Star Trek Discovery Eps 11 and 12: Hail the Emperor and Also I Am Son of None

I missed out on writing about last week’s Discovery because life can sometimes get in the way of writing something just for the sake of writing it. Truth-be-told, I sorta enjoyed last week’s episode and felt like the show was really starting to hit its stride. Sure, the show had a really rocky start and is still pretty rough around the edges, but at least they’re trying to work within the sandbox that they’ve built for themselves.

Spoilers ahoy.

So Ash Tyler is absolutely Voq, Son of None. All of the obnoxious fan theories said it would be true and yeah, they did an atrocious job of hiding it. Part of what was annoying about the whole series is the marketing and PR push behind it. They try to find all of these delightful ways to describe what they’re doing in the series, but most of it tends to fall flat in the execution. First on-screen homosexual couple? Yeah, one’s in a fucking mushroom coma and the other one was unceremoniously killed by a fucking Steven Seagal neck snap by the guy that discovered that he was actually a Klingon and can sometimes fight being a Klingon, but apparently not when it comes to people knowing his secret.

Okay.

I know that I’ve railed on this whole idea of “peak television” in the past when talking about Star Trek, but I stand by it: I hate the concept of PEAK TELEVISION and all of the ceremony that comes with it. I remember watching a YouTube clip from Sons of Anarchy where the cast shaved Opie’s beard after he was killed off on the show and it was shot in this manner of “oh wow this is such an emotional moment for the cast and crew, oh my god we’re losing a brother, but wow was a special fucking journey this was and what a grand story we are telling.” If you liked Sons of Anarchy, that’s cool, I get it, but man, it was fucking Dukes of Hazzard with a biker gang that tried to relate itself to Shakespeare early on, only to abandon it for convoluted plot twists and folk rock covers of classic rock songs to use during action montages to skip to the good stuff near the end of the episodes.

Last year I railed on Westworld for being so amazingly hollow and devoid of anything of value and, believe it or not, I stand by that. They tried so hard to establish an ensemble cast in the span of ten episodes while spinning up a complicated, dense story without doing much storytelling that when things finally happened it all felt so cliche, forced and ridiculous. A large part of it felt like pandering to a crowd of fans that love to theorize online, to wonder what the next plot twist will be and which trail of breadcrumbs they should be following in the show itself.

Look, there’s nothing wrong with foreshadowing your plot points, in fact, you should do it, but the problem comes when you’re writing just to make these big moments. Not everyone reading is going to have a background in wrestling, but it reminds me a lot of modern pro wrestling where wrestlers put on matches that are all about escalation of moves until they finally do something bigger and crazier than they have before, all of it to make the live crowd go nuts.

That sort of wrestling is exciting, but ultimately candy because it’s not about making the viewer emotionally invested in what they are doing, instead it’s about making them excited and getting that feedback loop with the crowd where you feed them something, then they feed you right back with applause. It’s definitely a method of storytelling, but it’s become so pervasive that wrestling itself is sort of bland. Maybe I’m just an old man yelling at a cloud right now, because I’m pooh-poohing these darned kids these days and what they like, I don’t know, but I’ve also got a lifetime of enjoying a lot of stuff and over that period of time have built up something that we call a “taste profile.” I’m not saying if it’s right or wrong, just that I do have it and this stuff feels pretty off.

So much of Star Trek: Discovery feels like they’re pandering to this crowd and not delivering on their promises. I’m not sure if these promises weren’t there if this would somehow be more enjoyable or not, but the Ash Tyler story isn’t a look at PTSD and the impact of it on a person, it’s a fucking double-agent story masquerading as one. The Stemets/Culber relationship wasn’t to show gay people in a different light in the Star Trek universe, it was to rope in viewers and then yank the rug out from under them and say, “see, don’t you feel something?”

Are we that fucking desperate to just feel anything that we’re willing to accept something this cheap as our emotional payoff on the stuff that we consume?

I guess the problem with me reviewing two episodes at once is that I liked the first one and now the actions of the second episode have bled into the first one, painting it in a different light. Because the last episode I didn’t particularly mind, but at the same time, fucking plot twists. Apparently this was also a big ole’ fan theory as well: Lorca isn’t the real Lorca! He’s the Mirror Universe Lorca! They have to spoon feed it to you so much that when it’s revealed that in the Mirror Universe humans have a negative reaction of bright lights they literally fucking blink to a clip of him reacting to a bright light from earlier in the season for Burnham to put it all together.

Lorca wasn’t a character that really fit in with the Star Trek universe, but instead of doing something mildly interesting with him by having him be different, perhaps even a dynamic character that grew and morphed, he was just a Mirror Universe baddie masquerading as the ‘other’ Lorca.

Stemets is lost in the mycelium network in a dream where he meets Mirror Stemets who is, of course, eeeeeevil. How evil? He’s corrupted the mycelium network to the point where the whole fabric of reality could be destroyed! Oh my! Good Stemets discovers this because good Culber is an apparition that appears to him in corporeal, mushroom form, to share good memories, to give a pep talk and tell him that to fix everything he needs to just open up his eyes.

They have a truly touching, human moment — one of the few in the series thus far — only for it to feel sorta cheap within the context because Culber died for absolutely no reason without being that developed of a character just to shock the viewer.

In theory I don’t mind Ash being Voq or Lorca being Mirror Lorca, it’s just when stacked upon each other like this it begins to feel like a bit of a slog. The show is setting itself up that nothing really matters outside of the plot twists and looking for meta-narrative on IMDB or in interviews with the writers or cast, which is a bummer. Michael was starting to feel like an interesting character and the crew of the Discovery was finally starting to grow some personality. They can still be saved, but damnit.