Star Trek Discovery Episode Six: Bound to the Past, Shackled to Canon

At times it feels like a broken record when it comes to the latest installment of the Star Trek franchise. The show isn’t horrible, but isn’t great, either, and it’s hard to tell if it’s just a good sci-fi show being held back by years of a franchise, canon and expectations on its shoulders or if it’s just a bad Star Trek show. Voyager and Enterprise had notoriously bad starts, but were able to salvage their respective shows by trudging forward, learning from their mistakes and investing in their characters more.

The news broke that Star Trek: Discovery was picked up for a second season and there’s still a question of if they’ll stick to the “anthology” style that was originally proposed to telling different stories about different crews or if we’ll stick with Michael, Lorca and everyone else that we can’t remember their names because they aren’t distinctive characters just yet. This episode didn’t really bug me as much as past ones, which is either the show beating me down and lowering my expectations or them slowly learning that Star Trek as a focused arc is kind of dull and doesn’t work if you have no emotional attachment to your characters while dragging a story out for 15 episodes. This isn’t a movie where the pacing is supposed to be quick. The first two episodes served as a de facto film to bring us into the time of Discovery, but the idea of the focused arc still doesn’t really make sense.

This episode could mostly stand alone, which makes it feel a bit more like a traditional Star Trek episode than most of the rest. The focus was on Burnham’s relationship to Spock’s dad, Sarek, who went on a diplomatic mission to negotiate with the Klingons but was the victim of Vulcan extremist terrorism (the fuck?) because he has a human wife, a half-breed son and, apparently, an adopted human daughter.

The biggest annoyance here is that Spock’s absence is felt because they mention Spock and he becomes an integral part of the plot between Sarek and Burnham. It feels cheap, much like using Sarek at all. The closer you hold this plotline and Sarek’s relationship with Burnham to scrutiny, the more it falls apart, though. That’s a problem. When it was initially established it was weird, but forgettable. But now they’ve really gone all-in on Sarek being not just a caretaker or observer, but her adoptive father and you get the full spectrum of it on display here. The gaping plot hole is that Spock, a character that is so well-established, as were his problems with his father, somehow never mentions that an integral part of his growing up was having an adopted human sister who was the first known mutineer in Starfleet history. She started the fucking Klingon War!

It feels like an odd and huge thing to happen in the Star Trek continuity to never come up again. While I understand the need to work in characters from The Original Series like Harry Mudd, bringing in Sarek and making him this important just outlines how ludicrous this all is. Michael Burnham is goddamned infamous to Starfleet, as she should be. She’s toxic and while she may go on to redeem herself here and make herself a legend (duh), there’s still the fact that this never came up afterwards that leaves this all feel hackneyed and forced.

Like I said, this episode wasn’t really awful. This wasn’t one of those JJ Abrams-style shoot-em-ups without any Star Trek in it. There was Stark Trek in this episode, it’s just that the Star Trek wasn’t exactly done well. What’s worse is it feels like this team in charge of the show does love Star Trek and is trying, they’re just bogged down by the restraints of being stuck in a strange place, canonically, with their hands bound. They’re always gonna fuck something up, they’re always gonna get something wrong. Why not just set it post-Voyager and let people who love Star Trek do Star Trek right?

I want to love this, but it’s just not easy. Side note here, though: they’re really repeating a lot of stuff, huh? Like, is Lorca’s tribble gonna hate this new guy or what?