For season one of Star Trek: Discovery I did my best impression of a television writer for a moderately popular blog if they weren’t hired to simply fawn all over everything to make readers feel like returning to see their beliefs affirmed. Somehow I find myself in the unenviable position of neither being the target audience for Star Trek: Discovery or a raging conservative asshole upset at the progress in the show. Instead I’m simply a person that enjoys Star Trek and happens to also be a writer who enjoys dissecting stuff that I like or dislike because it helps me to better understand my own taste and shortcomings as an artist.
If it makes you feel better we’ll just call it criticism.
I was both critical of season one’s pandering and “Peak Television” shortcomings, and praised the actual, strong characters, the acting and the good intentions of Star Trek: Discovery. The characters are all pretty good! Michael is an interesting character even without the dumb links to Spock and his family, Tilly is an absolutely believable, chipper-but-nervous ensign that you know we’ll follow and watch grow, Saru is a dynamic character that is always learning more about himself and his capabilities, Stamets was an asshole that was slowly humanized over the span of the season and so forth.
Now, there were also a bunch of really shitty characters, but that’s to be expected, right?
My main issue with Discovery is essentially the same as it was for the first season: knock off the obtuse links to the Original Series, cut out the PEAK TELEVISION OOOOH STORY ARC ONLY stuff and slow the fuck down. The magic of Star Trek wasn’t the big ship battles or the gun fights. Those occasionally happened, but were usually cheesy and due to budget constraints much was left to the imagination. The thing is, that was always sort of the charm of Star Trek. The big budget, JJ Abrams blockbuster brand of Star Trek is a lot closer to… JJ Abrams Star Wars and it is more than just the slick, modern designs, the lens flares and convoluted plot twists.
The other day someone on Twitter succinctly summed up what Discovery is: Star Trek with only the action episodes, the one-offs are cut off because of the short seasons. This is, well, pretty much true. Star Trek has always had long story arcs, but the show was able to divert its focus on what I guess would now be called “filler” episodes. You know, the ones where they actually explore the characters in settings beyond war and typical action cliches?
You know why characters like Worf, Data, O’Brien and others are legendary Trek characters? Not just their longevity, but their respective shows’ ability to show them exploring other aspects of their lives outside of at their jobs. Throughout Worf’s time on screen we got to see his struggles as the first Klingon Starfleet officer, his battles with identity being raised by human parents, his attempts to re-integrate with his Klingon family and ultimately creating his own, hybrid family. Viewers got to see him love and lose, to figure himself out, to be a single parent, to falling in love with a damned Trill, then having to agonize over the Trill parasite moving to another body after his wife died.
There’s a whole world of stories to be told about the crew of Discovery and the show is instead opting for being a run-of-the-mill action-sci-fi show. We already have the Expanse out there for big budget space opera PEAK TELEVISION.
The first episode of season two was literally everything about the first season that I both enjoyed and hated wrapped into one, which means that the show will not change or evolve any time soon. First seasons of Star Trek can be a pretty bumpy ride, with virtually no Trek series having a really stellar first season. There’s always a feeling out process before the show settles into itself, but the issue with PEAK TELEVISION is that the structure of presenting a show as a well-crafted, absolutely always intentional show that always knows exactly where it’s going while giving subtle winks and nods at the viewer underneath the slick veneer of special effects, production, dramatic lighting and camera angles doesn’t allow for this exploration process.
I get it, producing Star Trek is expensive, but the thing is, smaller, more intimate stories don’t have to be. There don’t have to be big explosions, breathtaking scenes in space dodging asteroids and everything else. That’s not what Star Trek has to be to impress its viewership. This isn’t Star Wars where if fans aren’t treated to the Skywalker family saga with lightsaber fights and THE FORCE that viewers won’t stick around. Star Trek was always the ying to the yang of the major popcorn competitor in Star Wars.
What’s frustrating is that this team could clearly hit this out of the park, which is demonstrated by the few “Short Trek” episodes that came before this season. Those were, excuse me here, fucking incredible and exactly what I want out of Star Trek. I’m even willing to forgive the TOS fanservice of Harry Mudd’s continuing existence in this prequel timeline because his episode was fun! These shorts were the heart and soul that Discovery was missing and they’re just fun little things that were released as hype for the second season.
Fuck Captain Pike, fuck Spock, fuck all of this fanservice nonsense and constantly redesigning the Klingons to look cooler, the constant war and need to make Trek all about pew pew and not the sense of discovery, awe and exploration that made Star Trek the franchise that it is today. So no, trade disputes in Star Wars may be obnoxious and stupid, but that kind of stuff in Star Trek has always been the backbone beyond the Klingon wars and Borg invasions.
This is all a long-winded way for me to say that I’m gonna keep watching, but not going to bother writing about the show anymore. It is what it is, you’ll either love it or hate it, but it’s not going to change or evolve much. In fact, it feels sort of doomed at this point considering CBS will be launching the Jean-Luc Picard show at some point in the near future and the next installment of the JJ Abrams films was put on hiatus. It won’t take long for CBS to notice that nostalgia for The Original Series is rooted more in the film series that followed the cancellation of the show, not the show itself, or that TNG was not only a better show, but connected more with a more diverse audience thanks to airing in the 90’s, being put into syndication and then getting a third life on streaming services like Netflix.
So while I’m glad that there’s more Star Trek right now, that the franchise continues to move forward with social issues, diverse casts and crews and reaching modern audiences, I just don’t see the point in getting too invested in a show that feels both doomed and like it’ll never live up to its full potential. Sorry, Michael.