Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 2.11

Critic’s log, supplemental.

A few weeks ago we speculated the writers of Star Trek: Discovery were science fiction dilettantes. In other words, they knew a little, about the same as a non-genre fan picks up by osmosis, but certainly not enough to write for one of TV’s biggest universes.

‘You’ve seen Star Trek, right?’ This, one imagines, was Alex Kurtzman’s interview question to the men and women he’d met on other shows, who’d worked on just about everything bar science fiction, but said yes anyway because the opportunity was too great to pass up. Besides, was familiarity with the brand a pre-requisite for success? Nicolas Meyer knew nothing about Trek and had to binge watch it ahead of his hasty re-write of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and yet his natural intelligence and storytelling acumen somehow allowed him to draw on different influences, Hornblower for example, and produce something true to the spirit of the original series.

What do Discovery’s writers draw upon when stealing their story ideas? The literary sources of Meyer and Trek writers past? After all, we see a lot of Wikipedia sourced allusions to Greek myth in the not displayed episode titles. No, it seems their primary frame of reference is the franchise crud that both they and the desired audience – i.e. they with less esoteric tastes, would be familiar with.

We now know that the second season’s big bad is Section 31’s semi-conscious artificial intelligence system, Control. Control is a crude reprise of The Terminator’s Skynet, complete with the time travelling hero whose purpose is to go back in time and frustrate its ambitions. But in “Perpetual Infinity” (not a song by Jamiroquai), the agony of the writers room’s influences became more apparent. Not content with ripping off Robocop, Terminator, Quantum Leap, and lots of other popular but largely dystopian fantasies, which one might say are distinctly untrekian in character, it’s beginning to look like somebody saw Ridley Scott’s Alien prequels and had a fan fiction idea so bad that it wouldn’t even have made it past Brannon Braga; what about the Borg’s origin story?

The Borg were, very briefly, Star Trek’s greatest ever villains. They were later given a leader to fulfil the requirements of an idiotic blockbuster movie template, eventually died of overexposure on Voyager, but from their introduction in “Q Who?” to their finest hour in “Best of both Worlds” they were unassailable; the quintessential threat to the Federation and its utopian ideals – a faceless, pitiless, relentless metaphor for groupthink. Crucially, they belonged to the era of The Next Generation. They were discovered there and they died there. Enterprise, desperate for attention, dared to feature them briefly. But this was uninspired fan service and no threat to what had come before.

Given Discovery’s fan fiction approach to storytelling, its compulsion to make the Star Trek universe smaller, more contrived and back formed, it’s not a surprise that somebody, maybe somebody like Alex Kurtzman, might have suggested an Alien-style creation myth for everyone’s favourite technology assimilators. But a serious writers’ room would surely have turned the idea down flat. Even if this were a good idea, which it isn’t, this would not be the group of writers to attempt such a delicate task: the retconning of an iconic antagonist.

Discovery’s writers are idiots, whose instinct is to cannibalise the past – a tip that they’re lacking original ideas. We know this but they insist on underlining it week on week, threatening to overwrite the very best of the franchise to fulfil their Hannibal Lecter fantasies. They’re like casual fans of fine art who buy a Goya but store the painting in their damp, mouldy basement.

So when Leland was inseminated with what looked suspiciously like an early version of Borg nanoprobes, exhibiting the pallid complexion of the prototypical drone, complete with a  lack of emotion, and hunger to assimilate the cultural and technological information of countless other civilisations, we had to hope this was just a riff on an old idea rather than a literal harbinger of the Borg. But as this is Discovery and often what you imagine is precisely what transpires, because this is a show written by hacks, it’s likely to be just as bad as it looks. We’ll know soon enough and then, when it’s confirmed the Borg began as Federation intelligence software – then we can get truly angry and fight to have the show cancelled before it introduces a young James Kirk and establishes he had a long and passionate affair with Mick, the pair discovered in bed together by an eyebrow raised Spock.

The Control story was only the action content of this boring, derivative episode. The emotional content was the relationship between Mick and her resurrected mother, Gabrielle, the time traveller who for inexplicable reasons was tethered to a point 950 years in the future, despite starting from 20 years in the past. It was never explained why the Red Angel’s anchor was so far ahead, but our suspicion was that this was to facilitate the apocalyptic plot, and line up with the Short Trek “Calypso” that nobody saw.

We learned Dr Gabrielle had been lost in time for many years and had to go through the awful experience of saving Mick’s life on countless occasions, something which must’ve really hurt. Some of us imagined Mick was arrogant, hard-faced and emotionally stunted because she’d gone through life believing her parents have been brutally murdered by Klingons and then had to go and live with the emotionally repressed Vulcans. In “Perpetual Infinity” we discovered that she was cold and arrogant and prone to mawkish sentimentality because Mother was too. Mick’s a bad enough character on her own, but the coupling of her with an older version, in the form of her egregiously sentimental template, just took the space biscuit.

The interaction between these two characters was awful; two dislikable harridans arguing over which was more damaged, while attempting to provide exposition for a plot that made absolutely no sense. Mick lost her mother to time in the end but because our hero had spent most of the episode either looking stunned or teary, it was almost impossible to care. Some may have been moved by Mick’s plight and the reunion with her dead Mum (Dad’s fate remains undetermined), but some people probably believe it’s a good idea to tell the Borg’s origin story. These people should not be allowed anywhere near a Star Trek television series.

Anomalous Readings

  • Mick’s mother didn’t know anything about the red signals, confirming Spock’s suspicion from last week that they didn’t fit the pattern of her interventions. So what are they about and how do they fit in with everything else? A point of genuine intrigue so expect the answer to be terrible – like Mick’s Dad leaving a breadcrumb trail.
  • Apparently the expression “baby girl” is still popular in the twenty third century.   
  • Lots of talk of supernovas, dark matter and other echoes of the JJ Abrams movie this week. Is Discovery gearing up for a change in the timeline or better yet, the unmonetizable uplands of the canon universe?
  • “How long before the universe wins?” Discovery’s hacks love clunkers like this, so thank God they’ve got Anson Mount, the season’s breakout presence, to deliver them.
  • Mick’s mother alluded to Pike’s fate – the bleep chair, but he bravely chose not to ask for more information. A stoic Captain through and through.
  • Mick joins the long list of crew members who’ve died and come back to life. In fact she was revived by Culber – her immediate predecessor.
  • Mick’s mother appeared to Spock because, er, he was a Vulcan with dyslexia? This made him the “only person” in all of time who could help her. Apparently, his future family link with Mick and relationship to the Discovery’s acting Captain were not factors, just happy coincidences.
  • Control is to be defeated by uploading the sphere archive into the suit and flinging it into the far future, so out of reach. Technobabble aside, this seemed like a reasonable idea but…
  • The aforementioned “Calypso” gave us a story in which Discovery existed a 1000 years hence, piloted by a sentient AI. Can we infer from this that the sphere’s knowledge will end up locked in the ship’s databanks, and consequently she will have to run off grid for the rest of her days to remain hidden from Federation intelligence? Might the secret ship concept by the ‘game changer’ Cuntzman spoke of, that reconciles Discovery with other Treks? It would be different at least and render the Discovery’s missions, driven by her secure archive and ability to jump to any location, invisible to history – a sort of Back to the Future Part II, Marty and the Doc keeping out of sight while they fix things, idea. Fuck, it could work, though it does smack of those massive format changes that used to signal a sci-fi show in trouble that’s usually cancelled shortly thereafter.

Mick’s Second Crack at the Galaxy

The Maiden Voyage 



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