Ignore the youtube critics: discover “Star Trek: Discovery” for yourself

October 8, 2017 by  

star-trek-discoveryAt least two of my friends are contemplating writing-off the new Star Trek: Discovery series. Their negative assessment of the show is apparently founded upon one or two critiques by youtube vloggers: one by a fellow named Jeff Holiday (who, I gather, usually vlogs about video games), and another by one Dave Cullen. Both vloggers appear to be dyed-in-the-wool Trekkies: they apparently know quite a bit about what has been done in the franchise in the past. This may account for the trust my friends have placed in their respective critiques of the new show. And what trust they must have! Without having watched the new show at all, one of my friends has declared:

“Looks like I won’t even be trying to watch the new Star Treks. They look unwatchable, just on the face of it. The Left has destroyed the value of the franchise with this one.”

Now, of course, Trekkies arguably are the most opinionated lot on Earth when it comes to assessments of one’s favourite franchise. I fully understand that most of them differ little from Sheldon of “The Big Bang Theory” fame, when it comes to their opinions about all things Star Trek. But – to my friends and to everyone else who is ready to abandon this show before watching it – I extend this humble plea: WATCH THE SHOW!

Before proceeding further, I am forced by convention to issue here a “SPOILER ALERT”. Some of what is written below may tell you more than you wanted to know. However, I’ll just add that if you’re already thinking about not watching the show at all: how it could possibly hurt to read further? Moreover, having seen the first two episodes, I’d gladly watch both again (and probably will). The spoilers aren’t going to spoil anything.

I tried watching the Holiday and Cullen critiques and I had to stop watching each mid-way through. In each case, I witnessed the very thing that Star Trek has always opposed: conservative-minded folks (I’m not talking about their politics, necessarily) unable to break with convention (even if one does sport tattoos and nose piercings…although, those are pretty conventional these days). Almost every line of their critiques amounted to the hiss that ‘There are RULES to how Star Trek must be done, don’t you see? The standard conventions MUST be followed!’. It’s not the ’60s, or the ’90s, anymore, but these critics clearly want the Star Trek of those eras to be the one that prevails today.

Moreover, having watched just two hours of a show, they’ve made prematurely broad, sweeping conclusions about its nature and purpose. Perhaps less surprising, coming from hard-core Trek fans: some of their criticisms are utterly picayune.

For example, they’ve condemned a TV program for not doing more character development with respect to bit-part characters seen on the bridge in episode 1. How many of the characters in episode 1 of the original Star Trek were still even around by the second season? Ask yourself: what were the names of all the crew on the bridge in episode 1? In Discovery, most of the crew appears to die like the de facto red-shirts they are in episode 2. There would be no point in doing character development on them in the first two episodes. Instead – as in the recent movie-reboot – there is a focus on the characters that are central to the story of the episode: Spock’s dad, the captain, the second in command, the brainy person of sober second thought, the villain. That’s actually quite a number of characters to profile, given that they’ve only had about 100 minutes of airtime so far. And, Jesus: how long did it take us to get the back stories on all of the characters in a show such as “Lost”?

These critics don’t like the ship. The ship is actually portrayed as an old ship, with outdated transporter technology. Possibly – who can know without knowing the content of future episodes? – this ship plays only a temporary role in the series. Indeed, the ship is largely destroyed in episode 2. And, more to the point: the ship they are complaining about is not the USS Discovery. It’s the USS Shenzhou.

At the same time, these critics complain that we aren’t treated (I’d say subjected) to a more drawn-out profile of the ship (which they presumably think is the USS Discovery). I reply: God help us were the show to put us through an agony akin to that which was the opening of the first Star Trek movie. Look, it’s one of a number of Federation ships in the Star Trek universe. It has transporters, torpedoes, a tractor-beam, and laser thingies. It could have been called the USS Madonna, or the USS Herman Munster…it wouldn’t matter. Star Trek is driven by its plots, not by its gadgets, which is why the characters in the original series could go back to 20th century locations without much (if any) future-tech, yet the episode would remain riveting. And, if it is the case that the USS Shenzou is – after the battle in episode 2 – ready for the junk pile, why would the show spend much, if any, time giving us a detailed profile of its every nook and cranny? We’ll see the USS Discovery soon enough (I have not watched episode 3 yet – which aired days after Holiday and Cullen published their critiques – but I understand the ship finally makes an appearance in that episode).

The Klingon characters are condemned for not having facial expressions that look humanesque. Here, the make-up designers are blamed. You’d think the critics had never seen an armadillo before. Newsflash! Not all animals look like humans with a bit of crappy rubber glued on. The make-up in all previous TV series has been absolutely bush-league compared to what make-up/computer artists are achieving today. One always had to suspend disbelief with the old stuff, to a certain degree. Had Star Trek: Discovery gone with the old make-up, it would rightly have been panned for being cheap and substandard. As for expressionlessness: perhaps that’s the point. Klingons, when they’re not angry, are stoic. Have a look at the smiling Klington depicted in Holiday’s critique: it would be just fine if it were used as the Fagin character in a space-aged remake of “Oliver!”. However, it’s all wrong if what you want to portray – as I think Star Trek: Discovery’s producers do – is a creature that isn’t just a moody/grumpy human with a bumpy forehead. Klingons are another species. Here, for the first time, they actually look like one.

A happy Klingon? Really?

A happy Klingon? Really?

Here’ the other thing: the critics themselves. They come across to me as a couple of Archie Bunkers. Before panning Sonequa Martin-Green as the choice of main character, Holiday wants us to rest assured that he finds Nichelle Nichols (Uhura, in the original series) attractive. Cullen, for his part, wants to point out that he was fine with having Kate Mulgrew be the captain in the Voyager series. Okay, got it gents: any criticism of the casting or acting of Sonequa is not due to her sex or skin colour (both of which Ms Martin-Green and the show have actually highlighted/emphasized when discussing the Michael character). Fine. I won’t psychologize either of you here. However, the woman’s a solid actress (fans of “The Walking Dead” will recognize her as the actress who played the mercurial, suicidal sniper Sasha) who puts on a very good performance in these first two episodes of Discovery. She’s no Scott Bakula, and that’s a good thing.

Part of the rejection of Martin-Green seems to be not Martin-Green herself, but the people in casting, or those who wrote her part. They’re from Hollywood, and Hollywood is all leftist, and anti-“white”, and they’re social justice warriors and…accordingly, it’s awful – just ridiculously awful – that Star Trek would give a woman a man’s name. Why, everyone knows that women aren’t named “Michael”, so Star Trek – which should never dare to challenge current norms – is stupid to call the main character, a woman, Michael. Jeez. Alright. Fine. Now, fellows, can we just judge the meal by how it tastes, instead of by how the chef votes? Watching Cullen mix his critique with some clearly deep-seated (if justified) resentment toward social justice warriors, I wanted to scream at the screen: JUST JUDGE THE SHOW!

Holiday and Cullen had other criticisms, but they just don’t matter, and they shouldn’t matter if you haven’t seen the show at all. Again: WATCH THE SHOW.

Here is what you’ll find if you do so: The elimination of all campiness. Campy would not work today. And, anyone who wants campy can just watch “The Orville”, which is essentially a rip-off of Star Trek, but with Kirk’s more sophisticated humourous quips replaced by the equivalent of bits from “The Family Guy”. For example, while the robot in that series is recharging, the helmsman sticks Mr. Potato Head bits to the robot’s head. The robot is told it’s a practical joke, and – as might “The Next Generation”‘s Data – agrees to try out a practical joke. While the helmsman sleeps, the robot cuts off the helmsman’s leg. We get to see the helmsman hop around on one leg in the bridge thereafter. It’s moderately amusing, but it’s not ha-ha funny, and it seems really out of place in any show that – like “The Orville” – seems to want to take its main story lines seriously. But I digress…

You will also find in Discovery:

  • that, unlike most of the make-up seen in previous Star Trek TV series, the make-up does not look like Hallowe’en stuff you could just pull off or wash off with a bit of soap and water: it’s excellent work;
  • the acting is top notch;
  • there is too much going on in Discovery for it ever to get boring;
  • Discovery’s special effects are of major motion picture quality; and
  • Despite whatever the hell the two critics imagine is going on behind the scenes, I never got any sense that the show is just a vehicle for spewing social justice warrior stuff at its viewers.

“Star Trek: Discovery” serves up a TV version of what we are seeing in the new Star Trek movies, but delivered in a way that serves the end of securing a TV show audience. That means:

  1. It gets right to the big action without much delay;
  2. It identifies the most prominent character and begins (BEGINS mind you) the process of acquainting the viewer with her nature/history; and
  3. It leaves the audience hanging for the next episode (unlike the self-contained stories in other Star Treks, Discovery is a serial that aims to keep the viewer watching week after week, never wanting to miss an episode for fear of not understanding future episodes)

I must address criticisms about the Klingons in particular, because they were so badly panned by the aforementioned critics. Discovery’s Klingons are perfect for what is going on today. Yes, they are species supremacists, but when did Klingons ever come across as not believing themselves to be the master species? Contra what the critics appear to be saying, that ever-present Klingon attitude hardly makes the show a vehicle dedicated to messaging about ‘white’ supremacists or Trump supporters.

More important, for our time, is that these Klingons appear to be fanatically religious (the main Klingon,T’Kuvma, more so that the others). T’Kuvma tells the more moderate, so-far relatively peaceful Klingon leaders of the council that he – though not having earned a place on the council – is essentially the one who the historic religious figure Kahless has guided to reunite all 24 Klingon houses in a war against, well, everyone else. He sees himself as the messiah who, pursuant to the teachings of Kahless, will radicalize and focus all Klingondom. His goal is not some mere invention of his own mind. His goal is a the pursuit of a religiously-determined destiny. What his Klingons will do will be done pursuant to their religious teachings. Kahless seeks a universal Klingon caliphate. He and his followers want to utterly annihilate their enemy. Their way is that of intolerance and brutal destruction. They will lie when it serves the pursuit of their destiny, as they do to the Federation’s Admiral (I note that their lying can only be assisted by their aforementioned expressionlessness). In a word, they are: Jihadists.

As for the condemnation of the Klingons speaking Klingon a lot in the first couple of episodes, I would submit that it does a good job of helping us to understand the nature of that species. It is a guttural, primitive language, and that serves the purpose of portraying a might-makes-right, anti-reason, anti-freedom brutish culture. Moreover, when T’Kuvma speaks English – as he does when speaking to the human Admiral – one can understand him just fine. All of which simply serves to remind us that, right now, someone, somewhere, is speaking another language.

Here is the upshot. If you want a re-hash of the ’60s/’90s TV Star Treks, yep: don’t bother watching this show. If only the ’60s/’90s stylings qualify as Star Trek worthy, and if you believe it can’t be a real Star Trek without tribbles and crappy hand-to-hand combat with a dude in a miniature Godzilla costume: don’t bother watching this show. If you want a TV show that can easily be watched in any order, and that essentially takes the form of weekly short stories – as in “The Twilight Zone” – but always involving the same characters: don’t bother watching this show. But, if you want to see a Star Trek that follows the example of “The Sopranos”, “Breaking Bad”, “Lost”, or “The Walking Dead” – in the sense that it has a modern serial format; if you want to see a Star Trek without the campiness; if your tender sensibilities can handle the apparently Earth-shattering notion that a woman would be named Michael (have these guys never met a man named “Michelle”?); and if you can separate your appreciation of the show’s actual content from whatever is going on in your mind politically; then…well…WATCH THE SHOW! Give it a chance and, most certainly: stay away from youtube critics until after you’ve had a chance to judge the show for yourself.


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