Before starting, I want to take a few moments to reach out to a reader of mine. I have no idea who this person is, I’ve never met them and never talked to them, but they’ve been a loyal reader for years. Thanks to WordPress’s statistics I can see who visits me from various countries, and while I’m sure it’s not 100% accurate thanks to VPNs and such, it’s been interesting to see where my readers are.
One of my readers is in Puerto Rico, and every time I publish a new article, my stat board shows me this:
Unfortunately I haven’t seen that little flag pop up in quite some time, which isn’t surprising considering that Puerto Rico still doesn’t have power in the wake of hurricane Maria. However, when Puerto Rico gets back on its feet, I want that reader to know I was thinking of them. If you’re reading this in a few months, drop me a comment, let me know you’re okay.
And for the rest of you, I’d hope you donate whatever you can to https://hispanicfederation.org/donate and I’ll be donating last month’s Patreon contributions plus a little of my own money. You’ll be helping Puerto Rico and me, because I use my reader numbers to calculate my worth as a human being and I don’t think my self-esteem can take the hit of losing a loyal reader.
Okay, enough sappy stuff. Let’s talk about the other natural disaster to hit America… Star Trek Discovery.
The first episode (or first two episodes I guess) wasn’t as bad as I’d feared. Despite not a god damn thing making any sense, I had hope that perhaps it would get better. Maybe it was the optimism that Star Trek brings out in me, or the fact I love Jason Isaac’s work and thought perhaps his role as captain could help the show find its feet. Or maybe I just wanted this show to work, that I miss having a weekly Star Trek show to watch. Whatever the reason, despite my misgivings, I had hope.
The third episode of Star Trek: Discovery destroyed that hope. This episode had so many fundamental failures in writing, directing, acting, special effects, and cinematography that it should be taught in film schools as an example of what not to do. None of the characters are relatable, or even remotely likable. The plot continues to contradict itself from minute to minute which makes it impossible to characterize anyone because nothing makes any sense. I could talk about how this doesn’t resemble Star Trek in the slightest, but that point feels moot because I feel like this show fails at the basic level of even being entertaining.
And the strangest thing of all? People like it. Not just reviewers, but close friends of mine who love Star Trek just as much as I do. Am I not seeing something? Allow me to lay out my concerns and perhaps someone can tell me where I’m going wrong.
Star Trek: Discovery
I Still Don’t Know What’s Happening
The third episode of Star Trek: Discovery fails in so many fundamental ways it’s almost mind-boggling. I still don’t have a character to root for because Michael is a blank cipher with no characteristics. Every character we meet, save for one, is a depressed asshole not worth knowing. Then there’s the plot, which is still constantly contradicting itself to the point where I don’t even know what way is up anymore.
Once again I was left confused about many of the shows most basic elements, such as:
Why is the War Michael’s Fault?
Everyone blames Michael Burnham for the war with the Klingons and yet this contradicts everything we saw in the premier. Yes, Michael commits mutiny and was planning to fire on the Klingons which would have caused a war, no doubt about it. But here’s the thing: her plan fails. Being the colossal failure that she is, she couldn’t even Vulcan nerve pinch her Captain right, so the captain stops her from following through on her plan. It’s in fact the Klingons that fire first in the engagement and thus the Klingons that actually start the war. I mean if you want to get really pedantic I guess you can kind of blame her for killing the Klingon warrior on Kahless Beacon (I still have no idea what is), but even then he’s the one who swung the blade first, and killing him was mostly accidental. Michael killing T’Kuvma obviously didn’t help matters, but it’s grossly unfair to lay all the blame on Michael.
At first I thought maybe this was going to be some kind of misunderstanding. Under the circumstances I could see low ranking officers and crew hearing about a mutiny on a ship just moments prior to a war breaking out and rushing to conclusions. People link together completely unrelated items all the time just because the pieces look like they might fit together.
Yet when Michael meets First Officer Saru who witnessed the whole thing go down, he also blames her for the captain’s death. I’m sorry Saru, but that whole plan to capture T’Kuvma was your idiot captain’s idea. She was dead the moment she decided to launch a pointless retaliatory strike rather than simply living to fight another day. Don’t go blaming Michael for the captain trying to take on a Klingon in hand-to-hand combat.
Michael’s apparent guilt over starting this war is fundamental to her character and yet it also makes no sense because it obviously wasn’t her fault. I’m beginning to suspect that the original script did in fact have her start the war with the Klingons but was changed for some reason late in the game. Her character’s misery and near suicidal levels of recklessness would actually make sense in that context.
If it had been her fault then I would be fascinated to see how she copes with the guilt and I would want to watch her redeem herself, but that’s not what the show gave us. Instead I have no idea what the show is trying to tell me because she seems to accept responsibility for starting the war… but because she didn’t start it, this all seems like she has a weird guilt complex and probably needs to see a therapist.
I hope at some point she is forced to see the ship’s counselor, because then at least we might get some insight into who the hell this person is…
Who is Michael Burnham?
The worst part of the show so far has been just how little its main character has been characterized. I have no idea who Michael is. Who is she? What does she want? What makes her tick? And most importantly, why should I care what happens to her?
Michael was raised by Vulcans after her parents were killed and went to the Vulcan science academy… and that’s all we know about her. I literally have no idea what motivates her to act the way she does. Sometimes she’s a depressed suicidal woman who accepts her punishment and sometimes she’s an angry woman who starts brawls in the mess hall. Sometimes she’ll act like a total ass to her new roommate, and sometimes she’ll be nice to her. She doesn’t want to take an assignment and then asks a million questions about the assignment.
I have no idea who this woman is and thus have no frame of reference for when she swings from one extreme to another. No matter what the show or who the character is, I should have some idea of what motivates them. The fact that I don’t know what Michael wants after three episodes of watching her is bad. This is made worse by the fact she acts Vulcan, and not even Spock style Vulcan where there’s charm beneath the stoic exterior, but just cold and aloof to the point where I’m not sure I even want to know her.
There are a few seconds when she sadly lies in bed that I felt like I could finally relate with her, because who among us hasn’t lain in bed and thought about our mistakes. Yet because starting the war and her captain’s death aren’t her fault the whole scene falls flat. If the show wants to succeed though, it needs more scenes like this one, where she actually emotes a little and gives the audience a chance to know her.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Michael is probably our best bet for a likable character on this show too, because everyone else we’ve met has been a huge asshole.
Why is Everyone Terrible?
People have been telling me they enjoy the “dark and gritty” feeling of Star Trek: Discovery. I have not, and not because it’s not Star Trekky, because Deep Space 9 went to some dark places. I’m not enjoying it because it’s a Zack Snyder style dark and gritty: everything sucks and everyone is miserable. No one smiles, no one laughs, there’s not a single ounce of fun to be had in this whole show.
“It’s a war, that’s realistic!” I hear someone, who is probably Zack Snyder in disguise, say.
No. No, it’s really not. Even in the darkest times, especially in the darkest times, people still need to laugh and love and appreciate life. Even Band of Brothers occasionally stopped to show the soldiers laughing and having fun in the midst of unspeakable horror. Bob Hope built a career of making soldiers laugh during some of humanity’s most destructive conflicts. Realism aside though, everything being terrible just makes for a boring show.
As dark as JJ Abrams new Star Trek films are, which include crashing a spaceship into a city which probably kills tens of thousands, they’re also fun. It’s why my reviews of the JJ Abrams Star Treks have been more positive, because even though its not a Trek I recognize, I was still thoroughly entertained. There’s not a single character in JJ Abrams Star Trek that I don’t like.
Which brings me to the terrible cast of characters in Star Trek Discovery. Michael is already on shaky ground with her suicidal levels of angst and now piled on top of that are some of the most unlikable people I’ve ever seen. There’s the gruff security officer who fits the “abusive prison guard” trope to a fucking T, the judgmental Saru, the weird proto-Borg lady that won’t give Michael the time of day, and my personal (un)favorite:
He’s one of the headliners so he’s obviously going to be a central character, and yet he’s introduced in such a way as to make him intensely unlikable. He’s rude, condescending, and needlessly hostile. They don’t even give him a Sherlock Holmes style charm to counterbalance it, he’s just awful all the way around. In the stupid scene where Punchface McPunchable shows up, he asks Michael why’s she there, and when she replies she was assigned there, he asks:
“Who gave you an assignment? Only I give assignments.”
Then he brushes what I can only assume is the 24th Century equivalent of cocaine off his shoulder and asks if she’s the one Lorca sent. So wait, back up a second, why did you ask if you were expecting her? Then he accuses her of making things difficult. No, I’m sorry Punchy McPunchface, you made things difficult by being an intolerable douchebag of awfulness instead of just telling her what to do so we could all move on with our lives.
This is followed up by an incredibly bizarre moment when Michael stands there examining the code Punchface gave her and her roommate walks away and evaporates before our very eyes. I think this was meant to convey the passing of time, but the way it was done made it incredibly disconcerting. I didn’t even understand what was supposed to be happening until another pair of men enter the room and evaporate as well. I mean this was such a fundamental failure of directing and cinematography that I actually noticed it. This is coming from someone who didn’t even notice all the bad directing in the prequel trilogy of Star Wars until the Red Letter Media review pointed it out, so if I’m noticing problems like that, then they’re pretty damn huge. But back on point:
I had high hopes for Captain Lorca because I love Jason Isaacs, he’s an incredible actor that I thought might help Star Trek: Discovery find its feet. I genuinely enjoyed his introduction because he delivered some flare and humor to what had so far been a monotone episode of misery. And then the fortune cookies arrived…
Captain Lorca offers her a fortune cookie, saying it was an old family business… I’m sorry but what was? Making fortune cookies? Or did they run a Chinese restaurant? And then he describes how they went out of business when “want and poverty” vanished… and he sounds so god damn resentful about it. Humanity has finally advanced to the point where no one has to starve to death and no one lives on the streets, and yet he sounds angry about it. Why? Is he really so selfish to think that the advancement of mankind isn’t worth his family’s fortune cookie business going under? Why they thought this was appropriate thing to make the captain say, I’ll never know, because like most of the dialogue it does nothing positive for the show.
The only character I like is Michael’s roommate Cadet Tilly, because she’s the only one who has smiled and laughed in this whole miserable parade of awfulness. And yet she’s also presented to the audience as the resident idiot because she’s happy and bubbly. She’s also the only character that shows any kind of growth, who admits to distancing herself from Michael for fear of her career and apologizing after realizing that’s a shitty thing to do.
It was because of her bubbly nature that I thought she was going to die in the next section because…
Why Am I Watching the sequel to Event Horizon?
Actually that does Event Horizon a disservice because that’s a genuinely good movie, whereas Star Trek: Discovery‘s foray into scifi horror is just one giant horror trope after another.
Mutilated bodies? Check.
A door that keeps opening and closing? Check.
Character sees a monster in the dark and doesn’t tell the rest of the group? Check.
A stranger tries to warn them about the danger and dies? Check.
A nameless red shirt gets eaten? God damn check.
You want to add some more gore to Star Trek I say go for it. I always thought Deep Space 9 could have grounded some its action more solidly had we seen up close and personal what a Jem’Hadar weapon blast does to the human body. But if you’re going to add gore, at least have a point to it. These scenes had only one objective: to shock the audience. It doesn’t advance the story, or add any gravitas to the situation. It’s there for the same reason there’s gore in slasher and monster movies, because audiences like to see limp bloody corpses.
There was a moment where I actually thought this episode would so something interesting and its when they meet a Klingon survivor who tries to tell them to shut up. This was a perfect setup for having our characters cooperate with the Klingons. Given the closely grouped Klingon bodies, they were probably ambushed by the monster, with only this sole survivor left. Yet Klingons are hunters, whose native world is filled with deadly predators, and thus the perfect candidate for hunting down the monster. Meanwhile the Starfleet personnel know the terrain and could offer the manpower needed to bring it down. Thus taking the first step in forging new relations with the…
Or just have the Klingon get eaten. Whichever I guess.
The absolute worst part of this scene though is Michael’s utterly disinterested run from the alien monster. I guess its because she acts Vulcan, but she never once seems afraid. I talked about how a character’s fear of death, a fundamental fear shared by all, can add solid stakes to a scene in my review of Fury Road. If Michael isn’t afraid of dying, why should I be afraid of her dying?
She begins reciting Alice in Wonderland and again I understand what they’re going for, that Michael is using that to conquer her fear. Unfortunately because they forgot to show us Michael being afraid at all, it’s just a weird moment in a weird show as she literally conquers nothing. Honestly at this point, I was rooting for the monster.
So with whatever magical doohickeys they needed safely stashed away, the crew returns home…
And promptly blows the shit out of the Glen, which brings up, yet again…
Why Does the Plot Keep Contradicting Itself?
If Star Trek: Discovery ever gets hauled into a police station for unacceptable levels of badness, it’ll be instantly convicted because it just can’t keep its story straight for more than five minutes. At the beginning some nameless prisoner wonders why a brand new starship is so far from the frontlines, but then a short shuttle ride seems to take them directly to the wreck of the Glen which was on the Klingon border. And if that’s true, why send a helpless shuttle to find it when for all you know, it was Klingon ambush that disabled it. And if the Glen was working on top secret research identical to the Discovery’s, why was it near the Klingon Border at all? If it hadn’t been for the giant fungus monster all that classified research would have ended up in the hands of the Klingons.
So nice job, idiots.
Destroying the Glen is also completely bonkers, why would you destroy a perfectly good starship? Michael and the rest of the crew weren’t wearing biohazard suits so obviously they’re not afraid of infection. They successfully captured the fungus monster, so safety isn’t a concern. The only thing wrong with the ship is that its filled with gross bodies, but as unpleasant as that is, I’m sure you can find someone to clean up. Why was this ship salvageable? As the audience we absolutely need to know that.
This is followed by Captain Lorca making himself an even bigger asshole than I already know him to be, by saying:
“Sad to see a ship like that go…” – Abusive Prison Guard AKA Chief of Security
“It’s just a ship…” – Captain Lorca
Uh, no it isn’t because the entire crew died with it. His callous disregard for the lives of his fellow officers and crew is absolutely his worst moment in the show, and this is his first episode. This is preceded by Captain Lorca recruiting Michael to his crew, which begs the question: how the hell does that work?
Captain Lorca claims he has broad discretionary powers, which that combined with his disregard for human life makes him scary, but really? You don’t think Starfleet is going to have a few objections to rehiring Starfleet’s first mutineer that they sentenced to life in prison? If Lorca is just sticking it to the man then have him say that, don’t hide it behind euphemisms like “discretion”, because honestly it would actually give me a reason to like him, which is badly needed.
And just last week the show presented Starfleet as an Orwellian nightmare with summary judgments. So which is it? Is Starfleet a centralized authoritarian regime? Or one that’s willing to let its Captain’s exercise individuality? Because I assure you, those two options are mutually exclusive.
In the interest of fairness, I do want to end on a positive note.
When Lorca takes Michael to the engineering bay and shows her the spore drive, he gives a succinct, yet moving speech. Visiting far away places and meeting new civilizations… almost as if they were explorers of some kind instead of soldiers. This is as close to liking Lorca as I got in this episode, because it made me feel like perhaps this show wouldn’t be a constant parade of death and misery. That maybe, deep down somewhere, there was still a little bit of Star Trek optimism left in its withered heart.
Yet of course that was immediately undermined by Lorca examining his new pet fungus monster and walking away looking like a crazed serial killer.
Given Jason Isaac’s penchant for villainous roles, I’m sure Captain Lorca is going to end up turning evil(er) at some point. He’ll probably try to use the spores as a biological weapon exactly like Michael said he would.
I’ll keep watching to see how the show develops, but unlike everyone else it seems, I see no potential here anymore. Where can the show go from here? Everyone is already miserable and everybody hates everyone, so what’s going to happen when the war starts heating up? They’ll remain exactly as hateful and miserable as they are now, and that’ll be boring.
Yet I’ll keep watching, because I really hope I’m wrong. I want to be wrong about this show. I love Star Trek, I want there to always be a Star Trek show on the air. But this is just so bad on so many fundamental levels that I just can’t see it surviving, especially behind a $10 paywall. I guess we’ll see.