My unexpected optimism for Star Trek: Discovery is fast turning to disappointment.
No spoilers for this week’s episode, although I do want it on record I’m incredibly disappointed that after going to the effort of casting formidable women of colour, this show seems intent on fridging them. WTF.
I’ve been reading a lot of behind the scenes things about TOS as I rewatch it. One thing is clear: Star Trek was ahead of its time in almost every way. From its storytelling to its acting to its design and production, it departed from the norms of television in the 1960s. Roddenberry and co. took a risk, and it paid off.
The more I watch of Discovery, the more I’m convinced of a few things. Firstly, I don’t think Discovery is trash in the way I think the new movies are trash. It is a quality production, with excellent acting and characterization, and it’s trying to tell a compelling story that, magical spore-drives aside, could make for some good science fiction.
But it’s not Star Trek. At least, it isn’t my Star Trek in the way that the first four live-action TV series (and … OK … yes … sometimes even Enterprise) were.
There is no reason for this series to be a prequel. The story it’s telling could work just as well set in the future, long after Voyager. Arguably, it would work better, for it would abrogate any need to explain the seemingly more-advanced technology, the differences in the Klingons, etc. I really don’t understand this decision.
The quality of the production is everything I’ve ever dreamed Star Trek could be: those sets, that lighting, those costumes (even if the departments are hard to distinguish)—the design and production values are phenomenal. Overall, though, this just doesn’t feel like Star Trek to me.
But the first four live-action Star Trek series have had one thing in common: they all took risks. They all pushed the boundaries of contemporary television in some way. In fact, I’d argue that Discovery has this in common with Enterprise and that this is the reason the latter largely fell flat: it doesn’t take risks.
The serialized structure of this show is not working for me. That’s not because I hate serialized storytelling. Hell, Deep Space Nine pioneered it—and that was also a wartime series, for its second and most serialized half. But when DS9 did it, it was a risk.
TNG took huge risks by not being TOS, with a more intellectual captain. It continued Star Trek’s legacy of telling deep stories that examine contemporary social issues. I understand that Discovery is trying to do that, honestly, I get it—but I feel like the show is just too wrapped up in its own story to be successful in this respect.
It’s as if someone took a bunch of good TV writers and said, “Make me a Star Trek show using today’s conventions for television.” And that doesn’t work, because that isn’t Star Trek. Discovery is telling a science-fiction story, but it’s not particularly a Star Trek story. Its delivery is just too much like everything else on TV these days.
Much like the new movies, it has more in common with fanfic. I mean no disrespect to Sonequa Martin-Green, who is playing the character quite well, but Michael Burnham is a total Mary Sue. I can just imagine a fanfic writer squealing as they type in their outline: “and then she was adopted by Sarek and raised as Spock’s sister … and then after she mutinies, she is nevertheless the only person who can help Discovery …” Or consider the spore drive, or the revamped Klingons—this is Trek fanfic, just licensed.
I’ve recently had the pleasure of starting a rewatch of Stargate SG-1 from the beginning. I’m reminded of just how good this show was from the start, and am steeped in anticipation for just how good it gets as it develops. It’s not that I miss episodic television per se—the experimentation with television as a more serial medium is a lovely development of these past decades—but I think there’s something to be said for episodic science fiction.
The push, from whatever sources, to make Discovery “Star Trek, but modern” is not working for me. It’s a show, and maybe a good show, but it isn’t my Star Trek.