I’m interrupting my overblown series on ranting at Star Wars to rant this week about another ruined franchise: Star Trek: Discovery.
The second season just finished and I cannot contain myself. The first season was so bad that it almost killed any possibility of improvement. Almost. They then changed the showrunner. They changed writers. They had feedback from the fans. They had feedback from the licensees. Hmmm. Okay, all that amounted to a glimmer of hope. Maybe they could take all that on board and do something with Discovery and make it … Star Trek.
Unfortunately, not. The second season isn’t just an indictment on the second season, but this whole incarnation.
This is not Star Trek. I won’t dignify it by calling it Star Trek.
I may also swear a time or two through this piece.
I’m sorry. I can’t help it.
It’s only because it’s amazing (and destablising) to see shit devolve into diarrhea.
Be warned: there are spoilers – if you could possibly spoil this festering cocktail of sewerage.
Canon Because special effects improve, we accept that aesthetics will be reimagined. I’ll use JJ Abrams awful Star Trek (2009) as an example: visually, it’s beautiful, and (engineering aside) a faithful reimagining of what we saw in Star Trek: The Original Series.
But Discovery? We have a Spore drive that can whisk the ship anywhere instantaneously. We have holographic communication. We have little drone ships. We have little droids that leave the ship and effect repairs.
Moving away from the tech, we have long-distance mindmelds. Spock now has a foster sister. And the Klingons … well, what can you say? I can only guess they were some rejected Orc design from Lord of the Rings.
This isn’t reimagining.
This is reinvention.
Premise If you’re going to position a story as a prequel, there has to be a reason for it.
Example: the Star Wars prequels. They attempt to tell the story of Anakin Skywalker, and how he betrays the Jedi to join the Sith and help the Empire rise. This fills us in on what we only know as hearsay from the Original Trilogy.
Batman Begins (2005) explores how young Bruce Wayne was psychologically scarred by the murder of his parents, how the justice system let him down, and how he left to look for answers. Eventually, he joins the League of Shadows, and gains the training that will help him become Batman.
These two stories can only take place as prequels. They can’t fit anywhere in their respective timelines.
While season one did explore the Federation-Klingon war, nothing happens that we need to know, or genuinely ties that story to this timeframe. It could’ve been any battle at any time. In the second season, the crew of the Discovery investigate the rise of a sentient security program, Control, which – through the introduction of the stupidest temporal gimmick (that I won’t get into) – they learn will destroy all biological life in this universe. (Well, we can hope.) That isn’t timeframe-dependent, even with the inclusion of Spock (Ethan Peck) and Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount). While Discovery pays a nice homage to Captain Pike (then Jeffrey Hunter) from the unaired original Star Trek pilot ‘The Cage’, nothing happens in the seasonal arc that needs these characters. It’s just including them to draw on their marquee value and try legitimise this show. These characters could be anybody. (They should’ve been!)
Which then begs the question: why did this mess (and when they started this mess, they swore they wouldn’t use the Enterprise or any of her crew) have to be positioned as a prequel? Surely, this series could have been set X years after the events of Star Trek: The Next Generation. You could’ve easily run a storyline that an extremist Klingon faction – and possibly one (who were) the result of genetic enhancement (to explain their shit new look) – manipulate events to fracture their alliance to the Federation and go to war in an attempt to return the Empire to its former glory. The season two storyline (if you were intent on trying to constitute drivel) easily could’ve sat in a future incarnation of the show.
And, best of all, we could’ve accepted all the new technology as technological evolution, and removed the temptation to screw with canon.
Characters The Original Series revolves predominantly around Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and Spock (Leonard Nimoy), with a healthy injection of Dr Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley) and Commander Montgomery Scott (James Doohan). Lieutenant Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), Sulu (George Takei), Chekov (Walter Koenig), Nurse Chapel (Majel Barrett), among others, are peripheral characters who often don’t t do much outside of their ship roles. Often. Not always. Every now and again they figure prominently in stories. The succeeding Star Trek series have ensemble casts.
Discovery decided to focus predominantly on one character: Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green). Okay, fine. A new direction. A handful of other characters are given mini-prominence and no development. They just are who they are. As for the rest? The focus on Burnham comes at the cost of leaving peripheral characters no space to do anything but fulfil their ship roles – and even then, nobody is specific to a function. You certainly couldn’t identify them by what they’re saying, the way you knew in Star Trek: The Next Generation that Data (Brent Spiner) would suggest something scientific, that Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) would suggest something emotional or empathic, that Worf (Michael Dorn) would suggest something militaristic, etc. On Discovery, they’re interchangeable. Here’s a fun drinking game: do a shot whenever these peripheral characters exchange concerned sidelong glances. That’s about the most important thing they do. You won’t finish an episode sober.
The one exception is when they dedicate an episode to Lt. Commander Airiam (Sarah Mitich in the first season, and Hannah Cheeseman in the second). She is an exotic looking cyborg-humanoid who generated speculation as to her origins. Then, halfway through the second season, we learn she is human, had an undisclosed accident, and they rebuilt her with prosthetics and a hard-drive memory she has to download. This is a universe in which Captain Pike ultimately ends up in a mechanised wheelchair, and we also see a Discovery crew-member in a contemporary wheelchair. But medical science rebuilt her.
Control infects and takes control of her, she fights Michael Burnham, Burnham naturally beats her and locks her in an antechamber. The Control-side-of-Airiam tries to hack her way out (in which case she’ll kill Burnham), while the remaining human side convinces Burnham to jettison her out the airlock to die in space. (Don’t ask me why they didn’t just beam her into the brig, or into stasis.) The next episode begins with the crew delivering eulogies for five minutes about this beautiful character WHO WE NEVER GOT TO KNOW OUTSIDE OF BEING SCENERY AND THIS ONE EPISODE!
Thumbs up on character development.
But how can we develop characters when everything revolves around Burnham? She starts the war with the Klingon, is responsible for 8,000 deaths in the initial conflict (and who knows how many more because of the war?), and yet she’s returned to command hierarchy. She always has answers. Even when she has no right to have answers, she has them. Whereas in previous Star Trek incarnations, characters would provide answers filtered through their modality, personality, and experience, Burnham somehow consults some boundless (unseen) repository of knowledge to always have an answer. This means those peripheral characters become nobodies. Why would you need them? Why is anybody else actually needed on this ship? If it was just Burnham on the Discovery, you’d lose very little.
The only interesting Star Trek-like character has been the addition of Christopher Pike in season two. He won’t be back for season three. I can only imagine it’s because he’s too Star Trek for this show.
Story Logic This show often doesn’t make sense. It’s just shit thrown at the screen, with very little thought given to it. The two-part finale was no exception and exemplified the storytelling ineptitude. In fact, the two-part finale – and particularly the finale itself – took ineptitude to a new level. If I tried to change a tyre on my car while I was drunk and using only a toothbrush I still could not replicate this level of ineptitude. It’s artistry of clusterfuckian proportions. Others (across the net) would’ve already torn shreds out of the bizarre storytelling choices the writers made, so I’m not going to list every one.
But I will mention this one just to highlight the dumbness on offer: Control (the sentient Skynet-like entity) has fused into the Discovery computer. The crew set the auto-destruct on the Discovery and retreat to the Enterprise. When they try to apply the self-destruct, they find that it’s been deactivated. Captain Pike orders the Enterprise to fire on Discovery. Discovery’s shields are now up.
Control is protecting itself, right? Okay. Let’s buy into that premise (although despite all of Discovery’s increased tech, they haven’t installed a virus or malware checker, or a firewall on their computer). Control is ensuring that the sentient organic lifeforms it ultimately intends to eliminate don’t destroy the Discovery, and thus itself.
But the Discovery crew then go re-board the Discovery (I don’t know how they got through the shields – I guess Control must’ve been nice enough to lower them), and continue using the ship as normal. So Control has no issue letting them back on board? It has no issue with letting them use the ship?
In the finale, the crew of the Discovery get involved in a prolonged battle against Control’s forces of ships and drones. And Control does …? Nothing. It’s assimilated Captain Leland (Alan Van Sprang) as its agent, so presumably could assimilate the entire Discovery crew. Nope. Control just lets the crew use Discovery as normal so they can fight against Control’s own forces. It’s like going to war and arming your opposition.
Hey, guys, you don’t have enough weapons. Let us give you some, and then we’ll pick this fight up again so you can kill us with the weapons we gave you.
This is emblematic of how they plot stories in this show.
How does any of it make sense?
But, Hey, Let’s Forget About It All Here’s how the writers solve the mess they’ve made defecating merrily through canon: they catapult Discovery nine hundred years into the future, with all other associated crew (such as Captain Pike and Spock) telling their superiors everything to do with Discovery should be classified and never mentioned again.
This reminds me of the awful 1998 movie Sphere, which climaxes with the main characters agreeing to use alien-gained powers to forget everything that has happened, so nobody can ever exploit their knowledge.
Presumably, none of the Discovery crew have family who’ll wonder what happened to them. The crew themselves won’t miss them – I’m unsure why the whole crew has to go with Discovery, when it takes only person to pilot the ship (if you couldn’t just use autopilot). And all the aliens Discovery encountered over two seasons will also forget them. And history will forget the instrumental role Discovery played in ending the Klingon war. And how Michael Burnham started the Klingon war. And all the tech Discovery incorporated will be erased or something? I don’t know.
This is the sort of solution I’d expect in a Year 5 English short story.
Visually, Discovery is one of the most beautiful TV shows I’ve seen (if you ignore all the flagrant dumps on canon and tech as we know it). Their reimagining of the Enterprise bridge is gorgeous.
From a storytelling perspective, it takes dumb and builds on it.
And builds on it.
Can they apply this forgetting-power to me? I would like to not remember any of it.
What an absolute assassination and zombification of the Star Trek universe.