Star Trek: Discovery – good Trek and a good enough start

Although I went in with some trepidation, I really enjoyed the first season of Star Trek: Discovery. I will admit though that it is a bit of tough one to get into having been a fan of Trek for 30+ years but I soon warmed up to the show in a way that I hadn’t since the mid-90’s.

It’s certainly not a perfect entry into the series, it has a few minor and superficial flaws here and there (as well as one massive one, all of which I’ll get to) but overall as a premiere season of a brand new show with an entirely brand new production crew it did marvellously in reintroducing us to the final frontier.

Quick rundown: Star Trek: Discovery follows Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), Starfleet’s first mutineer, court-martialed for disobeying her Captain and inadvertently starting a war with the Klingons. Burnham is recruited by Captain Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs) to serve aboard the USS Discovery, a vessel with a potentially new propulsion system secretly being developed that Starfleet hopes can help win the war.

It’s certainly a very different premise from what we’re used to but different can be good. It’s part of the eveolution of things and here it makes for a fascinating premise nonetheless.

I mean it when I say that many of the criticisms folks have raised with this show are superficial. I see most of them as minor and a result of either my personal taste or teething problems for a brand new show finding its footing, however most interpret these as something fundamentally wrong with the series without even considering that something might be fundamentally wrong with their understanding of Trek.

This write-up won’t likely change the minds of those who vehemently hate this new series and continue to act in a manner that is pretty much the opposite of the ideals they supposedly learned from Star Trek. In fact I’m sort of wondering why I’m even bothering to write anything at all? I don’t need to put in this sort of effort to justify anything to anyone who is so closed-minded.

But there are those whom the show may have not sat right with and I can understand those sentiments to an extent as it took me a little bit to see past some of the surface-level flaws. With the second season premiering this month and we’re two episodes in, this might be a good time to try it again knowing a little more (although, I will have to give a heads up that this will contain MASSIVE SPOILERS in the second half in order to help make my points).

What I will attempt to do here is address many of the criticisms being flung about out there as well as highlight my own issues with the show so far and point out why Discovery is worthy of its place in the series. This dissection is perhaps needed after such a long absence of Star Trek.

We’ve been here before
Fandom seems to have a short memory. Now that can either be attributed to people being too young to remember or many are deliberately ignoring that The Next Generation was met with anger and outrage from many fans of The Original Series. They resented their beloved Kirk and crew being replaced and made it known through protests outside the studio as well as letter-writing campaigns (yes, once upon a time, before the interwebs, people made an effort to be wrong and annoying).

It’s going to pop up a few times here but I recommend you track down a documentary hosted by William Shatner called Chaos on the Bridge. It details the behind the scenes of the relaunch of Star Trek in the late 1980s and the tumultuous first two seasons of The Next Generation. TNG took a while to find its feet and it’s very difficult to go back and objectively watch those first two seasons. But now it’s considered one of the greater shows in the franchise and is often listed at the top of any favourites list for many. I will guarantee though, that there is not a single person who hated the show back then willing to admit it now.

Fans were also originally dismissive of Deep Space 9 because its premise of being set on a space station supposedly meant they weren’t going to be doing any exploring (that and the alleged similarities to another beloved sci-fi favourite Babylon 5). That series too took some time to settle in its own space and is fondly remembered for being a lot darker than Trek is used to and praised for tackling the issues of war and the limits of morality in doing “the right thing”.

But Discovery focusing on darker themes and a major conflict is somehow going against that?

Kick in the bum the franchise needed
In my mind, Discovery is not only a worthy successor to the Star Trek legacy but I also think it kick-started the franchise back into gear.

Now many will be quick to point out that the 2009 “reboot” film directed by JJ Abrams was perhaps what reignited the studio’s interest in bringing Star Trek back and it’s a fair call. It certainly made a lot of money and was quite likely responsible for bringing in a new generation of fans.

But do you actually remember anything about those movies?

Do you remember that the 2009 reboot was simply a Trek-retelling of Star Wars: A New Hope? No, seriously it’s pretty damn obvious when you look at the elements. You will never unsee it.

Did anyone at all notice that the garbage fire Into Darkness was a trite 911-truther allegory co-written by a conspiracy theory nutbag, which was also the anti-thesis of all things Star Trek (I.e the white-washing of Khan, the treatment of the female characters, etc)?

Did anyone go and watch Star Trek Beyond? The only “good” one out of the three set in the “Kelvin timeline” because director Justin Lin, and co-writers Doug Jung and Simon Pegg seem to have at least a basic understanding of character and storytelling (the ingredients that makes Star Trek). A movie I myself didn’t have high hopes for until I actually saw it and now have on blu-ray.

But Star Trek has usually struggled to work on the big screen. Out of thirteen movies, maybe only 4 are regarded as the franchise’s best and most quotable and none of them are the reboot trilogy despite those making the most money.

Trek has always felt more comfortable on television, the nature of its story telling is much better suited to the episodic format. However, things have changed considerably since Star Trek was on the air (the highly controversial final episode of Star Trek: Enterprise aired in 2005), and that change is not just television itself and the way it’s consumed but also what viewers want to consume.

So in a similar way that the 2009 reboot had to embrace a few of today’s visceral blockbuster sensibilities in order to draw in the crowds, Discovery had to adopt a few of the contemporary ingredients popular with the current lot of television shows. But it did so by balancing it with what is at the very core of Star Trek.

Long form story telling isn’t new but it’s become much more prevalent in the era of binging. In fact it was one of the reasons people enjoyed the latter seasons of Deep Space 9 as it felt different to the previous series along with the darker tone (which I’ll get into later).

Back in December I bought season 1 on blu-ray (despite it still being on Netflix, I like physical media and my NBN connection was being a pain) and I binged it to make sure it held up. Not only did it hold up but I reckon it’s better binged. I suspect that the weekly releases are actually a detriment to the new long-form story telling that has become popular these days, which may attribute to some fans’ sense of dissatisfaction (I know that I would never be able to go weekly on a series like Daredevil on Netflix because of how deliberately slow and drawn out it is).

In any other show people are happy to wait for answers in the next episode, spending the week leading up to it speculating what certain things may mean is part of the fun of fan discourse. Unfortunately, some Trek fans have become too impatient, wanting everything spoon fed to them immediately because that’s what happened when stories were contained within a single episode.

We’ve been here befo- Wait a second…
Back in the day I wasn’t fan of Enterprise (later renamed Star Trek: Enterprise) and I’m still not. I even tried to revisit it after seeing some folks claim that “it got better” just before it was cancelled at the end of its fourth season but I just couldn’t see that being the case (the finale was quite the slap in the face even according to the cast).

For all the things that went wrong with Enterprise at its most basic was that it wanted to shake up the franchise but without actually doing that. It wanted to explore a previously untapped period of the lore, it wanted to get away from the formal tone of previous incarnations and have a few rough edges, it wanted to be darker and more mature, maybe even a bit racy. None of these things are anti-Star Trek but unfortunately, it didn’t reach the heights that it aimed for and instead fell back into its comfort zone through its writing but by that time audiences were tired of “safe” and fatigue for the franchise had set in.

Discovery, on the other hand, is everything Enterprise wanted to be because it committed to that idea of shaking things up (which is much easier to do with an entirely brand new production crew and 15 years out from the last time).

From here on out there will be MASSIVE SPOILERS but as a summary I think the problems with Discovery are primarily a result of first season teething rather than anything majorly flawed (although it does have a few flaws here and there). It not only has to balance out being a television show made in an era of streaming and major motion picture sensibilities, but also maintain what made Star Trek what it is (and not just what fans think it is).

So far Discovery has followed in the exact footsteps of all of its predecessors and perhaps done a better job in its first season than any of those (of course your mileage may vary).

And I’m not saying you HAVE to like Discovery but don’t confuse your personal tastes and preferences with claiming that the series is “bad” or “wrong” or “not Star Trek” especially when Discovery pretty much follows what went before it.

Let’s address some of the main complaints…

Earth is meant to be a Utopia”
I’m not sure people quite understand what a “utopia” actually is because there’s nothing in Discovery that says Earth isn’t a wonderful place to live.

This complaint comes from the first few episodes of season 1 when, as even I observed, people were acting like jerks to one another. But upon immediate analysis there’s very good context for this.

Michael Burnham was a human raised by Vulcans trying to reintegrate with humans again. Vulcan arrogance is well known and has been depicted before in Star Trek and that arrogance here resulted in actions aboard the USS Shenzhou that possibly kick-started the war with the Klingons.

Aboard the Discovery, the crew distrust Burnham when she’s brought aboard and serving alongside them at Lorca’s behest. I mean why should they trust the person that attempted to take control of the Shenzhou and, from their perspective, started the war with the Klingons (keep in mind not everyone would get the details of what actually happened. A scandal like that would get the “purple-monkey-dishwasher” treatment).

Even Saru (played by Doug Jones), especially Saru, who was aboard the bridge of the Shenzhou when it all happened, distrusts her.

But thanks to character development over the 15 episodes they learn to not only work together but also get along on a personal level with one another and become a cohesive unit. That sense of family that we admire about the previous Trek shows had to develop and be earned here.

Interpersonal conflict is not a foreign concept on Star Trek. In fact without it, many of the stories had to rely on an alien species to cause trouble or otherwise be really dull. When The Next Generation began, Gene Roddenberry didn’t want the main characters or most of the Federation characters to clash, which was problematic as no conflict among them made it difficult for the writers to create interesting stories (again detailed in Chaos on the Bridge).

But this was dropped pretty quickly. There are plenty of examples of humans not being the epitome of that Utopia such as Commander Maddox who wanted to dismantle Data and study him and tried to argue he was Starfleet property, which lead to a hearing that determined Data’s status as a sentient being. Again with Data, when he was temporarily given his own command, the crew didn’t trust an android to be their commanding officer. If this was such a Utopia where people didn’t have a problem with people there wouldn’t be such prejudice.

And let’s not forget the parade of Admirals and high ranking officers that were too selfish and single-minded to to realise their behaviour was not exactly becoming of someone from such an enlightened civilisation.

I mean even this moment, which was very hard for actor Brock Peters to say his lines because of the connotations behind them, was very much about racism and how people frame it.

And as much as Dr McCoy was my favourite character in The Original Series, some of his interactions with Spock were borderline racist (many will disregard or defend because they were “friends” but honestly you are allowed to be critical of it even if it was “a different time”). Also there was that one bridge offer aboard the original Enterprise that hated Spock because he looked like a Romulan (Vulcans and Romulans share an ancestry).

The very idea of a “more evolved” people was challenged in one of the best Star Trek movies and an undeniable fan-favourite, First Contact.

Don’t get me started on the moral quandaries that were abound during the Dominion War on Deep Space 9 (one of my favourite series by the way).

Flawed characters create interesting stories. For them to be perfect all the time teaches us nothing.

Discovery is too dark”
I could be reasonable about this criticism but I am adamant that most of those complaining about it are actually talking about the lighting and the high contrast look of the show.

When it comes to thematic tone of the story, Discovery is no darker than the darkest episodes of The Next Generation , and its tackling of a major conflict with another power can be likened in the broad strokes to that of latter seasons of Deep Space 9 (even if I think DS9 went deeper into it).

Some have claimed it isn’t family-friendly like previous series. Now, I’m not so sure I can completely disagree with this assessment on face value but when you look back into the darker stories as presented by Star Trek you do have to wonder: how did they make Cardassians torturing Picard so “family friendly”? How does one make the telepathic rape of Councillor Troi “tasteful” for young audiences”?

On closer examination, this complaint usually comes from those who object to there being an openly gay couple as part of the main cast and then I no longer give a fuck what people these so-called “fans” think.

These attitudes go against everything Star Trek has tried to communicate over 50 years!!

Speaking of foxtrot-uniform-charlie-kilo, Discovery has the dubious honour of being the first Trek series to drop the F-bomb. It happens twice in one episode and within second of each other and is one of my favourite moments, which made me literally laugh out loud so of course I have zero issue with it.

Bloody hell, even Picard swore in French on TNG but somehow people let that one go or even find it a bit cheeky!

For those that don’t like those darker stories, and I can understand that as I’m not always in the mood for such, the complaint is often made too early in the season (many of which at the first trailer hence my “lighting” jab). Darker stories are considered anti the hopeful nature of Star Trek but it fails to observe that Discovery is actually about finding their way out of that darkness.

This series was a season long story arc yet people were judging it based on the episodic, self-contained format of the past where things wrapped up nicely in 40-minutes and didn’t allow Discovery to tell its story before condemning it. It’d be like walking out of a film 10 minutes into it (I’m not saying there aren’t films that are so bad that 10 minutes are all you need but still…).

Star Trek is about exploration”
Yes and no?

When people bring this up as a criticism of Discovery what they’re trying to say is that focusing on the war with the Klingons means the crew aren’t out there exploring “strange new worlds and new civilisations”.

But remember, this was also a criticism levelled at Deep Space 9 for being stuck on a space station and then no one cared about that when the war story line kicked in.

Star Trek certainly is about exploration but most are stuck on the surface-level interpretation of it and don’t realise that “exploration” means “exploring the human condition”.

Science fiction has always been a fantastic format in exploring who we are as a people, whether it be individual struggles or on societal scale. Through metaphor and allegory it helps the audience to learn and understand these experiences, the struggles, and even the ideas being presented. Star Trek is known for this and is at its best when it’s trying to present such a story and message.

That’s exactly what’s happening with Discovery (MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD)…

The zealot T’Kuvma is the head of a particular Klingon house (or sect) who wants to unite the 24 warring houses. Under the philosophy of preserving the Klingon way at any cost he believes that the Federation are out to destroy them so is willing to go to war and conquer to prevent that from happening. It’s an extremely xenophobic point of view and the fear mongering is all too familiar.

Let me put it this way: imagine the words “Remain Klingon” (their catch cry) embroidered on a red baseball cap. Yeah now you get it.

In the second half of season 1, the USS Discovery ends up stranded in the Mirror Universe (first presented in The Original Series episode “Mirror, Mirror”) where everything that matters in the broad strokes is the opposite. The Federation is called the Terran Empire and instead of exploring it’s all about conquering other worlds and species, enslaving them, characters behave antithetical to their Prime Universe counterparts (evil, xenophobic, etc).

As much as I came to loathe stories set in the Mirror Universe in past series due minor over exposure and ruining the mystery, the whole point of visiting the mirror universe was to highlight how easy it is for humans to fall into the same horrible ideologies that the Klingons in this series have and to reflect what is happening right now (just in case the Klingon allegory went over most viewers heads, which it apparently did ).

Discovery is pushing an agenda”
Well fucking duh. Star Trek has always pushed an “agenda”. Where the fuck have you been???

There seem to be a small vocal contingent of supposed “fans” that are complaining about the most bizarre aspects of Discovery.They resent an African-American woman in the lead, they didn’t like an Asian woman as Captain… and this was just from the trailer.

Also the homophobia about Lt Stamets and Dr Culber being an openly gay couple just seemed very anti-Star Trek. And these are just the tip of the iceberg…

To complain that Discovery is “too politically correct” or “pushing an agenda” or even “too SJW” ignores that Star Trek HAS ALWAYS BEEN THIS WAY!!!! It was there from the very start, it’s built into the very DNA of the show.

How does someone call themselves a Trek fan, watch decades of the various series, and miss the most important fucking point of it all???

Honestly, this video pretty much lays that out better than I ever could.

We don’t even know the senior crew”
I will admit to having this issue myself at one point but then I realised this isn’t about the senior crew.

The tradition in most of the previous series is that the main cast comprise of mainly the senior crew of the starship/starbase as well as any other recurring main characters.

In Discovery they don’t follow that formula per se, but they do focus on the important characters in the season-long story and they are the ones that comprise the main cast (and not all of them will be in the senior crew).

Think of it this way: Westworld‘s main cast aren’t made up of the senior staff at the theme park. They’re made of the characters that have the most impact on the story. It’s the very same with Discovery.

And yes that takes some getting use to but it’s not an error or a flaw it’s just something new (it’s also something the very first episode of season 2 attempted to address).

Bad Writing”
Honestly, this is such a subjective thing most of the time. Too often it’s thrown about as a bad faith argument when in reality they simply don’t like the stories. That’s not the same thing as being “bad”.

I mean for the sake of argument, I can accuse the first two seasons of The Next Generation as having bad writing because those episodes are really difficult to watch now but no, most of us realise the reasons for those issues and allow some leeway for the show to find its feet (and hey some people actually enjoy those seasons unironically).

There might be some awkward or even clumsy writing, a few contrived instances but again this is more a matter of taste and perspective rather than “fact” and even so most of these things are a matter of degrees rather than outright good or bad. Of course it’s by no means perfect but overall, I found the writing to be entertaining and compelling.

The Orville is better Star Trek than Discovery”
The Orville is an enjoyable show. From the few episodes I’ve seen of it it’s fun and it’s funny.

At best it’s a loving tribute to The Next Generation and at worst it’s a rip-off but as a reasonable person I’d prefer to think of it as the former. And that’s where I have my problem with the show.

Because it tries so hard to recapture and emulate the look and feel of TNG it doesn’t really hold my attention, which is why I’ve only seen a few episodes. I mean we’ve been there and done that so why go back to it? We already have TNG easily accessible on Netflix or on DVD and blu-ray.

Some will argue that The Orville is doing its own thing as the series progresses and that the TNG styling is just the starting point and that’s cool. But if that is true then how can you still claim that it does Star Trek better than Discovery unless your understanding of Star Trek is only surface-level?

Because that’s quite telling of many of these fans.

This isn’t made for the fans”
This is the most childish and inane of criticisms no matter what franchise it’s aimed at and is often made by thin-skinned babies offended that their headcanon or personal tastes haven’t been adhered to.

The lengths that the producers of Discovery have gone to make it fit into an already vast universe of lore that spans 50 years is quite an achievement in of itself. The idea that they may have gotten a few ideas of “fact” wrong here and there either by mistake or deliberately as a matter the very century it’s being made is so unreasonable.

The priority is telling a good and compelling story and so far they’ve achieved that to varying levels. If Discovery isn’t to your tastes that’s unfortunate that but that doesn’t mean they are ignoring the fans (hell season 2 so far has addressed many of the more reasonable criticisms either by adjusting them or adding context and clarity so it’s a clear sign they aren’t ignoring fans).

Also, plenty of Star Trek fans love Discovery and well as plenty of new folks who have become fans. And that’s the fucking point. The most Star Trek thing this show is doing is making a show accessible to EVERYONE!

Discovery breaks canon”
Pretty much every series of Star Trek has contradicted canon from time to time even within its own series. It’s what happens when there’s 50 plus years worth of lore to sift through.

Canon is helpful in creating a consistent universe by offering a basic framework to work off of in crafting compelling and convincing stories. Canon is NOT a set of rigid rules that more often than not restrict good story telling.

Sometimes a writer chooses to break canon in order to tell the best story possible and we often forgive previous series for doing this because either the break is extremely minor enough to ignore, explain away, or it leads to something we like.

There are occasions going against already established lore is a detriment to the story and undermines what’s going on (*gestures at Enterprise*) but that’s when the results don’t make it worth the effort. Discovery IS worth the bending and breaking of a few things here and there within reason… of course I’ll get to the finicky parts of that later.

Once upon a time, fans had fun trying to speculate and explain many of the inconsistencies of their favourite show. This mental gymnastics sometimes is part of what being a Star Trek fan, hell being a science fiction fan in general, was all about. These days, anyone with a insincere gripe doesn’t even bother to do this anymore.

For me to start listing all the instances of canon breaking in Star Trek would require a whole new write-up LONGER than this one.

Discovery looks too futuristic”
Discovery is set 10 years before Captain Kirk’s 5 year mission as depicted in The Original Series. But that series was made in the 1960. For anyone to require a new show made in the 21st century to look anywhere near that is either being unreasonable or insincere about their problems with the show.

From a design perspective there is certainly an argument to be had in regards to tweaking the sets and props on Discovery to be a little closer to that of The Original Series, by a matter of degrees, but it then solves a problem that doesn’t actually exist.

It also provides a new problem: if the designs look less futuristic than the technology of today then the believably of the show is compromised in favour of the personal tastes of a small group of fans. The designs are meant to facilitate with the feel and atmosphere of the show by helping with the suspension of disbelief for a greater audience. Not just for fans of Star Trek but also for anyone else coming in to the show for the first time.

For example: those see-through display panels that are used on the bridge as well as places such as engineering, they exist NOW. In fact, they are already being used… on the set of Discovery!

TThose panels aren’t a digital effect in post, they exist in real time, in camera.

Now whether they actually function and respond as a touch screen like they do in the show is another matter (maybe it takes them another century to make them reliable enough to use on a starship), and in my mind they serve a similar impractical purpose as writing on a window with whiteboard marker, but it’s a way to create visual interest on a set while giving the camera some cool ways to shoot (kinda like the “clear whiteboard”).

It doesn’t matter if TOS or TNG, etc didn’t have them because we’re so far from the decades those shows were made and real world tech didn’t stop when Trek did and you can easily explain them away if you really needed to as more a design choice or security issue. Ultimately it doesn’t matter.

As far as other specific pieces of Trek technology deemed “too advanced” for the time period as established by previous shows, well they too can be explained with a bit of knowledge and mental gymnastic.

Holographic Communicator
It’s been established that holograms exist for at least 100 years by the 23rd century but their use in communications has been complained about by fans pointing out that such tech wasn’t introduced until 100 years later on Deep Space 9.

Unfortunately, that complaint fails to take into consideration something that’s been right in front of them for years:

Use of the holographic communication Discovery (LEFT, Deep Space 9 (RIGHT)

Let’s look at the holograms from both eras: on Discovery (LEFT) the holograms are relatively low resolution, appear washed out, they flicker, they don’t look solid, and just look an image that’s being projected (a very “traditional” look). On Deep Space 9 (RIGHT) the holographic communicator projects a solid figure that is so lifelike that it appears as though the person is in the room with you.

What we can extrapolate from this is that in the span of roughly 100 years they went from low res to hi res communication over vast distances. But it didn’t just suddenly get introduced during DS9’s run. Techincally speaking, Starfleet had been using holographic communications for a while in a slightly different form.

Main view screens in the 24th century

Look at how the viewscreen displays the person on the other end of this “call”. If it were a flat 2-dimensional image then the person would be looking right at the audience instead of Picard. That’s because they are implying (and then later established) that viewscreens like this are actually holographic displays. In First Contact they removed the main viewscreen altogether on the Enterprise-D and just hand a blank wall on the bridge, which would then have a flat holographic projection materialise when needed.

This shows a progression of technology.

But then why did they stop using holographic communication during Kirk’s time? Well why have people not switch to video calling in our time?

Remember in the early 2000’s video calling was meant to be the new thing but video compression and the 3G networks weren’t quite up to the task yet as well as how awkward it was to do as opposed to just using the phone in the traditional manner. And of course these days people livestream but that’s a broadcast more than a two-way communication. And yes we have Skype and Facetime now but people rarely do that on the go and tend to save it for at home or in a business/office/meeting environment.

SPOILER FOR SEASON 2… they imply that holographic communication may be a personal preference when a colleague of Captain Pike’s ribs him for being old school and that’s pretty much reflective of how adoption of new tech works in general.

Holodeck
This one requires slightly more mental gymnastics, I’ll admit but it’s no more egregious than anything else in the entirely of Trek. Besides, Ted Sullivan, one of the co-exectuive producers pretty much explained it.

Technological development isn’t always a straight line, a lot of it is fits and spurts, takes tangents, and evolves based on whether or not it gets adopted by a greater audience. I mean how many starts has “Virtual Reality” had in our time?

And if you’re wondering why the TNG crew were so amazed by the tech as if it were brand new, think back to the first time you watched a larger TV than you were used to or played a video game on the next iteration of a console, just recall you experiencing the next iteration of a technology you had been used to or simply heard about previously. There’s nothing that says holodecks (or whatever names they used over the course of time) was standard on starships before the 2360’s. Once upon a time not every household had a TV, nor did they have a personal computer until many years later when it was made more accessible.

Spore Drive
A very reasonable question is raised about the apparent disappearance of such an advanced propulsion system, which allows the crew of Discovery to basically jump to anywhere in space within seemingly seconds. Season 2 offers at least one explanation to why it’s stopped being used but even if we focus on season 1 and how the drive is depicted… the fancy drive requires a giant tardigrade to navigate the “mycelial network” in order to plot their course. They discover it was hurting the creature through prolonged use so Stamets injects himself with tardigrade DNA in order to take its place and he too suffers effects from use.

That should be enough to consider why it disappears and there are innumerable pieces of tech in Star Trek that gets dropped because of undesirable side effects. Since then there have been other attempts to cross the galaxy in way that either don’t rely on warp drive or are faster than warp scale so it’s not as though Starfleet and co aren’t continuing to try.

Klingon Cloaking Device
Ignoring that Enterprise broke canon on this ages ago, this one seems to be the most egregious of canon breaks according to fans but there isn’t anything that was said or shown onscreen that says the Klingons didn’t have cloaking technology in the Discovery era.

The Original Series episode “Balance of Terror” is where we are introduced to the Romulans for the first time as well as cloaking technology (or “invisibility screens”). The way Kirk, Spock, and the rest of the bridge crew react as though this is brand new technology to them.

It was around this time that the Klingons and Romulans had a very brief alliance where they exchanged technology in particular their starships and so it was inferred that Klingons obtained their cloaking tech from the Romulans during this period. From this, it has been extrapolated that the Romulans invented the technology and the Klingons adapted it during their alliance (a decade after the events of Discovery).

So how does T’Kuvma’s ship have cloaking tech?

Remember what I said about “fits and spurts”? Well Apple didn’t create the tablet they simply popularised it. In Star Trek we know that Zephram Cochrane invented warp drive ON EARTH but we don’t assume that he was the first to do so in the entire galaxy (I mean Cochrane’s warp test got the attention of the Vulcan’s who were already a space faring species as we saw in First Contact). So why do fans assume that the Romulans were the ONLY species in the galaxy working on stealth technology? The IDW comic apparently states the House of T’Kuvma did work on the tech themselves but other media isn’t considered canon until it’s stated on screen.

The reaction from Kirk and co as if it’s new but that doesn’t mean THEY were exposed to it a decade before (in season 2, it is revealed that the Enterprise under Pike’s command was ordered by Starfleet to stay away from the conflict). Apart from Spock they may have been junior officers or cadets ten years ago. And yes this is a stretch but even knowledge of its existence doesn’t mean people won’t be surprised if they experience it for themselves for the first time.

Most of those were more or less easy to explain away as well as highlight how Discovery does indeed follow what came before despite the complaints of the less observant. And in all fairness I needed a few extra cycles of my brain too to either ignore them or explain why it’s okay.

This next section of my overly long word spew covers many of the nitpicks I have with the show (shared by by others) but in most cases I’m able to look past these too… eventually.

Uniforms
While I would have preferred they look a little closer to what we’re used to in The Original Series, being set 10 years prior means they can get away with doing something different but I’m not a fan of these uniforms and that is purely down to personal taste.

In all honesty it’s more to do with the use of blue as the primary colour. Although it may make some sense in the timeline of things, it reminded me too much of my least favourite series Enterprise, which I think was used (in both) to help create a darker tone (kinda like the grey and black uniforms in First Contact).

Because when I look at the white medical versions of the outfits I like it a lot better. The lines and cut & drape look quite dapper and a lot like a military uniform. So I do wonder how much better it would have looked in the three primary colours we’ve become accustomed to over the years.

The other issue is a very personal bugbear I have about costume design in general in the era of 4K, 8K, IMAX, etc. With the prolific use of higher definition cameras and displays, designs for everything require more and more detail and texture. Like the JJ Abrams films, Discovery is another victim of this with the “pointless repeating pattern” gimmick.

While we’re on the topic of costume design, the EV or thruster suit used by Burnham in the premiere looks very cool. But for some reason it doesn’t quite click with me.

Although I should be able to ignore that it doesn’t quite fit in with 200 years of Starfleet design lineage for these suits, it does sort of stand out like a sore thumb in that regard, it does irk me ever so slightly.

“Cool” looking and “functional” looking aren’t always the same thing. The rest of the body suit is skin-tight, which to me at least, doesn’t look convincing as an environmental suit. There may be some real world science that proves this look is workable but overall it breaks the suspension of disbelieve if only mildly.

Burnham’s connection to Sarek (and therefore Spock)
I’m still torn about this and even after seeing how this unfolds it still bothers me to an extent.

Quick rundown: Michael Burnham’s parents were killed in an attack by the Klingon raiders on Doctari Alpha. She was adopted by Sarek and raised by him and his wife Amanda alongside their son, Spock, on Vulcan.

My cynicism suggests that we didn’t need to see Sarek or have such a close connection with Spock and therefore The Original Series and that it was done simply to create a legitimacy to the series set in the Prime universe. Yet when I step through it logically it does make sense even if it still wasn’t necessary.

Let’s work backwards: they needed Burnham to be at her lowest and climb back up and redeem herself for the sake of the story. She commits mutiny (assaults her captain and takes over the ship) because she feels like it’s the right course of action in that moment. But if humans are generally okay with one another and then added this military structure of Starfleet, what would make a crew member be so arrogant enough to disobey her captain?

What if she was Vulcan and through logic (albeit erroneous as it was) she decided her conclusions of the “right” course of action were the only way to go. But following an emotionless Vulcan for an entire series is not likely to be interesting (let alone most Vulcans have previously been implied that they’re not interested in joining Starfleet), so what if she were human but raised as a Vulcan. You then have that Vulcan arrogance and logic and the conflict of trying to resolve that with her human origins.

And we could probably leave it at that but how does Sarek come into it? Well he’s the Vulcan Ambassador to the Federation and while most Vulcans have a high opinion of themselves over humans, more than any other of his kind Sarek has shown an interest in Humanity and fostering good relations with Earth, to the point that his wife, Amanda, Spock’s mother, is human.

So yeah, it works as that cynical connection I mentioned before but also as a shorthand and point of reference for long-time fans of Trek.

Some have tried to point out that this closeness makes no sense because of something Spock said in TOS. When Ensign Chekov asked if there had ever been any cases of mutiny on a starship in the episode “The Tholian Web”, Spock responds by saying “Absolutely no record of such an occurrence.”

Now that’s supposedly a done deal right there meaning Discovery breaks canon in just its premise except for one tiny thing… Spock is capable of lying.

People have this odd idea that Vulcans can’t lie and that the numerous instance of Spock lying and being deceitful in The Original Series and the movies is somehow a novelty or due to him learning how to lie in subsequent years. His confusion and protestations at the idea of lying is just him being obtuse and maintaining his facade. He could have lied to protect his foster sister’s reputation or that of his family’s.

Even simpler answer is that Spock said there was “no record” of it because at the end of season 1, Burnham is reinstated and her court-martial may have been expunged from the record.

Despite my lingering doubts at the necessity of involving Sarek and Spock, I’ve actually enjoyed how their story has unfolded so far and (at the publishing of this we’re three episodes into season 2) I’m looking forward to seeing how they tackle a young Spock.

Captain Phillipa Georgiou
I was over the moon when I first heard that Michelle Yeoh was cast as Captain Phillipa Georgiou on Discovery. It was a boon for representation as well as the fact that I have been a fan of some of Yeoh’s previous work.

So imagine my horror when she is killed off in the second episode.

And I get it in terms of storytelling as this adds to Burnhams guilt as her actions got her Captain, friend, and mentor killed. But it also builds up yet another surprise twist.

When Discovery finds itself in the mirror universe, it is revealed that the Terran Empire is ruled by none other the captian’s mirror counterpart, Emperor Georgiou.

While this is a great reveal and offers up some major conflict for Burnham, to me it unfortunately steps too close to the “Dragon Lady” trope. Now this isn’t a full blown problem, and Yeoh is plays it to the hilt and seems to relish playing this version of the role but I’m bemused that I seem to be the only one that has picked up on this. And that’s potentially because the way it’s portrayed it isn’t actually an issue (which is why I say it’s “close”) but also maybe because all the complaints about the show are from people who don’t actually understand the importance of representation especially if they’re missing this one.

Again, not a huge issue, just an interesting one to observe as well as a huge missed opportunity. What we saw of Georgiou in those first two episodes is that she was a great Captain, an intelligent leader, and a compassionate mentor and for me at least the Prime Universe Captain Georgiou would’ve been a much more positive role model to have.

Klingons
The very first sneak peak we got of the Klingons featured in Discovery really did make me hesitant about this new series. Their new look was absolutely jarring and a massive departure from what we had seen before.

The leaked behind the scene image of Klingon extras on Discovery

But there is precedent for this: The gap between The Original Series and The Motion Picture (1979) was about 10 years and there was also a leap in the budget and so it was the perfect excuse to upgrade the Klingons for the big screen.

And over the course of 50 years, the Klingons have evolved in little ways depending on the production as well as maintaining a few consistent visual elements and designs.

Klingons over the years

So in theory I didn’t have a problem with the idea of updating the Klingons regardless of the era they’re being depicted in (again with high definition video you want to change things up so they hold up under that sort of scrutiny). The new skin tones, the more features that go beyond just the forehead, etc. But the extremity of change bothered me.

I understand that they are meant to be aliens and different from humans but I found them to be far too inhuman and monstrous. Keep in mind these are meant to be stand ins for types of allegorical personalities.

And that’s pretty much the heart of my personal issue. There are two ways to tell stories about race relations in a science fiction format like Star Trek:

  1. characters with subtle features that make any sort of prejudice based on them seem pedantic and frivolous.
  2. Making them so different so your characters can overcome and see past those differences.

In the past, Klingons were a stand in for the Soviet Union. As political antagonists they didn’t need to be vastly different to humans for the sake of story. In Discovery they are again the antagonists but this time with very familiar and harmful ideologies.

Having characters that look monstrous to match said monstrous philosophies undermines the notion of just how easy it is for your neighbour, your work colleague, your family members to also share in those ideas. It makes it a distant problem and a foreign concept you assume will never affect you. But it’s much closer than you think.

These new Kligons were designed by Neville Page and Glenn Hetrick of Alchemy Studios, although both are probably better known to TV viewers as two of the judges on the reality show Face/Off. And I loved their past work as well as their keen eye on the show. But seeing these Klingon designs at first made me lose some respect for the pair of them because I thought they were just way off the mark in their update.

That was until I got a hold of the Season 1 blu-ray. On the behind the scenes featurette, Page quotes a direction from (I’m assuming) Discovery co-creator and former showrunner Bryan Fuller (he left before production began):

“You’re always asked contradictory things: ‘I want to see something I’ve never seen before, yet it has to be familiar.’”

And that right there was familiar bullshit to me. As a graphic designer myself, I was all too familiar with this client request, which essentially means nothing and is more akin to said client simply wanting to add their mark in a process they are unfamiliar with when all they have to do is approve or not. So both Page and Hetrick are kinda off the hook in this one… for now at least.

By the end of season 1 I still didn’t “like” the designs but I think I did understand at least one reason for them to be as encompassing as they are.

One of the biggest twists in Discovery (of many) is the revelation that the new security chief Ash Tyler, whom Burnham had romantically fallen for, was actually the Klingon, Voq. One of T’Kuvema’s disciples, he underwent a horrific and painful experiential procedure where his body was surgically transformed and his DNA altered to resemble a human and become an embedded agent on the Discovery.

Ash Tyler/Voq played by Shazad Latif

I thought this was a very cool plot twist and I didn’t see coming (more observant folks than myself did though). But I submit that the heavy prosthetics being applied to the Klingons now may have been in service of hiding the actor’s identity so thoroughly (this plot twist also does a handy little connection and set up for one of the most beloved TOS episodes “The Trouble with Tribbles” where a Klingon spy is posing as a human).

Despite my distaste for the updated designs, I tolerated them. I still didn’t like them but it wasn’t until I watched season 1 a second time on blu-ray that I was able to pinpoint why:

Because they ACTED like Klingons.

I looked past the makeup and noticed all the pitch-perfect elements of Klingons we’ve come to love over the 50 years of the franchise. I genuinely mean that.

For all the talk we hear about honour (and there are plenty of Klingons who think and behave like Worf) most of it is just hot air. I love the Klingons but they’re mostly just blowhards twisting their core beliefs however they see fit with only a few examples of those walking the walk. And it’s PERFECT for this series especially with 24 warring houses all vying for top stop. The Game of Thrones comparison is thrown about as an insult but honestly it’s very apt for this portion of the storyline and I’m digging it.

Star Trek has always been dramatic and political, I mean it is literally about sovereign planets dealing with one another, so it’s not out of place here.

When it comes to their outfits, their general wear is okay if overly elaborate but they do convey the tradition lines of the outfits we’re used to. And there’s at least some variation between the houses (that variation exists between the make up design too). As far as the Klingon space suit goes I think it’s hideous and over designed. Another victim of the “need” for more detail but this time gone too far.

Kligon EV suit worn by ‘The Torchbearer”

Season 2 has gone some ways to tweak the look of the Klingons to incorporate their more familiar elements (again, listening to fan feedback). There’s even a throwaway line, although very much a hand wave, works well enough for me.

Season 1 finale
The end of seasons 1’s story arc ended in somewhat of a fizzler and yet when you examine it there’s good reason for it even if it could’ve been tweaked to be a tad more exciting.

After returning from the mirror universe, Discovery overshoots and ends up 9 months after they left. To their horror they discover that the war with the Klingons has not gone well in their absence and that they are nearly on Earth’s doorstep. Emperor Georgiou (saved and brought back to the Prime universe by Burnham in a moment of weakness) offers insight that leads to an idea where they infiltrate the cave system under the Klingon homeworld and map out all their defences. Stuff happens on the planet and they find out that the device they thought was to help map the homeworld is actually a hydrobomb that would cause a cataclysmic disaster on the planet, crippling the Klingons. The plan was approved by Starfleet.

There’s plenty of moralising by Burnham and the crew, even threats of another mutiny (nice bookend) unless the Admiral approves of a better less genocidal method. She does and they settle with handing over the device to L’Rell (another of T’Kuvma’s disciples and Voq’s lover and is a really great character by the way, most of them are) and let’s her use the bomb to threaten and get the 24 houses in line, which ends the conflict.

This solution feels like underwhelming considering the build up of energy but then again the talky solution is perhaps the most Star Trek thing ever instead of going the flashy, phasers blazing, ships blowing up spectacle we may have been anticipating. And I can live with that even if it is unsatisfying.

There’s also dealing with Burnham’s trauma in regards to Tyler/Voq revelation where he tried to kill her but I think they muddled that one up along the way. There’s conflicting arguments to be made that Tyler wasn’t the person that did those things but then both Burnham (and Stamets) are both victim’s of Voq’s actions and are entitled to feel the way they do but it’s just a bit of a mess.

Discovery was a good start
There was a lot that happened behind the scenes in the lead up to he launch of this new series. Co-creator Bryan Fuller’s original pitch was to create an anthology series where each season would focus on a different cast of characters in a different setting across the history of Star Trek. When CBS wanted a more traditional format because of the growing cost of such an idea he eventually stepped down but production continued without him.

The remaining showrunners and producers asserted that they tried retain as much as possible of Fuller’s original vision for this season. I can’t be certain but I am assuming many of the things I wasn’t a fan of may have come from him (Fuller was a Trek veteran having worked on past series as well as many other popular shows).

This may have lead to the inconsistencies and unevenness in the premiere season but honestly, despite this it’s a very solid and positive start. The show looked good and told a very compelling story all the while kept the core of what Star Trek is not the surface level superficiality of what people CLAIM Star Trek is.

Many of the complaints about Discovery are easily explained away of simply ignored as unimportant and even my own nitpicks aren’t deal-breakers.

There is a difference between providing feedback and complaining for the sake of it. A concept I’ve spent years trying to clarify for people that need it.

Over the course of 50 years Star Trek has meant different things to different fans. People are going to get personal about something they don’t click with and I understand that. But there seems to be a lot of effort by a small contingent of so called “fans” that are pouring their energy into tearing this down because they think it doesn’t conform with this skewed view of the franchise or the world itself.

It’s rather telling that folks are arguing that it doesn’t feel like the old shows and such. For a group of fans of a show that is all about looking forward, they do seem to be holding on to the past. And that’s very un-Star Trek.

Discovery isn’t perfect. It has its teething problems and need a chane to find its feet. But as the first new series in almost 15 years it has certainly earned its place in the franchise and is a worthy successor to Trek. It is good Star Trek.

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