‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Season 5 Review

The passage of time isn’t particularly fair to most streaming series, but for the “Star Trek” streaming series on Paramount+ it’s brutal. “Star Trek: Discovery” Season 5 arrives just two years since the Season 4 finale gave us Stacey Abrams as the President of Earth, but it feels much longer in “Trek” terms: Since then, there’ve been two seasons of other live-action series, the highly acclaimed final season of “Star Trek: Picard” and the even more acclaimed Season 2 of “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.”

It can be hard even to remember what happened the last time we saw the USS Discovery in the 32nd Century as a result.

Luckily, Season 5, the final run of 10 episodes to close out this series that served as the flagship of the whole “Star Trek” streaming era since it launched in 2017, hits the ground running with a fun, “Indiana Jones”-inspired chase plot that doesn’t require you to open Memory Alpha to remember what came before. The MacGuffin is taken straight from a “Next Generation” episode. We won’t say which one, but it’s a plot point that’ll inspire a good number of nods from the audience: “Yeah, why didn’t they ever follow up on that before now?” It’s a good example of internal continuity for the franchise organically inspiring a cool plotline, not just a callback for the sake of nostalgia. Though it does make one wonder if there has been any lore on “Discovery” so potent that the showrunners of whatever “Trek” show is on 30 years from now will want to reference “Discovery” the way “Next Gen” is here.

Time will tell.

A valedictory vibe is definitely in the air in the first four episodes of Season 5 made available to critics, but it mostly trades “we had a good run” moments for propulsive action. A chase is on for that “Next Gen”-inspired MacGuffin, with two former couriers — and acquaintances of David Ajala’s Book — having become ruthless plunderers in the quest for it: Mal (Eve Harlow) and L’ak (Elias Toufexis) are their names, and they are the kind of scoundrel characters “Trek” could generally use more of.

Book and his past play a big role once again in “Discovery” this time around, and so does his relationship with Sonequa Martin-Green’s Captain Burnham. They were together as a couple, until he left at the end of Season 4. Now they’re… figuring things out. There are a lot of soap opera dynamics like that on this season, but that’s as much a “Trek” tradition as anything — you can’t have a franchise approaching 1,000 episodes of TV without emulating soap aesthetics and storytelling to some degree.

To that end, there are a lot of hushed-tone dialogue scenes between Doug Jones’ Saru and his new lady love, T’Rina (Tara Rosling), about whether or not, or even how, they should reveal their relationship publicly. She’s all but proposed marriage, but there’s a catch: She’s the president of Ni’Var (what used to be called Vulcan, but changed its name after its reunification with the Romulans), and some Vulcan Purists might not be happy about her romance with an alien outsider.

There’s also sturm und drang in the relationship between Adira (Blu del Barrio) and Grey (Ian Alexander) who are reassessing where things stand between them as well.

If all of this suggests that “figuring it out” is the great theme of Season 5, that’s probably accurate. Burnham is also figuring out what it means to be a great captain, which includes a choice that rankles much of the crew: Working more closely with another captain facing demotion, Rayner (Callum Keith Rennie), whose approach is very different from what Burnham or her crew are used to — but another, very different perspective can always be a good thing, even if it doesn’t always feel great in the moment.

Burnham and Rayner share a big action scene in the first episode: They’re on the “Star Trek”-equivalent of speeder bikes chasing after Mal and L’ak. It’s high energy and fun, but not particularly tactile. Fans may be reminded of the dune buggy chase in “Star Trek: Nemesis,” which looks so terrible, it’s basically blown-out, unusable footage that somehow still made it into the film. The action in this scene on “Discovery” is a million times better, and in general, the show still looks great… but you wish you felt any sense of danger or uncertainty. What this all feels like in these first four episodes is setup for what’s to come — even possibly for another 32nd Century-set show. No such show has been announced officially, though everything revealed so far about the announced “Starfleet Academy” series suggests it will be set in the 32nd Century as well.

As always, the background characters on “Discovery” get entirely short shrift. There’s a moment where Rayner is trying to get to know Detmer, Rhys, Owosekun, and the other peripheral bridge crew a bit better: It’s hard for this storyline to land, since we as the viewers have been given so little time with them. However insulated from camaraderie with the Discovery bridge crew Rayner may be, he probably still knows them better than we do. It’s the great underwritten aspect of this show, and, one suspects, will be the thing to prevent “Discovery” from being among the most cherished “Trek” series when fans look back on it in the years and decades to come.

But here’s the deal: The landscape for “Trek” looks vastly different now than it did in 2017 when “Discovery” launched on what was then CBS All Access. Then, it was the only game in town, and the only “Trek” series to air new episodes in 12 years when even UPN decided “Star Trek: Enterprise” didn’t have enough viewers in 2005. (Now, with a few notable exceptions, many network TV shows would kill for the kind of audience “Enterprise” brought in each week back then.)

Since 2017, we’ve had an entire ecosystem of “Trek” TV spring up. “Discovery” doesn’t have to be the sole hope for its future, nor does it have to bear the burden of reinventing the wheel of what “Trek” could be — the way it so obviously came across like it was attempting that in that strange first season when they even decided to change the way whole beloved alien species look.

This show did its job. “Trek” is in a far better, more stable place now — with only the instability of Paramount itself possibly being a factor to affect its future. And “Discovery” can take a well-earned victory lap before its well-earned decommissioning.

This series began with a character literally named the Torchbearer. Now “Discovery” can pass its own torch with pride.

Grade: B-

“Star Trek: Discovery” premieres Thursday, April 4 on Paramount+. New episodes will be released one per week.

SOURCE: IndieWire

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