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.
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.
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.
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.
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.