Aboard the Shenzhou, Saru strides onto the bridge, Detmer in tow. She hurries forwards to the helm station and relieves the stand-in. As she sits down, the navigation officer leans over to her. “Are you sure you should be flying the ship? Weren’t you unconscious ten minutes ago?”
Detmer shrugs. “Well, I feel like I spent the night sleeping inside a warp coil, but the doc gave me a stimulant and cleared me. I’ll be fine.”
Saru steps up behind the captain’s chair and grips the back of it with both hands. “Status report, please.”
The ops officer responds. “Still no word from the captain, sir. We’ve detected some strange readings from the object, even through the scattering field. Tachyon emissions, building up over time.”
“Tachyon?” Saru queries, baffled. His threat-ganglia sprout from the sides of his head. “What could possibly-”
He’s interrupted as the bridge fills with blinding white light, and a painful shriek fills the air.
On the Klingon station, Burnham moves slowly into the main hall. It’s dark, lit only by the torches on the walls scattered between huge statues of Klingon warriors. On the main floor of the hall, there are piles of Starfleet torpedoes. Past them, at the far end of the hall beneath a great window into space, is a raised dais, and on it is T’Kuvma, with Georgiou on the floor beside him. Her hands are cuffed and her shoulder is still bandaged, but she is otherwise unharmed.
In front of T’Kuvma is a raised control panel. He cries out something in Klingon, and then he activates it. The hall fills with a dull hum, which gradually increases in pitch and volume. Burnham covers her ears, as does Georgiou, but T’Kuvma merely spreads his arms in triumph.
As the noise reaches its most deafening point, the entire hall disappears in a burst of white light. Burnham looks around, but she can barely make aything out beyond faint outlines. As her eyes adjust, other details slowly render into view, and the shape of the hall becomes apparent again – except now it is pure, brilliant white, with no refuge for the oppressive, murky shadows by which it was previously characterised.
Burnham, in her blue uniform, now appears as a glowing azurite idol in the brilliant light. Georgiou’s shoulder wound shines red and vivid, her uniform darkened by the blood. T’Kuvma, with his onyx Klingon skin and ornate, jet armour remains untouched by the light.
T’Kuvma stands facing the window, staring out at the darkness of space. The stars have vanished, unable to compete with the light from the station. The rocks and asteroids around the station, however, are bathed in the light, each one shining brighter than the full moon as they tumble and roll past the window.
Burnham takes the opportunity to move forwards, towards Georgiou and her captor. She advances up the middle of the hall, directly behind them both, darting from cover to cover.
As she reaches the half-way mark, the deafening shriek abates, followed immediately by a single loud, low, thudding pulse.
On the dais, T’Kuvma turns to Georgiou. “Time for the Galaxy to hear our truth,” he says.
On the bridge of the Shenzhou, the crew struggle to maintain their duties whilst blinded and deafened. Information and updates are shouted from one station to another, whilst Saru stands in the middle of it all, baffled. His ganglia stand proud on the sides of his head.
The noise abates whilst the light remains, and many of the bridge officers sag with relief at this respite. Saru doesn’t move, but stammers out a request. “Status report? Anybody?”
The ops officer volunteers an explanation. “A massive subspace disturbance, sir. That was a bang that the whole quadrant could hear.”
“What kind of a bang, lieutenant?”
“Single-frequency, massive amplitude. It…” The officer processes the data. “Wow.”
“’Wow’, lieutenant?” Saru’s expression is one of confusion and frustration.
“No, it’s, it’s one thousand, four hundred and twenty megahertz, sir. The Wow signal.”
Saru ponders for a second or two, before the comms officer chimes in. “Mister Saru, there’s an incoming transmission. From the station.”
Saru turns his head to her. “They’re hailing us now?”
“No, sir. They’re broadcasting everywhere. Putting it on screen.”
The image of T’Kuvma fades in on the main screen, stark against the brilliant white background. He holds his arms out before announcing himself. “Warriors of the Empire, and lesser nations across the stars, I am T’Kuvma. I am the appointed emmissary of Kah’less, Steward of His Holy Beacon, on which I now stand. Inheritor of ancient tradition, and guardian of the faith of my people.”
Aboard the Buran, Lorca, Tyler and crew watch the same transmission, silent and perplexed.
T’Kuvma continues, “A short time ago, this sacred shrine was assaulted by Starfleet soldiers. They sought to continue their campaign of cultural vandalism, by destroying this beacon and assassinating me.”
His image is replaced by footage from the internal sensors of the station’s hangar, as Burnham’s shuttle flies in and wipes out the squad of waiting Klingons. T’Kuvma speaks over the footage. “These operatives failed in their mission to erase yet more of our traditions, our way of life.”
Aboard a Klingon ship, a commander in vibrant armour decorated with gruesome trophies watches in outrage as the footage switches to Burnham, shooting the wounded Klingon and stepping over the body.
T’Kuvma’s voice continues. “Despite Starfleet’s brutality, my fellow warriors and I were able to counter this traitorous and dishonourable sneak attack, but the Empire must know – Starfleet means to end us. Klingon honour and Federation sensitivities cannot co-exist, and so they seek to pre-emptively gain supremacy.”
Back on the Shenzhou, Saru, Detmer and the others are still watching. T’Kuvma’s image returns to the screen. “I cannot abide such treachery!” he roars. “I am Klingon! We all are Klingon, and we cannot allow such trespasses against us!”
He reaches down and hauls Georgiou to her feet by her neck. “The Federation must pay for its transgressions! Starting with this one, this assassin and spy!” He shakes her. “Tell them! Tell them who you are! Tell them what you came here to do!”
Georgiou, visibly in pain, does her best to retain her composure. The harsh light amplifies the dirt on her face, and the wound on her shoulder. T’Kuvma’s hand chokes her, but she fights to speak audibly. “My name is Captain Phillipa Georgiou. We came here in a spirit of peace. We intend no harm to the Klingon Empire, we seek only-“
“FEDERATION LIES!” T’Kuvma roars, screams. He squeezes Georgiou’s neck tighter, and with his free hand draws a Klingon dagger. “In the name of the Empire!” he shouts, as he plunges the dagger into her chest, straight through her heart.
The crew of the Shenzhou gasp, and cry out. Saru staggers backward, aghast. Detmer shudders, her hands over her gaping mouth, her eyes wide in fright and shock.
In the main hall, behind T’Kuvma, Burnham watches as he releases his grip on Georgiou and lets her body drop limply to the floor.
Burnham doesn’t respond at first. She stays motionless, knelt behind cover. Her breathing grows deeper, and more ragged. She stares at Georgiou’s body. Silence pervades.
Burnham closes her eyes.
Saru is still stood up, but only in the strictest sense. His entire upper body hunches over, his head low and held in his hands. One of the officers weeps quietly. Detmer’s hands are still covering her face.
T’Kuvma starts talking again. “Such is the price of dishonour. My fellow Klingons, you already know the true face of the Federation. You are familiar with the beast that. To the rest of the galaxy I say this: the Federation has too long hidden its fangs behind the false nobility of its own enlightenment. At its heart, it is a crueller, more violent tyranny than even-“
He chokes, and then shudders. The centre of his chest glows, and then disintegrates. Red particles cascade across his body leaving grey dust in their wake. T’Kuvma’s body vaporises, vanishing to reveal behind it the figure of Michael Burnham, a phaser in her hand and her face twisted in anger and grief.
On the station, the blinding white light fades away, and the hall returns to its torch-lit murk. Burnham drops her phaser and sinks to her knees besides the body of Georgiou. She cradles her captain’s head in her lap and begins sobbing, overcome with everything that had come to pass so far.
Burnham gathers Georgiou’s body in her arms and awkwardly gets to her feet.
Aboard the unknown Klingon vessel, the Klingon commander, in her ornate armour covered in trophies, watches as the image of Burnham, phaser in hand, fades away. One of her subordinates approaches her. “Your orders, General L’Rell?”
L’Rell’s eyes narrow. “Set course for the binary star system.”
Let’s talk about the above events as they’re portrayed in the show.
Nothing that the crew does has any impact on what transpires. More specifically, none of Burnham’s actions change any of what happens. All of the drama around her mutiny is nullified, because she’s apprehended before she can actually do anything. The war is started because T’Kuvma gives the order to fire. That’s it.
In my version, T’Kuvma’s gambling. And the truth is, his plan may not have worked. In fact, it probably wouldn’t have worked at all. Until Burnham goes rogue – twice. First, by attacking the Klingon squad with the shuttle, and then sealing the deal by revenge-killing T’Kuvma. Now, there is clear, definitive evidence of Starfleet wrongdoing – even if it was all precipitated by T’Kuvma’s own violent actions, it casts the Federation, with its reputation for temperance, in a very new light.
Is this new version of the story perfect? No, absolutely not. But at least it ties things in together a little more. Now there is some justification for the crew’s hatred of Burnham – she may have avenged a beloved captain, but she has also bound them all into a war with the Klingons.
Also, L’Rell makes an appearance. It never made sense to me to have L’Rell as such a low ranking member of the Klingon Empire. It turns her into a bit of a spare wheel, and makes her arc of becoming leader of the whole Empire nonsensical. If she’d had her own ambitions, I’d buy it, but she spends all of her time in support of either T’Kuvma or Voq, which means that when she is simply handed leadership at the very end, it’s somewhat unsatisfying.
So now, she’s a General. It means she has much more scope to interact with the story around her, and in my mind, sets up much better any leadership arc upon which she may later find herself.
Also, L’Rell refers to “the binary star system,” as if there’s only one. Obviously, there are many binary star systems in the galaxy. But the Klingons certainly wouldn’t use an Earth designation for it, and using a different name means explaining somewhere in a story that’s already overly long just what the Klingons call the star system in question. Referring to it as The binary star system means that everyone, including the audience, understands exactly what she’s referring to, in the fewest possible number of words.
On the bridge of the Shenzhou, Saru paces anxiously in front of the captain’s chair. He taps his fingers together in a variety of rhythmic patterns, a Kelpien stress behaviour. He addresses the Ops officer. “Mission elapsed time, lieutenant?”
“Forty-seven minutes, sir.”
Saru keeps pacing. “Any further data on that object? Have you pierced the scattering field?”
“Negative, sir, but- hang on. Mister Saru, I’m picking up two incoming objects, they’ve just left the field’s area of influence.”
Saru’s threat ganglia sprout from the side of his head in alarm. He gently presses them down, and does his best to maintain his composure. “What objects? What are they?” He strides over to his science station.
The Ops officer keeps studying her console. “Sir, they’re life pods, from the shuttle! Two human life signs, it’s…” The Ops officer looks up in shock. “It’s Detmer, sir, and Furlan.”
Saru taps away at his console. His mouth drops open as he reads the display. “Con… confirmed. I, I don’t, does that mean…”
“Sir, those pods have been beaten up pretty badly on their way out of the debris field. Permission to beam them aboard? Sir?” Saru is non-responsive for moment. “Sir? Mister Saru?”
Saru stirs. “Yes. Yes, beam them directly to sickbay. And…” He pauses. “I will meet them there.” He leaves the bridge without another word. The captain’s chair remains empty.
Saru enters sickbay to Detmer sat on a biobed, and Furlan prone on another. The ship’s surgeon attends Furlan, treating a blast wound to his chest.
Saru surveys the situation. “Detmer, what happened? Where is the captain? Where is Captain Georgiou?”
Detmer is rubbing the side of her neck, where Burnham gripped her. “I don’t know, sir. She’s on the station, I think. They both are.”
“Burnham wanted to go back for her. For the captain. She… she shot Furlan, and she, I don’t know, she must have taken the shuttle back, but the Klingons…”
“Klingons?” Saru’s ganglia sprout again. “That’s a Klingon station?”
Detmer nods awkwardly. “They attacked. They attacked the shuttle, we had to fly out of there. We beamed Burnham out, but it was a mistake, it was meant to be the captain.” She shakes her head, as if to clear it. “Saru, she said it was a trap. The captain said they want to start a war, that we can’t let them. She told us not to do anything, to keep the peace, she said. Keep the peace.”
Saru ponders this new information. “Wait, where is Burnham?”
Inside the Klingon station, Burnham moves slowly, silently, along a dark corridor. She has her phaser drawn and held in front of her, ready to fire. Her eyes dart about, watching every nook and cranny.
She can hear guttural voices from down one corridor. She peeks her head around the corner to see a group of Klingon silhouettes in the distance. Their rough, alien speech is incomprehensible, so Burnham pulls Georgiou’s slim-line communicator out.
“… really work?” one Klingon voice asks.
“We are a strong people,” another responds. “T’Kuvma will remind us how much stronger we can be united. And we will help him.”
A third voice interjects. “The last of the explosives have been loaded, captain. They have been linked to the detonator.”
“Good! Then we are ready. Let us rejoin the fleet. I am tired of waiting, and of carrying things.” This silhouette produced some kind of instrument, and spoke into it. “This is the captain. We are ready. Energise.”
The whine of a transporter fills the corridor, and the Klingons disappear in glowing red flares of light. As they do, Burnham sees another, identical transporter beam, in the courtyard of a Federation settlement. She’s a child, and she watches from behind cover, watches as the Klingons open fire as soon as they materialise, indiscriminately murdering colonists. Outside the courtyard, explosions detonate, and flames fill the sky, as do screams and wails and angry roars of triumph.
As an adult, Burnham hyperventilates, her eyes wide in fright. She’s back in the corridor, now empty. The Klingons are gone, but she can still hear the screams, and her mother’s voice calling out to her.
In the main hall of the station, Georgiou sits on the floor with her hands cuffed in rigid metal clasps. There is no one else in the hall except T’Kuvma, who watches on a console display as Burnham flies the shuttle into the hangar and wipes out the Klingon soldiers waiting there. He zooms the feed in on her as she shoots the wounded warrior and steps over him. T’Kuvma laughs. “Your soldier is fierce, Captain.”
Georgiou is unimpressed. “She is no soldier, she’s a Starfleet officer.”
“We are all soldiers, Captain, in the great cultural war of our age. You should accept that fact, and embrace it.” He gestures at the image of Burnham. “She has. She moves with cold puprose, as though in the shadow of death.”
“The Federation is not at war with the Klingon Empire, cultural or otherwise. We seek only peaceful coexistence and cooperation.”
“THAT IS A WAR!” T’Kuvma roars, furious. “Cooperation,” he spits, “co-existence. These words mean one thing: assimilation. Tell me, Captain: were we to coexist and cooperate, would the Federation stand by whilst the Klingon Empire pursued our destiny of conquest? Would you sit idle whilst we took from weaker cultures what our strength entitles us to take?” he asks, clenching his fist. “No, you would step in, force us to lay down our weapons, and police the galaxy, as you do. The Federation are conquerors, worse than the Klingons, for whilst we conquer with ships and weapons, you, you, conquer with lies and manipulation, one hand outstretched, the other holding a chain of bondage.” He holds his arms out, as though addressing a crowd. “We Klingons are beings of conflict, and we must be allowed to seek conflict, or else we are nothing, just more Federation pawns like the Vulcans, the Andorians and the Tellarites.”
Georgiou remains defiant. “If this is a war of cultures, as you say, then you must be losing. You’re already speaking our language; you use it more than you use your own.”
T’Kuvma rounds on her and grabs her by the throat. “I use your delicate, frivolous words because I must.” He releases her. “Many of my people honour Kahless as the greatest warrior who ever lived, but they are fools.” He walks up to an old bronze statue of a Klingon warrior and gazes up at it. “Kahless did not unite our people because he was the mightiest warrior, he united our people because he was the greatest communicator. His words carried such power and meaning to our ancestors that he was able to forge a new empire, the grandest empire this Galaxy will ever know.”
“And you think you can follow in his footsteps? Unite your people and lead them to victory?” Georgiou asks, incredulously.
“No,” T’Kuvma answers, turning to face her. “I will not lead my people, Captain, another will have to carry that burden. But I shall unite them. My name will burn for a thousand lifetimes in the hearts of my people – yours will not. Which is unfortunate, Captain, because you, and your soldier,” he says, nodding at the image of Burnham again, “will be making the same sacrifice as me.”
Georgiou shakes her head. “Michael is too smart to make a martyr out of the likes of you.”
“Maybe,” T’Kuvma concedes. He hits a button on a control panel, and dozens of metallic containers are beamed into the hall. He gestures at them. “My ships have been collecting Federation weapons for some time,” he says, “and now they deliver them here, to this holy sanctuary.” He taps one of the torpedoes with a fingernail. “Very simple to modify, for such advanced technology,” he says. “Rigged for proximity detonation.”
He strolls through the piles of torpedoes. “I believe that your soldier will come here to kill me,” he explains, “but even if she does not, it will not matter, because as soon as your ship approaches, we will all be destroyed. And when my people arrive to find the wreckage of their ancestral temple scattered in the shadow of a Federation warship, they will not hesitate to strike back, united in their outrage.”
A Klingon voice sounds over the comm system. T’Kuvma responds with a few guttural words. Georgiou can’t understand any of it, nor can she loosen the cuffs around her wrists, despite her best efforts.
The Klingonese conversation ends. T’Kuvma inhales deeply, exhales slowly. He salutes the statue he was previously regarding, before addressing Georgiou. “The preparations are complete. It is time to light the beacon.”
This segment was far longer than I intended it to be, and way more talky than I wanted it to be, but there’s a lot going on here that needs setting up before we get to the juicy bit.
Most importantly, we need to understand T’Kuvma’s plan. We’ve had a lot of T’Kuvma talking in these last two parts of the story, but this all hangs on his plans to start a war, so we need to clarify it as much as possible. In short, if the audience isn’t bought into what he plans to do, and if it isn’t all as clear as possible, then no matter how climactic and exciting the final stretch is, it’s going to ring empty.
We also need to understand T’Kuvma’s motives. He’s a complex character with complex beliefs, so I did the best I could to break it down: he sees friendship with the Federation as a trap, not an opportunity, and so war is the only option for him.
It’s also important for us to understand a little more of what’s going on in Burnham’s head. She clearly has some past trauma around Klingons, and that’s vital knowledge if you’re to understand why she reacts so violently to this new situation.
We start off this part of the story with a catch-up with Saru. Here, he represents the Shenzhou in general, and its detachment from what’s going on aboard the station. When he finally gets some news about what’s happened, he’s just as confused as he was before, if not more so.
Next up, we’re going to finally see the start of that battle that makes up the title of this story, by way of a little bit of murder and quite a lot of revenge. Exciting times.
Burnham awakes. Georgiou sits in front of her, cradling her arm, a bloody bandage wrapped around her shoulder. They’re both sat on the hard metal floor of a prison cell, formed out of the same dull bronze as the rest of the Klingon installation. On the other side of the bars there is a large hall, filled with burning torches and a whole host of Klingons.
“Philippa, your arm!”
Burnham struggles to get to her feet, but Georgiou raises her hand to stay her. “Sit down, Michael. You were concussed. I’m fine, the Klingons stapled the wound.”
“You’re not fine, Captain, you need medical treatment.” She groans and gently massages her head. “As do I, it seems. How long was I out?”
“About ten minutes. The same Klingon that treated me used some kind of device on your head. I think it was to treat your concussion.”
“It feels like they spun my brain around in a centrifuge.”
Georgiou smirks. “I imagine it would be more suited for Klingon brains.”
“They kept us alive,” Burnham ponders, “but they killed Tallman. What do they want with us?”
“That’s a good question. If you speak Klingon you could ask them.”
“Well, if I had a communicator,” Burnham says, “I could use the universal translator. Of course, if I had a communicator I could have contacted Detmer and gotten you out of here already.”
“Assuming Detmer is still able to receive. Besides,” Georgiou says, glancing at the Klingons near the cell door, “I’m sure the guards would confiscate any equipment. Which is why I’m waiting for them to get distracted.”
“Distracted? Why, do you have some way of getting out of here?”
“To paraphrase your father again,” Georgiou says, smiling, “I like to think that there are always possibilities.”
Burnham raises an eyebrow. “You know, it wasn’t actually my father who first said that.”
In the expansive Klingon hangar bay, Detmer sits on the boarding ramp of the shuttle, casually leaning against the side wall. Furlan stands on watch on the hangar floor, phaser in hand.
Detmer picks at a loose thread on her uniform. “It’s been twenty minutes. Do you think we should contact them, or…?”
Furlan keeps his gaze on the internal entrance to the hangar as he answers her. “They’ll contact us if they need to. Just stay alert.”
Behind them both, in front of the shuttle, a small hatch in the floor slides open silently. A lithe Klingon warrior slips out, followed by another, and then a third. They draw daggers, and slowly, quietly, creep towards the shuttle.
“Did you hear they’re developing a new BT-16?” Detmer asks. “They say it’s going to be quite the thing to see. I’ll bet that baby flies like a humming bird.”
Furlan roles his eyes. Behind him, the three Klingons continue to creep toward the shuttle. Ahead of him, in the corridor to the hangar, a full squad of Klingon warriors lurk out of sight, firearms in hand. The leader peeks out around the bulkhead, holds his hand out to steady the squad.
Detmer raps her fingers on the metal floor of the shuttle. “Have you ever flown the old version? It was great, you could turn that thing on the head of a pin, but the rear thrusters used to burn out all the time, it was a pain in the-”
As one of the Klingons behind her nears the shuttle, alarms sound, and the voice of the shuttle computer calls out “Proximity Warning! Proximity Warning!” Lights flash inside the shuttle.
Detmer starts, and tumbles back inside the craft, whilst Furlan spins on his heels. As he sees the three armed assailants heading towards him, he looses phaser bolts at them, dropping two. The third charges him, but he gets his phaser to bear and lands a shot in the centre of its chest.
Behind him, the squad of Klingons in the corridor flood into the hangar, loosing off energy blasts from their weapons. Furlan hunkers down and dashes into the shuttle. “Get her in the air!” he shouts, “get us out of here!” He hammers the door control, and the ramp swings up behind him. Klingon weapons fire strikes all over the shuttle.
Detmer hyperventilates as she hurries towards the controls. “Crap. Crap. Crap. Crap. Crap.” She makes it to the seat and starts tapping commands into the console. “Crap. Crap. Crap. Crap. Crap.” Klingon disruptor bolts scorch the window next to her. “Crapcrapcrapcrapcrapcrapcrapcrapcrap,”
“Detmer!” Furlan shouts, “Breathe! And then get us the hell out of here already!”
Detmer glares back at him angrily, then activates the engines.
The shuttle lifts off the deck. Its engines flare and it rockets away from the advancing Klingons and out into space.
In the cell, Burnham sits, defeated, with her back against the wall. “Go on then, Captain, what do you have up your sleeve?”
“Nothing up my sleeve,” Georgiou says, pulling her sleeve back to prove her point. “See?”
“Well, then how do we get out of here?” Burnham presses.
Georgiou shrugs, then grimaces at the pain in her shoulder. “Just wait.”
Outside the cell, in the main hall, there’s a disturbance. The Klingon squad leader from the hangar storms in, shouting in the incomprehensible Klingon language. The other Klingons, including the guards, turn to watch as the squad leader marches up to an impressive-looking Klingon male, adorned in regal, black armour armour.
“We didn’t have to wait too long,” Georgiou says. She slams the heel of her foot into the floor, hard, but the guards don’t notice. On the edge of the sole of her boot, a panel pops free. She hooks her finger into the gap and slides out a small, compact electronic unit.
Burnham watches with interest. “A communicator?”
“I modified it myself,” Georgiou explains. “Shorter range, had to remove one of the power packs, but it works.”
“Contact the shuttle,” Burnham insists, “we have to get out of here.”
“We have to remember our mission,” Georgiou says. “We need to figure out what’s going on here.” She adjusts some of the controls on the slimline communicator.
The Klingons start clamouring, shouting in protest at the black-armoured chieftan in the middle of the hall. He raises his arms to silence them, and begins speaking himself. As Georgiou adjusts her communicator, his guttural Klingonese resolves into English. Georgiou and Burnham look on as he speaks.
“- fly away if they wish, it matters not! One shuttlecraft cannot hinder our great, blessed work! And truly, we must be blessed,” he says, spreading his arms to address the whole hall, “for look at the gift Kahless has brought us! Not a lowly repair crew, but a Starfleet captain! And her first officer!” He gestures towards the captives, but the Klingons pay them no heed, and instead cheer their leader.
“Truly we are in his favour! Kahless, The Unforgettable, First King, Greatest Warrior of All Warriors!” Heavy boots stamp and raucous cheering echoes through the hall. “We shall unveil the Federation’s deceit! Expose their inner barbarism!”
There are more cheers, but one warrior steps forwards in challenge. “You speak as though our fate is decided, but what if they do nothing? What if the Federation simply turns and flees?”
The chieftan turns to the warrior. “Then, my sister, we shall have exposed them for the witless cowards that they truly are! And the Klingon Empire shall re-unite not under the banner of war but to the sound of the hunter’s horn! When the Galaxy sees them scatter and flee in the face of adversity, we will be there to carve up their territory and chase them across the cosmos!”
Cheering, stomping. The hall fills with noise. “But hear me now, proud warriors of the Empire. The Federation are nothing but beasts, wearing the hides of philosophers. They believe that their technological achievements elevate their culture above ours, but toys and contraptions cannot replace Honour, or Courage, or Pride. When they see their own slaughtered like the targs they are,” he gestures again at Georgiou and Burnham, “the Federation will lift the mask from its face to show the slathering maw of the animal within. And I, T’Kuvma, Bearer of the Torch of Kahless, last member of my house, will have brought the Great Houses of the Klingon Empire together once again, and united we shall slay the beast!”
Georgiou and Burnham lock eyes, and share a look of common understanding – and horror.
As the Klingons chant and clamour, Georgiou flips a switch on the communicator. “Georgiou to Detmer, Georgiou to Detmer, do you read?”
Detmer’s voice answers. “Captain! Captain, I read, I’ve been trying to contact you. Are you okay?”
“We’re fine. Detmer, status, where are you?”
“We’re in space,” Detmer answers from inside the shuttle, “near the station. We had to lift off, we were attacked. Why are you on this frequency?”
Georgiou ignores the question. “Detmer, listen, this is important. Head straight for Shenzhou, go straight there and warn Starfleet – the Klingons mean to bait us into a war. Go back, now, tell Saru and the others not to engage, don’t fire a single shot, no matter what happens. You hear me, Detmer? It’s a trap. Tell them to maintain the peace, that’s all that matters.”
“But what about-”
“Keep the peace, Detmer! At all costs. That’s an order, Detmer. Keep the peace.”
Without warning, Burnham lunges across the cell and snatches the communicator from Georgiou. She shouts into it. “Detmer! Beam the captain out now! Lock onto the Viridium signal and get her out! Now!”
Georgiou looks on, unsurprised, and a little sad. One of the guards hears Burnham shouting and turns to see what’s going on. Aboard the shuttle, Detmer taps the ‘Energise’ command on one of the consoles.
In the cell, the blue shimmering of the transporter engulfs Burnham. Her face twists in horror as she realises what’s happening.
“I’m sorry, Michael,” Georgiou says, as Klingons rush into the cell. “I will see you soon.” The Klingons grab her roughly. Some try to get hold of Burnham, but she has already dematerialised.
Georgiou is hoisted to her feet as T’Kuvma, the chieftan, strides into the cell. He growls at Georgiou, then turns away and speaks in Klingon. “This changes nothing! Get to your ships! I will prepare the beacon!”
Aboard the shuttle, Burnham materialises, the same look of horror on her face. She cries out as though in agony. She reaches over her shoulder and pulls a small, thin, dark patch of shiny fabric from her uniform. She examines it for a moment, then lets it fall to the floor.
Furlan rushes to her side. “Commander, are you alright? Where’s the captain? Commander Burnham, where is Captain Georgiou?”
Burnham seems stunned. She ignores Furlan and reaches up to an overhead locker, and takes a phaser from it. She moves forwards to Detmer. “Beam me back.”
“I can’t, Commander, there’s too much interference.”
“Beam me back!” Burnham shouts. “I have to get her, we have to save her!”
“I can’t! I can’t get an accurate fix, you could die!”
“Then turn the shuttle around! Take us back! That’s an order!”
Detmer doesn’t relent, even facing Burnham’s intensity. “That hangar bay was a Klingon murder party when we left, they’ll cut us to bits!”
Burnham’s tone goes flat. “Keyla, turn this fucking shuttle around and take us back to that station.”
Detmer’s face turns to shock, but Furlan steps forwards. “We can’t. You heard the captain, she gave us an order to get back to the Shenzhou and warn Starfleet. Now, calm down, take a moment, and-”
Burnham raises the phaser and shoots Furlan in the chest. He collapses in a heap. Detmer gasps, but Burnham grips the side of her neck and presses hard. Detmer quickly passes out.
Burnham sags, as though her strings had been cut. She stares at nothing for a few moments, trance-like. She slowly sits down in the co-pilot’s seat and sets a new course.
The shuttle banks back towards the station, as two small pods detach from its underside and ignite thrusters. As the shuttle drifts into the hangar, a group of armed Klingons rush in, aiming their weapons at the advancing craft. The shuttle’s phasers burst into life, blasts of amber energy sweeping across the deck, wiping out the warriors.
The shuttle settles on the hangar deck and the rear ramp opens. Burnham steps out. One of the Klingons on the floor groans, wounded, and reaches up with his disruptor. She fires her phaser at him, and he falls silent again.
Burnham steps over his body and heads for the main corridor into the rest of the station, phaser in hand.
There’s a lot going on with this story. The determined narrative for ‘Discovery’ is complex – a Starfleet officer mutinies, and starts a war with a politically unstable empire in the process. This is where I had to make the most radical changes from the show, which I’ll go through below.
First off, Burnham’s a career officer. She’s smart. She’s raised by Vulcans, who are a peaceful, highly rational culture. Which means that her mutiny has to have a hell of a lot of emotional drive behind it, and that means it has to be immediate. Burnham’s mutiny in the show is incredibly muted, emotionally. She just sort of reaches a conclusion based on a story told to her by Sarek, and I never felt like she reached the emotional peak that was necessary to humanise her actions. In essence, she acts like a weirdo, and so I found it really difficult to empathise with her as a character.
The other issue is that so much is made of her starting the war, but she doesn’t. At all. She gets stopped and thrown in the brig before she can fire on the Klingons, and they then start the war themselves when they choose to open fire. By the time she kills T’Kuvma, the battle is over and the war is in full swing.
Which is another issue, namely that the Klingons from the other houses turn up, T’Kuvma says “Let’s attack,” and they all just attack. Really, if this is going to be some massive interstellar war, I feel like you need a little more to it than that.
There’s one other problem, which only becomes a problem in hindsight, which is all of T’Kuvma’s backstory. It’s good for your villains to have motivations and complexity, but T’Kuvma will be dead by the end of the pilot episodes, and ultimately his most important aspect is that he wants to start a war that will unite the Klingon Empire. All of his tragic childhood ends up contributing very little to the actual story of ‘Discovery’.
So, how do we fix all these things?
Simple. We bring them all together.
Here is T’Kuvma’s plan: lure a Federation ship out here by sabotaging a satellite.
When they investigate what happened to the satellite, capture them.
Use the beacon’s immense signalling power to broadcast the execution of the prisoners. Then, either:
The Federation retaliates, precipitating full-blown war.
The Federation refuses to act, proving their weakness
Either way, Qa’plah! The Klingon Empire can all pull together, in war against a hypocritical enemy or in conquest of a weak empire.
That’s T’Kuvma’s plan. We can embellish it a little with some Klingon spirituality and mythos and whatnot, but that’s what it comes down to. Whatever happens, T’Kuvma succeeds in uniting the Empire.
Of course, it’s also important for him to cover his bases with a few tricks up his gauntlet, but we’ll get to that.
Then, we bring Georgiou, Burnham, and the Shenzhou into the mix.
We set Georgiou and Burnham up as having an unhealthy relationship. That’s the first thing. Michael’s idolisation of Philippa, her crippling fear of abandonment, and with Philippa’s unwitting indulgence of that insecurity, means that Michael will literally do or give anything to protect her maternal mentor.
Then, they get taken captive. This might not be too much of an issue for the Vulcan-raised Michael under other circumstances. But with Klingons in the mix, Michael’s childhood trauma is getting twisted in exactly the right way to send her off the rails.
Which finally happens when they get separated. Georgiou would never let one of her crew – especially Michael – suffer in her place, so she obviously swaps the Viridium patch. And so now Michael is separated from her mother-mentor, who she knows is going to be executed. And that’s not based on a story from two hundred years ago.
I even tried to fold in what would be Star Trek’s first “fuck” into this pivotal scene. It struck me as odd that they drop the f-bomb during a fairly standard conversation of Treknobabble, but never again throughout the series. They use it at one of the lowest points of emotion, and never at the highest. Here, it’s a sign that Burnham has finally cracked – her swearing like that shows us a Starfleet officer over the edge, falling apart – and about to do something really stupid.
So, now we have an evil plan to start a war that hangs around the fate of our beloved captain and first officer. The first officer is driven to betrayal of her crew mates to save her captain, currently being held by the evil warmonger.
And what’s more, here we have a chance for Burnham to save the day. If she can rescue Georgiou, she might just stop the war from ever starting.
Is it perfect? Absolutely not. Here are just a few plot holes in my own damn narrative:
Detmer just forgets to use the transporter. She should’ve done it as soon as the Klingons attacked the shuttle. My excuse? She was panicked. She’s not a coward, but she is green.
So, what happens if the Federation don’t investigate the creepy temple station that’s almost definitely a trap? Well, in my head T’Kuvma would just keep busting up satellites until they had no choice but to investigate, but his plan is flawed in relying on the Federation to behave a certain way.
His plan also relies on the other Klingon houses behaving in a certain way, but for me, that’s his test of his own people. If they can’t unite for war or conquest, then they probably aren’t worthy in the first place, and his cause is truly lost.
Scattering fields, how the shit do they work? Who knows? My theory: it’s kind of a chaos membrane – you can’t beam or communicate from outside into it, or vice versa, but if you’re inside of it, you can kinda beam around and communicate inside of it, with some limitations. It’s a plot device, okay? It’s a cruddy one, but it does what it needs to – walls all of this action off from the Shenzhou.
I wish I had a simpler set of plot points to aim for. But I don’t. If I’m doing this properly, I have to start from the same place as the show, and finish in the same place as the show, and roughly touch upon the major plot points along the way.
Also, can we have a quick lament for Furlan, whose fellow redshirt dies and for whom no one mourns? Furlan who keeps telling women to calm down, and gets phasered in the sternum for his trouble?
The shuttle alights on the bronze, ornate landing deck of the alien station, dimly lit by yellow lights. As the shuttle comes to a halt its ramp descends, and Georgiou, Burnham and the two security officers disembark, phasers drawn, tricorders out, eyes narrowed and darting around for danger.
Georgiou turns to one of the bodyguards. “Furlan, stay here, guard the shuttle. Burnham, Tallman, with me.”
They move furtively towards a corridor and head down it. Burnham surveys the walls and their decoration. “Ornate detailing across every surface. Intricate patterns, carved into the metal by hand, judging by the uneven finish.” She runs her hand over one wall section, letting her fingers brush across each groove and ridge. “It’s cold, and solid. This entire structure might be a single piece of metal, sculpted into shape.”
Georgiou keeps her eyes forwards, checking every alcove and corner for potential threats. “Sounds like a slow way of building a station. You’ve told me what the scientist inside you can see: what does your anthropologist make of this?”
Burnham keeps her gaze on the structure around them. “Captain, this is ritualistic, ceremonial in design. I don’t think it’s a station, I think it’s a temple.”
They enter a circular room, with corridors leading off in multiple directions. At the centre of the room stands an obelisk, covered in arcane symbols. As Burnham examines the obelisk, one particular emblem catches her eye. She’s seen it before – an image of an armoured warrior flashes through her mind, the symbol engraved on his helmet, striding through flames towards her. Screams and explosions echo all around. The warrior holds a vicious blade in his hands, which he lifts over his head and then swings down towards her.
“Michael? Commander Burnham!” Georgiou shouts.
Michael keeps her gaze locked on that symbol. “Klingons,” she says. “This is a Klingon hieroglyph. A sign of one of their Great Houses. Captain, we have to leave.”
“Not without making contact. If this is a Klingon station then there’s a reason they put it here, and we need to know what that reason is.”
“Aye, captain,” Burnham concedes. She scans the room and the corridors leading away from it with her tricorder. “The solid mass of the structure is making it hard to get a topograhical reading. I have no idea of which way we should go.”
Georgiou walks up to one corridor entrance. “Down this one.”
“Why that one, captain? Do you know what’s down there?”
“We don’t know what’s down any of them. Sometimes, you just need to make a decision.” Georgiou starts down the corridor, Tallman following her. Burnham joins them, and they move steadily onwards.
They reach the next room, circular again, this time with vaulted alcoves all along the walls. Deep channels run from each alcove to a grate in the room’s centre.
Georgiou squats down to examine one of the channels, following it to the grate. “Analysis, Number One?”
Burnham surveys the chamber. “The grooves in the floor, clearly intended to carry fluid. Alcoves at the side, big enough to hold a single humanoid.”
“You think this was a shower room?” Georgiou asks with a smirk.
“Captain, I think this was a sacrifice chamber.”
Georgiou catches Burnham’s eye. They share a look, and then turn for the exit.
An armoured warrior drops into each alcove from above. They each dash forwards as they land, roaring. Georgiou and Tallman open fire, dropping a couple of them, as Burnham grabs her communicator and flips it open. Before she can speak into it, one of the warriors smashes it out of her hand and swings for her head. She ducks, and strikes him back with both hands clasped together.
The Starfleet officers are surrounded. Georgiou takes down one warrior with a flurry of high kicks and rapid punches. Tallman keeps firing his phaser, but is grabbed from behind thrown into a wall. Burnham fends off one of the armoured foes with steady, precise attacks, each blow delivered with Vulcan-like accuracy.
But they are outnumbered. Georgiou has to dodge the powerful sweeps of a Bat’leth, getting backed up against the wall as she does. Two warriors lay into Tallman, beating him to the ground, before they each produce vicious daggers which they plunge into his back. Burnham’s elegant poise meets its end as her adversary hunkers down and then charges forwards like a bull, grabbing her around the abdomen and then diving, plunging her backwards into the floor.
Burnham, dazed, looks across to see Georgiou stabbed through the shoulder. Burnham screams out. “Captain! Philippa!” she bellows, but it does no good, as Georgiou sinks to the floor. The last thing Burnham sees is an armoured gauntlet, striking her full in the face.
Finally, some action! Narratively, this isn’t far off filler. It’s a means of getting the characters into the hands of their Klingon captors. We see a little Klingon culture along the way, but not a great deal.
And poor old Tallman – he gets no lines, just a couple of stab wounds to prove that these Klingons aren’t messing around.
I lack a great deal of imagination, so all of the side characters get names taken from actors. Furlan is named for Mira Furlan, of Babylon 5 fame, as is Tallman. Patricia Tallman is actually a Trek alumnus – most notably from ‘Starship Mine’, but has appeared in plenty of TNG, DS9 and Voyager episodes.
“Captain, I must once again register my severe objections to this course of action!” Saru insists as he strides down the corridor alongside Georgiou, Burnham and Detmer. “With the scattering field in place we will be unable to contact you or beam any of your back to the ship. And we still don’t know what the object is – it could be a Tholian web trap for all we know.”
Georgiou remains relaxed. “It might also be an entirely new species, Saru, a new civilisation. Would you really like to pass up a first contact opportunity?”
“Yes, absolutely, if it means putting my captain at risk.” Saru’s gestures become more frantic, his speech more hurried. “Captain, that object may not be a ship, but it remains a complete mystery to us.”
“And that is precisely why I want to go, Mr. Saru. I never could resist a good mystery.”
“Come on, Saru”, Burnham says, “you wouldn’t want to disappoint your captain, would you? Don’t worry,” she puts her hand on Georgiou’s shoulder in reassurance, “The captain will in in safe hands.”
They enter the shuttle bay and proceed up the boarding ramp of one of the Shenzhou‘s many shuttles. Detmer heads to the helm console at the front, whilst Georgiou and Burnham are joined by two security officers in tactical armour in the shuttle’s main hold. Georgiou turns to face Saru, who stands anxiously at the foot of the ramp. “Take good care of the ship, Mr Saru. And remember – take no unprompted action without consulting me or Starfleet Command. The last thing we want is to precipitate a conflict out here.”
Saru nods, and disappears from view as the shuttle’s ramp closes up. One of the security officers hands Georgiou a phaser as Burnham proceeds forwards to the front of the shuttle.
She leans down to Detmer. “Lieutenant, once we’re inside of the scattering field the shuttle’s transporter should be able to function. I just slapped a Viridium patch on the captain’s back – that will let you keep a lock on her. As soon as anything happens, you beam her back aboard and you set off for Shenzhou, do you understand? You don’t ask questions, you don’t hesitate, you just start flying.”
“Yes, Commander,” Detmer says, “but what about the rest of you?”
“The shuttle can only beam one person at a time,” Burnham explains, “and I don’t want you transporting the wrong person accidentally. We’ll be alright. Just keep her safe.”
Detmer looks back at the flight controls. “Well, now I feel a lot more worried.”
Burnham smiles. “You’ll do fine. I picked you for this mission specifically, Lieutenant. The captain asked me to fly at first, but it’s been two years since I last flew one of these things. We need someone who actually knows what she’s doing.”
“I won’t let you down, Commander.”
“Are we ready to launch yet?” Georgiou calls from the back of the shuttle, “or do you two need a little longer to conspire?”
“Ready, captain!” Detmer responds. “Course laid in. Just give me the word.”
“Lieutenant, the word is given – engage.”
The shuttle lifts off from the deck and drifts out of the shuttle bay. Once clear of the rear doors, Detmer brings it about and heads straight for the debris field, and the distant, mysterious object.
“Michael,” Georgiou says, as they sit opposite each other, “do you know why I’m here?”
Michael raises an eyebrow. “This is a critical situation. Normally, a captain’s place would be on her bridge. But with comms down, command decisions cannot be made remotely. If there are Klingons out here, you will need to be calling the shots.”
“And if there are Klingons out here, Michael, how would you feel about that?”
“If you’re referring to my childhood trauma, then you know I have it under control. Vulcan mindfulness techniques are a powerful tool. Philippa, I have your back. And I always will.”
Georgiou lays a gentle hand on Burnham’s shoulder. “Michael, in seven years together, the most important thing I’ve learned is that I will never regret putting my faith in you.”
“You talk as though this is a parting of ways.”
Georgiou shakes her head. “Not yet. But Michael, you are reaching the point where there isn’t much more I can teach you.” She waves her hand to quiet Burnham’s protestations. “If I could keep you as my XO for another twenty years, I would, but you are capable of so much more than that. You could end up as an admiral, or an ambassador, or even a regional governor – but the first step towards any of those things is getting your own command.”
Burnham looks down at the floor, hiding her face from her mentor. “I don’t think I’m ready for that yet.”
Georgiou grips Burnham’s shoulder tightly. “You are not ready yet. But very soon you will be, and when the time comes, you can’t hesitate, you can’t second-guess yourself. Do you know what the first duty of every Starfleet officer is, Michael?”
“Of course: to the truth.”
Georgiou laughs. “Nearly. That’s the slogan, but the correct answer is that it’s to your own truth. We must always remember who we really are, Michael. Always.” She gestures out of the window to the mystery structure, steadily growing closer. “If there are Klingons out there, and they do mean us harm, we can’t allow ourselves to get drawn into their game. We’re Starfleet: we fight when we need to, but always we must seek the peaceful solution. That is our truth, and that’s my truth. I have to believe that every encounter is a step towards friendship and co-operation, even with those who call themselves our enemies.”
Burnham looks up at her captain. “My father said that ten years ago, at Khitomer.”
“Your father is a profound individual.”
An alarm sounds from the flight console, and Detmer calls back “One minute to contact, Captain. I’ve found an entrance into the structure, looks to be pressurised, too.”
Georgiou stands and smooths out her uniform. “Take us in, Lieutenant. Let’s get to the bottom of this.”
One thing that always struck me as odd was that Detmer and Burnham shared so much together, and yet never interacted. This seemed like a hugely wasted opportunity – Burnham and Saru get plenty of time to explore their relationship, but Burnham and Detmer never even have one.
Also, whilst I have criticised ‘Discovery’ for resolving so much of its plot in the form of two people stood in a room talking to each other, early on in the show there’s a powerful need to set up the world, and the relationships, that will define the narrative. So whilst a scene between two people sat in a shuttle talking about philosophy isn’t the kind of high-octane action you’d expect of a Transformers movie, it’s important for adding additional significance to the events that do follow.
Georgiou contradicts Picard here on the subject of first duties, and that’s not something you want to do lightly. But whilst broad statements work well for delinquent cadets, command-level officers need to operate with a little more nuance than that.
Burnham’s backstory, as a human raised by Vulcans, and as an orphan as a result of a Klingon raid, is all perfectly fine. But that is exactly the kind of backstory that, I feel, can be revealed in small bites, rather than all at once. Hints to it are made in this conversation, but hints are all that is needed – who is her father, exactly? What happened in her childhood that might cause her to struggle with facing Klingons? Stay tuned in to find out!
Hey, and how about that Viridium patch and all the shoulder-touching? Don’t worry, that’s just background detail, it definitely won’t turn into a plot point or anything.
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.
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.
“First officer’s log, stardate 1207.3. On Earth, it’s May 11, 2256, a Sunday. The crew of the USS Shenzhou has been called to the edge of Federation space to investigate damage done to one of our interstellar relays. Blast burns around the hole are inconclusive. Were they caused by an asteroid, or was it deliberately destroyed to limit Starfleet communications? And if so, by whom? Despite the mystery, I feel at ease. It’s hard not to in the face of such beauty – in this case, a binary star system. Around these two suns, ice, dust, and gasses collide to form planets future generations will call home. A humbling reminder that all life is born from chaos and destruction.”
“None forthcoming, Commander.” Saru taps away at his console. “There is no chemical residue, no ionic scoring indicative of a particle weapon, and the damage is too limited for any kind of explosive weapon.”
Michael Burnham stands at the front of the bridge, gazing into the image on the viewscreen as a worker bee clamps hold of the relay buoy and turns back for the Shenshou‘s shuttle bay.
Behind her, Captain Phillipa Georgiou enters, a beacon of calm confidence. “Status, Number One.”
Burnham turns to her captain. “Nothing yet to report, Captain. We found the buoy, and it has a large hole in it. Saru is struggling to produce an answer.”
“I am not struggling, Captain,” Saru protests. “I merely lack the data required for a satisfactory conclusion. As a trained scientist, I might have expected our First Officer to appreciate the value of an empirical approach.”
Burnham raises an eyebrow. The other bridge officers exchange glances. Georgiou raises a quieting hand. “Alright, you two, we all know you’re both smart. How about you put those brains to work and take a guess?”
Burnham gestures to Saru, inviting him to go first. He shakes his head. “Please, as our executive officer, Commander Burnham, your analysis must take precedence.”
Burnham nods curtly. “The buoy is of limited strategic value. It forms part of a relay network with layered redundancies, and the nullification of this unit has resulted in no detriment to our frontier monitoring capabilities. In short, Captain, if this is an act of sabotage, it was carried out by someone who had no strategic goal in mind. My deduction: this was a freak accident, a stray rock flung out from the stellar disc at an unfortunate trajectory.”
Georgiou considers this analysis. “Officer thinking, Commander. Always concerned with the bigger picture. Lieutenant Commander?” she asks, turning to Saru.
The Kelpien nods in acknowledgement. “Commander Burnham offers a succinct analysis, but one based on supposition and circumstance. The damage to the relay is comprehensive and precise, leaving no functionality whatsoever. To put it bluntly, you could not switched the relay off more permanently if you were trying, and space rocks are rarely so determined. This must have been a deliberate act.”
Georgiou now considers Saru’s analysis. “Two capable Starfleet officers, reaching opposite conclusions, based off the same data.” She strokes her chin, imitating a wizened, bearded old sage. “Lieutenant Detmer, what would you do in my situation? Who would you bet on?”
Detmer, sat at the helm station, smiles. “My dad always taught me never to bet against Vulcan logic, Captain. But he also told me that when there’s trouble, follow the Kelpien, ’cause they know their way to safety. So, I don’t know. I’m sorry, Captain.”
“Don’t apologise, Lieutenant,” Georgiou insists, “your dad sounds like a smart man. Alright, let’s get to the bottom of this. Saru, run a tachyon sweep at low-band frequency, see if we can pick up any warp trails that have been masked by those stars.”
“Aye, Captain,” Saru answers. “Running sweep. Any warp trails will have to be recent, even just a few hours is enough time to…” He trails off. “Captain, I, there’s something out there. In the debris field.”
Burnham hurries over to Saru’s science station as Georgiou inquires further. “What’s out there, Saru? A ship?”
“Difficult to say, Captain, it’s-” Burnham cuts him off, shunting him out of the way and taking over the console. “It’s some kind of artificial construct, Captain,” she explains. “Roughly a hundred-and-twenty-thousand kilometres from our position. Symmetrical in shape, it seems to be around three hundred metres in size.”
Saru rolls his eyes. “I, too, can read data from a console,” he says, shunting Burnham away from the console, “and I can also deduce that the reason for First Officer Burnham’s ambiguity is the result of some kind of scattering field around the object. Whatever it is, Captain, it’s hiding from us.”
Georgiou’s eyes narrow. “Alright, both of you, my ready room, now.” She stands up and straightens her uniform. “Detmer, you have the conn.”
The beautiful brass telescope in the Captain’s ready room provides a better view of the object, but it remains obscured by asteroids. Whatever it is, it’s rendered in bronze, and is elegant, almost organic, in shape. Burnham squints through the eyepiece in frustration.
“I still can’t figure it out, Captain,” she says, adjusting the focus. She abandons the old astronomical device and stands straight. “Captain, Phillipa, what are we doing out here?”
Saru bristles at the familiarity, but Georgiou smiles. “Something bugging you, Michael?”
“Why are we here, investigating a broken antenna? And then we find this? It has to be more than coincidence.”
Georgiou’s smile widens. “So you think a little maintenance work is beneath us?”
Burnham remains severe. “Captain, this is a Walker-class exploratory vessel. Our long-standing mission is searching for imminent supernovas. Fixing busted satellites is…” She searches for the right words. “Is a waste of material.”
Georgiou moves to behind her desk and takes a seat. On shelves behind her is a collection of old navigation equipment – sextants, calipers, compasses, even one of the first subspace orientation devices from before the days of Starfleet. Georgiou leans back in her chair. “We are barely ten light-years from Klingon territory. This system is the last piece of Federation real estate before you hit neutral space.”
Saru nods. “This is one of the farthest reaches of the outer frontiers. Captain, are you saying that you suspect Klingon activity in this system?” His ganglia twitch, extruding slightly in alarm before retreating again.
“No,” Georgiou says, “not yet. Starfleet hasn’t recorded an encounter with a Klingon ship in twenty years. By all counts, the Empire is in disarray, focused on internal squabbles. But,” she says, cautiously, “there have been reports. Missing ships near the border. Sensor whispers all along the frontier. I recently spoke to Captain Nicholls – she was investigating a burst of neutron radiation near Betazed three weeks ago, and she swears she saw the stars dancing – dancing – in front of her eyes. She says the stars were dancing in the shape of an eagle, or a falcon, or some other bird of prey.”
Burnham’s mouth hangs open, and Saru’s ganglia stretch out behind his head. Georgiou stares out the window at the two suns, tearing at each other in a tug of war.
Burnham breaks the silence. “Captain, as your First Officer I should have been made aware that we would be heading into battle.”
Georgiou looks towards her. “Battle? We’re not going into battle. And I didn’t tell you about Starfleet’s suspicions precisely because of your history with the Klingons.” Georgiou leans forwards. “Michael, this isn’t a warzone, this is Federation space. You’re right, we’re not here to fix a satellite, but we’re not here to start a fight, either. Starfleet just wants to cover all its bases.” She stands, and moves over to the window. “Whatever’s out there, whatever broke our satellite, it wasn’t random. It’s sat out there, watching us, hiding in plain sight, fogging our sensors but holding our attention.”
“Captain Georgiou, this is clearly a dangerous situation and we must immediately call for backup,” Saru says frantically. “We are alone out here, and completely exposed. If there are Klingons in this system, we are entirely at their mercy.”
“I must concur with Science Officer Saru,” Burnham says. “At least send word to Starfleet. This is clearly a trap.”
Georgiou smiles again. “Have we fallen through a wormhole into a parallel universe? My first mate and my science officer, agreeing with one another?” She laughed. “When a troubled Kelpien and Vulcan logic align, who am I to argue?” She moves back to her desk and activated the comm-link. “Lieutenant McFadden, send word to Starfleet Sector Command, advise them of the situation and the unknown object, and request any available ships to rendezvous with Shenzhou at system JWST-86690.”
Burnham remains composed, but her eyes betray her anxiety. “What do we do until they arrive? The nearest ships will be hours away.”
“Well, Number One, when was the last time you piloted a shuttle?
As part of my analysis and break-down of ‘Discovery’, I feel it’s not enough to merely point out the problems – I ought to be offering solutions. As a result, this is the first installment of a personal project to re-write the series from the bottom up.
I’ve set myself a few rules – first, that most of the premises set up by the show are maintained. Specifically:
Burnham is a disgraced officer who threw away her career with some really poor judgement, precipitating a war with the Klingons.
The Discovery is a ship with an experimental spore drive.
Lorca is a mirror-universe impostor with a hidden, wicked agenda.
Ash Tyler is a sleeper agent, with Voq’s memories and personality suppressed.
I will also be keeping almost all of the same characters and settings, where possible, and will do my best to hit the same plot milestones as the show.
This is entirely self-indulgent, and I make no apologies. I certainly have no shame.
This first installment is to set the scene – to establish the same setting and the same characters as we meet in the show. I wanted to capture Georgiou’s same easy confidence and cool charisma, and the playful rivalry between Burnham and Saru. We’ll see how it all plays out.
For ages, I’ve been trying to put my finger on what it was about ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ that threw me off. There’s some element to it, some quality, that makes it stand apart from other Trek shows, and for the longest time I couldn’t figure out what.
But I’ve finally done it. I’ve figured out what it’s all about.
‘Star Trek: Discovery’ is a Star Trek fan fiction written by Lal, daughter of Data.
You may think I’m crazy, but Trek has pulled this shit before. There’s a precedent for “stories within stories” that backs me up. But that’s not all.
Before we dive into the specifics, let’s get the background out of the way:
Who Is Lal?
Lal is a robot. Well, an android. Specifically, a “Soong-type” android created by Data, who is also a “Soong-type” android. Data created Lal in order to simulate the human experience of procreation – of producing a child.
After Data activates Lal, she chooses her own gender and appearance and she begins learning about life. It’s a really charming little story and pretty classic Next Gen – Lal even joins the ranks of “Women Who Have Fallen for Riker Despite Being Better Than Him in Every Way“, which is a Trek staple.
Lal’s fate is a tragic one (I would post a “spoiler warning” but the episode’s twenty-seven years old). Data’s not as capable as his own creator when it comes to building androids, and Lal soon starts to malfunction, eventually shutting down altogether. She only lived for a few weeks, and… and then she…
I’m sorry, but just going back over this old episode has me close to actually in tears. Just, this is what good Sci Fi is about – using extreme settings to explore the human condition. And, I just… I… let’s move on.
The Fan Fiction Theory
Okay, so, when you at the cast of ‘Discovery’ you realise that, despite it being a long running narrative, everybody is a one-character. Cadet Tilly is ‘The Awkward Sidekick’, Landry is ‘The Mean One’, Lorca is ‘The Bad Captain’, Stamets is ‘The Weird Guy’, Saru is ‘Fucking Useless’ and Ash Tyler The Human is ‘The Hot One Who Is A Human’.
These are all really simplistic characters with really basic motivations. Burnham and Ash The Human are falling in love because they’re both attractive and he doesn’t hate her. Tilly wants to be a captain but is for now just along for the ride. Stamets wants to do science, so he does science. Lorca wants to Win The War. Saru is just glad to be part of things, also he’s scared all the time and he can totally run really really fast and he has these little frills that pop out when he’s really scared.
All of these characters match exactly how an intelligent yet juvenile mind would view the crew of a starship. Picard is a stern, duty-bound authority figure, so of course that’s exactly how Lal would describe all authority figures. When someone is mean to Lal, she hasn’t yet learned to appreciate that there may be a reason that they’re lashing out – and so we end up with Landry, a rampant force of anger and hate.
Lal never experienced a war, or a military conflict, and so when she writes about it, she does so in basic terms. War is bad. People get hurt in wars. Wars involve shooting and maps. We want to win wars, because losing a war is bad. The notion that a huge conflict will have severe cultural impacts and unexpected consequences is alien to Lal because she has no grasp of these more abstract terms yet. The crew of the Discovery are in a war, and they need to win it. That’s as far as Lal is capable of exploring the matter.
Let’s take a quick look at Michael Burnham. She’s a peculiar character, grounded firmly in machine-like logic yet struggling with emotions she can barely control. She hasn’t developed goals or objectives or her own, she just finds herself on Discovery and gets on with stuff. She struggles with intimacy. She has a renowned yet emotionally incapable father.
Remind you of anyone?
Burnham is Lal, writing herself into her own story. She even has the idealised best friend in Tilly, the idealised boyfriend in Ash the Human. She makes friends with a magical teddy bear.
Look at the people around her. Lal is surrounded by people who she doesn’t understand and who don’t understand her, who threaten her. But in her story, Burnham is surrounded by people who pose no threat to her. Any that do are quickly offed – the prisoners who try to fight her in the mess hall are never seen again. Her teddy bear gets rid of the nasty Landry lady. Saru doesn’t like her, but he’s also a scaredy cat, and he’s ultimately just jealous of her and how amazing she is.
Lorca might be scary, but he looks after Burnham, he protects her. Georgiou, the other authority figure in Burnham’s life, was also protective of her – she was kind, and she loved Burnham, and is in every way the perfect mother figure for her – the perfect mother that Lal never had. The fact that she gets eaten by aliens is… probably a sign that Lal has issues, but we knew that already.
A Child’s Point of View
Indeed, using pseudo-cannibalism as a throw-away plot point is exactly the sort of thing a juvenile would write in their first work of fiction, because they wouldn’t understand the implicit horror of what they were writing. Icky, scary monsters eat people all the time – and children can wrap themselves in horror because they don’t have the ability to put it into context.
Lal can write a story about the Brave Captain getting locked up and tortured and then freeing himself by Being Brave, because she isn’t programmed to process the broader themes of such a traumatising ordeal. Violence is scary to Lal, but she can write about torture without comprehending its abhorrence because, it’s just more violence, right?
How about the Large-igrade, Burnham’s magic teddy bear friend? Burnham and her made-to-order best friend say a prayer for the teddy and let it go free, and in so doing, they magically heal it. Because that’s how things work in a child’s world – intentions and wishes rule over consequences and causality.
And this is the secret genius of ‘Discovery’. It’s Star Trek, but through the lens of a child’s eye. The wider scope of the subject matter is never explored, because the writer can’t, and wouldn’t want to. When Lal is threatened with being separated from her father, she can barely handle the emotions that surge up within her over this complex and confusing situation.
Discovery is the natural reaction to that – it’s a series of simplistic stories and one-note characters, creating a world which can accept someone despite her intellectual and emotional separation from any of her peers. It’s Star Trek, but realised as the ideal playground for a scared child.
Which makes it weird that they keep saying “fuck” and everyone’s getting their throats slit. Maybe Lal’s just a hack.
I don’t know how to start this review. I don’t know whether to address the crypto-racial misogyny, or the tragically off-kilter characterisation of half the cast, or the abject lack of any sense or logic to key scenes, or… Or…
Look, ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ is hot fucking garbage. That’s my conclusion. Four episodes in, and it’s garbage. And don’t come at me with all of that bullshit about “but nobody liked the first seasons of TNG or DS9!” because this isn’t the ’80s. ‘Discovery’ isn’t a cobbled-together series made under a tight budget and with limited competition – it’s a well-funded, pre-planned narrative that stands among dozens of other well-crafted sci-fi shows with strong first seasons – and in any case, the very fact that previous Trek shows have started so badly ought to have served as a lesson to the makers of ‘Discovery’, not a free pass for their incompetence.
Forgiving ‘Discovery’ its mediocrity because of the performance of its predecessors is like forgiving the Trump administration’s corruption because of Nixon. Let’s put it another way: if only twelve months ago a major mobile phone company released a new handset with a battery that occasionally exploded, you’d expect them to have addressed that issue by the time they released the next one.
In short: the next person who defends ‘Discovery’ by reminding me about ‘Encounter At Farpoint’ is going to get a hand-drawn erotic cartoon of Neelix mailed to them, special fucking delivery.
Anyway, the latest episode, the elegantly titled ‘The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not For The Lamb’s Cry’ (I think they wanted to sound poetic) is full of so many issues that recalling and describing them all is going to cause me some mental anguish. So first off, let’s get the stuff that I liked out of the way:
Ways In Which It Did Not Totally Ruin My Evening
I liked Burnham’s very Trekky approach to the Large-igrade. Classic “let’s learn more” sciency stuff, all very lovely.
We get to see Georgiou again, and it’s actually pretty lovely. She gets a nice send-off – or would have, were it not for the whole “her being eaten” thing.
Saru is still a highlight, though is drifting worryingly close to being just another oblivious or enabling patsy.
The fungal engineer, Stavros, really leveled up for me in this episode. Admittedly, he reached Level 1 from Level 0, but that’s still an improvement.
Tilly has mother issues, because of course Tilly has mother issues.
We see a female admiral. She even gets a name. And less personality than a pair of googly eyes sellotaped to an IKEA lampshade.
The actors are competent.
Ways In Which It Ruined My Evening Entirely
Right, down to the nitty gritty. This is going to take a while.
Let’s start with the simple stuff.
They Can’t Even Build Their Fucking Ship Properly
Okay, the ship is the star of the show. Like it or not, the Discovery is what the show is named after, it’s where 90% of the show takes place, and it’s a pretty fucking important component of the narrative. Joss Whedon described the Serenity as “the tenth character”, and so much thought and consideration went into that ship’s layout, they actually built it as a full set (split over two levels) based on in-depth design documents.
Trek itself has a long-standing history of this. Indeed, the Discovery is herself based on old concept art of a new Enterprise for the unmade ‘Star Trek: Planet of the Titans’, the initial plans for an ‘Original Series’ movie prior to ‘The Motion Picture’ and V’ger.
Minor inconsistencies are one thing, but HOW THE FUCK does a show’s creative staff fuck up SO BADLY that they CAN’T EVEN BUILD A SINGLE FUCKING SET CONSISTENTLY. Not sure what I’m on about? Have a look at these crude screencaps:
What’s wrong with that, you ask? Good question.
See the blue rectangle, just to the left-of-centre in the final panel? That’s an external window, looking out into space. Now, scroll back up to the top of the collage. Do you see what I’m seeing? That’s right, it’s a FUCKING CORRIDOR leading from the left to the right. Which is straight past that window.
So what, right? Because that window may well be looking out onto the ship’s hull, right? Because it’s not as though this room’s location WAS ALREADY ESTABLISHED IN THE LAST MOMENTS OF THE PREVIOUS FUCKING EPISODE, RIGHT?
Oh. Oh dear.
For reference, here’s the layout of Lorca’s Evil Laboratory, which I put together with the most expensive and advanced architectural software:
And, just in case that’s not clear enough, let me explain it verbally:
The creators of this show are idiots.
I know you’re thinking “this is just a tiny detail, Jon, why do you care?” But it’s not like these are two different sets. It’s not like they had to move between studios due to size constraints and overlooked something minor in the translation. This is THE SAME FUCKING SET. They walk from one room into the other, and yet NOBODY apparently spotted the fact that the layout of the second-most important location on the show made no fucking sense.
And the rest of the room is gorgeously detailed! I mean, I hate that it’s an EVIL LABORATORY full of ACTUAL SKULLS AND TORTURE DEVICES, but it’s clearly been lovingly put together by the set designers. Except for the placement of a massive window, through which many shots of the room are filmed, and which is situated in direct contradiction to the corridor literally three feet away.
Lorca Is A Basic Bully / Baddie And The Worst Captain Yet Seen On Star Trek
So, Captain Lorca. Captain Lorca. Captain. Loooorrrrcccaaaaaaa.
Okay, Jason Isaacs is a handsome young man, let’s get that out of the way. He’s also a solid actor, and reasonably charismatic. Cool. Good.
Captain Lorca is a stupid, inconsiderate, bullying arsehole who berates his crew and relies on emotional blackmail to further his desire to wage a pointless war.
I could pretty much leave it there, but let’s carry on.
The first thing we see of Lorca is him running a battle simulation with his crew. For some reason, he decided not to include his FIRST FUCKING OFFICER, Lt. Saru, because Saru looks all surprised when he walks onto the bridge. When the simulation is over, Lorca offers his bridge officers nothing but criticism, assuring them that the only chance they have of improving is due to the fact that this was literally the worst they could possibly have achieved. Okay, it’s war, fine, he needs to get these people up to standard so they don’t all die. Fine.
Then, he takes Burnham down into his EVIL LABORATORY which is FULL OF WEAPONS AND SKELETONS and introduces her to the Large-igrade. He tells her that he wants to know how it’s so good at killing Klingons and that she, as an anthropologist, is going to help him find out. Apparently, it isn’t obvious to him that this large, strong, fast and visibly armoured creature might be good at killing everything. Y’know, the way bears aren’t dangerous because they can run forty kilometers an hour and weigh up to 600 kilos, but rather because they harbour some cleverly hidden, biological secret that has eluded our understanding for millennia.
Hey, dickhead, IT’S BIG AND IT’S STRONG, do you really need Starfleet’s literal smartest human being to figure that out for you?
Anyway, he takes a break from berating his crew to eat fortune cookies and stare at a map in his ready room. Here, a holographic admiral delivers a message to him that Starfleet’s primary fuel production facility is under attack, and that there’s only six hours before it’s destroyed. And the nearest ship is eighty-four hours away at warp speed. Hey, good thing this isn’t a strategic location or anything, otherwise you might be inclined to keep a few more ships on standby in the vicinity.
So, Lorca lies to the Admiral about his ships’ capabilities, telling her sure, there’s no problem, leaping half-way across the galaxy with an experimental and knowingly unreliable form of propulsion will have zero, ZERO, unforeseen problems. This is because Lorca is the classic bully – horrendous to those less powerful than he is, obsequious to those with any amount of power over him.
At this point, he pushes his chief fungus engineer, Stavros, to activate the Event Horizon drive, fire up the gellar field and set course for the besieged refinery. Stavros (Davros?) counters that this is a stupid idea, as they literally have no idea of how to make their Bullshit Engine work reliably over that kind of distance, and they could all end up like the crew of the Glenn, i.e. as Walls’ Ice Cream’s next promotional variant of the Twister. Lorca counters back with the tried-and-tested “Well have you tried go fucking yourself, neeeerrrrd?” and walks off, triumphant.
In a surprise to literally no one except Lorca himself, the ship exits the Fungal Webway in the corona of a fucking star, and due to absolutely zero input from Lorca beyond a few cliches (“Collision is not an option! Get us the hell out of dodge! Beam me up, Scotty!”) manages to escape before the crew are all subjected to horrible fiery deaths. In the process, Santos gets his fucking face caved in, and really quite painfully at that:
For this, he gets a nice bit of motivation by our illustrious leader, who walks into the brightly-lit sickbay (and yes, they mention his sight problems again this episode, and once again ignore them) and immediately starts haranguing the engineer for his inability to do something which was considered theoretically impossible mere months ago. Even the Glenn, which Lorca describes as Discovery‘s “more advanced” sister ship, was incapable of safely doing what they just attempted, and yet Lorca is happy to rip shreds out of the one man left alive in the galaxy who understands the theory for not being able to achieve, and I’ll repeat myself here, the impossible.
So, when Stannis tells Lorca that he didn’t sign on for military service and that he’s a scientist, not a soldier, Lorca tells him to fuck off. He actually just tells him to leave the ship. He doesn’t appeal to his conscience, he doesn’t bring up the desperation of the war, the millions of lives that might be lost. He just tells him to leave, and then makes a half-hearted attempt to appeal to the engineer’s ego by comparing him to past pioneers (and Elon Musk, in a desperate bid to appear current).
Lorca then – and I can’t believe this actually happens – but he then, in one piece of dialogue, goes from stroking Stavros’ ego to then belittling him for having one. Like, this is the actual quote, word-for-word, from the subtitles:
“How do you wanna be remembered in history? Alongside the Wright Brothers, Elon Musk, Zefram Cochrane? Or as a failed fungus expert? A selfish little man, who put the survival of his own ego before the lives of others?”
Just, I don’t… Fuck! I mean, I could do a whole fucking article about nothing more than this one paragraph of dialogue, there’s so much wrong with it. Nevermind the inherent contradiction, just remember that Stavros’ chief objection to performing the long-range jump is to AVOID THE TORTUROUS DEATHS OF HIS SHIPMATES. He’s not objecting because there’s a risk he’ll look foolish, he’s objecting because there’s a risk he and the rest of the crew will be turned inside out, cooked alive or who the fuck knows what!
THIS, this fucking line right here, establishes everything wrong with Lorca. He doesn’t lead through encouragement or inspiration, he belittles and undermines. He doesn’t seek the best in people, he just makes them feel shitty until they feel too demoralised to object. And that’s what happens – Stavros doesn’t see the benefit of what they’re doing, he just walks out of sickbay because he hasn’t got a choice and he can’t be bothered arguing. This is the height of shitty characterisation, and highlights all the ways ‘Discovery’ is going wrong.
Okay, let’s move on, before I burst a blood vessel.
As Stavros storms out, Lorca decides to play the recording of the dying miners across the ship, without any announcement or anything. But it’s not as though the crew are unwilling to go save the colonists. It’s not like they all want to play it safe. In fact, most of them have nothing to do with the fungus engine whatsoever, but Lorca decides that playing them recordings of screaming, dying humans being bombed by Klingons is exactly the sort of thing to keep morale up and keep them focused on the task of not being mutilated by some kind of experimental engine malfunction.
Some bullshit sciency stuff happens with Burnham, Stavros and Tilly, they figure out how to make the improbability drive work using the Large-igrade (I’m going to keep calling it that until it catches on) and now, Lorca has a plan. I say “plan”, but that really dirties the word.
Lorca’s Big Idea is to jump into orbit of the besieged mining colony, squander any element of surprise, let his ship get beaten to within an inch of its life, and then jump out again after dropping some explosive barrels. That’s it. For some reason, he even refuses to fire on the attackers after annihilating three of them instantly, in case he accidentally gains anything approaching a tactical advantage, and instead puts all of his faith in an unreliable technology under the control of a wild animal which has already willingly murdered two of his crew.
Burnham has somehow convinced him that the Large-igrade isn’t just a big sack of pure hate, so maybe it won’t try to kill them all, but what if it’s just unreliable? What if, due to its lack of linguistic capability, it jumps them to the wrong place, or at the wrong time? What if it just dies, or the device stops working, or any one of a million things that can go wrong? Why take that risk three FUCKING times when he could instead jump in once, and put his faith in guns? The same guns which instantly destroy three Klingon Birds of Prey when the Discovery first jumps in?
Further, what would happen if he didn’t destroy all of the Klingon ships? He lets Discovery‘s shields drop to near-zero before he jumps out. So what happens if he jumps back in and there’s two Klingon ships left alive that just immediately start blasting his dick off? Could he really not come up with a better plan than this?
Y’know, if this was Saru, a science officer roped into a war he didn’t want, now trying his best to win battles without dying, I’d understand his agitation and his anxiety and his stupid tactics, but Lorca is CONSTANTLY GOING ON about the fact he’s a warrior. He studies war, he even reveals that his EVIL LABORATORY is actually a WAR LABORATORY where he studies WAR any time he’s not stood behind an empty table in his ready room eating fortune cookies.
I’m going to try to bring my criticism of Lorca to a close at this point, because there are eleven more episodes of this fucking show, and I feel like I’m already repeating myself frequently enough. But honest to goodness, he must be the worst series regular to enter a Trek show since… since fucking Neelix. There is nothing inspirational, aspirational, or even anything interesting about Lorca. He’s an arrogant, stupid bully and I am dreading having to spend the remainder of the series with him. If he was merely repugnant, I could at least love hating him, like Joffrey Baratheon. But Lorca’s worse – he’s also boring, and that I just can’t forgive.
Women of Colour Pay For Their Representation With Horrible, Violent Deaths
Okay, this is going to be controversial with some of you, but fuck it, let’s get stuck in.
I am really, really, really, really concerned about ‘Discovery’s treatment of non-white women. Of the four to whom we’ve been introduced, who have been named and had more than expository dialogue, two have been violently murdered, one of whom was literally eaten after her death, and the other two are convicted criminals.
In order, we meet Captain Georgiou, played by the Malaysian Michelle Yeoh, who really ought to have been the main character. She gets murdered in her second episode, to serve as character development for the show’s lead, Burnham. Georgious is stabbed, graphically, through the chest, and her bloody corpse is abandoned on the Klingon ship. We find out in this episode that the starving Klingons then ate her corpse. This, too, serves purely as character development for the Klingon leader, whose aide describes in detail him eating the flesh from her “smooth skull”, and how he smiled as he feasted.
Then we have the show’s lead, Michael Burnham, played by Sonequa Martin-Green, a black American woman. She does some typical leading-character stuff, most of it stupid. She then gets imprisoned for mutiny. Now, she’s the lead character and “hero” of the show, so this isn’t too bad. But she is also granted redemption by a middle-aged white guy, which… yeah.
Then we meet ‘Psycho’, played by Grace Lynn Kung, an Asian Canadian woman. Psycho is apparently a violent offender, and the only thing we really know for sure about her is that she’s a prisoner and convicted criminal. She gets a few lines before she gets put back on the space-bus and launched out of the story again.
Then we meet Commander Landry, played by Rekha Sharma, another Canadian woman, of North Indian descent. She’s aggressive, bigoted, impatient and violent, and that’s all fine, but she is also a complete fucking idiot and gets herself mauled by a violent water bear in her second episode. The last we see of her is as a mauled, lacerated corpse on a biobed, before her death is used as character development for… well, for the fucking water bear, as it happens. I mean, it could’ve been any random crewmember, but whatever.
So, look, it’s great that we’ve got a black woman as the lead character. It’s also great that we have two high-ranking officers played by women of colour (WoC) in a mainstream show. And it’s still a bit worrying that they have such a high propensity for getting fucked over and violently dispatched. Of the deaths of named characters, we have the following:
Danby Connor, who loses his shit in the brig before being blown into space.
Admiral Brett Anderson, who gets his ship rammed to death during the same battle.
T’Kuvma, the Klingon spiritual leader who gets shot by Burnham.
Captain Philippa Georgiou, Burnham’s mentor, who gets stabbed and eaten.
Kowski, the security guy who gets no lines but does get eaten by the Large-igrade.
Commander Landry, the security chief who gets mauled by the Large-igrade.
Okay, so there’s six deaths there, three of them white guys. And in fairness, whilst the WoC on that list make up half of the named WoC on the show, the white guys on that list also make up half of the (so far) named white guys on the show. So, cold hard numbers, it seems objectively balanced.
But… I still get an icky feeling. And I know, unequivocally, that there’s no conscious desire by the creators to do horrible things to the non-white women on their show. But put in the context of the historical representation that women of colour have had in films and television, and… it’s just a bit icky.
Look, I’m out of my depth here, I’ll admit, and there are many people vastly more capable of exploring this topic than me, so I’ll leave it here. All I can really add is that I’ll be keeping an eye on how this progresses. The helm officer of the Discovery is also a black woman, but so far she’s unnamed and has had only expository dialogue. If she gets a little more to do, then this might just be me having representational jitters. If she gets infested with space maggots or something equally grim, then the situation starts to look a little less… progressive.
Context Is For Kings, But Not For ‘Discovery’
This is somewhat related to my rant about Lorca, above, but there’s a real issue with the presentation of the massive war at the heart of the show’s narrative: the fact that it isn’t presented. At all.
We are constantly reminded of the fact that the war exists. We know it’s there. And that is all we get. And this is unforgivable when it’s the motivation of the second-most important character on the show. Lorca is a warrior, he wages war, as he reminds us, every other line of dialogue. And desire to win the war is seemingly the factor behind all of his decisions.
So why do we know so little about it? When Lorca is briefed about the mining colony, he speaks with the admiral for a good couple of minutes. He even mentions that if they lose their main fuel production facility, they’ll lose the war. Well, no shit, that’s not particularly surprising. But that’s all the exposition we get. And I’ve already covered this in my previous review, but we don’t find out if Starfleet is being pushed back, or if they’re advancing into Klingon space, or even if it’s all just one big meat grinder being fought to a standstill in the middle.
And the key thing here is that I don’t care about the war. I’m not particularly interested in what’s happening all along the front lines – what does interest me is the effect it has on our characters. But with no context, it has no discernible effect.
Take Stavros. Stamos. Stanos? The engineer who looks like a budget Alan Tudyk. He doesn’t want to be a soldier. He and his research have been roped into this war effort against his wishes. That’s fine, that’s an acceptable bit of motivation for a character. But knowing more about the bigger picture would inform his character even more. Is he against it because it’s a pointless war with no endgame? Is he a pacifist, against violence despite the fact that his species faces annihilation? Does he feel bad about helping Starfleet out when it’s already got a decisive advantage over the Klingons?
What about Tilly, the fresh-faced cadet? How’s this affecting her? Is she worried about being killed before she ever graduates? Is she anxious about her career as a theoretical engineer being replaced with combat training and endless repair and maintenance of weapons systems?
Is Saru worried about the war reaching his home planet, filled with a fear-driven population? As a career scientist, is he concerned, as Stavros is, about the increased and permanent militarisation of Starfleet, which used to be an exploratory organisation?
None of these have to be in-depth discussions that take valuable time away from the literal cannibalisation of female role models. But just a few throwaway comments would really help build the world and set the tone. Even just setting the stakes for the ship and crew itself – if the Discovery is destroyed, is that a definitive loss for Starfleet? Is the fungus drive a last-ditch attempt that represents their best chance at victory? Or is this a side-project that could prove useful long-term, but for now is entirely incidental to the war effort?
It’s incredibly frustrating to have a show that ostensibly entirely character-driven, and yet does nothing to shape the world that the characters inhabit. ‘Battlestar’ (the modern version) set the premise up immediately. It was entirely character-based, but we knew from the off what the scenario was – that we were following the last fifty thousand humans in the universe, and that every loss of life was a permanent detriment to the species’ chances at survival.
We’re two episodes into the “war arc”, six months after the war first started, and yet we still know nothing about it. What are the demands on either side? The Klingons got duped into this war – what do they want out of it? Kol explains that as soon as the war is over, the Klingon houses will divide again – if so, what goal has united them? Do they just want to wipe out the Federation? Do they want to vassalise it? Have I simply been playing too much ‘Stellaris’? We still don’t know.
In the last episode, this absence of information could have been down to Burnham’s limited perspective, the fact that she, as a prisoner, would be naturally excluded from most conversations. But in this episode, we see things from multiple perspectives – Lorca being briefed by an Admiral, repeated interactions between Lorca and Stavros, and plenty of scenes with the Klingons. Still no insight into the galaxy-spanning conflict that’s allegedly at the heart of the story.
And again, this isn’t about telling the story of the war – it’s about framing our characters. It’s about giving them the context they need to come alive, rather than exist in a vacuum and just do stuff because the plot demands it. And yet the show’s creators insist on remaining evasive on the whole topic of the war. It’s all very peculiar.
The Klingons Take Two Steps Back
In the pilot episodes, we got exposed to some surface-level detail of the revised Klingon culture. We heard more about their religious beliefs, the division within their society (or at least the fact that it was, apparently divided) and they got some nice new costumes and foreheads.
And it seems that’s as much as we’ll be getting. In the fourth episode, we get to see Klingons at their most desperate, starving to death aboard their crippled flagship. Their leader, the albino one, refuses to take the equipment they need from the Shenzhou, as it’s the ship that defeated them and led to his spiritual leader’s death.
Anyway, another Klingon leader shows up, which convinces the Albino to go and actually get the spare spark plugs they need from the Shenzhou. When he gets back, all of his crew have turned coat on him, joining with the other leader who had the foresight to bring them food.
That’s right, Klingons have the same view on loyalty as cats.
Which is fine, hunger is a perfectly acceptable motivation for switching sides. And, although it undermines to some extent the religious angle set up previously, it also does a lot to “humanise” the Klingons – we understand that they have a breaking point.
What I don’t understand is why the Albino is so unwilling to continue with T’Kuvma’s “spiritual path” or whatever. Given the trouble to which he went to start the war, I can only assume that taking part in that war, or at the very least not starving to death whilst it raged, was also a significant part of T’Kuvma’s intentions. Specifically, I’m confident that T’Kuvma would not have wished his ancestral ship, enshrined with those who had died for the cause, to rot away in empty space.
The Albino states that he won’t salvage the Shenzhou out of respect for T’Kuvma, which I can sort-of accept, but it just seems so at odds with everything you might expect them to actually believe in. As the Albino’s second-in-command points out, he was happy to eat the captain of the Shenzhou, just to survive. Surely taking part in the holy war that T’Kuvma started would be more respectful to his memory than allowing his war to fail for the sake of a spare alternator cap, or whatever it was that they needed.
And, indeed, the Albino says himself that he “swore to keep [T’Kuvma’s] fire lit… to resist assimilation.” I can sort-of see how using Federation technology to fix an heirloom vessel could be distasteful, but it’s not as though it’s a permanent modification – they can salvage the Shenzhou, make a single warp jump and then replace all the dirty Starfleet bits later. Religious and cultural zealotry is one thing, but this is like allowing a church to collapse because you won’t temporarily prop up a wall with a wooden beam taken from a mosque.
Like, obviously I’m not a Klingon, I don’t understand the intricacies of their society and the interactions between their traditions. The problem is I’m worried that the writers don’t, either, and they should because they’re the ones creating the Klingon culture.
The ambiguity is acceptable in a complex culture like this, but it warrants further exploration, which we don’t seem to get. That being said, there’s a promise of the Albino visiting “The Matriarchs” (groan) as he strives to regain his position as spiritual leader, which could be interesting, and I’m really hoping it’s not some weird, vaguely sexist abstraction that contains very little substance. If there’s some fucking prophesy, I’m picking up my shit and I’m leaving for good.
One final thing on these Klingon segments – they aren’t half boring. It took me ages to put my finger on it, but it wasn’t until a friend pointed out the issues. Here is a perfectly average screencap of a normal Klingon scene:
What you have here is a really nice, really expensive set, with some really cool, really expensive prostheses and makeup, with dialogue subtitled from carefully developed alien language – all of which is great. You also have a load of actors who, due to the expensive and extensive prostheses, and the gruff language which has to be subtitled, are incapable of fully practicing their craft.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure they’re all doing the best they can. But that isn’t very much, due to the physical limitations. To make matters worse, the Klingon arc is arguably the more theatrical of the two narratives, dealing as it does with ancient houses, divided empires and spiritual awakenings. And yet despite all of these themes, every Klingon scene ends up being a series of words on the screen whilst people in monster masks make guttural sounds at the camera.
In the first review I wrote of this series, I compared this new show to ‘Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country’, as many of the themes are similar. And I’m going to do so again, because in ‘The Undiscovered Country’, during the iconic trial scene, we again get to see Klingons in their native environment, speaking in the Klingon language. Except, although the scene starts off in Klingon, it takes a moment to show us that it’s being translated for the benefit of the defendants, at which point it switches to English so that Christopher Plummer can get back to Acting, darling.
I suppose the difference is that the creators of ‘The Undiscovered Country’ gave the audience the benefit of the doubt. They assumed, correctly, that most people would be able to surmise that the Klingons were still speaking Klingon, and even if they didn’t, it hardly matters in the context of the show.
The creators of ‘Discovery’, on the other hand, are presumably wracked with anxiety over their audience forgetting that the people with big bulgy knobbly heads and weird-coloured skin and quadruple nostrils are aliens, should they for a moment communicate in anything but their correct, completely fictional language. Meanwhile, the actual audience is just left bored and feeling a bit sorry for all of the young actors whose careers will in no way be advanced by their participation in this calamity.
Other Fucking Annoying Stuff
“Who saved us?” asks the little girl, in the most terribly delivered line so far, contributing to nothing except my continued ill health.
Why would you create a type of parcel that beeps annoyingly until it’s opened? What if you just didn’t have time, but had to carry it with you? What if you wanted to wait for someone else, because you wanted to open it with them? Why create a passive aggressive piece of luggage? What the fuck is the point except to act as a prompt for a fictional character?
And the fucking telescope. It’s confirmed as the same one that was on the Shenzhou. So, did someone bring it with them when they all jumped on escape pods? They chose to get the telescope in case a mutineer decided they needed it for character development, but left the unencrypted crew manifests and the vital and likely confidential power generation technology? What else did they leave behind? What other weird and pointless stuff did they take with them? Or did someone see Georgiou’s will, realise they needed the telescope, and so went back to the derelict Shenzhou whilst still in the vicinity of Klingon ships, and again, left sensitive information behind? Like, in the same fucking room? Who the fuck wrote this garbage?
Commander Landry was a shithead for the duration of her presence on the show, but she also gets killed off pretty quickly, which would be good were it not for the representational issues already mentioned, which leaves me confused about my feelings, which leaves me even more angry.
Right, I’m actually done. I’ve written over five-and-a-half thousand words on a forty-minute slice of boiled shit that doesn’t warrant two minutes of attention. Also I’m tired. Tired of Trek being shit. Tired of the contempt that fills every frame of this show. Tired of the self-loathing seeping out of every facet of its existence.