When CBS announced that it would be launching it’s own “All Access” streaming platform, it barely registered for me. I couldn’t see spending money to stream episodes of “How I Met Your Mother”, or binging every season of “Everybody Loves Raymond”. That being said, my ears perked up at the news of a new “Star Trek” series set to air when the service debuted. I may be in the vocal minority in that I enjoyed “Enterprise”, while equally enjoying (most) of the more recent cinematic endeavors. I feel I can speak for most “Star Trek” fans in believing that the franchise works best on the small screen. From the pilot episode, all the way through the original series, I appreciated the bold attempt at approachable sci-fi “Star Trek” presented during the 60s. The show was episodic in its approach, with most issues being resolved by the end of its runtime, but through its linearity came a sociopolitical commentary that seems as much relevant now, as it was back then. Although Captain Kirk is a fossil by today’s standards, he and his crew represented what we could be… what we CAN be still. After cancellation and animated series, the original crew made the jump to the silver screen. From that point, we enjoyed six films with the original crew, four films with the TNG crew, with whom we got 7 wonderful seasons. We were also given at least two undisputedly amazing spinoffs and one subjectively good show. Sadly, after the polarizing reception of JJ Abrams “Kelvin Verse”, the franchise has become a mere footnote, when weighed against the success of the other “Star” franchise. To someone who fondly remembers watching the pilot episode of Star Trek TNG the night it premiered, the thought of Star Trek fading from the pop culture lexicon was maddening, so the news of a new series being developed was a highly appealing prospect.
As more news began to trickle down, the more concerned I became. Reports of the show taking place in the Prime (original) universe, coinciding with, or proceeding the original series, seemed as scandalous as it was dangerous. Alex Kurtzman had signed on for the show with a track record that was already a little rocky when weighed against the reception of the Abrams films he worked on. I remained open, as for me, I enjoyed two out of the three Kelvin Verse attempts and recognized that a slightly more action-heavy approach to support the narrative could bring in new fans. Hell, even the TNG crew attempted to inject more action into their second motion picture outing to great success. With modern CGI and set design, along with a competent writing staff, I waited patiently to see the result, as well as Star Trek’s triumphant return to the small screen.
I do not place that expletive there for shock value, but rather to share the moment where I mentally checked out of the first season. This expletive was dropped by a member of the Discovery Crew. Oh yes, the new show is called “Star Trek Discovery” and takes place before the five-year mission we followed with the TOS crew. Discovery also happens to be the name of the ship, where said crew member dropped the referenced expletive.
I’m no stranger to vulgar language, nor am I wholly against it, but I found it jarring to hear in a Star Trek show. Granted this show streams on a service, and not network television, where they are lax in regards to language, but still, this is Star Trek. I found myself going back every week, ridiculing the attempt at an edgier Trek, while secretly hoping the show would improve. I told all who would listen how abhorrent the show was while sitting on my couch every week wondering just what the hell they would butcher next. I wish I could say that the first season improved. It didn’t, at least for me. By the time the season finale had aired, the only thing I wished to “discover” was just how many people were actually tuning in to watch what I truly felt was garbage. I eventually found that data and was appalled. The people had spoken. This wasn’t your father’s Trek, and it surely wasn’t mine anymore either. It actually appeared to appeal to purists as well. My level of disgust remains unrivaled, yet, there was a twinkle of something I couldn’t fathom could possibly still exist within me. Hope. Hope for a second season to wash away the stench of the first. Placing nostalgia to the side, the first season of TNG wasn’t great. Patrick Stewart himself was so nervous about the show, that he refused to unpack his luggage for fear of being fired, throughout the whole first season! Sometimes shows need time to find their way. Sometimes that means unshackling themselves from the restraints placed on them, for where they fit in the overall narrative. That is what season two of Discovery attempted to do.
As I write this, I’m currently four hours removed from watching the season finale of season two. I’m still attempting to process of events that led us to that finale, as well as attempting to process exactly where I think it all went wrong. Avoiding spoilers for this piece, I’ll simply say that a few cast members for this season will be missed, regardless of my feelings about the overall show. I can acknowledge that what the finale attempted to do was bold, but from a narrative standpoint it felt like pandering to the complains levied against the series in the first place. It can easily be argued that stating dissatisfaction at pandering implies a “nothing is good enough for you” mentality, but here I’d argue that it was appreciated, but done poorly. One of the main driving forces behind Star Trek is its intelligence. Even if we’re dealing with pseudoscience, it’s at least packaged to us in an intelligent way. Save for a pothole or two from previous shows and films, Star Trek really isn’t known for having an abundance of logical lapses. Throughout the duration of the second season, I actually lost count of how many I found. The reliance on elevating the clear star of the show Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) bordered on the absurd. Just like the previous season, Discovery feels like the Michael Burnham show.. that just happens to feature crewmates. They made an attempt at breaking up the singular focus on her, by injecting the show with a bit of nostalgia in the form of Captain Christopher Pike, and even harken back to the pilot episode of TOS by revisiting Talos IV. However, none of the characters on the show are ever really allowed to shine on their own, without some connection or involvement of Michael Burnham. It can be argued that the same could easily be levied against TOS in regards to Captain Kirk, but that’s a lesson they learned from and remedied by the time of TNG. Even with TOS, trinity of Kirk, Bones, and Spock often incorporated the crew in matters that weren’t in some way solely about the captain. There was fear that Pike would become the new centerpiece of the show, but even he is outshined by the sheer gravitational pull of Michael. Luckily we get a small break in the Burnham-centric odyssey with the arrival of a conflicted Spock 🖖
This, however, doesn’t last, as we’re forced to witness almost everything we think we know about the character come unraveled, ending with him essentially stating he wouldn’t be the Spock we know without.. Michael Burnham. The main plot point involved “The Red Angel”, and what exactly it is. Many will no doubt figure out who the Red Angel is by the close of the fifth episode. The funny thing is, most will be wrong, ultimately to be proven right by the two-part season finale.
It’s within the final moments of the season finale that I felt something within me burn out. Something I couldn’t believe was still there, even after the first part of the two-part finale. As I watched crewmembers being debriefed by Starfleet personnel, I came to terms with an undeniable truth. My hope has died. The show can be fun if you don’t think too much about it. A flash in the pan really. It’s not a political show masked as a sci-fi series like the original. It’s not a show about proving humanities worth in the face of interdimensional armageddon like TNG. It’s not even a show about finding common ground and striving for redemption like DS9. It’s a show with a lot of explosions, a seemingly singular focus, that can gleefully drop the “F-bomb whenever it likes, due to being on a streaming service. It’s also a show that by its close, places it in a position to unshackle itself from every canonical constraint that it has, to a point where I fear whether you can call it Star Trek at all. Nobody can take the past works away. Just like with those who didn’t enjoy The Last Jedi, it doesn’t necessarily ruin the franchise, as all you need to do as a fan is watch the entries you like. I can’t promise I won’t be vocal in my disdain of Discovery vocally, but I’ll endeavor to be mindful of the fanbase it has generated. Still, I think I’ll enjoy watching. Star Trek reruns on Netflix, and perhaps give that. Everyone Loves Raymond” binge watch a try.
For now, Alex Kurtzman and co. can let me off at Starbase 11.