Star Trek Discovery: Will You Take My Hand?

Burnham and co. get kitted up in their best black leather outfits for a top secret mission on the Klingon homeworld.

"Incoming distress call."

Back when Discovery first started, although I very much enjoyed the show, I couldn't help feeling that however good it might be, it wasn't Star Trek. I enjoy dark, gritty, arc-driven shows like Battlestar Galactica fine, but those exist as separate entities in their own right. Indeed, the reimagined Battlestar Galactica was produced by Ronald D Moore after he wasn't allowed to do those things on Star Trek. But that is not what Star Trek is for. Star Trek, like The West Wing, is about idealism. It's about imagining a better world, and daring to hope that we might somehow, someday get close to achieving it, as unlikely as that sometimes seems.

In its early days, Discovery seemed to be moving against that idealism. Many viewers were excited by this new direction, and it's certainly true that Gene Roddenberry's original vision, of a world where human beings had moved beyond deep-rooted human emotions and failings like jealousy, pride and so on, was a bit of a bar to real character drama, and some things needed to change. But for me, however much I enjoyed the show, to go too far into the morally grey and the gritty, dystopian feel was to become something else entirely, something that wasn't Star Trek. While I enjoyed the show, I had reservations.

Over the last few episodes, the series seems to have made a deliberate effort to move over a little more in the direction of traditional Star Trek and its ideals. Saru's speech in 'What's Past is Prologue' warmed my heart and made me well up with happiness to see something of the idealism of Star Trek and the characters' pride in Starfleet finding its way into this series. Plus, of course, there was the revelation that Lorca was from the Mirror Universe (which you could also call the Evil Universe, Bizarro World or the Darkest Timeline, if you prefer). Rather than an indication of Starfleet losing its way, he was an insurgent, preying on Burnham's weaknesses.

And then the series gives us this finale, a really lovely statement of intent about the show and where it might go from now on. Did they pull that solution to the terrible Klingon war they've been talking up all year out of their backsides at the last minute? Yeah, kinda. Did it feel a bit like a course correction midway through? Possibly. Was it all a bit cheesy, right down to the Star Wars-style medal ceremony and pardons all around? It was. Did I care about any of that? Not a jot! Discovery is Star Trek now, clearly and unashamedly. It feels like it belongs in the Star Trek universe, and really, that's all I wanted. I welled up again throughout Michael's speech about the Federation, and I'm liking Saru and his willingness to stand up for his ideals more and more.

The episode itself was, perhaps, a teeny bit rushed and didn't quite hit the action highs of 'What's Past is Prologue', but it was still pretty awesome in its own right. Seeing daily life on Qo'noS, full of green-skinned Orion dancing girls and boys (a perfect answer to the original series' male gaze-focused fanservice) was good fun. Tilly having Michael's back was a lovely bit of female friendship
Yeah. Remember this? This happened.
without the mother-daughter vibe of Janeway and any female on her crew, or the guy-centred gossip of Crusher and Troi in their fabulous 80s workout gear on TNG. It was a shame Stamets got barely two lines, but he's been great to watch this year and I'm sure he'll be back.

Admiral Cornwell's desperation and willingness to commit genocide kept the show firmly within Discovery's grittier style (though it was a shame, as I like the Admiral a lot and this was a bit of a grim turn in her) but, in the best tradition of Captain Kirk, Michael managed to find a way to win the no-win scenario. When that distress call came in at the episode's conclusion, I almost expected it to be the Kobayashi Maru made real.

And then, there was that ending. During the previous couple of episodes, I had been disappointed that some of the possibilities offered by the storyline weren't followed. The crew could have got lost in dimensions, jumping between different worlds like Sliders, which would have been cool. They could have over-shot by 90 years instead of 9 months, and explored space of the future, post-Voyager. Basically, they could have gone back to exploring, because that's the other aspect of Star Trek that Discovery has turned its back on and that I miss so much. Star Trek, TNG, Voyager and Enterprise are all about exploring new planets and new worlds, and that's what I watch Star Trek for and want to see, but it's something Discovery consistently refuses to do.

I can almost forgive it for that, though, because this ending – and teaser for season two – was pretty cool. The minute I saw the beginning of the ship's number come up on the screen I knew it was the NCC-1701, the starship Enterprise (yes, I'm very geeky). That explains why Spock was not in Paris for his foster sister's commendation – presumably, he is on the Enterprise with Captain Pike, shortly before their adventures detailed in the original series episode 'The Menagerie.' I don't know where they're going with this, but I can't help it – when I saw the Enterprise and heard the original theme music, my little Trekkie heart swelled and I welled up again. It was the Enterprise, people!

THE ENTERPRISE!!!!

("No bloody A, B, C or D...")

Now if we could get the Enterprise to fight a zombie dragon, I might just die and go to TV-viewing heaven.

Bits and pieces

— The Klingon homeworld is Qo'noS, which should surely be pronounced Ko-nos, but everyone kept saying Kronos. I was amused, though, by the appearance of 'Kang's Summit' on Qo'noS – Kang and Konos being the giant green octopus aliens from The Simpsons.

— Hugh was awarded a posthumous medal. I'd sort of hoped he'd come back, through time travel or a mirror version or whatever, but no. Not yet, anyway.

— Georgiou, however, was left alive – the ex-Empress, Mirror Universe version of her. All that black leather early on reminded me of Farscape – I can see her becoming this universe's Rygel... I'm glad there's an outside chance we'll see Michelle Yeoh again, and not just in flashbacks.

— There are still some annoying inconsistencies relating to other Star Trek shows. Voyager never even mentions the possibility of a spore drive, which considering how useful it would be to them (Janeway would happily sacrifice herself to work it) seems ridiculous. And Kirk still claimed there had never been a mutiny on a Starfleet ship.

— I'm also still not keen on the idea of a heavily arc-based Star Trek show with an individual lead. I like an ensemble cast. Discovery has been leaning more and more in the direction of the ensemble though, so hopefully it's heading in that direction.

Quotes

Tilly: Oh – she's not...

Tilly: I'm very high right now!

This is Star Trek, and I love it. Four out of four Enterprises.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Tilly, a member of Starfleet (cadet or no cadet, it shouldn't matter), decided to accept an offer of alien narcotics and get high on duty while she was the one in charge of keeping the damn secret weapon safe? I've been pretty tolerant about some of the more 'edgy' stuff they're doing on this show, but showing Starfleet officers getting stoned on missions and portraying it as totally fine, a source of comedy even, is... I don't even know anymore...

televisionandotherrantings said...

According to bits of the timeline that people have brought up this episode takes place AFTER the events of The Cage/flashback parts of The Menagerie. So Pike would have already hung out with the Talosians and such.

The new version of the NCC-1701 looked pretty nice although it is annoying it doesn't look the way it does in TOS (even the original series). Still it might be kind of cool to see the cast of The Cage with new actors since they didn't really get a chance to shine in pilot form. Really only Spock and Pike would really get any roles outside that story (although Number One's name would be made famous through the mouth of Patrick Stewart). Maybe it will be a bit more fulfilling than Twice Upon a Time and the First Doctor at any rate.

The Clint Howard cameo was probably the best bit of fan service in the whole season. He hasn't appeared in every Trek property but it felt home-y like a Stan Lee cameo.

In case it wasn't implied it's probably worth mentioning those Simpsons aliens were named after Kodos from The Conscience of the King and Klingon Kang from Day of the Dove (and a few other episodes).

Patryk said...

I really enjoyed the happily ever after ending. Maybe there's just too many gritty shows around. Everyone lived, noone died, medals everywhere and a great cameo from the Enterprise. The only thing I didn't like is that they flew to Vulcan to pick up a new captain... Why can't they just promote Saru. Let's hope that encounter with Pike will change that.

Is there any chance they could get Quito to cameo as Spock next season? :)

Billie Doux said...

Lovely review, Juliette, of an enjoyable finale.

A terrific finale. As Juliette has already mentioned, many fans, including me, have been wanting something darker and grittier and arc-i-er, and I think they gave us that. But it's dangerous for them to go too far afield from the optimism and positive future that the original Star Trek is all about. We are Starfleet. We don't destroy a planet with millions of civilians, even if they're a people who are trying to do it to us.

I got choked up by the ending, too. Wow. I'm also hoping for Zachary Quinto, Patryk.

I was going to go on a bit about their biggest mistake with this first season (their revamping of the Klingons and concentration on the war) but I think I'm going to go with Star Trek optimism and simply look forward to season 2. Thank you, J.D., Joseph, Mark and Juliette, for reviewing the first season with me. :)

Henrik Bennetter said...

I was underwhelmed by this finale.
I especially didn't at all get why Burnham was giving a speech at the end, much less to who?

The medal-ceremony was...awkward. Seemed so un-trek-y.

And although I really like the reveal of Lorca and the whole mirror-universe-arc, I'm not really on-board with all this un-trek-iness.

I'll watch season two though, I really like the acting and effects.
Although I'm still also sure that their universe will turn out to not be ours. There are just too many disimilarities with canon.