I’ve watched 7 episodes of Star Trek: Discovery season 2 and have finally decided to call it quits. My heart has accepted what my brain realized back in season 1, which is that Discovery is a TV show with great production values featuring strong performances delivered by some charismatic actors, but it ain’t the Star Trek that I have known and loved for four decades.
I had already gone through one round of ‘realignment’ with JJ Abrams’ Star Trek reboot in 2009; those familiar characters were new being played by new actors, but to a large extent they all stayed true to the personalities established in the original show. The only exception in my view was Chris Pine’s rendition of Capt. James T. Kirk, as he came across as rather adolescent and reckless in his behaviour (even if his ‘seat of the pants’ decisions always ended up being the right ones in comparison with Spock’s logic-based recommendations). But all the other characters were rendered so faithfully (particularly Karl Urban as “Bones” McCoy) or dare I say, improved upon ( Zoe Saldana’s Uhura) or tweaked to make the younger version more endearing (the late Anton Yelchin’s Pavel Chekov) and the chemistry between these actors was so good, that I instantly loved the movie and its two sequels, even accepting the alternative timeline approach as a necessary evil.
So, the 2015 announcement that a new prequel show was being created for CBS All Access with all new characters on a different ship, got me all excited, with good reason. First of all, there’s never been a bad Star Trek TV show. Even though the film franchise flip-flopped between good and forgettable with every alternate release through the 80’s and 90’s, each of the TV shows – the widely celebrated and much loved Next Generation, it’s smaller scale spin-off Deep Space Nine, the progressive Voyager and the gritty Enterprise – had all the elements that constitute “great TV”…likeable characters whose behaviour remains consistent through the length of the show but also evolves with time and experience, a natural chemistry among the actors, standalone episodes that fit into a larger story arc and writing that finds the balance between pure entertainment and socio-cultural relevance. This track record, combined with the quality of the concurrent movie series led me to believe that this show would be the nearest thing to a “sure bet”!
My first point of disconnect with Discovery was the Klingon re-design. Although there is a history of Klingons being redesigned, moving from a human look in the original series to the popular and widely known “ridged forehead” look from the 1979 feature film onwards (the change subsequently explained through the concept of the Augment Virus), I still feel the redesign of the features and clothing for Discovery was unnecessary and jarring. Just because something can be done, doesn’t mean it should be done. The prosthetics and the costumes just make the characters stiff and behave like a completely different kind of species.
The next disconnect was with the immaturity of some key characters. It’s not that silly people don’t exist in the Star Trek universe (I’m thinking Q and Harry Mudd), just that it’s difficult to understand how such people could get through Starfleet Academy and be placed on a flagship vessel in positions of authority and responsibility. I am specifically referring to Chief Engineer Paul Stamets and Ensign Tilly. I can understand and welcome the fact that both characters are the embodiments of inclusiveness, in terms of Stamets’ sexuality and Tilly not being physically fit. Why does that mean that they have to be immature, impulsive and irresponsible?
Even more jarring than the new characters like Tilly and Stamets who are immature by design, is the change in the portrayal of known characters like Amanda Grayson. What a world of difference between the poise and grace of Winona Ryder in the 2009 reboot and the capricious version played by Mia Kershner in Discovery.
The two-dimensionality of the bridge crew was also really surprising for me. It felt like they were part of the furniture. There were no names and there was virtually no interaction with each other throughout season 1. And then suddenly at the start of season 2, it looked like the writers remembered this and made some half-hearted attempts to fix the oversight.
I don’t even know where to begin with the so-called Spore drive. Another case of an unnecessary inclusion into the canon of the show. And the heights of ridiculousness came in episode 5 of season 2 with the visualization of the “half jump”, which showed the Discovery like it was half submerged in water.
Another area of discomfort is with how the Federation’s Section 31 “black ops” unit has been made a centerpiece of the narrative in season 2. Although conceptualized years ago for an episode of Deep Space Nine (as a counterpoint to the Utopian Federation) and referenced a couple of times in the Enterprise TV show and in 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness, this unit is really the anti-thesis of everything that makes the Star Trek universe appealing to its fans. And making Section 31 even more difficult to digest is Michelle Yeoh’s “alternative universe” Philippa Georgiou, who is increasingly behaving like a vamp from a daytime soap.
In spite of all the above issues, I stayed with the show as long as I did because of two actors – Sonequa Martin-Green and Doug Jones. The amazing Martin-Green convincingly plays the primary protagonist Michael Burnham, a character who survived the murder of her parents as a child, was raised by a Vulcan foster family in a radically different culture leading to unresolved issues with her foster brother, committed mutiny in a moment of impulse, experienced the emotional trauma of the dire results of her actions and then was given an unexpected chance for redemption. Her relationship with First Officer Saru, played by the Doug Jones, has been the emotional core of the show for me. Jones has made a career out of acting behind prosthetics and I believe that he and Andy Serkis should both receive some sort of lifetime achievement award for their work in bringing non-human characters to life. Burnham and Saru have individually and collectively shown extraordinary character development through the show and many of their scenes together are truly memorable, particularly in season 2, episode 4 when it appears for a time that Burnham will have to commit an act of mercy killing on Saru.
I also love the opening credits and the way in which the theme composed by Jeff Russo integrates into the original show’s iconic theme. Gets me goose bumps every episode.
But the good just isn’t enough to outweigh the bad. I’m done with the show and have left it with the last 4 episodes unwatched. I nearly did this towards the end of season 1, but then went back for closure. This time around, I’ll just read an online summary rather than waste my time when there are so many other shows out there that are much more engaging – such as Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy, Fox’s The Passage and of course HBO’s upcoming final season of The Game of Thrones.