After a couple of months of waiting, Star Trek: Discovery premiered on September 19, 2017, and if I had to use one sentence to describe it, it would be this: Starfleet’s standards have really fallen. And if I had to rename this show, which is quite necessary it would be: Micheal Burnam in Space. Also if I had to compare this series to another, the best comparison by far is the Xena: Warrior Princess. This is the only logical explanation to this whole situation we find ourselves in. Star Trek has been lobotomized. So, let’s start at the beginning: I went back and read my enthusiastic thoughts about this series before it came out and a couple of things stood out immediately.
“It will be produced by CBS Television Studios and Secret Hideout who are also in charge of The Mummy reboot.” – The Mummy reboot was pretty lame with Tom running around special effects. Granted, Sofia Boutella made things a lot better, at least for me.
“The first season will also be oriented towards one big storyline, so we can guess that the episodes will not feature unique and independent storylines. This is more in tune with the distribution format, perfect for binge-watching and also with new generations habits.” – This was so true that I doubt that even the possibility of independent episodes was considered. I mean, if we condensed Micheal Burnam’s story into one episode, and I mean condensed inhumanly good, it would be a questionable medium quality episode of other series. And we watched fifteen episodes of this shit. As you probably noticed, I really didn’t like the series. There were so many decisions that were questionable that I started doubting my own perception of this series.
Here’s how it went and I know this is more of a rant than a review, but I just have to get this shit out of me and out there (well, thanks for the shit buddy): I first watched first two episodes pretty wasted, so they seemed relatively good. Already making excuses. Yes, we had some strange behavior coming from Starfleet’s officers, but I thought all this would clear up by episode three. Episode three really shattered my hopes about the quality of the latest Star Trek series. It was everything I feared it would be: commercial, shallow and gimmicky. I couldn’t finish that episode. When Burnam’s roommate said: “You know, I will be a captain of my own ship one day”, I just couldn’t take it anymore.
When I checked the IMDb page for this series, I was quite relieved to find so many negative reviews and obviously paid a rating of fucking 7.4! As time passed by, I kept seeing news about the series and finally decided to watch every episode, just to be sure. After each episode, my mind would write the potential salvage scenario. Of course, she had to do that! Of course, because she’s on a secret mission to do something that would finally fit into my and general perception of this series. And each time, the task got increasingly more difficult until I finally gave up. Like fucking Ripley throwing herself into that inferno. Before I get technical, let’s look at the big picture.
Here’s what really happened: Pressured by so many independent content distribution platforms like Netflix swarming the market, CBS decided to get into the fight. They jumped on a dead Star Trek reboot and decided to fight HBO, Hulu, Netflix and the rest of the gang by making a similar hit series. This is the root of the problem, if your main motivation is money and you are guided by it at on higher branches of decision making, you will hire people to fit your goal. This makes everything content-wise a completely open market of ideas. The cash is the main objective. Now, I’m not arguing here (HERE) about some “communist” vision of the production but make a fucking balance.
Then the writing crew came in. They approached the Star Trek universe as some Hasbro brand, relying only on the main characteristics and hammering them into commercial products that would fit in monetary projections. The market research was spot on, but this is not how you do it. If it is forced, then it’s nothing more than milking. They knew that if they wanted to keep the standard of previous iterations they had to a lot of work with questionable potential financial results. So they simplified and dumbed down the whole thing to widen the audience. That simple move will cause an innumerable number of discrepancies and problems. Of course, when we’re talking about quality. Studios, however, care only about money, so as long as it’s profitable…
The strong female lead, rainbow crew, Klingons, the environment, decision making, bigger picture… Here are just a few elements, and I’m not talking about gimmicks like her name or stuff like that. So, this is going to be some long-ass post, I can already see it. We are still looking at the big picture here. The idea was: bring the “old ass Star Trek brand” into the modern internets world. They used the name and legacy of the series to peddle a generic milker. This is the only problem that I have with this series. Just rename it to Micheal Burnam and we are all good. However, if you use something that motivated so many generations to venture into the world with the vision of the future that Star Trek brought, you’re going to be in quite the pickle. And now is probably the best time to break the news: Fucking Quentin Tarantino is going to be involved with the rest of Star Trek series! When you think about it, calmly, this could go either way. But, I trust Quentin immensely. This is that silver lining, but we have to go back and finish what we started.
So what the fuck happened here. The rest of the review will be filled with HUGE SPOILERS, so if you want to be “surprised” better stop reading. Otherwise, let’s keep calm and carry on.
First two episodes: The Vulcan Hello and Battle at the Binary Stars
I’m just going to rush through these episodes, tied together and anchored to propel the series, they were relatively amusing. We are introduced to the cast and the crew and shown glimpses of what might follow. The main star of this show is Micheal Burnam, the first officer of the USS Shenzhou, a human raised by Vulcans. She attended the famous Vulcan Science Academy, with a little help from her adopted father Sarek. We find Burnam along with her crew and captain Georgiou, attempting to repair a damaged interstellar relay in deep space in this first episode. So far, so good, right? At the same time, Klingons in their new shiny armor are rallying at their home planet, under the leadership of T’Kuvma, who wants to destroy the Federation.
As she was attempting repairs, Burnam kills a Klingon who was guarding some sacred site. After this, a standoff ensues between Shenzhou and several Klingon vessels, that now have arrived in the area. Sarek telepathically tells Burnam that she must shoot at the Klingons to gain their respect and after captain refuses this action, she immobilizes her and takes control of the vessel. Now we’re talking. After some here and there, Burnam ends up in a brig charged with mutiny and Klingons finally attacks heavily outnumbering Starfleet. Burnam convinces Georgiou to teleport to the Klingon vessel, which results in the captain’s death and Burnam killing T’Kuvma. Now a traitor, responsible for the inevitable war with the Klingons, Burnam is in hot sauce.
Already you notice a couple of things that stand out: The simplification of the relationships between different races, mutiny or individual-over-system, and the all-knowing silent leader. I am sure that this series would have been a great hit in ancient Greece. The thing with the story is the following: you can justify just about anything but that doesn’t make it good. Because they were hammering down these Star Trek concepts to fit in with their story, the writers generated so much garbage that it’s tedious and boring to go item by item and reveal their intentions. Take the simplification of the Klingons, we could spend days arguing this issue, with a huge number of statistical and historical data, actually giving the validity to the claim.
However, the thing is much simpler than that and I already mentioned it. The hammering down of Star Trek concepts into this tribal world of tomorrow. They wanted an archenemy, but not just any archenemy, they wanted an archenemy for the fucking gen pop (general population). This is what happened with our beloved series, it has been kidnapped by the gen pop and transformed into something that is most definitely not Star Trek. The same thing happened in the USA with Trump, the UK with Brexit, while the EU is still managing to remain rational with refugees. We see this rise of tribalism all over the world.
I’m going to be mentioning a lot of this tribal shit during this review, so I want to explain it a bit. Tribal system of values is the system that propelled us into the future and it was not a bad system. However, as the conditions in which we were living and the general knowledge advanced, it became obsolete, without a clear replacement in sight. Actually Star Trek can be seen as a replacement for that old system of values and we can assume that this was its main purpose. The first interracial kiss on television, Americans and Russians working together to benefit human kind and all kinds of good shit.
So what is a Tribal system of values? It starts with a smart/strong/powerful individual on top, this is the big daddy (Freud) or god manifestation that takes away uncertainty and fear from followers lives. This person can hardly be called human, because it exhibits characteristics that are much higher than in average human. They are smart and strong, able to outwit anyone and get out of any situation. This is the bond between the follower and its leader. They all strive to be like the leader or what the leader has proclaimed is the best role for them because this takes away their fears. Any dictator can serve as a good example, whether it be Hitler, Stalin or Mao Zedong. The followers generate libidinal forces towards the leader and negative emotions towards any outside elements. The outsiders are basically animals that should be tamed, throughout the history many nations were seen this way and during WWII the entire world.
So Burnam is the leader with her super knowledge and skills, while the outsiders are the Klingons. Another characteristic of a tribal system of values is the simplification of relations between objects. For example, there are rules for diplomacy with Klingons and they include firing upon them, not much differentiating a random encounter with the wolf in the forest and its subsequent taming. Oddly enough, Klingons are visually different from Humans, with a bit darker skin tone. They eat their enemies and are generally unpleasant. However, they can be domesticated…
The thing that pisses me off the most is that the whole thing is rigged. They create a couple of conditions that should justify the mutiny of a Starfleet’s officer and again, same as with the Klingons we could argue about the merits of the decision, again giving it validity. This is because the series was made for the general population and they love their feelings.
The two incidents in episode 3: Context Is for Kings
Dear fucking Satan, help us get through this! Here we go. Episode fucking number three. After a clumsy encounter with a vessel transporting Burnam to a prison facility, USS Discovery and its captain Lorca finally emerge from the darkness. This is where we get the first full taste of a concept “set-up to show a certain character trait”. The first example is when Burnam is talking to the other prisoners on the vessel, while they were in some sort of electric storm, showing how smart and calm she is. Second followed a couple of minutes after the first one, with so artificial and clumsy attack on Burnam during dinner, that I could practically feel that cold atmosphere on the set that day.
Again, the character itself is not driving the story forward but they are showing us what type of character is this Burnam by generating situations for her to display different qualities. Like we are fucking children, unable to process more than one emotion or a concept at the time. In these two instances, we are shown how she is smart and strong and nothing else! I dare you to watch just one episode of Deep Space Nine and you will see how the process works. Your first and foremost priority is the character, so you take him and the story you want to tell and you fuse them together in a rational and practical way. That is the right way, however, there’s another, additional way. By not making your intention so obvious or masquerading it with something, you can pull through.
For example, we could leave the events in the shuttle, were Burnam is schooling the other prisoners, exactly as they were, but change a few other elements like pacing and camera-work and you could end up with an atmospheric and “not made for imbeciles” scene. Or during the dinner attack, leave the events to unfold exactly as they transpired but make the whole thing out of focus, while concentrating on a view of a nearby sun, emerging behind the planet, while rest of the Starfleet’s officers are in the background, indifferent to mutineers suffering. Alternatively, if you’re so dead set on this story, you could just tweak it, by adding a couple of scenes before and after significant events, to further the viewer’s understanding of the storyline. Alas, none of this has happened. This is not the actor’s fault, writers fucked up here. And when I say fucked up, I mean they created their own version of Star Trek that is not essentially Star Trek. As I said, if this series was called Micheal Burnam in Space, I would probably be recommending it as a nice time killer.
Back to the writing, you basically have two main concerns when writing in this backward way: the main story and realistic characters. You want to advance the main story through familiar concepts that should lead from one to another, for example: introduce a strong and capable character and then put it in trouble. This breaks down into scenes where the character literally demonstrates strength and capability (two scenes) with the trouble coming soon. The following, realization phase is the most important and most difficult and this is where they fucked up. How do you show that someone is strong and capable and how do you define these qualities? This is the difference between gen pop and smart people (people who seek a better understanding of oneself, others and the place we live on and in), they have different definitions of strength or any other concept. The consequence of this approach is also another extremely irritating thing, absolutely everything is connected to the thing you are trying to say right now! There are no dead ends, no stories left untold, no nothing. If you’re a gamer or have ever played a video game where NPCs appear, this is exactly it. Burnam is the player (you) and the rest of the characters are non-player characters, there only to further its story.
Bonus content: someone says to Burnam: “You have training in quantum physics?”. Someone call Neil Breen stat!
Only in retrospect, I could discern that even here it was pretty obvious that a huge shift happened. This is what they didn’t get, why would this shift influence anything? The shift happened with the decision-making, as well as a couple of other elements that influenced the atmosphere and general quality. Simplification is the key element here, done in order for the gen pop to get on board with the whole thing.
Talking about the decision-making shift, we must divide it into two different concepts tied together. The first one is the general decision making and by this, I mean the way that the Federation is organized, how orders flow from top officials, basically a system of values that this organization uses. They were proactively trying to prevent bad shit from happening by upholding these values for a lot of time. This meant that you were not to engage in reckless or dangerous behavior and that you always knew that you were not alone, that millions and millions of life forms are sharing and upholding the same values.
Here, Discovery is separated from these notions, it’s improvisation upon improvisation. You do not feel that there’s a whole system behind the crew and the ship. They all had to be trained somewhere, the ship had to be built. I’m betting that on Omicron Persei 8, the tales of their adventures were quite popular. However, they seem like some rogue ship, without much connection to Federation or Starfleet. And by connection, I don’t mean just talking, taking orders, informing, consulting, but also upholding the same values.
The second concept regarding decision making is the return to the tribal concept: I know best. This sort of thing is opposite to the let’s say “democratic” concept that prevailed in all of the previous Star Trek series. This is why fans didn’t like the series because they are already living a real-life where some (if not all) of the power and decision making is based on tribal concepts. If you’re going to constantly improvise upon current events, without considering the deeper implications of your actions, then you are toast. I know that this all sounds a bit abstract, the reason for that is the fact that the writers also saw this and then tweaked the story in order to either conceal or downplay this element. It will get much clearer as we start talking about the story, because here lies the very core of the series.
Take Burnam’s second night on the Discovery. Remember, this is a convicted murderer, responsible for a mutiny and convicted to life in prison. After Lorca decides to employ her, which we will discuss later, she’s now officially a part of the crew. She’s working with Paul Stamets, the chief engineer. After she sees him using a breathalyzer test to gain access to a restricted area, Burnam decides to do something. She takes the saliva of her roommate Tilly and uses it to break into the restricted area! Fuck me, and this is only after a couple of days. Oh, how have the standards fallen low…
The crew of USS Discovery or The NPC Crew, consisting of cardboard cutouts without much freedom, is quite amusing. They would much rather spend time talking than doing the actual missions. You have the most annoyingly inquisitive friend (Sylvia Tilly), token gay engineer (Paul Stamets), love interest and warrior (Ash Tyler), us (Saru) and the rest is also very colorful. When I say us, I mean smart people who love Star Trek and its values. One of the things that Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS) featured was the rainbow crew. They were all working together towards a better future for everybody. Here, that aspect seems forced. For fuck’s sake, it’s the 21st century and in just a hundred years Zefram Cochrane will construct humanity’s first warp-capable vessel! Do not get me wrong, I’m not against gay characters or their storylines, just do not be so blunt about it man. Use a chisel and not a hammer.
On a matter of Saru and smart people, they twisted and contorted his basic premise of a rational and overly cautionary man to a point of breaking. Let us consider episode 5, Choose Your Pain. Here Saru chooses to venture into Klingon space, not only jeopardizing the crew, ship and everybody on-board, but also the fate of the war in order to save captain Lorca, taken by Klingons. Of course, they end up stranded in Klingon space, because Saru would not listen to the advice given to him by Burnam. So we got a twofer here, not only are rational people presented making bad decisions, which they inevitably do but also Burnam’s character trait is reinforced. I feel like my head is about to explode as I’m trying to comprehend these two concepts at the same time.
We can also use Stamets to further demonstrate the literal and simplistic approach to the subject. In the very same episode, after their propulsion system malfunctioned, Stamets decides to use himself as a propulsion system. This is literally taking one for the team and sacrificing yourself unto others. This is again due to the writing process and the whole “we’re showing you who are these people” concept. So, the irrational decision making comes naturally to most of the characters. Finally, let’s consider Commander Landry’s death. She’s in a room next to a very dangerous giant tardigrade, who already killed a bunch of Klingons. They need its claws to extract some material or whatever the fuck was in question. She says: We’re doing this, grabs a rifle and a knife and enters the room with the tardigrade, only to be shredded seconds later. A perfect example of a gen pop decision making.
Speaking about the crew, I simply cannot miss out on the whole Ash Tyler gimmick. We learn that Ash is a Klingon who was surgically altered to look, talk and think like a human. Oddly enough, attention was brought to me of a similar plot concerning Kira in DS9 episode Second Skin. She’s transformed from a Bajoran into a Cardassian, so you cannot say that this idea of a transformation is new. Actually, I got even a better one for you: You all remember that famous episode from TOS The Trouble with Tribbles, that was first aired back in 1967? Here’s a summary: In 2268, Arne Darvin, a Klingon Intelligence operative, was surgically altered to appear as a Human… Fuck me…
If you want to read more about episodes that featured cosmetic and surgical transformation here’s the link: Star Trek surgery.
The Good Stuff
There are some awesome things in this Star Trek. First of all, I find the idea of mycelial network ingenious. I love everything about it and if they spent these fifteen episodes just detailing everything about it, I would be happy. That big ass tardigrade was also cool as fuck. Which brings us to visual effects. They were good, but not perfect. Too many gimmicks like that horrible lens flare that keeps obstructing your view. Just give something shiny for the peasants to enjoy. The concept of Klingon ships, their burial rites and the general visual outlook of those ships was great. Granted, perhaps I enjoyed it because it reminded me of the Warhammer 40,000 and its lore, but that’s a story for another review. Costumes, make-up and other practical effects were also cool. Klingons look menacing as fuck in their uniforms.
As I already mentioned a couple of times, I was hoping that they would explain this erratic behavior of Starfleet’s officers, so when the twist with the alternate universes happened, I was ecstatic. Finally, we are going to meet the real crew of the USS Discovery. Alas, we did meet the crew, however, they were even worse than their counterparts in the “normal universe”. To choose a twist like this as the main story, when there are already a couple of episodes from previous Star Trek series that are already dealing with the same subjects is, frankly, insulting. Add to this the Ash/Voq twist and the whole thing becomes even worse. The first episode to employ this type of plot development was aired on October 6, 1967! It’s called Mirror, Mirror and the similarities do not end there! Here, we also have agony booths, the same as in the original episode. Of course, this is not the only episode about alternate universes. Actually, fucking five different episodes of DS9 deal with this issue. Finally, Enterprise also had to battle with its evil counterparts during the episode In a Mirror, Darkly.
So, you choose a single story per season format for this Star Trek incarnation and then choose to use the same plot as episodes of Star Trek shot as early as 1967! And you make it a big thing, a big twist that’s supposed to change everything… There were so many phenomenal and mind-boggling episodes of Star Trek throughout the years that it’s fucking amazing that they were unable to come up with a good story. I could list my favorites, but that would take too long.
My main problem with this Star Trek is that the characters that are now working for the Starfleet are not worthy of its badge. They have shown nothing that would nominate them to be involved in such a difficult enterprise as Star Trekking. In my opinion, these are all rejects of the Starfleet, feeling angry that they were left out, they formed an alternate Starfleet where they would fit in naturally.
Phew, I feel much better now. I think that Discovery will be treated as a brainfart that happened when Trump was president. I do not consider it a Star Trek series and I think neither should you. They should rename it and be done with it.