Star Trek: Discovery’s ‘Point Of Light’ Returns To Fractal Stupidity

CONTENT WARNING – The bottom portion of this review contains disturbing images of mutilated infants. A second warning will be put up, but please proceed with caution.

And no, I can’t believe I have to write that warning on the review of a Star Trek episode, either.

Ohhhhh my God. Jesus. I was just, just, warming up to this show, and then BAM, it covers itself in stupid-sauce and jumps into a nest of stupid-wasps and then tries to numb the pain with a hefty dose of stupid-pills.

Did any of that make sense? No? Then I’ve set roughly the correct tone for a review of this toasty, grisly mess of a story.

This episode, ‘Point Of Light’, is what I’d call Fractally Stupid – it’s stupid on a basic, high level, but as you dig further into it, you realise that the stupidity extends to a greater and greater level of detail. It’s stupid all the way down – the closer you look, the more stupid you see.

It’s painful.

recruitment

My first complaint with this episode is that it’s nearly 50 minutes long and has roughly 90 billion storylines, none of which overlap. Given that fact, I’m going to make it easy for myself and break each one down, and carefully explain why each story is dumber than a bag of hammers.

Please note that there is so much stupid in this episode that I had to trim out a lot of it from this article. There’s also a lot of stylistic stuff, such as camera angles, dutch angles, terrible lighting, Klingons speaking English unintelligibly, the complete abandoning of several plotlines from last season, most notably the planet-destroying bomb that L’Rell controlls, L’Rell naming herself Khaleesi – the list goes on and on.

For now, I just want to focus on the chunkiest narrative aspects. Let’s dive in.


Michael Burnham: An Accessory To Spock

Alright, so we open with Burnham’s personal log, where she explains that she is yet to figure out the significance of the Seven Red Bursts-

sevensignals

Wait, shouldn’t that be Eight Red Bursts? Wasn’t the one in last episode a new one?

anothersignal

Did the writers just try to Shelby us again?

Anyway, Burnham can’t make any headway on the Red Bursts, not even with the help of Spock’s notes.

Where is Spock? Why, he’s in the psychiatric unit aboard Starbase 5. Which is precisely why Discovery went straight there after the end of last episode, where they established the absolute primacy of their mission, over and above Spock’s privacy or even Starfleet’s “General Order One”:

spocksprivacy

urgency

firstrule

Oh, wait, they didn’t go to Starbase 5. They were just flying around or something, I guess, because their mission probably isn’t that important.

Instead, Amanda, the 43-year-old mother of a 32-year-old Spock arrives after having just been to Starbase 5 and nicking Spock’s medical records, which leads to Pike getting in contact with Starbase 5 and learning that Spock allegedly murdered three people, escaped, and is now on the run.

Why wasn’t Discovery told about this? Because it was classified, or something. Which is why Starbase 5’s commander didn’t answer any of Pike’s calls. Except that he’s telling Pike now, because… Well, I can’t really figure out why he would tell him now, and not before.

He says:

signals

No, they do, asshole, they’re the whole reason Pike took command of Discovery, the reason he was able to violate the embargo on the Spore Drive as well as violate the Prime Directive. But now Starfleet has sort-of-but-not-really classified Spock’s case because:

files

Except that, the files only went missing because Amanda stole them. And Amanda only knew Spock was at Starbase 5 because… wait, hang on, nobody except Pike seemed to know he was at Starbase 5. Certainly neither Sarek nor Amanda knew, nor did Burnham. So how did Amanda know?

parentsnottold

spocksaidno

So:

  1. Did Pike radio in to Starfleet to ask about Spock, and they ignored him until…
  2. … Amanda found out, flew to Starbase 5 herself (faster than Discovery could instaneously spore-drive it’s way there from New Eden)…
  3. … and stole Spock’s records, causing Spock’s status to become classified?

Why would Starfleet obstruct the mission that they gave to Pike? If they have ulterior motives, then why assign him the advanced starship with the experimental drive that would facilitate his mission? If they don’t have ulterior motives, then why would they obstruct the mission?

But this is just a contradiction between a narrative that occurs over two episodes. Check out the contradiction in just these three lines of dialogue:

youknow

informed

anxious

  1. Burnham has to ask if Amanda knows about the signals, implying that they are not common knowledge.
  2. Amanda answers that Sarek told her specifically.
  3. Amanda then follows up by explaining that people are anxious to know what they are, implying that the signals ARE common knowledge.

This level of stupidity is so overwhelming that I genuinely find it quite taxing to get my mind around it. The writers of this show genuinely cannot maintain a single, coherent train of thought across three fucking lines of dialogue.

The rest of this story arc pretty much goes nowhere, beyond establishing that Spock had a vision of the Red Angel when he was a child, and that Burnham did something truly awful to him when he was younger as a means to protect him – which tracks true for Burnham’s mutinous “Chaotic Stupid” character alignment as established at the very start of the show.

The biggest takeaway from all of this is that the entire Burnham sub-plot was all about Spock, and not Burnham. We learn virtually nothing new about Burnham, beyond the fact that she was a colossal fuck-up as a youth as well as when she was a first officer. Also that she ran away one time. We sacrifice any opportunity to properly examine her own character, in lieu of exploring Spock, a character who is yet to appear in this show.

This narrative is dull, heavy on exposition, and does very little to advance the plot beyond sending Amanda on her merry way to find Spock herself. I’ll cover more of this narrative in my next character piece, which will be looking at Burnham specifically, but for now, we’re done with this little cul de sac of a story.

Onto the next.


Damn It, Tilly, I’m A Mycologist, Not A Spine Surgeon

Tilly is on the Command Training Program’s half-marathon exercise. One of many, because she apparently scores a PB:

personalbest

Oh, wait, she set a new course record, too:

courserecord

If she set a new course record, why is Burnham not mentioning that? Isn’t that the bigger achievement, as well as making the other two things obvious? Like, is it’s possible to set a course record and not beat your personal best on that course, and at the same time win? Whatever.

So, Tilly’s running with three other command trainees, and their coming is heralded by the computer announcing it like it’s fucking Red Alert or something, shutting off all the lights to boot:

marathonapproaching

This makes absolutely no fucking sense. I mean, it’s not as though they’re running on rough terrain, like an obstacle course or something, where the flashing lights might kind-of make sense, this just seems to be a fitness test on flat corridor floor panels. So the only reason for the lights to go out is to add dramatic, disorienting tension to Tilly’s confrontations with a ghost that’s haunting her.

Which is fine, if it’s something that happens solely within the context of Tilly struggling with the ghost. Except that the lights go out on Burnham, too, which means they’re actually getting switched off for some reason, which doesn’t make sense, which-

ARGH, WHATEVER

The point is, we later see Tilly wigging out on the bridge as this ghost, May, torments her, until Tilly shouts at her and then runs off in a nervous panic, which is understandable.

What isn’t understandable is the exchange that follows, where Tilly goes to her quarters, where Burnham is waiting, who explains that Saru has apparently been looking all over for Tilly despite the ship having internal sensors but WHATEVER, and then Tilly has a conversation with Burnham whilst being tormented by May the Ghost.

Tilly starts crying, and the ghost says that her eyes are dripping. Tilly then explains to Burnham that the ghost doesn’t know what tears are, to which Burnham responds:

whataretears

Exactly.

How can this ghost, which was able to extrapolate the image of an adult version of Tilly’s friend from high school that she knew for six months, and bring up a nickname (“Stilly”) that Tilly had forgotten, not know what crying is???

Especially given this line from when the ghost was introduced:

scary

How can it possibly know so much about Tilly’s life, and yet know know what crying is?

This leads Tilly to seek help from Stamets, who examines her and finds an interdimensional fungal infection attached to her nervous system:

mutlidimensionalfungalparasite

Look at that thing! All up and down her spine, her lungs, her… is… is it infecting her tits, too? Ah, whatever.

Stamets’ reaction to this?

Grab the nearest cask of dark matter, open the lid and just point it at Tilly, hoping it’ll suck the parasite out.

Y’know how it’s really difficult to safely remove parasites like ticks and leeches and even just athelete’s foot, because they root themselves into the outer layers of our bodies and need to be carefully removed just to avoid scarring?

This parasite is rooted in Tilly’s fucking brain stem and Stamet’s just yanks it out of her like an evangelist purging a demon. I mean look at this, he’s not even got the dark matter mounted to anything! He’s just holding it and waving it in her general direction, hoping for the best!

sucking

Bear in mind that it was exposure to dark matter that prompted the appearance of May in the first place, so what if this just fed the parasite instead of removing it?

What if as this parasite is removed, it rips a chunk of Tilly’s spinal column out with it? Or just fucks up her internal organs?

The point is, Stamets had no way to know, because there are literally, literally

37 SECONDS

between those two screenshots.

37 seconds between Stamets seeing a never-before-seen multidimensional fungal parasite, and him improvising a handheld solution to extracting it from Tilly’s central nervous system.

This thing is so wired into Tilly’s brain that it can conjure up images from the deepest parts of her long-term memory, and Stamets just casually tears it out of her without even speaking to a doctor first.

suck

This is, without a doubt, the STUPIDEST moment from all of Star Trek history. ALL of Star Trek history. I have never seen something this idiotic in my entire life.

So Stamets pulls a big snotty blob of goo out of Tilly’s spine and just throws it up into the air where Saru puts a forcefield up around it and…

… That’s it. That’s the last we see of the Discovery crew this episode, before we switch back to the Klingon Empire and the re-introduction of Section 31.


 

Klingon Power Struggles Klingons Struggling With Power

Do you like political intrigue? Drama? Difficult choices and forced compromises?

Then go watch some other show.

The Klingon plotline of ‘Point of Light’ tries so hard to be ‘Game of Thrones’ that damages itself in the process. It manages to be what ‘Game of Thrones’ would be, if everyone in Westeros was either Joffrey or a Pakled.

I’m going to try and cover this as succinctly as possible:

L’Rell is the High Chancellor. She is holding onto power through a few loyal family members and Ash/Voq, who acts as her de facto second-in-command.

The head of a rival Klingon House, Kol-Sha (whose son was Kol, the General of last season but whatever), seeks to challenge L’Rell and take the chancellorship away from her.

Kol-Sha shows up with red paint on his face, a sign of the old ways he represents:

oldway

L’Rell asks him to remove it, and he ignores her:

removehtepaint

So Ash tries to violently wipe the paint from Kol-Sha’s face:

removethepaintash

removepaint

Later, according to Kol-Sha:

begged

sensors

But… you didn’t beg her, Kol’Sha. She ordered you to remove it, and you refused.

Even if he’s just being metaphorical (a bit of a stretch) – was this his plan? To seize power? To turn up wearing paint filled with listening devices, so that L’Rell would ask him to remove it, he’d then refuse, and then her boyfriend would try to remove it himself?

What if L’Rell just didn’t give a shit about the paint?

What if she was like, “Huh, still wearing paint, I see. Anyway, here’s my economic recovery plan so that we don’t all starve to death after that immensely costly war.”

What was his next step?

Right, whatever, maybe he would just be to try something else, so, whatever. Whatever.

Whatever.

So then Kol-Sha uses these sensor thingies to learn two things:

  1. That Ash betrayed the Council to Burnham and the Federation.
  2. That Voq and L’Rell had a child.

With this knowledge, Kol-Sha decides to murder L’Rell and publicly release the recording of Ash betraying the Klingon Empire, taking L’Rell’s place on the grounds of treason committed by her second-in-command/lover/sworn protector.

Oh, no, wait, none of that happens.

Instead, Kol-Sha kidnaps L’Rell’s baby (a baby she cared so much about that she’s never met it) and then blackmails her into signing a form that would hand power over to him.

Klingons.

Kidnapping defenceless babies.

So they can blackmail their rivals.

Into signing a form.

Remind me again of how much ‘Discovery’ has done to explore Klingon culture and offer a new perspective.

sign

This then leads into a fight, in which L’Rell and Ash fight a bunch of Kol-Sha’s anonymous mooks for nearly ninety seconds of over-choreographed, poorly-lit swordplay, at the end of which more mooks arrive and they’re back where they started, making the whole thing completely fucking pointless anyway.

Seriously, these two images are before and after a massive, complex, poorly choreographed fight scene:

afterfight

beforefight

Except that they aren’t, I actually put them in the wrong order – the bottom one is the before shot. And if you couldn’t spot that, then that’s exactly my point.

Just to hammer the pointlessness of this fight home, Kol-Sha then just paralyses both L’Rell and Ash anyway:

stunning

He then proceeds to take the hand of the paralysed L’Rell and places it on “Transfer of Chancellorship Oversight Form P-627-B” and completes the process anyway:

signing

All of which means he could have just done that to begin with.

Why not just stun her before the fight?

When you go to steal the baby and leave L’Rell’s uncle hanging there, why not just lie in wait and ambush L’Rell, and then stun her?

Kol-Sha’s hologram was waiting for her to arrive, so he knew she was coming:

awaiting

So… Just stun her then?

To quote Mr. Plinkett:

Forcing someone to sign a [document] sort-of contradicts the purpose of a signature on a document. You might as well just forge it if you’re going to make her sign it.

I mean, Kol-Sha has the ability to hide sensors in paint and to paralyse two people who happen to be stood exactly either side of him, so I can assume he has the tech to just forge L’Rell’s thumb-signature. And even if he doesn’t, why both with kidnapping the baby if you’re just going to paralyse L’Rell anyway and then physically press her thumb onto the document anyway?

Which means the entire plot with the baby was utterly pointless. It didn’t need to be there, and could have easily been omitted in an episode that already had too many sub-plots.

Which leads me onto my next, distressing, point…


CONTENT NOTICE – This next section contains discussion and images of harm done to children, which may be distressing. Please do not proceed any further unless you are confident that you won’t be upset by it.


Dead Baby Jokes

I grew out of telling dead baby jokes about ten years ago. It happened when a friend pointed out that they’re actually pretty insensitive, and could be hurtful to people who have had to cope with the loss of a child. And even then, I didn’t stop immediately, it still took a while to phase that kind of joke out of my lexicon.

Now, I want to share with you a quote I included in an article I wrote waaaay back when:

nudity

So, nudity “just doesn’t feel right” for Trek. And let’s be clear, there are topless men all over the place. So what Aaron means is “female nudity.” Women’s nipples is apparently the thing that Trek isn’t ready for.

What Trek apparently IS ready for is images of decapitated babies.

We know this because such images appear in this episode, the penultimate scene of which involves High Chancellor L’Rell holding aloft the severed heads of both Ash and her infant child:

heads

head2

The one saving grace of this image is that it wasn’t *quite* as graphic as it could be.

The second is that technically, this is a genetically-perfect recreation of a baby’s head created by the sick fucks in Section 31, and not the baby itself.

The absolute condemnation of this scene is that is was completely unnecessary, and in no way required by the narrative.

Which is the definition of “gratuitous.”

L’Rell’s baby is brought into this story as an afterthought – a sub-sub-plot to the sub-plot of the Klingon power struggle. There’s nothing inherently wrong with introducing a child to the (already-problematic) relationship between L’Rell and Ash. But to introduce it, then use it for a gory and distressing visual, and then for the actual baby to just be put on a bus at the end as it’s transported down to some insular monastery, is just exploitative and really, really grim, and says a lot about what the creators of this show want to achieve with their story – which is, apparently, to shock and distress, rather than to provoke and inspire.


Section 31, Starfleet’s Most Famous Secret Undercover Intelligence Agency

stayanonymous
worldsgreatest
canthelp

There is so much I could talk about with Section 31 on an over-arching, meta level, but for the purposes containing the sheer volume of this already overly-long article, let’s just focus on what’s in this episode, and this episode alone.

So, Emperor Georgiou appears at the exact moment that Kol-Sha is about to execute Ash. She seems to phase through a wall, so it’s possible that she was there all along, watching the fight happen.

She reveals herself in order to kill Kol-Sha, L’Rell’s would-be usurper, and reinforce L’Rell’s position as a puppet tyrant installed by Starfleet using weapons of mass destruction.

staysintheseat

If Georgiou only just arrived, then it’s an awfully convenient coincidence that she turned up exactly at the split-second that Ash was about to get stabbed. That would be a rubbish bit of TV-writing.

If Georgiou had been there the whole time and was waiting for the right moment… Why didn’t she step in before Kol-Sha paralysed L’Rell and forced her signature out of her, thereby transferring her power to him?

In fact, why didn’t Georgiou step in during the massive fight when, L’Rell could have been easily stabbed in the face or decapitated or something?

If she didn’t want to risk getting hurt herself and needed the element of surprise, then why didn’t she step in just before the fight, when everyone was in the exact same position as they were before?

None of her motivations match her actions. Which makes this whole thing stupid.

But that’s not the only thing that’s stupid.

Section 31, a highly clandestine, super-secret, xenophobic intelligence agency within the Federation. They rely on absolute secrecy to achieve their objectives.

Absolute secrecy.

To maintain their veil of secrecy, they take the following actions:

  1. Hiring “misfits” and “freaks”, i.e. people with atypical behaviour which by definition makes them stand out.
  2. Hiring one of Starfleet’s most highly-decorated and presumably recognisable captains, Philippa Georgiou.
  3. Hiring Ash Tyler, someone guilty of treason against both the Federation and, now, the Klingon Empire.
  4. Wearing distinctive black badges marking them out as Section 31.

This… is just stupid. Just so, so stupid. The Archer comparison above is being generous.

misfits

The whole purpose of a secret agency is to remain secret. If you starting bringing along people who stand out from a crowd, and you have your own publicly-recognisable insignia… aren’t you defeating the point?

decorations

Section 31 should be made up of all of your most average-looking, run-of-the-mill, ruthless sociopaths. People who blend into a room, who are remarkable for being unremarkable.

freaks

They shouldn’t even have insignia badges, they should have either standard Starfleet badges, or none at all. They should just make themselves look like a civilian organisation. Or not even an organisation at all. They should be small cells, maybe just a few independent agents, compartmentalised and scattered across the galaxy.

blackbadges

But now, they have a distinctive-looking badass starship with big folding nacelles and its own crew. Hell, they’ve probably got a fleet of them. That’s just how secretive they are.

s31ship

I mean, why even bother with the intentionally ambiguous and nondescript name “Section 31”? You may as well just calls yourselves “Starfleet Black Ops” or “Swastika Squadron” at this point.


Stupid All The Way Down…

This episode may have broken me.

It was so dumb in so many ways, I could write another three articles at least this long just about Burnham’s and Tilly’s sub-plots.

More than anything, this episode was just kinda boring. It didn’t excite or thrill the way you might expect from a high-budget, dumb-but-fun blockbuster-style story. It just shocked and distressed.

I’m worried now that ‘New Eden’ was a fluke, that the glimmer of hope it offered was just a mirage, or worse, an intentional tease, of what this show will never be.

We’ll have to check in next week to see.

Discovery in Depth – Continuity and The Shelby Method

My first look at ‘Discovery’s Season 2 Premiere, ‘Brother’, was a chaotic ejaculation following an unexpectedly positive reaction to the show’s latest episode. However, there are heavier themes and ideas to explore in the world of ‘Discovery’ critique beyond “Just how explicit am I allowed to be in describing the things I would let Jet Reno do to me?” and “At some point I need to see Tilly and Stamets sing ‘Faith of the Heart’ together during the ship’s Karaoke night.”

One of the frequent topics of discussion with regards ‘Discovery’ is its fit within the Star Trek canon – which is shorthand for “does it keep continuity with what has come before / what will come after in other shows and films?”

To be perfectly honest, I’ve never cared that much about continuity with the rest of the franchise. Canon gets violated in Star Trek more frequently than the Prime Directive, very often with the same series violating canon that the series itself established several episodes earlier (see: beaming through shields).

However, several recent instalments in the franchise haven’t just ignored broader franchise continuity – they’ve ignored their own continuity from just a few scenes or even just a few moments before.

To explore this phenomenon, I’d like to introduce “The Shelby Method” of continuity.

shelby1
No, not that Shelby.

Continuity – The Shelby Method

If you’ve seen ‘Memento’, you’ll be familiar with its main character Leonard Shelby, played by Guy Pearce. In it, Shelby is unable to form new memories – events occur, and within a few minutes he will have forgotten them entirely, finding himself in new and strange situations with no clue as to how he got there.

It’s notable for being a great little movie, with a wonderful cast, and for being Hollywood darling Christopher Nolan’s first widely-distributed film and the beginning of his $2.4 billion filmography (but sure, feel free to keep complaining about the plot holes in ‘The Dark Knight Rises’).

=ê™e

It’s also notable for inspiring what I have now coined as “The Shelby Method” of film and TV storytelling, most notably used in ‘Star Trek: Into Darkness’ and ‘Star Trek: Discovery’.

It works like this:

The significance of any information, plot development or dialogue is retained across the next two camera shots, after which it can be abandoned completely in favour of superseding information.

In short, if you’re telling a story for film or TV and you need cool stuff to happen, there is absolutely no need for previous events in the story to stop the cool stuff from happening.

For example, in ‘Into Darkness’:

  1. Admiral Marcus fires on the Enterprise
  2. causing her warp core to become dislodged
  3. causing Kirk to sacrifice himself whilst kicking it back into position
  4. causing Kirk to die
  5. causing Spock to scream “KHAAAAAN!”

Now, as your brain works through that sequence of events, and you begin to think “Hang on, why is Spock shouting ‘KHAAAAAN!’ when it was Admiral Marcus who was more responsible for Kirk’s death?” Spock is already down on Earth, chasing Khan through the streets of San Francisco, and now McCoy is resurrecting a Tribble with Khan’s blood, and now Spock’s on a hovering garbage scow, and now McCoy’s shouting at Uhura, and now Spock’s whaling on Khan with a lump of metal, and now he’s screaming like an animal, and by now you’ve already forgotten about that bit with the warp core, haven’t you?

spock_screaming_khan

If clever tricks of perspective and carefully-orchestrated special effects are considered “Movie Magic”, then the Shelby Method is “Movie Con-Artistry” – it’s the practice of moving the story along so quickly and dazzling or otherwise overwhelming the audience such that you prevent them from committing the events of your story to their long-term memory. You turn your audience into Leonard Shelby, remembering only the last few brief seconds of what they’ve just experienced.

Another example would be in Season 1 of ‘Star Trek: Discovery’, episode 8, ‘Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum’, where Discovery‘s First Officer, Saru, betrays Burnham and Tyler and attacks them, sabotaging their mission to gain a war-winning advantage against the Klingons.

And as Saru lies in sickbay, explaining that he wasn’t even being mind-controlled, he was just emotionally overwhelmed, and you start thinking “Well, the last time a First Officer behaved that way, it was Burnham, and she spent six months in prison, and that’s the entire driving theme of this series, so is Saru going to at least get a court martial?” and then the peace planet emits a huge energy pulse summoning the Klingons, and Burnham and Tyler walk onto the bridge, and Lorca says something, and the communications officer says something, and we cut to the Klingon leader Kol, and then we end on a cliffhanger, and then at the beginning of the next episode the scene continues and everyone’s trying to figure out what to do about the Klingons, and Saru is there too, as First Officer, and

Wait, shouldn’t Saru be in the brig?”

Well, of course not. Because as per the Shelby Method, Saru did nothing mutinous within the last two camera shots, so what possible reason could there be for him to be in the brig?

Congratulations, you’ve just been Shelby’d.

butiwascollage


Orders and Uniforms

So, let’s take a look at ‘Brother’, the first episode of DISCO’s second season, and let’s see if we can keep up, starting with the final moments of the ‘Previously On’ segment at the very start:

  1. Discovery enters maximum warp straight from Earth to Vulcan
  2. when twenty seconds later she picks up a Priority 1 distress call
  3. but the sender of the signal can’t communicate via audio or even transmit their registry number
  4. and it turns out to be the Enterprise
  5. and she’s Captain Pike’s ship
  6. with Spock aboard
  7. and we see the Enterprise approach Discovery under her own power with all her lights on
  8. and we cut to a montage of photos from space probes and telescopes
  9. and Burnham talks about an ancient (hundred-thousand year old???) story of creation
  10. and we see Burnham’s introduction to Sarek
  11. and then to Amanda
  12. and then to Anakin-Spock
  13. and then Anakin-Spock makes a holographic dragon float around the room
  14. and then he closes the door
  15. and then we’re back on Discovery
  16. and the Enterprise is completely disabled with no systems online and all her lights off
  17. except life support
  18. but all crew are alive, including Spock
  19. and it’s Tilly’s idea to communicate via Morse Code
  20. and Enterprise has just signalled via Morse that Captain Pike and an engineer and a science officer are beaming over
  21. and they beam over
  22. and Spock isn’t there
  23. and Pike takes command of Discovery under Starfleet’s orders
  24. and explains that he wanted to deliver the news himself and so asked Starfleet not to notify Discovery
  25. and the Enterprise engineer comments on how badass Discovery is
  26. and Pike explains that at least Enterprise picked up the new uniforms
  27. which Discovery‘s crew don’t have
  28. and Pike explains that Starfleet ordered Enterprise to investigate seven massive “red bursts” from all over the galaxy
  29. called “signals”
  30. which appeared simultaneously “over the past 24 hours”
  31. and then simultaneously disappeared, except for one
  32. which Discovery‘s crew has never heard of
  33. and Enterprise‘s science officer is arrogant in explaining the issues they cause
  34. and when they tried to scan the red bursts, their systems went haywire
  35. and Pike and Burnham talk about Spock
  36. and Linus the Saurian has a cold
  37. and we see Discovery‘s vast, lit-up, spacious roller coaster interior which is big enough for manned service pods
  38. and Saru theorises on the origin of the Red Bursts
  39. and the science officer explains that six hours ago
  40. one of the bursts “stabilised long enough to get a fix on its position”
  41. and Pike explains that they were on route
  42. when the ship’s systems completely shut down
  43. and that Starfleet is sending a team to tow the Enterprise home
  44. and then Pike asks Saru for his command codes
  45. and Saru explains that he can’t hand them over without a DNA test
  46. and then Linus sneezes on the arrogant science officer.

Okay, that’s a lot to take in. And maybe it all makes sense as you read it from top to bottom.

lightsonlightsoff
Lights on, lights off.

But, surprise surprise, all that formatting I added wasn’t random. Let’s put it together in a more categorised fashion, starting with all the reds:

  1. Discovery enters maximum warp straight from Earth to Vulcan
  2. when twenty seconds later she picks up a Priority 1 distress call
  3. and it turns out to be the Enterprise
  4. and we see the Enterprise approach Discovery under her own power with all her lights on
  5. and the Enterprise is completely disabled with no systems online and all her lights off
  6. and it’s Tilly’s idea to communicate via Morse Code
  7. and Pike takes command of Discovery under Starfleet’s orders
  8. and Pike explains that Starfleet ordered Enterprise to investigate seven massive “red bursts” from all over the galaxy
  9. which appeared simultaneously “over the past 24 hours”
  10. and then simultaneously disappeared, except for one
  11. and when they tried to scan the red bursts, their systems went haywire
  12. and the science officer explains that six hours ago
  13. one of the bursts “stabilised long enough to get a fix on its position”
  14. and Pike explains that they were on route
  15. when the ship’s systems completely shut down

So, here’s a question: what is the current state of the Enterprise? Are her systems completely down to the extent that they need Morse Code to communicate? She flew up to Discovery under her own power, but then her systems are completely dead except life support. All of her lights and engines are on as she approaches Discovery, at a time when she can’t even send an audio message, or even her registry number, but then they’re off less than two minutes later.

discoveryinterior
I guess Time Lords are canon in Trek now. Yes, that is a manned service pod flying around inside the hull of Discovery.

Maybe the underlined bits will help:

  1. when twenty seconds later she picks up a Priority 1 distress call
  2. but the sender of the signal can’t communicate via audio or even transmit their registry number
  3. and we see the Enterprise approach Discovery under her own power with all her lights on
  4. and the Enterprise is completely disabled with no systems online and all her lights off
  5. and it’s Tilly’s idea to communicate via Morse Code
  6. and Pike takes command of Discovery under Starfleet’s orders
  7. and explains that he wanted to deliver the news himself and so asked Starfleet not to notify Discovery
  8. and Pike explains that Starfleet ordered Enterprise to investigate seven massive “red bursts” from all over the galaxy
  9. and that Starfleet is sending a team to tow the Enterprise home

Well, now it seems like Pike had some extensive communications with Starfleet after the Enterprise‘s systems went completely down. Enough to transmit her status, to get a response, to request that Starfleet not contact Discovery themselves so that he can pass the message along, and gets a response about the status of the towing team, and then sends a garbled distress signal unable to even identify his own ship via its registry number.

enterpriselightson2

Which all happened before the Enterprise lost all power to all her systems, because we see her travelling towards Discovery after the show establishes that her communications are completely down.

I’m struggling to get my head around this, so let’s have a look at the blue bits (with a bit of red in there, admittedly):

  1. Discovery enters maximum warp straight from Earth to Vulcan
  2. when twenty seconds later she picks up a Priority 1 distress call
  3. and Pike explains that at least Enterprise picked up the new uniforms
  4. which Discovery‘s crew don’t have
  5. and Pike explains that Starfleet ordered Enterprise to investigate seven massive “red bursts” from all over the galaxy
  6. which appeared simultaneously “over the past 24 hours”
  7. and then simultaneously disappeared, except for one
  8. which Discovery‘s crew has never heard of
  9. and the science officer explains that six hours ago
  10. one of the bursts “stabilised long enough to get a fix on its position”

Which means, whilst Discovery was at Earth, and all the crew were getting their medals, and Burnham was chatting with Sarek about that one time he tried to wipe out an entire civilisation, the blue uniforms with metallic division colours were the standard uniform. Then they beam up to the ship, head into warp, and somehow nobody told Starfleet’s most advanced starship about the Red Bursts, or about the change in uniform.

uniforms

Meanwhile, we find out later that Enterprise sat out the war (as Starfleet’s “instrument of last resort”???? Despite the Klingon ships being in orbit over Earth????) on its five-year mission, presumably returning to Earth at some point before being dispatched to investigate the Red Bursts. Which would be a minimum of six hours before Discovery leaves Earth for Vulcan.

If it even returned to Earth at all. In any case:

  • How does Enterprise have the new uniforms before Discovery?
  • How does Enterprise know about the Red Bursts before Discovery?

If you can’t figure it out, then congratulations.

You’ve just been Shelby’d.


Magic Eyes

My previous examples took place over longer periods of time: several scenes and about twenty minutes of screen time in ‘Into Darkness’, and roughly five minutes and a handful of scenes in ‘Discovery’.

Now I want to take a look at a single-scene example, with the relevant events taking place within 66 seconds of each other.

So, under the command of Captain Pike, Discovery approaches a massive interstellar asteroid.

  1. Needing more information, they use telescopic cameras to take images of it
  2. and Burnham advises that the closer they are, the better a picture they can get
  3. so they move closer
  4. and as they do they cause a repulsive effect between them and the asteroid “like two similarly charged magnets”
  5. which pushes the asteroid onto a five-hour collision-course with a pulsar
  6. and then they detect a Starfleet vessel on the asteroid
  7. which they show in a zoomed-in digital overlay on the main viewscreen
  8. showing a crash-landed ship
  9. which they try hailing but get no response
  10. and they can’t zoom in any further to see the ship’s registry
  11. so Burnham reminds Saru that his eyes have “a larger optical window than [human eyes]”
  12. so Saru’s pupil dilates and he reads the registry number.

Well, by now you should know what’s coming next:

  1. Needing more information, they use telescopic cameras to take images of it
  2. and then they detect a Starfleet vessel on the asteroid
  3. which they show in a zoomed-in digital overlay on the main viewscreen
  4. and they can’t zoom in any further to see the ship’s registry
  5. so Burnham reminds Saru that his eyes have “a larger optical window than [human eyes]”
  6. so Saru’s pupil dilates and he reads the registry number.

So, does Saru’s vision allow him to… add pixels to the digital screen overlay?

If not, then couldn’t anyone read the display better by just walking closer towards it?

If it’s not a digital display, then why does it appear like a window popping up on a Macbook?

screencollage1

And in any case, are Saru’s eyes really better than high-tech cameras with telescopic lenses?

If you want to track this yourself, then go to time code 27:44 and start watching. Within one minute and six seconds, you’ll be at Saru’s pupil dilation.

Which means that within one minute and six seconds, within the same scene, with all the same cast members, on the same set, we introduce telescopic cameras, forget about them, zoom in digitally on a distant object, and Saru develops magic eyes.


What’s The Point?

So, why is the Shelby Method a thing, and why does it matter?

Well, it’s a staple of writers like Damon Lindelof and Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, who have throughout their careers relied on overloading the audience with new information so quickly that the audience can’t pierce their baffling, confusing, often nonsensical storylines.

This lifts the burden of having to make sure their stories are in any way satisfying, cohesive or clever. This goes as far back as ‘Lost’, where new plot threads and mysteries were introduced every episode without ever being solved. And not just ‘Lost’ or ‘Star Trek’. For another defining example, go and take a look at ‘Prometheus’.

Crafting a smart, sensible story is difficult. And it takes a long time. And it often means that you have to sacrifice that cool thing you really want to include because it just doesn’t make sense.

magnets

A few years ago, a friend of mine was asking for advice on a medieval fantasy book they were writing. In it, their characters frequented a sailor’s tavern. My friend had lovingly described every detail of this tavern, from the trophy fish on the wall to the shanties that were sung to the all the nets and floats and fenders and other maritime trappings that added so much character to this wonderful setting. They were so in love with it, and justifiably so, that they had made it one of the main settings for their story – a comfortable port of call to which their characters frequently returned.

The problem?

The story all took place a hundred miles inland.

On the edge of an ancient desert.

My friend had asked me to help them figure out how to make this awesome maritime tavern fit within the narrative they had constructed. And I couldn’t. The best solution I could come up with was that it had been ironically decorated that way by its owners. Kind of a trendy hipster “out of place / fish out of water” bar. Which was hardly a satisfying explanation.

What I should have told them is:

“Don’t worry about it. Just introduce new plot elements every other sentence. Keep adding more events and details to your story. Move it along so fast that your readers don’t have time to wonder why a sailor’s tavern is a hundred miles inland next to a desert.”

My friend was having this quandary because they cared about the story they were telling. This was a passion project, and they wanted it to be as good as possible. This wasn’t some product they were churning out to hit a commercial target. They’d been labouring for years on the story that they wanted to tell.

pulsar

If the writers of modern day Star Trek want to ignore the franchise’s larger continuity, then that’s up to them. If it gets in the way of them telling the story that they want to tell, then I say, go for it. Violate that canon. Every other entry into the franchise has done before them.

But here, in ‘Discovery’s second season, they can’t even be bothered to stick with their own continuity, even within the same scene. They make a cool thing happen. Then they need another cool thing to happen, but it contradicts the previous cool thing. Don’t worry – they just space the two cool things out with at least six lines of unrelated dialogue and they’re golden.

And if you didn’t notice, then congratulations.

You just got Shelby’d.

‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Gets a Trailer for Season 2, And There’s Yet Another White Male Captain And No Surprises

Why am I even still writing about this stupid fucking show?

Nevermind. Let’s just get this over with.

THRILLING.

There’s a part of me that really, really hopes they made a point of putting that “Right, ladies?” line in the trailer because of this article I wrote last year. Like, I really, really doubt it. But I know that at least some of the writers saw it. So I can hope.


“We have always looked to the stars – to discover who we are. And hidden there was a message, made of space and time. Visible only to those open enough to receive it.”

Well gosh golly gee, that’s all very deep and provocative. And it’s accompanied by the image of what looks like some kind of sexy space spider lady in high heals. Is she delivering the message? Is she some kind of space courier? Cosmic FedEx?

sexyspacelady
When you watch the trailer, this figure walks like it’s in high heels. Because of course it does.

“I’m here to take command of the Discovery under Regulation 19, Section C.”

But at the end of Season 1 of ‘Discovery’, wasn’t the Enterprise broadcasting a “Priority One Distress Call”? Then the Enterprise appears and she doesn’t look distressed. And this trailer doesn’t make it look like Pike was leaving a distressed ship, he only brings two or three people with him. Can you really put out a distress call and then as soon as someone drops by to pick you up, just take command of their ship?

Pike invokes regulation 19, section C. And then Saru says “Your directive is only instituted when an imminent threat is detected.” So, wait, so Pike knew he was taking command of the Discovery? Then why was the Enterprise broadcasting a distress call? It’s almost as though the writers needed a cliffhanger and some Enterprise fan service at the end of the first season, so just wrote a scene with no idea of what was going on and then just picked up where they left off for the second season. But I’m sure the writers are smarter than that.


redbursts

“Federation sensors picked up seven red bursts, spread out across more than thirty thousand light-years.”

Hey, remember how in the 2009 J. J. Abrams reboot movie, they had “red matter”, and everyone thought it was the dumbest thing ever? I bring that up now for no reason.

Also, in space, I know they have “red shift” and that stars are classified by colour, but don’t scientists usually talk about stuff by its defining feature? Like, gamma-ray bursts, or neutron stars? When I’m ordering an ice slushy at the cinema I’ll ask for “the red one”, but if I was talking about a potentially life-threatening explosion in space I like to think a bunch of scientists in the future would be a bit more specific than just describing it by its colour.

“Sir, there’s an anomaly off the starboard bow!”
“Well, what is it, Data?”
“It’s red, sir! It’s red!”

Also, he mentions that these bursts are “spread out across more than thirty thousand light-years.” Which is between one third and one sixth the diameter of the Milky Way. Except that the CGI seems to show them across the whole Milky Way. Unless that’s not the Milky Way, but if it’s some kind of nebula or star system, it’d be way too big – an area of space with a diameter of thirty thousand light-years could contain as many as 30 billion stars. Ah, whatever.


“These mysterious signals are beyond anything we understand (except for colour theory). Is it a greeting? A declaration of malice? Let’s find out.”

Oh, okay, so that’s the mystery – what’s behind these weird signals? Except I’m guessing it’s whatever message Burnham was talking about in the opening of the trailer. So I guess that’s that mystery solved.


detmer
This isn’t from the show, this was just a candid photo of Emily Coutts as she realised she actually had some lines to deliver this season.

“Trust us. Discovery has you. Right, ladies?”

There’s more dialogue between Burnham, Detmer and Owosekun in this two-minute trailer than there was in the first twelve episodes of Season One put together.


“This is the power of math, people!”

I am completely fine with everyone getting a bit more scientific and rational on this show. But god damn it if that line and its delivery and the little high five doesn’t make me want to murder literally every single person on this wretched fucking planet.

highfive
“We’re quirky!”

Also, Commander Airiam doesn’t appear in the trailer at all except for this shot. Until I spotted her here, I honestly thought she’d just been dropped from the series and that nobody would mention her ever again. Also note how she’s the third-highest ranking officer on the ship (maybe fourth now that Burnham’s reinstated) but she’s still being bossed around by a lieutenant and a cadet.

Sara Mitich, if you’re reading this, you did a great job on ‘The Expanse’, nobody thinks any less of you because of ‘Discovery’.


“My foster-brother, Mister Spock.”

“He took leave. It’s as if he’d run into a question he couldn’t answer.”

“Spock is linked to these signals. And he needs help.”

Jesus, where to start.

First off, I never had a “canon” problem with Burnham being written as Spock’s foster-sister. After all, it’s not the first time Spock had a family member ret-conned into his backstory. The main issue with it is that it acts as a weight around Burnham’s narrative that just wasn’t required. You can have a human character with a Vulcan upbringing without making her a relative of the only Vulcan that anyone recognises from the franchise.

pike
“Relax, everybody. There’s still a man in charge.”

Now they’re bringing Spock in as a major plot point, and you just know it’s going to suck. He’ll be doing something stupid or out of character and unless they get Zachary Quinto in to revive his role, the whole thing will probably be garbage.

Fortunately, abusing an existing character doesn’t retroactively ruin that character. Watching Spock scream and roar as he beats Khan with a metal box in ‘Into Darkness’ doesn’t change how I view the character when I re-watch ‘Wrath of Khan’ for the ninetieth time – it’s possible to retain detachment.

The real problem, and the catastrophic misstep that ‘Discovery’ seems to be making, is of taking familiar, brand-reinforcing characters like Spock and putting them firmly in the centre of a story that ought to be about Discovery and its crew.

Trek has always had crossovers – from minor guest appearances in one-off episodes like TNG’s ‘Relics’ and Voyager’s ‘Life Line’, to full-on cast insertion with Worf joining the Deep Space Nine crew from season 4 onwards. But when it’s a single episode in a season of more than twenty, it’s relatively non-intrusive. And in the case of Worf, it was actually a boon, giving an existing character some much needed growth and adding an extra element to an ensemble cast of strong, compelling characters (and Jake).

discocast
Oh look, the cast of ‘Discovery’, plus three female extras who they let join in the photoshoot.

And for all of ‘Discovery’s woes, its characters were arguably its strongest point. Tilly was a new take on the bumbling rookie. Saru had an interesting background, as poorly explored as it was. Tyler was a great vehicle for Shazad Latif, and even Stamets ended up rounding out nicely to be a thoughtful, tragic personality, quite distinct from the high-energy enthusiasm of the likes of Scotty, La Forge and Torres.

And the show should be about them. They’re the cast. It’s their stories that we want to care about. But now, in this season, we have Christopher Pike as the (white, male) captain – Christopher Pike, the man who was originally deeply uncomfortable with having women on his bridge, and who later became Bruce Greenwood, the fire alarm of contemporary actors – functional, but only remarkable if something’s going wrong. (I mean, he’s great and all, but try describing Christopher Pike based on his performance in the reboot movies. Do it. Tell me what his character is. Tell me what was distinct about his personality. I’ll wait.)

Then, we get to Burnham. Burnham suffered from a bad case of Gimmick Personality. Burnham is essentially an armature, onto which was layered the various hashtaggable statements that the writers thought were necessary to make the show interesting. She’s a human who was raised by Vulcans. She’s an orphan. She’s Spock’s sister. She’s Starfleet’s first traitor. Everything distinctive about Burnham comes from things that happened to her, or things that are incidental to her character. She began the first season with a series of actions that were baffling to the audience, and after that point all she really did was respond to stuff that happened to her.

burnham1

Stamets strives for scientific understanding of the fabric of the universe. Tilly is driven by her command ambitions. Saru tries to correct his past failures. But Burnham? Burnham gets coerced into serving on the Discovery, responds to threats as they arrive, and by the end we are told she has redeemed herself. She never sets out to seek redemption. She never pushes to make herself better, or discover new things about herself. When she takes the captain’s chair of the I.S.S. Discovery in the Mirror Universe, she doesn’t have that moment of “Alright, this is it, this is where I prove what I’m capable of.” She just sort of wanders over to it in confusion. The one decision we ever see her make is to save Mirror Georgiou.

Now, it looks like she’s just going to be on a mission to rescue Spock. Or as she calls him, “Mister Spock”, which is neither his name nor his rank. Also she’s older than he is. Which leads to the hilarious scenario that she grew up with a younger foster-brother who she called “Mister Spock.”

burnham2

But let’s put this in the perspective of people who might be watching this show with absolutely no prior knowledge of Star Trek (i.e. nobody). Are they suddenly supposed to care deeply about the fate of some rando who’s been mentioned by name twice in the first season? ‘Stranger Things’ made us care about the fate of Will by having us invest in his mother and her frantic, desperate need to find him. But Burnham doesn’t really seem to be very close to Spock at all, and Sarek is an emotionless Vulcan. So basically, the threat to Spock is palpable only to people who are already familiar with the franchise and who, therefore, already know that he’s probably going to be fine.

Just let these dweebs be the centre of their own story, for Christ’s sakes.


We also need to talk about the fact that Captain Pike takes over. This’ll be brief, but my points are thusly:

  • There is no compulsion to have Pike in charge to fit Trek’s history or canon. As far as we knew he only ever captained the Enterprise.
  • You could totally have had a badass woman in charge, like that one who appears in the wreckage in the trailer with the really stupid line about the pulsar thingy.
  • Why did they need to put another white man in charge of the ship?

It’s just really annoying, because it’s not even like Pike is some iconic part of Trek, he was in the first of two pilot episodes that nobody really remembers, and he was also in the reboot movies as a bland mentor character. And they’re not even using the same actor. So what’s the point? Could they not think of anything else in terms of storyline? Or anyone else to take command of the ship? Dullllll.


The rest of the trailer is pretty standard teaser-trailer fair. You get a few dramatic / amusing one-liners, some plug-in pop-rock (depending on which version of the trailer you watch, you’ll either get Lenny Kravitz for the CBS All-Access one or some painfully generic thumpy beats for the Netflix one).

saurian

We also get a BONE-HURTINGLY FUNNY SCENE ABOUT SNOT at the very end, I think to try and convince the audience that this season won’t just be about torture, genocide and shouting, but honestly it comes across as cheap and dull. IT’S FUNNY BECAUSE THE SPACE PERSON HAS A COLD, HAHAHA, HUMANS GET COLDS TOO, HAHAHA, SUCH FUN.

What we’re left with is a lot of explosions and action, a lot of shots of white, male Christopher Pike in the captain’s chair (because what, do you expect a woman to do it? It’s the captain, of course he has to be white, and a man), and an overall feeling that this season will probably be less grim and dark than the first season, but not necessarily much smarter. I mean, the opening shots imply the secret to the universe will be delivered by a sexy space woman in high heals.

The really positive thing to come out of all of this is that there’s no mention of or reference to bloody Section 31. That being said, I wouldn’t put it past this collection of bumbling fuckwads to introduce it in some “SHOCKING CLIFFHANGER” at some point to surprise everyone. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

As an aside, try watching the Netflix version of the trailer and then watching the initial trailer for Justice League. The similarities in tone are disquieting, to say the least. Although that could just be because every trailer is the same these days.