I admit it – I took advantage of the special free month intro of CBS All Access so I could watch both new Star Trek shows: Picard and The Michael Burnham Show – I mean, Discovery.
You already know how I feel about Picard…
Discovery is another story. In some important ways, it’s better than Picard. In some ways, equally important in my mind, it’s worse.
SPOILER ALERT: Again, if you haven’t seen Discovery and you don’t want to know what happens, stop here and come back once you’ve seen it. I’ve got some very specific bones to pick over this one…
What’s better: it moves. You need to pay attention, or you’ll miss something. Excellent pacing, in other words, not a lot of dragging to the story.
Both Discovery and Picard are visually arresting, pretty; excellent SFX by top-notch practitioners of the art. The battle scenes alone make the series worth watching, I think (I know a few artists who do this stuff, so I know the kind of talent and perseverance it takes).
But as I said in my review of Picard, great SFX does not a great series make.
There are two areas that need to be discussed when we talk about Discovery. One is about the production itself, the other about Star Trek.
Do you know what it means when people are talking “Retcon”? Or “canon”?
In any long-running universe, but particularly in Star Trek, you’ll find an ongoing debate about just what “canon” is, “canon” being the immutable law of the sci-fi universe under discussion. Is it just what appeared on TV, or on film? Is anything other than what was filmed, by the studio under the watchful gaze of the creator, considered “canon”?
Most fans agree that “canon” is what has appeared on screen. “Canon” includes characters, technology, relationships, personalities, history, as well as the structure of the universe – the “world view,” if you will – of the franchise.
When something is “retconned” – a combination of “retro” and “continuity” – it means that the current production has taken the established continuity of the established story (the “canon”) and changed it to suit their story – retroactively changing canon – and thereby invalidating, at least in part, the story established in earlier productions. This is particularly problematic when your production is a prequel, taking place BEFORE the series that established the universe you’re playing in.
Discovery is rife with it. And for many fans (including this one), the retcon limit has been exceeded. They – we – are jerked out of the universe they’re supposed to be immersed in – that we want to be immersed in – because the universe being presented simply does not conform with the immutable laws that have already been established. A few changes are OK; in fact, after 50 years in production some differences are unavoidable. The uniforms look different? OK, we can deal with that, since materials and storytelling technology are available now that weren’t available in 1966, or 1987. Heads-up displays and holographic controls instead of pushbutton controls? I can live with that change, too, since we’re pretty close to that tech now and we had no idea it was coming, back in 1966… But to present a heretofore unknown half-brother, or as here an adopted sister, of a major character who already has an established past as an only child? That’s enough to take even a casual fan out of the story, and it’s now happened to Spock twice, once in the movies and again here.
It’s as if you took a beloved, established character and threw him away, slapping his name on a character from some B-movie about WWII… Oh, wait, that was Battlestar Galactica…
And on top of all that retconning, you also have the development of a supership with a wild technology with no basis in actual physics (at least the Warp Drive and Transporter have some technical basis in reality) BEFORE the events of the original series ever took place.
I’m also not a big fan of a single savior, show after show after show, always smarter and faster than anyone else, pulling other people’s chestnuts out of the fire in the nick of time, on a show that presents itself as an ensemble, a team. Ms. Burnham should have worn a cape…
I come away from the end of Season 2 of Discovery feeling quite dissatisfied and somewhat disillusioned. There was a lot of drama, a lot of really excellent special effects, the cast was attractive, and the story did move at a very good pace, but some of the overriding aspects of both the story and the presentation were lacking. To put it mildly.
There was, overall, a singular lack of solid science in this series. I think a very good way of putting it is there was too much fantasy in this science fiction story; in fact, you would expect some of these elements to be in a sword and sorcery tale rather than in a plausible Star Trek universe. The spore drive alone stretched credibility to the limit. But Time Crystals? OK, time travel is a Star Trek staple, but it was achieved through breaking through the time barrier, beyond warp speed. Slingshotting the Enterprise – or a Klingon Bird of Prey – around a nearby sun. Remember? You ever hear of “Time Crystals”? Me, neither. And these magical crystals needed charging, from an energy source equivalent to a supernova. Yeah, not just a regular exploding star, but a supernova. Lacking a local supernova in the middle of a pitched battle, they fortunately had a brilliant, impossibly cute 17-year-old planetary queen who is able to produce supernova-level energy from a package no larger than a small neon-lit gym bag. On demand. ?
And never mind that these were Klingon (Klingon!) time crystals, protected by a monastery full of Kahless-worshipping monks, because the Klingons gave up on any kind of time-travel experimentation because it was too dangerous, or something, so they weren’t going to let anybody have them. Unless they were asked for nicely… OK, they needed a time crystal to save all organic life in the universe from a mad AI that wanted to be sentient, so there was sufficient cause…
And then, there was an almost criminal lack of consistency from episode to episode; nobody seems to have been responsible for continuity. If you want the most glaring example, I point to Ash Tyler. Talk about inconsistencies, that character is the poster boy for this entire series. A Klingon spy – he started life as a Klingon but had his DNA altered, mind suppressed, and made to pass as a human (it was a brutal, stomach-churning sequence when that was revealed) by his girlfriend, who would later become the Klingon Chancellor. They had a child during this process… Before his Klingon memories came back to the surface, he fell in love with Burnham…
OK, this is going to be too convoluted, so I’ll just cut to the chase. After much drama and violence, Madam Chancellor was convinced by Star Fleet’s secret police (“Section 31”) that Tyler and the child were a serious liability. In order to consolidate her power – and protect Tyler and the child – she faked their deaths, calling him a Federation spy who killed the child so she decapitated him with her own hands – presenting genetically-engineered severed heads to convince her people of their deaths. Tyler then joined Section 31.
Fast forward to the Season 2 finale, and the climactic battle scene; Enterprise and Discovery in dire straits, on the verge of being destroyed, when suddenly Klingon warships (and a bunch of others) drop out of warp to help them. Given the fact she’d presented his severed head to her council, the last place you’d expect to see him is on the bridge of her flagship during the climactic battle scene.. But guess what! He was standing right there beside her, cheering on the troops!
I just about dropped my teeth.
Then – since Discovery jumped 900-some years into the future – they attempted, in a 2-minute montage, to explain why none of these events were known a decade later, when Kirk commanded the Enterprise and we knew little of the Klingon Empire except for a rickety, uncertain treaty, etc. Frankly, it didn’t work. There were too many witnesses for it to be kept secret, too many participants, and the montage even contradicted itself a couple of times, too…
I confess I did enjoy Discovery for the most part, since I can, occasionally, turn off – at least, turn down – my inner critic and appreciate what I’m watching for what it is; I recognize that this is something not all established fans can do (and it’s not something I can do all the time, to be honest). Discovery is flashy, it’s action-adventure, and it’s set in space… But it’s not great storytelling, and it just doesn’t fit in the already-established Star Trek universe.
For that, I watch The Orville over on Hulu……….