‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Returns With A Representational Quagmire

Spoiler alert: I hate ‘Star Trek: Discovery’.

The thing is, I used to hate it because it was alternately stupid and offensive. And so I used to be able to enjoy hating it for that reason.

Now it has returned after a festive hiatus and it does so with all the joy and wonder of a bloodshot-eyed office worker staggering to their desk on the Monday after New Year’s, hollow-eyed, stinking of cheap booze and regret, a single paper string from a party popper hanging limply from their unwashed hair.

To say that the show’s tenth episode, ‘Despite Yourself’, is lacklustre is as much of an understatement as the episode itself. It never picks up any momentum, and any that it accidentally accrues it quickly wastes.

Anyway, since I am about to go on for a bit, I’m going to list some random observations first, rather than last:

  • Detmer finally speaks to Burnham. Burnham doesn’t grace her with a response. The only other two women to speak to each other are Burnham and Tilly. L’Rell also gets lines. That’s a total of four women who speak this episode.
  • The men yet again get multiple conversational connections, between Lorca, Tyler, Culber, Stamets, Saru, Connor, the captain of the Cooper, random crew members…
  • I laughed sadistically and without restraint when Burnham and Ash Tyler the Human decided to fuck, knowing that Lorca was currently being tortured. The episode doesn’t even try to hide it, we literally cut from them wrapping their legs around each other to Lorca’s spleen wrapping itself around his lungs.
  • I wouldn’t have laughed if it had been anyone other than Lorca.
  • Jason Isaacs’ Scottish accent was beautiful, and beautifully fitting given that he was pretending to be the chief engineer at the time.
  • We don’t see any women brutally killed this episode, but in a single snap we do lose both half of the male non-white main cast and half of the gay main cast.
  • The other half of the gay main cast is currently alternating between catatonic and violently dissociative.
  • The other half of the male non-white main cast is currently suffering from violent PTSD.
  • Of the named characters who have died so far, four of them were played by non-white actors (Georgiou, T’Kuvma, Landry, now Culber) and two were white (Kol and Connor). One third of those deaths were women, which in fairness ties in with the proportion of talking roles women get in this series, too.
  • I like the fact that Tyler’s reveal isn’t even treated as a reveal, it just kind of happens. Presumably the writers realised that they would be surprising literally nobody who had actually followed the show on even a casual basis.

Shock and no Awe

culber

I didn’t anticipate Culber getting offed, but I think that’s because the writers didn’t, either. I think they wrote themselves into a corner and pretty much had no choice but to kill off a familiar character to make it seem like that particular story was advancing.

First off, a question:

If “PTSD regs require full-duty quarantine until you can get treatment”… how was Tyler allowed to serve to begin with?

I don’t know for sure that seven months of abuse and torture would cause everybody psychological issues, but surely when Tyler returned from the prison ship, the first thing that would happen is that he would be sent to an actual medical facility?

What happened, exactly? Did a doctor interview Tyler, ask him “Do you think you have PTSD?”, let him answer “Probably fine,” and subsequently clear him to man the weapons systems?

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to feed into the fiction that people with psychological issues are inherent liabilities. But the fact that they have regulations prohibiting military service for people with PTSD suggests that you would assume a person is vulnerable until proven other wise.

I mean, Christ, Culber even tells us that they scanned Tyler when he first came aboard and knew then that he was essentially one large piece of scar tissue. And yet they never seem to have considered that he might have needed the attention of a qualified mental health professional following such an ordeal. Was this negligence? Malice? Did Lorca override them? Would he even be able to do that?

tylersad

The point is, Culber gets killed off without ceremony or even acknowledgement. A room full of medical scanners apparently can’t detect a murder, and neither can the ship’s general internal sensors, which you might think would be a useful feature. These ships aren’t exactly short on power, so you wouldn’t think that a periodic scan for corpses would be too difficult. Mind you, they probably switched it off after it kept getting set off by Gene Roddenberry’s legacy.

So, Culber dies without any immediate consequence, following in the path of Captain Georgiou, Commander Landry and T’Kuvma…

Hm.

That’s now four named characters of colour, two of them women, one of them gay, who have been killed, incredibly violently. Meanwhile, the only other person to die this episode is a white man who we had already seen die. Hell, the only other people we see die the entire series are all nameless mooks, plus Kol (who is the mookiest of antagonists anyway). You could potentially include Admiral ThatBloke in the count, but he barely gets two scenes in the joint pilot episodes.

I mean, I’m not saying that this is evidence that the show is bigoted. It’s a hell of a lot more representational than previous Trek outings. Or at least, it probably would be, if it didn’t keep killing off all of its minority cast.

It’s just that the longest-running characters are now made up of Burnham, Lorca, Stamets, Tilly, Detmer, Ash the Human, L’Rell and Saru. Admittedly, half of them are women (although Detmer averages less than one line per episode), but six out of eight of them are played by white actors.

So here’s those statistics side by side:

nameddeathsvslongstandingcharacters

Again, this doesn’t prove that the show is white supremacist propaganda, and those charts would likely be even worse for many other recent productions (particularly Star Wars, or even other Treks), but they’re hardly favourable for a show with a legacy of diversity.

(By the way, Ted, if you’re reading this,
A) Why are you reading this?
B) Can I call you Ted?
C) Don’t take it personally, but please don’t pat yourself on the back too much either.)


A Token of Appreciation

Here’s another worrying consideration:

I’ve already covered the amounts women talk to each other. To remind you, here are the charts, as of Episode Nine (I will update for Episode Ten in due course):

 

Now, here’s another set of data:

victimsofviolence

Now, I will concede that this is likely not perfect data, as I put that above table together in a hurry and from memory. But what I want you to do is look at that table, and then look at the two network graphs above, and then do something a little weird:

Pretend Burnham’s a man.

If Burnham was a male character, here’s what would happen:

  • The number of women who are victims of horrible violence would reduce by 20%.
  • The number of female-female conversational connections would reduce by 73% (sixteen connections out of 22 would disappear).

That’s… that’s a subtle point to get your head around, so here’s another way to look at it:

  • Named male characters have a 92% chance of speaking to another named male character during the series, whilst non-Burnham named female characters have a 50% chance of speaking to another female character during the series.
  • Male named characters have a 12% chance of suffering gory violence, whilst female non-Burnham named characters have a 33% chance of suffering gory violence.
  • Women with names in ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ have a one-in-three chance of being mauled, burned or eaten, and a one-in-two chance of talking to one another.

Just to reiterate, this isn’t proof of anything. It’s just worth taking in. Again, remember that these figures are probably a lot better than they would be for most other shows.

Now, those numbers have moved around a bit with Lorca and Connor getting a bit of punishment in Episode Ten, so I’m going to have to rerun everything. But seriously, take these figures with the stats about skin colour and… god damn.

lorcaburnham

The thing is, can a show be accused of tokenism when its main character is a black woman? I mean, tokenism is literally using limited representation to appear more diverse than reality. Does it apply here? If you can remove one character and suddenly end up with barely any female interaction with the narrative, can you really claim to be inclusive?

I don’t know where I was going with this, but I really, really hope this show gets itself onto a better track soon.

(Note: there will be numerous flaws with the above numerical analysis that I cannot be fucked to track down and correct. If you spot them, leave a note in the comments and I will adjust my figures as long as you’re not a total dick about it.)

One thought on “‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Returns With A Representational Quagmire

  1. One thing that puzzles me is the amount of people who are claiming that the Ash reveal is a) shocking and b) meaning that he is “likely” the albino as though this episode was somehow subtle in anyway. I’m glad to see that there is at least one other person who saw it as them giving up and acknowledging it after all this time.
    The PTSD feels like the doctors didn’t pick up on it when he was first brought on board because he didn’t get it until a few episodes later when they realised that it was a little weird for a gritty serial television show to overlook.
    As for the representation I would like to say I’m surprised by your findings but truth a lot felt like just a way to sell the series when it was first announced rather than any real commitment to the ideal.

    Liked by 1 person

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