Review/Rant: Star Trek: Discovery (Episodes 3&4)

As promised, I’m doing another review of ST:D. I honestly haven;t been looking forward to it, but seeing as episodes 3&4 are the true first episodes of this series, and there is so, so much wrong here as well. I don’t plan on reviewing the rest, though I may try and find and watch more on my own, via means I will not endorse, as I simply can’t peel my eyes away from the shipwreck in progress.

So, without further ado, on to Episode 3: Context is for Kings

We begin with Burnham, fittingly, in shackles, in a prison shuttle being transferred, along with three other prisoners who the show felt a need to be clear were violent racists (toward Andorians) so that we didn’t start liking them at all. It’s six months after the events of the previous episodes, and the war has been raging, with more than 8,000 Federation lives lost (including a relative of one of the prisoners, just to be sure that they are also antagonistic toward out main character. At least Burnham has some remorse about her actions, and apparently knows the exact number of deaths in the war.

Then, we have possibly one of the dumbest moments I’ve ever seen in a television show. So, the shuttle is flying, and there is some space phenomenon, some creatures or something that are attaching to their ship, and draining power, which could lead to them being stranded. Also, I think they are at warp at this point. After sending a message, the pilot (who, I will add, is the only person on the ship apart from the prisoners, for some stupid reason gets up and goes to clean the ship off. She does this without stopping the ship, by the way, which is even stupider if they were at warp (though, it’s possible they were in some space cloud.) She goes out, and immediately her tether breaks and she goes flying into space (somehow flying ahead of the ship). The prisoners (one of whom asks the good question of why a new ship like this was here, and not at the front line), cold, jaded Burnham aside, start to panic (did the idiot pilot not even put on the autopilot?), but luckily just then they are rescued by the ugly USS Discovery, which them in a tractor beam. (The pilot is never seen nor mentioned again.) Off to a great start!

Then, we meet the ship’s security officer, Commander Landry (Rekha Sharma)–who is credited as a guest star–who immediately refers to the prisoners as “animals.” Really. And here I thought Star Trek took place in some enlightened future, where humans treated each other better. STD!

After stating that they’ll be kept on the ship until arrangements can be made to get them to their destination prison, Landry and several other rifle-armed officers take them to the ship’s mess hall, where the prisoners are seated together only because the writers wanted us to see this next sequence. The prisoners get more antagnostic, and they decide to attack Burnham. After the security chief has her still rifle-armed officers (why not pistols? A regular phaser would probably be more effective here) chooses not to intevene, we get to see our Strong Female Character beat up all 3 of her opponents, two men and one woman. Because she know Vulcan martial arts. Ok.

Burnham is then taken, alone, by Landry to see the captain. We then meet Captain Gabriel Lorca, whose family used to be in the fortunate cookie business. No, I’m not going to elaborate on that. He just mentions it for some reason, and he apparently keeps a bowl of them on his desk. I guess they don’t get stale. He says he intends to have her work for him while she’s on the ship, and assigns her quarters with an actual crew member. He’s played up as very mysterious, with questionable motives, and I predict now that at some point in the show Burnham will have to mutiny against him when he goes too far.

At some point we also meet Burnham’s roommate, Cadet Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman), who is supposed to be quickly and endearing, but comes off as annoying and awkward. Also this first scene in their shared quarters is the first time we hear “black alert” called out. What is this, an edgier version of a “red alert?” There’s some weird liquid floating effect during this, but it doesn’t last long, and we’re not told what “black alert” means. For now, it’s stupid.

While it’s nice that the crew keeps giving Burnham sideways glances and glares, the fact remains that pretty much the entire crew is made up of jerks, because that’s modern, or something. Saru, now the first officer on Discovery, who has good reason to hate Burnham, is civil, but has some harsh comments of his own, and rebuffs attempts by Burnham to learn what’s really going on, as he should. She’s still a mutineer and a prisoner, after all.

She’s then brought to engineering, where she is assigned to crunch code for Lieutenant Stamets, the chief engineer, who is yet another, unpleasant, snippy crew member who refers to his own captain as “Lorca.” What a respectful guy. There are also a couple of weird, failed attempts at humor here, such as Stamets saying Burnham is as much a Vulcan as a member of a Beatles tribute band is John Lennon. 20th century pop culture references aren’t a Star Trek thing, and it only works in The Orville (which I will discuss at a later date) because it has a much lighter tone. Here, it feels completely off, as does a strange sequence where Burnham tries to find a station to work at, only to be told by tilly that they “have assigned seats,” after which Stamets specifically states “we don’t have assigned seats.” What is this, elementary school?

Later, we see her give the code back to Stamets (and some have noted that it appears to be in fact some sort of Microsoft Windows code), and sees him talking to another officer, Straal, on board the Discovery’s sister ship, the USS Glenn.  Still later, Burnham, suspicious, steals some of her roommate’s saliva in order to bypass a breath scanner to learn what they ship is studying. Yes, that happened, and yes, both the “breath scanner” and the method by which it was fooled are both highly dubious. We see that they’re growing some type of plant, or fungus, but don’t learn much more yet.

The next day, they discover the Glenn adrift, its entire crew dead. Lorca has Landry and Stamets form a boarding party the includes Burnham for some reason, which ends up being those three, the cadet, and a nameless security guard. In older Star Trek, yes, the main cast went down on the away missions, and yes, there were some issues raised with sending the highest officers on such missions. Here, the captain and first officer stay behind, but why are they bringing a a convicted criminal? They still treat her as one, by not giving her a weapon at first, and she doesn’t end up using any of her natural skills on the mission. And why send a cadet, who one would assume is inexperienced? Because important character.

So off they go, and on the way Burnham gets a bit more info from Stamets, and then he starts talking about how physics and biology are one and the same, or something like that. He also says that before the war, he and Straal only did research, which the fleet has now co-opted, and calls Lorca a “warmonger.” A great look, naming the white, southern captain a warmonger, very subtle. But I digress.

Then we come to Star Trek: Deadspace. And no, I’m not joking. The entire sequence aboard the Glenn feels right out of the Dead Space game series. It’s very dark, quiet, and there’s body horror everywhere, with the dead crew seemingly stretched grotesquely in death. This does not feel like Star Trek, and does not look like Star Trek. It feels like generic dark sci-fi. It’s downright unpleasant.

Also on the ship, the team finds a bunch of Klingon corpses, and Stamets states that he believes the Klingons arrived after whatever went wrong, and were trying to steal “the device”–which could lead to a Federation defeat. Then, a Klingond appears across the room. But it doesn’t shoot, rather “shush-ing” them. It felt very strange, and we get another failed attempt at humor when one of the team asks “did he just shush you?”

But any potentially interesting dynamic of them working with a Klingon against a common threat is lost when he’s immediately killed by a large beast. The team flees to the engineering bay, losing the nameless redshirt in the process, where they find Stamets’s friend Straal, also dead. Burnham volunteers to be a diversion for the beast, which seems to be immune to weaponsfire, and crawls through the jeffries tubes of the ship, with the beast somehow following (those things are supposed to be quite narrow), and then somehow manages to arrange to have the team move their shuttle directly below where she can drop out. Even if the Glenn is laid out the same way as Discovery, she can’t have learned the ship that well yet, and it really feels contrived. Also, why does she start reciting Alice in Wonderland while crawling for her life? We’re not going to get an answer, most likely. Oh, and she makes a patented superhero three point landing in the shuttle, which is a well known very bad way to land, especially after a long fall. But whatever.

Back on the ship, Lorca speaks with Burnham again, and gives her an offer to stay on the ship, without a rank, while her fellow prisoners are returned to prison. Now, Burnham decides to backtrack and not be a warmonger herself, alleging that he’s trying to create a biological weapon of some kind.

He assures her that he isn’t, and takes her back to the room she earlier broke into. He says that the technology they’re working on is spore based, but it’s not a weapon. They’re apparently developing some way to use them to travel instantaneously to anywhere in the universe, and he points out that it doesn’t have only military applications. (Of course, this is doomed to fail, as there is not mention of such a thing in later Star Trek.) The problems with prequels…

He then tries to be philosophical, and praises her actions in the previous episodes, more solidifying my belief that he will later “go too far.” There is a good line here, though. “Universal law is for lackeys. Context is for kings.”  It’s not in tune with classic Trek, but at least it’s interesting. Then, the episode ends with Lorca and Landry (who seem to be involved with each other?) observing the creature from the Glenn, which they are now keeping on the Discovery. More supervillain work.

And that’s it for that episode. I think I hated it more than the first two, because with the exception of Saru once again, there’s nobody likable on this ship and we’re going to be stuck with them. Also, we’re straying yet further from the tone and ideals of Star Trek. Even Deep Space Nine, which took many risks and had more gray morality, still felt like Star Trek. This does not.

Now, episode 4: The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry

We’ll conclude my detailed look at STD with the episode that tried very hard to win the “longest Star Trek episode title” award. In all honesty, this was the best episode so far, but calling it the least bad is more appropriate.

The biggest problem with this episode is the Klingon subplot, which I’ll go into separately from the rest of the episode, as it’s completely separate. Over on the sarcophagus ship (the one T’Kuvma and his cronies were on at the beginning of the show), six months have passed as well… and they’re still just sitting there, stranded, doing who-knows-what as their supplies dwindle. Voq, the albino Klingon, is finally convinced by his direct subordinate, a female Klingon named L’Rell, to go onto the still crippled Shenzou, which is also still there (remember that for later) and take its dilithium processor so they can fix their ship. Also, there seems to be an attempt to build a romance, or something. But any attempt to make the Klingons relatable or even interesting is made impossible by their difficulty speaking through the heavy makeup and the painfully long, slow Klingon dialogue. Just have them speak English. We’ll understand that they aren’t actually doing so. These scenes are borderline unwatchable.

Later, however, another Klingon ship finally comes back for them, commanded by one Kol, of the house of Kor (a name longtime Star Trek fans know well), who proceeds to bribe Voq’s entire crew away from him with food. Yes, really. Also, attempts at Klingon intrigue is ruined by them being boring and hard to understand. L’Rell, the seemingly devoted second in command to Voq, also betrays him, but convinces Kol not to kill her former commander, and that it’d be more fitting to strand him on the Shenzou to waste away. Kol buys this, and Voq is exiled there, but soon joined by L’Rell, who stole a small ship to come to him. (I assume this was from Kol’s ship, because if Voq’s crew really had a warp-capable shuttle or whatever, then their having been “stranded” is an even dumber plot point. L’Rell then tells him he can come to the matriarchs of her house, where he’d “have to sacrifice everything” and then presumably get revenge, either on the other Klingons or on Burnham, whose image he had stared at on a datapad on the Shenzhou. That’s all for that plotline for now; our main Klingon has been completely emasculated, and will likely be hellbent on revenge. How interesting. Oh, also we learn that during this six month period, the Klingons ate the body of Captain Georgiou. That really screams Star Trek, doesn’t it???

Back to our other unlikable crew, on the Discovery, we’re treated to a neat visual zoomout of Burnham’s uniform being replicated, and the computer needlessly reminds her that she has no rank. She then walks onto the bridge while they’re in the middle of some sort of battle drill (though it’s initially presented as a real attack for the audience.) The scene felt like a mess, with everyone on the bridge seeming to shout over each other, and the captain didn’t really seem like he was properly in command. They fail the test, and Lorca orders Saru, who arrived along with Burnham, to run yet more drills. They apparently need the practice, as once the spore drive thing is working, they’ll be the only ones with it and will need to be combat ready.

He then takes Burnham down to where the creature from episode 3, now named Ripper, is being held, and orders her to find a way to utilize it as a weapon–after last episode assuring her he wasn’t trying to create a biological weapon. Ok. Also, Commander Landry is sent as well, though she more seems there to criticize and attempt to undermine Burnham. Then, we get a gloriously dumb scene. Landry, already impatient, decides to try and knock out the beast, and cut off a claw for study. As one might predict, the gas or whatever didn’t knock Ripper out, and it immediately mauls Landry, killing her. I almost laughed, and instead settled for a slow clap as a tribute to the idiocy of this security chief. Were we supposed to learn something from this? Hell if I know. Burnham, however, starts to realize that the creature is drawn to the spores the ship is studying, and decides, in spite of all available evidence, that the creature has been acting in self-defense (she’ll be proven right, but it’s still a huge leap based on little info.)

Burnham then gets Saru to come visit her in the lab, under the pretense of trying to reconcile with him. However, what could’ve been a character development moment for our two (arguable) leads, we soon learn that Burnham is still a jerk, and merely using him. She wanted to see if his threat ganglia, which stand up when near threats, would activate when near the creature. Saru notes this as well, and has a great line that both shows what is wrong with this show and demonstrates that he deserves better. “I was wrong to question your place on the crew,” he tells her. “You will fit in perfectly with Captain Lorca.”

She is then determined that the creature is not aggressive, and, with Tilly present, opens the enclosure and approaches the creature with a “pilfered” tube of the spores (taking no safety precautions, I might add). It’s completely docile, and appears to consume the spores.

Long story short, we learn that the creature, a giant tardigrade, is the “supercomputer” key to making the teleportation drive (spore drive) work. Just as well, since the captain is demanding it be ready, in an unpleasant scene where Stamets talks back to his captain. We also get another scene where a character goes “we’re supposed to be scientists/explorers” before being shut down. Again, very Star Trek…the show is practically beating us over the head with the fact that this is not what we’ll be getting. Basically, they are the only ship that can save a key colony/dilithium mine that is under Klingon attack. So they transport the creature into a chamber with spores and a piece of tech recovered from the Glenn. The tech attaches to the creature (which doesn’t look happy–probably setting something else up for later on), but it does work (as opposed to an earlier attempt, in which they almost flew into a sun), and they teleport into battle, taking out a few ugly Klingon warbirds immediately before Lorca for some reason demands that they let the ship keep getting hit to let the other enemy ships close, despite having proved they could take them without a fancy trick. They then drop bombs, and warp out again, and it destroys the Klingons, after which we get a dumb moment of the colonists staring up and asking “who saved us?” Now, several major problems. The Discovery left without doing anything to ensure that their trick killed the remaining Klingons, or that there weren’t more ships nearby. Also, they did not do anything to provide post-battle aid to the colony. Really? To compare this to The Orville, again, in the most recent episode they too save a colony ,but take the time to send an aid team afterward. That’s what Starfleet would do! I’m just getting tired of this.

A few more notes on the episode. At some point, Burnham receives a trunk with the last will & testament of Captain Georgiou. Once she decides to open it, it’s an heirloom telescope, that looks like the one used in episode 1. This causes a major problem ,however. To have this, someone must’ve gone back to the battle zone to get it. If Starfleet ships did so, did no one, over 6 months, ever think to examine the disabled, massive Klingon ship?? I can’t buy that, not one bit.

Also, there’s a bizarre moment when, in mentioning aviation/technology pioneers including the Wright Brothers (Orville!) and Zephran Cochrane, who invented the warp drive, the show bizarrely throws in Elon Musk’s name. It felt really out of place, and not simply because Musk has yet to make any development of that importance. Maybe he will, but this really felt forced. Maybe he gave the show money.

The last note is the blatant nostalgia “I know what that it!” pandering that’s been evident since episode 3, beyond the obvious Klingons, etc. Specifically, I spotted a tribble on Lorca’s desk, and there’s a Gorn skeleton in his office as well. It really is awful, blatant pandering, and it’s not working on me.

 

Ok, some final thoughts. I will likely still follow it, just to watch the shipwreck in action, and to see if it does get any better. As I said, episode 4 was the least bad so far, but that isn’t saying much. And while it could get better, we’re saddled with a ship full of unlikable people, who are all snide and sarcastic, and talk back to their superior officers. Very “edgy,” but not at all Star Trek. The unfiromrs, or specifically, the badges, at least the gold one, are growing on me a bit, but the continuity issue is still there, in many respects with the uniforms.

Now, I must also briefly address two things that might redeem this dark, edgy Star Trek show. One would be if this was set in the Mirror Universe, but there is no evidence to support that at all. The second is that this is a Section 31 thing (Starfleet’s unethical black ops). The problems here are first that it can’t be an origin story for it, as Star Trek: Enterprise covered that, and again, there is no evidence yet that this is the case. But even if it is, it is still not the Star Trek fans fell in love with. Section 31 stuff worked in DS9 and ENT because it was unusual, and we saw the contrast between them and the real Starfleet. A whole show focused on that is not an enticing concept–assuming that it is even the case at all. But I’m tired of writing about this, so I’m calling this marathon concluded.

I had no desire for this to be bad, truly, but I have to call a spade a spade. I’d much rather have multiple good sci-fi shows to watch. But this is bad, plain and simple.

In summation: This is not Star Trek, doesn’t look like Star Trek, and doesn’t feel like Star Trek.

Go watch The Orville (which I will talk about soon) instead. That is the true successor to Star Trek, however strange that may seem.

And, if you want to check out an interesting, exciting space opera story, check out my debut novel, A Greater Duty. The sequel will be dropping in November. Also, if you sign up for my mailing list, you will get, in addition to important updates, a free novelette, as well as more free short fiction on a hopefully regular basis.

Next time, a much more fun post.

 

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