‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Is Now Being Run By an ‘Into Darkness’ Writer and We Should All Be Afraid

Right off the bat, I need to express some sympathy for the writers of ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ who, it turns out, were not only hostage to the whims of their capitalist overlords but were also working in a pretty fucking hostile work environment, according to this Hollywood Reporter piece.

I would also like to personally apologise for this piece of trash that I wrote a while back, for which I now feel quite guilty.

But here’s the thing with ‘Star Trek: Discovery’: it was a deeply flawed finished product that grew from a seed of warmth and greatness. If it had stayed true to its conceptual heart, it could’ve been magnificent, but it was a victim of either its writers’ ambitions or, more likely, the meddling of arrogant executives.

Take Captain Lorca, the Mirror Universe interloper. That is a fantastic and fun storyline that could very easily be a classic episode of Star Trek. It’s a great subversion; normally, we follow our heroes trying to blend into the brutal Mirror Universe, and seeing the twisted mirror of a Prime Universe captain trying to do the same would have been wonderful – for one episode, or a two-parter at best.

swordlorca

But any writer worth their salt should have known that it lacked the substance for a series-long subplot. If you have to do it that way, at least show the aftermath. Show Admiral Cornwell dealing with the betrayal, or Saru questioning all of his loyalties and the lessons he had learned. Don’t just ditch it and move onto the next GRIPPING PLOT TWIST.

Or have a look at the series as a whole, and the casting of a black woman as the main character, and a Malaysian woman as her mentor. That would have been fantastic, if they had not then literally cannibalised Michelle Yeoh and given Sonequa Martin-Green an unsympathetic character with no personal goals or motivations. And then made conversations between women a rare treat for the audience.

The show even gave us Trek’s first on-screen gay couple – and then kept them celibate for nine episodes before treating a kiss between them as a mid-season emotional climax. Almost as though two men in love kissing each other should be a strategic missile deployed for maximum twitter hashtags rather than a normal, everyday occurrence.

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My point is that I genuinely believe that ‘Discovery’ was germinated with a soul of progressive love. I can only assume that it is that soul that the show’s die-hard fans cling onto, despite the fact that only mere glimmers of it appear in the finished product.

Which brings me around, rather circuitously, to my main point:

Alex Kurtzman, one of the writers of ‘Star Trek: Into Darkness’, has just taken over ‘Discovery’ as its show-runner, and I have never been more worried about the franchise.

If ‘Discovery’ was a failure born with a spark of good intentions, ‘Into Darkness’ was a nightmare destined to malice from its very conception. ‘Into Darkness’ possessed no virtuous intent nor hidden beauty, neither from its beginning nor through to its very end.

If you haven’t read my previous treatise on ‘Into Darkness‘, or if you have and would like a reminder, this was the film that:

  • Constructed a two-minute scene to end with Alice Eve undressing, so that a shot of her in lingerie could be included in the trailer.
  • Cured death by having Dr. McCoy inject a tribble with human blood (and then, obviously, never revisited that concept or its repercussions).
  • Had a Sikh character with an Indian name, originally portrayed by a Mexican, played by a British white man (the cultural distaste of which can be understood by typing “British Empire” into Google).
  • Featured Spock, a character famous for remaining in control of his emotions, ragefully beating a man with a lump of metal.
  • Established James Kirk as someone who sexually harassed a member of his own crew into relocating to a distant part of the galaxy.
  • Followed the most mind-numbingly stupid plot that has ever been written, featuring six dozen torpedoes which either are or are not deadly weapons depending on which scene you’re watching.
  • Turns both Uhura and Spock into a bickering teenage couple willing to jeapordise a mission for the sake of having an argument.
  • Refers to the iconic, expository speech “Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise,” as an “oath”. Like when a U.S. President gets sworn in with the oath that goes “America: the big country. These are the times of the United States.”
  • Is generally just so painfully stupid that thinking about it again has me burning with a hot anger that I usually only feel when I stub my toe or when I watch scenes featuring Captain Holt from the first half of the second season of ‘Brooklyn 99’. HE WAS A THREE-DIMENSIONAL CHARACTER, DAMN IT, AND THEY TRIED TO FLANDERISE HIM, THE BASTARDS.

(As a side note, I once had someone tell me that ‘Into Darkness’ is a great film, but you need to read the accompanying comicbook to appreciate it. Which was the stupidest thing I’d ever heard, until the same person said in the next sentence that the comic book was amazing because it also featured a crossover storyline with DC’s Green Lantern.)

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No, really.

One thing to bear in mind is that Alex Kurtzman has written for some well-loved projects, including many JJ Abrams collaborations such as the first Trek Reboot film, ‘Fringe’, ‘Alias’, and even ‘Xena’.

He has also written for such classics as ‘The Amazing Spiderman 2’ (the second Andrew Garfield one), ‘Transformers’, ‘Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen’, ‘The Island’ (“You’re a v-v-v-v–virgin?”) and the Star Trek video game.

It’s also important to remember that he’s been involved with ‘Discovery’ since the very beginning with both “Creator” and “Executive Producer” credits, but crucially not involved in the day-to-day creative elements except for the pilot, and now as a director of the first episode of the second season.

Now, however, he’s apparently heading up both the show itself as well as the writing team. And I genuinely, and with the greatest of sympathy, hope he creates a much more positive atmosphere for the people of ‘Discovery’. But it’s still a scary development for a fan, such as myself, who wants to see Trek shift away from ten-minute long fight sequences and back towards a marginally more intellectual pursuit.

Because the Star Trek that Kurtzman seems to insist on creating is a creature with no soul. The 2009 reboot film just about managed to get away with it by keeping its ambitions grounded – it was created to be a lightweight action adventure film, and it broadly succeeded. It didn’t need to be meaningful or deep, it just needed to be inoffensive.

sherlockspock

Then ‘Into Darkness’ comes along, and decides against finding any kind of meaning in the rebooted franchise, but instead goes for the “Shocking Plot Twist Every Minute” trope that would be picked up by ‘Discovery’ (but curiously not by ‘Beyond’, its cinematic successor). John Harrison is secretly Khan; Dr Wallace is secretly Dr Marcus; Admiral Marcus is secretly evil; the torpedoes are secretly people; McCoy is very obviously an evil Nazi scientist.

And it was this kind of storytelling that really torpedoed ‘Discovery’s first season. We could never have an episode without a shocking cliffhanger or a surprising reveal. We could never sit back and enjoy the universe, watch the characters really grow and develop, without shaking everything up every five minutes with a shocking and ultimately predictable “surprise”.

And that was a real shame, because the cast of ‘Discovery’ is fucking on-point. None of the performances are lacking and the characters are all solid foundations for development. And, despite my clear reservations about what we know of Season 2 so far, I was genuinely, and very deep down, hopeful that the show would somehow move on from its crass and ill-made beginnings and find something positive to do with itself.

tillygorgeous

But Kurtzman’s track record destroys that hope. He is not a master of nuanced storytelling, and has demonstrated that repeatedly in the projects he has worked on. And that’s alright, that can work for a two-hour movie or the odd episode. But an entire season of high-octane emotional shouting and fistfights is absolutely the last thing ‘Discovery’ needs to become.

A character like Saru, for instance, is never going to grow past being “the guy who is scared all the time until he isn’t” until we get a more sedate, thoughtful story that can show us a more rounded character in less intense situations.

A character like Tilly is never going to be able to grow fully into a capable and responsible officer if she only has experience at dealing with betrayal and explosions.

And Burnham is never going to turn into the compelling protagonist we need her to be if all she can do is get outraged at and then solve every new devastating problem the crew faces before getting thrown into the next exciting action climax.

We didn’t fall in love with Spock because he once fought Kirk with big fancy blades. We fell in love with Spock because he finally cracked into a broad smile when he realised his best friend was still alive before immediately regaining his composure.

spocksmiles

We didn’t fall in love with Data because he was a metal badass who broke Borg necks. We fell in love with Data because we watched his friends debate in a quiet courtroom his autonomy. And also because he tells his cat that he is pretty and good.

We didn’t fall in love with Sisko because he could punch Jem’Hedar. We fell in love with Sisko because he loved baseball nearly as much as he loved his son, and because when we first meet him he resents his posting to a backwater like Bajor, and by the time he leaves us he’s planning the house he’s going to build there.

We didn’t fall in love with Harry Kim. And that’s okay, because as soon as he opened his mouth we could just tune him out and think about The Doctor instead.

And this is it. Right now, I don’t really care about any of the crew of the Discovery. But I think I could, if they were to get a few decent stories under their belt with plenty of time to wander around and simply be. It was great to see Burnham and Tilly chatting shit whilst on a run through the corridors – it was a simple scene that didn’t need to go anywhere or be plot relevant. But it was nearly unique in that regard, because you can’t leave room for scenes like that when you’ve got so many “secret identity” plotlines and brutal killings to squeeze into a limited number of episodes.

It would be great if we could get an episode in Season 2 where, I dunno, where they’ve got to transport some sound-sensitive alien ambassador to a summit or something. And everyone has to go around the ship unable to shout or scream, they just have to have normal conversations with one another and emote at a reasonable volume. And nothing much really happens, but Saru meets the ambassador and they talk about their shared sensitivity, and Stamets tries to teach Tilly how to calibrate the engine but Tilly starts teaching him because she clearly knows more about it than he does, and Burnham and Detmer sit down to finally reminisce over a bottle of whisky about their time on the Shenzhou whilst getting steadily more drunk, toasting fallen shipmates and singing ‘Jerusalem’, and then they get carried away and end up getting shouted at for being too loud.

But with Kurtzman now firmly at the creative helm, I doubt we’d even get a quiet scene in a turbolift. I doubt a character could even pour themselves a hot earl grey without something bursting into flames or a war being declared or the earl grey revealing that it was evil mirror-universe fruit tea ALL ALONG.

Recommendation: ‘Travelers’

A cautionary note: ‘Travelers’ features storylines about domestic abuse, drug addiction, mental disability, fertility and consent. And whilst I really like the show, I am not qualified to assess how well it handles any of these topics, so whilst I think it’s well worth a watch for anyone, it’s worth proceeding with caution if you think you may be upset by any of those subjects.

‘Travelers’ is a TV series about a group of socially progressive vegans from the future travelling back in time and taking over the bodies of soon-to-be-dead people so that they can save the world. It’s a bit like ‘Quantum Leap’ but with less Dean Stockwell.

Really, that ought to be all the recommendation you damn well need, but just in case that doesn’t tickle your fancy, ‘Travelers’ is also a really nicely written show with lots of charming dialogue, self-awareness and nerdily accurate time travel tropes.

One of my favourite aspects of the show was the number of times I would pick out a plot hole, or ask “well why don’t they just solve the problem by doing that,” only for the characters to then do that or for them to explain why they can’t, which is incredibly refreshing for a sci-fi series.

The characters have to balance the need to maintain their bodies’ former lives without raising suspicion, whilst trying to save the world from a cataclysm that will end civilisation as we know it. This means that as they try to prevent (or occasionally ensure) political assassinations and terrorist attacks, they also have to deal with things like heroin withdrawal, abusive ex-partners, or just trying not to give their identity away to a spouse they inherited.

It’s very tricky to do a time travel story well, but I think ‘Travelers’ succeeds where many others have failed. It sets limits, both on the time travel mechanic itself and on the characters, meaning that the solution is never to just “go a bit further back in time.” The rules, roughly, are as follows:

  • A traveler has to inhabit the body of someone who was about to die – otherwise, the damage to the timeline is too great.
  • They can only inhabit the body of someone whose death was recorded at a precise time and location. Hence, the ability to travel back only became a possibility in the age of social media.
    • Which means that if you want to hide from the people of the future, you need to avoid all interaction with social media.
    • Which is also why one of our team ends up with a heroin addiction. Out of embarrassment, his parents lied about the cause of his death (an overdose), and so nobody realised he would end up in the body of someone with a chemical dependency.
  • A traveler can only be sent as far back in time as the last traveler’s arrival (for complicated reasons to do with quantum physics, apparently), so you don’t get to mulligan the outcome.
    • This is played with horrifically in one episode from the second season, in which the same poor skydiver is taken over nearly a dozen times in succession until her body’s brain finally gives in to the repeated trauma of it. And, to prove how serious her mission is, it’s a different traveler who gets agonisingly overwritten each time.

There are also plenty of rules, or Protocols, for the travelers themselves to follow once they reach the 21st century. Protocols such as “The mission always comes first,” “never procreate,” and, a bit chillingly, “never take a life, and never save a life.” And these aren’t just guidelines – if you stray from the protocols, you can and you will face a very horrible death.

There’s a lot to the show, and I personally feel it just bears watching through, as it’s only two seasons so far, each of twelve episodes. The second season dips a little in quality in the middle, but I personally feel it remained excellent overall. What I find particularly engaging about it is that it never deviates from exploring its own premise, and it always keeps the plot moving along; every episode, we learn something new and the narrative progresses.

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For a similar premise, you could also see ‘Continuum’, which is a show about a future police officer chasing a bunch of future terrorists into the past. Sadly, for me, ‘Continuum’ starts with a cool premise but turns quite quickly into what felt like a fairly typical weirdo-and-cop-buddies formula, in the vein of ‘Castle’, ‘Lucifer’ (which seems to be literally just a re-skin of ‘Castle’) and, of course, the magnificent ‘Due South’. That being said, I quit ‘Continuum’ a short time after I started it for exactly that reason: if you can stick with it, it may turn out better than my initial assessment.

I’ll round off this recommendation for ‘Travelers’ with a handful of my favourite moments from the series:

  • When Ellis, a high ranking traveler, arrives in the 21st century in the body of a farmer who still seems to be living in the 20th. He’s giddy like a child to find out that he now owns pigs, since in the future, animals are a thing of the past.
  • Later, he explains that he found a load of tubs labeled “bacon” in the freezer, and that he cried for an hour when he realised it was dead pig. I will always love a show which bigs up animal rights.
  • MacLaren, the team’s leader, and his host’s wife are going through a personal tragedy. In one episode, she breaks down, and leans into him, crying. A couple of episodes later, he breaks down, and she comforts him, with the words “It’s alright, we can take turns being the strong one.” I… I just love that so much.
  • Literally any part of the second season that features Grace. You’ll find out why.
  • The kids. Normally I get annoyed when children feature in a film or show, but in this case, kids are used to deliver messages from the future in creepy, artificial voices, and it’s just disturbing enough to be brilliant.

‘Star Trek: Discovery: The War Without, The War Within’ Has Worse Sci-Fi Credentials Than Star Wars

The latest episode of ‘Star Trek Discovery’ is called “The War Without, The War Within”. I can only presume that title is missing the words “Consequences” and “All Expectations”, because nothing that happens seems to affect any of our characters, and nothing that happens seems in any way surprising.

Take the beautiful way the show handles the fate of two interesting, unseen characters: Mirror Tilly, and Non-Mirror Lorca.

  • Expecting that the Mirror Universe I.S.S. Discovery presumably arrived in the Prime Universe and started wrecking face, we instead find out that she got immediately annihilated by Klingons, along with Cadet Tilly’s more successful counterpart, Captain Killy. That was fun! A load of buildup for a character who lives and dies off screen.
  • We establish the status of Prime Lorca, the presumably non-evil version of the Lorca with which we’re familiar, with Admiral Cornwell stating of her former friend and lover: “There’s no way he survived over there, so I guess he’s dead.” And that’s it. That is literally all she spoke. It’s like a line out of ‘Garth Merenghi’s Dark Place’, I’m not even kidding:

Dagless: I just can’t believe the Temp is dead.
Reed: It’s alright Rick, we’ll get another one.

(Except that the Temp in the ‘Dark Place’ actually got more character progression and a more emotional death scene than anyone in ‘Discovery’. I even learned the difference between a principality and a dependent territory.)

Before I dig in, here are a few other stray observations:

  • Lots more women talk to other women this episode, which is good. I haven’t had chance to catalogue it yet, but I know we get Owosekun-Georgiou, Burnham-Georgiou, Burnham-Tilly, Burnham-Cornwell, Cornwell-Georgiou and Cornwell-L’Rell. Just in general women are talking and doing more this episode, and the men take much more of a backseat.
  • I love that the first priority on returning to the Prime Universe, now overrun with Klingons, is to change the “I” back to a “U” on the ship’s nameplate. Wouldn’t want anyone getting confused, would we?
  • Yet another Federation ship approaches Discovery without being seen. Does anyone else remember the days of neat little establishing shots of Excelsior-class ships cruising alongside the Enterprise-D? Now it all just happens off-screen. Which makes me wonder what happened to that massive budget the writers keep talking about.
  • Saru’s Ganglia shoot off when the ship is about to arrive at a ruined Starbase and not be attacked, but don’t even twitch when a bunch of armed aliens beam aboard the ship right in front of him and shove phasers in his face. Making them actually pointless. They really are good for nothing but eating.
The War Without, the War Within
Any excuse for a pic of Georgiou.
  • Saru decides not to throw Tyler in the brig. Because Tyler might be capable of redemption. Which I really like. Except, he’s also definitely still not right, and also definitely admitted to killing Doctor Culber whilst not in control of his actions. So, I dunno, Saru, do you maybe want to keep the potentially murderous enemy sleeper agent locked up for a bit until after you’ve saved the Federation? I mean, I’m not saying he deserves punishment, but if he does go all Smeagol again there’s a good chance that billions of Federation citizens might die, so you might want to take that into consideration.
    • On the subject of Ash’Voq the Hugon, it turns out that he’s a next-level dickhead. He insists that Burnham forgive him and accept him back so that he can “heal”, making no allowances for how she might feel about having unknowingly had sex with a Klingon agent, and then being strangled by that same agent. I was actually really, really glad when she decided to walk away – if she’d taken him back, I would have shat myself with rage.
    • What’s worse is Tilly, Burnham’s “best friend”, pressuring Burnham to talk to Ash’Voq in the first place. Yeah, Tilly, I’m sure he’s hurting too, but Burnham also just came back from a week-long stint of murdering people, being betrayed repeatedly and eating Kelpien, so maybe give her more than an hour to pull herself together, yeah? Or just fuck off?
    • Ash gets a big bunch of people standing around him and validating his existence. I guess nobody but Stamets had any kind of connection with Culber, whom Tyler murdered just over a week ago. I mean, Christ, if this was regular Trek I might buy into it, but this is the same crew that ostracised Burnham for a war that she didn’t start – and that, by all counts, is still ostracising her.
    • Jesus Fucking Christ, I’m actually feeling sorry for Burnham.
  • Burnham once again confirms that She Started The War. Like, that seems to be canon within the show. Except that SHE GOT ARRESTED BEFORE SHE COULD FUCKING DO ANYTHING. Why does everyone keep banging on about her starting this war? Even people who were there keep blaming her for it, even SHE keeps blaming herself for it, and yet she ultimately DID NOTHING. Did the writers not watch their own fucking show? Are they just those assholes who drop a nauseating fart at the exact moment they step off a crowded lift, spewing noxious filth that they know they won’t have to endure themselves? JESUS, GET YOUR FUCKING STORIES STRAIGHT.
  • Burnham observes of the Klingon war efforts, “There’s no pattern to these attacks, no logical progression to their targets.” Oh, sorry, Ms. Xeno-Anthropologist whose parents were killed in a “Terror Raid”, did you expect that a culture of warriors who steal all their clothes from Lordi and cover their ships in coffins would prosecute a logical, well-thought-out military campaign? Did you think the Klingons had, like, a Group Strategy Meeting at the beginning of the war, where they put a Powerpoint together highlighting the various pros and cons of igniting a planet’s atmosphere?
    • “Well, on the downside we’d lose the ability to use the planet as a base of our own, but on the plus-side, that’s a lot of pre-cooked meat, which is really going to reduce our charcoal costs for this quarter.”
  • I’m no longer feeling sorry for Burnham.
  • The writers of this show literally can’t get anything right.
  • Okay, here’s the doozy. Distances. Actually, no, fuck it, this gets its own fucking section:

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HOW NOT TO WRITE TECHNICAL DIALOGUE

I’m confident that ‘Discovery’s writers are now trying to troll me. Genuinely. There’s no other way to explain this next bit beyond them hating me personally, figuring out the one thing that would flip all of my nerd-rage switches, and then intentionally getting all the cast back together and re-shooting the briefing room scene just so I’d spend the entire rest of the week angry.

Okay, listen up, here’s the thing. If you don’t understand what you’re talking about, YOU SHOULDN’T FUCKING TALK ABOUT IT.

Rich coming from me, I know, but it should be obvious to anyone with a fraction of a cerebral cortex left in their skull that as soon as you start making shit up, you massively amplify the exposure of your own incompetence. For reference, see literally anything I’ve ever written.

What this means is that when Stamets starts talking about the distance between objects in space, it is PERFECTLY ACCEPTABLE for him to say:

“Starbase I is a long way from Earth, and it is an even longer way from our current position.”

That’s your first level of detail. Literally nobody has a map of Starfleet installations relative to Earth, so you can say whatever the fuck you like and nobody will give a shit.

The next level of charlatanism is to make shit up in a very non-specific way. So, if Stamets had said:

“Starbase I is dozens of light-years from Earth, and hundreds of light-years away from our current position.”

NOBODY can pick their way through that to find a fault. It’s still so generalised that it tells you nothing, but it adds a bit of space-flavour to this space-based show.

The next level is to add some actual numbers. This is tricky, but you can get around that by making the numbers BIG:

“Starbase I is forty-seven light-years from Earth, and six-hundred-and-twelve light-years away from our current position.”

Now, I’m a bit of a space nerd, but I have no idea of how I would start picking holes in that. Except, none of those versions of the line are used. Instead we get this:

“Well, [Starbase I] is, uh, 100 AUs from Earth, and over a light-year from our current position.”

Now, that may not mean much to you, and that’s fine, but let me make something clear: 1 AU is the distance between the Earth and the Sun.

Here’s another thing that’s pretty fucking common knowledge: The closest star to Earth (besides the Sun) is more than 4 light-years away.

Here’s Starbase I:

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D’you see that lush, terrestrial planet in the background? The one with clouds, and oceans, and continents? And see how it’s brightly illuminated by a nearby star?

Well, 100 AUs from Earth? That’s roughly three times the orbit of Pluto (or twice Pluto’s greatest distance from the Sun). On Pluto, the Sun is a dim star that nearly blends in with all the other stars in the sky. The next nearest star, Alpha Centauri? That’s more than 4 light-years away, or nearly 270,000 AUs.

All of which means that the writers of ‘Discovery’ created a new star with a new planet literally within the outer reaches of our solar system, just because they couldn’t be bothered spending one minute of their lives using Google.

Literally, one minute. Sixty seconds.

And I know that Trek is hardly ever scientifically accurate, but this is a rare example of Trek writers being MORE specific than they need to be just so’s they can shoot themselves in the foot.

It’s a bizarre display of dedicated self-destruction for absolutely no creative gain. Nothing, nothing, is added to the story of this episode by making up random numbers, and I’m baffled by their decision to do so. Just how little do you have to care about your work to not even put in a pedestrian level of research?

For reference, y’know the damn parsec thing in ‘Star Wars’? Here’s an actual excerpt from the original script (the one that’s still sub-titled “Journal of the Whills” i.e. before the cameras even started rolling) covering that precise moment:

HAN
Han Solo. I’m captain of the Millennium Falcon. Chewie here tells me you’re looking for passage to the Alderaan system.

BEN
Yes, indeed. If it’s a fast ship.

HAN
Fast ship? You’ve never heard of the Millennium Falcon?

BEN
Should I have?

HAN
It’s the ship that made the Kessel run in less than twelve parsecs!

Ben reacts to Solo’s stupid attempt to impress them with obvious misinformation.

And if you think that’s been retconned in after the fact, here’s Obi Wan’s expression as he remains singularly unimpressed by Solo’s rampant bullshit:

So here’s the thing: everyone harps on about ‘Star Wars’ getting something this basic so wrong, when it’s actually one character lying to another.

Which means that unless Stamets was, for some reason, lying to everyone (which we know he wasn’t because they make the journey), Star Trek is now worse at doing sci-fi than Star Wars.

Especially when you take into account Saru’s magic Ganglia, Stamets’ magic spore drive, a Mirror Universe which makes no fucking sense, and an enemy sleeper agent plotline that relies on every single doctor on a futuristic space ship being drunk or incompetent.

So essentially, the next time you try to claim that Trek is somehow “more sci-fi” than Wars, just remember the moment that Trek writers cared so little for their craft that they couldn’t be bothered googling what a “light-year” was.