My flatmate and I finished the second season of Star Trek: Discovery a few weeks ago, so I thought I’d post an update to my previous post, the somewhat tongue-in-cheek “Things I Hate About Discovery”. TLDR: As I said last time, if Season 1 was Battlestar Galactica in Star Trek livery, Season 2 is Doctor Who with a bit of Star Wars mixed in. And I still don’t like it.
Season 2 of Discovery improved over Season 1 in a number of ways, most notably in the treatment of the bridge crew. I didn’t really know anyone’s names in Season 1, but now I do. (Owosekun, Detmer, Airiam, Rhys…still had to look up Bryce. Sorry, Bryce.) In retrospect, it’s not that Season 1 didn’t let us meet other characters (Tilly, Culber, Stamets, Saru), but we spent enough time on the bridge that it was weird anyway to not give the bridge crew much screen time.
Unfortunately, the writing for the show didn’t really get any better. We’re still seeing weird pacing, storylines smeared over multiple episodes, clumsy tricks to try to preserve continuity or plot twists, and subplots injected into larger plots with no forewarning and also no overall impact (thinking primarily of the May arc). The actors are doing the best they can, with some (Pike and Burnham in particular) doing an outstanding job. But the writing is working against them.
What do I mean when I say last season was Battlestar Galactica and this season was Doctor Who? Last season, Discovery was in danger all the time, on the verge of battle in every episode, and the fate of humanity was at stake (Galactica). This season, we have to track down the mysterious signals all across the galaxy, whose connection will be revealed at the end of the season (Doctor Who).1 As a bonus, we get starfighter combat, something I’m pretty sure Discovery-the-ship shouldn’t have been able to do (Star Wars, esp. Revenge of the Sith).
Comparisons aside, I finally put my finger on what it is I miss from Discovery that makes it not feel like Star Trek: all the stories are plot. We barely ever get to see anyone’s downtime (I think we got this more in Season 1), and we barely have that develop characters just for the sake of developing characters. All the B plots eventually turn into A plots. I’m not saying that B plots are always good—there are a number of them on every previous Star Trek that were not just bad but cringey, probably even at the time—but here everything seems to be mission-critical all the time. The closest we got to character development was probably Airiam’s episode—the one she dies at the end of. There’s nothing anymore about people just living, just being people, and at the other end of the scale there’s very little about the difficult questions of being a sentient being in a shared society. It’s just rushing around and doing things. And after the first few episodes, the things being done are back to affecting the entire galaxy, all the time, across multiple episodes.
If I were to put it in a single phrase, I’d say that compared to previous Star Treks, Discovery has no heart. And sure, it’s not trying to be like the other Star Treks. But it turns out that if you try to make a Star Trek that’s not like other Star Treks, canon’s going to get in your way, and it has.
And besides, if you’re going to do something different, you could at least making your writing feel less like the rules are made up and the plot points don’t matter.
Personal likes from this season:
- May…but not her plot
- Culber’s identity crisis and mental trauma…but not how it was executed
- The Kelpian arc…but I wish there had been more on the cultural impact. It reminded me a lot of a character arc in The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Becky Chambers), my favorite sci-fi book of the last decade. (Two words: queer Firefly.) But Long Way also doesn’t do as much with this as I wanted.
- Jett Reno’s no-nonsense moments, including her best line where she says she can’t violate the laws of physics to speed something up. I took this both as an homage to Scotty from TOS and a thumbing-of-nose to every episode where the chief engineer does pull off a miracle.
- That one scene where Georgiou flirts with Stamets in front of Culber to try to…something? It didn’t make any sense in-universe or out-of-universe but was incredibly amusing.
- Pike’s vision of the future, and then him standing up to it
- The entire Spock/Sarek/Amanda/Burnham subplot.
- The bait-and-switch of Burnham being in the suit, then not in the suit, then back in the suit.
- Georgiou moving on to Section 31 from Emperor without a glance back. I’m not sure Mirror Georgiou has a character the way they’re writing her, other than “Burnham’s Third Mom”. (Which turned out to be a Thing this season, but still…)
- Flying cameras and spinning cameras. Seriously, the last episode opened with about thirty seconds of the camera spinning in a circle.
- Spock’s beard.
Final evaluation: I think I really would be giving up on this show if it wasn’t something my flatmate and I do together. Even if I like the characters and some of the ideas they come up with, the execution has disappointed me over and over. Things are too serious for Discovery to be Doctor Who, and I’m not really looking for space battles right now, even if they did a pretty cool Revenge of the Sith there. It’s just not what I want from a Star Trek.
The comparison to Doctor Who turned out to be extra apt because there was time travel involved. ↩︎