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 Star Trek: Discovery Season 1 

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Star Trek: Discovery: Season 1 Review

Today on Sci-Fi Adventures, I feel like I need to write a few more words about all those episodes of this poor troubled space show I just watched. For closure and stuff.

Discovery's not the only Star Trek series to have massive behind the scenes problems during its first season; Star Trek: The Next Generation in particular was famously a mess at first, leading to two of the worst seasons in the franchise's entire run until Michael Piller took over as head writer and got the series on track. Deep Space Nine and Voyager, on the other hand, entered their best seasons when Piller left, and Enterprise finally began to shine when Manny Coto took over. You can kind of see this for the Original Series as well, as many of the best episodes came after Gene Coon was brought on as a producer.

So after analysing this pattern I've determined that for Trek series behind the scenes issues are bad for overall episode quality and a change in showrunner is typically good. But for Discovery the behind the scenes problems included creator Bryan Fuller getting kicked out before filming even started, so does that count as good or bad? I had some opinions on that subject while watching the episodes, but now that I've finished the whole season and I've had time to think about it I'm ready to revise those ratings and decide whether the series is really as terrible as people on the internet think it is, or if it's actually as great as other people on the internet think it is.

It probably goes without saying that this is going to include huge SPOILERS for events in the first season taking place between The Vulcan Hello and Will You Take My Hand? but I'll leave this warning here just in case. Plus I may end up spoiling parts of earlier Trek series and movies as well.



The trouble with Star Trek: Discovery, for me anyway, is that every time I try to think about it observations and opinions start spilling out everywhere. I often struggle for what I want to say about an episode or movie, but for whatever reason I've ended up with way more notes for this than I did for season one of Babylon 5, Deep Space Nine or The Orville. It's a real effort condensing all my thoughts down to a sensible wall of text.

I think part of the reason for this is that on paper, Discovery's first season has an interesting story that weaves together standard Trek tropes like interstellar war, time travel and the Mirror Universe to take the protagonist on a complete character arc. But what actually ended up on screen was a war story where the crew is kept from the front lines, a parallel universe story where the crew disguises the ship and then stays out of everyone's way, and a story about a science vessel that can jump anywhere in an instant, but usually doesn't. Sarek called the crew's trip an 'indescribable ordeal', but even though they're clearly emotionally and physically scarred, most of what we saw them go through involved pushing buttons and occasionally looking concerned. Not that I was particularly looking for the new Star Trek to be an ordeal, but I could've done with less scenes of people talking about all the things they've been through and more scenes of them actually doing those things.

When Discovery was first announced I was worried it'd end up with a Dark Matter sized budget and be incredibly restricted in scope, due to the fact that space series haven't been getting great ratings these days. But instead CBS decided to use the series to promote their new streaming service and gave it a surprisingly epic budget... and yet somehow it still ended up incredibly restricted in scope. Did they spend all the cash on Jason Isaacs or something? Sure the fate of the Federation and the entire multiverse are at stake, but the season is so focused on the personal journey that Burnham and her crew are going through that it feels incredibly claustrophobic and isolated in a way that even early Deep Space Nine doesn't. It feels like they spent as much time in katra or mushroom network visions as they did on away missions and whenever they did boldly go somewhere new they either ran into blue particle aliens/microbes/spores again or an increasingly familiar face. It's like they hit a character limit halfway through and couldn't introduce anyone new after that point. I had zero problems with any of the recurring characters this season, but it would've been nice if they weren't the only people we met in two universes.

I was also worried about what the new folks in charge were going to do with the series, especially once I saw the test footage of the new ship and the leaked photo of the Klingons. I had a quote from that Paramount executive going through my head: "What would 'Star Trek: Zero Dark Thirty' look like? Where is the SEAL Team Six of the 'Star Trek' universe?" Would the people involved in Discovery actually get what Star Trek is about, and even if they did would they care enough to stick with it despite pressure to chase the popular trends? Sure Bryan Fuller was involved, but having a Voyager writer famous for weird horror stories at the helm wasn't entirely reassuring. He was ultimately kicked out, but you wouldn't know it from the grim darkness of first few episodes, with Starfleet at war, a ship full of twisted corpses, our heroes plugging an animal into their engine core, and Klingons casually chatting about how they ate Captain Georgiou. "Everything sucks now, remember when we used to be explorers?" is definitely a place you can go with Star Trek, but after DS9's Dominion War, Enterprise's Xindi arc and Star Trek Into Darkness I feel like that particular well is running pretty dry. Though at least they had the sense to leave Section 31 alone for once, despite how much those guys love getting involved in Klingon drama.

Star Trek is one of those rare science fiction universes where everything pretty much worked out and humanity finally grew up; fans expect Trek series to be comfortable and hopeful and full of loveable characters you want to hang out with every week, and I think most want to keep it that way. We're very protective of our franchise. Not that it has to be sunshine and tribbles all the time, but Trek fans are more likely to get on board when they have confidence that the writers are eventually going to pull it back up from the darkness. DS9's writers spent years earning their viewers' trust, Enterprise's writers spent years getting them bored and desperate enough for a change, but Discovery's writers jumped right into the mud and asked people to take a leap of faith with them. It's like going right to Yesterday's Enterprise, Call to Arms or Azati Prime without any of the lead up. Plus making it a prequel is even worse, because the writers may well have a plan to bring it all in line with canon later but while it's up in the air every inconsistency feels like a mistake and it's an uncomfortable wait for the viewers to see if they can make the landing.

But that season finale was a pretty definite statement on what the writers really think about this franchise they're looking after. It's like a long dark tunnel leading to the possibility of actual Star Trek next season. Though the shifting tone makes the first two episodes feel like a prologue to a season-long prologue to whatever Discovery is going to become. They deliberately tried to give the season a feeling that things weren't right and the end result is a season that doesn't feel right. Though personally I found I was happy enough to go along for the ride and more than a little grateful it was actually doing something with its premise instead of just spinning its wheels.

Uh... you know what I mean.

Alright, now I've said something nice about the season, here's my essay on all the things that annoyed the hell out of me.


THE BAD

Star Trek: Discovery has real problems with visual continuity right now. I'm not just talking about its continuity with earlier series, I'm talking about its continuity with the actual reality we're experiencing in our lives! I'm a Farscape and Babylon 5 fan, I've got no problem with them cheating things a bit for the sake of a pretty shot, but things like the psychedelic nebula and the tiny solar system with the planets all aligned were just bizarre.

But yeah, I can't pretend that I wasn't really bothered by things like the Klingon ships and that redesigned Enterprise up there. It makes sense to change things when you're making the latest Lost in Space or Battlestar Galactica as those series drop their previous continuity each time they reemerge from their cocoons, but Star Trek has had the same continuity for 50+ years now and the producers keep promising they haven't thrown all of it away, so why get rid of the iconic spaceships? Is it to sell new toys? Did Bryan Fuller just really hate the old designs?

Some people have claimed that the original 1960s Matt Jefferies design would've looked hopelessly antiquated compared to the USS Discovery and it was necessary for the guy who designed the Scimitar for Star Trek: Nemesis to come in and update it. But that doesn't make any sense to me as I can visualise what the old ship would look with a modern lighting rig and hull texture and it looks just fine to me... in my imagination. Of course spaceship design is all subjective, but the trouble we've got here is that we can't even compare the two designs and say which we personally prefer because we've only got our mental images to work with.

Star Trek Discovery Enterprise versus classic Matt Jefferies Enterprise design
So there you go, I did an edit to restore the Enterprise's original design and proportions, so now you at least know what I have in my head when I claim it would've looked fine as it was. The lower ship is what we could have seen sailing in at the end of the season if they hadn't messed with the design for no good reason. You can click to display the image at the same resolution of the episode if you want a better look. I realise that it's not the proper pilot version of the ship that showed up in The Cage (and the occasional stock shot during the series) but my art skills are limited and I didn't want to push my luck. The actual visual effects artists could've done a much better job than this if that's what they'd been told to do.

On the other hand, I do really like the look of the redesigned props with their suitably retro look and Discovery herself grew on me a lot despite its boxy mismatched ass and cold plastic-looking corridors. But I find it very easy to accept that there may be more than one kind of gun, phone and spaceship in the universe at the same time, so that's not quite the same thing as changing the Enterprise. They didn't redesign the Aston Martin DB5 for Skyfall and they didn't reimagine Anakin's lightsaber in The Last Jedi, because when you're going for nostalgia you want viewers to be able to recognise the thing they're meant to be nostalgic about! They did change the Millennium Falcon for the new Han Solo movie and the Enterprise herself in The Motion Picture but in those stories we're not supposed to pretend that they always looked like that.

I have noticed that Star Trek is all make-believe and I'm aware that the producers can do whatever they want with it, but the continuity and consistency of the franchise is a huge draw for me. Star Trek is a bit like a historical period drama set in the future, and no one wants to watch a World War II movie where all the soldiers are dressed up like Romans because the production team weren't that bothered about accuracy. Actually, that sounds awesome, ignore that analogy. But I already have a Star Trek series without its history, it's called The Orville. What I want from Discovery is the feeling that it's filling in gaps in a huge mythology that people have been constructing for five decades and I haven't been getting that. Personally I couldn't give a damn about all those familiar planets that characters kept name-dropping throughout the season, but I was so happy seeing the accurate Trills and Orions during the finale; visuals matter a lot.

I'm sure Gene Roddenberry would've been all for this reimagining, considering how he seemed to consider the Original Series to be a flawed, exaggerated portrayal of events that couldn't quite be captured on a 60s TV budget (just like how the characters weren't literally transformed into cartoons for two years of the Animated Series), and honestly I'm not against updating the look when there's a point to it. I'm not a lunatic who wants Discovery to look like it was filmed in 1966; the fan films already have that covered. But Next Gen, Deep Space Nine and Enterprise all returned to and celebrated the style of the original Star Trek at one point, recreating it with obsessive attention to detail, and viewers seemed to pretty happy to go along with that, seeing as Relics, Trials and Tribble-ations and In a Mirror, Darkly are among the highest rated stories of those series. Plus the blockbuster Kelvin movies did a really good update of the uniforms. Twice! For the 50th anniversary series to be so ashamed of its past seems a bit ridiculous to me, especially as this whole season was building up to the reveal of the USS Enterprise!

And then there are the Klingons...

There were three ways they could've gone with the Klingons for the series: the smooth forehead and goatee look established as canon for the time period by the Original Series, DS9 and Enterprise, the biker Viking samurai look that's been around forever and everyone loves, or the Kelvin movie redesign. But they ultimately went with a fourth way: orcs with giant bald rubber heads that obscure the actor's entire face, wearing giant bulky costumes that make it really hard for them to give a good performance. Klingons have had a consistent look since the 80s: changing the makeup for the movies after like seven TV appearances worked out but changing the makeup after hundreds of appearances is just daft. Especially as the Next Gen-era Klingons were able to show more personality through their prosthetics (and they had fantastic hair).

I hope they didn't exaggerate the makeup just to hide that Shazad Latif played Voq, because the guy did such a good job in the role that he and Tyler seemed like separate people to the point where they could've just cast two actors. It worked great on The Flash... not that I need to encourage Discovery to look to that series for inspiration, considering their shared love of bullshit science, parallel universe doppelgangers, and a magical realm the heroes tap into to attain super-speed/advice from dead loved ones. Weirdly the Vulcans, Orions, Trills, Andorians and basically every other alien race all look pretty much the same as they used to, so it seems possible the Klingon retcon was purely a Bryan Fuller decision and the new showrunners were happy to leave all the aliens introduced on their watch alone.

Plus I didn't entirely buy into the hype that we were somehow going to get a deeper examination of the Klingons and their culture here than in the three TV shows with a Klingon in the main cast, but I didn't expect them to basically vanish after the first couple of episodes! I'm not saying I wasn't glad to be rid of them after all that subtitled Klingon dialogue, but I feel like that there should've been a story there and it never appeared. Instead we got L'Rell and her hilariously inept plans that should never have worked and yet somehow never did. By the end I knew that she had to be the one to bring peace simply because she was the only Klingon character left. Though to be fair her actress was pretty good in the role and by the end I thought the scenes of her and Tyler speaking Klingon were really well done. I'm looking forward to getting more of them next season. They could even retcon her back to the original Klingon makeup seeing as visual continuity is apparently optional now!

But the biggest problem I have with this season is that bloody mycelium network. When I eventually seize control of the Discovery writers room by threating to destroy the Earth with a hydro bomb I've planted in a volcano, those mushrooms will be the first thing to be retconned away.

Star Trek's had plenty of pseudoscience, godlike beings, and technology so powerful it may as well be magic over the years (and man did the writers need to read a book on evolution and DNA), but the episodic nature of the series and the vagueness of what was going on has generally helped me maintain my suspension of disbelief. I can roll with a lot of bullshit in my sci-fi, I even enjoy Doctor Who, but saying that 'at the quantum level there is no difference between biology and physics' and using that to justify using spores to teleport the ship along mycelium roots growing throughout all realities makes my brain want to shut down and reboot. It took some real nerve for the writers to make it canon that their mushroom network is the foundation of nature in the Star Trek universe and that destroying it in one dimension will wipe out all life in existence. Plus maybe it's the afterlife too? How am I supposed to enjoy City on the Edge of Forever, The Best of Both Worlds or Wrath of Khan knowing that there's mushrooms hiding behind the veil of reality everywhere? I can't! Star Trek is ruined forever!

Okay maybe the mushrooms aren't going to put me off other stories, but they bring me no joy in this one, and Culber's death is a harbinger for even worse mushroom stories ahead. Also what was up with Burnham teleporting around around at the end of Context is for Kings anyway?

Speaking of the collapsing mycelium network threatening the existence of all life in the multiverse, the stakes in this season were kind of ridiculous. It's bad enough in Trek when Earth is threatened, but this story puts the entire Federation at risk and then tops it with the death of everything. It's hard to take any of it seriously when it goes full comic book like this and it means that every conflict is about whether the ends justify the means when the survival of everyone is at risk (spoilers: it's a prequel, everyone doesn't die). Discovery really needs to lower its stakes down to the point where failure is a possibility and introduce more interesting moral dilemmas, preferably ones that involve sci-fi concepts instead of mushrooms. Also next time they have a giant war maybe they could mine it for story ideas that deal with some of the issues that they tend to cause, instead of just giving Harry Mudd one throwaway line about it.

But the season wasn't all bad I suppose...


THE GOOD

For instance, I like the way Burnham always holds her communicator sideways.

The other crewmembers all had their moments too, even though most were portrayed as being obnoxious or offputting in some way at first to make Burnham feel isolated and unwelcome on the Discovery. I liked how our first impressions of them were from the perspective of a notorious mutineer they didn't much want around, so we saw them in a bad light at first and grew to appreciate them as they grew to appreciate her, which then made the ship feel more welcoming and cosy. Well, as cosy as it could be considering it's all grey chunky walls without the warm carpets or occasional splash of colour that helped the characters in the other shows stave off madness.

I'm sure the producers would want me to praise the series for its diverse crew, even though it has fewer female and dark-skinned main cast members than season 1 of Next Gen, every one of them has an American accent, and they killed off their female Asian captain and half of the gay couple before the end. To be honest it just felt like a typical Star Trek mix to me, with the diversity behind the camera standing out more. Stamets relationship with Culber and Burnham's friendship with Tilly seemed very genuine in the way you'd expect from a writing room with more gay and female writers in it. Plus I believe we got the first black female director in Star Trek history this season (Hanelle M. Culpepper on Vaulting Ambition) which is a milestone that goes well with them also having first black female series lead in Trek history.

The writers took a risk this season by downplaying the typical ensemble and making the traditional outsider character the main focus of the series and I'm not sure it entirely worked out. Burnham's a very serious, reserved, damaged character with a predilection for delivering poetic monologues and when the story kept piling on reasons she should be miserable it didn't make her any more fun to watch. But I found her to be a sympathetic, likeable protagonist and she's a great straight man to the others, especially Tilly. Alone she's kind of a retread of Seven of Nine, Ensign Ro, T'Pol etc. on a journey to redeem herself/discover her humanity/survive parties, but her and Tilly together seem like they could be the next Bashir and O'Brien. Plus to be honest, some of my favourite parts of the season was when she was off on her own getting through some ridiculous situation while the crew on the ship had their own thing going on, like her life is like an action movie that intersects with Star Trek occasionally.

It's just a shame they didn't play up the Lower Decks side of the series much while they could. It was an interesting idea to focus on characters who weren't part of the senior officer clique for a change, but as we never saw most of the senior staff it made no real difference. Plus we got the same standard scenes of drama on the bridge, except with people we never got to know pushing the buttons. For whatever reason the series seemed really keen on including the same recurring bridge officers in the action and giving them plenty of screen time, without doing anything with them as characters. I feel like some/all of them really need to get a Chief O'Brien upgrade next season, because it's cruel of the series to show so much of these people and then give them less to do than Sulu or season 1 Dax.

Though I suppose the series was kind of Lower Decks when it came to that Klingon War driving the whole season, as the Discovery seemed strangely isolated from it. We saw scarred characters, we heard how the crew had become warriors, but we didn't experience much of anything ourselves most of the time. Then they just abandoned it entirely to go play in the Mirror Universe for a bit and I realised it wasn't a story about a war, it was a story about how communities change people and vice versa, with Tilly and Lorca as opposite influences on Burnham and the crew. The Mirror Universe isn't a detour from the main plot, it's the most important piece of the puzzle, with the characters becoming very aware of how their society and culture has shaped them and how it's not just their survival that's at stake. Well, on paper at least.

The season has a great story in my opinion, we just don't see as much of it as we should've done. It's obvious the writers had a plan going but it seems they didn't quite have it worked out properly and had to take shortcuts to reach all of their plot points along the way. Plus they promised more with the war plot than they ever intended to deliver. Though it's still more consistent and serialised than pretty much any other season of Star Trek to this point and there are Trek themes and messages in there if you look for them (or listen to Burnham's speech at the end of Will You Take My Hand?) Even if it loses points perhaps for introducing characters struggling with issues like PTSD and abuse and then subverting their problems away with a sci-fi twist. Or by making them a one-dimensional villain and then killing them off.

Plus there's so much symmetry and repetition in there and I'm presuming most of it is deliberate. Burnham's always getting into the same fight against an enemy leader on the bridge of a super ship, Georgiou dies after two episodes and gives the series to Lorca, who dies and gives the captain's chair back to Georgiou for the last two, Burnham's infiltration of the Shenzhou mirrors Lorca's unseen backstory, and there's the mutiny for the right reasons in the finale. In fact, I don't think there's a single authority figure in this story who isn't mutinied against, murdered, deposed, exiled, or otherwise defied, so there's a theme right there. Also I didn't even realise at the time that the scene with Georgiou and Burnham drilling a well at the start is the opposite of Georgiou and Burnham planting a bomb in a volcano at the end. And the whole 'convince an enemy that we're not terrible by cancelling a genocide and sending a main character's love interest with them to the other side to help create a peace, also there's a confrontation in some fire caves' thing at end mirrors the ending of a certain other season of Trek!

The series liked its cliffhangers and mysteries this season as well, and was always trying to keep people guessing and get them hyped for the next episode. The trouble is that people guessed right a lot of the time and they guessed quickly, which made it hard for us to see things like Burnham's relationship with Tyler the way they were meant to be seen. Though when the captain is actually his evil twin from another universe who is then killed and replaced by the emperor of the evil dimension who is also the evil twin of the hero's mentor that she famously betrayed in the pilot, it's hard to say that the writers weren't trying hard enough to be unpredictable. That's comic book levels of crazy though; they really need to dial it down next season.

Also good is the fact that the series looks bloody amazing at times! The Orville gives Discovery a run for its money when it comes to space scenes (Discovery loses points for its darkness and fuzziness), but it just can't compete when it comes to set design or cinematography (even if Discovery's bridge is the next size up from 'cavernous' and a lot of its walls look like they're made from moulded plastic). People have compared the look of the series to the J.J. Abrams movies and I don't see it myself (Discovery is far darker for one thing), but it definitely benefits from a huge budget and a new production staff bringing in modern ideas and methods in the same way.

Music is another department the series excels in. In fact, Discovery utterly destroys its immediate predecessors when it comes to its soundtrack, as it actually has a soundtrack instead of sonic wallpaper. The series is at its best when the crew are all working together and the dramatic music gets going. After hearing the demos by other composers I'm so glad they went with Jeff Russo. 90s Trek probably has it beaten on sound design though, as Discovery may have all the beeps you want but its weapon effects are pretty lame. Okay that's all the good things I can think of right now.


CONCLUSION

I realise that I put a lot of bad things into the 'good' column but I'm finding it really easy to point out the negatives of this series; must be all the practice I got tearing season one of Deep Space Nine apart. Trek first seasons are traditionally fairly terrible and Discovery's shakedown cruise is no different. Except for the fact that it's actually pretty good in my opinion and I enjoyed it.

I've noticed that other people's reactions to the series have been all over the place, which is the opposite of unprecedented for a new Trek series, but I do see where people are coming from. I feel like we're generally noticing the same flaws, we're just bothered by them to different degrees. Like some people didn't even think twice about the mycelium network but are totally livid about Culber's death, other people find the writing to be mediocre but are more bothered by the holograms etc. But there was also a group of fans hoping for a reset button ending for the season because they couldn't reconcile it with the rest of Trek, and when people are more bothered by spore drives and cloaking devices than the hated reset button, then that seems like a sign the writers should steer the ship a little closer to familiar waters next season. Or at least not end an episode with 'We've lost the war!' and then start the next one with 'Just kidding, lol'.

But I think you can look at Tyler as a metaphor for the season: rescued after a long period of isolation he seems Star Trek enough at first. Then he starts to fall to pieces and gets really dark and you learn that he's actually something else wearing a Star Trek skin. But then it gets both sides integrated and becomes pretty cool by the end. It seems that now that they've ended the Klingon War and given Burnham redemption, Discovery will be a hybrid of its season one self and classic Trek; which is good because even though I liked this arc well enough they can't carry on like this. If this season was a trek into darkness the next one has to be a trek beyond.

Though personally, my main problem with Discovery right now is that I found the first half of the season to be so consistent that I'm struggling to rank the episodes. Fortunately, the second half starting swerving all over the place in quality so those episodes will be easier to place:

15.Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum - A tiny episode mostly about people chatting in a hut and Saru going crazy, with a B-plot about L'Rell's confusing schemes. I get the impression this was supposed to be the episode that made us feel for Saru's condition, but I was mostly left wondering why he wasn't punished at the end.
14.The Wolf Inside - It's full of interesting situations and it's beautifully shot, but I was put off by the Stamets B-plot and the unnatural behaviour of the characters.
13.Vaulting Ambition - Another short episode like Si Vis Pacem that doesn't quite explain what's going on enough to be satisfying, but functions adequately as set up for a much better episode coming immediately after it.
12.Will You Take My Hand? - The epic season finale turned out to be pretty laid back. I enjoyed everything team Evil Georgiou got up to, but I found myself lost to what they were trying to achieve on the first watch (they were asking for directions using spy techniques) and the tone shift and editing in the last act was jarring.
11.Context is For Kings - This reboots the series as something closer to Battlestar Galactica in tone, complete with jump drive. It's not a bad episode, but I'm blaming all the mushroom drive weirdness on it so I can be nicer to the others.
10.The Butcher's Knife Cares Not for the Lamb's Cry - Can't talk about this one, title too long, not enough room.
 9.Lethe - It's got goofy dream effects, it sheds some light on Sarek's relationship with both his kids, and it's got Lorca sending his friend off into an obvious trap to be captured and tortured... possibly. Daft and intriguing.
 8.Choose Your Pain - Why is this one better than Lethe? Three words: I don't know. Actually three better words: Harcort Fenton Mudd.
 7.Battle at the Binary Stars - I've come to realise that some of my favourite parts of the series are when Burnham thoroughly seizes the protagonist role and goes on her own adventure while everyone else has Star Trek problems and this delivered on that.
 6.The Vulcan Hello - A lot of people weren't keen on this one but it's the only Discovery episode so far to show Starfleet doing Starfleet things without any war or Mirror Universe to worry about and I appreciated that. I'd also appreciate more of it.
 5.The War Without, The War Within - I doubt there are many viewers who'd rank this one so high, but I appreciated that they slowed things down for the characters to take a breath and contemplate their messed up situations.
 4.Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad - This time loop story's pretty fun, which is a strange thing to say about a Discovery episode where everyone keeps dying. Or a Discovery episode in general, actually.
 3.Despite Yourself - The crew go on a caper in the Mirror Universe with comedy Captain Tilly, turbolift murder, and agony booths! The whole ship going undercover never got a real payoff but it was cool at the time.
 2.Into the Forest I Go - Discovery's on a mission to blow up a super-ship, Burnham's fighting an emperor on the ship's bridge, Stamets is doing something crazy in the spore chamber, the crew have a plan, and together they're getting shit done. Plus it has a surprise ending when they cross universes. The episode fires on all cylinders.
 1.What's Past is Prologue - Discovery's on a mission to blow up a super-ship, Burnham's fighting an emperor on the ship's bridge, Stamets is doing something crazy in the spore chamber, the crew have a plan, and together they're getting shit done. Plus it has a surprise ending when they cross universes. The episode fires on all cylinders. Again.

Not a bad set of episodes really. The season doesn't have a City on the Edge of Forever or a Duet in there, but then no other first season has an Into the Forest I Go. Plus it's mercifully free of stories on the level of The Alternative Factor, Code of Honor, Move Along Home and Cathexis.

What do I want from Star Trek: Discovery season two? I want the recurring bridge crew either brought into the ensemble as secondary characters or replaced by anonymous extras; the place they're in right now isn't satisfying. I want Burnham and Tilly out and about on away missions, meeting new people as the Kirk and Spock of the crew, with Saru as their General Hammond back on the ship. I want to see what they're up to with the black badge science projects on the ship, as long as none of them involve mushrooms or break canon. I want to see no less than three people sitting in that cosy briefing room they just found, discussing issues and working through problems instead of delivering monologues. I want another serialised season with plenty of smaller arcs and varied stand-alone stories. I want action-adventure, allegory, social commentary, moral dilemmas, sci-fi weirdness, and a feeling that being out on an advanced starship exploring the final frontier is actually fairly awesome. Also if they could change the opening titles that'd be cool too; not that there's anything wrong with them, I just prefer it when each season gets a unique opening.

Anyway, to summarise: I'm really glad Star Trek's back on TV.



COMING SOON
I don't know if Discovery will be returning to the site or not. Right now I'm leaning towards covering something else instead, but with a 2019 release date they've certainly given me time to change my mind. Next on Sci-Fi Adventures, it's very possible (but not absolutely certain) that I'll be writing about Deep Space Nine's Rivals. Maybe.

7 comments:

  1. it was actually doing something with its premise instead of spinning its wheels.

    Well, aside from Discovery literally spinning its wheels during spore jumps.

    That was some lovely rainbow CSS.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Man, that didn't even occur to me. I had a GIF of the Discovery spinning around there as well, but I edited it out because it was distracting. Now I'm tempted to put it back in.

      Also thanks!

      Delete
  2. I have noticed that Star Trek is all make-believe and I'm aware that the producers can do whatever they want with it

    That argument has always irritates me. Yes, they have the legal right to change things, and yes, it's not real to begin with. But it's drama. The whole point of a drama is to make me care about what's happening to the fictional characters in the fictional world around them. Telling me it's fictional and I shouldn't get so invested in the setting is just excusing the producers for not doing their jobs. If the creators don't care, why should I?

    but the continuity and consistency of the franchise is a huge draw for me.

    Same here. That's one reason why I'm glad they at least acknowledged the change of Klingon makeup in "Trials and Tribble-ations" instead of demanding that we just pretend Worf and Kolax basically look alike. Plus, it was a funny scene.

    I dunno. Like you said, we've seen Constitution class ships featured prominently in Deep Space 9 and Enterprise, and I don't think they looked awful. I'm biased, of course, but I can imagine different eras having different design aesthetics. Fix the lighting a bit, add some mild greebles to the hull, make the corridor walls look more solid, replace the blinky-light displays with real monitors, and I think it'd be fine for modern audiences while still keeping it true to the original look. It's subjective, but there's a line between acceptable "it always looked like this" and "screw you, that thing you like sucked", and Discovery spends way too much time over that line for my taste.

    I honestly wonder why they didn't just set this show in the mid-25th century. The post-Nemesis novels they're publishing now have been free to throw everything to hell because there's no future-canon for them to contradict.

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    1. I'm actually dreading the time they finally get tired of prequels and make another jump to the next next generation, as it means another roll of the 'exciting new concept' dice, and that thing's going to land on 'Fall of the Federation' eventually. Some people just can't wait to tear things down for the sake of a more dramatic story; it apparently even crossed Gene Roddenberry's mind seeing as he came up with Andromeda.

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  3. My problem with the mycelium network is that they decided to explain how it worked, and so came up with crap that the writers probably think sounds scientific (It has "mycelium" right in the name!) when in fact it sounds like mystical woo-woo like healing-energy cards. Discovery has put more effort into explaining the spore drive's mechanics than all Star Trek ever did into explaining how warp drive works. Leave that stuff to us nerds, showrunners!

    The annoying thing is, there are plenty of sci-fi concepts that let Discovery teleport around without having to involve quantum fungi. Something like Andromeda's slipstream drive, for example; we don't know how it works, but we know it requires people in the loop to make it work very well, and it can send you through time and (probably) alternate dimensions. My personal headcanon is that the spore is actually a fragment of a Q someone found, and they've been using the Q continuum to pop around without understanding how it works. It has the advantage of explaining why it's important for the ongoing existence of the universe, of eventually drawing the attention of the Q to humanity, and of then explaining why it apparently stops working before too long.



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    1. Yeah, it's like painting the ship with chlorophyll and powering the warp engines with photosynthesis. That's a science term right there so you know they've done the research. Mere solar panels wouldn't be able to generate the phenomenal energy needed to travel between stars in mere hours, but tapping into NATURE will get the job done! As long as they regulate the process by splicing their engineer with hamster DNA and having him run around inside an excess energy cavitation wheel.

      They didn't try to explain things like the Genesis Device, or red matter, and it's much harder to say something can't work if we don't know what it's doing. Even things that have been well explained, like the holodeck, rely on the mysterious forcefield and replicator technology.

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  4. Discovery often failed to be as interesting as I wanted it to be, but I found myself loving it anyway, aside from the alien-bacteria-in-huts episode, which was terrible and pointless, aside from that great shot of Saru running at about 100mph, a skill he never showed again, alas.

    For me, it's a series that's defined by almost being brilliant and different, but never quite managing it:

    I liked that we had a protagonist who got things wrong and cocked things up, rather than being the usual hyper-competent Trek character, except Burnham sort of ended up being that hyper-competent Trek character by the end.

    I liked that the protagonist wasn't the captain, except she was always on the bridge or interacting with the captain, so it was more or less the same from a functional perspective.

    I liked the twists and turns, except you could see them all coming a mile off. To be fair, the creators still managed to make the twists dramatic, even if they were obvious; Lorca's reveal still worked, because of the pacing and editing, even though everyone knew it was going to happen.

    Despite all that, I watched every week and found myself grinning and laughing and loving it. It is different, but it still feels like Star Trek, in a way that the new films don't, and I'm happy that Discovery exists.

    I still don't like the new Klingons though.

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