Produced by CBS Television Studios in association with Secret Hideout and Roddenberry Entertainment
Created by Bryan Fuller and Alex Kurtzman
CBS All Access
January 17 to April 18, 2019
Following almost immediately the events of Season One, the crew of the USS Discovery, now captained by Christopher Pike, must investigate the source of seven mysterious signals along with the identity of a being Spock calls the Red Angel.
This will be a two-part blog since I like to keep things relatively short. I have issues with this show and this season and will do my best to explain them here. I was convinced to give Season Two a shot because it was said to be an improvement over Season One and Season Two would add context to Season One. What they meant by the latter I do not know. There were characters and plot elements carried over from Season One as one would expect but this season did nothing in the way of “context.”
During Season One, Saru (Doug Jones), Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs), and Tilly (Mary Wiseman) were character bright spots in a series filled with most unappealing characters. Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) was on his way to being enjoyable as well. With Lorca sadly being removed in a bad parallel universe story, we are only left with Saru, Tilly, and a much improved Stamets though the latter is saddled with a milquetoast romance with Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz). Cut Stamets free and deep six the passionless Culber. There is no chemistry. Tryout a few one-off characters for Stamets before settling on somebody.
Adding to the good characters in this show is Anson Mount as Christopher Pike and Tig Notaro as Jet Reno. Pike is a charming, duty bound character with a twinkle in his eye while Reno is best described as a sarcastic a**h**e. The name though sounds like a kid’s science fiction show character. Good character. Bad name. Both give strong and engaging performances. Reno is especially a highlight but is not in nearly enough of the show.
At some point between the minutes of Season One ending and Season Two beginning, Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) became deeply connected to the rest of the crew. She now would lay down her life for them and they for her. She wept this season when they were in pain and was there to lift them up. Huh? When did this all start? There was no time between the seasons in the sense of timeline for this change in her character.
In Season One nobody trusted her, and nobody felt safe around her. She was “dangerous” though she really was not. She was just cold and stiff and had an attitude problem. Tilly hesitantly extended friendship towards her but Burnham swatted that away regularly. Now they are all best buds.
And Burnham is…emotional. She is either all pain or all happiness depending on the particular moment. The extremes are like taking a trip on the Bi-Polar Express. She is a brand-new character that is still less appealing than some of the supporting players.
And the series needs to make everything Burnham does awesome and her so very correct all the time. One thing that jumped out at me about the season opener (“Brother”) involved a one-off character named Connolly (Sean Connolly Affleck) who came from the Enterprise to Discovery with Pike. He is introduced in the first few minutes of the episode and immediately begins butting heads with Burnham because he feels he knows more than her. It was needlessly adversarial in the context of the story. He was not a character but rather a two-dimensional plot contrivance to show how correct Burnham is. Burnham and company are zipping through a debris field because now Starfleet has tiny fighter-like things to personally pilot. Connolly and Burnham are again bickering over what to do when his vessel gets smashed by debris and our central Mary Sue is proven correct.
Normally in Star Trek a character death is mentioned after the action or referenced in some way. Even something as minor as the captain putting down a PADD and referencing they are working on a letter to the family. Connolly though was forgotten the moment he died though his commanding officer is portrayed as being a conscientious and caring captain. It was as if the impact deleted his existence from reality. But Burnham was right because she is SO AWESOME! No character redemption for Connolly or emotional impact of his death.
It was my sincerest hope that the whole romance with Voq/Ash (Shazad Latif) was done with at the end of Season One or at least a reduction in its prominence. Nope. It is back and plays a prominent role in events. Worse, there is still no chemistry between Tyler and Burnham STILL and now we also have a distinct lack of chemistry between the L’Oreal (Mary Chieffo) or whatever her name is and Tyler or whatever his actual name is. There was chemistry when he was still a Klingon but now, he is this conflicted whiny human Klingon type thing and it is just awful.
L’Rell though is improved from Season One-at least by the end of Season Two. She is more classically Klingon in her actions during the climactic battle than previously. In fact, that moment for all the Klingons was the most Klingon moment of the show. Klingons get super jazzed by battle and finally these noble warriors get to do that.
And why the need to rewrite the backstory of Spock (Ethan Peck taking over for Zachary Quinto who took over for Leonard Nimoy who cannot be equaled)? First he was given an adoptive human sister that was never mentioned or implied at all. Sybok (Laurence Luckinbill) was bad enough, yet forgivable, since he was done with after Star Trek V but then they double down on it with this new character that has a series centered around her. Worse yet there is always a divide between Sarek (James Frain) and Spock because he was not fully Vulcan and yet Sarek embraces a human girl that survived of all things a Klingon terrorist attack. She was waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay more significant to him than Spock. I am getting off track here though.
Spock has apparently had a lifelong vision that is a brand-new thing to his backstory. These have bothered this autistic (in a nod to what some fans have theorized or he has represented to them) individual since his youth. They imply a threat to all life in the galaxy and these visions having returned have driven him to a breaking point. Fast forward to TMP and his connection to V’Ger. You would think Spock would have learned his lesson and said something immediately after the revelations and events of Season Two to Kirk or someone when it came to his visions but I guess that no talking order included unlearning lessons.
The divide between Spock and Burnham is insanely complicated. Or nonsensical. Take your pick. I am still not understanding it myself. It seems petty at best. Convoluted at worst. I am still not 100% clear on why they have not talked in so long. At times it sounds like it is because of Sarek’s attachment and apparent preference of Burnham over Spock. At others it sounds like it has to do with the Logic Extremists.
Amanda Grayson (Mia Kirshner), Spock’s human mother, got pushed front and center in Season Two. This portrayal has little in common with the Jane Wyatt or even Winona Ryder performances. Formerly a reserved and controlled woman, she is all attitude and anger here. She does not control herself and I cannot see how she would survive in Vulcan society. The original Amanda could fit in. Worse yet they gave Sarek and Amanda a dysfunctional marriage. These two people barely like each other from the looks of it. If you are portraying a character in a prequel series, you kinda gotta go with what was done before but Kurtzman is not that good.
Another issue. They even screwed up Yeoman Colt. Admittedly a VERY minor character in the Trek Universe, she was first introduced in the first TOS pilot “The Cage’ and was a very human individual played by Laurel Goodwin. In Discovery she has spikey red skin and is played by stunt actress Nicole Dickenson. Maybe this was a mistake on their part. Maybe whoever was creating characters only read the name and character and went no further. I am willing to believe the latter.
My main problem with the show when it comes to characters is that Kurtzman and company decided to focus on one character when Star Trek traditionally had an ensemble cast so that multiple themes and ideas could be explored. The ensemble approach allows for fan favorites to come forward while less interesting characters could step back and either be developed better or remain in a support role. Nog (the late Aron Eisenberg) and Garak (Andrew Robinson) of DS9 were both minor characters that grew in prominence as the series progressed because it was an ensemble. Data (Brent Spiner) and Worf (Michael Dorn) were supporting players on TNG that once they clicked with fans got more to do. Even Spock in TOS got more to do once fan mail started rolling in. A show with a clearly defined central character prevents that. They developed into something worthy of prominence. Burnham has not.
Let me reference Family Matters for an example. Family Matters was ostensibly a vehicle for Reginald VelJohnson who played Carl and Jo Marie Payton who played Harriette, but this was not blatant in the structure of the show nor pushed overtly by the people behind the show. Steve Urkel (Jaleel White), once introduced, became popular with fans and became the center of the series. You may not like him, but Urkel gave the show staying power. My point is an ensemble cast allows for the good to be focused on and the bad to be pushed back.
Discovery has a star and focuses on one character that ranges from unappealing to just okay and you cannot necessarily fix that by pushing others to the forefront given she is the stated star and her character is most certainly the focus of everything. Nothing can occur here without Michael Burnham being connected to it so the creators are stuck.
Short Treks, the minisodes, have now become a part of the series story. At least in the finale. Bad idea. Not everybody will watch them either because they do not wish to do so or because they just have not gotten around to it. It can make for a confusing narrative if they are heavily referencing things you have not seen. Me Hani Ika Hali Ka Po (Yadira Guevara-Prip) becomes an important presence in the final battle and is a bit of a Mary Sue in helping them overcome all the hurdles they encounter when using the time crystals to power the time suit so they can time travel just in time to save time this time…or something.
Po, as she likes to be called, appeared in the first Short Trek “Runaway” where she and Tilly bonded. I had not seen it myself at the time I watched the finale, so it brought everything to a halt. I thought I had missed an episode or something. I was viewing this on disc after all.
“If Memory Serves”, the Discovery episode featuring the Burnham/Spock excursion to Talos IV, felt forced. With any prequel series, it is inevitable that there will be references to what came before (chronologically after) but this show is desperate to connect itself to TOS and anything else it can get its hands on rather than try to stand on its own while at the same time exclaim that it is its own thing. I know that this will be a nitpick, but if you are going to show footage of an episode from a different series in the opener then you might want to keep the aliens looking the same. They redesigned the Talosians here. Plus they cast men in the roles.
Originally the Talosians were played by short and thin women with male voices dubbed over to imply that the Talosians had let their bodies atrophy in favor of their minds. That is sophisticated thinking that this show lacks. Here the Talosians are rather stocky in appearance.
The Talosians could create sophisticated illusions and inflict pain but this episode implies a greater level of ability than previously demonstrated since they can somehow fix Spock’s brain since he is having trouble processing his visions. Spock sought them out to fix his mind. How would the power of illusion or the ability to inflict pain do that? A skilled Vulcan mild melding would be the logical choice for help. This episode reminded me of what JJ Abrams did with Star Trek Into Darkness. There as here the creative minds decided to ride the coattails of a far superior story. This was not a call back or an Easter egg. This was a display of a lack of creativity and an awareness that they could not create something good on their own.
And what is with the Red Angel? The name sounds like a comic book character. It is like a comic book movie character was shoved into a Star Trek TV show. And they get a cool Iron Man suit as well with all the Marvel gadgetry. What we have is a comic book movie threat/plot idea in a science-fiction universe that is not a comic book science fiction universe.
Then there is Control that is an artificial intelligence that can and is going to wipe out all sentient life in the future. They are ripping off the plot of Terminator here. When did Skynet get into Star Trek? A killer computer intelligence is stuff you would find in other franchises but not in Star Trek.
Speaking of Terminator, Leland (Alan van Sprang) feels like a total rip-off of part of the plot of Terminator Genisys. In that film John Connor (Jason Clarke) is converted into a liquid metal Terminator by another Terminator (Matt Smith) posing as a Resistance member. Leland gets a similar upgrade in the episode “The Red Angel” when Control injects nanites into him as part of the plot to begin wiping out the galaxy just because. Why Control has set its sights on galactic genocide is a little fuzzy. Something to do with it being a logical extension of its programming. Where it got nanites better than anything the Borg had is a bigger mystery.
Since they are blatantly taking from Terminator, we get time travel with the machine intelligence. Present Control is kind of working with Future Control to make Present Control sentient but why could not Future Control just give Present Control the information it needed to achieve sentience? Considering Present Control has all these plots and plans to become sentient does it really need the Sphere Data? (Discovery was led to a big sentient space rock that wanted to give away all its accumulated information before it died.) It seems pretty alive and self-aware. It has taken control of Section 31 and is well on its way to controlling Starfleet so what is the point?
And when Leland was killed, and Control was neutralized, and all the Section 31 ships were dead in the water why did Discovery have to continue to the future? Wasn’t the threat over? Control was no longer an issue so the future was altered and the tomorrow of complete devastation was not coming.
Control did not feel like it was built up to. It felt more as if it was just dropped in there. They decided on a season finale and needed a cool excuse to get there rather than develop a story. There was no indication of something else going on. No clues sprinkled along the way. It was a previously unmentioned thing that had become a threat the moment it was explicitly introduced. In a serialized show that stands out. There was no real plan other than them needing to produce a certain number of episodes.
And couldn’t they have transferred all the Sphere Data into a particular section of the computer or a particular device and shot it with a phaser or removed the isolinear chips storing the information and destroyed them then? That was my first thought. It has been done before in Star Trek. Not the destroying but the isolating and removal. Or beam the chips out into space in a broad dispersal pattern so that the molecules do not reassemble. That was done in the original series to a living being. I think it would work for equipment.
This show has problems beyond the above. Read the conclusion of my review in one week.