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’.
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.
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.
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
I 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.