One of the rare pleasures a new Star Trek series offers is the chance to read articles by freelance writers in their 20s expound on how they understand “the true spirit of Star Trek.” Those adorable kids—no one ever told them they should know something before spouting off their opinions! But they probably saw Wrath of Khan like a zillion times, so they know all about serious sci-fi and classic cinema and stuff.
I say this because I have been reading overwhelmingly positive reviews gushing about the new show, Star Trek Discovery, and the way it “gives classic Trek fans what they love” while also “respecting what made the original series great,” and I’m afraid I am here to tell you: It does neither of these things. It is actually in the realm of the godawful, and betrays so much of what actually made the original great that calling it Trek is just one in a series of egregious insults.
Let’s start with an analogy. The big box grocery superstore chain by my house has a big campaign that they “love local,” complete with pictures of farmers in fields and their own associates giving individual help to customers [speaking of science-fiction…] trying to show that they’re really just like that mom-and-pop local grocery store that you used to love. But what they don’t get is that a big box grocery superstore can never be, and WILL NEVER be, no matter what they do, a mom-and-pop local grocery store.
Similarly, a huge, corporate, overly-funded sci-fi series that concentrates on WAR and GUNS and FIGHTS and ACTION with SNAPPY / CANNED TV DIALOGUE and characters who all have THE MOST EXPLOSIVE BACKSTORIES EVER!!!!! Will never be, and CAN NEVER be, a thoughtful, philosophical sci-fi series about finding peaceful solutions to social and political problems.
Things start off bad and get worse from there. The first thing we notice is the wretched “zippy” TV dialogue, which is canned and phony from moment one, and, most troubling, we notice that the star, Sonequa Martin-Green as Burnham, is the worst actor of the bunch, and cannot sell one of these lines to save her life. Once back aboard the ship, we’re treated to more sassy dialogue, and painfully forced crew banter, as we discover that Burnham is one of those uber-capable modern TV creations who can do everything—and I do mean every single thing one might ever encounter in life—better than everyone else around her. Perhaps because she is the one human girl to ever have been trained by the Vulcans—why? Why? WHY, FOR FUCKING SAKE, WHY???—well, just because that’s a cool idea, right? And she’s trained not just by any Vulcan, but by Sarek, Spock’s father (portrayed here as a pissy queen). So Burnham has been trained in logic, because to our modern-day TV writers in their little pop-culture echo chambers, logic seems like some kind of weird superpower, so it’s like super-awesome to be ultra-logical! Only, being logical and emotionless are a little boring, and don’t lead to big emotional confrontations! So, let’s just have her be logical when we feel like it, and a hyper-emotional hot-button the rest of the time—that is, when she’s not insulting anyone and everyone around her for not being as ultra-awesome as she is.
This may be “the golden age of TV,” but it has also spawned a new genre of horrible, horrible writing in which every character must have the ABSOLUTE MOST “just-so” back story or else, gosh, they’re just not interesting enough. So Burnham’s patents were killed by the Klingons! Then she was trained by the Vulcans! Then she rose through Starfleet enough that she’s offered her own ship! Then she [in this episode] starts a war! And the main enemy is not any Klingon, but an albino with no heritage who ends up seizing power! So everything is amped up to 15, because up to 11 just isn’t OTT enough anymore! What this does NOT allow for, and in fact ensures cannot exist, is a real, relatable, character with real and relatable concerns.
The other huge mistake, and here follow PLOT SPOILERS, is that Starfleet is a military operation, and a lot of Star Trek is [normally] about discipline and following orders. But discipline and orders are BORING!! So here, Burnham wants to fire on the Klingons first! Her captain orders her to stand down! So she knocks out the captain and attempts to get the crew to fire! This is so far over the line I doubt any real Trek fan will be able to recover–especially how casually it is used here. I can get impulsive actions [although not from Vulcan-trained logical characters], and I get having a character do wrong in the first episodes so she can redeem herself, but this is just way, way beyond the pale. Worst of all, her initial idea to fire first would not have solved anything. She is then thrown into the brig, which is soon damaged, leaving JUST her section undamaged, which she then engineers the MOST ingenious escape from. Wow, once-in-a-lifetime circumstances happen in this show every few seconds!
And can we agree that it CANNOT claim even a remote relationship to “quality” or being “good” if once-in-a-lifetime events are happening every few seconds? In fact, that pretty much makes it TRASH.
Another issue—there are more but we don’t have all day—is that I HATE the main character. I don’t just dislike her, I HATE her. I want to see her DEAD. This is not because she’s a black woman, it is because she is a horrible, arrogant, hateful, devious, impulsive and dangerous person. This is where, also… current TV writers are just in some special little cocoon of their own, far removed from the reality of this world, that they would create a character like this at all. I don’t want to see her have a redemptive arc all through the season—I literally want to step onto the show and KILL HER. I would enter a contest where I get to come onto the show and kill her. But, as long as she’s alive, this is not a show I want to watch. Which is why I have already canceled my subscription.
I could buy this as a silly space adventure show focused on war and action and killing. But to call it Star Trek is an insult. After The Mummy, it became apparent that nothing good would ever come from Alex Kurtzman [THANK GOD I never got suckered into wasting my time on Lost], and this serves as confirmation. One imagines these people existing in some kind of pop-culture echo chamber, where they have no actual life experience, they just recombine and reconfigure previously-existing pop culture into the exact same pop culture with the volume cranked up. It is so sad that general literacy has declined so much in our current population, and sadder still that instead of working against this, we merely lower our standards and now call outright garbage “pretty good.”