Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 3.13 (End of Season Psychosis)

Season finales are supposed to be cathartic, exhilarating, even satisfying. That feeling you get when you close a good book after reaching the final page. On Discovery such emotions are a long shot. The show’s hacks are a world removed from their audience. Yet, who could have predicted that the end of this run of Disco would instil anger. In those final moments, with Saru dispatched so that Mick could annex the Captain’s chair, a passive aggressive quote from Gene Roddenberry, and with Alexander Courage’s Star Trek theme ringing in our ears, the show once again affirming itself as carrier of the flame, the hacks’ complete design was visible to us for the first time. It turned out to be a mechanical boot to kick our teeth in.

We might have hated the story of Su’kal – the Kelpian child who somehow formed a genetic link with dilithium and sub-space, wrecking both with the power of his mind having witnessed the death of his mother, but boy did we understand that exclamation of grief. His upset shattered the Star Trek universe, but ours was a response to seeing it shattered – watching week on week as the hacks responsible played fast and loose with Roddenberry’s vision, only to audaciously quote him at the close. 

For much of this third season (in keeping with the first two) we’ve suspected Disco’s hacks had no strong sense of what they wanted to achieve with this run. The decision to set the show in the thirty-second century was a response to (and acceptance of) the criticism that they’d comprehensively botched, in canon and aesthetic, the ill-defined TOS prequel concept they’d inherited, following the early sacking of show creator, Bryan Fuller – a backdrop only ever intended to be a one-season setting in an era-spanning anthology series.

Sending the Discovery 950 years ahead was a massive overcorrection. Why not set the new series in the twenty-fifth century, building on established Trek continuity? Why force yourself to build a world from scratch, when you’ve already demonstrated you can’t complement the work of those who’ve come before you, or build on those ideas?

The sharpest minds working in television, sci-fi literate, perhaps employing futurists to imagine the tech, might have been up to the task. But Discovery’s hacks were incapable of imagining this strange new world. Their thirty-second century resembled Voyager’s Delta Quadrant – a creative necropolis. It had no unifying identity, a thinly-drawn political backdrop, and no significant technological advances for a universe as separated from the original series as we are from the Norman Conquest.

The concept of the Burn provided a convenient cover for this creative myopia. If the universe had gone backwards and was fragmented, then no strong identity for the thirty-second century was necessary. Disco’s hacks side-stepped their clean-slate premise with nebulous allusions to the disaster, modest visual upgrades on what had gone before, and the absenting of the Alpha Quadrant’s great powers.

Vulcan and Romulan unification was a cute and unimaginative way to tell a story about Mick’s old stomping ground, while invoking her connection to Spock, but we never learned what the Klingons, Cardassians, and other former Empires were up to. Instead, the hacks repositioned fringe races like the Orions and the Andorians – making the former, mystifyingly, slave traders. Quite a journey for a species who’d once been slaves.

Then there were the details surrounding the Burn – a disaster that ill-advisedly focused on propulsion. Why ill-advisedly? Because the ancient Discovery had a Spore Drive that could and should have provided an instant solution.

The show never explained why the thirty-second century was so reliant on an outdated fossil fuel to power its ships, or why the Spore Drive – the Discovery’s anachronistic prequel tech, could not be replicated in that century and rolled out to restore interstellar travel.

Eventually, the hacks realised this had to be addressed in-narrative, so had the Federation’s less advanced enemies be the ones capable of replicating it. Again, they refused to explain why a Federation 930 years ahead of Discovery’s own, couldn’t find a way to mass produce a technology they’d once built themselves.

It was only in the final episode, “That Hope is You, Part 2” – not, it should be noted a continuation of Part 1 – that we understood how the season had been written backwards, and every head scratching decision we’d poured over had been made to facilitate the pre-determined finale.

In the beginning the hacks had their whiteboard, and on it, we surmised, were priorities like;

  • Make Mick Captain
  • Remove Saru from the ship in a way the audience will accept (he’s so officious and boring!)
  • Make the Discovery a prize for the Federation’s enemies – because they have the Spore Drive (so we’ll need to create a demand for it; maybe have a disaster that’s grounded warp capable ships)
  • Promote Tilly (we love her!)
  • Get more LGBTQ+ visibility on the show. Not important for story purposes but worth pushing to the fore anyway we can. It provides cover for whatever regressive shit we’re doing in-story.

Thus began the work of plotting a serial that would hit these marks. The Burn was a long-winded exit story for Saru – the show’s only bona fide Star Trek character, who took time off to care for the lonely Kelpian responsible. Mick, who once started a war with the Klingons, and has wrought death and destruction wherever she goes, forever insubordinate, was rewarded by a grateful Admiral Vance with promotion to Captain. Yes, she disobeyed orders, and killed a lot of people, including that Orion bitch, Osyraa, but as Vance gushed, it got the job done.

Mick’s promotion formalised her lead character status – giving the hacks an excuse to legitimately focus on her, but the vouchsafing of her methods, recalling a similar scene between the equally undisciplined Mariner and her literal mother superior in Lower Decks, felt wholly unearned.

Those hacks had ensured she saved the ship and the Federation, but they had to turn her into a violent loner to do it. The archetypal badass who doesn’t play by the rules. If you can only conceive of heroism in these terms, don’t quote Gene Roddenberry.

The only thing worse than getting to the end of another terrible season of Discovery, with its requisite brutality, moral confusion, and idiocy, and imagining the hacks didn’t know what they were doing, is imagining they did. As this third run ended, we contemplated the horror that so blind were the writers to the show’s failings, and their own, this season was actually the sum-total of the goals they’d set themselves at the outset. A job well done, if the job was to further widen the gap between the Star Trek we used to love, and the half-witted imposter how strutting around in its clothes.

Anomalous Readings

  • One thing that wasn’t on the writers’ whiteboard was dealing with the crew’s PTSD, once they were displaced from their lives by a millennia. The characters didn’t grow or change now they were out of time. Instead, there was a little moodiness, some whimpering, and even regret, when Stamets realised that Mick was a wreckless arsehole, but nothing like a mediation on what being stranded in the future would actually do to time’s refugees.
  • Rather than develop the cast as an ensemble, the hacks doubled down on placing the emphasis on Mick, Tilly and genocidal deviant, Georgiou. They seemed the least interested in Saru, whom they’d made captain. As the series progressed, the Kelpian’s importance decreased, and with him, the moderation, adherence to rules, and dialogue-first approach to solving problems that he represented. His offloading in the finale should alarm anyone contemplating Season 4.
  • Each episode concentrated on the emotional responses to situations, rather than the logic of the set up or the professionalism of the crew. Plot elements like Adira’s dead lover and former host, the role of the sentient sphere data, and Mick’s relationship with Book (the show’s lonely and desperate attempt at affirming its literary credentials), were introduced, then forgotten for episodes on end, only to be hastily revisited at the close – thereby robbing the narrative of build, tension, or intrigue. The people behind this show can’t manage a serial format, so why use it?
  • There were no memorable or outstanding episodes in the 13-week run.
  • At least the crew how have the correct fucking uniforms.
  • As in J.J Abrams’ dumb movies, the area the turbo lifts move in was shown to be vast and empty, rather than the simple shafts of say, the TNG era. It’s the perfect visual metaphor for the conceptual vacuity that dogs this series.
  • “Let’s fly!” said Captain Mick. I had a different two word phrase for her.  
  • If the show were run on the quality metrics employed under the old studio system, it is inconceivable that any of the existing producers or writing staff would return for Season 4.
  • And that’s it, friends! We’ve done it – we’ve survived another season of Disco. It dares to return and so must we. Be ready. What horrors await with Mick formally in charge and the show’s premise now established, just 40 episodes in? I can hardly bear to think about it.

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 January 8, 2021 at 14:13  Comments Off on Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 3.13 (End of Season Psychosis)  
Tags: , , , , ,

Dear Chris Chibnall: Revolution of the Daleks

FURTHER VIEWING

• Dear Chris Chibnall: The Timeless Criticisms (Video)

FURTHER READING

Everybody do the Chibnall drag:

Capaldi’s Long Goodbye:

Christmas 2016:

Christmas 2015:

The Old Man and the C: 

The Clara Oswald Show:

Smith – The Dark Suit Jacket Years: 

Smith in his Pomp:

Deep Time:

Published in: on January 2, 2021 at 14:02  Comments Off on Dear Chris Chibnall: Revolution of the Daleks  
Tags: , , ,

Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 3.12

One of the things we lament on Star Trek: Discovery is its hacks’ propensity to borrow from low rent stuff when formulating plots. You see, we like to think of Star Trek as high-minded and we recall the writers of previous series looked to a wide range of sources – from epic poetry to ‘40’s film noirs, via novels and plays, when thinking about hooks to hang stories on.

We didn’t blame them for this, they had 26 episodes a year to make. As noted in this blog, Discovery’s writers, despite having far fewer scripts to produce and far more time to finesse them, have typically drawn from a far more narrow subset of popular culture – franchise movies and schlock; the kind of broad stuff that you or I might think about if we, like these hacks, were genre and franchise illiterate.

Thus, it would be easy to complain that “There is a tide…” was just a lazy Die Hard riff with, who else, Mick as John McClane. After all, the A-Story is her attempt to retake the ship from Osyraa and dull, formless villains, the Emerald Chain, using the grace and intelligence we’ve come to know.

She strangles a man with her inner thighs, blows a woman out into space with an accompanying quip – “you’re gonna need more regulators”, even neck pinches Stamets to prevent him saving his partner and best friend. And she does it dirty and wounded, with bare feet and plenty of testosterone. It’s idiotic, lazy, boring, not to mention antithetical to Starfleet’s way of doing things, but in fairness to Discovery, it’s not the first time Star Trek has been tempted by this familiar fly in the ointment, pain in the ass tribute to those Bruce Willis actioners.

TNG, which I usually cite as a bastion of restraint and intelligence, had Picard go up against a band of space thieves in the badly titled, “Starship Mine”. He shot one with a crossbow and enjoyed a fist fight with another, before the bad guy blew up while making their escape. Some said, and some were right to say, that this un-Trekian indulgence was Patrick Stewart’s first foray into action schlock territory. He got a taste for it there, foreshadowing the broad and brainless movies that followed.

Voyager’s “The Basics” was far more successful, not least because the writers found a plausible way to have their cake and eat it.  They removed the main cast from the action by marooning them on a prehistoric planet, while the ship’s bad apple – disturbed, psychotic betazoid Lon Suder, became the unwitting hero of the story. The explosion from the Kazon suicide bomber that facilitated the ship’s takeover freed our antihero from confinement and gave him the opportunity to hide, recruit the holographic doctor, and retake the vessel. He succeeded but at the cost of his own life, keeping the show’s moral ducks in a row. Redemption, yes – but getting your hands dirty with violence and murder means paying the ultimate price.

So we’ve been here before, but whereas the TNG and Voyager examples were flights of fancy, format breakers in long seasons, “There is a tide…” was congruous with Discovery’s taste for overwrought action, casual violence, and of course, using Mick to save the day. Fuck, the script even had Book saying as much, in case we hadn’t understood how dependent the hacks are on the character to embody their dumb conception of heroism.

Watching her strut around the ship, using lethal force – except when stunning the wheelchair bound Emerald Chain scientist (because following up his speech to Stamets about the Chain giving this disabled character a chance in life with his murder, would have been crass, even for this show), we were reminded how ill-suited Mick is to a franchise built on enlightened thinking and humane problem solving. Still, director Jonathan Frakes seemed to enjoy staging the fights and the pyrotechnics – it must have felt like the good ol’ days of Star Trek: First Contact.

The only structural element that paid off, conceptually, was the internal theme of the trojan horse. Osyraa had used Discovery to infiltrate Federation HQ. But once inside, her unremarkable henchman struggled to purge the ship’s system of indigenous code. The reason? The Buster Keaton flick in the ship’s memory. This outlying file stubbornly refused to be deleted and we immediately suspected it was being used as a safe haven for the ship’s sentient sphere data – a suspicion confirmed at the close when it uploaded itself into some maintenance droids and offered to help Tilly retake the ship.

With Mick killing everyone, it wasn’t clear why the sphere’s brain thought help was required. But even John McClane needed a little help from Sgt. Al Powell and limo driver, Argyle. No hero can save the day alone. Sometimes secondary characters lend a hand to foster the illusion the writers are as interested in them as their superhuman, indestructible protagonist.

Anomalous Readings

  • As Mick laboured to retake the ship with brute force and a blunt wit, Osyraa was busy trying to convince Admiral Vance that she came not to bury the Federation but to join it. Improbably, she saw the Chain’s future as an alliance with its ideological enemies, and had even gone to the trouble of drawing up an armistice, which Vance read and endorsed without any lawyers present to legally scrub the text, examine the fine print, or indeed, consider the long-term implications. Incredibly, a deal was on the table, backed by one conversation, despite the Chain’s history of extortion, slavery, and murder, until Vance suggested, perhaps unhelpfully, that the price of peace was Osyraa standing trial for her crimes. I’m not a diplomat, you understand, but making the trial and imprisonment of the other party’s chief negotiator a pre-condition for signing a treaty, could be chalked up as a failure of statecraft.
  • Vance, an Admiral, who spoke with the authority of the President, though he’d only been authorised to deal directly with Osyraa prior to learning the subject of their discussion, presumed to make a lot of decisions on the Federation’s behalf, going so far as declaring, “I want the Federation to join the Chain”. Well, you might, Admiral – but shouldn’t you have deferred to the council and its ministers, and representatives from other Federation worlds, the moment you realised it was a peace negotiation? Perhaps then you could have gleaned the Federation’s official position and its red lines. I wouldn’t feel comfortable sitting down with the enemy’s official rep, at no notice, with no one to help me but a hologram. But perhaps Vance didn’t get to where he is by ducking the big decisions.
  • The Chain’s human rights record should mean any formal merger with the Federation was impossible. It would be like the EU admitting a state like Saudi Arabia, or the United Kingdom. Absurd.
  • Osyraa’s big pitch was that Chain scientists could replicate the Spore Drive and cure the galaxy’s ills. Her contention was that her scientists could do it and the Federation’s couldn’t – an impression bolstered by the Chain’s brain, Aurellio, telling Stamets they could replicate the tardigrade DNA in his system and by extension, manufacture the interfaces required to make the technology ubiquitous. Once again we were asked to believe that the Federation, with nearly a thousand years of scientific and technological advancement, couldn’t do this themselves. Why not? The Emerald Chain, a bunch of space merchants, themselves still reliant on dilthium for propulsion, who can’t make a holographic projector that doesn’t glitch, can mass produce the Spore Drive but Starfleet, with its programmable matter, can’t?  
  • Now talk has shifted to using the Spore Drive as a means to solve the problem created by the Burn, it looks like solving the mystery of the disaster will have no bearing on fixing it. So why did we spend 11 weeks fretting over the cause?
  • Crisp dialogue of the week – Vance: “It’s made from our shits, y’know.”
  • Book to Tilly: “You’re the best chance for Michael to make it out of here alive.” Oh, yeah?
  • We learned that by 3189 there’s a Deep Space 253. That’s quite an expansion. They must be running out of distant places to turn into outposts.
  • Mick sent a mayday to her mother, while hiding in a Jeffries Tube. Does that mean the Vulcans and Romulans will show up en masse next week? It wouldn’t be a Discovery season finale without a blowout.
  • Speaking of blowouts, Stamets, just before he was blown into space in a force field bubble, to safeguard the Spore Drive – a decision by Mick that prevented him jumping to save Culber and Adira (his life, apparently), oh and Saru as well, finally released what we’d always known, that he and the crew had jumped into the future for nothing. “We gave up everything so you wouldn’t have to be alone”, he told the woman who arrived in 3188, only to meet a boyfriend and later contemplate leaving her colleagues behind. Oh Paul, you poor bastard. Only now, at the end, do you understand.
  • Join me next week when yet another terrible season of Discovery draws to a close. We’ll pick over what’s left and look back over the whole nonsensical tale. Bring what’s left of your Christmas and New Year booze. You’ll need it.

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 3.11

Dropping a new episode over Christmas was cruel, even for a show that relishes tormenting its audience like Star Trek: Discovery. Not since Ebenezer Scrooge saw his death notices has anyone had such an unwanted gift with their mistletoe and wine. The show’s hacks, whom we must remember live in a world firmly detached from ours, and that of serious Star Trek fandom, thought we’d all enjoy unwrapping the mystery of the Burn on Christmas morning. But they hadn’t read the letter to Santa that asked for an intriguing, profound, far-reaching explanation. How could they? They can’t read.

“Su’Kal” took us to the nebula when a Kelpian research vessel had laid dormant for 125 years. Saru, wide-eyed at the news that there was a life sign aboard (irritatingly referred to thus from thereon in) – the child of someone or other, though I wasn’t sure who and had no reason to care, spoke as though enough information had already been shared with the audience to make this revelation extraordinary. But, as so often on Discovery, it felt like a conversation you’d joined too late. And so it was that the crew jumped to the ship’s location – a stormfront, following the Wrath of Khan precedent that all nebulas are volatile places – without the build-up of tension that should have prefigured the reveal to come.

So what did the Disco crew find? Well, Mick, Saru and Culber transported over, the clock ticking as exposure to the ship’s interiors would mean bombardment from harmful radiation, only to find themselves made over by its internal holoprojectors as a Trill, Human, and Bajoran respectively. Naturally, we assumed this would form part of the explanation but in the end it turned out to be irrelevant.

In the midst of a surrealist and improbably elaborate training programme designed for the vessel’s lonely occupant by its pregnant mother, the modified threesome witnessed a lot of fairy tale cum fantasy gubbins. What did this meandering, abstract milieu mean? And what did it all have to do with the nearby, er, dilithium planet?

When we found out we could hardly believe it. The Burn, the great cataclysm of the early thirty-first century, that had wrecked interstellar travel, fragmented the Federation, and caused a run on all precious resources – though no one could quite explain why – was triggered by the energy output from a child’s tantrum when reacting to a holographic monster from a Kelpian book of fairy tales.

Reading that back I still don’t understand what happened and perhaps you don’t either. Culber thought he knew – something about the kid adapting to the radiation in utero, but I’ll be damned if I understood why the Kelpian’s adapted physiology, that enabled him to live in a radiative cloud, in orbit around a planet of dilithium, would give him the power to emit a field that reacted with said planet’s deposits and radiate outward, causing the galaxy’s dilithium to combust. Or indeed, why, for reasons discussed in this blog, said disaster would mean the end of interstellar travel in the thirty-first century.

Star Trek, you may recall, used to be a show that concerned itself with scientific probability. It didn’t have the freedom that fantasy series have to invoke magic or mysterious incantations to explain away strange phenomena. Had this been an episode of, say, TNG, someone like Riker, who’d surely be on the away team, would have stroked his beard and asked some fuckin’ questions.

What was the nature of the child’s power? How did he acquire it? How did it act in tandem with the nebula and the planet’s natural fuel source to become amplified? How could such a signal operate on a scale that would allow it to destroy all the active dilithium in the galaxy? Why weren’t stationary vessels affected (though all the vessels shown to us blowing up were stationary)?

Having asked these questions, you can bet your ass Data, having taken some readings and made inquiries, would have a theory. And although it would sound like waffle, it would in fact be the carefully crafted technical dialogue of the series’ scientific advisors who’d worked to retrofit the writers’ dramaturgical designs with educated cladding – the kind of talk that would put a wry grin on the face of real physicists.

But on Discovery no such groundwork is necessary or desired. Instead, the audience were asked to swallow this baffling idea, ripped from a different genre – and mourn all the better explanations that might have been, had any of it been thought out in advance.

Give me an hour and team of Trekkies, and I could give you ten superior Burn causes than a radioactive squidman having a panic attack over a holographic sea monster. No doubt these gormless hacks had in mind a being like the Dowd from TNG’s “The Survivors” – a god-like entity that killed an entire species in a fit of omniscient rage when the offending aliens murdered its human wife. But the episode in question took great pains to establish the Dowd was an ancient, hyper-evolved species with the ability to transform matter using advanced telekinesis. The creature that caused the Burn was just a Kelpian who’d been irradiated in the womb. By rights it should have been born deformed, or laden with tumours. Instead, because the story required it, and no one had scrubbed the script for internally illogical bullshit, it absorbed elements of its environment and had the means to cause a galactic cataclysm using the psychic projection of bad feeling.

A child off the street could have told Disco’s hacks that it wasn’t enough to steal the Dowd concept, one had to explain it – complete the thought. But thoughts, though floated on this show, are then abandoned, and that’s why it’s become the dumbest thing to emanate from a TV screen since Stanley Spadowski’s Playhouse.

Anomalous Readings

  • The B-Story of this fucking episode was Tilly’s unearned and unlikely promotion to Captain in Saru’s absence. Had this been season 23 of the show, rather than season 3, we might have bought into the idea that a ditz like our resident redhead would be the right choice to safeguard the lives of the crew. But as Osyraa – the Orion head of the Emerald Chain – pointed out, when she arrived to steal the Discovery’s spore tech, it was incomprehensible and ridiculous. Tilly, whose hair continuity was all the place, has no authority and no coherent line of thought. So perhaps it’s not a surprise that her brief stint in the command chair ended with the ship captured and its data used to facilitate a surprise attack on Federation HQ (which, you’ll recall was particularly vulnerable as the entire Starfleet and the government were collected in one spot). Honestly, perhaps the Federation doesn’t deserve to survive.
  • “You belong in that chair, Tilly,” opined Mick, supported by no evidence whatsoever. This line alone affirms that Disco’s hacks exist entirely in a closed world – not so much a writers’ room but a bunker, where fan reaction to their wares (and insight from industry professionals with some understanding of the franchise) is carefully censored before being slid under the door. What will they do when they’re let out and have reviews of the season read to them? Resign en masse? Well, let’s give them the mass suicide option at least.
  • I suppose the earworm everyone had in their minds was the Kelpian nursery rhyme from the elder’s big book of fairy tales. I assume this – because it wasn’t said, and it’s quite possible this is a logical bridge that the writers didn’t build.
  • Well, at least they toned down the swearing this year. It’s been a while since anyone said “fuck”. At least, on the show’s side of the screen.
  • Gray, the inconsequential mental projection of Adira, reappeared, and once again Stamets treated it like a normal part of grief, rather than the strange, unexplained, spectral phenomenon it is, that on any previous Trek series would have had a scientific and/or psychological basis that would impact the plot in some way.
  • When we get to the end of this season I hope what’s left of the Federation will finally insist the Discovery crew wear contemporary uniforms.
  • Next week: our new year’s celebrations are ruined as Disco’s hacks desperately try to begin wrapping up another botched season. We know the show will survive, but can the audience?

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 December 28, 2020 at 12:58  Comments Off on Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 3.11  
Tags: , , , , ,

Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 3.10

This week on Disco – the show so convoluted, even the writers can’t follow it, we bade an unfond farewell to Phillipa Georgiou. As discussed last week, this should have been a celebration. She is, next to Mick, the show’s worst character; an intolerable irritant. But the hacks who’ve participated in TV’s first experiment in using a game of consequences to plot a series, and who certainly don’t read reviews like this one, have laboured under the assumption she’s a fan favourite – exciting enough to front her own Section 31 spin-off show.

Imagine how they’re going to feel when, years from now, with Discovery long behind them, and remembered by no one, bar those for whom it’s become a byword for ineptitude in the sci-fi genre, they finally see their work through the prism of those with a critical faculty; realising, far too late, that this thinly drawn, badly performed antagonist made them look ridiculous. Man, it’s going to be embarrassing.

Before Georgiou could finally fuck off, we had to resolve the non-story of the previous episode – namely her placing in the Mirror Universe by the Guardian of Forever (confirmed in this episode to be pointlessly disguised), just prior to her execution of Mirror Mick. As the ostensive reason for her going back was to cure her universal misalignment and save her life, her self-proclaimed mission to do Empire better was a bit of improvisation. As the episode progressed we realised this nebulous aim had no substance, beyond a loose desire to enlighten Mick and liberate the servile Kelpians.

The problem was that Georgiou, who until the previous episode, had shown no interest in, or sympathy for, the Federation’s more liberal worldview, hadn’t shifted sufficiently to give her one-woman mission focus, or indeed, purpose. Previous interlopers from the Prime Universe, did their best to stay alive, while trying to plant the democratic seed. But “Terra Firma, Part II” put us in a strange position, with the visitor indigenous to the Mirror realm and aligned with its values. Consequently, she had, at best, a very modest reform plan.

All her totalitarian brain could process was the notion that maybe an Empire could be ruled with a modicum more compassion – you know, just a sprinkle. She’d convince Mirror Mick to come on side by having her brutally tortured, because “terror is love”, or something. When Mirror Mick seemed to have had new loyalty beaten into her (with a little help from the agoniser booths), Georgiou watched dispassionately as her adopted daughter systematically murdered her co-conspirators. Ultimately, Mirror Mick – like her Prime counterpart, turned out to be irredeemable, and Georgiou had to run her through, sad that her psychotic, immoral right-hand had failed to see the value in soft despotism.

Now you can argue that given how little work Discovery’s hacks have done on redeeming Georgiou in our universe – instead, paying lip service to the same last week, they had little choice but to make her moral conversion a soft one, and the resulting journey more symbolic than significant. But how much easier would their task had been if, say twenty episodes earlier, they’d started to build her relationship with Mick, and have Burnham challenge the former dictator’s fascism? Given how many Discovery episodes are resolved with violence and rule-breaking, it’s little wonder the former Emperor had so little alternative experience to draw upon.

Yet, the Guardian of Forever, who was, er, hiding in the Gamma Quadrant following the temporal wars, told us Georgiou had passed the test he’d made up on the spot – namely, an exercise to see if she had virtue, and was therefore eligible for saving.

It’s not clear why this was a prerequisite for going back in time, when in theory all one had to do was step through the gate, but by making the Guardian a man, and investing him with some Q-like judging powers, the episode’s thin premise could be made to work. All it took was changing one of Star Trek’s most iconic “things” to suit the plot requirements of a poorly thought out story.

Still, Disco’s hacks had to get Georgiou back in time somehow, and the protracted and pointless detour that made her eligible, aside, she finally vanished. If there’s a TV God we’ll never seen her again, but there isn’t, so sadly this was not goodbye but see you again on a spin-off no one asked for or wanted.

Back on Discovery the characters gathered to blub and toast the mass murderer they’d failed to redeem in any meaningful sense. “She redefined the word badass,” said Tilly, smiling as she recalled the belligerence and condescension of a woman who’d enslaved planets and slaughtered innocents. “She was always honest,” cooed Saru, celebrating the homicidal bitch’s lack of tact, empathy and emotional intelligence.

But for a mic drop moment you need Mick – and she delivered, not just citing the former conqueror as a mother and sister (can you be both?) but reflecting – ha – that she was “the mirror I never knew I needed”. What the fuck did this mean, that Mick saw something of herself in Georgiou’s disdain for compassion, friendship, cooperation, and the rule of law? What, exactly, had Mick learnt about herself from the poster girl for tyranny? As the show hadn’t built their relationship, or given us any memorable exchanges between the two, we were at a loss. But at least the Discovery’s crew now have just one insufferable character. Or one and a half if you count Jet Reno.

Anomalous Readings

  • The Guardian re-asserted what David Cronenberg said last week about our universe and the Mirror Universe being misaligned as time went on – shifting like land masses over the centuries. But, like Cronenberg, he didn’t explain how or why this happened.
  • Why couldn’t Mick et al follow Georgiou back into the past and reclaim their old lives? Couldn’t they leave the Discovery with Admiral Vance and re-join their families? The Guardian said no – again, without an explanation, and weirdly it didn’t occur to Mick to push for one. McCoy hadn’t asked for permission when he leapt into the 1930’s, but maybe the Guardian’s had a re-think since then; decided he’s not just a machine from an ancient civilisation, but has a duty to vet who travels back in time. This, one presumes was the real reason the gate now had agency and the means to reveal and conceal itself at will. How could you prevent the crew taking advantage of this free trip home, otherwise?
  • Scenes of Mick being tortured brought some much needed cheer to the show in the run-up to Christmas.
  • Landry from season one returned in the Mirror Universe, only to die again. Poor Landry.
  • Has Risa always had rings?
  • It turns out the ship in the nebula – the key to the Burn, is a Kelpian research vessel – which is the least interesting thing it could be.

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 December 18, 2020 at 15:41  Comments Off on Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 3.10  
Tags: , , , , ,

Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 3.9

“Terra Firma, Part 1” was that most dreaded of Discovery artifacts, a Georgiou episode. Of all the bad choices successive hacks on this show have made, and the list is longer than a porn star’s member, the retention of Mirror Phillipa from the Terran Empire arc of the first season, is perhaps the most egregious.

If you squint you can see the superficial allure of making the character a series regular. In the Prime Timeline (of which more later) Mick and Georgiou were friends as well as colleagues. Forcing Mick to contend with a version of her dead pal who’s a genocidal murderer and hard-faced bint, is a recipe for conflict. The problematic relationship’s given an extra, er, dimension by the Mirror Universe backstory, in which Emperor Georgiou executed evil Mick for an attempted coup – or as they call it there, promotion.

That was the promise, but the execution, given this is the worst writing staff ever assembled to craft a prestige television series, has been a waste of time and attention. In practice, it’s meant saddling the Discovery crew with a surly, boring, one-dimensional insubordinate (that’s Georgiou, not Mick) who talks using witless putdowns alone.

When the writers have remembered she’s supposed to have this developing and problematic relationship with Burnham, it’s amounted to a few tense exchanges, in which Mick looks on muted and disappointed, as the doppelgänger of her ingested friend and mentor, spits out an insult, the bluntness and humourlessness of which hasn’t been seen since the days of early twenty-first century sci-fi TV.

This season, Georgiou’s been dying – a mysterious dissembling malady. Given the hacks have done nothing to establish her as a character we should care about or wish to retain, the threat of her demise prompts a collective shoulder shrugging wherever streaming services are consumed. Sure, Discovery’s crew are kind, compassionate people, but why, nostalgia for a dead crewman aside – an individual Mirror Georgiou emphatically is not – do they want to save this bitch?

“Terra Firma, Part 1” reminded us, by ill-advisedly returning the character to her original milieu (in order to execute a Mirror Universe retcon that will allow her to emerge as, God help us, the lead character in a Section 31 show), that she’s a genocidal mass murderer; a woman with the blood of billions on her hands.

Ah, you say, but isn’t her passage back through time and across universes, a chance to redeem said tyrant? Did this episode not show us a burgeoning conscience and a will to change? Sure – but what hasn’t changed is that to the Discovery crew she’s the twenty-third century’s Mirror Universe Hitler; the antithesis of everything they purport to believe. If you can’t prosecute her for her crimes because your jurisdiction isn’t pan-universal, you surely wouldn’t try to integrate her into a crew of humanitarian explorers. Kirk had the good sense to dump Khan on a plush planet (I wonder how he’s getting on?). He didn’t put a uniform on the former conqueror and invite him to man a station.

As Phillipa left with Burnham to visit a Gamma Quadrant planet – a world suggested by the, er, sentient sphere data as a potential cure, the former dictator, who’d wistfully talked of an afterlife where she could enjoy her pick of slaves, got hugs from Tilly. From Saru – yes, Saru, that paragon of virtue, there was an oddly deferential “good luck, Emperor”. That’s right my Kelpian friend, give the office the respect it deserves.

So Mick and Georgiou, having walked for miles in the snow because they didn’t have the nous to beam down to the specific coordinates, finally encountered a strange man – symbolically dressed as a gent from the past, who had a door that he cryptically told the pair could lead to different times and dimensions.

Was this a literal and dumbed down representation of the Guardian of Forever – formally a sentient machine from TOS classic, City on the Edge of Forever? Perhaps – or maybe it was a second-rate copy. If we’re lucky we’ll find out next week. But this anachronistic man, who talked and dressed in a manner that neither woman would understand, as it didn’t relate to either of their universes or time periods, told Georgiou she had one day to live unless she walked through the door and got busy.

This was the best chance Mick ever had to simply let this foul, humourless, charisma-free emotional void die. Instead, she watched as Georgiou returned to a time before her first Mirror Universe appearance – gifting her an opportunity to reset events.

David Cronenberg told us, at the top of the episode, that the two universes “had been drifting apart for some time”. Who knew what the fuck that meant, as universes tend not to change proximity – perhaps he meant in terms of events – but the implication was Georgiou’s salvation lay in changing the past. None of that made any sense, but she opted not to execute Mirror Mick anyway, signalling the decision as some great hope for the future. That’s right kids, Mick’s the key to everything in every dimension. Given time, she may prove to be God herself.

Anomalous Readings

  • Since Discovery began we’ve hoped against hope that all its biggest mistakes – the retconning of the aesthetic, of classic characters, could be attributed to it taking place in a different dimension to TOS et al. The opening scene of this episode dangled this possibility before cruelly ripping it away. David Cronenberg spoke of the Temporal Accords and showed Culber a hologram of a time solider (autocorrects to shoulder), dressed like the first season of TNG (though incongruously said to be from the year 2379 – the date of Star Trek: Nemesis). He went on to explain this was the 2379 of the JJ Abrams’ Kelvinverse – making those dumb movies canon. But what had really raised the pulse was the hacks’ clumsy decision to name the time solider “Yor”. This meant that Cronenberg, addressing Culber, appeared to say, “you’re from the year 2379 and a tangential universe caused by an incursion from a Romulan mining vessel”, thereby raising hope that Discovery was from another universe – but he was, alas, just referring to this badly named character. Still, the hope remains that one day Discovery’s hacks will be merciful and establish this whole terrible series has existed in its own bubble. That would explain the absence of Sybok, the uniforms, the tech, the – well, everything.
  • Stamets and Adira made a, er, discovery about the source of the Burn signal, but decided not to tell us what it was until next week. The look of shock and recognition on their little faces suggested it will not be something new but something familiar. If you’ve any inclination to panic, you may start now.
  • Mick told us the sphere data had now been updated to include contemporary records, including those “lost in the Burn”. Er, how did it retrieve those?
  • One awful aspect of revisiting the Mirror Universe of Discovery was a reminder that Tilly is referred to there as “Killy”. Captain Killy.
  • Mirror Mick gave us the line of the week: “I was master of that trash heap.” Michael, the only thing you got wrong was the tense.

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 December 11, 2020 at 15:57  Comments Off on Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 3.9  
Tags: , , , , ,

Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 3.8

The thing about Discovery is that it makes what used to be simple seem so very complicated. Case in point, “The Sanctuary”, directed by Trek’s great beard, Jonathan Frakes. On paper it’s a generic Star Trek story about saving a planet of eco warriors from a destructive alien menace. To add a little seasoning to this gruel, there’s a sub-plot about harbouring an escapee whom the villains want returned, thereby upping the orbital tension. It brings to mind many-an-episode, but this is Discovery – the show still trying to invent the wheel, despite being modelled on a classic car. Thus it’s a laden and half-baked affair.

Obnoxiously, presumptuously, it pivots on your memories of an already forgotten episode, “Scavengers”. If you struggle to recall that borefest, you’ll wonder who the Andorian is the Discovery’s harbouring, why you should care about The Emerald Chain – an Orion-led guild of psychopaths that sound like a 1970’s psychedelic rock band, and what Book has to do with it all. Hell, you may even have forgotten who Book is.

Serialisation complicates episodic plots when the episode in question does so little work to affirm its own credentials. Do we care about Book’s planet and its plague of sea locusts – a century-long, harvest killing blight ultimately ended by two men and an orbital amplifier? Why didn’t telepathic animal whisperers work out the solution earlier? Hell, do we care about Book – who sounds like he’s never read one? And are the Emerald Chain really a new threat for the ages when their warships can be defeated by one pumped-up pilot in a tiny space cruiser?

Perhaps, if this had been a stand-alone Trek episode, that focused on the relationship between Book’s clan and the planet’s wildlife, we might have been persuaded to invest. But the planet-based plot was just a means to inure Cleveland to the Discovery crew – his girlfriend not enough incentive, and the Emerald Chain were added to reaffirm their villainous credentials and provide the pretext for some sub-Star Wars action in the final third, naturally intercut with a fist fight on the planet surface. Ultimately, the result resembled one of those square wheels you used to see on the Flintstones. At this rate, Discovery’s hacks will have perfected the round ones by season 12.

Meanwhile, in LQBTQ+ corner, in scenes that will date this episode for future audiences (on the optimistic assumption Discovery will be watched in the future), the way those space hippies sit anachronistically in that Original Series episode, Adira declared she was non-binary to a proud Stamets, insisting he use the pronouns “they” and “them” when addressing the engineer formally known as she.

Now at the risk of inflaming those who reach for the word transphobic, the way Discovery’s hacks deploy clichés, you can surely be a trans ally and still accept that this imprecision in the use of language, a by-product of our embryonic understanding of gender identity, is very much an early twenty-first century phenomenon, and unlikely to be an issue either for twenty-third century folk or their, presumably, more enlightened thirty-second century successors.

To my ear, referring to an individual as “them” makes them sound schizophrenic, and it’s hard to believe that a developed understanding of gender identity and the cultural forces that shape it, won’t have led to the firming up of discourse by the time we can travel to other planets and mix with species whose concepts of gender and sexuality will no doubt diverge significantly from our own. But Discovery’s not written to be timeless, of course, just relevant. What a pity the storytelling can’t be relevant too.

Anomalous Readings

  • Am I the only one who hates the fact the Orions, former slaves, are now slave owners? What a strange journey they’ve been on.
  • We came a step closer to learning the origin of the Burn this week – a Federation distress signal, in the form of a music cue, emanating from a nebula. All sorts of possibilities suggested themselves. A ship out of time; a ship from another dimension… But why can’t I shake the feeling it’s going to be something more stupid and lore ruining than we can possibly imagine?
  • The Emerald’s Chain threat to the Federation? “You will feel the weight of the chain.” Er, what? Anyway, they’re running out of dilithium too, apparently – another thirty-second century power who’s failed to find an alternative to a thousand year old plus form of propulsion. Serves them right.
  • “Deal with me, universe,” said a smug Detmer after she piloted an attack on the enemy ship. If it’s all the same to you I’d rather not.
  • A genuine oddity in an otherwise moribund story was Saru charging Tilly with focus grouping some catchphrases he could deploy when giving command orders. Until now we’d assumed that the likes of Captain Styles “execute”, Pike’s “hit it” and Picard’s “make it so” were just quirks of character – something they liked saying. But apparently it’s something Starfleet captains actually think about – really stress over; a thing they’re expected to do. Given this new information one wonders how much variety there is. Could there be a captain in the twenty-third century who says “like fuck” or “for my babies” every time they order a new heading? It’s possible.
  • The only intrigue is this episode was Georgiou’s physical – the one dimensional space bitch literally dissembling as the ship’s computer tried to map her atomic structure. I’d care more about her condition and how it ties to the Burn, if I didn’t loathe her character so much. Will she ever say anything that isn’t a barb or a statement of violent intent? Even Hitler must have had normal conversations with someone.
  • Georgiou, who’s human, kept referring, disparagingly, to humans. Culber was a “human”, she was dressed as a “human spermatozoa” etc. Is this the writers subtly telling us Phillipa isn’t human? It’s so crude and heavy handed, the answer must be yes.

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 December 4, 2020 at 09:58  Comments Off on Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 3.8  
Tags: , , , ,

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’d been violent and fractious 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

Published in: on November 27, 2020 at 15:21  Comments Off on Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 3.7  
Tags: , , , , ,

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

Published in: on November 20, 2020 at 16:47  Comments Off on Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 3.6  
Tags: , , , , ,

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  
Tags: , , , , ,