Review’s Log, Stardate 2020.3.18
It’s not how I would have done it.
Honestly, any review/criticism of a beloved franchise that doesn’t begin with those eight words is committing a significant lie of omission. Indeed, I feel that all future reviews should be required to begin with those words, or the INHIWHDI acronym. Consider it a new Prime Directive for our wounded age.
Reviewer’s Log, Supplemental
Timing is everything, and Star Trek: Discovery (ST:D) really drew the short end of the stick on this one. When I got CBS All Access I didn’t know it was all access. As in the entire CBS backlog. Original Series Trek, Next Generation Trek, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and the Animated Series from ’74.
It is not ST:D’s fault that I dove right into the Animated Series (ST:TAS) as soon as I realized I had it. And ST:TAS was just as weird/cool/funky as you would think it was. It was also delightfully subversive and progressive. Uhuru commands the Enterprise twice. Is there even a live-action Trek that has a black woman in the big chair? Chapel solves The Problem once and solves The Other Problem once. Also, Kzinti.
It’s not ST:D’s fault that in addition to ST:TAS my wife and I had been binge-watching Knight Rider.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a particular problem with ‘dark’ or ‘edgy’ TV. That said, I got my fill back in the late 90s with Millennium (still a high-water mark).
So it isn’t ST:D’s fault that, honestly, that I was primed for a not-shades-of-grey version of Trek.
Reviewer’s Log, Official
ST:D has really let me down, sorry. I’m not sure I could put a number on the amount of cannibalism/torture scenes that I’m okay with, but context is key — Millennium? Sure! Star Trek… pretty limited. And, of course, there is the problem that this whole shades-of-grey thing falls into the often discussed trap that you run into grimdark: the bad guys have to be so comically bad before the shades-of-grey good guys can finally actually be the good guys. Like a Voyager probe getting pulled into a black hole, ST:D falls right into that trap.
I like how in the first episode Michael Burnham has about 10 seconds to make the most important decision of her life, and I like the fact that we, the audience, knows she’s right, but everyone else (even her) doesn’t. That was cool. After that? Meh.
As is common knowledge, one must watch Star Trek with a certain mental attitude. One must hold multiple conflicting ideas in one’s head. The Federation has seemingly endless starships, unless they don’t. Phasers have two settings: stun and kill. A surprising number of creatures/artifacts in the universe are immune to both settings. After, what? 500 years the Federation hasn’t figured out any kind of defense against either setting. For purposes of plot people conveniently forget that they can beam things in/out/away from the ship. Transport not working? Nobody ever seems to remember that you can just take a shuttle craft?
When watching Star Trek, one has to be okay with that kind of thing. One has to not focus too strongly on what is at the end of one’s fork.
But even with my Trek glasses on, ST:D often manages to fall outside the bell-curve. And, sadly, even when they do something right, they don’t quite do it right enough. Are there great scenes? Yes! Are there interesting takes on the classics? Yes! Is that enough to pull it up from the mistakes? I’m right on the fence, honestly.
There were many things to like.
That it was focused mostly on a single character (Michael Burnham), and that person wasn’t a captain, that was cool. And while I like the idea that they pulled in Ambassador Sarek, the idea that Spock has an adopted human sister that did nothing for me. I mean, haven’t we already done this whole trying-to-hide-your-emotions thing with Spock/Data/Odo/7 of 9?
Season One Crew!
I also like the idea of the first season being about the Federation/Klingon war, which was pretty cool, but they kind of fall short on all the cool things they could have done.
I like the way the story just tumbles ahead, blundering from danger to danger, venturing into the Mirror Mirror universe, accidentally jumping ahead in time, shootin’ and fightin’ and doing some explorin’ on the side.
But someone somewhere decided that if a character wasn’t being tortured in every episode the audience might be bored or something, so… if you like your Trek with a heaping side of sadism, this show is for you! The Mirror Mirror universe? More torture (plus cannibalism).
And they do dumb things. One could argue that in the end of “Space Seed,” Kirk does a dumb thing by allowing Khan Noonien Singh to settle on a planet and not hauling him and his thugs off to space jail.
100% Pure Montalban
But imagine, if you can, that Kirk decided to not drop Khan on a class M planet to make the best of it, or haul him off to space jail, but decided to take him back to Starfleet and recommend him to put him in the black ops secret police. We are talking that level of dumb.
The mycelial drive? Yes, I it opened up a lot cool ideas. But it was dumb. Why not just put proto-matter in the nacelles to achieve mutli-phase-transwarp drive? See? It’s just that easy!
They are dumb like the people in the original Alien are dumb. So dumb that one can’t help but feel they deserve most of what they get.
Reviewer’s Log, Marginalia.
I want my goddamn Andurians (the blue guys) and my Tellerites (the pig-faced guys). Why do we hardly ever see these two? They have been in the Federation from the start. Is this an ongoing gag with the writers? Are they are like Maris from Frazier, or Vera from Cheers — talked about but hardly ever seen.
Hasn’t Their Time Come?
The fight choreography is really… weird. I mean, as much as I dislike Michelle Yeoh’s character, I know the woman can do great fight scenes, so why are they all so dorky looking? Is this an homage to original series fight scenes?
I like how they have at least two vehicles between space suits and shuttles, and yet still never seem to remember them.
I like how each particular system or planet, or ship has its own weird tech. Like a space station has mines (and not like, photon torpedo mines, but mines that are gonna attach to your hull and cut their way through) — crazy, but kind of fun.
I like Saru (as does everyone). I like the gay engineer and his doctor boyfriend.
I don’t like how someone decided that Michael Burnham was too blank in the first season so she has to break into tears every episode in Season 2.
Which brings up that another disadvantage of having the majority of the show from one character’s POV is that — and there is no nice way to say this — it gets pretty Mary-Sue-ish real fast. I give the whole battle of the Binary Stars thing a pass (timing is everything, coulda happened to anybody), but after that… making 7/10ths of everything about Burnham, or her just-as-awesome Mirror Mirror version really stretches it. And yes, we’ve seen this before with yet-another-episode about Spock/Wesly/Whoever, but that’s my damn point! We’ve seen this before.
And, while I always promise not to bring too much of my HFQ editors view into this, I cannot help myself. I am so sick of the whole “Lord Motheraper destroyed my village!” thing. By the Light of Khaless, it is such lazy writing. Why is Luke the hero? Something bad happened to his dad. Why is Anikan the bad guy? Something bad happened to his mom. Why is Burnham the hero? Lord Motheraper killed her parents. Why is Kor the bad guy? He was raised as an ooooorphan!
Reviewer’s Log: Spoiler-rific stuff.
[spaces added, so if you don’t want spoilers you can skip to the end by searching (ctrl+f for ‘personal’]
I like the idea of someone from the Mirror Mirror universe finding themselves in our universe — and that part was pretty cool. But after all that buildup they don’t stick the landing. How much better would it have been if Lorca had said “Okay, you see what it’s like, you see where I came from? I’ve learned a lot of things in your universe, seen a vision of how things could be, and I will bring those ideas here — as soon as free my crew of sociopaths, and I kill the emperor, kill everyone in her family, kill everyone in her council, and kill everyone who ever looked at me cross-eyed. Andy by “kill” I mean torture to death. You know, because people on this side only respect that kind of thing.”
Again, if you’re gonna start the series with someone having about 10 seconds to make the most important decision ever, embrace it and end the series with a character having about 5 seconds to make the most important decision ever. But it seems the writers rushed it — they really needed to wrap up the Mirror Mirror subplot so they could rush the end of the Klingon/Federation war.
Oh, and they rush the end of the Klingon federation war. Some Klingon somewhere isn’t gonna figure a way to beam that damn bomb out of the mantle? Even with my trek glasses I don’t buy it.
Season Two Crew
I think Season 2 was going better, with them hopping around space trying to figure out the red lights. The introduction of Captain Pike helps, but then they also introduce Spock and I really didn’t want them to botch Spock and they botched Spock.
Honestly, at this point, I would have an ‘accidental weapons discharge’ the next time I saw anyone from Section 31. Again, if you’re going to get all shades of grey and trying to ape Breaking Bad, just do it. MAKE IT SO! So many accidental weapons discharge reports…
Reviewer’s Log, Personal: My Solution to the Kobiashi Maru
One of the advantages of having the stones to say is that you get a couple of lines to say how you would have done it, smart-guy! So how would I have done it? I would have stuck to the theme of the Klingon War, but I would have thrown in that within the last few years both the Federation and the Klingons have developed these incredible starships (the Constitution class, like the Enterprise A) — most civilian ships take months to get places, most older federation/Klingon ships take days, the new breed take hours. But there are only a few of them.
I would have explored the idea that Starfleet is the pseudo-military arm of a non-military society (which is touched on, but really only given lip-service).
I would have framed it that way and the spore drive (or the multi-phase-transwarp drive) is an attempt to get more of the fast-ships. Also, starbases — there are only a few of them and both sides are trying to build more. More of the alliances that compose the federation, and more of the subjected/conquered species of the Klingon Empire (which, I assume they must have).
That’s what I would have done.