Why hello there, America! I didn’t see you there! Please, come in and have a seat, why don’t you? My God, it’s been forever, hasn’t it? How are you? How have you been? Still have that pill problem? Still betting on Orange when you play Russian roulette?
Okay, I’ll stop. No need to kick a country when we’re down. For what it’s worth, I’ve endured my own share of abuse and neglect over the years, and it has been at the hands of everyone’s second favorite sci-fi institution, Star Trek.
I still remember the first time I became aware of Star Trek. I saw a crazy looking guy with pointy ears talking about things I’d only read about in textbooks. As an especially bookish first grader, this was astounding to me. Also, I knew my mom would hate the ears, which compelled me to hide this new discovery, which in turn gave my my first taste of subterfuge.
Speaking of things called Discovery, I managed to miss making public comment on Season 1 due to the fact that it was so goddamned uneven. I hadn’t held out much hope for this newest of Treks, because this franchise has made me its bitch too many times before. The quality of the original series declined rapidly after the first season. With few exceptions, the feature films have been disappointing. And while the most recent batch have been profitable, it’s pretty obvious that Paramount has no clear idea how to tell stories with these characters.
But while Paramount calls the shots on the Big Screen, CBS Television owns the rights on the Little One. And there, the franchise’s track record is just as spotty. For example, The Next Generation is beloved, and deservedly so. On average, six out of ten episodes of that show are still watchable. Meanwhile, opinion is divided on Deep Space Nine. I think it’s a boring show plagued with terrible acting and cheap looking sets.
Others, who are wrong, seem to enjoy it.
And now, it was CBS’ turn to milk the teat. They chose to launch their streaming subscription service (just what the world needs; another streaming subscription service) with a soft reboot of the Trek universe. It would star respected actors like Sonequa Martin-Green, Jason Isaacs and (WTF?!?) Michelle Yeoh. And like everything else these days, it was going to be a “grounded, dark and gritty re-imagining”.
I felt unimpressed. Not because I’m an entitled fanboy who thinks I own the things I love, but because I’d just been burned repeatedly by a franchise that ran out of gas well before the turn of the century.
So of course, because I am stupid, I watched.
I know this is an abusive relationship. But I just can’t quit you, Star Trek! Even though you’re late to everything, you never consider my feelings and you’ve lied to me like, oh, a hundred times, I just keep coming back for more disappointment.
You know what though? I just knew this time was going to be different, and it was! The first two episodes were utterly engrossing. Preachy, idealistic Starfleet gets its ass kicked by a far more rich, dynamic and terrifying Klingon Empire than we’re used to seeing.
And, it’s courtesy of an officer who willfully disobeys orders – something as common in the Federation as pulled pork at a Jewish deli. A war breaks out, important people die, and the USS Discovery itself doesn’t even show up until the third episode. When it does, we find out that the Captain is a vengeful, petty autocrat with the sort of chip on his shoulder you’d expect to see in a snot nosed Cadet.
No Chardonnay, no Shakespeare. A far cry from Captain Picard.
Holy shit, this show was actually going to be good! The characters and their relationships were complex, and a rich narrative tapestry was already beginning to develop. Best of all, the show dared question it’s own premise with a question:
Just what IS Starfleet, anyway? A philanthropic army of soldier-scientists who say they’re not a military organization but still look and act like one? It speaks of peace and tolerance, yet tools around the universe in ships capable of laying waste to entire planets, pushing its ideology in exchange for protection?
How the hell does any of that make sense?
We are shown emphatically that it often doesn’t. And when it does, it takes tremendous sacrifice from men and women of great character. Caught up as it is in self-reverential moralism, Starfleet is completely unprepared for the Klingons to interpret human altruism as an existential threat, and the the results are nothing less than catastrophic.
Discovery breaks ground with a diverse cast, a fearless ethos, and an apparent willingness to challenge its very pedigree. And I haven’t even gotten to the part about Martin-Green’s character and her improbable connection with a certain classic Trek character.
That’s all great. But the meat of the first half of the season was the crew’s struggle to stay true to their ideals in the face of an increasingly desperate military struggle. Discovery’s Captain Lorca (Isaacs) was a prime mover in this area, as he displayed an early willingness to embrace tactics that commanders of less questionable fiber would not.
It was compelling television, and the question of what the crew would be willing to do when Lorca finally pushed them too far kept me hooked. Until it didn’t. I won’t spoil the mid-season “twist” for those who haven’t seen it, but the second half of Discovery’s maiden voyage jettisoned some of the best parts of itself in favor of diving back into the same old bag of Star Trek Tricks.
In the end, Discovery Season 1 relied far too much on fan service, needless misdirection and an almost insulting amount of narrative filler. What began as an engaging re-examination of everything we’ve come to expect out of Star Trek finished as a corny space opera where everything in the universe happens to the same five or six people.
And those rich, dynamic Klingons turned back into scowling action figures, just like before. Then, fifteen episodes of intensely confusing tension came to an abrupt halt – because of course, all Starfleet officers are convincing public speakers. Oh God, the cycle was beginning again!
But this was not to be the final indignity. That distinction would go to one of the most overt fan-service cliffhangers in all of Trek history. If the season in general felt like someone’s attempt to respond to real-time fan criticism of the show, the final scene felt like all-out bribery to get any last stragglers on board:
“Okay you whiny bitches. Here’s the biggest fucking Easter egg in the world. Happy?”
I hate it when franchises suck up to their fans.
The lack of payoff, the obvious pandering, the sense of personal disillusionment; it all felt familiar. I know I shouldn’t blame myself, Star Trek, but I do. I guess no matter how many times I try to walk away, I still love you enough to want what I already know you can never give me.
And now, the trailer for Discovery Season 2 has dropped. And while the details remain under wraps, it seems like changes on and off screen have the show poised to finally come into its own. Last season, Discovery seemed desperate to both define and defend its existence. This season appears to include 50 percent less glowering, the inexplicable return of a Season 1 casualty, and an infusion of Classic Trek characters.
Most notable is Captain Kirk’s predecessor Christopher Pike, played by Anson Mount of Inhumans. He looks every bit the square-jawed Vietnam Era action hero. I already love him.
It all seems too good to be true. Maybe it’ll be different this time.
Probably not. But because I am stupid, I will watch.
Star Trek: Discovery Season 2 premieres in early 2019.
When some wild-eyed, eight-foot-tall maniac grabs your neck, taps the back of your favorite head up against the barroom wall, and he looks you crooked in the eye and he asks you if ya paid your dues, you just stare that big sucker right back in the eye, and you remember what ol' Jack Burton always says at a time like that: "Have ya paid your dues, Bruce?" "Yessir, the check is in the mail."