CBS All Access
Created by Bryan Fuller and Alex Kurtzman
This is Part 2 of my thoughts on the story of Spock’s previously unhinted at adoptive sister Michael Burnham and the crew of the USS Discovery 10 years before TOS.
I said last week it is a good show but asked: is it good Star Trek and does it fit in that universe? That is what I focused on and will continue with.
Why is Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) considered such a threat? What exactly is so dangerous about her? She did attempt a mutiny, but the dialogue and reactions indicate something not equivalent to what she did. All the characters act terrified of her and while she was a mutineer, she was not even a successful mutineer and there is nothing intimidating about her character. She is just a jerk with an attitude problem and a chip on her shoulder really. I guess what qualifies as threatening has been downgraded seriously in the future.
That romance between Burnham and Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif who also played the character Voq who in the end was discovered to be pretending to be Ash Tyler via memory implants that convinced him he was Ash Tyler) was about as tepid and passionless as you could get. Star Trek is not known for hooking characters up with each other. Worf (Michael Dorn) was being linked with Counselor Troi (Marina Sirtis) towards the end of TNG but that was forgotten about and never really referenced by the time Worf set up shop on DS9. That Star Trek series was the only one I can think of that built up and crafted a romantic storyline between two characters. They tried in the final season of Voyager with Chakotay (Robert Beltran) and Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) which left Harry Kim (Garrett Wang) out in the cold but that never felt right. What they did though with Worf and Jadzia (Terry Farrell) felt right and was well done.
Speaking of Voq (Shazad Latif), he is a very interesting character in the context of the Star Trek universe. He is as big of a nobody as you could create as a Klingon. No family. No Great House. No glory in battle when he first shows. And a defect which has made him an outsider. He looked poised to lead the Klingon Empire, yet they sideline him for that dull as dishwater romance with Burnham. He had such potential to be something interesting and unique. His character was psychologically in the mold of previous Klingons. A genuine missed opportunity.
What they do between Burnham and Tyler had zero chemistry. None. I was not invested in it at all. The romance between Anakin and Padme had more of a spark than this. Never thought anyone could do a worse romance than that.
Saru (Doug Jones) whose people can detect danger has a reaction to Burnham and she is clearly no threat to him yet his threat ganglia react to her. Really? More importantly he never had a threat reaction to Lorca who IS a genuine threat.
The alien Saru is one of the more interesting characters Season One has to offer and one that this show could use to do what Star Trek is supposed to do-explore the human condition-yet he is continually sidelined. He could be this show’s Spock as even the producers implied, but he is often reduced to “I am scared” or “Danger!” He had one shining moment in “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum” where he was front and center in the episode and then that was it.
Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs) was quite interesting in my opinion. As originally presented he was more in the mold of Captain Kirk than previous show captains. While not quite the womanizer as Kirk was, he was more take charge and action oriented than his predecessors. Sadly he was dumped in that crappy parallel universe storyline used to kill further use of the spore drive in the series.
Tilly (Mary Wiseman) is not a totally bad character. If you want someone to be a youth stand in character, she is not a bad creation but most of the mannerisms feel like they were stolen from Reginald Barclay (Dwight Schultz).
Harry Mudd (Rainn Wilson) is just all wrong. At no point was he murderous as shown in “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad.” He was only dangerous in that his schemes would have consequences he did not anticipate. Here he is quite murderous-especially towards Lorca.
The show takes place in the prime timeline, yet it lacks from the first episode basic aesthetics of that timeline-including the Klingons. While I disagree with giving them another redesign (I still have issues with the first one) I am more interested in the general look of their technology and with their costuming as well.
The costuming was said to be influenced by feudal Japanese dress in their previous iteration. I know nothing about feudal Japanese dress so I will take them at their word. But the costumes did have a distinct look. And there were elements that had meaning such as the sash that Worf, Kang, Koloth, Kor, and several others. It was worn by them to denote nobility or a noble house as opposed to being a common Klingon. With all the talk of the Klingon Great Houses I have yet to see a single sash. Visual cues like that have vaporized.
What is up with the ships? They have no resemblance to what was done before in color scheme or general structure. Truthfully they look like the Romulan ships introduced in TNG.
The Klingons use terror tactics here in this show. It is repeated often in the series. How does that fit with their long-established warrior code? It does not. It has been stated previously on several occasions the Klingon warriors do not engage in terror. They tend to not take prisoners, but they do not engage in pointless terror attacks or unnecessary torture. They consider it cowardly. At least they have for about 50 years but not anymore, I guess.
Klingon suicide missions? A focus on civilian targets? How does that jive with previous depictions of Klingons? In general though the Klingons are just underhanded and duplicitous. They do not act with the type of honor that they have in the past even under less than optimal leaders (think Gowron as played by Robert O’Reilly). They are closer to Romulans with the greed of the Ferengi than anything.
And what was with the Klingon Ship of the Dead? It is a cool idea, but it does not fit with long established data about Klingons. Since the time of the first season of TNG it has been stated that Klingons do not care about the body. Once a Klingon is dead it is just an empty shell and they do not care what you do with the body. It is part of their long-established spiritual beliefs. In other words, they would not have wasted time collecting the bodies of their fallen comrades in the pilot episode to put them on the outside of their ship. The only time Klingons ever cared about a body was when they were trying to figure out what killed the warrior.
The More Ethereal Things
The show lacks hope. Star Trek from the beginning has been about hope. It is the hope that humanity will be better. It is the hope that humanity will have a future. It is the hope that we can do better and in this show we are just as messed up then as we are now. We sound and act no different.
That brings me to something. Gene Roddenberry banned swearing by and large in Star Trek. This was an effort to show humanity had matured because he felt there was nothing noble in profanity. Here they drop F-bombs and so forth regularly. It is a small quibble but if you are going to do a show that is darker you do not necessarily need to have everybody swearing up a storm. I know this is streaming and you can do more but just because you can does not mean you should.
The half-ass the jargon here. “Time crystals” sounds like space magic. I am referencing the Harry Mudd-centric episode “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad.” Star Trek is known for its technobabble. It is just a bunch of jargon that helps explain the fake science being used. “Time crystals” is a phrase you would find in space opera or enjoyable but ultimately forgettable science fiction. This goes to a need to get the jargon/language right. There is a certain way to talk in this particular future.
Where did the biological difference between the humans in the two universes come from? At no point from TOS to DS9 was there any indication of photosensitivity among parallel universe humans. They were in a darker environment in those DS9 episodes but that was because they were on a Cardassian station and the Cardassians tend to like it dark even though that was not consistently portrayed it was regularly stated. It seems like an unnecessary addition to canon that is not an outgrowth of anything that came before. They just tossed it in because they could.
They miss the mark on their stories. I remember watching a video clip on YouTube (wish I could find it now). I believe it was part of the extras on the TNG series release. The subject told a story of being pulled into Roddenberry’s office one day. They were discussing the episode that would eventually become “Q Who” where Q (John DeLancie) lost his powers.
Roddenberry asked, “What’s it about?” The writer went on to explain how it was Q pretending to lose his powers and leading the crew around and at the end revealing to everyone that it had all been a wild goose chase. The writer told how he explained this and that at the end Roddenberry asked again “What’s it about?” The point was that the stories of Star Trek had to be about more than in this case a character taking everyone on a wild goose chase. Eventually the story became about Q truly losing his powers and finding some humanity in the end.
By and large the stories on Discovery lack being about something more than what can be gleaned from a surface glance. Lorca gets captured. The crew journeys to a parallel universe. The Discovery needs to be in the fight against the Klingons. They often fail to go deeper.
It is heavy on the space battles. It has interesting looking ship designs as well as some good costuming. Visually it is a very beautiful show to look at. And the scripts are not bad even if they are not up to the quality of what came before. They are plenty of “Ooh” and “Ah” moments to be had throughout the show. The dialogue is snappy, and the acting is good. I cannot fault them on those parts. I definitely am excited during the action scenes and the space battles are of a good quality for television.
The bad part about Star Trek: Discovery is that it gets more wrong about Star Trek then it gets right. So much more. It is a prequel series that wishes to ignore completely the information that should inform what occurs in the show. It tries to connect to the previously existing work by shoehorning in characters from the past into the show or mimicking previously used storylines.
Discovery is like getting the off-market version of a toy you really wanted as a kid for Christmas. It is like what you wanted but it is not exactly what you wanted. And somehow you are supposed to be 100% satisfied and not a little disappointed.
I am more than a little disappointed with this present. They could have done better yet they chose not to and that is a real shame. There has been an attempt by the creative forces of Star Trek in recent years to turn it into something it is not nor was it meant to be. It is becoming more Star Wars than Star Trek. The visuals are getting cooler looking while story quality is suffering. And that is a real shame. As I said before it is good television, but it is bad Star Trek. If you are a fan of the bulk of what has been done I would say pass on this. I know I should have.
In the end this is a show made for people that like Star Wars (I do love Star Wars to be clear) and shallow drama. It is not for people that like Star Trek. It is exceedingly disappointing. Star Trek: Discovery is good television but bad Star Trek. Really bad Star Trek.