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Star Trek Discovery Episode Ten: The Mirror Universe

The first season of any new Star Trek tends to ebb and flow between god awful and okay, sometimes even unwatchable. I’m not sure what it is about Star Trek, but the franchise as a whole has a difficult time introducing a new crew without fucking a lot of things up. That’s why the initial idea behind Star Trek: Discovery was so ridiculous: Star Trek as an anthology series probably doesn’t work. If you’ve been following my musings on the current iteration of Star Trek, you know that my thoughts on it jump between loathing and acceptance, but near the end it was more acceptance than hatred.

So we return from a winter break with, get this, an alternate universe episode. Aren’t those everyone’s favorites? It’s the Trek trops of all Trek tropes and they’re here to prove…. Something. I’m not entirely sure what they’re looking to prove, but once again, they feel a bit shackled by canon here. If you’ve watched Star Trek before, you know that alternate timelines, realities and universes play a key role in the lore of Star Trek, especially when the writers get bored and don’t feel like doing a holodeck episode or two. In this instance it is used as a way to move the plot of Discovery forward while doing something familiar.

This isn’t just an alternate timeline, though, this is THE MIRROR UNIVERSE. You know the one, where everyone wears black, has an edge to them or is downright evil? Yeah, that one. So, of course, the Federation is the Terran Empire and they’re evil, awful racists who fight the rebels, which are all of the alien races combined. The pacing in this was par for the course in Discovery, which means that it was pretty damned fast and left little time to really see how the whole thing is impacting the crew. In the Mirror Universe Tilly is a captain who gained her role by murdering her previous captain during sex, which of course, the whole thing is a play on her big dream of making captain and a joke because she’s so bubbly and sweet.

I’m gonna hit up some spoilers now, so if for some reason you haven’t seen this yet or won’t see it for a while, it might be good to skip the rest. Thanks for reading, though.

Some of the story beats were okay, some were rushed and some were so rushed that they came across as comical. Remember Stemets? How he couldn’t do the spore drive anymore and went catatonic? Well he’s now babbling about “The Palace” and nobody knows what he’s talking about, until about halfway through the episode it’s clear that there’s an Emperor and a palace and the plot is that Michael Burnham, a captain, went missing in this Mirror Universe to capture — get this — Lorca. What exactly is Mirror Universe Lorca like? He’s a freedom fighter who was attempting to stage a coup against the evil emperor while Burnham was tasked with finding him and bringing him to justice.

So yeah, Mirror Lorca seems like a pretty okay guy, which just cements further that real Lorca is oooooh bad. Okay, whatever. Fine. We get it. Remember the fan theories that Ash Tyler was secretly a Klingon that was sliced and diced and put back together as a human? We get a few short scenes of him having flashbacks to his surgery, he tries to question the torturer chick who recites a Klingon prayer meant to awaken him, which fails, then he goes to the good doctor, who is already dealing with his partner being violently catatonic, mumbling about the palace, to see if he can find any evidence that he isn’t who he claims to be. All of this when he’s supposed to go on this big ole’ mission with Lorca and Burnham to the palace to turn in Lorca.

The most perplexing thing is that the doctor finds evidence that Tyler’s bones were shortened, his organs were transplants and his brain was tampered with that was somehow written off as simple torture before? So he breaks the bad news that Tyler is probably a Klingon and Tyler just, you know, snaps his neck like we’re in a cheesy Steven Seagal flick. That’s it, it just happened. Recently I rewatched The Phantom Menace and what stood out the most was how poor the pacing was. There were points of the movie where they’d do really fast cuts from character to character to move the plot along and we’d be bouncing along a jumble of emotions, from sadness to elation to fear to everything else. It just made it all feel really, really flat. “Despite Yourself” suffers from this in perhaps one of the most vital scenes with a major crew member of the Discovery.

There was no emotional link, there was no remorse from Tyler over his latent Klingon side taking over and murdering someone he trusted, the catatonic Stemets just mumbled “the enemy is here” and that was it, that was the scene. No focus on the doc’s lifeless body, or long juxtaposition of his partner potentially having a scrambled brain for life and him being dead all because Lorca is a madman, just a shrug and “let’s get right back into the pew pew action!” Dr. Culber just dies.

This was so poorly played that there were pre-canned interviews released right after the episode aired about how “this won’t be the end for Culber, stay tuned!” It was almost like they knew that this was so hilariously bad, how it was thoughtless, emotionless and sends a strange message for a show that was billed so heavily about being inclusive where the gay Puerto Rican doctor was the most expendable member of the crew just to move the story forward. The original Star Trek had those red shirts for this very reason. Killing off Culber wasn’t more effective because we know a bit more about him, it was ineffective because we barely know enough to care about him. If they use some Mirror Universe or Spore Drive shenanigans to bring him back that just further makes it meaningless. Why bother?

There’s also the fact that Tyler’s turn was such an easy thing to predict, seeing as though they did a rather mediocre job of obscuring it, then sort of just dropped it altogether, then in this episode advanced the storyline rather quickly like they had forgotten to do it prior and needed to get his character to a certain point to bring him up to speed with the rest of the characters in the plot.

I get that PEAK TELEVISION has no time to let things ferment, but they really need to slow this show down a bit. Just a bit.

Star Trek Discovery Episode Nine; or, Is This Finally Not Sucking?

What does an out-of-work writer who is intentionally not working to care for his toddlers do with the few, fleeting moments of free time that he gets? He watches the latest Star Trek series, Discovery, then complains about it on his personal blog. Makes sense, right? Television is a pretty okay medium for storytelling and, when done right, can be something really special. Otherwise it’s either just there or it’s downright awful.

This week’s episode of Star Trek: Discovery was the mid-season finale for this year, with the show returning in January. Thus far it’s been a sort of bumpy ride. Sort of. The show started off giving off those strong “JJ Abrams” vibes with the action-heavy stuff that didn’t do much to establish the cast of characters beyond simple tropes before settling into the middle section where they did a lot of talk about characters from The Original Series with it all feeling mildly silly and like the show couldn’t stand on its own feet.

Then it finally started to come into its own. Yeah, there are still major, major fucking problems with the show and they are bound to come up again because, well, this is the ditch they chose to dig with this series. That being said, the final two episodes before the winter break were, well, pretty good. Last week’s show I didn’t have a lot of complaints about it. Sure, there was some bullshit, but it wasn’t astounding. This week, sure, there was some bullshit, but less-and-less of it actually mattered. The show actually felt like it was standing on its own and blending in the action well enough with the actual character stuff where things kinda sorta feel like they matter?

Sure, Lorca’s obnoxiously-cartoony ambiguity and “shades of grey” for a Star Trek world are still there, in fact, they are what led the crew to being marooned at the end of the episode. Why? Because he knows he’s in trouble and, once again, he’s willing to risk the lives of his crew for his own, stupid hide. It’s befuddling that a guy that killed his whole crew and saved himself, who is this insane, somehow made it through Starfleet’s rigorous command program. To top it off, nobody saw that he was unstable and undeserving of his own command yet again, well, until a few episodes ago.

They wanted to give him a medal, actually. Because he saved the day while completely ignoring orders. While this happens in Star Trek, often, even, there’s usually a base level thrown down of how important these rules and regulations are and that these captains will only take risks if there is absolutely no other risk. I get it, not everyone is a boy scout like Picard or as willing to do whatever it takes to do the absolute right thing like Sisko, but we’ve got years and years and years of this hammered into our heads: Starfleet Captains are the highest order of humanity/the Federation. The ones that aren’t are weeded out pretty quickly.

The show’s very premise is on Michael Burnham being not just demoted, but imprisoned for disobeying an order and holding what most would consider a soft mutiny. In fact, that whole thing has been more-or-less dropped completely, which is sort of astounding. It was a really stupid storyline anyway, but it’s just sort of gone. It feels like Lorca’s evil ways are going to somehow lead to Burnham not only moving up in ranks, but being awarded the fucking Discovery. Am I crazy for thinking that? Maybe it’s that I just finished watching season two of Stranger Things where just about everything that we called happening happened. At a certain point it just felt insulting.

The former first officer is straight-up dead because she was just as fucking ridiculous, stupid and cavileer with Starfleet regulations as Lorca is, leaving Saru. Look. Saru is a nice guy and all, but his complete inability to handle a first contact situation with the Pahvo and his aversion to any sort of risks sorta paints him as completely incapable of command. There was that one episode where he was in command and he was completely inept. They haven’t done much to build up his character outside of those two episodes and, well, he just doesn’t seem the captain type, does he? So there’s a chance that Burnham goes from detestable mutineer to captain of the fleet’s most capable and experimental ship all because the current captain is some cut rate villain that somehow completely avoided medical and mental scans to show just how fucking nuts and awful he is.

See, this show brings me to these strange asides. This episode wasn’t awful! I kinda liked it and it felt like the show was finally getting on track a bit. Because, like I said, it didn’t try to fuck with the Trek canon too much, it didn’t try to pander to older fans too much by completely destroying things that they vaguely remember, nor did it rely solely on action as the tool to propel the characters and the plot forward. Yes, there was action, but it wouldn’t feel out-of-place compared to, say, Borg-era TNG or Voyager where there were complex plans in place to fight off the Borg by outsmarting them instead of overpowering them. That’s what happened here and it was a nice, brisk change of pace from Lorca being a homicidal maniac.

The crew was left in a precarious position, with Anthony Rapp’s Stemets ready to stop taking psychedelic trips into the land of mycelium because it was remapping how his brain functions, only for Lorca to throw a wrench into the whole thing to save his own ass. So we have the ship’s crazy, unsustainable drive no longer functioning, its head of engineering probably fried, a Klingon torturer on the ship, the admiral that Lorca both bedded and abandoned to the Klingons to keep his post and they’re stuck in a location that they can’t pinpoint.

This feels a bit like Star Trek and I’m actually looking forward to watching the rest of the season, where I’ve been sort of dreading it prior. Good job.

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.

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?

Star Trek Discovery Episode Five: Morality and Peak TV Poison the Well

There’s a lot of weight involved with the history of Star Trek. In part, this is why prequels to what is already a very fleshed-out universe can tend to be more divisive than previous iterations of Star Trek. We’re here, in the middle of the second prequel to The Original Series, and much like Enterprise earned the ire of fans throughout its historically-maligned run (it’s actually way better than anyone would give it credit for), Discovery is now sort of maddening.

I tend to stay away from reading TV bloggers because they tend to be infuriating. This idea of “peak TV” has turned television blogging into praising the same few, tired tropes that have proliferated their way into just about every “important” television show. It’s not that these things are exactly bad, it’s just that too much of the same thing can grow tiresome. When it comes to Star Trek, though, I’m not quite sure that the peak TV ideals work into the Star Trek universe, yet, here we are, with a “Peak TV” Star Trek and I guess that people sort of like it? But what I hear from a lot of other people that I know dig Star Trek is a resounding “meh, but it’s Star Trek, I guess.”

So here we are, episode five of Star Trek: Discovery and I’m just a blank slate. It happened and while I wasn’t super angry about it, I wasn’t super happy about it, either. This idea of a big, cohesive story arc sounded great in theory. Remember the great Star Trek story arcs? TNG had the Borg, DS9 had the Maquis, the Prophets, the Dominion, Voyager was just a big story arc and Enterprise had the Temporal Cold War and the Xindi. So a story arc isn’t exactly new to Star Trek, but there doesn’t seem to be room for anything else. In a way, it’s suffocating. Star Trek being as focused as a short-run series doesn’t feel right. There’s always a focus on the characters, on the smaller, unaffiliated planets that Starfleet stumble upon and make contact with or have moral dilemmas over.

Morality plays a huge part in Star Trek and any attempt at morality here feels hamfisted and like the show is trying too hard to play into ambiguity or the idea of antiheroes without giving a reason to care about actual heroes. Everyone is fucking awful, nobody gets along or trusts each other and most of the characters feel like complete, selfish pieces of shit with only Michael being punished for doing something that wasn’t really her actual fault. The idea is supposed to be that Captain Lorca is morally ambiguous, perhaps a bit on the “darker” side of the spectrum, but it kinda doesn’t work? He doesn’t have moral dilemmas in his decisions, instead there are simply decisions made by Lorca and other members of the crew that, in the realm of Star Trek, should require a lot of thought, a lot of struggle and give us insight into these characters. Yet, there’s nothing.

There’s only really one character with any sort of moral compass, which is Michael, our protagonist. Even then, it feels hollow because the rest of the characters are just there, making their decisions and there has been zero repercussions, only minor mulling over of what’s happening. Everyone is at war and nobody seems to give a shit. Stamets is sort of having moral problems, but will very quickly cave in and doesn’t grapple with anything, but we know that he’s gay, which as a focus in Star Trek, seems weird. Because this isn’t new territory, it’s been established that humanity’s views on sexuality has come a long way. I’m not saying that having gay characters is bad, because it’s great, but the way it was presented here was a weird… backpat?

This weird morality stuff with Lorca ditching Harry Mudd in a Klingon prison ship just feels off for Star Trek. This is only ten years prior to TOS, and while the Federation didn’t exist yet and canonically, well, there probably isn’t a Prime Directive just yet (seriously it’s not clear when exactly it was implemented). Yet, since it is so damned close to TOS, we know that Starfleet puts its captains through intense scrutiny, that someone seemingly this mentally unfit to lead is a captain of an insanely expensive and important ship for Starfleet makes almost zero sense. This guy, who blew up his own damned ship and crew, it was revealed, for seemingly hilariously dumb reasons, was given another damned ship. He even gets dressed down by Starfleet in this episode!

I honestly don’t even care if this dude he rescued is a Klingon plant or whatever. Who cares? My god. At least they let their mushroom-tripping super predator that was actually pretty chill once he got stoned go. Can’t wait to see why this trippy mushroom drive ends up being scrapped and never mentioned again in Star Trek canon.

Star Trek Discovery: Episode Four, or, Who Really Cares About Anything?

Imagine a place, a comfortable place that you feel safe in. Perhaps it’s somewhere from your childhood, the kind of place that you ran away to when things got complicated, or you were confused. This is the kind of place where you could always go to and know that you could be you, without worrying about what anyone else had to think about you, without that crushing responsibility or judgement that has grown to define your very existence. Maybe you have this place as an adult, or maybe it existed at some other, pivotal time in your life.

Even if this place was imaginary, it exists and is a powerful image that cannot be erased.

Now imagine something else, something doing its best to conjure up these images, but doing so without the same intent, thoughtfulness or weight. This something is trying to manipulate you, to draw you into this ideal of yours, but the not to comfort or remind you of a time when life was going your way. Oh no. Instead, what’s happening is these images are being conjured, distorted and broadcast because someone was told that this would be a good idea. These images exist, right? These vivid, ultra-lucid memories have such profound meaning for us that it’s a virtual slam-dunk to remind us of these images, even if the substance isn’t there.

Let’s take this a step further, and place these images on a platform, one that functions on a level that tries to beam the refuse that is “Young Sheldon” into your mind in a BAZINGA haze. There’s no point to any of this, none of these images, the platform or anything else have a lick of meaning other than to remind you that at one time you liked something and that a part of you wants to like something again, even though it’s a cheap facsimile: a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy, just with the lines redrawn on each time bolder and more pronounced to cover up the degradation that occurred through each sad iteration.

There’s absolutely no reason to care, outside of an insignia, a title and a promise, yet you are drawn to it because that promise is so strong. That good faith is a folly, because through four, painstakingly mediocre hour-long stretches (which could’ve been shorter if the platform wasn’t beaming periodic intermissions that froze the whole fucking thing) there’s been nothing, absolutely nothing worth a damn, not a single character, plot twist, gizmo or bit of nostalgia. Just simulacra. Just a sad stab in the dark without a rhyme or reason beyond market research and a desire to do something — anything — with an age old franchise but to drag it through the chaparral while on fire because these images have been burnt into our minds, these memories have formed bonds that can be exploited and only a fool would pay $7.99 a month to watch a fading fucking reminder of who we used to be.

Star Trek Discovery Episode Three Was… Not Terrible

So last week I went in pretty hard on Star Trek: Discovery. For good reason, though: it didn’t quite feel like Star Trek. If you aren’t big into Star Trek that’s going to seem like a strange statement because, well, it’s Star Trek and it’s nerdy.

Truthfully, I had planned to write more last night about it, but then Las Vegas happened and it was difficult to focus on anything but that. In fact, it still is. Yet, I’m writing about Star Trek here because who knows.

I’m still hesitant to go all-in on Discovery because there is still that lingering fear that it’s going to be more JJ Abrams than the Trek we know and love, but this was indeed closer to Star Trek than the first two episodes were. In fact, throughout the episode I kept finding myself thinking “why even bother with those two episodes?” They were action-packed, but only really introduced a few recurring characters and while it served for backstory for the lead, Michael, those two episodes were still largely… nothing?

If anything they could have been condensed into one and served as an introduction as opposed to a stand-alone movie with a big name actress to establish our lead.

As a writer, I look at the first two episodes, then I look at the third, and I’m imagining what the third would feel like without that context from the first two and how it could have been a much more effective mode of storytelling to leave that mystery there. Introduce Michael as the quiet “mutineer” in Starfleet trying to redeem herself and sprinkle in her memories of those events as flashbacks throughout the season instead.

That gives the character an air of mystery and us, the viewer, finally seeing the full story unfold through her eyes would allow us to see that her actions that led to her disposition were justified. Instead, we’re to believe that they were and that she was unfairly punished by Starfleet and there is no dawning inside of her that she can forgive herself after self-reflection.

For starting a war, she also got let off pretty easily after a mere episode. Sure, they’ll be uneasy about her and she’ll have to win their trust over, but this whole redemption arc feels telegraphed by their fairly linear and straightforward storytelling method that is more focused on action than introspection.

The pacing was a lot better in this episode, the mystery and horror elements were fine, if sorta ho-hum, but it felt more like a Star Trek episode in that there were problems that needed ingenuity and trust to overcome, albeit not many.

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.

A New Star Trek on a Weird Streaming Service; or, Why Can’t Star Trek Fans Have Nice Things

To say that I’m feeling conflicted about the news that there will be a new Star Trek is to put it lightly. I’ve had my struggles with getting through Voyager, and Enterprise was just almost entirely unwatchable. Yet.

Yet.

Star Trek will always hold a place in my heart, though. I’ll always be willing to give something Star Trek a shot just because of the rich history. There were times when The Next Generation dragged on a bit and yeah, Deep Space 9 was incredible but some of the time traveling stuff became a bit grating after a while, as was the late focus on Chief O’Brien being a schmuck. Give the guy a break, already.

The shiny, new JJ Abrams movies are rather divisive when it comes to Star Trek fandom, with hardcore fans claiming that they are an atrocity while others are okay with the more action-oriented take on classic Star Trek storylines. I enjoyed them for what they were and it was fun explaining the story parallels between the awesome Wrath of Khan and Into Darkness to my wife. Of course, she then couldn’t sit through Wrath of Khan, which may be a huge negative for the modern films. Anyway, they are mostly fine.

Now there is news that there will be a new Star Trek television series debuting in 2017 on CBS All Access. The first episode will air on CBS proper, but then every following episode will stream on CBS’s web streaming service which, dear god, this is an awful idea. Television is really starting to fragment and consumers need to have a variety of subscriptions to keep up with shows now. Like I love the show Community but Yahoo! Screen was a terrible platform for the last season and I still haven’t even finished it yet. Mostly because of how obnoxious of a platform Yahoo! Screen was, and it didn’t even cost money.

The question is this; is Star Trek once again positioned for failure?

I understand on a base level that this is a ploy to get people interested in CBS All Access, but at the same time, putting Star Trek behind a $5.99 a month paywall seems ridiculous. Is Star Trek a strong enough brand name to push people to sign up for a streaming network that feels, at best, unnecessary? Netflix, Hulu Plus and every On Demand give consumers access to just about everything, why start another worthless subscription site and then bury a new show behind it?

What’s worse is that Star Trek fans have been burned so many times now. Voyager wasn’t great, but it had its following, for sure. Enterprise was just not good, with only the hardest of the hardcores sticking with it for the entire run. The show just wasn’t good, though. Michael Dorn (Worf) has been attempting to get his own Star Trek show picked up for ages and this apparently won’t be that, so really, what is this going to offer Star Trek fans? The films have already taken on a drastically different tone than the rest of the franchise, the last few series weren’t great, why can’t Star Trek fans have nice things?