So Discovery came back last week, though it took me until the weekend to actually see it. It hasn’t been that long a wait for me actually. With the exception of the first two episodes, I only finally got around to watching the bulk of the first season this past December.
Let’s get straight to the heart of this, because I see a lot of Trek fans constantly trashing this series out of hand. Discovery is not bad. It’s better than Voyager and Enterprise. It’s closer to Star Trek in spirit than the J.J. Abrams movies (hereon out referred to as the Kelvan timeline) ever came. It’s not as good as TNG, but might tie with DS9 as far as quality and originality goes.
There. We’ve established a pecking order. We’ve also established that I like it, more or less. Indeed, when CBS premiered the show last year with their two episode sneek peak, I actually told friends I was surprised that I liked it as much as I did. The effects are up to par. I love the uniforms (I ALWAYS wanted blue uniforms, back as far as 8th grade. Asymmetrical even. I couldn’t have done a better job myself.) and I’m totally in love with that spunky plump redhead on the show (Seriously, Tilly pushes all of my buttons). Sonequa Martin-Green does a fine job here, and actually is a far more interesting character than she ever was on The Walking Dead. Also, I’m pretty much on board with anything Jason Issacs is in. I also love the redesign of the Enterprise (brief glimpses as we get). It’s actually EXACTLY what I wanted to see done to the ship when TOS went through all it’s remastering and redone FX all those years ago. I also have to give them credit for finding flattering angles to shoot the U.S.S. Discovery from – ones that help it look dynamic and cool. No small feat to pretty up what is possibly the ugliest ship in Trek history. They definitely deserve some praise for that.
But there are problems.
- I’m so sick to death of prequels. Not only is making this a prequel unnecessary, it’s CONFUSING. Exactly what is this a prequel to? Is it taking place in the Kelvan timeline? Because that might make sense. Tech and fashion and stuff in general developed differently there. If however, this is supposed to be in the prime timeline with the original series, it’s creating some continuity holes big enough to drive a Klingon warship through. Not one of the little ones either like a bird of prey, no I’m talking one of those ginormous Neghvar cruisers that dwarfed the Vor’Cha class.The Holographic communicators really bother me since we actually SAW the introduction of this tech in the fifth season DS9 episode “For the Uniform”. Yeah, it’s funny that that’s the one t hat irks me more than the jump drive thing….I suppose I can believe that the Jump tech was classified and never used again. Maybe. If I start thinking about it, the whole thing unravels pretty quick.
So for fifty years we’ve just forgotten that the Jump tech exists. We’ve also forgotten about the brief use of the Discovery uniforms and the rank designations being on the arrowhead insgina (which is different from any we’ve ever seen before). This stuff is the peril of doing a prequel. What’s frustrating is that this didn’t HAVE to be a prequel. It’s not about forging the frontier or any significant events that were history in TOS. This could have just as easily been set fifty years after the end of Voyager and been the next, NEXT generation. It means you don’t get to use Sarek or Mudd, but those could easily be swapped out with other characters.
- We’re going back to the well. The last THIRD of Discovery’s first season was all about the mirror universe. This has quickly become the go-to stock story for these series. It’s the single thing most people remember and rave about Enterprise. It’s a trope so often used in TV and print that I’m actually shocked that Discovery got to it before the Kelvan timeline films did (To be fair though, they were busy with regurgitating Star Trek 2 – another trip to a different well). This is another one of those things that plays havoc with the timeline by the way. In the TOS story “Mirror Mirror”, both the Enterprise crew and the mirror universe blokes all seem blissfully unaware of the whole thing, despite incursion by both Archer’s Enterprise and the Discovery crew. This does not compute.
Mirror Universe aside, the fact that season 2 is bringing in both Captain Pike and Spock as major players signals a certain degree of uncertainty on CBS’s part. It’s a mandate to bring in familiar faces. The problem is even though this Spock actually looks better than Zachery Quento, I’m not actually jonseing for more Spock and I certainly don’t dig the importance they are putting on this long-lost sister thing that Michael Burnham represents.Where did Sybok go anyhow?
- TV-MA. Seriously, I understand that Star Trek has always been Adult Sci-Fi, but it’s never been ADULT (Bam-chika-wow-wow) fare. I wasn’t a particular fan of Data’s expletive as the Enterprise-D crashed in Generations but it felt organic and wasn’t excessive. Honestly though, I don’t really feel the need F-Bombs or Klingon breasts in my Star Trek. It doesn’t make it any more mature subject matter nor does it push the narrative. It’s a classic case of “We’re doing it because we CAN” rather than doing it because they should. I had the EXACT same criticisms of the film Logan, which did precisely the same thing. The only thing this accomplishes is to guarantee that my kids won’t be watching it. That’s kind of a shame isn’t it?
- You can’t talk about Discovery without talking about the paywall. Quite frankly, no matter how good the series is, the paywall was always going to turn a lot of people off. We’re still in the middle of figuring out the business model for streaming services. CBS is operating on an old model, releasing one episode a week, while applying the netflix pay model (and ironically, for foreign markets CBS decided to forego the streaming platform and just go on Netflix). That hybrid is turning a lot of souls off, as evidenced by Discovery consistently being in the to 20 most pirated shows on TV, with the pilot actually hitting #12 (and that was one of the ones CBS made free to everyone to watch!), rivaling shows like Game of Thrones. Plenty who don’t pirate, just waited for DVD. I didn’t have cable growing up and I still never missed an episode of any Trek series – as evidenced by snowy VHS recordings with the Channel 43 logo in the bottom right corner. One more service on top of cable and netflix and maybe Prime or Hulu….it’s to much. The guy to finally make sense of this ala carte system is going to be a millionaire. But untill then, the various individual streaming platforms is only going to generate a bunch of ill will, especially for millenials, who already despise paying for cable. CBS hoped that Trek would help their streaming brand. While it probably has, I’d say it’s had a greater effect to the opposite – it’s damaged the Star Trek brand too, and hung a particular taint around the neck of Discovery. There’s a good article about this over here – https://www.fudzilla.com/news/44594-star-trek-discovery-shows-that-big-content-still-has-not-got-the-message.
I don’t think Discovery is a bad show. If you haven’t given it a chance, I think you should (and I wish there was an alternative to dropping the cash on the streaming service or the DVD set. Come over to my house. We’ll crack a couple Dews and watch a couple, the same as I used to do with my buddy Johnny Em.)But I think it has some serious baggage. Voyager and Enterprise limped along despite fatigue and softening ratings. But they didn’t have the baggage Discovery does. Now with the announcement that fourth Kelvan timeline film has been shelved, combined with the sort of playing-it-safe move that bringing in Spock is do make me wonder for the future of the series.