Is ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Veering Too Closely To Sadism, Sexism and Bloody Violence?

With the many issues that are emerging with the latest Star Trek series, I’ve decided to try shorter, single-topic articles rather than the romping, five-thousand-word anger fests that I usually produce.

First up, I want to talk about Violence.

Are We Watching A Sadist’s Vision Of The Future?

Trek has always been violent. Action has been at the heart of Star Trek since its very first episode. Even the mostly-peaceable ‘The Voyage Home’ managed to slot in some nightmarish images of whales getting harvested. And one of the most famous scenes from arguably the best entry into the franchise features a brutal ear-fucking by some space maggots. And let’s not even get started on The Next Generation’s ‘Conspiracy’.

What I’m really, really concerned about with ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ is the sadism of it all. Not the sadism of the characters, mind – Khan was a sadist through and through, and the violence he inflicted on others matched that.

I’m talking about the fact that the show itself – indeed, its creators – seems to revel in the suffering endured by its characters, even when it’s incidental.

Take a look at Landry, for instance. By all counts, I’m glad the show is rid of her – she was a horrid, prejudiced dolt who was entirely out of place in Trek’s moral palette. When she gets killed by the large-igrade, we see her thrown around the room like a ragdoll by the beast, and that’s relatively standard for Trek. What was less standard was the CSI-style, top-down close-up of her lacerated body that immediately followed.

For the purposes of the narrative, we knew she was dead. We even get the standard dialogue confirming it. The view of her corpse, covered in bloody, deep cuts in her flesh, is entirely surplus to requirements – especially with the shot as close as it is, to show off all the detail.

Further, her death doesn’t even particularly serve the narrative, except to prove that the large-igrade reacts to threats. And she doesn’t even get mentioned for the rest of the episode, never mind the series. To all intents and purposes, she’s a throw-away character who exists to demonstrate the behaviour of an alien, and yet the show extracts as much horror and shock from her death as is possible.

In the same episode, we are told in graphic detail the fate of Captain Georgiou. Now, the Klingons discuss it with a degree of satisfaction that fits their more brutal characteristics, which is fine. But again, the detail with which the act is presented seems unnecessarily brutal. Hell, the fact it happened at all in the Star Trek universe is shocking enough.

Georgiou’s death is savage in its own right. Gone are the days of getting shot with a phaser and collapsing to the ground with a few burn marks. Georgiou is impaled with a Klingon blade, straight through the chest. Her attacker, T’Kuvma, is then shot with a phaser, resulting in a slowly-widening, fiery hole engulfing his upper chest.

In the latest episode, ‘Choose Your Pain’, the Klingon captain is hit with a deflected energy blast which melts half her face. But even as the protagonists are fleeing the scene, we are treated to a lingering close-up of her screaming in agony as her flesh sears and her face deforms. Where Gerogiou’s and T’Kuvma’s suffering could be considered necessary to inform on the grief of the characters around them, the Klingon captain’s suffering is entirely incidental – nobody is present to witness her torment except for the audience.

Even the after-effects of the show’s violence are harsh. Lieutenant Detmer, an officer on Burnham’s previous ship, now assigned to the Discovery, bears extensive reconstruction to the side of her head and face, with metal scaffolds that would seem to be holding parts of her skull together.

And Burnham herself is put through the ringer – covered in extensive radiation burns for a large portion of the first episode, blasted through space without an EVA suit in the second, and seen screaming in agony and torment at the beginning of the latest, as she empathy-dreams about the large-igrade’s fate.

And of these examples, all of them bar T’Kuvma are women. And that’s another scary aspect of the show’s treatment of violence. Whilst we see men being killed, and Lorca bears a painful war-wound, all of the graphic, gory fates are restricted to the female members of the cast, many of whom are women of colour.

And as mentioned elsewhere, I’m not trying to claim that this was a deliberate decision on behalf of the show’s creators – but it’s a worrying correlation. Greater representation for women in Star Trek is a good thing, but it’s mitigated if they are to be the exclusive recipients of sadistic, cruel violence.

Indeed, as of ‘Choose Your Pain’, and including the examples above, there has so far been a 5:5 ratio between the number of ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Episodes and the number of times we see the mutilation of women’s bodies. That goes up to 5:6 if we include the verbal description of Georgiou’s body being cannibalised. That is not a nice statistic for any show, especially one bearing the Star Trek trademark.

Even moving away from the gender balance of it all, a bog-standard redshirt is murdered in the latest episode, and whilst normally this would be a “punched in the head, slashed with a blade” type affair, we instead see two Klingons graphically plunge bayonets into his chest, leaving large, bloody wounds behind. Redshirts dying used to be simple – nowadays, its as visceral and gratuitous as a Tarantino movie.

Mutilations Are Fair Game But Affection Between Gay Men Remains Taboo

Whilst women being burned, lacerated and eaten is all considered appropriate content by the show’s creators, two men kissing is still, apparently, taboo. At the end of ‘Choose Your Pain’, it is revealed that two of the Discovery‘s crew are in a homosexual relationship.

Despite the fact that one of them narrowly escaped death just a few scenes earlier, and the other expresses relief that he is still alive, the most physical contact that they make is a hand laid lightly on the other’s shoulder. Which is fine, but the scene itself is set up in such a way that, had it been a heterosexual couple, I would have been fully expecting a kiss, and a hug, or indeed any significant display of physical affection.

The lack of this physicality is notable, conspicuous by its absence, and whilst this may simply be a reflection of the two characters’ personalities (certainly there was no chemistry between them prior to this revelation), it doesn’t half come across as the show’s creators being too scared to show two men kissing.

Maybe I’m just reaching, or maybe my distaste with the show has coloured my view of it, but I hope this is not going to be a 2017 production that considers affection between two people to be more shocking and inappropriate than gory scenes of torture and brutality.