A Lament for Tilly: The Biggest Waste of Material in ‘Star Trek: Discovery’

There are possibly as many as two thousand articles I could write about all the issues with ‘Star Trek: Discovery’, and as I slowly work my way up to that number, a new issue has arisen with the latest episode.

We discover that in the Mirror Universe, Cadet Tilly’s counterpart is captain of the Discovery, in a revelation that is painfully predictable based on previous lines of dialogue (predictable, but not in the sense of a story that follows a logical path but rather of a dangerously unimaginative narrative).

My worry is that the writers have mistaken this event in the story for character development for Tilly, when in actuality it is really just making fun of a social awkward young woman.

I always liked Tilly, because she felt like what Reg Barclay should have been – a more ordinary human being on a ship full of near-superhuman futuristic heroes. Sadly Reg Barclay ended up as a bit of a creepy neckbeard who seemed like a caricature of Trek’s own fandom. Tilly, on the other hand, felt to me like someone just entering adulthood and still figuring themselves out in a reasonably sympathetic manner.

There were specifically two elements of Tilly’s character that I really liked:

  • She is determined to be a captain one day.
  • She is theoretically the best engineer on the ship.
  • Nope, sorry, fucked that one up: she’s the best theoretical engineer on the ship.

Because of Tilly’s scientific ability, she was in fact fast-tracked through the Academy, to serve on the most advanced science and research vessel in Starfleet (an organisation made up almost exclusively of scientists and engineers); in short, on a vessel full of extremely clever people, she is the cleverest.

firstboardingparty
Pictured: a hapless loon and the most capable scientist in the fleet (the scientist is on the left).

And so, what tasks are befitting the best theoretical physicist on the ship, and probably in the entirety of Starfleet?

  • Boarding a ransacked vessel to retrieve a few hard drives.
  • Moving canisters of sparkly goo from one hole to another hole.
  • Dropping Trek’s first ever strategic F-bomb.
  • Sending Thoughts and Prayers to a dying space teddy-bear.
  • Providing moral support for her roommate (not even kidding, that’s literally what they say in the show).
  • Moving more canisters around.
  • Running.
  • Scanning a large space whale with a tricorder.
  • Counting down from 133, whilst moving canisters from one hole to another hole.
moralsupport
Well shit, the one mission for which Deanna Troi might literally have been qualified, but she won’t be born for another seventy years.

Now, I’m not specifically saying that any of these physical tasks are beneath a theoretical physicist. What I am saying is that they’re probably beneath the best theoretical physicist on the ship, particularly when that ship is literally propelled by an engine whose mechanisms exceed humanity’s understanding of the universe.

What I honestly hoped for after Tilly told us her credentials was that cool scene where they encounter an entirely new scientific problem, and so turn to the genius cadet to see if her younger, more open mind can reach a solution that they’d never consider. Y’know, that combination of expertise with a fresh perspective.

But that never happens. We get a hint of it when Tilly, Stamets and Burnham try to figure out an alternative to using the tardigrade in Episode Five, but Tilly’s role in that conversation is to just repeat information that everybody already knows and then say “fuck”.

For example, in Episode Ten, when they all arrive in the mirror universe, in an environment where every particle of matter behaves slightly differently and things that were previously thought to be impossible are now seen to be possible, you might think that would be an incredible opportunity for a young scientist to weigh in intellectually and offer some insight, particularly given that she’s just spent years of her life living in what is essentially a space university for super-nerds (Starfleet Academy being the Federation’s primary academic centre).

Instead we get a picture of her in boob-armour with straightened hair, playing for laughs the idea that her mirror counterpart might be someone who wields any degree of power or ambition. We then get a reasonably painful sequence of “Force The Nerdy Girl To Be Confident”, followed later by “Now The Nerdy Girl Has Sexy Hair She Is Both Confident And Sexy”.

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Guys, don’t worry, she has straight hair, it’s okay to be attracted to her now.

Now, way back in Episode Three, when Tilly announces her command ambitions, I honestly thought it was great, like, genuinely. And I was glad to see her and Burnham training for Tilly’s career in Episode Six, running around the ship looking like massive dorks in their DISCO t-shirts.

But we never saw anything else. We never saw Burnham trying to teach Tilly how to understand alien cultures (fittingly for a xenoanthropologist) or deal with difficult political and diplomatic situations, or even train in tactics and strategy, or any of the other things that a Starfleet Captain might be expected to understand. In fact, besides two scenes involving running, we never see any more of Tilly’s training.

Indeed, Tilly’s last major appearance in the first half of the season is in the 70s-themed DISCO party in Episode Seven. She staggers about drunkenly, gets hit on, tries to set her roommate up with a Kling 100% Human Being, and then scans a whale. In the final two episodes of the demi-season, she gets a total of about three scenes – one, talking to Stamets about his increasing reliance on hallucinogenic mushrooms, and a couple more scenes where she’s once again lugging canisters of galactic semen around a room.

But it’s not like Tilly is a minor character – Mary Wise is one-sixth of the main cast (plus Sonequa Martin-Green, Anthony Rapp, Shazad Latif, Doug Jones and Jason Isaacs) and one half of the main female cast (the other being Martin-Green). She should be up there getting arcs of her own, particularly given that this is a serialised narrative – it’s not a huge stretch to get a enough scenes over eight episodes to give a main character at least a little depth.

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You may think I have used too many pictures of Tilly in this article. You are definitely wrong.

Episode Ten shows us that there’s a little promise in Tilly’s future, that she may aspire to become more than just Burnham and Stamets’ dweeby sidekick. But I really, really hope she does that through positive character qualities, and not because she only just now discovered the existence of hair straighteners.

(As a side note, the “featured image” for this article, appearing at the top of this page, is notable for showing Tilly without the mole on her forehead. It’s a shot from within the show, but has visibly been airbrushed to be used for promotional purposes. It was taken from the CBS website, which as you can see here, features another screen capture, once again with that mole removed.

A curious reminder of this show’s “positive attitude” towards women. Just remember girls, there’s a place in the stars for you too – so long as your skin remains featureless and womanly.)


(As a further side note, I called the reveal of evil Tilly “painfully predictable,” but as one commenter correctly pointed out, I made no such prediction on this website. I did, however, make it on a time-stamped Facebook post on my personal profile about twelve hours before seeing the episode, which I have screen-shotted below:)

predictions

The Secret, Genius Origin of ‘Star Trek: Discovery’

For ages, I’ve been trying to put my finger on what it was about ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ that threw me off. There’s some element to it, some quality, that makes it stand apart from other Trek shows, and for the longest time I couldn’t figure out what.

But I’ve finally done it. I’ve figured out what it’s all about.

‘Star Trek: Discovery’ is a Star Trek fan fiction written by Lal, daughter of Data.

You may think I’m crazy, but Trek has pulled this shit before. There’s a precedent for “stories within stories” that backs me up. But that’s not all.

Before we dive into the specifics, let’s get the background out of the way:


Who Is Lal?

Lal is a robot. Well, an android. Specifically, a “Soong-type” android created by Data, who is also a “Soong-type” android. Data created Lal in order to simulate the human experience of procreation – of producing a child.

After Data activates Lal, she chooses her own gender and appearance and she begins learning about life. It’s a really charming little story and pretty classic Next Gen – Lal even joins the ranks of “Women Who Have Fallen for Riker Despite Being Better Than Him in Every Way“, which is a Trek staple.

Lal’s fate is a tragic one (I would post a “spoiler warning” but the episode’s twenty-seven years old). Data’s not as capable as his own creator when it comes to building androids, and Lal soon starts to malfunction, eventually shutting down altogether. She only lived for a few weeks, and… and then she…

I’m sorry, but just going back over this old episode has me close to actually in tears. Just, this is what good Sci Fi is about – using extreme settings to explore the human condition. And, I just… I… let’s move on.

Lal_female


The Fan Fiction Theory

Okay, so, when you at the cast of ‘Discovery’ you realise that, despite it being a long running narrative, everybody is a one-character. Cadet Tilly is ‘The Awkward Sidekick’, Landry is ‘The Mean One’, Lorca is ‘The Bad Captain’, Stamets is ‘The Weird Guy’, Saru is ‘Fucking Useless’ and Ash Tyler The Human is ‘The Hot One Who Is A Human’.

These are all really simplistic characters with really basic motivations. Burnham and Ash The Human are falling in love because they’re both attractive and he doesn’t hate her. Tilly wants to be a captain but is for now just along for the ride. Stamets wants to do science, so he does science. Lorca wants to Win The War. Saru is just glad to be part of things, also he’s scared all the time and he can totally run really really fast and he has these little frills that pop out when he’s really scared.

All of these characters match exactly how an intelligent yet juvenile mind would view the crew of a starship. Picard is a stern, duty-bound authority figure, so of course that’s exactly how Lal would describe all authority figures. When someone is mean to Lal, she hasn’t yet learned to appreciate that there may be a reason that they’re lashing out – and so we end up with Landry, a rampant force of anger and hate.

Lal never experienced a war, or a military conflict, and so when she writes about it, she does so in basic terms. War is bad. People get hurt in wars. Wars involve shooting and maps. We want to win wars, because losing a war is bad. The notion that a huge conflict will have severe cultural impacts and unexpected consequences is alien to Lal because she has no grasp of these more abstract terms yet. The crew of the Discovery are in a war, and they need to win it. That’s as far as Lal is capable of exploring the matter.


Author Insertion

Let’s take a quick look at Michael Burnham. She’s a peculiar character, grounded firmly in machine-like logic yet struggling with emotions she can barely control. She hasn’t developed goals or objectives or her own, she just finds herself on Discovery and gets on with stuff. She struggles with intimacy. She has a renowned yet emotionally incapable father.

Remind you of anyone?

Burnham is Lal, writing herself into her own story. She even has the idealised best friend in Tilly, the idealised boyfriend in Ash the Human. She makes friends with a magical teddy bear.

largeigrade3

Look at the people around her. Lal is surrounded by people who she doesn’t understand and who don’t understand her, who threaten her. But in her story, Burnham is surrounded by people who pose no threat to her. Any that do are quickly offed – the prisoners who try to fight her in the mess hall are never seen again. Her teddy bear gets rid of the nasty Landry lady.  Saru doesn’t like her, but he’s also a scaredy cat, and he’s ultimately just jealous of her and how amazing she is.

Lorca might be scary, but he looks after Burnham, he protects her. Georgiou, the other authority figure in Burnham’s life, was also protective of her – she was kind, and she loved Burnham, and is in every way the perfect mother figure for her – the perfect mother that Lal never had. The fact that she gets eaten by aliens is… probably a sign that Lal has issues, but we knew that already.


A Child’s Point of View

Indeed, using pseudo-cannibalism as a throw-away plot point is exactly the sort of thing a juvenile would write in their first work of fiction, because they wouldn’t understand the implicit horror of what they were writing. Icky, scary monsters eat people all the time – and children can wrap themselves in horror because they don’t have the ability to put it into context.

Lal can write a story about the Brave Captain getting locked up and tortured and then freeing himself by Being Brave, because she isn’t programmed to process the broader themes of such a traumatising ordeal. Violence is scary to Lal, but she can write about torture without comprehending its abhorrence because, it’s just more violence, right?

How about the Large-igrade, Burnham’s magic teddy bear friend? Burnham and her made-to-order best friend say a prayer for the teddy and let it go free, and in so doing, they magically heal it. Because that’s how things work in a child’s world – intentions and wishes rule over consequences and causality.


Hidden Profundity

And this is the secret genius of ‘Discovery’. It’s Star Trek, but through the lens of a child’s eye. The wider scope of the subject matter is never explored, because the writer can’t, and wouldn’t want to. When Lal is threatened with being separated from her father, she can barely handle the emotions that surge up within her over this complex and confusing situation.

Discovery is the natural reaction to that – it’s a series of simplistic stories and one-note characters, creating a world which can accept someone despite her intellectual and emotional separation from any of her peers. It’s Star Trek, but realised as the ideal playground for a scared child.

Which makes it weird that they keep saying “fuck” and everyone’s getting their throats slit. Maybe Lal’s just a hack.

The Idiocy In The Stars – ‘Star Trek: Discovery’s Simplistic Storytelling

Ever heard of a Horta? You may be thinking of the humanoid emissaries of the Dominion from ‘Deep Space Nine’, but they’re actually “Vorta”. No, a Horta is a big, disgusting, misshapen monster that looks like a Fire Elemental’s hemorrhoid:

Horta.jpg
Jesus Christ.

This bizarre creature is relevant for a couple of reasons. The first is that its home, Janus VI, was in fact shown as an easter egg at the end of ‘Discovery’s first episode. And the second is that it was the star of its own ‘Original Series’ episode, titled ‘The Devil In The Dark’. And the third is that it highlights a lot of what is currently wrong with ‘Discovery’ in a few fairly succinct ways.


Monster Mash

The premise behind ‘The Devil In The Dark’ is that the inhabitants of a remote mining colony are being mysteriously slain, and the Enterprise is dispatched to investigate. They soon discover that the colonists are being killed by the giant quivering rocky snot-blob monster pictured above, which flops around the lower levels of the mine, preying upon solitary victims. The monster later attacks the colony’s power plant, putting the reactor on a path to go critical.

With the pressure on, Kirk and Spock race to find the creature and stop it whilst they still can. During this chase, they discover that the monster is in fact a silicon-based life form, entirely alien to the human colonists (and human audience watching the show), whose territory has been encroached upon by the mining operations. It was acting to protect its unhatched offspring, to prevent the extinction of its species. With this revelation, Kirk and Spock convince the miners to leave the creature unharmed, and even to cooperate with it in their mining operations.

It’s a classic Old Trek episode, well worth a watch (and currently on UK Netflix) or a re-watch if you’re like me.

In what way does it help me to criticise ‘Discovery’? Well, ‘The Devil In The Dark’ was a neat little story that has parallels with the Large-igrade arc in the latest series.

  • Both start off with a dangerous monster.
  • Both feature the hostile human reactions to such a beast.
  • Both show the creature killing a member of the ship’s crew.
  • Both end up revealing the beast’s true, more benign nature.
  • Both result in the eventual healing and emancipation of the creature – emancipation from extinction in the case of the Horta, and emancipation from actual slavery in the case of the Large-igrade.

But let’s have a look at where these two stories differ.

For one thing, Kirk and the miners’ hostile reaction to the Horta is one of self-preservation. The Horta is killing them, and responsible for potentially devastating the entire planet. When it comes to their lives or the Horta’s, they choose their own, quite naturally – and those of the millions of people depending on the planet’s material output for survival.

Discovery‘s Lorca and Landry, on the other hand, literally just want to butcher the large-igrade to help them build weapons to fight a war. I mean, they don’t really seem to be too focused on the fact it may have wiped out the Glenn – they just see its use as a weapon. There’s no remorse over taking a life, or destroying an incredible new life form – in fact, you can see the glee in their eyes when they talk about weaponising the beast.

This is what you’d call “one-dimensional characterisation”. Landry’s capacity as an angry soldier who is angry and does soldiery things is precisely how you don’t write characters. Kirk actively weighs the need to protect the colony against the brutality of slaying a native life-form, and whilst he comes down hard on the side of the colonists, he nonetheless shows due consideration for the other side.

But what I really want to talk about is the presentation of the creature itself. For as Kirk and Spock learn more about the Horta, they come to see it as a complex and benign being in spite of its appearance. The fact it appears to them as so alien and repulsive and bizarre is the obstacle they must overcome – in essence, the true enemy is their own prejudice, in a roundabout way. If ‘The Devil In The Dark’ had a Very Special Message, it would be that life exists in many forms, and that with a sufficiently open and curious mind we can find commonality in even the most unexpected corners of the universe.

To be more specific, the episode encourages, within the characters and the audience, compassion and tolerance for the Horta that we might not otherwise feel, and it accomplishes this through behaviour. The fact that the Horta can be injured, feel pain. The fact that it possesses intelligence, resourcefulness, and later its ability to communicate. We come to care about the Horta as we learn more about it, and as our understanding of it begins to trump the revulsion we feel when we look at it.

(Sadly, the same can’t be said of me – most of my dates find that getting to know me only justifies the physical revulsion they experience).

In the case of the large-igrade, well, things are rather more straight-forward than that. To prove my point, have a look at this:

largeigrade.png
Awwwwwwwwwwwww.
largeigrade3.png
D’awwwww.

That’s the “monster” in ‘Discovery’, and whilst it certainly lives up to that moniker in its initial appearance, as it chases the crew around barely-lit corridors, here we see it presented as a big friendly teddy bear, sat in its little chair, all dumpy and helpless. It even cries out as some needlessly harsh-looking devices plunge into its abdomen. It’s got a mouth, and stubby little arms and it turns its head as it looks around in awe, despite not having any eyes.

And in case it’s not clear, I will lay it out as directly as possible: the creators of ‘Discovery’ seem to think that a creature needs to be cute before we’ll empathise with it.

The two stories follow the same beats, the same turning points, and yet ‘Discovery’ still manages to make a dumber, simpler version of something that was more-or-less nailed over half a century ago. It’s further exacerbated by greater missteps in the newer series.

‘The Devil In The Dark’ ends with the miners agreeing to work with the Horta and its offspring, slowly growing accustomed to this new species after learning that it harbours no ill will towards any life form, that it only caused harm to the miners to prevent its own extinction, and that it is capable of communicating complex and abstract thoughts and ideas.

The crew of Discovery also start working with the large-igrade, and yet they do so before they have learned anything about it – except for the fact that it eats their space mushrooms and only turns violent when it’s under threat. Indeed, by the start of the fifth episode, ‘Choose Your Pain’, they have been using the large-igrade as their navigator for weeks, and yet seem to understand nothing about its true intentions, its needs or its life cycle. They have placed the fate of Starfleet’s most advanced ship, and its entire crew, in the hands of a creature which could at any moment turn on them, behave completely erratically or simply cease to function.

And, in a development that failed to surprise me in any capacity, the large-igrade does precisely that, shrinking up into a protective ball and stranding Discovery deep behind enemy lines. This then leads to much drama and head-scratching as this crew of arseholes try to figure out how to make their damn engine work without a cute, tubby little space monster that eats mushrooms.

Anyway, the upshot of all this is that, at the end of the episode, the first officer commands Burnham to save the creature’s life, and for the first time in five episodes I was actually excited to see what would come next. I anticipated that the next episode would focus on the crew studying the large-igrade, using the long-form narrative structure of the series to do a cool, in-depth study into an alien race and how to save its life. Y’know, classic Trek stuff.

What I didn’t expect (although I really should have) was that in the very next scene they would simply feed the creature some mushrooms, blast it out of an airlock and then watch it wake up because now it had “freedom”. I mean, really. That’s the solution? It takes about a minute to resolve and is about as intellectually satisfying as homeopathy.

Again, contrast that with ‘The Original Series’, and McCoy explaining that he had no damn idea how to heal the Horta, because it’s essentially made out of rock, and damn it, Jim, he’s a doctor, not a bricklayer, how the hell is he supposed to heal it? And we don’t go into much detail, but we at least get a bit of thought behind it, as Bones talks about shovelling thermal cement onto its wounds that they normally use for emergency shelters, protecting the wound until it can naturally heal.

And that’s just it – a creature so alien that it treats a building site as a hospital. Compared to a glowy blue teddy bear that needs “freedom” to wake up. What, were you fresh out of “inspiration”, or “wholeness”, or “prayer”? Hey, that’s it, we’ve finally found something that might truly benefit from social media Thoughts and Prayers! Next time you find a wounded space tardigrade, just post about it on Facebook and all of your friends’ “likes” should sort it right out.

And this, for me, is the true weakness of ‘Discovery’ so far – wasted potential on stories that could be compelling, if they were fully explored. But all they get, at best, is a casual glance. The writers barely dip their toes into the pool of possibilities, get scared and scamper back to the sunbeds of mediocrity.

We don’t need the next ‘The Best of Both Worlds’ or ‘Darmok’ or ‘Duet’ here. We don’t need a rehash of ‘In the Pale Moonlight’ or ‘The City on The Edge of Forever’. We just need solid narratives, told well enough to captivate us.

Given the series-long narrative, it’s not as though the show is short on time to tell these stories. The capacity is there to flesh these plots out, and yet for some reason, we’re in a rush to get through them.

 

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.

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.

lorcadesk.jpg
“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:

klingons.png
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.

kol.jpg
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.