This...is...Star Trek?


Well, I really can't say that when I started this season of Star Trek: Discovery, I expected the main villain's reveal would culminate in an extended karate fight. And I don't say that as any kind of Star Trek devotee. I know more about the series than have seen actual episodes; I've put down a handful of selections from Next Generation's first season, and that's about it. Still — this is a series that has a reputation for being a bastion of thoughtful, at times even philosophical science fiction. So to see this first season's covert main villain engage in an extended fistfight at the culmination of his arc seems a little...out of place.

It's not always hard to see where Bryan Fuller's influence on the first season of Star Trek: Discovery ends and that of current showrunners Gretchen J. Berg and Aaron Harberts begins. The first half of the season makes it clear that Fuller's vision involved something close to an inversion of the franchise formula to date: rather than be a mostly episodic show with stretches of serialization here and there, Discovery would be a serialized show whose season-long arcs would still be driven by more or less episodic adventures. It's maybe seen most clearly in episodes like "Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad" and "Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum." Both are episodes that move the serialized story forward, but still act as installments with highly individual concepts and ideas within that larger structure. One of them is the "time loop episode." Another is "the one where Saru goes crazy." They each serve a purpose within the movement of the larger serialized arc, but also stand as self-contained episodes in their own rights.

That shit's pretty much over at this point.

We're in full-on serial mode now, and the unfortunate thing is that Star Trek seems to have all the thoughtfulness rung out of it as a result. We ended the previous episode with a pretty big reveal: Lorca was really the season villain the entire time. Whatever, though, because we're going to spend literally one episode with him in this new status before he's killed. That's it. He'll talk a little about racial purity and more secure borders (subtle as hell guys, seriously), get duped into thinking the hero of the piece has given herself up and joined him to rule the galaxy together as father and son (gruggghhhh), then be summarily killed after the aforementioned extended karate fight (forreal). All in all, it's pretty ridiculous, if not fun to watch go down. And that previous sentence is a pretty decent way to sum up the entire series: Star Trek: Discovery has been fun, if only because the plotting has been bombastic and crazy...but any kind of thoughtful approach makes it immediately apparent how little any of these beats are actually earned. The season's early episodes certainly lay the groundwork for some complicated moral fabric and character depth, but that all seems to go out the window in favor of the "holy shit!" plotting preferred by the season's back half.

The decision to trap the Discovery in the Mirror Universe has been a pretty cool one, if empty in its exploration of the themes that naturally present themselves in this kind of scenario. It makes the entire Lorca reveal feel completely wasted, because none of the thematic implications are explored whatsoever.

Lorca stands as an interesting philosophical foil to the Federation — even before the big reveal, his ideals clashed with those of a typical Federation captain, giving his character an immediate amount of depth. The reveal that he was from the Mirror Universe all along doesn't just undo all of that depth, Discovery fails to create any out of the new context it creates. His delusional ideas that he represents a living embodiment of fate don't go anywhere worth mentioning beyond making note of another missed opportunity, and his relationships with both Burnham and Georgiou are simply mentioned as being important but are never explored or given more screentime beyond lip service. 

Discovery forgoes all of this in favor of action sequences. There's a pretty rad-looking sequence where Lorca ambushes Georgiou, whose team has a cool force field and some automated turrets. The climactic sequence where the Discovery makes her final escape are some of the best special effects I've ever seen on what can now be considered television. There's plenty to enjoy, even if none of it feels substantial enough to keep talking about after the fact.

Suffice it to say that the Discovery manages to destroy the bad guy ship and save the day, reunite with Burnham, and hey holy shit! When they go back to their home universe they find out that it's nine months in the future and the Klingons have won the war. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ But hey! Mirror Georgiou was beamed aboard the Discovery along with Burnham (who sure as shit gives her a look that makes it clear this was something that happened on purpose) and there are still two episodes left, so we've definitely got lots of explosions and probably no fewer than four major plot twists left to enjoy.
 

Oh, and also...

  • Alright, that long dolly shot of Burnham working to hail the Discovery is just beautiful.
  • Still, there is no excuse for how goddamn silly this show has turned out to be.
  • "They're poisoning it, spreading infection back up into the network." Ugh.

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