‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Returns With A Representational Quagmire

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shock and no Awe

culber

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

First off, a question:

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

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

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

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

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

tylersad

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

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

Hm.

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

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

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

So here’s those statistics side by side:

nameddeathsvslongstandingcharacters

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

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


A Token of Appreciation

Here’s another worrying consideration:

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

 

Now, here’s another set of data:

victimsofviolence

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

Pretend Burnham’s a man.

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

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

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

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

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

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

lorcaburnham

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

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

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

‘Star Trek: Discovery’ is a Show Full of Women Who Don’t Interact

A little while ago I read an A.V. Club article about the separation between female cast members in ‘Stranger Things 2’. A little while after that, I saw this tweet, not realising it was from the same author:

This got me set onto a project made for my particularly niche combination of interests: could I quantify ‘Star Trek: Discovery’s gender balance?

Turns out the answer is “Yes! Badly.”

This will be a long-ish article filled with numbers, charts and clumsy attempts at numerical analysis of gender representation in a nine-episode TV show by someone woefully underqualified for any part of that task, but here goes:


Headline Results

First things first: what’s the initial, top-level finding? Well, see below.

DiscoveryStats

The bars on this chart show how many individuals spoke during the episode. Specifically, “speech” in this context means delivering meaningful information, i.e. more than an “Aye, captain,” or equivalent. For example, Keyla Detmer appears in every episode, and Rhys (listed as “Reese” in my data) appears in most, but they are infrequently included in these stats because they’re usually just acknowledging that they’ve been told to do something, saying no more than a handful of words.

[It’s worth pointing out here that for none of this analysis have I included disembodied entities with female voices, i.e. computers. There’s all sorts of issues around women being used to voice what are essentially autonomous servants, and it’s difficult to argue that the ship’s computer is even a character at all. As such, voices only get counted if they belong to some sort of physical being that has an outwardly visible gender identity.

I have also ignored group chants in unison, because fuck cataloguing something like that, I’m a blogger, not a voice-recognition algorithm.

Also, the fucking space whale absolutely does not get counted, for reasons that are pretty bloody simple.]

The line charts show, on the same y-axis, the number of connections in each episode between two people of the same gender. In plainer terms – I’ve counted a connection as being Woman A talking to Woman B. If Woman B responds to Woman A, then that’s a second connection. So, in episode 8, ‘Totally Not Errand Of Mercy’, Admiral Cornwell and L’Rell talk to one another – I’ve counted this as two “connections”. If it had just been L’Rell talking, but Cornwell not answering, then it would have been one.

Now, one thing I haven’t done is quantify conversations. In ‘Totally Not Errand Of Mercy’, L’Rell and Cornwell talk to each other on two occasions, but I’ve only counted each connection once. This is because of the complexity of things like split scenes, and noise coming through from, for instance, repeated conversations in ‘Magic To Make The Sanest Man Go Mad’. Burnham and Georgiou spend the cold open of ‘The Vulcan Hello’ talking to one another, and that scores them the two connections for the rest of the episode, even though they talk to each other repeatedly throughout the next forty minutes.


 

A Lacklustre Approach

There are many caveats to this simplistic approach I’ve taken, which include but are not limited to:

  • No representation of the number of conversations.
  • No representation of the amount of time spent on each conversation.
  • No representation of the number of lines a character speaks.
  • No acknowledgement of important things like viewpoint, plot relevance, etc.

In short, I chose this particular method of quantification because it was much, much quicker for me to gather the data for it. As it happens, I have begun a mini-project to find out how much time is spent in each episode on women talking to women and men talking to men, which gives this interesting statistic for ‘The Vulcan Hello’:

In ‘The Vulcan Hello’, there is approximately eight minutes and twenty seconds of conversations exclusively between women, and two minutes and fifty-three seconds of conversations exclusively between men, out of a total of thirty-two minutes and thirty-eight seconds of conversation.

vulcanhellopie

As you can see, this looks quite different, from a representational point of view, to the stats based on my “connections-only” model, which has ‘The Vulcan Hello’ as follows:

vulcanhelloconnections

The thing is, it took me around two-and-a-half hours to log the conversations by “time taken” just for ‘The Vulcan Hello’, with another hour to put it into this spreadsheet. I’ve already recorded the conversation times for ‘Battle at the Binary Stars’ on paper, but the sheer labour intensiveness of this project means it’s on the sloooww-burn.

The other, really important weakness of my “connections model” is that it is highly likely to be slightly inaccurate. I’m confident I’ve got everything down, but only about 90% confident, and I’m only 50% sure about that. As such, it’s entirely possible that I’ve missed something or someone, and I’m sure some smart alec out there will be happy to point out all the mistakes I’ve made.

It takes roughly an hour to note down all the connections and characters in a single episode, and I absolutely do not have the resources to multiply that time investment by closely checking my own work – at least, not without losing the job that puts vegan junk food on my table.

As such, if you want to check my data yourself, and if you can even make sense of it in its crude, poorly-planned layout, feel free. You will find it here.


 georgiou
Episode 1 – ‘The Vulcan Hello’

‘The Vulcan Hello’ is, for the first thirty-five minutes, a very strong episode of Star Trek, right up until Burnham dashes all of our hopes with some really shonky behaviour. My views on it have been recorded elsewhere, but we want to look at the stats.

As covered above, female-only conversations dominate this episode, and conversations that include women at all make up 91.1% of the episode’s dialogue by time.

In terms of connections, though, we have six, as follows:

  • Burnham has conversations with Georgiou (2) and a female doctor (2).
  • Georgiou also speaks with Detmer (2).
  • L’Rell gets a couple of lines in subtitled Klingonese, but no other speaking female Klingons appear.

A total of five women get lines in this episode. I think the box-headed woman on the Shenzhou mumbles something, but it falls into that “not meaningful information” category and it wasn’t addressed to anyone in particular.

The men’s connections are as follows:

  • T’Kuvma speaks to Voq and Or’Eq (2).
  • They each speak to T’Kuvma (2).
  • Connor and Gant both interact with one another (2).
  • Saru, Admiral Anderson, a male doctor, Sarek and Weeton all speak,  but only to women – either Georgiou or Burnham, predominantly.

What’s interesting here is that there are ten men who talk throughout this episode, but they only have as many connections as the women, i.e. six. This falls in line with the time stats – with less than 9% of the episode’s conversation time being between exclusively male characters.


narrowbattle

Episode Two – ‘The Battle at the Binary Stars’

Sadly, I have no more time stats for any episodes besides the first at present. Additionally, I was intending to do neat little network charts for each episode, by gender, but that proved waaaay too difficult to do – or at least, learning how to do it with a program like Gephi will take more time than I have spare. So for now, this will mostly be in bullet points and written word.

Episode Two is a continuation of Episode One, and as such most of the characters remain in play. Our women get the following connections:

  • Georgiou talks to Burnham and Detmer (2) who each respond to her. (2)
  • L’Rell speaks, as does Dennas, leader of the Klingon House of D’Ghor, each speak, but not to each other.

That’s five women again, with a total of four connections. What’s really peculiar is that in two episodes the Shenzhou‘s helm officer and first officer (disgraced) don’t interact at all. This isn’t so peculiar, I suppose, but they also happen to be two of the three female Starfleet officers who speak in both episodes.

Our men get the following connections:

  • T’Kuvma has a conversation with Admiral Anderson (2), and speaks to Voq and Kol (2).
  • Voq and Kol also interact with one another (2) as well as T’Kuvma (2).
  • Saru, Connor, Gant, Weeton, Sarek and the Starfleet Judge all speak, but only to women (Burnham and Georgiou again).

So we again get ten men speaking (twice the number of women), and this time we have twice as many male-to-male connections as we do female-to-female, at eight to four. It should be noted that in two episodes, Saru hasn’t once spoken to another male character, as all of his interactions have been with Burnham and Georgiou.


torches

Episode Three – ‘Conscience is for Kings’

(Here is my previous article covering some of the third episode’s… “sources of inspiration” – and another.)

Now we reach the third episode, where we get a raft of new characters, as well as a few familiar ones. Detmer and Saru are both familiar, as is Burnham, but we also meet Lorca, Tilly, Stamets and Landry.

First off, the women:

  • Burnham gets conversations with Landry (2), Tilly (2), Psycho (2) and a female engineer (2).
  • Landry also converses with Tilly (2).
  • The pilot of the prison shuttle is female, and briefly speaks to an unseen male Starbase officer.

That’s a full ten connections, between six speaking female characters, which isn’t bad. I ought to make clear – there is a moment where Burnham comes face-to-face with the now-wounded Detmer and softly speaks her name. However, Detmer doesn’t respond. I’ve not included it in the analysis, as it’s really not a conversation, and I feel like if I were to include it, I’d also have to cover things like eye contact or handshakes for other characters, which I cannot be bothered doing.

I also omitted a possible connection between Landry and Psycho, when Landry addresses the prisoners as a group. I decided against including it as Landry doesn’t address Psycho directly, and Psycho certainly doesn’t respond, and again, it would set a precedent for tracking every time someone speaks to a room full of people. When Lorca gives his “motivational” speeches to the whole bridge, does that generate connections between him and the various men on the bridge? I decided no, it doesn’t.

For the men, we see the following:

  • Lorca speaks with Saru (2) and Stamets (2).
  • Stamets speaks with his counterpart on the Glenn, Straal (2).
  • Stone and Cold, the prisoners, talk to one another (2).
  • A shuttle pilot and a security officer, Kowski, each get brief lines, but only to women.

This leaves us with an interesting episode, connections-wise, as we have twelve all-female connections and only eight male connections. Which seems fine – there may be slightly fewer women speaking, but they’re interacting more with one another, which is great. Sadly, this is the only time that an episode will have more all-female connections than all-male.


largeigrade

Episode Four, ‘The Butcher’s Hand Cares Not for the Knife That Cuts It’ or whatever

Episode Four is… Okay, my thoughts on the fourth episode are made clearer elsewhere. Let’s just do the damn connections already.

Women:

  • Burnham converses with Landry (2) and Tilly (2).
  • Georgiou speaks to Burnham (1), who can’t physically respond to the holographic recording.
  • Admiral Cornwell, L’Rell, Navigator Owosekun, Detmer and an unnamed girl on the mining colony (referred to as “Miner” in my spreadsheet) all speak, but only to men.
  • I should’ve called the girl “Minor Miner”. Shit.

This is where we see the real problems creep in in terms of ‘Discovery’s female connections. There are nine women here, but only three of them, plus one recording, speak to any other women. This may not seem like a huge issue, but let’s see the men:

  • Lorca converses with Stamets (2), Saru (2) and Doctor Culber (2).
  • Saru and Stamets also converse (2) as do Stamets and Culber (2).
  • Voq and Kol also speak to one another (2).
  • There’s a male adult Miner (a Major Miner) who speaks, but only as a broadcast.

Here we see the imbalance start to appear. There are seven men who speak in this episode, two fewer than women. But between them, they form twelve connections. We get, for instance, a scene between Lorca, Stamets and Culber, but we don’t get a single three-woman scene throughout the entire series.

Equally problematic, there’s a single man out of the seven who doesn’t speak to any other men. Meanwhile, there five women out of the nine who don’t speak to any other women – more than half of the female cast of this episode don’t interact with any other female cast members.

What will become apparent going forward, as well, as this episode is the last episode in which we will be introduced to any recurring female speaking characters. And we will only meet two more speaking women at all – Stella and Amanda. Note that although Commander Airiam, the… probable cyborg, won’t get her first line until a later episode, we first see her in Episode 3.

We will, however, meet a further three recurring male characters (Admiral Terral, Harry Mudd and, of course, resident human Ash Tyler), as well as numerous speaking one-off male characters.

This episode is also the last and indeed only time that the number of women who speak outnumbers the number of men who speak.

The trouble really is only starting.


ashtyler

Episode Five: ‘CHOOOOOSE YOOOUUUR PAAAAIIIIN’

God, I hate the title of this episode even more than I hate the title of the last one, simply because of how macho it’s trying to be.

ANYWAY, connections:

  • Burnham and Tilly talk (2).
  • Cornwell, L’Rell and Owosekun speak, but only to men.

Five women. Only two of them interact. Versus:

  • Lorca speaks to Tyler, a male Klingon Guard, Harry Mudd, and Saru (4).
  • Saru speaks to Stamets, Culber, an Operations officer and a Tactical officer (5).
  • Stamets and Culber both talk to each other (2) and to Saru (2).
  • Tyler talks to Mudd, Lorca, and the male Klingon Guard (3).
  • The Klingon Guard talks to Lorca, Mudd and Tyler (3).
  • The Operations officer talks to Saru (1).
  • The Tactical officer talks to Saru and Lorca (2).
  • Mudd talks to Tyler, the Guard and Lorca (3).

This makes for nine men who speak, for a total of twenty-four (!) connections. This is the highest number of connections in the series. Compare that to the previous episode, where nine women made a total of five connections between them.

Further, we see here that there nine men, and not a single one goes without speaking to another man. Meanwhile, less than half of the five women in the episode talk to other women – specifically, two of those women speak to each other.

Also worth noting, there are three female bridge officers on the Discovery whilst Saru is in command, but only one of them, Owosekun, speaks more than an acknowledgement, and even then she speaks only to Saru. Airiam, who appears to be the third in command of the ship, i.e. acting-captain Saru’s first officer, doesn’t say a thing, and Detmer, who has been in every episode, barely gets an odd “Aye, sir” past her lips.

If you think that this seems improbable, then the best explanation is this: there are many scenes in this episode between multiple men. There are not so many between multiple women. Bear in mind, this analysis just checks that women are talking to each other – there can be men in the scene too, it’s just as long as the women speak to one another that we build connections. But we’re not even getting that.

Let’s move on.


cornwell-angry

Episode Six: ‘Lethe’

‘Lethe’ sees a slight bump in female connections, as follows:

  • Burnham has conversations with Tilly (2) and Amanda (2).
  • Cornwell and Dennas appear in the same scene together, but weirdly never actually address one another.

Five women, four connections. Now the men:

  • Lorca converses with Terral (2), Tyler (2), Stamets (2), Saru (2) and Culber (2).
  • Sarek speaks with a “Logic Extremist” (2) and the Vulcan Expeditionary Director (2).
  • Kol and some other Klingon Leader talk to one another (2).

Eleven men, sixteen connections, and again, no men who don’t talk to other men. Admittedly, most of them revolve around Lorca or Sarek, but that’s still quite a hefty network.

There isn’t much more I can say about ‘Lethe’ that I didn’t already say about ‘CHOO-CHOO-CHOO-CHOOOSE YOUR PAIN’, so we’ll wind on a bit.


groupshot

Episode Seven: ‘Bullshit To Make The Sanest Mind Go Postal’

The return of Harry Mudd! The return that nobody asked for. And with it he brings another unwelcome guest: continuing imbalance in gendered interactions. As usual, women up first:

  • Burnham and Tilly talk to each other (2).
  • Stella appears, and Airiam finally gets a line in, but neither get even the chance to look another woman in the eye.

Four women, two connections. All the mens:

  • Tyler talks to Stamets, Mudd, Lorca and Barron (4).
  • Mudd talks to Lorca, Stamets, Tyler, Saru and a Communications officer (5).
  • Lorca talks to Saru, Mudd and Tyler (3).
  • Saru talks to Lorca and Mudd (2).
  • Doctor Culber talks to Stamets and Tyler (2).
  • Stamets talks to Culber, Tyler and Mudd (3).
  • The Communications officer talks to Lorca (1) but never to Mudd.
  • Barron, the arms dealer, talks to both Mudd and Tyler (2).
  • A male medical officer talks, but only to Burnham.

Nine men, twenty-two connections. Only a single man of the nine who doesn’t speak to other men, half of the four women who speak do so to one of the others. This makes Episode Seven extraordinarily similar, in terms of number of speakers and connections, to Episode Five. Which means neither is a one-off case.

Here’s a more sobering statistic: this is the first episode in a row of three in which no more than two women will interact with one another. Three episodes, in a nominally female-led series, in which a total of six all-female connections (three two-way connections) are formed. In those same three episodes, there will be a total of 52 all-male connections formed. In each episode, there will be nearly twice as many male speakers as there will be female speakers.


discoverynarrow

Episode Eight: ‘Si Ridiculum, Para Discovery’

Women:

  • L’Rell and Cornwell scream at each other for a bit.
  • Burnham, Tilly, Detmer and Owosekun all talk, not to each other, though.

Detmer speaks! As does Owosekun! After only, oh, two or three episodes I guess. They really don’t say much, though. And nothing to each other.

Sperm donors:

  • Lorca talks with Captain Kovil (2), Rhys (2), Admiral Terral (2) and Tyler (2).
  • Tyler also talks with Saru (2).
  • Comms officer Bryce talks to Lorca (1) after Lorca says his name (not counted).
  • Kol and a male Klingon comms officer have a brief conversation (2).
  • Culber talks to Burnham briefly, and Stamets talks with Tilly, but neither talk to each other. Weirdly, this is yet another episode in which the only established couple on the show don’t interact in a meaningful way.

Five women and eleven men speak in this episode. Three of those women only talk to men; two of those men only talk to women.

There are a total of two female-only connections in this episode. This is both L’Rell’s and Cornwell’s first dialogue with any other women. All of the regular male cast members have previously established connections with multiple other male cast members.

(Look, I know this is childish, but I’m actually struggling to cope with continually writing about “all-male connections” and “multiple other members”, it’s all getting a bit ‘Allo ‘Allo’ around here.)

I should point out that L’Rell’s and Cornwell’s conversation, indeed, their entire arc this episode, feels rather like it was put in there so that the episode would pass the Bechdel Test. Certainly, no part of their arc seemed necessary for them to end up where they ended up: Cornwell could still have been paralysed due to the torture she went through before L’Rell appeared, and Kol could easily have locked L’Rell up just for her having betrayed him previously.

But that’s my cynical side coming out again. I’m sure there were strong creative and narrative reasons to put their little story in here, and I’ll trust the writers in that regard.

For now.


burnhamphaser

Episode Nine: ‘Into The Forest I Go’

Women:

  • Burnham and Cornwell talk to one another (2).
  • Tilly, L’Rell, Airiam, Detmer and Owosekun all get lines.

Seven women, two connections.

Men:

  • Lorca has discussions with Admiral Terral (2), Saru (2), Stamets (2), Tyler (2) and Culber (2).
  • Tyler and some human Operations officer also have an exchange (2).
  • Culber and Stamets also exchange words, as well as saliva (2). Oh, and it only took seven episodes for them to show any physical affection to one another. HOW PROGRESSIVE.
  • Rhys says something to Lorca at one point, without a response (1).
  • Kol and some Klingon Operations officer have an exchange (2).

Ten men, seventeen connections.

This is the third episode (the other two being five and six), where EVERY speaking man has spoken to another man, and where at least two fifths of the speaking women have not spoken to any other women. In those same three episodes, there are eight female-female connections formed, whilst there are FIFTY-SEVEN male-only connections in the same episodes.

There is no episode where every speaking woman speaks to at least one other woman. Episode Three came really close, but the pilot’s presence meant it just fell short.


seriesconnectionssummary

Over the Series

With the whole of the first half of the series analysed, we can take a look at how many men and women get to speak, in total, to one another. I feel the network charts speak for themselves:

womennetwork1

We can see here that the women all orbit around Burnham, which seems about right given she’s our main character. But there are a couple of points that are important to me.

Seventeen women get actual lines in the entire series so far. They form twenty-two all-female (one-way) connections when the series is viewed as a whole. Six of those seventeen never speak to another woman, two of whom appear in only one episode.

Detmer speaks only to Georgiou, and only in the first two episodes. After that, none of the female bridge officers get a word in to any other female member of Discovery‘s crew.

Tilly has a connection to Landry, from Episode 3, and it’s about seven words between them. After that, Tilly doesn’t get to speak to any women besides Burnham. Mary Wiseman, the actor who plays Tilly, is the only other woman besides Sonequa Martin-Green who is listed as a “main” cast member.

Now let’s look at the men’s graph:

mennetwork1
I have misspelled “Rhys” as “Reese” in my spreadsheets, but I also don’t care so feel free to never bring it up again.

First off – wow. It’s bigger, more complex, and harder to follow. So I’ll break it down for you.

There are thirty-seven men who speak throughout the series. That is more than double the number of women who speak. These men form seventy-five male-male (one-way) connections when the series is viewed as a whole, which is more than three times the number of connections that the women form.

Of those thirty-seven men, six fail to speak to any other men. That’s the same number of women who don’t speak to women. However, these men are such pivotal characters as “Judge”, “Miner” and “Pilot”, and none of these “men islands” appear in more than one episode.

A final piece of stark contrast, I feel, is the structure of these graphs. The men get the massive landmass of “Starfleetistan”, with Lorca in the middle but also with Tyler, Mudd, Saru and plenty of others as smaller hubs. Then the men also get “Klingonia”, a separate, smaller continent with plenty of its own connections, but no connector to Starfleetistan. Then there’s “Vulcanisberg”, which is a narrow little landmass with Sarek in the middle. And finally there’s two minor states, “Stone Cold” and “ConGantinia”, which float off doing their own thing.

Meanwhile, every female connection is either to Burnham, or is a single step away from Burnham. L’Rell has literally no other female Klingons to talk to besides Dennas (who gets two lines in the whole series), but there’s a little mini-continent of male Klingons tied together by Kol and T’Kuvma. And we see plenty of female Klingons in the background – they just don’t say or do anything (although I think one was trying to shoot Cornwell in the final episode). L’Rell even mentions her house’s “matriarchs” in one episode, and yet we never meet them.


lorcanarrowpicnarroweyes

Closing Arguments

I don’t think there’s much more I can add to this subject that hasn’t already been covered by the numbers. I just genuinely find it interesting and troubling in equal measure that a show that is meant to be female-led can have such a one-sided balance to its interactions.

The truth is, there’s nothing in the setup that’s keeping characters like Detmer and Tilly apart. It wouldn’t be a stretch to have a scene where Tilly asks Detmer about Burnham, given that Burnham’s just moved into Tilly’s room. There’s no reason you couldn’t have Detmer and Owosekun exchange navigational information during battle or training exercises. There’s nothing stopping a short scene where Tilly uses her expertise as “the top theoretical physicist in the academy” to explain spore drive navigation to Owosekun and Airiam.

It’s just odd to me that so many of these women never interact, and I wish I understood the creative decision behind it. Assuming there was one.

I think it’s also worth pointing out – if you were to carry out this same analysis for previous Star Trek shows, or movies, or heaven forbid the Star Wars franchise, or even the “Marvel Cinematic Universe”, the results would be even more one-sided. But ‘The Last Jedi’ just days before I’m typing this, and that manages multiple connections between several female characters. And that’s Star Wars, the franchise that made three whole films with only three women and one black guy.

I will tie this article off for now, with a final point to make. I’ve shared links to my data below. It’s horribly laid out and not professionally done, but it’s there for anyone who would like to have a crack at producing some better analysis. I daresay it wouldn’t be difficult, most of what I’ve put above could be charitably described as “simplistic”.

Initial Research: a text file with written connections as I went through each episode.

Spreadsheet 1: several tables which I used to produce the numerical analysis and some of the charts.

Spreadsheet 2: The data from Spreadsheet 1, reprocessed to produce the full-series network graphs used at the end.

A Win For Diversity: ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Brings Us Trek’s First Passive-Aggressive Bully of a Captain

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.

burnhamtardigrade
Fine, she’s pretty, I’ll give her that. She’s also very gradually redeeming herself with some solid technobabble and a bit of moral outrage, so there’s that.

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.
  • It’s pretty.
  • The actors are competent.
  • That’s it.

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.

And of course, most Trek ships have little design flaws and inconsistencies. Hell, there are enormous works of research and extrapolation dedicated just to figuring out big the fucking shuttles were. (And if you don’t immediately understand why someone would want to read the entirety of that last link, then well done! You’ve just figured out why I’m still single.)

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:

interiorcollage.png

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?

exteriorcollage.png

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:

evillablayout.png

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.

Jesus wept.


Lorca Is A Basic Bully / Baddie And The Worst Captain Yet Seen On Star Trek

So, Captain Lorca. Captain Lorca. Captain. Loooorrrrcccaaaaaaa.

Captain Lorca.

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.

bridge
A picture of a man who has no idea of what to do with his hands.

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:

stavrosnose.png
“Hey, heard you bumped your noggin, how’re you OH JESUS FUCK WHAT THE SHIT HAPPENED TO YOU.”

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.

STAVROS.jpg
“Maybe after this shitshow I’ll be able to get a gig in that ‘Firefly’ cover band.”

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?

saru.jpg
“I tried taking notes, but every time you open your mouth all I hear is circus music.”

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.

burnhamgeorgiou.jpg
Please, Georgiou, come back to us. We need you. We miss you.

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.

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“There’s two things I hate: chairs, bright lights and cowardice. No, wait, there are three things I hate: chairs, bright lights, cowardice and common sense. Shit. There are FOUR things I hate…”

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?

battle
The most we’ve seen of the war to date. And this was before it even started.

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.

femgon
“WHERE ARE MY DRAGONS???” “Khaleesi, ah, you are wearing them.”

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:

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I feel like all Klingon pornography features lines like “Now I come with humility.”

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.

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He’s got blood streaked on his face, do you think he might be a baddie?

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.

Catch you next week.