– By J.W. Fox –
WARNING: SPOILERS FOR SEASON ONE FINALE
Discovery ended the first season largely the way it began, as a tribute to aggression. It is so foreign from the rest of the Star Trek franchise I truly wonder if the writers ever watched the earlier shows. If they did, they clearly did not understand them. Discovery sees its predecessors as boring and nerdy, desperately in need of being reshaped to appeal to the “hip” millennials whose attention spans are getting shorter and shorter (I know no one says hip anymore, those are sarcastic quotation marks). They might have succeeded in appealing to a new audience but did so by gouging out the soul from Star Trek. The show should drop the pretext of being Star Trek and simply call itself Discovery.
Star Trek was often educational as well as entertaining. That didn’t result in awesome ratings or box office success for the movies, but it successfully carved out its own unique niche and built a zealous fan base. It influenced popular culture, becoming familiar to millions who probably did not watch the show much, if at all. It inspired millions of kids for decades, not to be superheroes, but to become scientists, engineers, astronauts, diplomats, philosophers, and teachers.
So much for being inspirational.
The lesson of the first few episodes was one of preemptive attack. The Vulcano Hello, where one attacks a Klingon ship first when encountered, is presented as the solution to the war and the battle of the Binary Star (horrible name considering there are thousands of binary stars in our galaxy). Burnham’s family was killed by Klingons, giving her bias in her view of Klingons. They are barbarians and should not be treated like other advanced races. Sarek conveniently gives her a solution to the standoff at the Binary Star that fits her original plan: attack.
In the end, it doesn’t matter. T’Kuvma wanted to start a holy war. A Vulcan Hello would have prevented nothing. Only a reactionary, thoughtless preemptive strike on the ship of the dead before the beacon was lit could have possibly prevented the war. This is as anti-Federation concept as you will find. They do not teach you strength is more important than intelligence at Starfleet Academy.
The first season continues its examination of war without much insight, demonstrating one senseless act of aggression after another. Captain Lorca, who struck everyone as the most anti-Federation captain of all time, turned out to be from the mirror universe. That explained a few things but not everything. What was more troubling is his tactics often worked in saving the Discovery and turning the war in their favor.
The Discovery‘s trip to the mirror universe shows them a laughable evil version of themselves: the Terran Empire. As in the original series and DS9, the Terran Empire are bad guys who are bad for the sake of being bad. They give the Nazi salute, threaten and attack one another constantly. Their dialogue is better suited for WWE Smackdown. How such a culture could develop the means to destroy rival races is a mystery.
Fear and violence are the ultimate tools of motivation and, as it turns out, the path to victory. The show, once again, confirms this by appointing Emperor Georgiou as the new captain of the Discovery upon their return from the mirror universe. She proposes the plan to end the Klingon onslaught: blow up their home world. In the end, Burnham prevents the plot, only to turn and hand the super-weapon to L’Rell. For some reason, she chooses to stop prosecuting the war against the Federation, perhaps to spend her resources uniting the mindless Klingon royal houses. Once united, what is to stop her from resuming their war? No answer there. Why not blow up Earth then announce to the royal houses you can blow up Qo’noS?
In previous shows, the Klingons are indeed aggressive and often ignorant, but do have their code of honor. This is completely absent from the Klingons of Discovery. They are murdering, raping, pillaging barbarians. Their attacks are uncoordinated, meant more as sport and trophy-taking rather than a true invasion. Unless the Federation was hopelessly outmatched from the start, such disorganized and unfocused tactics should not have worked so well. If the show is going to be about war, someone in the writer’s room should have some knowledge of strategy and military history before concocting these unbalanced order of events.
Then there is the spore drive. It presents problems in the timeline, not to mention is utterly without basis in any known science. Historically, Star Trek makes incredible leaps in science, stretching our current understanding of the universe to its limit, and yes, sometimes venturing into straight fantasy. Still, there were some rules and some boundaries. There was an attempt at plausibility. Discovery gave it up with the spore drive, as well as a few other moments where it seems the rules don’t apply. As for the timeline, these extraordinary events all occur before the other series, which makes one wonder why none of the future ships and characters were aware of it.
Maybe it is a new timeline, just like the Kelvin timeline of the reboot movies. If so, it is another reason to drop Star Trek from the name. This isn’t the same universe and obviously is an entirely different species of science fiction. Best to call it something else.
The producers were obviously influenced by the more graphic and raw TV series that have been successful of late. The Walking Dead, Westworld, and American Gods come to mind. Many dramas have stepped up their violence, gore, and trauma since the last Star Trek series aired. Fearing they would be left behind, Discovery incorporates violence, gore, and character deaths exponentially more than any Star Trek before it. There is nothing wrong with adding some more adult content to a new drama but there was no need to go full Tarantino as they do in a few episodes.
It was also a little troubling to see Star Trek try to capture the young adult audience through dumbing down the dialogue and characters. The characters are noticeably less thoughtful and mature. While Tilly is a great character, she is obviously not a Starfleet cadet; she’s a stand-in for an overly anxious millennial in her new job. The mess hall scenes are all painfully obvious recreations of the high school lunch room. Neither fit well in a futuristic Starfleet setting.
The last and most troubling criticism I have is for the utter lack of philosophical themes. The principles of Starfleet are mentioned and sometimes explained in short exchanges but are otherwise absent from this show. Problems are solved through magic (spores) or aggression. Violence or the threat of violence are consistently more effective in this show, rather than cunning or thoughtful problem-solving.
What really confirmed it was seeing Admiral Cornwell still among the Starfleet brass when Burnham is giving her speech to the Academy. Obviously, her actions in delivering the WMD to Georgiou did not cost her her job. That stunning admission that her actions were deemed reasonable is what sealed this shows fate in the end.
Discovery cleverly tried to hook viewers by including the U.S.S. Enterprise in the season finale. I have to admit, it was intriguing but the show has established such a flawed foundation that I do not think nostalgia will save it. The writers clearly do not understand the Federation, the Prime Directive, or the aspirational appeal of the franchise. They’ve lifted the names, ships, and some of the events to apply to their own ends. Add in the fact it is also yet another prequel, and you have the least imaginative show in the franchise.
CBS put this show on its streaming service and ordered a second season before the first had reached the halfway point. In my opinion, this was a mistake. Discovery should either be cancelled or drop Star Trek from its name.
J. W. Fox is the Editor of Prescientscifi.com and author of two novels under the pen name Jacob Foxx: The Fifth World and the sequel The Fifth World: The Times That Try Men’s Souls. When he is not reading or writing science fiction, he works as a regulatory affairs consultant for small biotech companies in Raleigh, North Carolina.