the vehicle for Klingon reunification. I would hope that this balance of both sides of the fight continues forward to once again create a very different Star Trek experience in Discovery.

For me the interest is in how we move from Burnham's predicament at the end of this episode to the next hour and where this will also place any of the returning characters we have met both Starfleet and Klingon. To finalise - bravo effort with tons of room to expand and improve but I have a sense that next week may not be quite what we have seen so far off the back of how this one ended.

Did Battle at the Binary Stars deliver? Is it what you wished for? See our review of The Vulcan Hello here.

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