Friday, October 13, 2017

Star Trek: Discovery is Bad, and You Should Feel Bad

The first episode of Star Trek I can remember watching is The Balance of Terror, I was home sick from school and the episode played on the old channel DC20 in the middle of the day or late morning.  I'm pretty sure it aired at 10:00 am because that was when I turned on the television in my parents' bedroom after convincing myself that my mother wasn't going to suddenly decide she wasn't going to work that day.  This thought process is odd because I'm pretty sure my mom was working from home during this period, so maybe she had gone to the grocery store or something.  That's all irrelevant, but that's where my mind was while I was watching Star Trek as a child. 

As an adult, Star Trek fills a similar role as Doctor Who, a show that approaches challenges and meeting new species and people with hope and curiosity, even the Daleks and Klingons have been treated with empathy.  Not to get pedantic, but the opening sequence makes it pretty damn obvious:
Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.

To quote Captain Kirk, he of the flying leg kick, "We fight only when there's no choice."

After four episodes, my impression of Star Trek: Discovery's opening narration, if it had one, would be: "Victory by any means necessary. Also, fuck all the previously established storylines and precedent."  JJ Abrams can pull this off for his movies, opening up new adventures for the crew of the Enterprise, and allowing writers to work within the same universe while also exploring new ground.  The first new movie wasn't terrible, it was entertaining, but not great, much like Star Trek 4: The Voyage HomeStar Trek Into Darkness was pretty bad, mostly because the villain had no build up within the story so we weren't invested in him or the threat he represented to the crew.  "Hi guys!  I'm Khan, even though we rebooted this movie series to allow us to make new movies we are reusing all of the old storylines!  Totally not a remake tho!"  However to try and shoehorn this sort of mentality into a universe that has previously always been about exploration, about empathy, and ever hopeful is a mistake.  Like taking away the Doctor's sonic screwdriver and replacing it with a .44 Space Magnum.

Star Trek: Discovery feels like someone at CBS wanted a sci-fi show, and all the execs would allow was Star Trek, and so the creators are begrudgingly working within that framework, while bending or breaking it as much as possible.  The two-part pilot was ham-fisted at best, and downright shitty at worst.  The main problems can be broken into two categories: the heroes and the villains.  The interactions between Michael Burnham and her captain were so forced and awkward, you would be forgiven if you thought they had been working together for 7 days, not 7 years.  Sure, Burnham was raised by Vulcans, and you might say that is why she was awkward around other humans, but if you watch Spock and Kirk for two minutes, you'd see that excuse as flimsy.  After 7 years together, those two characters knew almost nothing about each other, had no trust in each other's decisions, and couldn't communicate effectively in a crisis situation.  Essentially, this results from poor writing.

The villains of ST: Discovery are Klingons on the warpath.  Unfortunately, they're terrible, too.  Dispensing the established storylines of shows that the creators claim to be working within, the Klingons look like someone had described ST:TNG-era Klingons to a make-up artist who had never seen a Star Trek show over a bad Skype connection. This breaks with the continuity of ST: Enterprise and TOS.  These Klingons are much more savage than Klingons of any era.  I could have missed this, but I can't recall any Klingons eating the corpses of their enemies in The Next Generation, and I just finished watching that entire series only last week.  Their costumes, armor, ships, and space suits all look like they belong in a fantasy genre show, "let's just throw spikes on everything, that will show everyone how edgy and new these baddies are!"  Their entire outlook and costumes have been designed to make them out to be one-dimensional savages with whom there can be no negotiation.  That's a violation of Starfleet directive something or other: everyone deserves a chance.

Ultimately, all this boils down to a show that I might have watched an episode or two of on Netflix, but won't bother watching and certainly won't keep paying for a subscription to CBS All Access.  I watched these four episodes on CBS All Access which my lovely lady had signed up to watch the Emmys.  We have already cancelled the subscription.

If I want to watch a new Star Trek show, I'll watch The Orville.  Yeah, I said it, Seth MacFarlane's show is vastly better, with thoughtful writing, some funny jokes, some unfunny jokes, and they've stopped mentioning his character's divorce every five minutes.