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Star Trek Discovery Episode 8: Okay, I’m Fine With This

Over the previous few weeks I’ve been documenting my odyssey of spending one hour a week (well, two on the first week) watching CBS’s latest attempt to bring Star Trek back to [sort of] television. At times it is painful, other times it is okay, sometimes it’s obnoxious and rarely it’s sort of fun. There are a lot of things about the show that miss the mark of the classic Treks, just like there are a lot of throwbacks to previous Treks that can feel trite and meaningless, like shallow attempts to satiate a fanbase unhappy with the direction of the show.

I’m an unapologetic fan of the Ronald D. Moore era of Star Trek, which was later TNG into DS9 and very briefly on Voyager when it was in its uptick. I even loved his take on BSG until it became a show about the ONE TRUE GOD and characters hearing All Along the Watchtower in their minds all of the time. Who am I kidding, I didn’t even mind it much then, either. That isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy Moore-less Trek, because I do enjoy it. I was able to get into Voyager eventually and while Enterprise had a god-awful start it really did get a hell of a lot better as time wore on. That’s what I’m hoping happens with Discovery, as long as they keep with this story, these characters and this time and don’t go for the “anthology” format they originally talked about.

My biggest complaint about this series is that it doesn’t feel like it can stand on its own feet. It’s trying to serve too many masters and, by doing so, instead doesn’t seem to serve anyone in the end. While I know people that are enjoying the show, it isn’t at the same, weird, fanatical level that a Star Trek usually gets. Inevitably, what I hear is “have you checked out The Orville?” When people are pointing towards the Family Guy-creator’s satire on Star Trek as a more authentic Star Trek, well, things aren’t looking great. No, I haven’t watched that show yet and I’m not sure that I will. So while past episodes of Discovery have hinged on cheap tricks with characters from previous iterations of Star Trek (namely from TOS), finally we got an episode that was so uniquely Star Trek that it was hard to dislike.

The plot was simple: the crew has discovered a planet emitting a message through this giant, organic pole and they wanted to see if they could harness this to help in their battle with the Klingons. Oh yeah, remember that? It’s kinda nice that we have a big story arc and that they’ve moved away from it being all-encompassing like it was earlier on in the season. Space is big, they have a starship that can go just about anywhere and there’s a lot to do. So here we are, on a planet with secrets, inhabited by, wait for it, the planet itself that takes form via an ethereal light, that is just looking for company. This is such a Star Trek episode, right down to one of the crew having his mind taken over by the well-meaning planet and almost sabotages the mission.

The episode ends with a cliffhangar involving a showdown with the Klingons heading into the mid-season finale and it’s all pretty much fine. While not a classic episode of Star Trek, it felt like an episode of Star Trek. We got glimpses into the stories of individuals on the crew during the downtime and we didn’t have to deal with Captain Lorca’s inane bullshit and whatever grey brush they are lazily painting him with that serves as depth these days. Like I said, mostly fine, kinda fun, classic Trek. Not a classic episode that we’ll reflect on for years and go back and rewatch, but a step in the right direction for a rather listless, ineffective ship that points towards the second half of the season being a smoother ride.

Star Trek Discovery Episode 7: Harry Mudd, Hardened Killer

At a certain point it’s an exercise in futility talking about why Star Trek: Discovery is disappointing, what it gets wrong, what it gets right, and why when it gets something right it can be more frustrating than when it gets something wrong, because you know it’s gonna eventually bungle the whole thing.

So bringing back the character of Harry Mudd is, well, complicated. It’s also not. The first appearance of Harry Mudd in the series was on a Klingon prison vessel, he was there running away from his crappy decisions. He’s skinnier, which makes sense, but yeah. He was slimy and looking out for himself, but that wasn’t exactly weird for the character. All-in-all, hey, it was sorta fun and harmless.

Then they brought him back again. This time he causes a time paradox to steal the Discovery where they repeat the same 30-minute loop, each time he learns another step in how to take over the vessel. The only problem is just how willing Harry Mudd, a character defined in his two appearances in The Original Series and one in the Animated Series, is to murder a lot of people to get his way.

While the original Harry Mudd was slimy and clearly a rogue, he also had enough charm and wit to where Kirk found himself having to rely on Harry Mudd to help clean up the messes that Mudd made. There was a begrudging respect that yeah, Harry Mudd was a piece of trash, but he was a cunning one with a broken moral compass, but one that still existed.

Rainn Wilson’s Harry Mudd was nothing more than yet another killer willing to do whatever it takes to get his way, which included feats of not just daring, but skillful infiltration that only a well-trained military vet could accomplish. He’s hiding in space creatures, starching people with phasers, setting off explosions that destroy the whole goddamned ship and all of it was so nonchalant.

The character that was established already would’ve absolutely seen a caper like stealing a Starfleet vessel as something within his grasp, especially while desperate, but he’d have some sort of miracle drug at his disposal to drug the crew to allow him to sneak by, or he’d have some gadget that made them forget that they saw him. He was cunning, not a guy that just ran out, guns a’blazing against innocent people.

Sure, further into his adventure, after a few cycles of killing the entirety of the Discovery and each and every time intentionally murdering Captain Lorca in cold blood, he was able to sneak through undetected, so in the final instance of this time loop he created he didn’t actually kill anyone. Still, he was so comfortable just killing folks that it sorta blinded out that they elaborated on this rather minor Star Trek character’s backstory just a bit further and found a way to give Rainn Wilson a recurring role in this series.

But it felt like further proof that the creators of the show just don’t understand the original feel or cultural ethos behind Star Trek. This darker, edgier Trek is just borderline obnoxious and canonically makes no sense. Here I am, at 34 years old, arguing about Star Trek canon. Look at what you’ve made me do, CBS.

Let’s Talk About Star Trek: Discovery

I’m sorry my poor, neglected blog. Truth be told, I haven’t been writing all-that-much of late. I’ve been trying, but twin boys are not just a lot of work, they are all-encompassing. Not that I’m complaining. Okay, perhaps I’m complaining a bit, because I miss writing and have attempted to kickstart things a few times only to find myself strapped for time and forced away from a project for days, if not weeks. If you’ve ever had the seedling of an idea before, you know how fragile it can be, and know that for it to sprout it requires ample amount of care and dedication. Scrawling out a few thousand words of a new idea only to abandon it within a few days, then returning to it and having a difficult time recapturing the magic is an absolutely soul-crushing feeling.

But is it as soul-crushing as the new, super-hyped Star Trek series debuting and failing to deliver? Yes, probably moreso, but still, Star Trek is one of the most beloved franchises in all of science fiction and requires a certain touch. Star Trek: Discovery lacks that touch in every possible way and after so long of a wait for a new series it feels pretty damned rotten, let me tell you.

That’s not to say that the first two episodes of Star Trek: Discovery were terrible, because they weren’t. In fact, they were pretty good, just not Star Trek. Okay, let’s pause for a second here, because there needs to be an understanding that they are, indeed, rather close to the JJ Abrams-era of Star Trek films that have been released and have been largely forgettable, popcorn affairs. Those Abrams-era films have so little in common with prior iterations of Star Trek that it feels like an entirely different franchise echoing the past with better effects, more attractive casts and a focus on action over substance.

If Star Trek: Discovery had debuted as Starbound Discovery or whatever, as a new franchise, I’d probably be pretty excited about where the show could go. Yet as not only a Star Trek, but yet another fucking prequel to The Original Series, there is a certain weight to be carried with that. Not only does the show need to fit into the already-established canon, but it needs to find its own identity in a world that is a mere ten years before the adventures of Kirk, Spock and McCoy.

Star Trek has never relied on action as the main method of telling a story. Instead the focus has been on wonder, discovery, interplay between characters, politics and, most importantly, exploring the relationship between humanity and its neighbors, surroundings and itself. The first two episodes of Discovery were bombastic and exciting, almost self-contained in that they told one story that introduced a new villain and saw his story arc more-or-less completed come the conclusion of episode two. There was no need for nuance, setting a foundation in the universe or establishing characters because what they wanted to establish was WAR. VIOLENCE. THE KLINGON THREAT.

So how have past Treks handled debuts?

  • The Original Series: Captain Pike is taken captive by a strange race, where he undergoes a series of unwitting trials where humanity is explored. There are fights, but minimal.
  • The Next Generation: Encounter at Farpoint is legendary for a reason. Q is introduced to the crew of the new Enterprise on its maiden voyage, where Picard encounters a strange, new race and try to get to know each other, only for something to be awry. It involves a mystery, a strange being and critical thinking to overcome the odds and avoid a possible dilemma.
  • Deep Space 9: Benjamin Sisko, who holds a grudge against Captain Picard for the death of his wife, is assigned the seemingly impossible task of maintaining a diplomatic space station, where it is uncovered that he’s actually some sort of religious figure to the Bajoran people. He must grapple with his complicated feelings towards Picard and transitioning from life on a starship to life on a space station.
  • Voyager: Captain Janeway is searching for rogue Maquis ships while one of her crew is undercover within. Voyager and the Maquis are ripped through a wormhole into the Delta Quadrant more than 70 years away from home and must cope with their hostilities with each other to come together to brave a strange new existence.
  • Enterprise: Captain Archer is tasked with returning a Klingon that crash-landed on Earth back to Qo’nos in the Starfleet’s first real foray into intergalactic politics, where he must travel in a ship with the warp engines his father designed against the wishes of the Vulcans, who have been the protectors of humanity since first contact.

Now, let’s look at Discovery.

Captain and Commander are on a desert planet, looking to save indigenous life, they talk about the Commander getting her own command. Back in space they encounter a strange object, which the Commander takes a jet pack out to explore. There, a space-suited Klingon charges forward and she sorta accidentally stabs him to death. The Commander executes a poorly-done mutiny because the Captain won’t shoot the recently-discovered Klingon ships on sight and then a giant fucking space battle happens because Klingons are rebuilding their empire and this happened to be the meeting place.

The usual charm just isn’t there. Instead the focus is on action from the get-go. The Klingons were always depicted as warlike and assholes, but this was just on another level. There was one conversation, then a giant space battle featuring both Starfleet and the Klingons ensued.

There’s some things set up there, like how our protagonist was on the precipice of her own ship, how she messed it all up and how the show will now be her redemption story. So, essentially, she’s Tom Paris from Voyager. Okay. The problem is, Star Trek has never been a solo show. Sure, the Captain is always the focal point (Commander Sisko in DS9’s case), but all of the other characters are just as vital throughout. Sure, it’s only been two episodes thus far telling one story, but I can’t, for the life of me, remember anyone’s name and there looks to be only one character that’ll carry over into the main cast. Even the “lesser” Treks like Enterprise and Voyager had an ensemble cast of characters that would endear themselves to viewers.

A part of the problem feels like the announced scope of the show, which would be a fifteen-episode season playing out a “two chapter” story arc. While long story arcs have contributed to the best of each series, the “throwaway” standalone episodes tend to be some of the best, by focusing on individual characters.Think “Beyond the Stars” from DS9 where Sisko has a vision from the Prophets as himself in New York, pre-Civil Rights, as a science fiction author for a magazine. It’s one of those powerful, unforgettable episodes that, while it plays into the larger story, is relatively self-contained.

The commitment, on CBS’s part, doesn’t seem to be there. CBS has literally sat on the franchise for years after Enterprise failed to deliver and done absolutely nothing with it. Now that the JJ Abrams-era films have done well, they used that as an opportunity to launch a new series. But the problem is the distribution: it’s behind a ridiculous paywall. No, it’s not on a popular streaming service like Netflix, Amazon or even Hulu. Instead it’s on CBS All Access, which is $5.99 a month. Oh yeah, and there’s ads, too. To get rid of the ads it’ll cost you $9.99 a month. Only the most hardcore of hardcore Star Trek fans are going to fork over money for a worthless streaming service such as this, yet this show seems to be aimed at the mythical “wider audience.” If they were always going to toss this behind a paywall, why bother trying to make a “cool” action series? You don’t simply stumble upon a pay service that you don’t need and decide to check it out. The show feels doomed for failure and like it’ll play out within one season before being cancelled and never heard from again.

It is, of course, Star Trek, which means that this could all be wrong and it could get a lot better. Enterprise not only started out rough, it was pretty awful until it got going. Voyager was shitty for entire seasons before it found its sea legs.