Before we begin a warning, this is NOT an attempt to bash or insult any fans of “Discovery”, Trekkies or otherwise, so if you genuinely like “Discovery” in spite of—or even because of—the reasons I don’t, then by all means, don’t let me stop you. This is just a rant on why I don’t like it not a personal attack on you or what you like or don’t like.
Now then, on with the rant.
This is the first and the biggest offender in my book. “Discovery” is set ten years before the Original Series, specifically two years after the events of the original, unaired pilot episode “The Cage”. Now part of the reasons I dislike this point is also why I have a general dislike of prequels: they always run the risk of contradicting themselves.
A prequel, by its very nature, is supposed to introduce new characters and stories into a preexisting universe, but of course when you set your new characters and stories before every other story this creates a problem in that you, as a writer, want show new things but—at the same time—have to be careful of not stepping on any toes by contradicting something that was already created before. This was part of the reason that the sequel trilogy to “Star Wars” wiped the slate clean once Disney bought LucasFilm (there’s a whole other rant for that one), the reason being that they wanted to allow new writers to create new stories without becoming bogged down by characters, stories, and events that had come before.
In this “Discovery” this contradiction comes primarily in the form of Michael Burnham, who despite us having never heard of her before, is somehow solely responsible for Spock becoming the character we all know and love and in some ways is portrayed as this almost-messianic figure (but more on that later). Another example of this is the “spore drive”, which again, if this technology is so powerfully—virtually magic apparently—then why have we never heard anything about it before?
This second point goes for most of technology seen in “Discovery” in general; ships with ordinary warp drive can cross vast distances in minutes instead of the hours or days that we were shown before in previous Trek series, replicators—which weren’t really seen in the Original Series to begin with—look and act more like modern 3D printers, complete with nifty laser-like beams that sweep across the empty air to create something. Now part of this may be simple artistic license but it’s still bothersome.
Discovery is even shown to have a holodeck and people frequently communicate using holograms ala Star Wars, despite the Next Generation pilot episode “Encounter at Farpoint” clearly stating that this was new technology. Also is the presence of the largely-background character Lt. Airiam, who is described as having been critically injured in a crash and was saved due to various cybernetic enhancements, which—again—if this technology was already around then why was Captain Pike trapped in a wheelchair unable to speak or otherwise move when we saw him in “The Menagerie”? Now sure, one could argue that Airiam’s injuries were vastly different from Pike’s (hers were the result of a crash whereas Pike’s were caused by a massive dose of radiation) but again, it flies in the face of preexisting notions about what can and can’t be done in Star Trek, especially since Pike was shown as being largely-confined to a room at a starbase whereas Airiam is a bridge officer on the frontlines of a major war.
The technology as a whole on “Discovery” is very ‘flashy’, you don’t just put on your spacesuit helmet, No! That’s too boring! Instead it folds up and over your head like cloth in a show of rather expensive and ultimately unnecessary CGI. It seems like every piece of technology on Discovery is overly-complicated, and while I as a general rule don’t have anything against CGI, there is always that issue of overdoing it. As they say: “don’t reinvent the wheel”.
Part of what makes this an issue is, again, the fact that “Discovery” is a prequel, because all the technology and such looks so advanced it makes the Original Series look even more dated and old-fashioned by comparison, which isn’t a good idea if you want to attract those older fans.
Another problem is the aesthetic, the ‘look’ of the show, part of this is because many of the set designers, VFX teams, et cetera, came over from JJ Abrams’ Star Trek movies, so as a result, the show shares many similarities with the Kelvin timeline movies in terms of its design, such as phasers firing bolts of energy rather than the straight beams that we’ve seen before and photon torpedoes being shown as blue bolts instead of red.
And then there are the new look for the Klingons, which makes no sense at all, there was nothing wrong with the Klingon makeup before so why bother changing it? As the old saying goes: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” (somehow I get the feeling I’ll being say that a lot as we go on here)
Even the uniforms are affected by this, rather than looking like the familiar gold, red, and blue of Kirk’s time, they instead look more like track suits, with the series’ costume designer, Gersha Philips, stating that the classic TOS uniforms were ‘great’ but that they don’t ‘resonate anymore’, this is part of the general trend that “Discovery” takes in attempting to ‘modernize’ Star Trek, which I’ll cover later.
Ah, yes, now we come to the writing. Oh where to begin? Well, firstly let’s start at the beginning, namely the opening two episodes “The Vulcan Hello”/“Battle of the Binary Stars”. Despite the show being called “Discovery” we aren’t introduced to the title ship until the third episodes, instead, we are first shown the crew of the U.S.S. Shenzhou, captained by Philippa Georgiou (played by Michelle Yeoh). In this two part opener, we encounter the Klingons, who apparently the Federation hasn’t encountered in a long while (eleven years since their last meeting apparently), the Klingons are now led by a reactionary leader, T’Kuvma, who feels that the Federation is a threat to the Empire on a cultural level, arguing that the Federation will eventually eradicate the Klingon way of life and rallies his follows with the slogan “remain Klingon”.
After Michael Burnham is sent in a spacesuit to investigate a strange object by a Federation communications rely, she encounters a Klingon warrior in a spacesuit and inadvertently kills him. After being rescued she and Captain Georgiou argue over the best course of action, Georgiou wants to open a dialog with the Klingons whereas Burnham believes that they must display a show of force in order for the Klingons to respect them as equals, citing the first contact between the Vulcans and the Klingons, where after one of their ships was destroyed by the Klingons, the Vulcans established a policy of shooting first at any Klingon ship they came across (the ‘Vulcan hello’ alluded to in the episode’s title).
When Georgiou isn’t convinced, arguing that “Starfleet doesn’t fire first”, Burnham tries to knock her out with a Vulcan neck pinch and tries to order the Shenzhou’s crew to do just that, only for Georgiou to have her arrested and charged with mutiny. Once the Klingons open fire, the ship is crippled and rescued by another Starfleet ship, the U.S.S. Europa, which tries to open a dialog with the Klingons who at first seemingly agree, only to attack and destroy the Europa.
Burnham, having been given a pep talk by Sarek through a mind meld and escaped from the brig, meets with Georgiou and they decide that the best way to stop this whole mess is to capture T’Kuvma alive, as killing him would make him a martyr. Disabling the T’Kuvma’s ship with a photon torpedo warhead hidden in the body of dead Klingon, the two women beam over and fight their way through T’Kumva’s goons only for T’Kumva to get the upper hand and fatley stab Georgiou, resulting in Burnham killing him.
Beaming back over to the Shenzhou, Burnham and the crew evacuate the ship and the episode(s) end with Burham before a tribunal being charged and convicted of mutiny and sentenced to prison.
OK, recap over, now let’s dissect what is wrong with all of this. First, the new Klingons, T’Kuvma and his follows feel that the Federation will slowly destroy their culture and way of life, which would make a good story by itself, however the writers of “Discovery” have admitted that the Klingons are meant to be a stand in for Trump and his supporters, not only is this just lazy writing, but it’s also a surefire way of alienating at least half of your potential viewership.
Next, the Klingons are shown having burial rituals, even covering their ship with an armor made up of coffins and they collect the dead bodies of killed warriors from space, which is how the Shenzhou disables their ship by using one of the dead bodies as a booby trap. Firstly, the Next Generation episode “Heart of Glory” the Enterprise picks up a group of Klingons, when one of the group dies Dr. Crusher asks if there is anything she should do with the body, the response is that the body is ‘just an empty shell’ and that she can ‘do what you will’ with it and various other episodes of Next Generation and Deep Space Nine further this aspect of Klingon culture, so it seems odd that they would reverently collect their dead and bury them. Now of course one could argue that this is because the T’Kuvma and his followers are part of one sect of Klingons who follow different practices, but nothing in the show seems to suggest this.
T’Kuvma also seeming agrees to a cease fire only to break it seconds later and destroy the U.S.S. Europa. This kind of backhanded tactic doesn’t fit in the with honorable Klingon mindset that we’ve seen before.
Another issue is that Captain Georgiou agrees to—even suggests—the idea of using a body as a booby trap, it isn’t Burnham who suggests this reprehensible act, it’s her captain, the same woman who argued that Starfleet doesn’t fire first, so apparently Starfleet doesn’t fire first but they do booby trap corpses. Sure, makes perfect sense.
Finally is the issue of starting your series with a war and having your main character being convicted of mutiny. First this flies in the face of canon, the Original Series episode “The Tholian Web” has the Enterprise encounter the derelict U.S.S. Defiant, beaming over Kirk, Spock, and Chekov find that the crew seems have killed each other. When Chekov asks if there’s ever been a mutiny onboard a starship before, Spock answers no. Not ‘no, not in recent years’ or ‘no, not without reason’ just a straightforward ‘no’.
Secondly, this is also just bad writing. As the audience, we’re unable to feel any sympathy for Burnham’s actions because we don’t know anything about her yet. Part of the reason why the Dominion War arc on Deep Space Nine worked so well was because the show didn’t start with the war, instead they built up to it. That way when the characters that we’d come to know and love did things that were out of character it was so shocking.
But because Burnham does this just after we’ve met her, it makes it hard for the viewer to connect with her, and if anything makes her feel like the villain of the show rather than the hero.
Another issue is Sarek and Burnham having a nice chat across several light-years telepathically. While Vulcans were shown to experience telepathy across vast distances before it wasn’t so clear, the Original Series episode “The Immunity Syndrome” has Spock collapse upon feeling the collective shock and surprise of an entire ship of Vulcans just moments before their deaths. Spock can’t actually talk to them individually, or even know ‘how’ or ‘why’ they died, just felt their collective shock.
The character of Michael Burnham is one of the biggest problems I have with the show, especially with her being Spock’s hereto-unheard of before foster sister is another issue. Firstly it adds nothing of significance to her character, she could have easily have been a Human raised by Vulcans without the connection to Spock and no one would have cried foul, in fact it might have avoided the accusations that she is a Mary Sue by letting the character stand on her own without needing the support of a preexisting character (a fan favorite at that) to somehow ‘justify’ her existence.
Because of her connection to Spock the character swiftly evolves into a total Mary Sue in just a few minutes. She knows all the answers, she’s always right; her conviction for mutiny is completely overturned due to the war, even though that one act was an almost-direct cause for the war itself, and more experienced officers such Captain Pike turn to her for advice on everything.
Also is the public existence of Section 31, first introduced in the Deep Space Nine episode “Inquisition” in that episode Section 31 is described as predating the Federation itself and later episodes explain that they have no official headquarters and instead operate on a cell structure like many modern terrorist groups, in short they’re depicted as a ‘shadow government’, a cabal of Federation members who operate outside the law and do whatever they feel is right in order to ‘safeguard’ the Federation.
In Discovery, by contrast, Section 31 is not only apparently public knowledge, but they seem to be part of the regular command structure of Starfleet, they even have nifty black badges that they can show to people to let them know who they are. They also have a headquarters and even their own fleet of ships.
Finally, in an extremely lazy example of writing, during the season two finale, Spock suggests that Starfleet cover up the existence of Discovery, the spore drive, and its crew under penalty of treason. This doesn’t work because that would also mean censoring the families of the crew who obviously are wondering where their loved ones have gone to as well as all the technicians who worked on the ship. And what about the Klingons? Are we supposed to believe that they agree to this massive cover up? With their enemies?
The whole war with the Klingons is another issue too. The show seems to portray an inconsistent version of the war. On the show itself it looks like the Federation is on the verge of collapse any day now, with the Klingons menacing Earth even, yet according to statements made by the producers and winters the death tolls are much smaller than what we’ve seen on the screen, as if it’s more of the acts of a small group of terrorists rather than an entire species dedicated to our complete and utter destruction.
Then there’s the ‘Easter eggs’ they insist on putting in. these references to the Original Series and Star Trek in general don’t come off as ‘cute in-jokes’ to me, instead they feel more like an increasingly-desperate attempt to shoehorn the show into the franchise. Take the character of Harry Mudd, the classic con man and swindler who gave Kirk a headache. In his second appearance on “Discovery” (played by Rainn Wilson of “The Office” fame) he traps the ship in a time loop in an attempt to find and sell the secret of the spore drive to the Klingons. Now, while at first glance this sounds like a very Harry Mudd like thing to do, instead Harry’s shown to gleefully kill members of the crew over and over again as the loop goes on.
Harry Mudd was many things, but never a murderer, especially not so cold blooded at that. But wait you say! In “I, Mudd” he was willing to abandon Kirk and crew on a planet. Yes, yes, he was but it was a planet populated by androids who catered to your every whim, so it wasn’t like he was abandoning them on a planet with no food or supplies.
Ultimately, “Discovery” annoys me because its writers and producers don’t seem to know anything about what they’ve been given the reigns to. They all talk about ‘modernizing’ the franchise, they also constantly talk about trying to get the youth demographic, as if the 18-25 year olds won’t be interested in watching a fifty year old franchise because its fifty years old.
Well let me tell you something, Star Trek has NEVER been about trying to cater to one and only one demographic, that’s part of its whole appeal, the stories could be viewed by anyone of any age or generation or political affiliation, there was something for everyone.
Anyway, that was my rant. I’m done now! If you've gotten this far I congratulate you, if you don't agree with me that's fine, that's your prerogative, it you do agree with me, that's also good
Thanks for listening to me rant