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.