A few people expressed surprise that I disliked the first season of Star Trek: Discovery—or, as I’d been calling it, Battlestar Discovery. So in light of the first episode of season 2 (which, by the way, is more of a Doctor Who plot with Star Wars execution), here’s
a rant some thoughts on why I didn’t like the first one.
[Note: This will have spoilers throughout. Also, the title is tongue-in-cheek; it’s a reference to a previous post about RWBY.]
Now, I’ll admit up front that every Star Trek’s first season hasn’t been very good compared to later seasons. They’re still figuring out interpersonal relationships, trying to get the audience hooked, whatever. I’ll also admit to liking Enterprise when I was growing up, a Star Trek that’s now commonly considered “pretty bad” (even by me, for most episodes), so take this with a grain of salt. That said…
Problem 1: The Timeline
Discovery’s season 1 premise is that the Federation is at war with the Klingons. Actually, it’s that a war breaks out at the start of the season and goes on for some number of months (?), then ends.
The problem? It’s also supposed to take place about 10 years before the original Star Trek (the one from the 60s). Now, admittedly original Star Trek is largely now Bad, and many things in it are worth retconning.1 However, it doesn’t seem like its relations with the Klingon Empire are “just came out of a war ten years ago”. And the uniforms are different—again, something that was Bad about the original series for women, but something that seems unnecessary.
Maybe I’m taking this too seriously. After all, ten years is a long time, and Star Trek takes place on the outskirts of Federation space. (They lampshade this in Discovery S2E1.) But it’s still glaringly, embarrassingly obvious that the reason it’s set so close to the original Star Trek is to bring in characters from the original Star Trek. Which…is not really buying them anything, and is locking them into existing canon (or contradicting it).
This part has carried over into Season 2. It’s not bad, but it’s also “did anyone actually ask for this?” (Maybe TOS fans asked for it.)
Problem 2: The Klingons
Klingons themselves got retconned between TOS and the original Star Trek movies, but stayed pretty consistent as having a warrior culture and a particular near-human physiology from then on (through TNG, DS9, VOY, and even ENT). Discovery decided to reinvent their physiology again for no good reason, although they did largely keep the warrior culture.
Also, all the Klingons sound like they learned Klingon2 as a second language, sounding things out one word out a time. This is apparently due to the prosthetics they were wearing, which is one of the worse reasons I can think of for making them sound bad. It also doesn’t help that they decided to write the Klingon subtitles in a fancy and barely readable font.
Problem 3: Michael Burnham
The protagonist of Discovery is a ship’s first officer. No wait, she’s a criminal. Her name is Michael—ooh, look, a woman with a traditionally male name! She’s a human, but she was raised on Vulcan—and, oh, by the way, she was raised on Vulcan by Spock’s parents. Not like Spock would have ever mentioned this in TOS, or in one of the movies, old or new.
Burnham’s a perfectly good person to focus on; she just has a ridiculous backstory. Additionally, all the Star Treks have had a “designated logical character who wants to learn about human emotions” (Spock, Data, Odo3, Seven of Nine, T’Pol), and it’s not clear that Discovery is bringing anything new to that role. On top of that, I just don’t find the family drama they’ve included interesting, and unfortunately they seem to be doubling down on that in Season 2.
Problem 4: The War
I had to re-read Wikipedia’s summary of the events of Season 1 to remember what else rubbed me the wrong way, and really a good chunk of it is that it felt like things weren’t thought out. Characters get introduced and then killed off in the next episode. Goals and motivations are similarly presented and then yanked away. At the same time, plotlines did extend over multiple consecutive episodes, as opposed to the “problem of the week” approach you see in, well, literally every other Trek. (I’m not counting two-parters because those were also well-bounded.) The overall effect was to keep me from getting invested in anything.
I want to put a good chunk of this down to Discovery being a “gritty reboot”—the reason I kept calling it Battlestar Discovery. The show wanted to keep viewers feeling on edge and unsafe, and still wanted to be a Star Trek. I can’t point to any specific examples—it’s been a year—but I repeatedly had the thought that if they had thrown away the “Star Trek” it would have been a better show, both because they wouldn’t have to justify things as much and because I wouldn’t be expecting them to. It’s similar to how I felt about the movie I, Robot a decade ago.
Problem 5: The Mirror Universe
It was another long con on the viewers. It was one of these multi-episode plotlines, but wasn’t even the finale. It wildly amped up the stakes, and we were already playing for the entire Federation. It wasn’t clear what message it sent. It got us more Michelle Yeoh, but not playing an interesting character. (I’d’ve preferred more of the original Georgiou, somehow.) It flopped another gender reveal by having mirror-Georgiou calling herself “Emperor” (despite the absolutely, 100% canon “Empress” in Enterprise).
I like the mirror universe. I like not taking the mirror universe so seriously. I think there was a way to deal with Lorca being from the mirror universe. But making Georgiou Emperor and making the Discovery responsible for the downfall of the entire Terran Empire just overloaded me and led to me not caring (“WHATEVER”).
Problem 6: Voq / Tyler
I don’t know. Another thing that could have worked, but somehow didn’t for me. I think I also had strong opinions about what it would mean for Tyler to be brainwashed or Voq to have his memories, after Battlestar Galactica and other stories, and didn’t like how they did it. And Burnham shouldn’t have kissed him in the last scene.
Problem 7: Mudd
Seriously, of all the TOS callback characters you pick the annoying forgettable sexist criminal to make into a recurring minor villain?
Problem 8: It Doesn’t Feel Like Star Trek To Me
“Get off my lawn.”
(I know this is a bad complaint. Except for Voyager, pretty much every Star Trek so far has been a major shift from the ones prior, and earned this from existing fans. They mostly turned out okay.)
All right, so maybe I ran out of steam at the end there. But I really didn’t enjoy it as a whole. There were bits and pieces I liked, and there were episodes that were fine, but mostly it just didn’t interest me with its awkward war, its gritty atmosphere, its needless changes from and callbacks to canon, and the stories it chose to focus on.
Why am I still watching then? Primarily because it’s a bonding activity with one of my roommates. Also partly because Season 2 looks like it might be more adventurey—it’s already a little more lighthearted, at least. And, well, there were a number of things about Season 1 that were good:
Stamets and Culber were a casually gay couple on screen and no one cared in-universe. They were cute about it too, and both of them were fun characters, particularly Stamets. (On the other hand, no happy ending.)
Tilly is on the line between annoying and delightful, but stays on the delightful side. She’s great.
Saru’s a new chance to explore humanity through a non-human character, a Star Trek staple, and they’re doing okay so far.
Waiting for episodes about the bridge crew!
And, surprisingly, Episode 7, “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad”, a.k.a. The Time Loop Episode. I loved this episode because it’s so rare to see a new take on time travel / time loops, and yet I’d never seen one where the POV character isn’t aware of the looping. This one episode may have saved the whole season for me; after weeks of “WHATEVER” and not being invested, I was finally engaged and excited. I should go watch it again.
Also surprising: the “Short Treks” they released between Seasons 1 and 2. I’ve only seen the first and fourth so far, but I enjoyed them more than every full-length episode except S1E7. They get to focus on a particular character, and they’re short and self-contained. Can we do more focusing on a particular character and being normal-length and self-contained in Season 2?