Well, it’s a wrap on season one of the newest entry into the Star Trek franchise. A franchise that, no matter how you look at it, is kind of a Frankenstein’s monster. It just keeps coming back from the dead, no matter how many times it’s killed.
The Original Series, with Kirk, Spock, and the rest, became a classic piece of American science fiction back in the 60’s, because it was somewhat hopeful. It presented humanity as being able to be better, to reach the stars, and do some good things. It flipped a middle finger at the racism that was the norm of the time, and still produced pretty decent science fiction stores along the way.
The Next Generation was, to be as polite as I can about it, an early entry in the attempt to cash in on nostalgia, for some easy money. It ended up being better than that, and put out some of the better sci fi stories on television at that point. The characters managed to grow into interesting people, and while it had it’s share of clunker episodes, overall, it proved itself a decent enough show.
Deep Space Nine went a different direction. It explored how humanity, in the world of Star Trek, faced war with an enemy who would do literally anything to win. It dragged noble souls to the brink of the abyss, and made them look into it, questioned the principles they held, and if I am to be blunt, foreshadowed the very thing the United States has become. It was also gripping science fiction, because it did those things, while holding true to the principles of Star Trek.
Voyager had potential, that it wasted, like a meth addict wastes money. The longer it ran, the worse it got. It lost even the semblance of being a coherent television series. It still had some pretty good episodes, but for the most part, it was just a disaster, with wildly inconsistent characters, science fiction stories pulled out of someone’s ass, and a total failure to remember what it was that made Trek a franchise in the first place.
Enterprise is a thing we don’t talk about in my house. It happened, but none of us are happy about that.
Basically, what I’m getting at is there’s an arc here. The Original Series started off really good, then nose dived in the third season to be kind of absurd for the most part. Next Generation started off as a cash grab, and ended on a very high note, for the most part, with the final season being some what odd. Deep Space Nine started with some big ideas, and finished with some even bigger ones. From there, it all started going downhill, ending as the Original Series had, with some truly dreadful nonsense.
The franchise, as a whole, has followed the arc the first series established, it just did it over several series. Then the J.J. Abrams reboot happened, and the films did the same. The first one was good, the second one was okay, and the third one was just kind there. If there was to be a fourth, I assume it’d be dumb as a box of rocks.
Which brigs us to Discovery, the first new Trek Series in a while. Now, I’m sure you’ve heard a lot of opinions about it. Some call it brilliant. Others call it Social Justice Warrior propaganda. Some call it innovative. Other’s call it garbage that rapes the corpse of Gene Roddenberry. Some call it the best science fiction series on television. Others want the actors to be publicly burned at the stake for making the universe we live in a desolate hellscape.
In other words, opinion is a little divided.
Overall, however, Discovery, despite it’s unfortunate call sign as STD, has earned more positive reviews from critics and viewers than it has bad ones. Sure, the hardcore Trekkies are screaming into the void that this series is wrong for ethical reasons, or something, because of black women and gay men, but nobody really cares what they think anymore. Star Trek has outgrown the entitled assholes who believe it must cater to their mental jerking off.
It has done this, by going boldly, where Star Trek has never gone before.
See what I did there? Cool, no?
Overall, as a series, Discovery does a lot of smart things, and a few dumb ones. Not enough dumb ones to ruin it as an experience, but still, dumb enough that it made me role my eyes a couple of times. Not hard. Not out the back of my head. More just the way your mom use to when you said something really stupid.
Yes, I know about it. We talk, you mom and me.
The first smart thing it does is with is the main character, Michael Burnham, played by Sonequa Martin-Green. Now, while most hard core Trek fans were in uproar over a black woman heading up the cast, in keeping with Trek’s history of straight, white men leading the way and telling everyone else to mind their place while they solved every problem with two fists and a ton of explosions, Martin-Green just got down to the business of playing her character to the very best of her ability.
A human, who was taken in by a Vulcan, after her parents were killed in a Klingon raid, Burnham grew up the child of two worlds, neither of which she ended up belonging to fully. She is very Vulcan in her thinking. Logical, rational, and almost emotionless. However, she is still a human, and fear is an emotion she has trouble controlling, especially when faced with Klingons. This is what leads her to commuting mutiny, and accidentally starting a war.
Over the rest of the series, she does everything she can to undo her mistake. To end the war as quickly as possible, with as little loss of life as possible. However, this is a task that no human is well suited for, and her attempts continue to fail, leading to even worse things. She is still acting in fear for much of the time, her logical thoughts disordered, and her heart heavy with the guilt of having set all of this in motion.
She faces her inner demons, and even the twisted reflections of her own guilt during a side trip to the mirror universe, where humans are all terrible, and Klingons are heroic. She must face her fear in the most personal way possible, with the revelation that Tyler, the man she is falling in love with, is Voq, a Klingon.
Which I totally called, by the way.
Her story is a human story. We all know fear. We all know how it compromises us. Hopefully, we all know what it is to rise above it. To face it, and overcome it. Burnham’s story is classic Trek, but rather than being completed in a single episode, it spans a season, as fear is not a thing easily beaten.
It is also a story of redemption, as Burham holds true to the principles of the Federation, even when Starfleet is beginning to lose them. As the story draws to a close, Starfleet considers doing something terrible, out of desperation, with the war all but lost. They give in to their own fear, even as Burnham overcomes hers, and finds them a way out, that is in keeping with the highest principles of the Federation.
Fear lead her to starting a war. Overcoming her fear, ended that war.
Trek has always been about exploring humanity, and in Discovery, they explore fear. That’s what the show is about. The exploration of what fear does to us. How it robs us of our ethics, makes us angry, causes us to do tings we wouldn’t normally do. How it compromises us, and takes us to dark places. Willing to make a deal with demons, just to escape it. There is no escape, though, except by facing it, holding true to ourselves, and taming that fear. Fear can’t be beaten, just subdued.
Now, if you ask me, that’s classic Trek, all the way. Everything else is just set dressing.
However, while Burnham is a fascinating character, I can’t help feel like Discovery really dropped the ball with Lorca, the Captain. A good two thirds of the way through the show, this damaged anti-hero character we were watching try to be a good man in the face of war, PTSD, and his own cracking mental state, turned out to actually be evil after all. Not just evil, but not even Gabrial Lorca as we knew him. He was actually from the mirror universe, and was using Discovery’s spore drive to try get back there, overthrow the Emperor, and claim the Terran Empire for his own.
This was… disappointing.
During my mid-season review, I mentioned that Lorca was, in essence, a good man. He was cracked, yes, but not fully broken. He believed in the ideals of the Federation, but his own talents, skills, and experiences were making him struggle to remain a good man. I could see him coming out as an anti-hero, or even, as a self sacrificing Captain that, realizing he was too broken to heal, gave his life for the greater good.
Instead, we got an evil alternate universe Captain who just wanted to be king for a day. Bit of a waste of a great character, if you ask me, though Jason Issacs made him a ton of fun to watch. We’ve never had a Captain in Star Trek who was so… different as his ways.
Honestly, I was rather saddened by the plot twist, as it felt so unnecessary. While it was great to have Michelle Yeoh return as her characters evil doppelganger, it wasn’t anything Lorca couldn’t have done, and been more compelling in, as a prime universe character. Even the attempt to destroy the Klingon homewold, information that could have been gained in the mirror universe, could have just as easily gone to him, without him being from the mirror universe.
Even the finale decision not to do it could have been his, as Lorca saw how far he had fallen to fear, and gave in to Burnham’s pleas to remember the good man he was. I think that would have been a much more compelling story, to be honest, and kept the integrity of Lorca intact, as a man desperate to end the war, but too damaged to see anyway to accomplish that without terrible sacrifice. It would have also set up the principles vs loss of them as the core theme of the show, and held to the compromising effects of fear far better.
Basically, Lorca didn’t have to be sacrificed in a bad plot twist that ended up adding nothing to the show. He could have been the best thing in it, and with as talented as Issacs is, his final moment of pain, of horror and what he had become, could have been truly brilliant to see played out. Of him trying to be a good man again, and surrendering to Burnham’s impassioned plea for him to remember his humanity.
Such a wasted opportunity.
On the other hand, there’s the Tyler/Voq story, which was interesting, even if it did go more or less nowhere. Voq, back in the early episodes, was an albino Klingon who has more or less an outcast, until T’Kuvma gave him purpose. As the Klingon’s entered the war, however, Voq and his followers were cast aside, and Voq himself faced death, saved only by L’Rell, by surgically transforming him into a human, and giving him a new personality, that of Tyler, who would then infiltrate Discovery, and steal it’s spore technology. With that in hand, Voq could then unify the Klingon Empire under a single leadership, and save them from not just the Federation, but from themselves.
A great idea. However, something went wrong, and the Voq persona had to be suppressed to save his life. Tyler become something new, neither human, nor Klingon, and while he was handy to the plot in the final episodes, his ultimate role as a character seems to have gotten a bit lost.
He did help Burnham face her fears, and even, to a degree, overcome her hatred of Klingons. Shazad Latif was also a joy to watch, bringing such passion to both his role as Voq, and his agony as Tyler. His performance as Voq is probably why the Klingons were so heavily altered, as he is unrecognizable under the make up, keeping his dual identity a secret for as long as possible. Sill, it feels as if this was an idea that ended up not going anywhere interesting, unless there are plans for him to return in Season Two.
Yes, haters. There will be a Season Two. It’s already in the works. Can’t stop the signal.
Doug Jones as Saru was a joy to watch all the way through. A new race, Kelpian, Saru comes from a brutal world where his kind have developed the ability to sense death coming. Saru is very much ruled by his fear, but like Burnham, overcomes this to become an exceptional commanding officer, and an inspiring leader to the crew after Lorca’s untimely demise. As always with Jones, his ability emote under a ton of makeup is just amazing, and I don’t think anyone else could have played this character quite so well as he does. It was really a great addition to the series.
Lt. Staments, on the other hand, occasionally annoyed me. Not because he was gay. I could care less that the character was gay. No, it was because he sometimes did dumb and reckless things. The guy is suppose to be a genius, but off and on, he does really stupid things for really stupid reason, because the plot needed him to.
Regardless, I ended up liking the guy more than I didn’t, and Anthony Rapp does a great job of playing him. His slow transition from a know it all asshole to a pained human being just trying to find a way to do the right thing is very well performed, and he does his best to even make the stupid moments seem in character. Overall, a fun character, who sometimes makes you want to roll your eyes.
Sylvia Tilly, played by Mary Wiseman, was the real joy, though. Like no other character we’ve ever seen, Tilly is a nervous, awkward bundle of adorableness. Brilliant, dedicated, passionate, and caring, she struggles in the face of all she faces, and often as not, stammers about in fear. When the time comes, though, she is brave, selfless, noble, kind, and dedicated. She is everything good about humanity, and everything good about Starfleet, all in a messy, real, human way. I loved her so much.
Outside the characters, the plot isn’t bad, and follows through on what it starts. The war with the Klingon Empire, how the crew of a ship with a piece of revolutionary new tech plays a part, and the various mishaps the crew gets involved in as they try to find a way to end the war. The couple of episodes with Harry Mudd felt like fan pandering, and didn’t really offer much of interest to the series. The side trip off the to the mirror universe ended up playing an incredibly important role in the endgame, as well as giving us a closer look at how the Terran Empire, a concept that has fascinated Trekkies since it first appeared in the Original Series, was developing.
It also let Michelle Yeoh be a total badass, though really, it wasn’t necessary, if they had used Lorca more wisely.
Overall, as a story about the Federation at war, it’s good, and hews closely to what Deep Space Nine already did, which isn’t that great, but still good. The final manner of ending the war was done well, and in keeping with what Star Trek is all about. Overall, an enjoyable plot, if a bit mismanaged in places.
Really, it was the characters that kept me coming back week to week. They were very well written, for the most part, and I greatly enjoyed them. The plot was decent enough, and the special effects brilliant.
What it was not, was the worst thing to ever happen to Star Trek, or even a terrible show. It was good, if not great. It was a solid chapter that knew when to embrace canon, and when to ignore it. It told the story it wanted to tell, of personal sacrifice, fear, and redemption, and it did it within the framework of Star Trek. It was certainly a hell of a lot better than either Voyager or Enterprise.
There is one last thing I want to add, though, for all the people who have screamed that Discovery has ruined Trek by embracing feminist or SJW propaganda. This is something I feel needs to be said, too.
The Original Series has a black woman, and an Asian, as bridge officers, during a time when that was considered SJW propaganda being rammed down people’s throats. Which it was, by the way. That was absolutely considered, back in the 60’s, to be some straight up leftist bullshit. It was all the things you scream about Discovery being.
And you loved it.
You are a hypocrite for screaming about it now. Discovery is more true to the vision of Trek than any show has been since the Original Series. It is truer Trek than anything we’ve seen in decades.
You are what is shitting on the memory of Roddenberry, and on what makes Trek great.
Shame on you.
Personally, I’m looking forward to season two, and more great adventures form this bold new era of Trek, as finally get just what we have long deserved from it.