Here we are, with one full season of Star Trek: Discovery in the books. Finally, after far too long, Star Trek returned to the smaller (and this time even smaller) screen and the verdict is mixed, at best. Star Trek: Discovery was an attempt to bring Trek into modern times, which meant marketing of really selling the diversity featured on the show, only for the showrunners to find themselves backed into a corner because they worked so hard at selling the diversity aspects of the show that, inevitably, they would fail because their intentions couldn’t quite live up to the story that they wanted to tell. First Trek gay couple! Oh, right, one dies in a throwaway scene. A character with realistic PTSD! Oh, right, he was really a double agent! There’s more, too, but the thing is, Star Trek has always been a forward-thinking franchise, which is one of the things that has helped it endure the test of time (albeit, older episodes still wouldn’t live up to modern standards, but they were trying), but Discovery’s big push on it ended up feeling like smoke-and-mirrors.
They just didn’t deliver on those promises at all, which shouldn’t detract from the show, but it does. The other fault of a modern Trek is trying to appeal to the Peak Television audience that is looking for really long story arcs as opposed to taking the traditional Trek route of telling smaller, more intimate and personal stories. Back when I wrote for Uproxx, I remember writing up stories about how they were touting that Discovery would be different because the show wouldn’t focus on the captain — oh no — it would focus instead on one of the officers instead. At the time, it was all well and good. Write it, nod along that it’s a fine idea, but really, why is that a radical concept? Was The Original Series the Captain Kirk Show? Not really. Was The Next Generation the Picard Show? No way at all. Was DS9 the BENJAMIN SISKO Show? I mean, no, although I’d watch the hell out of that. Was Voyager the Janeway Show? Was Enterprise the Archer Show? It’s no, to all of the above. While the captain may have been a big focus, these showrunners and producers somehow missed the point that Star Trek was never about one, singular character. Star Trek has always been a collection of characters that you learn to know and care for.
Enterprise, long thought to be the ‘worst’ of all the Treks, featured not just Captain Archer, but T’pol, Trip, Malcom, Phlox, Travis, Sato and others that were each given a spotlight. The most engaging characters ended up being T’pol and Trip and I’m not sure that there’s another way to view it. How many Voyager episodes were about Harry figuring out who he is, or Tom fucking around in the Holodeck, Neelix trying to help the crew, the Doctor coping with being a hologram, 7 of 9 grappling with her humanity and a whole bunch more that I’m missing?
Discovery decided to play up like it was a premium cable show that belongs on HBO, following the ten-episode format, being gritty and casting big names like Michelle Yeoh, but continually missed the mark in focusing on any of the characters at all. After ten episodes I’m not sure that I can name anyone on the bridge crew outside of the nicknames I came up with in my head for them. Does it really matter, anyway? They’re set dressing, but instead of the interchangeable extras that we saw on previous series, they kept the same actors throughout. So while a show like Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad will have multiple point-of-view characters, Discovery sorta just stuck by Michael throughout the whole thing. Every episodes saw detours into other characters, but Michael was always where they went back to. The problem was that a few episodes into the series Michael’s story stopped mattering. Her redemption, her guilt and her proving herself to everyone was just a formality so the story could move at a breakneck pace.
What better place to talk about pacing than in this last episode? Throughout my own writing I’ve found myself making mistakes, obviously, but it’s frustrating to see these mistakes made by someone still trying to really nail what his style should be being made by people at the wheel of one of the biggest and most beloved franchises in science fiction history. The resolution for this giant fucking war was, in a word, hilarious. None of it was in any way believable. At all. Let’s recap here: Michael accidentally starts a war with the Klingons because she was wild and curious, Phillipa sorta let her be that and encouraged her to be just a bit wild. Michael sees the Klingon threat and decides that Phillipa’s refusal to take action could get everyone killed, so she stages a failed mutiny. Her beloved captain dies while Michael is silently redeemed and forgiven, but nobody can see this. Michael is being transported on a secret ship and is just kinda let out and everything is forgiven because Captain Lorca is insane and willing to do anything to win the war. Okay.
From there we fall into bullshit about the mycelium network, Lorca is a madman by Starfleet standards and then the Mirror Universe happens. By now, nobody doubts Michael and it seems like she’s not just in the clear, but right on track to be second-in-command again as soon as the dust settles. Her story is pretty much over, although a love affair with Ash Tyler — A SECRET KLINGON~! — is trying to keep us interested in her. Now she’s just there, driving the plot forward for the rest of the show, with little flourishes here and there, until the end, where she needs to learn her lesson and recite it in front of everyone like a kid giving a fucking book report. The lesson she learned was that humanity needs to keep its humanity or else what’s the point of winning?
So EVIL PHILLIPA was going to blow up Qo’Nos to save humanity and win her freedom because conveniently being a genocidal maniac from a different universe meant that everyone could wash their hands of genocide, except Michael saw the folly in it and realized they had a Klingon on board the Discovery! You know, the one they kept there for THE WHOLE SERIES and only really served to be the adversary to Ash, as well as the one that was able to save his life later? Talk about a deus ex machina! Much to no one’s shock, she’s once again the machina needed, beamed down to the cave where EVIL PHILLIPA and Michael are debating ethics and told to basically take a detonator to her species extinction and threaten her entire race to rally behind her as the great leader and end the war. Why? Because Michael made a rousing speech to the Admiral, who apparently said, hey, fuck it, let’s do this instead of secure our existence?
But this plan doesn’t just work, it works within a matter of minutes. The whole big build of the first season of Discovery was to a Klingon with a finger on a button — not even explaining what the fuck it was or what would happen — and the Klingons immediately giving up on a sure victory to say “oh wow, we better just give up and listen.” The idea was that the Klingon houses were fractured by the war, all searching for their own glory over the glory of the Empire and that this move would unify them… But… why? There was no tension, it was just another convenient set of plot elements and twists to forgo telling an actual, compelling story.
Oh, and apparently Michael still needed to get pardoned at the end. Because they were letting her run around and do all of this shit while still a condemned criminal wearing a Starfleet uniform with a position on their best starship. What the hell.
I didn’t even get into how this show is supposed to be so much more progressive and how that means that Captains will now fuck scantily clad alien women AND men, not just women like in The Original Series.