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 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 show is clearly being written by a group of people largely unfamiliar with the Star Trek Universe beyond the reboots. And those reboots were created by people that liked Star Wars over Star Trek or were unfamiliar entirely with Star Trek. That is not a bad thing necessarily. Nicholas Myer, who brought us the Trek film highpoint Wrath of Khan, was unfamiliar with Star Trek but did familiarize himself with it enough to create a masterpiece. The people here cannot even do enough homework to make something passable.
As I said when discussing Season 1, Section 31 was a secret organization that while technically authorized by the Starfleet charter worked independent of Starfleet and was unknown to Starfleet at large. As much was stated in the DS9 episode “Inquisition” in which their existence was revealed. In the world of Trek there is Starfleet Intelligence and then there is Section 31 which acts independently of, well, everybody. According to agents encountered in DS9, Section 31 was authorized by Starfleet Charter: Article 14, Section 31 which according to the agents allowed for extraordinary measures to be taken in times of extreme threats. Odo held this view as well. For Section 31 those extreme threats never ended. There was always another. They had no headquarters or clear leadership or even a fleet to call their own. Starfleet at large was their unwitting accomplice.
Here they are an integral and well-known and even feared Starfleet apparatus. Before they worked in secret to maintain the paradise that was Earth and the utopia that was the Federation. Now they have badges and uniforms and an easily identifiable fleet. They exist now for lazy writers and producers to give intrigue and menace to the world of Star Trek and do “we are the villain” stories relentlessly.
Unwittingly they have turned the Federation into an authoritarian power with secret police force that is firmly in charge of things. How is that comparable to the hopeful vision of tomorrow created by Roddenberry? Section 31 no longer challenges Federation ideals to provide drama. It IS the Federation ideal.
Consistency is key in cooking and as well as in television. You fail to do that and what you are making can be ruined. In Season One they mentioned and showed the Klingon D7 cruisers, but they looked nothing like the D7s when shown in TOS or other iterations. They looked like leftover designs from the far superior Farscape. When they mentioned the D7s again in Season Two using a hologram, they looked just like the D7s from the original series. And in the battle in the finale they had all the classic traits. I do not think consistency is too much to ask. If they wish to redesign, then stick with it. Otherwise it looks like you were embarrassed because somebody pointed out you did not know what you were doing.
And now the Klingons all have hair. This was just a heavy-handed and clumsy way to fix inconsistencies between this half assed show and previous incarnations of Star Trek. I was not thrilled with the redesign but if you must then stick with it. Do not split the difference. Own it. Rather than approximating the look of the Klingons starting in TMP, they look like they should be on a fat farm. It looked like every Klingon was suddenly built like Klingon Chancellor K’mpec (Charles Cooper) from TNG.
Once again I must bring up that the amount of knowledge of cybernetics they have seems to far outstrip anything scene in TNG or even Voyager. Airiam (Hannah Cheesman) appears to have had a significant portion of her body and brain replaced. This was something unseen in TOS (which occurs 10 years later) and TNG. Biological replacement was easy and favored apparently in the Federation with cybernetic replacement possible a century later but not to the extent of Airiam. In DS9 they tried to seriously replace organs of Vedek Bareil (Philip Anglim) in his final appearance of the series so he could keep advising the weak Kai Winn (Louise Fletcher) in negotiations with the Cardassians. He died because the technology was not as good as it is here in the past of the Star Trek Universe.
You may note Geordi LaForge (Levar Burton) but his implant was implied to be experimental and was stated to cause discomfort. He eventually got eye-like implants in the movies. In a world that could make new body parts his prosthesis was illogical. My point here though is the technology that allowed for the VISOR was experimental. Even what Bashir did to Bareil was sketchy territory yet here significantly more involved work is no biggie.
The Borg, the most prominent cybernetic species in Star Trek, represented the loss of individuality in the face of technology by being more machine than flesh. Here people happily give up individuality by being hacked to tiny bits and needing to go to Space Jiffy Lube at times. They lost a message in favor of trying to look cool but looking cool is more important than being good to these people.
Did Starfleet stop with the pods? The pods that are commonplace in the world of Discovery would have been a big help in, say, Wrath of Khan. Yes it was a training mission but I would presume that even during a training mission a training vessel would have most of its needed equipment on so that the crew could get some experience doing what they had to do but they were nowhere to be found. Even if the Enterprise did not have any, I would presume that the Reliant would have some. Khan most surely would have used them to get on Enterprise. That is not the only point that these would have been very useful in Trek canon. It just stands out in my mind.
In a fictional world with as many filmed hours mistakes are a given and forgivable. Not knowing about this or that bit of minutia is fine. What they have missed though are hard to miss aspects if they perused even just a handful of episodes. It was as if they just decided to slap Star Trek on something and included obligatory references without caring enough to make it feel as if it fit.
In Star Trek, Klingons are a species that looked down on scientists. That was established in several episodes of other series. Set aside that scientists created the weaponry that Klingons use for glorious victory because if you do not you will realize Klingons as presented make no sense. They looked down on intellectuals in general since they never engaged in battle. In Season One they were shown to have serious medical technology in the instance of Voq/Tyler. Here they were apparently looking into time travel technology using the time crystals of Borath as well as having something as mind blowing as paint that is also a listening device.
The time crystals on Borath felt like a rip off of the Orbs of the Prophets from DS9. Time travel was the ability of one of those. Others gave visions or the past or future like the time crystals did. These crystals did all this and more apparently.
Klingons are a warrior race. Their beliefs have been demonstrated to be around concepts of battle. Achieving victory in a struggle if you will. Here now their beliefs are much more Zen and these time crystals give them space magic. It felt incongruous with the introduction of the monastery in TNG. It was a place to get in touch with your inner Kahless and nothing more.
They inject much more humor into this season than in the first. To be honest Season One had no real humor so a single knock-knock joke might have worked to give Season Two more humor. Early in the season they do an awkward elevator scene that is lighthearted in which the Saurian Linus (David Benjamin Tomlinson) does a bit reminiscent of Dann (Mike Henry) from The Orville. They heard the fan complaints and decided to just blatantly take from what some vocal critics were saying was better.
For a show called Discovery they do very little very little discovering. They travel around chasing a signal or fetching characters but there is nothing discovered. Star Trek is supposed to be a trek through the stars that encounters strange new worlds. Star Trek: The Next Generation was a new version of that concept. Star Trek: Deep Space 9 was, as implied, in a fixed place but it still managed to encounter new things. Star Trek: Voyager voyaged through unexplored space as they journeyed home. Star Trek: Enterprise was Earth’s first real “enterprise” into warp drive. I know that is a stretch that last one, but you get my point. The assorted shows lived up to the name. This does not.
In a show with shallow stories and nothing more than what you can glean from the surface, why expect anything else? The stories of previous Star Trek shows were about more. “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” was about an alien police officer chasing another of his species but was also about racism and hate. “The Measure of a Man” was ostensibly about the disposition of Data but touched on slavery and freedom. The Dominion War arc of DS9 was a war storyline but also asked if Federation ideals could be maintained in a life or death struggle. “Tuvix” while yet another transporter accident episode, presented some difficult moral and ethical choices for the characters to overcome. In the Star Trek: Enterprise episode “Stigma,” T’Pol contracts Pa’nar Syndrome which is on the surface just another space disease but is also an allegory to AIDS. Discovery never gets that far in execution. If they pick up a signal that episode is all about the signal. The episode is just about tracking Spock. Big rock with ancient knowledge. The stories never get beyond the surface.
The season finale is just one big, hard to follow space battle. It is tiny ships zipping around akin to a Star Wars (and other franchise’s) battle. Originally Star Trek battles were to mimic naval battles. This is especially apparent in the TOS episode “Balance of Terror.” Not only did it make them cheaper to film back in the day (ships cost money) but it greatly increases the drama of it all. And it requires some skill as a writer. Here we are gifted with tons of explosions and a generally confusing mess. The naval aspect in contrast to other science fiction realms was an ingredient that helped set Star Trek apart but I guess this is what you get when you hire people that like Star Wars to do Star Trek.
They just miss the mark by so little at times that it becomes frustrating. A little more effort and things would be so much better. They just need to try harder.
Kurtzman and company heard the fan complaints and concerns about Season One. That is obvious and appreciated. What is also obvious is that they were and still are unfamiliar with the world of Star Trek beyond what was done in the reboots. If this series was set in that universe this would all be fine, but it is not. I am not asking to watch every movie or series. There is plenty of reference material out there. Just watch a few episodes and pick up some reference material.
I stumbled across something on YouTube that mostly hits the nail on the head with this show. This video below is a pretty good summation of what Season Two is and what it’s like. It is not really that off-base in my opinion. And it is funny. The tone and structure of Season Two is humorously parodied here.
Discovery suffers from hopelessness. There is none to be found here. Even as downbeat as DS9 could be, there was still hope for tomorrow but not so in Discovery. Things will not get better but remain just as bad.
I went in to Season One desperately wanting to love or even just like Discovery. DS9 was a change in format/structure that while not perfect did demonstrate some potential. And it achieved that potential. Discovery has potential but shows no interest in achieving it in the least.
We have a prequel series dependent on what came before or chronologically after to prop it up rather than try to be its own thing. It screams of them saying “Remember this? We are just like it” yet it is not. TOS, TNG, and so on should have provided the foundation to build something new but not all the other pieces. And those pieces are only used in a superficial way to create something that only has a connection in name only.
Star Trek: Discovery is more like fanfiction than it is Star Trek. Season Two is as bad as Season One in many of the same ways and a few new ones too. Discovery is still bad Star Trek. It gets wrong what it should get right or just simply lacks so much that it should have. The formula is not bad here, but the execution is just horrendous. Skip it. Watch DS9 if you want a good yet different take on Star Trek.