Star Trek: Discovery s1 part b

*SPOILERS*

Whether it’s due to the sophistication of audiences nowadays, a series of wildly lucky guesses or a less than airtight set, there’s no getting around the fact that the main shocks and surprises in this latter half of Discovery’s first season were neither shocking nor surprising to many of us, because the good people of the internet guessed them all long ago.

From the minute we met him, people were speculating that Lorca might be from the Mirror Universe. From his first day on the Discovery, people thought Ash Tyler might be a Klingon , and they worked out pretty quickly after that which Klingon he was. Even “I think Phillipa Georghiou’s the Emperor of the Mirror Universe!” was on comment threads almost as soon as we heard there was an Emperor of the Mirror Universe. So when one of the characters in Discovery’s second-last episode blithely announced that “No one could have predicted this!” my immediate reaction was: “But everybody did!”

Is that a bad thing? As consolation for the missing element of surprise, we did, after all have the excitement and the vindication of seeing the pieces fall into place just as we suspected they would, and the show definitely picked up the pace in the post-Christmas run (as if they knew we knew, so there was no point in making us wait), with the stakes and the speed escalating in thrilling and satisfying fashion. It was a great run of episodes and I really enjoyed it. But it wasn’t without its problems.

Lorca’s 180 degree shift from maverick pragmatist to murderous lunatic was a little too much of a jump for me for a start. Yes, I know the Capt Lorca we thought we knew was a lot less cuddly (in one sense, anyway, not the other – I mean, dude was hot) than most of our previous Star Trek captains, but given how long he spent and how successful he was at posing as a relatively sane, reasonable person, I could have bought the story a bit more easily if he’d wanted to challenge Emperor Georghiou for Federation-type Kum Ba Yah reasons of peace and equality, rather than garden variety megalomania. The Tyler/Voq conundrum was, by contrast, much more believable – Shazad Latif was great, Ash’s pain and confusion as his two personalities battled each other was palpable, and Tilly taking that first step to sit with him once Voq had been “subdued” made me cry. I love Tilly. And I love Tyler. Sending the de-Voq’d Tyler off with his PTSD and the architect of his agonies L’Rell at the end was both disappointing (does this mean he won’t be back for season 2? Or that we’ll have to sit through more endless scenes of people pretending to speak Klingon if we want to see Tyler at all?) and daft, though: his touchy-feely Federation pals struggled enough with how to deal with him, I really can’t see the Klingons being quite so kind. And if Tyler’s access to Voq’s memories was useful to Starfleet in trying to defeat the Klingons, it doesn’t take a Stamets-level genius to work out that the Klingons might want to use Tyler’s access to his own memories in trying to defeat Starfleet. After all, the war might be over for now, but it’s never completely over with the Klingons, whether they’re united under L’Rell or not.

The war did seem to end a little easily, too, though, now I mention it. NuGeorghiou gadding about like a space bandit, toting her secret McGuffin around, while she and the rest of the very obviously human away team somehow managed to stroll around the Klingon homeworld without being shot on sight. Mary Sue Burnham instantly achieving intergalactic peace after months of war and the death of billions by saying “here’s a bomb, go sort peace” to the incredulous L’Rell. And Stamets suddenly being absolutely fine. I mean, his boyfriend was murdered, he was hooked up to the universal equivalent of the national power grid crossed with Google maps, and his brain went completely, electro-tastically haywire, but never mind all that, he’s just dandy now, cheers!

And if the ending of the war was a little too easy, the ending of the season was a little too cheesy. It’s not enough that Burnham is Spock’s sister, and Spock’s parents are significant characters in the show, now Captain Pike and the Enterprise have rocked up too. Guys. Look, I get it. It’s a cute idea. Long-time fans will be excited by having yet another link to the original series. But there are supposed to be billions of people and scores of star systems in the United Federation of Planets. Does everybody need to know or meet someone from the USS Enterprise? This isn’t continuity, it’s using the show’s canon as a crutch.

Sigh. This is all sounding somewhat negative for a run of episodes I actually really liked, even if I didn’t entirely love the way they ended. Discovery’s first season didn’t start well for me, either, in fairness. By the third episode though, it won me over, and by the Christmas break I was hooked. Michael, in spite of or perhaps because of her impeccable Trek pedigree, irritated me throughout, but the brand new characters who weren’t in any way connected to or trading on previous Trek lore – Lorca, Saru, Tilly, Tyler and Stamets – were spiky, intriguing and different, and I loved watching them navigate their way through this darker, deeper, dirtier, and infinitely more diverse, chapter of the Trek pantheon. The Klingons were… mercifully less prone to long scenes with subtitles as the season progressed. And the ship itself was gorgeous.

I wasn’t sure when I started watching if there was life in tv Trek yet, but on the strength of this series, there absolutely can be. I’m hoping season two will focus more on people who aren’t related to Spock – I mean, I really like Spock, but give the guy and his relations a break; at this point, I honestly wouldn’t be surprised to see his Auntie Mary and his first cousin Hilda turn up – and look honestly at the consequences of the war and the need to rebuild, with some cool space fights and a load of beaming up and down in between. And if there’s anyway we can get Tyler and Lorca back (are we sure the Starfleet one is 100% dead?), I’d be more than happy with that too. Either way, see you next season, Discovery. It’s been fun.

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Public Service Announcement 4 of 2018: Star Trek: Discovery

Since tonight seems to be wall-to-wall cop shows, it’s probably a good time to remind ourselves that there’s still some tv out there which doesn’t involve car chases and folk asking “What do you got?”. Yes, those of us who enjoy a space ship and an intergalactic battle or two instead, or perhaps in addition, are in luck: with the holiday hiatus firmly over, the first season of Star Trek: Discovery resumes on Netflix UK tomorrow (Monday), with each weekly episode showing less than 24 hours after its US premiere. (Once again, well done to Netflix for not keeping us waiting.)

After a disappointingly plodding start, the show found its footing in episode 3 and by the end of the first half of the season, I was pretty much hooked, albeit I’m much more interested in the supporting cast in the form of Lorca, Tyler, Tilly and Stamets, than the purported (deeply annoying) lead character, Lt Michael Burnham. Burnham doing my head in notwithstanding, though, the show is much, much better than I thought it was going to be after those first two episodes, so if you gave up at that point – and who can blame you? – it might well be worth giving it another chance.

Star Trek: Discovery s1 ep 3

And this is why you shouldn’t waste two episodes and a load of potential audience goodwill on a 90 minute “prologue.”

After the opening double-bill, I was very close to giving up on Star Trek: Discovery entirely, but a chance conversation with a friend who told me the third episode was completely different, and the new Star Trek was great, give it another chance, persuaded me otherwise, and what do you know? He was right.

Never mind all that self-indulgence last week, this is where the story actually begins and it’s suddenly starting to look a lot more like one worth telling. After six months in prison, a far more subdued, far more humble, and far less annoying Michael Burnham suddenly finds herself on board the very shiny, very impressive-looking Discovery and the first person she encounters is the sardonic, very unimpressed Commander Landry who is taking none of her crap. This is a recurring theme throughout the episode: no longer the cool kid, Burnham is regarded with suspicion, distrust and naked animosity by everyone on board, except the incredibly cheerful Cadet Tilly who idolises her, and the enigmatic Captain Gabriel Lorca who knows just how to use her to get what he wants.

Forget the wide-eyed optimism and faith in humanity of so many of the previous iterations, this is a very different type of Trek: the Federation is at war, the people are angry and tired, and Lorca and his crew are up to something they very probably shouldn’t be. The full import of their experiments isn’t apparent yet but, given the carnage caused this week, and Lorca’s conviction that “universal laws are for lackeys” and “context is for kings,” it’s all looking very, very shady.

As Lorca, Jason Isaacs is perfectly cast; his Captain is relaxed, attractive, commanding, charismatic and likely completely ruthless – the kind of guy you know is bad news, but you end up falling for anyway. Watch your step, Burnham. And as far as the rest of the cast is concerned, Mary Wiseman’s Tilly, Doug Jones’s Saru and Rekha Sharma’s Landry are all intriguing, and much more fun to spend an episode getting to know than a bunch of folk pretending to yell in Klingon.

Rather than all that faffing around last week, then, this is the episode they should have started with. Better late than never, though – Discovery looks good again, so I’m back on board.

Star Trek: Discovery s1 eps 1&2

As Jed said a couple of days ago, we don’t believe in the concept of guilty pleasures around here. If you like something on tv, why apologise for it? So, while I’m not one for conventions and costumes, I won’t be apologising for liking a spot of Star Trek with my tea over the years. (The Next Generation, currently celebrating its 30th birthday, is my JAM.) On the flipside, though, I’m not going to apologise for being somewhat underwhelmed by the latest addition to the Trek canon, Star Trek: Discovery, either.

Not so much new Trek as a rehash of every Trek plot point and character beat you’ve ever seen or heard, this is Star Trek-by-numbers in all but two respects. Firstly, the lead character is an African-American woman, which is long overdue and would be even better if there was anything new or different about her other than the colour of her skin, but since Michael Burnham is that special mix of maverick, melodramatic, headstrong and suicidal/idiotic levels of noble we’ve all seen a trillion times before, she is hard to root for. And secondly, the structure of the season is just weird – despite the title, there’s no sign at all of the actual Starship Discovery in the first two episodes. Instead they apparently function as a prologue with the story proper starting next week. Dudes. 80-ish minutes of prologue is a bit excessive, especially when 40-ish minutes of that seems to involve actors manfully, haltingly, and unconvincingly trying to pretend that Klingon is their first language. I’m sure we all appreciate the attention to detail but, for Picard’s sake, just let them speak English and put them out of their misery.

Would that those were the only issues, though. To compound the problem, far too much of the first episode was dull set-up or backstory, with the majestic Michelle Yeoh having little to do beyond twinkle indulgently and everybody else just waiting for things to kick off. And sure, take off things eventually did, which meant that episode two, since it featured a giant space battle and loads of expensive special effects getting blown to smithereens, was infinitely better, but still. I imagine I’m supposed to like Michael Burnham, but I don’t. I imagine I’m supposed to care about the secret history of Klingon vs Federation hostilities, but I don’t. And I imagine I’m supposed to want to see more of the same but… you get where I’m going with this.

Star Trek: Discovery is undeniably beautifully, lovingly realised – somebody who understands the franchise’s history and importance has spent galaxies-worth of cash on bringing this latest iteration to life, and, based on these two eps at least, there will be a lot here for Trek fans who don’t mind the sameness of it. Unfortunately, unless the rest of the series is very different, and Michael gets a lot more interesting and a lot less cliched, I don’t think there’ll be much in in it for me.