Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 3.7

They say behind every great man there’s a great woman. There isn’t, of course. It’s a sentiment designed, historically, to make those without power or opportunity feel good about their subordinate and/or invisible status, relative to their enabled peers. Nor does it account for the possibility that great men might be held back by women who’d rather they channel their focus and energy into them, rather than whatever endeavour they deem important.

Still, on this week’s Star Trek: Discovery, the show took a clump of this platitudinous bullshit and forced it down the audience’s throat – imagining that Spock, a character whose achievements are profound in the Star Trek universe, owed it all to his retconned adopted human sister. That’s right, space kids, he couldn’t of done it without Mick, and as if to prove the point, here she was attempting to put the cap on his late-life mission to reunite the Vulcans and Romulans.

Remember “Unification I & II”? It was a two-parter that aired in the run up to Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, around the time Gene Roddenberry died. It featured Spock, so got a lot of attention, but was one of TNG’s less successful feature-length stories. It was a bit plodding, a little dry. There were some nice scenes; Data and Spock comparing notes on humanity, Picard giving the famous Vulcan some peace by imparting the dead Sarek’s fondness for his son via a mind meld. Ultimately, it was a thoughtful, if underwhelming bridge between the generations. A success, perhaps, as it notably didn’t feature Mick, or any mention of she, as she hadn’t yet been invented and obnoxiously inserted into the family’s backstory.

Now, nearly 30 years later, we have “Unification III” – written by so-called Trek expert and former franchise novelist Kirsten Beyer, whose credentials take a hit with every contribution she makes to Discovery. In it, Mick learns that Romulans and Vulcans have reunited as Spock once prophesised. Vulcan has thus been renamed Ni’var (Romulus is long gone, remember), and there lies data vital to solving the Burn – that all-consuming mystery the Discovery’s Spore Drive should have rendered irrelevant.

For the third time in seven episodes, Mick was deemed to be the only one who could save the day. Her mission was to act as the Federation’s emissary to Ni’var and extract the data relating to an experiment in propulsion known only as SB-19. “Similar to your spore drive” noted Admiral Vance, almost intuiting the solution to their transport difficulties hiding in plain sight. Why her? Because she was Spock’s long lost relative, and such a familial connection was thought to be a way to grease the wheels with a suspicious people, who’d left the Federation a century earlier. Was the notion of an adopted human sister sharing any of the late Vulcan’s genius, stature, or character, highly illogical? You bet. But it made sense to the writers.

Why had Ni’var left the Federation? Because, er, under pressure from HQ to develop an alternative to warp travel, as dilithium was running out, and the galaxy’s lazy scientists had yet to form an alternative, though somewhere in the archive lay the plans for the Spore Drive, developed centuries earlier, they’d piloted a technology which was thought to trigger the Burn.

So they left out of guilt? Or resentment, for being made a galactic pariah? It wasn’t clear, nor why, as this was the official explanation for the disaster, it hadn’t simply been mentioned when Saru asked the question several episodes ago. Why all this talk of “conflicting theories”? The artists formally known as Vulcans and Romulans were pretty sure they were the cause. Was that a secret? And are the Romulans responsible for everything? If you had a shudder, recalling the conspiracy in Picard, you weren’t alone. The appearance in the episode of the space nun sect, the Qowat Milat, cemented the awful connection. I don’t know, it was like the hacks behind this shit were making it up as they went.

Regardless, Mick wanted that sweet SB-19 data, held in reserve by the pointy-eared brigade on the shaky grounds that the Federation may use any information to, er, learn from the accident and get it right – so invoked the Vulcan right to something like a PhD viva, in order to make her case for it. A hearing was convened, with Mick’s mother reappearing, boringly, as her Qowat Milat advocate (Discovery drawing on the only aspect of Romulan culture created by the current regime), and so began another outpouring of emotion and speechifying from Burnham; the witnesses dewy-eyed, the music soaring, the substance wholly lacking.

The details notwithstanding, this was of course a story about Mick and her place with the crew – which I’m pretty sure is the story of every Discovery episode. “Unification III” began with one of Burnham’s ponderous personal logs, in which she teased us with talk of leaving the ship and searching for her place in the universe away from the cameras.

Her defence of new findings in front of the Vulcan Science Academy was really just an excuse, with her Mother goading her from the sidelines, to extemporise – formulating some kind of personal philosophy on the spot, and tying it into the Federation’s values. It gave her a chance to say, again, that she’d saved all life in the universe, but she wasn’t a God – she was just an ordinary, flawed, self-doubting badass, whom everyone in the room owed their ordinary lives. She was humble before the panel, and they returned the compliment, concluding she was the inspiration behind Spock’s oft chronicled career – once thought (yawn) to be attributable to his own industry and intelligence.

In the end Mick secured her place in the footnotes of Spock’s endeavours by forging a new bond of trust between the Federation and its former founder (and their one-time mutual enemy), while securing the SB-19 data. Now she was free (with help from the crew, whom she patronisingly acknowledged, subordinate to herself) to solve the mystery that flummoxed scientists, centuries advanced from her own time, for a further 130 years. Thank God for Mick, eh? What would we do without her?

Anomalous Readings

  • Mick began the episode by saying that the only way to solve the Burn was to get off Discovery – the ship containing the tech that provided an instant solution.
  • Somehow a personal log from Jean-Luc Picard included footage from “Unification II”. I recalled it being a private conversation.
  • The Vulcan president said that reunification had brought an end-of-sorts to aggression “on both sides”. Er, the Vulcans had a history of aggression? Since when? They had been once, but wasn’t their decision to end all that and embrace logic the reason the dissidents that became the Romulans chose to break away?
  • The shocking b-story to this episode was Saru’s decision to promote Tilly (in responsibility but, er, not in rank) to First Officer! That’s Tilly, the dippy Ensign that talks like a confused teenager. “Whut?” was her reaction. Stamets, channeling the audience, was fucking amazed. But despite her complete lack of nous, leadership qualities, or indeed the ability to form a coherent line of thought, the crew came together at the close to praise the decision and give their seal of approval. In reality, one suspected the reason for her promotion was her status as a recognisable character whom the writing staff loved. They could have promoted one of the background staff, but then they’d have to develop them on the page, and writing Tilly is much more fun. Plus, she plays great with Discovery’s imagined audience of blubbing young girls.
  • With unification, Star Trek loses one of its great villains, though Picard had already destroyed them in essence.
  • “I’m here for the duration” said Mick at the close, crushing our dreams and affirming our worst nightmares. Will we ever be free?

Michael Burnham in the 32nd Century

Mick’s Calamitous 23rd Century

The Old Man’s Back Again

Picard Portents

Station Keeping

Teen Fan Fic

Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 3.6

The problem with Discovery’s make-it-up-as-you-go approach to storytelling is that it can produce some monster inconsistencies. These remain unchecked, so grow and grow until they resemble a giant, frenzied tardigrade, ripping up the series’ backstory. We are of course talking, first and foremost, about the Spore Drive.

When Discovery began we lamented that a TOS prequel had introduced experimental tech that if realised, would be superior to any propulsion method exhibited in shows set decades and centuries hence. We reasoned it therefore had to be failure-in-waiting; a technology with an as yet undiscovered flaw, and we hoped said flaw would be a story in itself – a show about a classified vessel, designed to make the next great advance in interstellar travel, that became a risk to the fabric of the universe. This alone would explain why a) the Spore Drive was unknown and unreferenced in subsequent Treks, and b) why Starfleet waited at least three decades to try again with the Excelsior’s transwarp drive.

Alas, Discovery’s hacks weren’t nearly so well-prepared, or au fait with the universe for which they wrote, to develop the Spore Drive along said lines. Instead, it became a muddle – a story about switching from an interface that required an animal to be exploited, to a custom-made human uplink, powered by informed consent. The wider issues around its use and place in the Star Trek canon were forgotten, as the emphasis switched to Mick and her calamitous contribution to history. But a clusterfuck the size of the Spore Drive doesn’t go away and now, thanks to the incompetence of the writing staff, it threatens to undo the entire series.

“Scavengers” was a side-quest episode featuring the show’s worst two characters – the irrepressible, emoting Mick, and former Terran Empress and genocidal mass murderer, Georgiou. Their off-book mission was to meet Book at an Orion/Andorian run salvage yard and recover a “black box” that held data vital to explaining “the Burn” – the mysterious cataclysm that set back interstellar travel many centuries. Solving the mystery that scientists with eight hundred years of advanced knowledge could not solve, though they’d had an additional 130 years to research it, was crucial, said Mick, else the Federation could never return to its former glory.

Such urgency had Mick disobeying orders and risking the Discovery’s reputation as an asset in the modern fleet. But the justification for it had viewers scratching their heads. If a breakdown in propulsion technology was the legacy of the Burn and the reason the Federation could no longer function, why did the engineers of 3189 not just copy the Spore Drive?

Now let’s set aside the fact that in Discovery’s universe, there’s been no advance on warp engines powered by dilithium crystals in a millennium, which is like us travelling to the year 2950 and finding people still using the internal combustion engines powered by diesel. Yes, no advance on warp – though transwarp conduits were available as early as the 2360s, and other races, say the Romulans, were already using alternatives.

Even if that’s all true, which it isn’t, why in the name of Zefram Cochrane can’t the Federation’s best brains simply copy and mass produce this galaxy hopping tech? The Starfleet of 3189 has programmable matter – it can change the configuration of objects, it can presumably replicate any part, so what the fuck is going on?

Admiral Vance, at the top of this boring and violent episode, talked about Discovery’s Spore Drive being a vital asset that had to be protected at all costs. But he didn’t explain, and no one asked, why it remained wired up to the ship’s engineering section, or indeed why no work had been done on copying the interface that would allow any ship or starbase to be instantly transported to any location using the mycelial network.

Half-aware of the question, perhaps having picked up on it by osmosis, maybe overhearing someone discussing it in a bar somewhere, the hack responsible for the episode skirted around it – having Adira refine the interface onboard ship, and relieve Stamets of the implant once used to hook him up to the system. Was that the limit of what could be done? Why the fuck wasn’t there a team of engineers on board, building on Adira’s analysis and understanding of the system, to begin mass production and installation throughout the fleet?

Look, this is the answer to Starfleet’s problem; an antidote to nine centuries of laziness, and it’s been delivered to their door, on a platter, free, no questions asked: an out of time miracle solution. Yet, the geniuses that occupy this strange new world – the setup that’s replaced our beloved Star Trek universe with an ill-defined, paper-thin mystery, do not intuit the same, nor investigate the technology’s potential. In crisis terms, this is Starfleet’s greatest dereliction of duty since a beached George and Gracie were left to die – their gas-filled corpses exploding over onlookers as a belatedly informed and horrified Dr Gillian Taylor looked on.

Do Discovery’s hacks realise what a monumental plot hole this is, and how it renders the season’s backstory as irrelevant? Surely, if you had to go down this rote route of entering a future defined by disaster, with the Discovery the potential salvation, you wouldn’t choose a problem that could instantly be solved by a pre-existing piece of onboard equipment. How bright do you have to be to avoid such a pitfall, and how contemptuous of your audience must you be to think they won’t notice once the season’s underway? That, not the Burn, is the third season’s great conundrum.

Anomalous Readings

  • Structure is a real problem for Discovery’s hacks. We were lead to believe this week’s B-story was Tilly looking after Book’s pussy, but the action moved on to Saru having to square things with Vance once she realised Mick and Georgiou had broken ranks. Finally, the episode settled on a distended epilogue featuring Stamets, Adira, and Adira’s spectral boyfriend, Gray. Pick one, idiots, and better integrate it into the A-story, so they wrap up around the same time.
  • The Discovery got her retrofit (though she looked almost exactly the same internally) and the crew got updated comm badges. But they retained their archaic uniforms. Why weren’t they obliged to wear up-to-date uniforms?
  • Tilly told us that Mick “is one of the people I love the most in this world.” Why? You’ve barely had a moment together in two and a half seasons. What has Mick done for Tilly other than stranding her in the future, putting centuries between the scatty flame-haired irritant and everyone and everything she’s ever known?
  • Crisp dialogue of the week – Adira (product of the 32nd century) to Stamets (product of the 23rd): “You’re kinda like the bomb, huh?”
  • What’s wrong with Georgiou? The one dimensional attitudinoid spent the episode having flashbacks to her time as a genocidal dictator. This began when she came through the wormhole. They resembled the gory visions Clem Fandango used to have when half-remembering the conversion process from Klingon to human. Could Phillipa not be who she thinks she is? Is there a far more interesting and likable character waiting to be discovered? Fuck me, I hope so.
  • Mick and Georgiou gleefully murdered a lot of salvage yard guards. Ah, Star Trek.
  • Mick was demoted to Chief Science Officer – with both her and Saru fighting back the space tears, after she disobeyed orders. How this fucker continually escapes the brig is the other great mystery of the series.

Michael Burnham in the 32nd Century

Mick’s Calamitous 23rd Century

The Old Man’s Back Again

Picard Portents

Station Keeping

Teen Fan Fic

Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 3.5

The Discovery returning to Starfleet’s soft, round bosom might have been the climax of this season – the capper to a series of exploratory adventures in a dangerous new century. But the show’s hacks didn’t have that kind of patience, or indeed any idea what to do with the crew in the absence of a command structure. So here we are, mid-season, arriving at the half-cloaked space dock that, in a boon for the Federation’s enemies, is a one stop shop for its government, Starfleet command, and the fleet. Targets don’t get any juicier than that.

You’d expect Starfleet to be fucking amazed at the prospect of a thousand year-old vessel with its ancient crew, thought lost, knocking on its door. But the 30th century, we learned, was all about time wars and temporal incursions, and outlawing time travel, so a bunch of wormhole refugees was barely news.

“Die Trying” began with a belligerent Admiral Vance regarding the Discovery with suspicion and incredulity. As well he might, you may think, given the stories they had to tell; tales that made them sound like a ship of lunatics.

Last week we observed a new attitude amongst the show’s hacks – a propensity to draw attention to the series’ absurdities which one can interpret either as self-deprecation; a nod to the critics who lament the imbecilic plotting and unlikely characterisation of the first two seasons (both of which endure); or a show nonchalantly wallowing in its own laziness – a fuck you to the Star Trek geeks the self-styled creatives despise. This week that tendency was back, and it felt suspiciously like audience trolling.

The crew had to account for themselves in a series of interviews – elaborate on some of the more unusual log entries. Culber lead the way talking about his murder and resurrection. Tilly recalled having to pretend to be her mirror universe counterpart with a taste for sexual domination. How we laughed. Or we would have, had these scenes not reminded us of the terrible episodes we’d left behind; the show this season was supposed to represent a break from.

Vance, the archetypal arsehole in Starfleet’s upper ranks, understandably wanted to retrofit the ship and displace its crew. This was flagged as villainous, but the writers forgot how much we hate their characters, how we’d like to see half this redundant ensemble jettisoned and replaced with people we like and respect. Yet even here, in a rare moment in which the show connected with its audience, there was a glaring inconsistency. Why wasn’t Vance interested in the Spore Drive?

The Federation’s down to 38 planets – and few are contactable. Subspace is fucked, warp travel is fucked. Sure, it doesn’t make any sense, but just imagining the situation on its face, wouldn’t the Discovery’s fungal fast track to any point in the universe be the answer?

This should have been the episode where the Federation was saved. Grateful engineers would use the 32nd century’s technology to study the Spore Drive, copy it, and mass produce it, thereby providing the Federation with an unassailable advantage over its enemies, and restoring the pan-galactic network. There would be cheering, tears, handshakes for the crew, and maybe new orders – a five year mission to jump to strange new areas of the galaxy and mine intelligence, seek out new life and new civilisations. You know, boldly go – all that sort of thing.

But there was none of that. Instead, the crew took an observer on a side-mission to find some seeds that would cure some sick aliens. Along the way they lost Yum Yum – whose real name the internet tells me is Nhan. We’d never known her, so her decision to remain on a ship that resembled her native Barzan barely registered. Still, she’s gone and how there’s more space on the bridge.

The ostensive point of this mission was to prove to Vance that the Discovery’s crew was a well-oiled machine that should not be broken up. Again, the writers passed on the opportunity to show this, instead making jokes about the characters’ lack of professionalism and dysfunctional approach to problem solving. In their heads one could see them relishing the chance to talk up their irreverent take on the stuffy Star Trek universe. In reality, the audience was reminded of the fatal lack of substance and in-universe credibility that stalks this show like a space plague.

The real point of the mission was to distract the audience from the writers’ failure to conceptualise the future and deliver on the promises of the new format. Too much curiosity from Starfleet about the Discovery’s technology, and too many inquisitive minds on the ship, anxious to know everything Starfleet knew about the Burn – the mysterious cataclysm that’s killed business as usual – would force these hacks to follow through, to pay off. A cynic would say they’re keen to defer these explanations as long as possible as, in keeping with the first two seasons, they have no fucking idea what the answer is.

Thus, instead of hard information, or new problems to solve, we were left with a musical clue – a melody that everyone can hear, dismissed as being “in the ether” by one incurious Starfleet lackey, suggesting a telepathic cause for a galaxy-wide phenomenon. One thought of the TNG episode “Night Terrors” and the aliens whose signal had played havoc with humanoid brains. The thought that something like that might be responsible for the Burn – maybe a rogue thought from an angry Dowd, was pretty stupid. So expect it to be the revealed as the explanation, five weeks from now.

Anomalous Readings

  • For the second week running Culber acted as the writers’ proxy, pushing Mick forward to a job better suited to another character. Last week she replaced the Doctor on Trill and held Adira’s hand as she found too few of her former selves. This week Nhan was passed over, and Mick delivered yet another inspirational speech that saved the day. If this show’s ever going to be a true ensemble effort, someone may have to break Culber’s neck. Again.
  • The only flash of intrigue in this episode was a guest appearance by David Cronenberg – a walking metaphor for Discovery’s propensity to warp Trek’s DNA with horrific results – as a Tyrel from Blade Runner-like interrogator, interested in Georgiou and her mirror universe origins. We learned there had been no crossover in 500 years and that Cronenberg was keen to learn more about Georgiou’s motives for being onboard ship, given she was a genocidal psychopath. Whatever’s going on here, it’s the only thing I wanted more of. I just wish I didn’t hate Phillipa’s character so.
  • Amongst Starfleet’s selection of underwhelming ships was the Voyager-J. Tilly’s emphasis on it, almost implied a continuity error – as if she was familiar with the original (which of course she couldn’t be). But perhaps it was just the line delivery.
  • There was no mention from Vance at the end as to whether he intended to refit the Discovery as planned. Surely he would, as the ship won’t be sent on missions with 1000 year-old tech, er, right?
  • Starfleet’s monitors marked the position of the Kazon – the insipid Klingon wannabes from Voyager’s first two seasons. It’s a reference that will have someone jumping for joy – but who?
  • Modern idiom of the week, “stay in your lane” – from the mouth of Georgiou. They’ll be swearing next!

Michael Burnham in the 32nd Century

Mick’s Calamitous 23rd Century

The Old Man’s Back Again

Picard Portents

Station Keeping

Teen Fan Fic

Published in: on November 13, 2020 at 16:04  Comments Off on Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 3.5  
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Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 3.4

Another hour of Star Trek: Discovery has expired and about the best thing that can be said is that we’re fractionally closer to the end of the series.

Last week the Discovery picked up a human called Adira who somehow had successfully joined with the Trill symbiont, Tal – though for some reason she could not access its memories. The Trill’s introduction in TNG, “The Host”, taught us that human physiology can’t successfully support a symbiont for long periods, but otherwise the joining works the same way – the memories and personality of both parties are fused.

This is what happened to Riker when he had to temporarily take on Dr Crusher’s fatally wounded lover. Now, these events are in the Discovery crew’s future (and distant past), so they’d have no knowledge of it, but one would think these medical facts would exist independent of any developments on board ship. Adira’s enormous symbiont filled her stomach cavity and was wrapped around her heart, but Culber could not explain why the joining was successful or why neurological connections were supressed. We knew why. “Forget me not” needed a plot, a mystery, and a temporary impediment to finding Federation HQ. But was it beyond the mysterious group known only as “the writers” to do some basic research on a species that had been developed over seven seasons of Ds9?

The inspiration, that is to say raw material for all this, was the DS9 episode, “Equilibrium”. Dax, you’ll recall, was experiencing mental difficulties that looked suspiciously like repressed memories. She was taken to the caves on Trill, where we learned one of her hosts had been a murderer whose joining busted a founding myth of Trill society, namely that only the cream of the population were suitable for symbiosis. It turned out almost any bastard could be joined, and this knowledge was incendiary enough for Dax’s knowledge of said host to be buried.

Adira had had no such intervention, so why couldn’t she remember her former hosts? Once again, in the pools of cum on Trill we learned the answer. That she’d got her host from her dead boyfriend; an emergency joining when their generation ship was attacked. Literally internalising her man – a psychosexual headfuck if ever there was one, would be enough to traumatise anyone, but this didn’t explain why nature hadn’t taken its course. Still, the inexplicable and convenient memory block allowed the hacks to tell Gray Tal’s backstory – unlocked with the opening of a literal mystery box inside a representation of Trill consciousness that Mick could somehow bear witness to.

Ultimately, Adira got her memories back, overcoming the Trill’s temporary exceptionalism and xenophobia that greeted her and Mick, but still we weren’t privy to how Adira could be a host or why it had taken this Dax-like manoeuvre to clear her head. Then, at the close, an oddball twist – Adira can still see Gray but is keeping the manifestation a secret. This would have had DS9 fans scrambling for their boxsets, trying to remember under what circumstances a host can see a physical representation of a past life. Didn’t Ezri need some sort of ritual to do this in “Field of Fire”? It took me a few seconds to check that. Shouldn’t the hacks responsible for this shit have done the same?

Trauma and repression were also in evidence in this week’s b-story, which attempted, clumsily, to explore the crew’s burgeoning realisation they’d given everything up for Mick and were now stuck with each other for the rest of their miserable lives. Saru, the only real import from the Star Trek universe, naturally wanted to bring the crew together. After hearing from Culber that everyone was stressed and angry, he arranged a dinner at the behest of the sphere data, who, worryingly, overrode the ship’s computer to give him advice. Mind you, as the computer’s suggestions included shopping and therapeutic colouring books, perhaps that’s just as well.

Saru’s dinner was a shitshow that started well but nosedived when Detmer, suffering from PTSD, displayed a psychotic hatred and resentment of Stamets. Stamets in turn was sick to the tits of Tilly’s wide-eyed “science is cool” schtick, and the others were upset too, though the writers didn’t have the time or impetus to deal with them.

Everyone was apologetic in the end, and congregated in the shuttle bay to watch that 23rd century favourite, Buster Keaton – another strange suggestion from the conscious sphere data now hotwired into the ship, but no one addressed the elephant absent from the room – Mick. The crew had given their lives to support her, though they didn’t need to, and she wasn’t even present to partake in the healing. When they realise she’s ruined their futures and learn Control was dead before they entered the wormhole, will their hunt her down and tear her limb from limb? Man, I hope so.

Anomalous Readings

  • Trill society has been decimated by the Burn, apparently. One would think there’d be hundreds of millions, maybe billions on an Earth-sized planet at any time, regardless of interstellar population spread, but it seems all the symbionts were away when the dilithium blew up. When you add the “Equilibrium” revelation that about half the population is suitable for joining, the treating of Adira, like she was the first pregnant woman in a generation from Children of Men, felt very strange.  
  • This episode provided evidence that the hacks responsible for this thing read the reviews and are now trolling people like yours truly. Culber began the episode by referring to the crew as “overachievers” – tongue notably not in cheek. He later observed that if Discovery were gone tomorrow, “no one would miss us or mourn us.” Doctor, don’t tease.
  • Adira added to the metatextual dimension by telling Mick, a character she’d only just met, not to “say anything annoying or inspirational”. We’d have laughed but this was an instalment in which Mick, as per, was on hand to provide the inspirational words needed, and once again saved the day by hand holding Adira as she embraced her past lives and learned the location of Federation HQ from Senna Tal.
  • After last week we might have thought the location of Federation HQ would be a season, or even series-long mystery, but this being Discovery it was of course wrapped up in an hour.
  • As clumsy as Adira’s introduction is, there’s a germ of a good idea in her character – namely a succession of lives spanning the millennium Discovery’s been away. The fact that one of her hosts was wearing a Picard-era uniform supports this. Will the show mine this vital archive for information on the Burn, Federation history, etc? Or will the potential be forgotten by the writers? I know where my bet’s going.
  • Did Adira have enough former host to cover the 688 years separating Picard from 3188? There were 4 hosts in addition to Gray in the memory archive, and Gray had only been a host for a very short time. That means the remaining hosts had to have a natural lifespan of something like 200 years, but they were different ages, suggesting some had died in early to middle-age. DS9 suggested the humanoid hosts had human-like lifespans. Do they age slowly, or uncharacteristically for Discovery, has someone fucked up?
  • Gray only being visible to Adira and not being a malevolent alien, is something new in Trek, but one wonders how it will be handled. Have the hacks really introduced a character that only one crew member can interact with? And does this mean we’ve now, in addition to Stamets and Culber, we’ve got another guileless, cutesy, loved up couple on board? Let’s hope Gray has a wild side.
  • So a crew from the 23rd century have an early 20th century taste in slapstick humour? They howled with laugher at Buster Keaton’s stunts and pratfalls, which was in keeping with the crew we’ve learned to despise. How would a screening of Blazing Saddles have gone down? I’d kill to see that.

Michael Burnham in the 32nd Century

Mick’s Calamitous 23rd Century

The Old Man’s Back Again

Picard Portents

Station Keeping

Teen Fan Fic

Published in: on November 6, 2020 at 15:25  Comments Off on Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 3.4  
Tags: , , , ,

Go for our lives, Nigel

The news that Nigel Farage is about to re-brand his defunct Brexit Party as “Reform UK”, targeted at lockdown sceptics, suggests the great demagogue’s political antennae are as twitchy as ever. The spider awaits the fly, and Nigel – the great catalyser of received wisdom, is alert to the fact this alliance of self-styled libertarians and conservatives are his natural prey.

Farage is right to think that lockdown sceptics, that include, but are no means dominated by Covid deniers – in the same way that Brexit contracted ugly strains of English nationalism, are his constituency, and ripe for exploitation. Leavers and lockdown sceptics share the same inalienable, and from a national point of view, ruinous set of characteristics: a partial (and highly selective) understanding, incuriousness – born of inverse snobbery, and the comfort blanket of absolute certainty. This is where I’d usually insert a lengthy George Bernard Shaw quote, but I think “fuck” will suffice.

These pernicious character flaws can convince the predisposed of anything, with those less certain and more equivocating, branded intellectually ineffectual. This is the inverse of the truth. There’s no greater affirmation of rude intellectual health than “I don’t know”. It’s the beginning of all knowledge.

Is lockdown scientifically and ethically justified? I don’t know. But on balance, one can read the opponents of herd immunity and those convinced Covid is just another virus, less deadly than treatable illnesses like sepsis, and be persuaded. Cautious steps to contain this novel virus, until it is comprehensively understood, as part of a deescalating sequence that ends with vaccination, by way of effective contract tracing and localised restrictions, compute as proportionate and reasonable. No one has proposed lockdown as an ongoing strategy for containment, any more than Remainers mooted EU membership as a panacea for Britain’s social and economic problems. It’s just the foundation; the least worst starting point.

There’s something solipsistic, bordering on the sociopathic, about the idea that shutting down the economy for limited periods to protect vulnerable groups from Covid and its comorbid friends, is an act of cultural vandalism. It’s fascinating to hear this argument from the Brexiteer commentariat – the same group that told us the elderly’s political views should shape the destiny of a country they wouldn’t live to see, or that economic deprivations were a price worth paying for the illusion of full sovereignty, or that freedom of movement – i.e. the social mixing of peoples deemed undesirable by some, should be curtailed to preserve our way of life. Now we’re told we can’t recalibrate our society around the elderly, uniliteral action by our government is dangerous because it’s unchecked, and curbs on freedom of movement, that might buy the time needed to “normalise” the infectious and morbid potential of a novel disease, is anathema to our parody of liberalism.

Gran and Grandad, Mum and Dad were the key demographic when the question was whether we wanted to break political and economic alliances, and reinforce a conservative view of British culture. But now their short-term health is a threat to personal and economic liberty, they’re expendable. I have an underlying respiratory condition, but for some, my life isn’t worth saving either. How do I feel, knowing a vocal minority of my fellow Britons would be happy for me to die from a preventable illness in order to guarantee a pint down the Cock and Balls? Like I’m living in a country where every third person I meet has a piece of their brain, perhaps the most important piece, missing.

There’s no cognitive dissonance amongst the lockdown sceptics of course, because once again this is about their identity, not the dispassionate assessment of information. Conspiracy theorists are unshakable in their ignorance because their anti-establishment, anti-authoritarian tendencies, fuelled by a sense of powerlessness and over compensating for intellectual insecurity, are fundamental to who they are. Not all lockdown sceptics are Covid deniers, but many share the badge of the outsider, the contrarian, the person whose cherished, steaming pile of anecdotal evidence would take precedence in their understanding over the most certified and celebrated subject expert in the world.

It’s not that these people know nothing – they know enough to know the experts are fallible, and occasionally confused. Their error is to respect the absolute certainty of dissenting voices, because said individuals share their hatred of the opinion formers and professionals that form the head of the hegemon.

Not for nothing are the loudest sceptics those who’ve been dismissed as reactionary, ignorant, and irrelevant by the mainstream, yet remain blessed with malfunctioning confidence.

Peter Hitchens, who believes creation is governed by a supernatural entity, and who thinks he knows more about drug addiction than recovering drug addicts, is the problem made flesh. Lockdown scepticism brings them all to the fore; the ideologues with science labs, bloviating radio gobs, faded pop stars, daytime TV non-entities, David Icke, and finally, inevitably, the piped piper of militant individualism at the expense of the parent society, Nigel Farage.

So, is lockdown scientifically and ethically justified? There is no universal scientific agreement, just a majority view. It is a fact that lockdown is a political decision and a policy that has profound consequences – the so-called colleterial effects. Operations are missed, diagnoses delayed, mental health suffers – sometimes with fatal consequences, the character of society changes. Fear and distrust exacerbate the societal flaws created and deepened by decades of socially illiterate and divisive policy making (cheered on by today’s lockdown discontents).

Epidemiologists, public health scholars and cell biologists, speaking out against the Barrington Declaration – an open call to abandon lockdown in favour of focused protection for vulnerable groups (with everyone else released into the wild), note the lack of an effective proposal for insulating the vulnerable from the less vulnerable, the false equivalence between Covid and other well understood and less aggressive viruses that have proven antiviral therapies to curtail severity (and prevent fatality), and the still unknown effects of long-Covid. They balk at the immorality of societal segregation, and the sociopathy of not taking preventative action where possible, in a bid to buy the time needed to integrate the virus into the manageable suit of threats that bedevil the health service and population-at-large.

In the long-run, lockdown is not economically sustainable nor culturally desirable – it corrodes the social fabric of the country to the point no meaningful society exists (if it ever did). But in the short term, it’s a blunt instrument that acts like a temporary dam – one that provides the time, if the government can find sufficient reserves of enabling focus and competence, to bus in the labourers who’ll build the real thing.

The sceptics have their proxies – the outlying experts, vying for relevance, who say it’s a waste of time and an unforgivable example of government overreach. But these zealots (who aren’t shy about saying those backing the current majority view are acting religiously) don’t know they’re right – only that, for them, economically and philosophically, the cost of trying to prevent unnecessary Covid deaths outweighs the benefits. This obnoxious, transactional view of life is inherently conservative in nature. Little wonder than Nigel, a former commodities trader, now celebrates the mercenary, cold logic of herd immunity.

But just as the real costs of Brexit will soon be upon us (freedom isn’t free Brexitheads, as you’re about to find out), the long-term consequence of action on Covid will only be clear when it is fully understood and sustainably treatable (which isn’t the same as finding a cure). Then we’ll know if saving all those precious pensionable lives (and their younger, vulnerable relatives) was worth it. Judgement, for Hitchens et al, awaits.

Go for our lives, Nigel – history’s watching.

Published in: on November 3, 2020 at 12:53  Comments Off on Go for our lives, Nigel  
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Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 3.3

At the end of Discovery’s canon crippling second season, we reflected that any sci-fi show that undergoes a radical change in format is usually doomed. It is, we said, a sign of failure, of behind the scenes panic in the face of conceptual necrosis, and we cited Buck Rogers in the 25th Century as an example of a show that died in space because its creative team lost faith in their formative ideas.

Well, as ever with this show, what was in the ether, as we considered the worst case scenario or lowest common denominator, anticipated the half-bakery of Discovery’s hacks. Who knew, just three episodes into the third season, that the show would actually resemble Buck Rogers in story and concept? Not me – and I couldn’t quite believe my eyes as Mick et al returned to Earth, only to learn it was no longer a Federation world, but governed by something like Buck’s Earth Defense Directorate (styled here as the United Earth Defence Force for copyright purposes), protected by a planetary shield, just as it had been in Rogers’ time, and under siege from space pirates who wanted the planet’s precious resources. Not unlike, er…

Buck Rogers lost its audience because it chose to ape Star Trek. Who could have dreamed that one day Star Trek would turn to Buck Rogers for inspiration? Who knew the future would be so bleak?

Before Discovery returned home to learn that all that was left from their time was the Golden Gate Bridge and a large tree in what used to be the gardens of Starfleet Academy, there was the minor matter of reuniting the crew and having them gush over each other; the kind of mawkish, overwrought displays that have become the series’ signature – a sign that soap writers, not sci-fi genre enthusiasts, are in charge.

“People of Earth” was a curious watch because not one of the crew, though traumatised by jumping forward in time and outliving everyone they’d ever known, resented Mick for stranding them there. The mood was embodied by Tilly who cried for her dead family, but was delighted to see Burnham, the woman who’d consigned every relationship she’d held dear to an unmarked grave. Mick, in turn, showed not an ounce of guilt.

You’d have thought that as the creeping realisation they’d leaped into a dystopia, in which everything and everyone they valued was gone, sunk in, some of Discovery’s bridge officers might have wondered if committing their lives to Mick’s journey, when Leland had been defeated in the 23rd century, was a good idea. But Mick’s the luckiest screw up in the universe, because not one of her shipmates knows or understands this to be the case. Georgiou might have told them, but perhaps they’d dismiss her as unreliable – just spreading dissent. No, they love Mick, and everyone in this emotive series couldn’t wait to throw their arms around her. Mine would have been around her neck.

“You seem lighter somehow,” said Tilly, noting how relaxed Mick had become in her year with Book; a year in which she’d let go of her psychological burdens. This apparently included any guilt she might have felt at committing her friends to an aimless afterlife in a resource-poor galaxy. Maybe it was all the sex she and Book swore they hadn’t had that kept her distracted. But how much empathy and understanding did we expect from a character who once started a war and ended it with the threat of genocide, only to be commended for her actions? Mick’s always rewarded for failure – principally because others are blind to her calamitous bent. What do they notice? If this episode’s anything to go by, that she’s changed her hair.

Other than relocating the ship to the Buck Rogers universe, the episode’s remaining business was two bits of housekeeping. Saru, the only fully accredited Star Trek character in the show, was finally, formally installed as Captain, just 32 episodes into the show’s run. Mick, despite daydreaming about Book’s pendulous member, finally agreed to be the first officer. Her unique pathway to the position would no doubt be taught at the academy to cadets bored by the usual trajectory, with its tiresome emphasis on peaceful service and non-interference, were it still operating.

Finally, we were introduced to a new character – Adira. At the close we learned she was a human carrying, er, the Trill symbiont of a former Starfleet admiral. If you thought only biological Trills could carry the symbionts, as they alone had the handy pouches in their abdomen that allowed the fusion to take place, you weren’t alone. This begged the question, how and why did a human being acquire the slug? Were there no other Trills on Earth? When one thought of the orifices Adira had, and the size of the slug, it was perhaps just as well the hacks skipped over any anatomical issues with a few vague lines of dialogue; an approach we recognised from every other nonsensical conceit they’d introduced.

Anomalous Readings

  • Is it in her vag? That’s what I’m asking. I know rationally it can’t be, and maybe 32nd century surgery is highly advanced, but you can’t make more room in the body cavity than already exists, can you? And why would they give a symbiont to a 14 year-old girl? (She’s 16 in this episode and the last host died 2 years ago.) Was there really no one else on the entire planet? Mick et al knew nothing about Trills, other than they existed (which is correct, given their origin in time), but we know quite a bit. Are we going to be fed more information? And don’t give me any shit about her pronouns please. The actor may be non-binary but the character has not yet been established as such.
  • Prior to the Burn we learned dilithium had started to run out but, despite the passage of centuries, no viable alternative had been found. That sound you can hear is my suspension of disbelief breaking.
  • Stamets, who can usually be relied upon to sound competent, spoke for the audience when he noted the Burn should be impossible. But instead of using the Discovery’s computer or her crew to try and work out how all dilithium had simultaneously exploded (a disaster rendered in an unintentionally funny sequence in the opening montage), Georgiou made a stupid joke about the improbability of the spore drive. This was Discovery’s hacks saying to us, “don’t worry about this nonsense – the show’s full of conceptual bullshit”. Great, good to know they’re taking the writing seriously.
  • “Do you owe these folks anything?” Book asked Mick. Her face suggested the answer was “no” but we knew she owed them everything, having ruined all their lives unnecessarily. What a pity they hadn’t twigged.
  • Federation HQ has relocated to an unknown location and now Discovery, an isolated Starfleet vessel, must find their own kind. Sounds a bit like Battlestar Galactica, another show that switched formats and died. I know I should be shocked that the two series I thought of when thinking about terrible changes in direction are apparently the writers’ touchstones, but on this show…
  • “We thought we could imagine a future and we were wrong.” From Mick’s lips to God’s ears.

Future Imperfect

Mick’s Calamitous 23rd Century

The Old Man’s Back Again

Picard Portents

Station Keeping

Teen Fan Fic

Published in: on October 30, 2020 at 13:06  Comments Off on Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 3.3  
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Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 3.2

I don’t often write reviews on the toilet but sometimes the experience of watching a show offers a parallel too good to miss. In a few hours I’ll be enjoying an exploratory colonoscopy; a camera inserted into my guts, the excremental conduits that on a normal day would be stuffed with stodgy waste, given careful scrutiny. As I sit on a broken seat, the bowel prep formula doing its work; my rectal cavity the crest of a brown waterfall (I’m half expecting Augustus Gloop to shoot out of there); I’m reminded there’s no waste in my system but plenty coming through the pipe laid by Alex Kurtzman. It’s Discovery week, and that means I’m experiencing now, in figurative terms, what my Doctor will be looking at literally this afternoon – a delivery system for shit.

Normally, we’d expect part one of a story to be followed by part two, but the end of “Far from Home”; conspicuously not a continuation of “That Hope is You”; revealed Discovery’s plan to displace its audience in time, like the crew, and play games with chronology and sequencing.

A year had passed for Mick before she found her shipmates at the close of this non-story, and our joy at having an episode without her was superseded by the knowledge we’d be getting some flashback time with her, Book, and Book’s pussy, in a subsequent (maybe many subsequent) episodes. Is this how the hacks in Disco’s writers’ room intend to compensate for the shortage of ideas on how to populate the future – tangential, incident-focused b-stories?

Watching “Far from Home” and noting how slight it was, one was struck by how the serialised plotting of Discovery encourages thin material to be distended across entire episodes. These first two duds could have been conflated, had someone put a red pencil through the padding, but telling stories with focus and concision is not this show’s bag. What it does instead is rework the scribes’ favourite movie tropes while luxuriating in loose talk – much of it grating, leaving the viewer dissatisfied on both a plot and character level.

It was impossible to care about Saru and Tilly’s western-style trip to a space saloon (doors and all) to barter with locals terrified by the region’s bandit (spurs and all) and his gang. The genre clichés aside, the story amounted to a lot of chat; chat that descended into mindless violence when Georgiou – sadly still with us, turned up with her fearless, sadistic schtick and lines like “what you call pain, I call foreplay”.

To no audience member’s surprise a bar fight ensued. But the entire A-plot was retrospectively rendered more obnoxious by the revelation that the authority the lawless degenerates feared was Mick. Yes, she’d established herself as the local sheriff, and in less than a year. At the close she boringly rode in on her white space horse to save Discovery from destruction. It was enough to bring a lump to your arsehole.

But this was not an episode without risk. The dynamic was to partner a serious character with an idiot or idiots, inviting us to glimpse the show we’d like to see being brutally undercut by the show we’re given.

Saru, for example, is Trek incarnate, but silly Tilly, with her tendency to waffle and swear, is out of place in a TOS-era crew. Stamets could pass for a Starfleet officer, but Culber, with talk of buying a lousy t-shirt, and Reno, with her wholly contemporary smart-assery, look to have been dropped in from a different franchise. Georgiou isn’t a Star Trek character at all, but she did make Ms Yum Yum (her character’s name escapes me) look like a model of propriety by comparison. Three seasons in and I still can’t name the navigators either, though here we were asked to care about one’s PTSD.

Discovery’s crash was a great chance to kill the half of the crew that don’t belong, but the hacks responsible for this show are too attached to their monstrous creations to cull them in the interests of refining their product. Thus, the Star Trek spell, teased as the crew resolved to band together and address their ticking clock crisis, was broken.

Still, the crew are now reunited and ready to impose their brand of tumultuous order and signalled (if not practiced) virtues on the underwhelming, Star Wars-inspired, Wild West of the final frontier. Strap yourselves in, kids – it’s gonna be mediocre.

Anomalous Readings

  • Tilly appeared to have gained some weight during the flight through the wormhole. Saru was too polite to mention it.
  • “You have some Leland on your shoe”; the horror of Georgiou’s survival was felt deep in my cleansed gut.
  • I felt for Saru and Tilly, knowing they’re stuck for life with the likes of Georgiou. As Leland’s remains were scooped into a bio-bin, I was reminded it was all for nothing.
  • The logo has been fixed and is now aligned with the promotional material. What’s going on here? Seeing the TOS styling attached to this show feels very wrong, regardless.

Future Imperfect

Mick’s Calamitous 23rd Century

The Old Man’s Back Again

Picard Portents

Station Keeping

Teen Fan Fic

Published in: on October 23, 2020 at 09:49  Comments Off on Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 3.2  
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Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 3.1

Welcome back, space folks. Since we last sat down to watch Star Trek: Discovery – the show introducing its premise after a short 29 hour pilot episode, the world’s changed. We live in an era of plague. Death stalks our every move. We’ve lost relatives, some of them good – jobs, and the social connections that gave life its colour and contrast. Our relationships first broke down, then up, as we realised that being trapped indoors with our betrothed was a test of endurance; prolonged exposure that laid bare the fatal errors in our cavalier selection process. Life’s become very hard.

Are we really ready for another full season of Mick and the crew time forgot?

Going in I was worried by the health implications. In March Picard’s finale weakened my immune system. Jean-Luc, a walking mediation on the human condition in the Shakespearean tradition becoming a machine and Data being euthanised because no one told him his consciousness was being stored in a lab where his lifelong dream of having a flesh and blood body, mortality, relatives, and a culture and people of his own could be realised, made me highly susceptible to Covid-19. I had to register Picard as an underlying health condition. And just as I was getting over it, once again finding the strength to walk around and eat, I caught Star Trek: Lower Decks – the comedy stylings of nineties’ teen fanboys, now trapped in adult bodies, that canonised Star Trek parody in-universe. Little wonder my Doctor begged me not to follow the Discovery to the 32nd century. It could, he said, cause irreversible damage.

A radical change in premise, as well as being an admission of failure, usually signals the beginning of the end for a sci-fi show. Think Buck Rogers ending his run on a space ship with Wilfrid Hyde-White, or the Galactica finding Earth, the original crew all dead and a child genius in charge. But this, we’re told is a new beginning for a series that can ignore the commercial imperatives of old – like viewership and critical acclaim, thanks to the fiendishly complicated way it’s licenced and funded. No show as bad as Discovery has lasted so long, nor had its future guaranteed by contractual clusterfuck and corporate impotence. 

Discovery’s journey through time, designed to protect a galaxy spanning archive of knowledge from a megalomaniacal AI that had been defeated minutes earlier, reassured us that any further damage to the TOS period would be avoided. Since then we’ve learned that Strange New Worlds will resume that vandalism – essentially a second attempt by Kurtzman et al to make a popular prequel, making the Discovery’s exile doubly pointless.

Still, at least Mick, Tilly, and their misfit colleagues mystifyingly volunteered to be confined to a time period we don’t know and don’t care about – so far removed from established Trek continuity that a future showrunner on a better series, could easily wipe it from canon with a timeline changing event. Pray God, they will.

What kind of future would Mick – the walking disaster area who starts wars and ruins great characters’ backstories, find? We knew it couldn’t be utopian or settled, because Discovery’s hacks would consider that too lofty, too abstract; too great a demand on their imaginations. No, we knew, because we’d spent a few minutes listing the most obvious options, that the crew would stumble upon the aftermath of some galaxy-spanning disaster, and they – meaning Mick, would be the unlikely (and unqualified) last hope for utopia’s restoration. This would allow them to talk about the Federation’s values, though they’d been the single greatest threat to them (not) on record, while indulging in all the antithetical behaviour, born of situational necessity, that a Kurtzman-approved writers’ room enjoys.

Sure enough, “That Hope is You, Part 1” (the ‘you’ being Mick of course), introduced us to a Star Wars-y, rough and ready 3188, where Andorians and Orions run grungy trading outposts – something like the repurposed sets from Picard’s Freecloud. Our guide to this lawless assortment of borrowed visuals was Book – an archetypal space smuggler, introduced with one of Rick and Morty’s favourite clichés, “you son of a bitch”, when remonstrating with an alien he’d stolen from, only to be grounded when Mick, with characteristic subtlety, emerged from her time hole and smashed into him, felling them both.

In a sign the writers have learned that no one enjoys Discovery’s Burnham-first approach to telling its stories, the ship and crew didn’t feature at all in this opening episode. Instead, the hacks thought we’d enjoy a space buddy action comedy, with Mick and Book involved in gun fight after gun fight, as they fought off alien marauders.

Amidst the mindless action and low comedy, the hulking Book, prone to dropping the word “damn” into his sentences, because he’s an edgy bastard, drip fed us the exposition we craved. The Federation had collapsed, he told a desolate Mick, following “The Burn”. Did this refer to Burnham, whose presence guarantees catastrophe? Alas, no, rather a vaguely recalled and half-understood incident (despite its historic significance) in which dilithium, the crystalline power source for all starships, mysteriously became unstable and exploded. This, we’re, told, mothballed the fleet, and caused the alliance to break down.

The show didn’t want us to reflect on this revelation for too long, so moved on straight away, but when one thought about it, confusion reigned. The Federation had got to the 29th century without finding a better power source than dilithium? Had there been no innovation in warp propulsion in eight centuries? That’s like us travelling to the next millennium to discover we’re still using fossil fuels. The Discovery, a relic, had superior tech – a spore drive. Could the galaxy’s scientists have not found a way to replicate a stable form of the crystal by then? What kind of force could change the chemical makeup of a single substance, simultaneously, across the entire galaxy? What about things like transwarp conduits, stable wormholes, etc?

Mick noted, almost as an afterthought, that the Federation was more than its ships. But the implication here was that it couldn’t survive a temporary breakdown in archaic propulsion technology. But don’t worry, kids – this is the Discovery writers’ room we’re talking about, they wouldn’t just toss off an idea like this without thinking through both the detail and its implications.

In the end we had to wait 45 minutes for this opener to resemble a Star Trek episode. Book took Mick to see a lonely non-commissioned hereditary Federation sector administrator, amongst the floating ruins of a Starbase, who’d waited his entire adult life to meet a real Starfleet officer. If he was disappointed it was Mick, he was too polite to say so. Instead, she gave him the commission he’d craved and they resolved to find the Discovery. We knew they would of course, just wondered if they should.

Anomalous Readings

  • We learned the Gorn had done something to subspace; destroyed some of it? How the fuck did they do that? You can almost taste the cocaine that fuelled these ideas.
  • Book has a cat called Grudge. Named after the audience, perhaps?
  • Mick, as is her wont, made a speech about the Federation’s values, but minutes later was threatening to vengefully come after Book, when he betrayed her at the space port. Revenge and violence are of course integral to Starfleet. Indeed, Mick punched Book several times in this episode, reassuring both him and us that the principles of old would not be forgotten in the future.
  • Dosed with truth serum, Mick was characteristically modest when discussing her role in marooning the Discovery in the 32nd century. “I saved all the things” she said. Yes, and we’re very grateful. I wouldn’t want to have been denied this future.
  • Mick was swallowed by a worm but sadly it spat her out. Oh, Discovery, you are a tease.
  • Book actually said, “I’m space broke” – indicating we’re in for another serial lacking any sense of irony or self-awareness.
  • Ladies and Genitals, please be upstanding for the word “shit” – a term so popular it’s survived in popular usage to the 32nd century and is spoken by humans who originate from other planets.
  • During the recent Star Trek Day virtual event, Alex Kurtzman made much of the fact that Discovery’s logo had been changed. The old font, he said, had something to do with the Klingon storyline from season one, so was no longer appropriate? In the new title sequence, the styling of “Discovery” had indeed changed, but the font for “Star Trek” had not, making it incongruous with all the marketing material for the new season. What is it with Alex and logos? Picard’s title styling didn’t match the promotional bumph either. What’s going on?

Mick’s Calamitous 23rd Century

The Old Man’s Back Again

Picard Portents

Station Keeping

Teen Fan Fic

Published in: on October 16, 2020 at 13:13  Comments Off on Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 3.1  
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Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Lower Decks – Season One

Star Trek: Lower Decks isn’t a Star Trek series in any meaningful sense but it purports to be, so let’s give creator Mike McMahan, whose chubby, bespectacled appearance suggests he was grown in a lab from the distillate of clueless geekdom, that which is undeserved; the legitimacy of a review.

Unlike the show in question, it won’t be breezy and will resist talking about Star Trek in a wearisomely meta way, instead concentrating on what made the old franchise viable as a long-term proposition. The “fans” who made this self-indulgent fan fic, know they love Trek. But Lower Decks proves the old adage that to love is not to understand, or indeed to recognise the awesome responsibility that comes with expanding the franchise.

If, like me, you were a teenager when The Next Generation became a pop culture staple and touchstone for your fandom, you probably discussed with friends, with adolescent glibness, many joke scenarios featuring your favourite characters in which incongruity – them exhibiting contemporaneous attitudes, manifesting incompetence, acting contrary to the franchise’s values, upsetting its tone, and possessing the same knowledge as the audience, was the joke.

Wouldn’t it be funny (before it actually happened and was not funny) if Data said “shit”? Imagine if Picard spent an episode mesmerised by Troi’s tits? Suppose Wesley fucked up for once, made the wrong calculation, and a ship of space nuns exploded? Could Geordi be using that visor to see through people’s clothes? Suppose Beverley brought a virus aboard that made everyone perform showtunes? What if Riker had a venereal disease that produced a pheromone that aroused Worf? What if the Enterprise computer broke down and the ship had to run on an antique copy of Windows 95?

Easy playground laughs for those familiar with the characters and the conventions of their self-serious universe, you might think. But simple though those jokes would have been, no Trekkie of the period would ever have imagined that one day, the same approach would be used to script a real series; albeit an animated one revelling in its licence to be more heightened and less dramatic; made under the Star Trek banner.

For one thing, as any savvy 13 year-old from the early nineties would have told you, what raises a few chuckles amongst your wayward pals, as you while away the time you’re supposed to be using to learn algebra, would kill a real show.

The concept of a Star Trek sitcom, though problematic, wouldn’t necessarily destroy the integrity and fidelity of the universe in which it was set. The humour could be carefully mined from the outré situations junior characters might find themselves in, their adventures suitably inconsequential enough – maybe C-stories, skipping the B category altogether – as to not intrude or undermine the serious moral questions and dramatic stakes of the A-stories that usually propel a Trek series. But the writing would have to be deft, witty, and take care not to mock the suspension of disbelief required to make Star Trek work. Tragically, Lower Decks, from its derivative name down, takes the opposite approach.

What we have here is a group of self-congratulating but not especially bright Trekkies, building a show around the kind of playground conceits shat out above. These inanities are dressed up using the iconography of real Star Trek, and each episode is stuffed with callbacks to previous series; a passive aggressive means of affirming the show’s in-universe credentials, while simultaneously, by appropriating the audience’s detailed knowledge of said universe, destroying its integrity.

McMahan’s shallow hacks, whose reverence for Trek resembles James Cameron’s respect for the Titanic when he landed his submersible on the wreck and broke it, delights in giving us Beckett Mariner, the insubordinate ensign and daughter to the ship’s Captain; obnoxiously rebellious, a serial rule-breaker, who talks like a 21st century teenager, and doesn’t give a fuck, man.

The question of how such a person, lacking all focus or discipline, could become an officer aside (even comic rebels have to get serious to be commissioned, in a sop to credibility, in the end – see Bill Murray in Stripes), she’s an affront not just to the stock currency of Starfleet characters, namely competence, but to the universe that demands it. She’s the vessel via which the professionalism and curiosity of the senior characters is mocked. Looking at the Trek universe through this lens warps it, belittles it.

The series finale, “No Small Parts”, doubles down and suggests Mariner’s disdain for protocol and ability to think like a cavalier, irresponsible idiot, is an asset – one that will give her Captain an edge. Did Mike McMahan jot that idea down as a fifteen year-old between fits of masturbation? It took another wanker, Alex Kurtzman, to commission it.

The other lower deckers are, in no particular order, Boimler, an officious and earnest bag of nerves whose principle function is to contrast with Mariner’s free-spirited no fucks given attitude. Tendi, an impish, smiley, perma-optimistic irritant. And Rutherford, an engineer who represents the fans who love Trek’s technology and its attendant technobabble. You might think that doesn’t read like a lot of comic potential, and you’d be right.

What we’re left with are ten episodes of compressed, hyperactive Trek self-parodies, that range from loud and unwatchable to light-hearted and inconsequential. If you’re minded to see it as a side-show, an irrelevant (if lacking the wit to be irreverent) send up of all the elements that make Star Trek’s world a place you’d want to occupy, surrounded by people who’d encourage you to be the best version of yourself, then it’s a colourful distraction. If nothing matters, who cares if Q makes an appearance, or Riker and Troi join the fray as one-note reprises of their live action counterparts?

But if McMahan and his retinue of frivolous bullshit artists dare to dream this show can co-exist canonically with its predecessors, then Lower Decks is yet another disastrous successor to the franchise of old. A show this stupid can’t be Star Trek, and characters this zany, scatty, and superficial have no place in it. In short, McMahan’s made a Trek, apparently scripted by fans, with an approach most likely to appeal to those who never accepted the show’s dramatic credentials, so didn’t respect the originals. Why anyone who cared about Gene Roddenberry’s legacy would commission such a show, is a mystery Data’s Sherlock Holmes couldn’t solve.

More from Planet Kurtzman:

Picard Portents

Discovery’s right couple of seasons

Station Keeping

Published in: on October 8, 2020 at 15:42  Comments Off on Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Lower Decks – Season One  
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The Missing Article on the Death of Cinema

Today the news broke that Cineworld – the largest chain of flick parlours in the UK, is to close, having been starved of revenue by twitchy Hollywood studios deferring their white elephants to next year. We’ll return to whether this is industrial self-harm later. In the meantime, cinephiles, who have the same relationship with Cineworld as gastronomes have with Five Guys, were left to revel in the black comedy of a chain that re-opened a few weeks ago, with tailored ads welcoming back customers and proclaiming “the interval is over” now preparing to shut down indefinitely, without knowing whether it will ever again be a viable business. See you next year, Cineworlders? I wouldn’t count on it.

The news prompted me to reflect on my own troubled relationship with Cineworld as a cost-effective pipeline for celluloid duds. Long before the pandemic’s rapid acceleration of flight to the dark but cheap world of streaming, the flammable celluloid was stacked against the wall for the cinematic experience. At least it was if the primary goal of cinema attendance was to see original stories, well-told, in an attentive auditorium.

When my local cinema became a Cineworld in 2011, I signed up to their unlimited offer straight away – as many tickets as you dared to claim for a monthly subscription. The timing was excellent because by 2011, ticket prices had crept up to a level that made casual attendance hard to justify. The quality of movies declined in the Noughties and so too the audiences, whose propensity to shine a torch in your eyes using their phones, or talk, or display any one of a myriad of behaviours antithetical to cinematic etiquette and the act of concentration a satisfying theatrical experience demands, often made attendance more frustrating than entertaining.

Cineworld boss Moshe Greidinger, known affectionately by Cineworlders and his creditors as “Mooky”, understood this very well. If the product was crap and the people who came to see it were thoughtless idiots, why not, in a foretelling of the streaming era to come, turn your business into a subscription service? Subscriptions lock you in – compel you to get your money’s worth. If people paid next to nothing for the flicks, they’d be far less aggrieved when absorbing flops, and maybe more tolerant of the behaviour that accompanied casual, risk free attendance. And those not buying tickets would be far more likely to consume their weight in foul smelling food and sugar water, thereby adding to the misery of the 6% of patrons who turned up because they were serious about watching a movie and getting through it unmolested.

The Cineworld model stemmed the bleeding, because it made cinema, which was already reasonable value for money, good value for money in an increasingly varied entertainment landscape. Movies cost millions but you could see them for next to nothing – an improvement on seeing them for a relative pittance. The only thing that could scupper this model, was a home entertainment option that allowed you to receive a greater choice of new films with indistinguishable production values for a third of a price, and what were the chances of that?

The problem with movies in the modern era, is that streaming, with its guaranteed revenue and different risk calculus for creatives and executives alike, made the shortcomings of the theatrical model for distribution all too apparent.

Hollywood movies in the 2010’s were overall, dreadful. I recall the pain of trying to select ten of the best for my end of decade round-up on The Ooh Tray, and having to re-read hundreds of reviews in an effort to find a memorable cockle worth talking about. It was hard because so many of the hundreds of movies I’d seen and reviewed in that period had been derivative, formulaic, bland, or creatively inept.

Early in the ‘10s a campaign had been launched to protect against piracy – “an experience worth paying for”, but the studios forgot to invest in films that justified buying a ticket. Worse, risk aversion in the industry had reached absurd levels, with profitability contingent on a seemingly endless slate of nostalgia-driven IP revivals, reboots, remakes, sequels and prequels. It’s hard to project confidence in cinema’s future when everything you make suggests it’s all over, and the best that can now be achieved is trading on the memory of Hollywood’s past glories.

So the profane graffiti was on the wall, cinephiles. In 2019, when Disney, who had the best run of hits in that decade, released their tentative slate for the 2020s, it signalled that the imagined decade to come would be one in which cinema’s USP would shift to pure, big-budget spectacle, to the exclusion of everything else.

Streaming could soak up the middle-brow stuff that used to be the movies’ bread and butter. Audiences could only be coaxed from their living rooms (or bedrooms) by pop culture event offerings like, er, Avatar 2, a new Star Wars trilogy, 67 Marvel movies, DC flicks, and merciless so on. Streaming would benefit from these flicks in time but it would not directly compete because of the exclusive theatrical window that guaranteed exhibitors their audience over an ever-shortening period. A box office hit shifting to, say, Netflix, might generate a few subscriptions, so the potential was there for both to co-exist, one supplementing future content for the other, just as cinema had successfully found a symbiotic relationship with other usurpers like TV, home video, DVD, Blu-ray, et al.

Cineworld’s potential collapse, however, is a reminder that Coronavirus has not just changed that understanding, but may also have prompted Hollywood, with typical foresight and business savvy, to accelerate the death of the exhibitor model on which its business currently depends.

When Tenet – the pretentious Christopher Nolan spy thriller, failed to coax health-conscious patrons back into American theatres, the studios panicked and moved all their expensive entertainments; their huge budgets predicated on the aforementioned assumption that rendered spectacle would be intrinsic to their success; to the unknowable future of 2021. If you don’t think about it for more than 5 seconds, this seems like a sensible move. Why release a blockbuster when there’s no audience prepared to see it, when you can wait until there’s a vaccine and enjoy the billion dollar gross required to break even?

But when you do think about it you realise the sociopathic indifference to the health of cinema chains – the exhibitors you rely on to show your product, is curious at best, cultural vandalism at worst.

If coronavirus is still a thing by next summer, Cineworld and its American proxies, along with other chains, may well go under. With no screens to show these terrible movies on, they have no chance of making a profit, meaning they’ll be ported direct to streaming where they’ll all lose money. That’s just the short term hit. In the mid-term, the cinematic experience as we know it will be over.

Hollywood, having come to the conclusion that its now in the forever blockbuster business if it wants to keep the relationship between it and its business model viable, will have starved its exhibitor partners to death, and in doing so, forced itself to become a supplier of streaming content. Does that mean it will have to start making real movies again, you say? The streaming ecosystem, though stocked with its fair share of effluent, has seen an explosion of innovative, well-crafted original content – stuff that’s made the infantile, risk-adverse offerings bound for the big screen look very ordinary indeed. If homeless Hollywood studios want to rent there, they’ll have to fit in and match their competitors for quality and curiosity.

Hollywood may still be able to save the cinema experience, but that could mean getting back into the exhibitor business. A recent court ruling overturned the anti-trust legislation that forced them out of it back in 1948 (and one could argue engendered the uneasy relationship that’s just been unilaterally terminated). If the studios can survive the collapse of their audience, finding a suitably dazzling offer to entice them back, they could do worse than buy up chains and flood with them with exclusive, eye-catching product.

But what could they make that streaming giants, with their vast resources, couldn’t copy? And once the cinematic habit is broken, what manner of movie will convince those who’ve become accustomed to seeing new films of every hue, instantly, at home, in conditions of optimal comfort and convenience, to spend time and additional cash travelling to a cinema, to sit in the company of obnoxious, inattentive strangers?

In December 2019, I wondered, having sat through the terrible Rise of Skywalker, whether a certain era of movie attendance was coming to a close. Then, I envisioned a decline based on Hollywood’s creative bankruptcy and an exponential migration to streaming. Cinema was increasingly expensive, relative to the competition, and had little to offer but the old magic of being lost in the dark with the hypnotic pull of the big screen.

Once, the choice before you was The Brady Bunch on TV, or Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H in cinemas – The Streets of San Francisco or The Godfather Part II.  Now we go to the flicks to see the disposable cookie-cutter material and turn to streaming for the bold, exciting content. Hollywood could rely on old habits and patterns of consumption to retain this multiplicity of viewing, and the mental adjustment required to maintain it, but it appears to have just rolled the dice on ending that choice once and for all.

If cinema as an experience is over, the obituarists will remember the pandemic as the killer. But the truth is that Hollywood created the conditions of its own irrelevance long before someone walked into a live food market in Wuhan.

It fed its loyal customers a steady diet of under-nourishing crap, inviting them to contrast that with the gourmet offerings appearing online. Cineworld, like many chains, created an experience to go with the crap that was equally frustrating – clueless staff, bad food, non-functional ticket machines, lawless auditoriums, technical flubs, and senseless screenings times that made coordinating flicks unnecessarily difficult. I’ll mourn the place for all that, but only the way you miss an old friendship long after its broken down.

I will miss the idea of going to the cinema, if indeed it is done, but not the reality. If there’s another act – it will have to be characterised by intelligent and artful programming (crowd pleasers with brains and style) coupled by a rethink of how that presentation is managed and paid for. If not, you can mark the death of cinema as a suicide.

A Disaster Foretold:

Published in: on October 4, 2020 at 14:35  Comments Off on The Missing Article on the Death of Cinema  
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