Star Trek Discovery First Season Wrap up

Spoilers Included.  I’m not going to warn you again.

The Season Finale wrapped up all of the various entangling plotlines (except of course for what really happened to the Prime Universe Lorca, so in that way, it was a satisfying, and within Star Trek TV show parameters, solved the main struggle of the season, the Klingon War, in the most Federation-ie way possible, by appealing to the Klingon’s better selves, and of course, also appealing to the better nature of deposed emperor Georgiou. I’ll admit that struck me as ridiculous. Georgiou held the trigger for the bomb that would have devastated the Klingon home world, and rather than use it, she surrendered it to Burnham instead of killing her.  One doesn’t get to be Emperor of the Terran Empire with that sort of maudlin sentimentality.

And even more unrealistic was the resolution to the Klingon War.  With Klingon ships on the edge of the solar system, Burnham gives the detonator to L’Rell, with the hopes that she will unify the empire and yada yada yada, the Klingons abandon the war?  On the edge of full victory? And that’s exactly what happens.

To me, this was a cop out to resolve the war, in a pretty unrealistic way, but I’ve no doubt, most Star Trek fans loved this finale for the very reasons I found it unrealistic; the solution to the war wasn’t found in delivering a decisive military defeat on the enemy, but by adherence to the Federation’s highest principles, and assuming (always correctly) that everyone else in the universe at some deep down level, shares those same principles.  In unrelated news, the Federation has no money but everyone shows up for work and tries to be the best they can be.

But hey, that’s Star Trek.

Finale aside, this has been without a doubt the best first season story arc (or arcs) of any Star Trek show.  Traditionally Star Trek shows start out not having any idea what direction they were going nor any idea on how to get there, or which characters were going to break out. As a result, they’ve ended up stumbling around for the first three seasons before they get their act together.  But in a media universe of too much content, fans don’t have to be patient, and won’t be. As I mentioned in my review of the first three episodes, the first two episodes were not even a proper pilot, but more of a prequel, with the third episode being the actual pilot that introduces the cast.  I’m not sure if in a general sense that’s a good idea for a television show since it makes it difficult to actually figure out much about the show from the first three episodes.  However in this particular case, that had a high pay off in the last half of the season. So I feel that this time they managed to cram the usual three season shakedown cruise into just a few episodes.

This was a heavily fan service season.  True, you would expect any show like this to be loaded with Easter eggs, but the show moved ahead with a season that had both Harry Mudd and the Mirror Universe. So in an overall sense, this was a show and a season well worth watching. I might have watched even a crap take on Star Trek, but that’s harder to do when you actually have to pay extra to view it.  Luckily I didn’t have that struggle.  I felt I got my money’s worth.

The Trouble With Quibbles…

There were a few things that bugged me though. The reveal that Ash Tyler was a Klingon spy made sense to me and there were certainly enough context clues to figure it out before the reveal; I did. However Lorca being from the mirror universe was, I felt, the proverbial turd in the punch bowl.  Do I think that was planned by the producers all along?  Yes.  In episode 6 Admiral Cornwell and Lorca are sharing a bottle of triple malt scotch and she references a shared event from years ago that Lorca clearly doesn’t remember.  However, Lorca had turned into one of the more interesting characters on the show, based on the appearance that he was a psychopath commanding a Federation starship.  But rather than go with that angle, they decided to comic book it up and make Lorca a Mirror Universe villain.  Sure, it played well on TV and few characters get as great a death as Lorca did, but the idea that if he’s evil, he must be from the mirror universe, is in some ways, a cop out.  There are no bad guys in the Prime Universe?  Starfleet has had no end of various Admirals and Captains that have gone rogue.  The original series did an entire episode around a Starfleet Captain, Garth of Izar, who went criminally insane. And mutinies in the Admiralty were the plot points of at least two Star Trek movies, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, and Star Trek: Insurrection.

I’m just saying I would have enjoyed a few more seasons of Lorca the psychopath fooling everyone around him.

The two Harry Mudd episodes were a bit of a disappointment.  Not because of Rainn Wilson’s performance, which was great, but turning Mudd into a many times over mass murderer and traitor seems like a total retooling of the character.  There was nothing comic relief about this Mudd.  True, his murders got wiped out in Discovery’s Groundhog Day episode, but the seizing control of the Discovery and trying to sell it to the Klingons didn’t.  It seems like there were enough real crimes committed both pre and post time loop to send him to Federation jail for a long time.  Instead…they decide being with his wife (Stella!) was a worse punishment and let him go.

The Mirror Universe arc wasn’t a disappointment and was total fan service.  My only quibble on that was again, the Trumpification of the Mirror Universe.  Like the Klingons, the Mirror Universe is retconned so that they just want to make the Galaxy great again^ with a Terra First foreign policy that, to the Prime Universe Discovery crew, is “racist and xenophobic.”  I get it; every TV writer hates Trump and the people who voted for him and wants to squeeze #resist into their work.  But don’t destroy the original idea to do it.  The Terran Empire, as first shown in the original series episode Mirror Mirror, was anything but racist and xenophobic.  Spock was a half Vulcan First Officer serving in a top of the line Imperial warship, with the total trust of his captain, Evil Kirk.  Race based regimes usually hate half breeds more, so the path from son of a rebel Vulcan traitor Sarek (complete with goatee) to his mixed blood son serving the Empire doesn’t make sense on its face.  There is a lot I could write on the Mirror Universe but it would be plunging down a nerd black hole, and no one wants that.

Klingons:  Why Oh why did they go with this total re-do of the Klingons?  If there was an in story reason they didn’t get to it. It seems totally unnecessary after the decade’s long wait to explain why the Star Trek Movie/Next Gen Klingons looked so different from the original series Klingons. There finally had been a canon resolution to the last Klingon re-do in the last season of Enterprise.  It just seemed pointless and irritating to restart that again.

One of my initial complaints about the show was how to access it.  Since the show is shown exclusively on CBS’s streaming service, CBS All Access, I was a bit grumbly about having to pay for a special effects laden show that didn’t have a smart TV app.  Well CBS heard my cries and halfway through the season they added an option to access the app through the Amazon Prime Video service, which does have a smart TV app. So now I can watch the best special effects laden show on television the way it was meant to be seen, on glorious HD big screen TV.  No more hunching over my computer in my home office with my wife asking what I’m doing in there with the door closed.

And speaking of, for some mysterious reason, my wife decided to give the show a try the other day and sat down and binged the first 8 hours of the show with claims that she liked it.  It could be that, or she found a good way to avoid household chores without me bugging her and decided to ride it for all it’s worth.

Good plan.

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Streaming Star Trek Discovery

A new Star Trek TV show is an exciting event that only comes around every few years, and you never know when it will be the final Star Trek series.  People will get tired of this, yes?  Enterprise ended after only four seasons, and that seemed to be the death kneel for any future Star Trek show.  But then came the rebooted movies and now, yet another attempt at bringing Star Trek to television.

Sort of.           

Although Star Trek Discovery had its premiere on CBS, the series is being shown exclusively (at least in the US) on the CBS All Access streaming service. As a long time Star Trek fan, I figured the show would have to be an incredible crap fest for me not to sign up for the service.  Although all networks stream their show content online, CBS seems to be unique in thinking it can compete with Hulu and Netflix by creating original content for their service.  It’s already given that a test run with the show, The Good Fight, a spinoff of their long time popular show The Good Wife.

As a strategy, it may not be a bad one.  CBS owns a lot of valuable properties and paying to produce original content, such as a spinoff of a popular network show, or a show with a dedicated fan base, might be a winning option.  Unlike network shows, streaming services have exact data on sign ups and who’s watching, so if a strategy is working, they will know immediately, and in that vein, CBS News reported that it broke the one day record for new sign ups after the Discovery premiere.

So yes, I signed right up.

Let me say this about the CBS All Access streaming service; I find it incredible that a streaming service that intends to complete with Hulu and Netflix does not have an app for Smart TV’s.  That is serious malpractice right there.  Yes, it does have apps for Windows and Apple products, as well as Roku and Xbox, but no Smart TV app?  So a show with a multimillion dollar per episode budget with movie quality special effects can’t be shown on your average Smart TV?

Come on!

That inconvenience aside, another issue with the CBS Streaming Access is that there just isn’t much else there I would want to watch.  I mean, it’s all CBS re-runs other than The Good Fight and Discovery of course.  However CBS did seem to recognize that and added a post-show gabfest for Discovery called After Trek. A post episode discussion show isn’t a bad idea if done right.  AMC’s companion show to the Walking Dead, Talking Dead, is a perfect example of how to do it right.  In the small universe of after show fan service, Talking Dead’s Chris Hardwick is the perfect post show host.  He knows how to keep the conversation flowing, and is knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the source material.  Most importantly, he knows how to guide his show guests into talking about their characters, rather than themselves.  Not an easy job for Hollywood actors.  On the other end of the spectrum, HBO’s After the Thrones was a train wreck.  Apparently hosting skills for these particular types of shows are not common.

Watching the first episode of After Trek, I would definitely give it high marks in comparison to the previously mentioned After the Thrones. The show is not in Talking Dead territory, but host Matt Mira is surprisingly good.   He has some work ahead of him though in order to pull some character backstory from the actors.  When asking actor James Frain, who plays Sarek, about some of Sarek’s motivations, Frain replied that he just says the lines.  I can’t decide if that’s a terrible answer or a great one, but I’m leaning towards great.

As for the show itself (and warning, there be spoilers), there is no doubt the title should have been Star Trek Woke: The Current Year.  Prior to the premiere, there were reports that the producers were recasting the Klingons as MAGA supporters, Make Q’onoS* Great Again and all that.  Well I can report that is the case. Much of the first two episodes have a great deal of Klingon scenes (in Klingon of course) in which the political situation in the empire is one of disarray, and much is made of the mongrelization of the Federation, with all the different Federation races blending in multicultural diversity; something that’s anathema to these red State Klingons.  Luckily, the Discovery cast is there to take a knee to racist Klingons.

Of course this is hardly the first TV show that the Trump election has caused breakdowns in the writer’s rooms.  Homeland, the Showtime spy series had such a breakdown in which they threw out the outline for their last season half way through and it ended in an incoherent mess.  CBS summer replacement show Salvation had a coup d’etat against a female President requiring a counter coup to get rid of that man and put a woman back in charge, all which had nothing to do with a show about an asteroid coming to destroy earth.

As for the plot of the pilot, as one online commenter put it, “Sassy black girl teaches the Federation how to deal with warlike Klingons, gets sent to prison.”

That’s basically it for the two part show opener.  For that, just a few observations:

There is a lot of go grrrl nonsense in this show. In one scene the Captain and First Officer, both female, beam onto a Klingon ship and win a hand to hand tussle (at least initially) with a couple of Klingons. I know this is science fiction but come on!  Of course after several decades of watching 90 pound waifs’ karate chop 250 pound trained male fighters on television, the scene doesn’t look quite as ridiculous as it actually was.  I guess we’re all conditioned to accept that tiny women not only can defeat large men in hand to hand combat, but in almost all circumstances they most certainly will.

In the build up to the show the look of the Klingons is so different from any earlier look of that species that the producers had to explain that Klingons were a very diverse race and there were many types of Klingons depending on which “house” the Klingon belonged to. So in a scene that showed the heads of all the Klingon houses, they all looked the same, the new version. Why not just do a different alien species if you want a new look? Not sure I get that. It definitely breaks canon though.

As far as the characters go, the only really likeable one seems to be Lt. Commander Saru, a weird looking alien ( he’s a “Kelpien”) who manages to do more to inject a little humanity into the show than any of the other characters, including titular star of the show Commander Michael Burnham, played by Walking Dead alum Sonequa Martin-Green. That being said, the unique backstory of the character; orphaned human girl raised by Sarek on Vulcan and graduate of the Vulcan Science Academy, lends itself to being played as a little less human.  In that regard, Martin-Green does have the acting chops to carry the lead for a show like this.  A flashback to the first time she meets her captain on the USS Shenzhou, introduced by Sarek, gives every appearance of a human trying hard to be Vulcan, contrasted to present day when she has a much more relaxed and “human” demeanor, but still with traces of a Vulcan upbringing. So if anything, the show does have a strong lead.

But that’s just my impressions from the first two hours of the show which really isn’t even a proper pilot; it’s more like a prequel to the set up.  The ship Discovery doesn’t even make an appearance.  So the third episode is more the actual pilot, and from viewing that, my impressions are that the episode ought to have been called, “Starfleet is the New Black.”  Prisoner Burnham is the most famous mutineer in Starfleet and responsible for starting the current Klingon war. When her prison shuttle is accidently waylaid to the USS Discovery, she’s drafted into the crew. Or was it an accident?  This was an episode that I actually got into and enjoyed both as a bit of escapist adventure TV and a bit of horror TV as well.

So we’ll see how it goes. As a long time Star Trek fan, I want to see what they do with this and having seen the third episode, feel a bit more hopeful this show will actually be entertaining. Knowing that Discovery will have a Harry Mudd episode and a Mirror Universe episode, the show has the potential to either knock it out of the park or flop. I guess I’ll know by the time we get to the Mirror Universe episode. If they screw that up…

 

*The Klingon home world for all you non nerds