To be clear before I start, I am a huge science fiction nerd, in all media forms — books, TV, movies, comics, games… everything. But I am not what I would call a fan of Star Trek. Have I watched a lot of it? Absolutely. For long stretches of time, Star Trek (in various incarnations) was the only SF on television, and for much of my life it has been a wonderful bonding experience to watch it with friends and joke/argue about the plausibility and morality of each episode. It is a huge part of our cultural fabric — especially in SF fandom — and I would never dismiss the importance of that. But speaking personally, it has never really appealed to me. The reasons for this are complex and not completely clear after all this time, but I can come up with a few explanations:
1) The focus on Star Fleet and a military hierarchy. I am politically and psychologically an anarchist (in the Kropotkin style), and all the top-down orders and drama around plucky protagonists choosing to ignore orders every other episode just seems like wasted space to me. Why can’t people just be equal actors in society? Wouldn’t that be more in the spirit of Roddenberry’s supposedly utopian thinking?
2) The acting has often been very bad, and the characters are more like caricatures. Psychological realism is something this show has very rarely touched, and the few occasions it has have been hallmarks to me. (For example, the episode in which Picard was tortured and later admitted he was about to tell his torturer that he saw five lights just before he was rescued. And, to be fair, a lot of Deep Space Nine.)
3) Though it purports to be science-based (compared to what? Star Wars?), the technobabble is completely ridiculous and very rarely conveys anything resembling scientific reality.
All that being said, I finally decided to give Star Trek: Discovery a try after several friends recommended it, and after I realized I could activate a free trial of CBS All Access. Here are my thoughts after watching season 1 of the show.
Spoilers below…Things I like about the show:
Sonequa Martin-Green as Michael Burnham. She does a great job of conveying a more “human” version of Vulcan logic and pragmatism mixed with dramatic chops and convincing combat skills. I find her to be a very appealing protagonist.
The depiction of Burnham’s relationship with her foster father Sarek. I like the actor who plays Sarek, and the scenes between him and Burnham have a sense of gravity and history that really works. It is weird that there is so little mention of Spock in the first season, but he does feature in one of my favorite episodes of the first season, “Lethe”, in which Burnham rescues Sarek by performing a Vulcan mind-meld with him through space and discovering some awkward family history that they can move beyond now that it’s out in the open. I’m looking forward to seeing more of their backstory and relationships — and Spock!
Anthony Rapp as Paul Stamets. Finally, a core character who is gay! And he’s smart, charming, and a decent actor. His interactions with Tilly are amusing, also. I quite enjoyed the first use of strong profanity in the show when they gave each other a high five and declared what they were working on to be “fucking cool”.
The friendship between Tilly and Burnham. We don’t get enough of it, but it’s sweet when they get some screen time together.
The special effects are quite good.
The title sequence is very well done — visually beautiful, nicely edited, and well scored. I always watch the whole thing, even while bingeing!
Things I dislike about the show:
The spore drive and the micelial network that spans galaxies is SILLY, especially when combined with a bear-sized tardigrade. How do they even tell it where to take them? Plugging some random cables into a creature you never knew existed lets you access its special talents and control it somehow? I was relieved when the tardigrade left.
Everything about the Ash Tyler plotline is bad. The romance with Burnham is not earned and never seems convincing, especially as he’s a whiny neckbeard who doesn’t seem to have any skills that she would respect. When his Klingon implanted personality is revealed, it makes no sense whatsoever, as he was never able to provide any intel to other Klingons before outing himself, and L’Rell seems to be his only ally anyway. So what was the point of him being horrifically tortured to go undercover? He murders Paul Stamets’s boyfriend Hugh in an outrageous instance of the “bury your gays” TV trope, then tries to kill Burnham. After he is “cured” of Voq’s influence, nearly everyone seems willing to forget what happened and welcome him back with open arms, which is just not realistic. Stamets and Burnham are the exceptions, but even they are more wary and resigned than hostile to him. When Tyler tries to guilt Burnham into continuing a romance with him (!!), SHE is the one who feels she has to explain why her feelings have changed. What the what?! I was relieved when Tyler left (though I fear he will be returning).
Related to the Tyler plotline, the Klingon plotline is also laughable at the end. I’m sorry, threatening people with armageddon if they don’t sign your peace compact is NOT a way to a lasting unification. Ridiculous in every way. But… at least we got the Klingon war over with, so there’s a silver lining.
The Lorca plotline is somewhat effective, in that I really didn’t see the big reveal coming. But at the same time, there was so little signaling of his evil nature that the twist made me start to wonder who ELSE would turn out to be a baddie all of a sudden. Character coherence show-wide took a big hit, especially when we find out how many times people have gone between the alternate dimensions. How many more mirror versions of the characters will turn up? How can we trust what we see? I was relieved when Lorca left… by being disintegrated in a giant spore drive. And relieved when the alternate dimension was left behind, as it was both appalling and ridiculous in its over-the-top badness.
Things I’m confused by:
If a “spore drive” existed at the same time as Kirk’s Enterprise, why was it never mentioned in the Original Series or at any time later on? How does this fit into the history of the show?
I had heard we would get an explanation of how Klingons changed so much in appearance in different iterations of the show/movies. No explanation yet… unless L’Rell’s creepy experiments were supposed to be a clue?
Did someone at least implant a tracker in Vampire Willow — I mean ex-Emperor Georgiou? She seems like a very dangerous person to have running around without surveillance.
So far I can’t say I’m a fan, but my friends who like the show say that season 2 is better than season 1, so I guess I’ll be continuing with it to see what answers are revealed…