Six Things to Love About ‘Star Trek: Discovery’

Okay, in my relentless denigration of ‘Star Trek: Discovery’, I keep getting the same feedback from fans of the show:

“Why do you have to be so negatiiiive? If you don’t like it, don’t watch it! Real fans would be glad to see Star Trek back on TV! Why can’t you just be positive for a change?”

Well guess what, sperm-nozzles, I’m going to be positive. Maybe because I’m alone on Valentines’ Day, maybe because I’ve necked a bottle of wine and have impaired my judgement, maybe because I just want to shove it in the faces of all the fans of this awful, awful show, here’s some stuff I actually like about god damn ‘Star Trek: Discovery’.

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Source: ‘Veep’, by Armando Iannucci

1. Phillipa Georgiou

You may or may not have guessed that I love Phillipa Georgiou. Honestly, I was actually disappointed with Mirror Universe Emperor Georgiou, because as fun as it was to see Michelle Yeoh be evil and sadistic, Emperor Georgiou was ultimately quite a simplistic character – she’s evil, and she cares about Burnham, but she’s basically just evil.

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Captain Georgiou, on the other hand, was wonderfully complex. She had the easy confidence of James Kirk with the statesperson-like dignity of Jean Luc Picard. I loved the fact that she was playful, and smart, and thoughtful. One of my favourite moments from the series was one of the crew noting Burnham’s elevated heart-rate during a daring E.V.A. mission. Georgiou’s response? “She’s having fun.”

Needless to say, I was sad when she only lasted two episodes, and I was outright upset and offended when L’Rell started describing her cannibalisation. But Georgiou was a great character to start the series – bright, optimistic, but simultaneously grounded and sincere. If the entire show had just been a rehash of ‘Next Gen’ story lines but with Georgiou in command, I’d have been so happy.


2. The Rest of the Cast

Okay, I hate most of the characters in ‘Discovery’. But I really like most of the cast. Sonequa Martin-Green did a fantastic job as an emotional human with a Vulcan upbringing. Mary Wiseman was completely endearing as Cadet Tilly, with great comic timing. Jason Isaacs was sublime as the slimy Lorca, and Anthony Rapp was wonderfully earnest as the frustrated scientist-turned-human experiment. Shazad Latif was occasionally heart-breaking in his angst.

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Even the guest actors were great. Another favourite moment of mine is Admiral Cornwell, played by Jayne Brook, chastising Lorca and his self-inflicted suffering: “Why don’t you get your damn eyes fixed??” And let’s not forget James Frain: I actually think it’s a shame he was playing a Vulcan in ‘Discovery’, because he did a fine job, but he was so wonderful as the despicable Ferdinand in ‘Orphan Black’ that I really wish he’d had a greater emotional range to play with than is available to Vulcans.

However, I couldn’t really tell how good a job Mary Chieffo did as L’Rell, because one of the missteps of the series was covering the Klingons in such heavy prosthetics, and distorting their voices so completely, that it was difficult to gauge the performance of the actors beneath all the latex and behind the subtitles. The likes of Martok, Chang, the Duras Sisters, Gowron and and Kurn are great because there is still a great deal of humanity to them – they might be aliens, but they’re human enough for the actors’ talents to shine through.


3. Thirty-Nine Minutes And Fifteen Seconds

adored ‘Magic To Make The Sanest Man Go Mad’. I loved it. Right up until the finale. Thirty-nine minutes and fifteen seconds of what was almost some of the best Trek material ever made.

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I know that sounds like hyperbole, but there was so much that was great going on. The cheesy party (they’re space nerds, of course their parties are lame), the animal-friendly policy around space whales, the time-looping, the scenery-chewing by Rainn Wilson, the unrelenting sadism towards Lorca, Engineer Stamets’ transition from panic to realisation to calm resolution. This episode was delightful.

The ending ruined it. I mean, it really ruined it, from the “Here’s your punishment: a woman,” to the “You go right ahead and keep all those technical details about this advanced warship, don’t even worry about it,” the conclusion to the story was completely piss-poor. It was a waste. But until then, it was magical, and I would’ve paid foldin’ money for the entire show to be of this quality.


4. A Couple That Happened to be Gay

Stamets and Culber. Two people, in love. They’re weren’t really a gay couple – they were just a couple. I really liked the understated relationship they had – supportive, occasionally contradictory, but in general full of concern and love. That’s great. I liked that. It’s too easy to “play it gay” or to try to make a point about inclusiveness, but Sta/lber didn’t, they – well, they played it straight.

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That being said, I genuinely feel that the lack of physical affection between them was awful. We first see them as a couple when they’re in the quarters, brushing their teeth before bed. They brushed their teeth, for Christ’s sakes! They told each other how much they cared about each other! They were in private! Why wouldn’t they kiss?

This was a smudge on an otherwise really positive portrayal of a same-sex relationship: it felt for all the world like the creators just wanted to save “Trek’s First Gay Kiss” for their mid-season finale. I wish they hadn’t. But I’m glad they got the rest of it right.


5. Female Competency

Burnham is a competent, versatile officer. Her suspension-of-disbelief-breaking fuckup in the pilot episode notwithstanding, she’s portrayed as just being good at stuff, the way Kirk was good at stuff, and Picard, and Janeway.

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I love the remake of ‘Battlestar Galactica’ and I love Starbuck in it, but I didn’t half get pissed off when Starbuck was “The Best” at everything. The best pilot, the best sniper, a would-be professional space-football player, a great strategist, a great musician, an artist, an angel, and on and on and on.

Burnham doesn’t get that fanfare. Saru describes her as “the smartest officer” he’d ever known, but in general she’s just shown as being capable and adaptable and determined. This is good. It’s too easy to try to empower female characters by over-stating their abilities; Burnham was smart, but I never felt that she was better than everyone – she was just a good officer. Until she wasn’t.


6. Women in General

Look, ‘Discovery’ has issues with representation. We can’t escape that. But I will give it some, some, credit for having women actually in the show. Don’t get me wrong, I am appalled that so many women like Detmer, Owosekun and Airiam are included merely as set-dressing, but I am also glad that they’re there in the first place. And, as dreadful as the finale might have been, it was cool to see that all the most powerful people involved were women.

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There’s still a long way to go. And it’s important not to fall into the trap of thinking that ‘Discovery’ is doing better than other shows – there are many, many better examples of more proportional representation, even going all the way back to ‘Voyager’, ‘Farscape’ and ‘Babylon 5’. But I will grant that ‘Discovery’ is at least trying, even if it’s not trying hard or successfully enough, to make women a bigger part of the Star Trek canon.

(In fairness, the only reason I rake it over the coals so much in terms of female representation is because it’s putting itself on that path, just not well enough, and congratulating it for tokenism would be wrong.)


‘Discovery’ is more failure than triumph, but it does occasionally shine. Most of my gripes focus on its writing, the flaws in its narrative that prevent it from ever excelling. And that’s the real tragedy, because the story is the one thing you can get right before you ever get anyone else involved.

If one of your actors is piss-poor, or your director just doesn’t grasp the theme of the episode, or the sets look like Styrofoam and poster-paint, that can be a shame, but it doesn’t necessarily ruin a good story – for example, the aforementioned ‘Babylon 5′, which was plagued with terrible acting and embarrassing scenery but was still endearing because of the story it told.

So many small elements of DISCO were great, and they were wasted by an unfocused narrative that relied too heavily on twists and cliffhangers and plots, it actually breaks my heart a little, and all for the sake of a little more work in the writers’ room.

Such a shame.

‘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

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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?

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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:

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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:

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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.

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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.)

Harry Mudd Drags ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ the Closest It’s Ever Been to Greatness, Yet I Still Don’t Get That Gay Kiss

I swear to Christ, I cannot cope with this emotional rollercoaster. With my expectations about as low as they could possibly be, I approached tonights Harry “Dickhead” Mudd episode fully prepared for yet more dreck.

Then it turned around and started charming the pants off me. I mean, I was genuinely enjoying it, I was even laughing, I was even invested in the story. I mean, what show is this all of a sudden? Did I fall through a portal into the Mirror Universe? Who are you people? What is this?

Because I’m an honest man, or at the very least terrified of being accused of hypocrisy, I will give this episode, ‘Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad’, a title rivaling ‘The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry’ in terms of dumb verbosity, all the credit it is due. Which is quite a lot actually. I’ll break it down for you.


The Good Stuff

I was amazed by how compelling Mudd managed to be as a villain. After his ridiculously off-tone “You haven’t seen the last of meeeee!” in ‘Choose Your Pain’, I was fully anticipating a truly rubbish antagonist, but he was genuinely quite threatening and determined. He was suitably arrogant about the advantage he had over the crew, and he basked in his superiority.

Mudd’s recollection of repeatedly killing Lorca was glorious to behold. Particularly the moment he beamed him into space. That was so delightfully wicked. It was a particularly nice choice to show us Lorca’s demise from a distance, just as a blur on the view screen – no close ups, for none were needed.

As one of my friends pointed out, Lorca’s general distance in this episode was ideal. He was just there, as a captain, not really doing much, not being a total dickhole, just being a bit severe. And I did enjoy him being repeatedly berated by a dumpy bearded idiot (no idea why).

Stamets was on form this episode, so much so that I’m willing to refer to him by his actual name. His confused panic was perfectly portrayed by Anthony Rapp, as was his increasing serenity as he gradually regained a little control over the situation.

Turns out that Rapp’s character is actually named for Paul Stamets, a real-world mycologist. Nice. Fair play, I can respect that.

Burnham was also on form, and her confused adolescent response to meeting a good-looking boy is quite charming. I wish her secret had been a little juicier, though. I’ve never been in love, Burnham, but you don’t see me getting a character arc. I would have loved it if she’d just come out and said “I want to grab Saru by his ganglia and fuck him ’til next July” or something actually shocking.

Space whales are a stupid, tired idea and yet I still love them and would like to see more.

Tilly remained Tilly. Enough said.

The violence. This is the kind of violence that should be in Trek. It was dark, sure, and definitely a bit disturbing, but it was shrouded in special effects. There was no blood in this episode, nobody being sliced apart or screaming in agony for minutes at a time. It was harsh, but it wasn’t sadistic, and it wasn’t directed solely at women, and I can respect that.

“There are so many ways to blow up this ship, it’s almost a design flaw,” was beautiful, as was “Here, can you let me lead, please?” This episode had some of the best dialogue I’ve seen in Trek for a while.

We finally, finally, get some fucking context to this bloody war. And with a nicely efficient line, as I’ve already discussed. “Because of [Discovery], the tide has turned. Because of us, we are winning.” Fantastic! That tells an entire story! They were on the backfoot, now they’re gaining the upper hand. One line in the opening log entry, that’s all it took. that’s all it fucking took! Why did we have to wait for five fucking episodes?

I am pleased to see Burnham sans a Starfleet badge. It marks her out among the crew – she’s got duties, but she’s still disgraced. That’s a subtle, but meaningful touch.

And finally, the fact that the resolution to the crew’s predicament was non-violent really pleased me. Them having to think their way out of it, instead of shooting or punching their way out, is incredibly refreshing – particularly after the trend in Trek productions that was so perfectly exemplified by ‘Into Darkness’.

Indeed, the fact that the problem itself was intellectual, rather than physical, was more-or-less spot on, and was exactly what this show needed as a palette-cleanser after all of the torture and mutilation of previous episodes.

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*swoon*

Basically, this was a great episode for about… thirty-nine minutes and fifteen seconds. For thirty-nine minutes and fifteen seconds, this was probably one of the top twenty episodes in all Trekdom. Hell, maybe top ten. I’m not even kidding.

And yet the writers still manage to take all of that quality, all of that smooth sailing, and dash it upon the rocks of mediocrity.


The Bad Stuff

That thirty-nine minutes and fifteen seconds of quality I mentioned just above? Here’s how I got there:

Two minutes and thirty seconds at the beginning covers the still-terrible opening sequence. I’ll take a quick diversion here to say that this is literally the worst opening sequence of Trek, and it’s the worst by a margin. I mean, I hated ‘Faith of the Heart’ as much as anyone, but it was at least optimistic and upbeat. ‘Discovery’s opening theme is a depressing, atonal mess.

And at least ‘Enterprise’ gave us a nice montage of the development of Earth’s warp-capable craft – ‘Discovery’ just shows us the slowly-rotating CGI models for various props and costumes. It’s like a fucking ‘Skyrim’ loading screen, for fuck’s sakes. It’s as though the creators are embarrassed of the show, which in fairness, they should be, but still.

ANYWAY, two-and-a-half minutes gets us past the “previously on” and through the loading screen to Burnham’s personal log. I loved the fact that we’re back to log entries – they’re such nice bookends, and entirely capture the feeling of Star Trek.

Thirty-nine minutes and fifteen seconds after this point, though, it all goes to pieces, with just one line:

“You sent them to Stella…”

This is Stamets, concluding the explanation of the crew’s solution to Harry Mudd: they called his girlfriend on him. In a throw-back to ‘I, Mudd’ of The Original Series, but with a marginally less misogynistic tone, they reunite him with his girlfriend and her arms dealer father.

The reunion scene was painfully clichéd compared to the rest of the episode, but it was functional enough to get by. The real problem was its implications.

So, here’s what the crew know about Mudd at the point that they release him:

  • He is perfectly willing to murder hundreds of people, and has literally done so dozens of times just in the last half hour. That’s the plot of the episode.
  • He is complicit in the torture and abuse of prisoners, admittedly while a prisoner himself.
  • He knows every operational detail about the Discovery, including how her experimental drive works, the secret to controlling it, and its limitations.
  • He had full, unlimited access to all of Starfleet’s tactical and strategic data, from ship positions, supply routes and defense lines, based on the information that was openly on display in Lorca’s office.
  • He has active connections with the Klingons, with a pre-existing deal to deliver Discovery to them, and likely has valuable information about the Klingon Empire, with a proven willingness to divulge information in exchange for his own safety.
  • He is a total arsehole.

Knowing all of this, they choose to put him in the care of a known arms dealer who goes around in a black leather cape and a pimp cane, who makes a profit from selling weapons, who has promised to keep Mudd “out of Starfleet’s way”.

 

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The custodian of a mass murderer with incredibly valuable tactical information. Hang on, is that a lion’s head on that cane? Is this guy a fucking Lannister?

Okay.

Okay, let’s unpick that.

So, they have the ability to summon, like, a thousand Starfleet ships, or even just one ship, or even no ships at all. I mean, the goodies’ whole plan was to rewire the computer so Mudd’s attempt to summon the Klingons wouldn’t work. And that’s what they did. So why didn’t they just make it so that his transmission was never sent, and instead lock him in the brig? I mean, they overpowered him anyway.

Seeing Mudd carried off on a Starfleet Prison shuttle would have been the perfect ending to this episode. Seeing him miserable and forlorn and facing a lifetime in prison would have made perfect sense. Not even a lifetime, even if they ignored the whole “attempted mass murder” thing and just locked him up for the duration of the war to prevent him sharing his knowledge with anyone else.

But the fact that they literally sent him on his way with not even a slap on the wrist is appalling. It’s just so, so stupid. It makes no sense and makes our protagonists come across as dribbling morons. Y’know, he’s not some misguided soul, here, he’s a for-profit would-be mass-murderer who literally went through with the cold-blooded slaughter of hundreds of Starfleet officers potentially hundreds of times.

Not to mention that he was intending to sell Starfleet technology to their enemies. And even if he’s no longer able to do that, he can still sell all of their technical and strategic secrets. And he could do that with a fucking hand-held radio, or even a carrier pigeon. I mean, how stupid do you have to be to let someone as dangerous as that out of your hands?

And I know why they resolved it the way they did. The did it because the previously-established canon demanded it. Harry Mudd turns up in The (now-defunct anyway after all the production advancements) Original Series, therefore they obviously can’t violate that plotline, despite the fact that they seem willing to play entirely fast and loose with every other bit of established canon on the show, from the technology to the uniforms to the Klingons’ very appearance.

So, because of the commercial desire to use a recognisable name from the franchise, regardless of how little sense it makes, the writers’ hands were forced into this absurd ending that sabotages what otherwise would be an all-time great episode of Trek. And it really did ruin it for me – I finished the episode angry, despite having enjoyed myself for 87% of its run time.


WHY WON’T THEY KISS???

One final thing. We still get no kiss between Stamets and Culber, despite yet another perfect setup. No, we just get another platonic pat on the shoulder, a gesture as romantic as that between Kirk and Scotty in your average Original Series episode from the ’60s.

I mean, we get to see people being vaporised from the inside out and choking to death in space, and obviously I’m fine with that because it all happened to Lorca, but really? Still no gay kiss? I just want to see two dudes making out, that’s all. That’s all I want. And we even get to see multiple heterosexual couples making out in the background of this episode. Just no gays. Unless I’m misreading the situation and it’s actually the interracial aspect of the relationship of which the show’s creators are terrified.

Taking a broader view, Rapp is openly queer, as he has described himself, and Cruz is an active participant in the LGBT culture, and I can only imagine how these two actors must feel to be playing a loving homosexual couple that is denied any opportunity to express physical affection, either in public or in private. It just feels like a huge step backwards.

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“Okay, you can put your hand on his neck, but if you so much as glance longingly at his lips then you’re fired and we’re going full hetero on this thing.”