First Thoughts: Star Trek: Discovery Premiere

So, the first two episodes of Star Trek: Discovery aired last night, and as you might guess, I have Thoughts and Opinions and Feelings about the whole thing. As you also might guess, this entire post is full of spoilers. So many spoilers. All of the spoilers. Don’t read beyond this intro and then complain to me about spoilers. But first, a non-spoilery opinion: CBS All-Access sucks. It is worse than every other streaming service I’ve subscribed to, ever.

Besides that little note, I’m not really sure where to start. This seems fair, since it doesn’t seem like Star Trek: Discovery doesn’t really know where to start (abbreviated henceforth as DSC, despite my temptation to shorten it to STD). I don’t want to say that it was confusing, however I do want to say that it was… confused. It doesn’t seem certain at all of the stance it wants to take. It seems like it could be going for that whole Game of Thrones moral ambiguity thing (early interviews did literally say it would be “more like Game of Thrones”), but if that’s what they’re aiming for, they’re falling far short of the mark.

To summarize: Commander Michael Burnham tries to stop a war with the Klingons. She’s stopped from doing so. War commences anyway (because Klingons). Klingons are grognards (have a whole deal about “remaining Klingons” and “being true Klingons” and “making Klingons great again”). The best character who I was most excited about seeing and watching dies, and I get deeply frustrated at the show’s predictability and dumbness. And also it just flat out doesn’t feel like Star Trek, any of the existing series OR movies, at all. It doesn’t even feel like the shitty new movies that I dislike wholly (fuck you, Abrams).

So, yeah, Captain Philippa Georgiou, who I was Super Excited about (Asian woman in command! Being awesome! Being all Starfleet-captain-y!), is killed off in the second episode. I knew this was coming. Admittedly, I didn’t know it for long – I figured it out when she was credited in the opening sequence as “Special Guest Star Michelle Yeoh”. What I had predicted is that one or more of Michael Burnham’s commanding officers would die, since the promotional materials hyped up two captains (Michelle Yeoh and Jason Isaacs). I was desperately hoping that she would start off reporting to Jason Isaacs’ character Captain Lorca and end up transferred to Captain Georgiou’s ship through various events. Nope!

The first episode builds up a lot on a great scene of the two women wandering the desert together, having meaningful conversations, and it’s like… damn. It is so good. Two women of color, high up on the chain of command, who trust and respect each other, just having a talk without any white dudes around. Aaaaand then no. We could have had a whole series of that. Instead we got an episode and a half of it, maybe, at best. It feels almost determinedly anti-progressive, like they’re actively enforcing the idea that a white guy needs to be in charge. Like they’re saying “You wanted diversity? Well you can suck it.”

Star Trek is supposed to be progressive. Star Trek is supposed to be progressive. Star Trek is supposed to be progressive. I don’t know how many times I can say it; it will never stop being true. I often marvel at how racists and sexists can watch Star Trek and not get the goddamn point, but I’ve always known why, and here’s why: they only give a shit about TOS and TNG where they can say “look, yes, all these minorities, but there’s still a white man in charge, which is how it should be.” No. No. My problems with Star Trek: Discovery are not because the lead character is not a white man. My problems are because they wrote out an amazing role for a woman of color, and because they’re still going to make the woman of color lead subordinate to a white man.

I’m happy that the lead is Commander Michael Burnham, a black woman. It’s an important step and one that’s long overdue (I almost get the impression that it was done for the same reasons that the Doctor has finally regenerated as a woman – because to continue to refuse to do so would make them look bad). But I really like Sonequa Martin-Green and she did a really good job with what seemed like probably not a great script and a lot of rewrites and reshoots. She is not, as some magazines have noted, the first black Star Trek lead (Captain Sisko), or the first woman Star Trek lead (Captain Janeway), but the progress that Burnham represents is no less important for that.

I said earlier in the post that it didn’t feel like the new era reboot movies (which, honest to god, I can’t stand), but DSC does feel more like the reboot movies than it does any of the other TV shows (caveat: I haven’t watched Enterprise yet, but will be soon). It feels like more action and pretty visuals than true substance. I’ll admit, this show is very, very pretty. The cinematography is exceedingly well done, and it’s obviously higher budget than any Star Trek TV show that’s come before it. But I don’t know if that means much if there aren’t the stories and characters to back it up. After all, I watch TV shows on a long term basis because I care about the characters and what they’re doing. I don’t tune in every week to see some pretty pictures of spaceships.

On the bright side, DSC is at least somewhat more pensive and thoughtful than the reboot movies, which is a bar so low you could almost trip on it (JJ Abrams has openly said he never liked Star Trek and only did the movies as a warm-up for Star Trek and if you think I will EVER stop being mad about this, you underestimate my ability to hold petty grudges). I wish Bryan Fuller had stayed on the show. I think what I’m seeing here is his initial vision, then all the tacked-on, re-shot stuff after he left the show. I loved the episodes he wrote of DS9 and VOY, and I wish that we could have seen more of it here. Can we just… like… crowdfund a Star Trek show for Bryan Fuller to have exclusive creative control on?\

It’s not… it’s not a bad show. It’s not a good Star Trek show. It’s not what I wanted it to be, and I recognize that I’m in the minority of fans here, so it was never truly going to be what I wanted. That doesn’t stop me from being disappointed, though; I’m disappointed for the amount of wasted potential this represented. And I’m concerned that another bad Star Trek series in a row (most people hated Enterprise, a lot of people hated Voyager) means that the show might not get another chance.

(Also CBS All Access sucks – it loads only marginally faster than HBO Go, and plays the “limited” ads (a ton of ads, literally no fewer than watching on cable) far louder than the show itself. A rule was implemented by the FCC to ensure that broadcast TV can no longer do that, but guess what? Their rulings do not apply to streaming services.)

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