Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 2.14 (End of Season Post-Mortem)

Critic’s Log, supplemental.

A little over a year ago we watched the Enterprise hone into view on Discovery’s anachronistic view screen, and reflected this was a show that had resolutely failed to establish itself as an independent storytelling entity. Here were its producers desperately reaching for nostalgia in a bid to boost interest in and anticipation for a second season. Well, that season is now played out, so did the inclusion of Pike and Spock, and with them an explicit tie to The Original Series, do the job and improve the show or simply make the Discovery’s cast look ordinary by comparison?

In keeping with the circular plotting of “Such Sweet Sorrow Part 2” to answer that, one must begin at the end, with our new heroes confined to the temporal ever after and the closing moments taking place on board the newly repaired Enterprise. A freshly shaven (and dress compliant) Spock took his post on the bridge – high tech retro chic – and a wry and cheerful Pike ordered the ship to warp. We were in the company of likable characters on a colourful bridge with an atmosphere of intense forward looking optimism. As Trekkies we were content at last.

Yet sadly, and I accept necessarily if further damage to established continuity is to be avoided, we will never see this crew again. They’d done their part – namely adding a little charisma and gravitas to a group of damaged and demented misfits; the Discovery crew’s imbecilic pronouncements and logic farts cloaked in pseudo-scientific terminology, their decisions a series of sacrifices to a clockwork God.

They’d held the Discovery crew’s hands, got them through their second year and, as we’d expect from the crew of the Enterprise, saved the day by dispatching them into oblivion – thereby ridding the twenty-third century of this threat to its values and identity. It is one of TV’s cruellest ever taunts that next year we’ll be picking up not with this fine body of men and not men, but the half-wits now trapped in the distant future. We’ve said goodbye to the good ship Discovery. I can’t be the only one who’s very happy to leave it at that.

Discovery’s second year has been a muddled affair – a year we (wrongly) trust was meticulously planned, but presented as a series written on the fly, the writers, as in season one, contorting wildly, a line of coke snorted from a prostitute’s bleached anus, in a bid to link ideas brainstormed in a pre-season frenzy. There’s been no shortage of said ideas, though most have been repurposed (stolen) from elsewhere – from sources Trek has no business flirting with, but few, if any, stood up to scrutiny when reviewed. “Just go with it” the creative staff seemed to say, “and try to like Mick will you? She’s Spock’s big sister for Christ sake.” Ah, if only it were that easy.

Burnham could and should have become a more equal part of a wider ensemble this year but Discovery’s writers were determined that she remain front and centre, and consequently this humourless bore of a character took on messianic significance; nothing less than the saviour of all life in the galaxy.

Though it made little sense, as though applied to the season’s plot setup retrospectively, Discovery spent the year first tracking a character whose raison d’être was to save Mick, then inadvertently tracking Mick herself, who infuriatingly was doing on screen what the writers were doing behind it, namely working backwards to reconcile open ended plot points established at the start of the season by a different set of showrunners.

The show’s hacks will claim this was the plan from the get-go of course, but if true it’s odd that each lurch forward in yet another densely plotted but underwritten serial, felt like the writers fighting fire. You could almost feel the heat emanate from our phone screens, while a show demanding our full attention played on the TV beyond.

So all-consuming was this terrible story – Starfleet engaged in an attempt to protect a sphere of alien knowledge from a Skynet-like AI with designs on full-sentience and galactic domination (to what end, we knew not), that second string characters were denied the oxygen of growth.

Culber returned to life to circle Stamets for half a season but neither character developed as a result and they ended up where they started. Tilly’s involvement in the story – becoming trapped in the mycelial network, being possessed by a fungus, was over at the point showrunners changed, and for the rest of the year she spouted infantile nonsense. Airiam, a background character from the first season, was developed and killed off in the same episode. Tyler and Georgiou – a traitor and genocidal mass murderer, lingered on board like observers from another franchise, contributing little – the former brooding for much of the year, the latter relishing in the kind of boilerplate evil pronouncements, “would you like to join me in making Leland scream?” that only served to remind us she had no place as a regular on a Star Trek series. The reply to said invitation, by the way, “yum yum”, underlined that away from the Enterprise a very low standard of discourse had become normalised – idiocy we’ve now exported even further into the future.

Those responsible for “Such Sweet Sorrow Part 2” understood that these challenges – rebalancing the cast, refining the dialogue, injecting a sense of wonder and mystery to proceedings that weren’t choked by the imperatives of a suffocating, nihilistic blockbuster movie narrative, were for another day. First, this shitshow had to be wrapped up and Discovery had to be comprehensively, irreversibly removed from its prequel setting and catapulted to a safe distance – far beyond TNG, DS9 and Voyager, where a) it could do no harm and b) indulge in a reinvention of the Trek mythos, spore drive et al, without a backlash from tired fans. The question was, could this transition be managed with wit and intelligence?

This being Discovery the answer was obviously no. The episode, channelling the Star Wars prequels, was style overload – the screen awash with digital artefacts and animation. There was so much to look at, so many drone ships under Control-Leland’s Borg-like, er, control, there was hardly time to think about the mechanics of the high stakes plot. Discovery’s hacks, counting on as much, used the cover of this sound, fury and inconsequential noble sacrifice (so long Admiral Cornwell) to smuggle through some big revelations – the kind designed to boil piss and break hearts.

We learned that Mick’s future quest to spread red signals began in the present, during the battle for the sphere data, which meant Discovery had appropriated that laziest of plot devices, the ontological paradox, to explain the season’s arc. If you’ve patiently waded through this blog’s Doctor Who reviews, you’ll know this is an Opinionoid pet hate – the kind of time travel story you map out by drawing a circle on a big piece of card.

You do it because you’ll be fucked if you can think of a set of linear events, organic plot developments, that would facilitate the incidents you’ve already established. Instead, Mick realised that everything she’d already seen now had to be implemented to complete the loop and facilitate their escape to the future but, and I hope I haven’t lost you already, how did Mick know to do these things the first time around? What’s that? Her journey to the past WAS the first time around? Well, that’s the paradox and that, my friends, is why it’s so deeply unsatisfying and convenient.

It surely wouldn’t have been that hard to figure out a few events, a few moral dilemmas for the crew, that once pondered and decided upon, put them on a certain path that would later present them with a choice of futures? But instead, Discovery suggested that free will is a cruel illusion – a message it underlined by having Pike learn his fate was locked, even if he had foreknowledge of it, and having Discovery’s trip to the future take place, even though it had ceased to be necessary just moments before it happened.

If you establish the only way to save the present from Control is to fling the Discovery to the far-flung future, then it’s probably not a good idea to kill the threat while the ship’s still moored in the present.

Now you can argue that as long as the sphere data was freely available to visitors, someone or something like Control – possibly the Borg, teased throughout this season, could get hold of it and use it for nefarious ends, but that, as Riker once said is something we could sort out later. For now, the plan to dispatch Discovery was predicated on the immediate threat to the Federation, namely Leland; a plan conceived in extremis. When Georgiou announced that the man in question was dead and that Control was neutralised, someone really should have opened a channel to the bridge and asked Saru et al whether they still wanted to maroon themselves in the thirty-second century, consigned to a world where everyone and everything they know is long dead. “It’s okay, Control’s fucked – we can stick around after all. Hello? Bridge, hello?”

Instead, Discovery’s crew, who were now technically travelling into the future for nothing, Leland’s Control bots stowed in the Spore Drive chamber, were well and truly wormholed and vanished to a place we presume looks a lot like the dull religious colony of Terralysium some 950 years from now; a place where Mick’s mother, bored to the point of suicide, desperately hopes for enlightened company. Instead she’s going to get Tilly and Reno – a character who says things like, “get off my ass, Sir.”

Was there any real tension in this final rush to get Discovery out of established Trek continuity? We knew Mick had succeeded, however much Spock tried to bullshit his way through it, because the seven signals already existed in the past. Evidentially, it was history. Pike, by far the season’s most grounded character, had the right idea when he suggested being invulnerable to a ticking torpedo because he’d already seen the future and he was in it. Cornwell, the writers in her earpiece, persuaded him not to call their bluff and he left the admiral to her death, but this, in a scene, was the problem with the entire episode. Yes, it was a struggle for the characters to succeed, but the circular plot was a guarantor of their success. This is why the best time travel stories invariably, sensibly, leave the result of said meddling unresolved until the end. We suspected Kirk and co. would find those humpback whales and save Earth, but we didn’t know it until he returned to the present. It’s a simple thing but it makes a lot of difference.

Ultimately, Discovery’s second season, in a tacit celebration of its success in firmly rooting its characters in the world of Spock et al, ended with the ship classified as an official secret and the crew recorded deceased, following some deliberately misleading evidence to an inquiry back on Earth.

So paranoid were the conspiracists, that even Sarek and Amanda agreed not to talk about Mick in public ever again – just in case it slipped out, following a few drinks, that she was alive and living in the future. Thus, Discovery’s absence from future Trek shows – in thought, image and dialogue, was given due explanation. It’s almost as if the producers were agreeing with the audience that setting it in the past had been a terrible mistake – one any fan could have helped them avoid two seasons ago.

An open ending means Discovery’s future is a blank slate – its hacks gifted maximum wriggle room to remake it in their own image. Can it succeed where Voyager failed? Can a ship out of time with an archive of universe spanning knowledge find a new purpose? Unshackled, with nothing tying the show to Treks past or fan expectations, can this glib crew, with Mick sadly still on board, finally endear themselves to the franchise’s loyal acolytes?

If life’s more episodic and thoughtful in the future, with a greater emphasis on collective problem solving and sensible discourse, then there’s half a chance. It will effectively be a new show – one with the longest pilot in history at 29 hours. Those who saw that pilot may be reluctant to carry on, however. Damage resulting from this kind of slog can’t be undone overnight, but Trekkies are a forgiving lot. Well, until the Picard series premieres that is.

Anomalous Readings

  • Discovery’s first stop in the future should be a barren moon where Mirror Georgiou should be deposited and left. There she can bore herself to death.
  • “Women, stop talking.” Turns out Control was a misogynist AI.
  • Stamets graciously smiled through his battle injuries to give the impression he was happy about Culber joining them in the future. I couldn’t have.
  • “You saved me…you are my balance,” Spock told Mick in their final exchange. A potentially awful moment redeemed when Mick gave some advice about seeking out your opposites that we know will lead to lifelong friendships with Kirk and McCoy – two characters we’ll thankfully now never see on this show but must now watch, knowing Mick had a hand in their destiny.
  • “Someone owes me a beer,” said Tilly, showcasing more of Discovery’s razor sharp dialogue. By that measure, the writers owe us quite a few.
  • Clem Fandango was left behind to start his own Section 31 series. It’s a mystery to me why anyone would want to do this but I’d rather endure Clem’s secret missions than Georgiou’s. Did the writers forget she was supposed to stay behind and be in a spin-off? On this show, it’s possible.
  • The return of The Motion Picture wormhole effect was welcome. One last nod to nostalgia.
  • “Let’s see what the future holds,” said Spock. He looked more optimistic than I felt.
  • And that’s it for this year. Thank you so much for reading. Let’s do it all over again when Discovery sadly returns, though there’s really no need – not based on the way this season ended. But, you know, if we must…

Mick’s Second Crack at the Galaxy

The Maiden Voyage 

Foreboding

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Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 2.13

Critic’s log, supplemental.

“Discovery has to go to the future,” said Mick, as the crew caught up with the audience and realised the ship’s status as a secure Hard Drive for the data coveted by Control in its bid to become sentient and destroy all organic life for opaque reasons, meant it was just too hot for the twenty-third century. It’s almost as if the good ship Discovery did not belong, that it posed a threat to Star Trek’s continuity and its universe-at-large.

In this, “Such Sweet Sorrow”, though there was none, played like a deranged stalker telling you their thousands of phone calls and text messages represented the fact they “really needed to talk”. On some level Discovery’s hacks know this show, in its current form, is a ruination machine that’s poisoning the well. They just can’t bring themselves to come out and say it. But they know. They know what they’ve done.

Confronted by blogs like this one decrying their decision to abandon Bryan Singer’s anthology concept, with seasons set in different time periods, opting instead for the creative myopia and storytelling headache of an unwanted prequel, week after merciless week, they’ve engineered a scenario that allows the show to jump from prequel to far future sequel in a single bound, without the need to kill the cast. But because they know we hate the cast, this setup did at least include a little red meat for the horde – a flash forward in which Control-Leland murdered the crew with brutal efficiency, saving Mick for last. She was picked her up by the throat and phasered through the head. Whatever happens from now on, we’ll always have that moment of beautiful catharsis.

So Discovery will soon jump into the future, core cast and all. Said crew improbably gave up their connection to everything and everyone they know to be trapped in space with Mick in perpetuity. Even Spock wanted to go, which made us wonder whether Control had reconstructed him too.

We know the real Spock can’t leave, after all, not if we’re still pretending this show sits within official canon, so what will prevent the bearded Vulcan (coded thus as a doppelgänger perhaps – we know how Discovery loves those) from making the galaxy’s worst career move? If the show’s hacks had a sense of humour they’d end the season with the real Spock found bent up inside a storage unit, his nanite-inseminated double allowing himself a wry grin as the Discovery’s floating library materialised in twenty-ninth century Earth orbit – the equivalent of that scene in The Simpsons where the infectious Koala Bear clings to the landing skid of the family helicopter, looking malevolently to camera. But that of course would be a great joke and the writers of this show don’t do those.

Whatever the in-series explanation, we understand that the Discovery’s about to become a relic so the show’s aesthetic and sensibility can catch up with its content, and people can finally enjoy it as a series in its own right. In theory it will become an uncomplicated sequel to Treks past, in which every variant introduced can be marked as the plausible evolution of what’s come before, rather than a misjudged overwrite.

Trek, as we’ve discussed, was once unique in that it owned its anachronistic old future tech and canonised it – even joked about it, so that each era of the show could be enjoyed as one long legacy. Indeed, the people who owned Trek used to care about this enough to spend millions remastering TOS episodes with new effects that complimented the look and feel of those stories.

Discovery, whether for licencing reasons or because Secret Hideout, JJ Abrams’ TV production company, were obliged to follow the Bad Robot aesthetic, tore up that contract. Fine, we say, if you’re minded to vandalise the iconic don’t make a prequel. We begged them not to. They did. And we’ve had two seasons in which Original Series paraphilia has been dangled in front of us, to maintain our interest, while being subject to this policy of retrospective redesign. For this reason, if nothing else, can there be anyone who isn’t counting the seconds until Discovery disappears into that time wormhole?

But Discovery wouldn’t be Discovery without a final fuck you to Trekkies. So, having introduced the Enterprise in the dying seconds of last season, but keeping it at a distance for most of this one, so we could dare to imagine it was old enough to retain its original series’ aesthetic, the spell was finally broken with a full bridge reveal that indelibly and irreversibly confirmed the show to be a cast iron continuity breaker.

Yes, Discovery’s declared just at the point it might have avoided ever having to do so. Here was the Enterprise bridge – a sort of half-way house between the new and old, complete with historic sound effects, and whereas it was a lot closer to the old look than the 2009 movie, it nevertheless served to remind the audience that whatever future the Discovery ends up roaming in (here we assume something will go awry and they’ll end up somewhere unanticipated – a popular trope on the show) it won’t be an extension of the unbroken timeline of stories produced from 1966-2005. Thus, on the dawn of a new era for this oddball series, and ahead of its certain early cancellation, we’re once again forced to ask, do we care?

Caring about the Discovery’s crew, Mick in particular, has been hard graft for the audience throughout this second year, and “Such Sweet Sorrow” underlined this by asking us to shed tears for people and relationships that had been given cursory attention by the writing staff at best.

Did your mascara run when Mick and Clem Fandango bade a last, grasping farewell? Did your eyes get red and puffy as the show’s peripheral characters recorded messages for their families, trying to justify their inexplicable decision to give up their lives on a whim? Did you lose an erection when Mick embraced Sarek and Amanda, referring to their son, singular, with neither parent correcting her? Poor Sybok, he’s been forgotten by everyone. And what about Pike’s fond so long to a crew he’s mostly not fraternised with on screen at all? Well, actually here there was a moment. But this had more to do with Anson Mount’s solid and likeable contribution to the show, rather than anything the writers have done.

For the most part these goodbyes meant very little, because after two full seasons we barely know these people. In truth, they were saying adieu to the show as conceived, readying themselves for a much needed soft reboot. We’ll watch the final episode to make sure phase one of the show is buried, but it’s really the following episode that’s going to either reignite interest or kill it stone dead.

Anomalous Readings

  • Mick’s easy acceptance of Spock’s decision to go to the future made very little sense given she’d just finished taking comfort from knowing that in her absence Sarek and Amanda would have him, and they would now have the chance to rebuild their relationship. Perhaps the multiple writers crafting this episode forgot to talk to each other. Or indeed check Memory Alpha to see if Spock had any other siblings.
  • Ship to ship evacuation took place via walkways fortified with forcefields. Seems odd and unduly onerous in the age of the transporter (and in an emergency), but maybe some just like to walk.
  • So Mick sent the signals – at least that’s Spock’s unproven thesis based on the similarity between Mick’s RNA/DNA and her mother. But with one episode remaining we still don’t know if this is true or what half of them mean. Let’s hope the hacks remember to explain it before next week’s finale ends.
  • Pike looked apprehensive when faced with Leland’s armada, but why? He’s already seen the future and he knows that both he and Starfleet will still be around years hence. Perhaps he should have reassured the crew.
  • Will Reno survive the trip to the future? She touched the time crystal and saw a flash forward to a bomb in the Enterprise’s saucer? The look on her face suggests she’ll tell someone which is more than Mick did when she saw the same thing in her apocalyptic vision. Might Spock break off to save his ship? As Discovery’s writers get 15% of their ideas from Wrath of Khan, it’s a safe bet.
  • When talk turned to planting antimatter bombs in stars to make them go supernova, the episode’s score referenced Michael Giacchino’s from Star Trek 2009. This chilled the blood because it suggested a connection between that series and this one, and also because it possibly foregrounds a plot point in the forthcoming Picard series, which if rumour is to believed, won’t be canon either.
  • I suppose Ash staying with Section 31 helps to set up that unwanted series. Will that be the show that picks up the Borg thread? Or can we hope that was just a tease – a sadistic in-joke from a coke fuelled writers’ meeting?
  • Next week the future begins! At last! But will the cruellest of all cruel twists be a final shot of the Discovery being caught in the tractor beam of an early twenty-fifth century starship, observed by a certain Admiral Picard? Could the writers really be that unkind? Have we dodged the possibility of Discovery ruining one era of Trek only for it to screw up another? You know the answer, so keep both cocks crossed.

Mick’s Second Crack at the Galaxy

The Maiden Voyage 

Foreboding

Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 2.12

Critic’s log, supplemental.

If you’ve been watching Discovery for twenty five episodes or so, chances are you feel like Captain Pike in his bleep chair – immobile, irradiated and pained; a victim of locked in syndrome from which there is no solace and no escape. Life, you think, isn’t really worth living, and it’s unlikely that a group of telepathic aliens, gifted with the ability to change perception with thought, are going to turn up and save the say by freeing you to live as you were in land of pure imagination.

This week on everyone’s favourite Trek, Pike, who last time was told the future was bleak but ignored the tease, volunteered to visit the Klingon monastery on Boreth, home to Voq and L’Rell’s son, and now conveniently a repository of time crystals, the show’s literal maguffin, to learn what the future had in store. A red signal had appeared there, apparently left by a time traveller other than Mick’s mother (so Mick or Mick’s Dad) and consequently the crew was bounced into believing the site had significance in their fight against Control and its genocidal scheme.

It wasn’t clear what information could be gleaned from the sacred site, and in any event it proved pointless, as the crystal-induced flash forward turned out to be a very personal affair – but the mission did land the ship, now confirmed as a stand-alone repository for the Sphere’s crucial knowledge archive, which “cannot be removed or deleted”, with its own time travel fuel. At least I think so, as I got bored and lost the thread.

What was more interesting, in an episode made entirely from the sophomore season’s detritus, much of it incidental filler, was Pike’s Empire Strikes Back, Luke on Dagobah moment. He had a dark vision of the future in which he’d become the monster we love. The question was, why?

Even the people sleeping in a box under the Embankment know that Pike will one day have a horrific delta radiation accident, so bad that twenty third century medicine can do nothing, except consign the Captain’s scarred, immobile remains to a cabinet on wheels with a single light to indicate yes or no. This is the character’s iconic destiny, as shown in the TOS two-parter “The Menagerie”, and it was reprised here in gory, horrifying detail. But what purpose, other than underlying Pike’s selfless nature, did giving him foreknowledge of the accident serve?

Voq and L’Rell’s son, now a fully grown time guarding monk, thanks to the accelerating properties of the crystals, warned that if the stuff used to peer into the future was broken off and taken back to the ship, because you can do that with a literal piece of time travel, then the fate it showed would be sealed.

Again, it wasn’t clear why this should be, as crystal or no Pike now had foreknowledge that could surely be used to save him – like wearing a protective suit in all cadet training exercises involving nearby reactors, but perhaps Discovery’s hacks just saw an opportunity to rip off their favourite scene from their favourite Star Wars movie, while crowbarring in a beat that would underline how far Pike was prepared to go to save the day. If anything, the accident should have been a great comfort, because the fact he had moved on to training cadets and was in a relatively benign Starfleet set up, instantly suggested that he’d dealt with the current threat to the galaxy and life had moved on. Talk about spoilers.

So while “Through the Valley of Shadows” meandered along, attempting to generate pathos and intrigue using recycled material, Mick and Spock investigated radio silence from a Section 31 ship and had another run in with Control, who this time had “reconstructed” the body of a forgotten crew member from the Shenzhou – a bit character who, like most on Discovery, required a flash back to remind the audience he’d ever existed.

Did this encounter advance the plot any more than Pike’s mission (bearing in mind there are now just two episodes to go)? Not really. We learned that Control was ruthless – it ejected an entire crew into space, and when no longer able to manipulate a human body became a T-1000 inspired stream of nanites, that Spock immobilised by, er, magnetising the floor.

So what was the point? To emphasise, once again, how integral Mick was to foiling Control’s plan, as it had lured her there to kill her, Skynet style. Mick – the mother of the future, whose mother is in the future. But we remembered Project Daedalus, and Icarus, and sadly, once again, began to speculate that a time travelling Mick may yet appear to save the day, though we’ll need a whiteboard and a healthy suspension of disbelief to understand how and why.

The episode culminated with Control, er, controlling Section 31’s fleet of 30 ships, which bore down on Discovery in the hope of seizing her precious data. We ended on a cliffhanger, with the ship primed for auto destruct. It would have been great to think its destruction was a real possibility, but that Short Trek “Calypso” and the creeping certainty that Discovery may have to vanish into the future, put pay to that. Perhaps Tilly was already there, as she was nowhere to be seen the entire time, not even during lunch with the crew. No wonder this episode felt so inconsequential.

Anomalous Readings

  • No Tilly this week but sadly a bit of Stamets and Culber with Reno acting as a go-between. Culber’s resurrection was once teased as a prelude to something sinister or transformative. Now it’s starting to look like a cheap device to complicate this boring relationship. Please God let this subplot be going somewhere other than a commitment from both characters to give it another go.
  • The pillar of the past for me will always be the late Michael Piller – one of Star Trek’s best ever scribes.
  • Wait a minute, Section 31 escalated the use of Control to plan for war-avoiding scenarios following the Klingon conflict. So Mick’s indirectly responsible for this too, and all the deaths that have followed. Jesus Christ, can someone lock her up before she kills us all?
  • I hate the concept of time crystals. It’s literal and stupid. Yes, I know there was a Bajoran Orb of Time that was powered by some kind of crystal, but that was a crafted artefact, not a commodity that could potentially be mined and used to make the thing it describes ubiquitous. Trek usually deals with this using cosmological curios and warp field physics. Those were the days (and will be again).
  • Perhaps we can infer that Boreth’s crystal deposits will be destroyed or removed sometime between now and Worf’s visit a hundred years hence, as that TNG episode conspicuously didn’t allude to the monastery’s precious holdings.
  • So two episodes left and it’s an open question how this weird and uneven season is going to end. With Discovery consigned to the far future to protect the present, once Pike and Spock have safely alighted? As a space submarine with the ability to explore different periods and investigate the many events described in the Sphere’s archive? Or will it be something far more bland? Time will tell, I suppose. Oh fuck you, I’m tired.

Mick’s Second Crack at the Galaxy

The Maiden Voyage 

Foreboding

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 

Foreboding

Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 2.10

Critic’s log, supplemental.

Regardless of any talk of the Red Angel, the real mystery behind Discovery’s second season is how a writers’ room this poor can continue to work on a lynchpin series with a blockbuster budget.

You and I, we’re just pundits – we sit in our padded cells and mount our dirty protests, because it’s Friday, and that’s what we do on Fridays even if we’ve forgotten why – and we write on those walls, in our own excrement naturally, our predictions about the show’s plot. These are the very first things that come to mind. Yet, there must be method in our madness because every week the hacks that pilot Starfleet’s most dysfunctional vessel do exactly these things, leaving us frustrated and bored. We’re the idiots whose expectations are supposed to be routed by geniuses. But you and I could work on this show, and we’d be welcome. Think about that for a moment.

Last week we speculated, following the thumping great clue/reference that was ‘Project Daedalus’ that the Angel was either Mick or Mick’s parents. As always the simplest answer proved to be the correct one, though incredibly, “The Red Angel” attempted to intrigue us by first sticking the time travelling credentials on Mick, rendering the episode’s plot idiotic for reasons we’re explore momentarily, then revealing the literal quantum leaper to be the heavily trailed mother of Mick – a character that, as enshrined in the Discovery series bible, was only given a proper backstory and prescribed the necessary importance in the self-same episode.

When the season began we were excited (though cautious) about who or what the Red Angel might be, and what the fucker might want. A universe of possibilities opened before us. Hark, we cried, Discovery’s team have learned the lesson from season one, namely that focusing on Burnham – a dull and ill-conceived character written to a standard that fell far short of the values and intellect she was supposed to represent – instead of the crew’s celestial exploits, was a mistake.

The second season would be a corrective, we hoped – more an ensemble affair with some spare faring mysteries at its core. In time we grew despondent as we realised the Angel’s story was bound up with the unwanted shadowmen and women of Section 31 and their out of control Control – an AI, but worse was to come. Finally, in the wrap up phase of the season, it came to pass that Mick – yes Mick once again, was the talismanic puzzle piece on which the fate of the galaxy, indeed all sentient life turned. That’s Mick – the show’s sixth most interesting character. Mick, whose forced relationship with step brother Spock has only underlined how superior the template character is to his Discovery proxy. Mick, a human bereft of warmth or charm who substitutes real conversation for lofty, empty rhetoric – incredulity and crying. Mick, apparently one of the most important humans of the 23rd century.

In fact Mick’s so shrewd that as “The Red Angel” opened, it hadn’t occurred to her to follow up Airium’s reference to Project Daedalus. Sure, her colleague and friend (we’re told) had committed suicide to protect Mick from whatever it was about and had given her this information in her dying moments, but apparently Mick had forgotten about it, because when Tilly, babbling as usual, entered the conference room with news from Airium’s autopsy – that a reference to said project had appeared in the dead woman’s cyberbrain along with, conveniently, a DNA profile of the Angel, only then did it occur to our hero to pipe up. Oh, and in other news, the Angel’s profile was a one hundred percent (note that figure down, we’ll return to it later) match for, who else, our very own Commander B. ‘Michael, it’s you,’ squealed Tilly, and hearts around the world sank faster than Clem Fandango’s erection when handed human porn.

When discussion turned to trapping the Angel, using Mick as bait, as the only pattern that could be discerned by anyone in respect of events the show’s writers hadn’t thought through properly, was the time traveller appearing to save, er, itself – it was clear that Burnham should no longer be involved in the conversation. We knew it, the dog in the street knew it, but apparently it didn’t occur to anyone writing the show.

If Mick was the Angel then including her in a plan to capture her future self could only result in failure. Mick, being present and all, would remember whatever scheme they came up and would have all the time in the world, quite literally, to formulate a counter strategy. Yet, despite this, not only did Pike, Cornwell at al discuss the intricacies of the mousetrap plan with Mick, she insisted on being the bait to capture herself, with no one pointing out that if the Angel was free and operating in the future, and assuming the Angel was Mick, then the plan must have failed. One could infer Mick survived her planned brush with death and the Angel got away on account of them having a future Mick to ensnare in the first place.

This was surely the point when one of the crew’s brains should have said, ‘this is a plot written by an idiot, it can’t be Burnham, it must, for these obvious reasons, be someone else,’ but the show had doubled down, having Culber confirm Tilly’s findings, so there was no getting out of it – we had to go along with this sham to the bitter end.

Assuming, as no one on Discovery did, bar Ethan Peck’s refreshingly Spock-like Spock, that the Red Angel wasn’t Mick (Spock pointed out it wasn’t logical – which it wasn’t), the team behind Operation Mousetrap weren’t giving the time traveller – who was intelligent enough to have invented a time travel suit – much credit.

They manufactured the galaxy’s most obvious trap – creating a scenario that could exist for no other reason than to provoke the Angel into appearing and saving Mick’s life. This involved travelling to a hostile planet and strapping Mick to a chair in an abandoned warehouse, where the vents would be opened and she’d then suffocate, surrounded by an assembly designed specifically for the one-off purpose of neutralising a time travel suit and containing the pilot. At this point Mick was still thought to be said pilot, so the Angel could reasonably be expected to know the mechanics of the trap, but if it wasn’t Mick, might the conspicuous nature of the setup not have acted as a tip off?

If the crew were serious they’d have met in secret while Mick was asleep or masturbating and said, ‘okay, we’ll manufacture an order for an away mission to this hostile world, make sure Burnham’s on the away team, and then sabotage her bio-suit so she gets into trouble on the planet surface – a real risk to life. Then, we sit back and wait for the Angel to appear. In the future it will be logged as an accident, death by misadventure. It should work, after all Burnham saved herself all those other times despite originally dying on several occasions. Wait, if she died, how could her future self know abo- ah, never mind.’

Yet the Angel fell for the trap, as the plot demanded and was caught, so perhaps they were right to presume the pilot was stupid. Inevitably, it was not Mick but Mick’s mother – a twist that had been obvious from the moment Section 31’s Leland told us she was the inventor of the time travel suit that ran on, er, time crystals (a commodity for which one imagines there’s only one use so it was a surprise to learn S31 were surprised they needed one).

The arrival of Mick’s mother was good for a couple of reasons. One, it puts some distance between Mick and Spock’s family and two, it means Mick isn’t quite as integral to the future of the galaxy as all that. Now we know this season will end with an odd battle to frustrate the genocidal ambitions of Section 31’s AI using a time travelling iron man suit. If you hoped for more at the start of the year, you’re not alone.

Anomalous Readings

  • If the Angel was Mick’s mother and not she, why was the Angel a 100% DNA profile match for Mick? Assuming Burnham is a product of her mother and father like most of us, and not grown in a lab from her Mother’s cells, then she’d have her own DNA profile. And wouldn’t Discovery have access to Mick’s mother’s medical files – after all, she was a Federation scientist. Why didn’t they match her to the Angel straight away?
  • Airium’s funeral was a big deal. Apparently the augmented extra was a favourite amongst the entire crew. They all turned out for the Wrath of Khan inspired ceremony, leaving the ship on auto pilot. When Tasha Yar died only her bridge crew pals attended the holodeck ceremony, but apparently a hundred years earlier it was the tradition to leave the ship crewless and vulnerable to attack or misadventure, by dropping everything to send off a crewman that only a select few would have known. Still, her friends spoke and it was nice, until Mick ruined it with one of her abstract soliloquys.
  • Culber spent the episode walking around with a contemporary suit jacket and shirt combination. Very stylish, but this is the 23rd century – shouldn’t he be wearing something weird? See TNG for casual future dress tips.
  • Culber needed therapy so it was fortunate that Cornwell was a former counsellor. Still, the writers needed that scene, so…
  • Airium’s replacement is Lt. Nelson. I wonder if she’ll ever get any lines?
  • The episode was notable for one very odd scene in which Mirror Georgiou had a baffling, passive aggressive conversation with Stamets and Culber about their sexuality. She implied that in the Mirror Universe they swung both ways and had engaged in a threesome with the Empress at her pleasure. Stamets, not unreasonably, was offended by the implication that his sexuality could differ in another timeline, and we were left agog at how clunky and awkward the scene was. It was left to Tilly, who looked as confused as anyone at this discussion using 21st century terms around sexuality, to ask, on behalf of us all, ‘what just happened?’
  • Watching Mick choke to death was, of course, great.

Mick’s Second Crack at the Galaxy

The Maiden Voyage 

Foreboding

Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 2.9

Critic’s log, supplemental.

Said Daedalus to son Icarus (and to paraphrase one of Stewart Lee’s routines), “fly not too close to the sun, lest your waxy wings melt.” Sound advice for a Star Trek debutante making her first contribution to a series that has yet to establish a reliable house style; a show still seeking to be identified by something other than its mistakes.

Michelle Paradise, who, and I don’t wish to alarm you, will be running the show next year, debuts as a hack with “Project Daedalus”, lensed by our old friend and sell out Jonathan Frakes; an episode that looks to have been initially broken with a view to developing hitherto neglected characters and deepening the relationships of others, but ended up in the destructive orbit of the Discovery writers’ room black hole, a void that crushes creativity with its destructive, reductive instincts.

It was to be the sole outing for Commander Airiam in a front and centre role. Who she? The cybernetically enhanced femdroid that’s been filling space at the back at the bridge for 25 episodes. Thus far, her contribution to the show has compromised of delivering feeder dialogue like, “object to port, Captain” or “Aye Sir” – the kind of bit character shit that caused Denise Crosby to tell Gene Roddenberry to get fucked a comparable number of episodes into TNG’s run (he had Yar murdered in revenge).

Airiam, having been on board the Discovery for years, always had an implicit relationship with the crew, though we never sampled it or got any sense of who or what she might socialise with. Did this mysterious robot character, whose presence begged questions about her canonical relationship with Dr Soong’s androids and the like, live and love with the human contingent, or spend her evenings charging in a dock, a la Seven of Nine? And where was her energy port?

All became clear in “Project Daedalus”, when for the first time, the crew member whose plot function up to now had been to receive a control signal – we assumed from the Red Angel, got the spotlight. We learned she was the human survivor of a shuttle accident that killed her fiancé the day they got engaged (what pathos), who’d been Robocoped in a bid to save her life. She now had the ability to review and delete memories, and tolerate Tilly – something only possible in the long-term with technological assistance.

Here was Michelle Paradise seemingly correcting an oversight – picking up a neglected character and giving her an intriguing backstory. In just a couple of scenes she economically established Airiam’s relationship with Tilly and the still to be filled out navigator whose name no one remembers, and hope sprung this was the beginning of a new dawn for the show, where the ensemble would be humanised and we’d finally have a full cast of original characters, instead of Mick and her satellites.

But this being Discovery we should have known it was a cheap and sentimental trick – a case of back filling to facilitate the episode’s climatic gutpunch, yet another dramatic moment for, yawn, Mick – who Discovery’s delusional hacks still imagine the audience give a fuck about.

Just 45 minutes after learning Airiam’s story she was, in keeping with the show’s remorseless focus on moving plot forward, blown into space at her own request, to prevent Section 31’s controlling AI (helpfully named Control) using her to upload the knowledge sphere’s eon-spanning experience (apparently taking up the same amount of space as 75% of her memories – the compression rate must be terrific) as that would, er, make it all powerful or something, which would prompt it to exterminate all organic sentient life – a 23rd century Skynet apparently motivated out of…information?

This was a monumental revelation that made little sense. Why did Control, an AI hotwired into systems and starships throughout the quadrant, need Airiam as a walking memory stick? And why would a Starfleet computer designed for threat assessment, fail to discriminate, when informed by a benign intelligence’s galaxy spanning knowledge and a detailed database on the Federation, between its allies and enemies?

But what really sandpapered the nuts was the wasteful dispatch of Airiam, extinguished with such mercenary premeditation. Worse still, Paradise attempted to manipulate us into buying into this rushed denouement, by having Tilly try to talk her down by reminiscing about their friendship – a bond that, like Saru and Tilly’s from sister episode, “An Obol for Charon”, had been hastily inserted to supply the story with its emotional ballast.

For a moment, imagine how we might have felt if Airiam had been a fully developed character with 25 episodes of adventures behind her. If this was a show that gave its cast a fair shake, instead of one fixated on try hard galactic fuck up, Mick, who even managed to steal the limelight of the femdroid’s death scene, with actress Hannah Cheeseman forced to further inflate her ego with the line, “everything is because of you”, the climatic blow out might have hit hard. Instead, we were asked to care about the impact of yet another crew death on Burnham (who’s responsible for most), and instantly compartmentalise the tragic character’s end, focusing instead on her cryptic allusion to Project Daedalus.

One can see the cogs turning here. This is a series in which the only important non-legacy characters are Mick, Tilly and Stamets. The function of the rest is to, sorry Airium, augment their stories and provide them with emotional complications to wrestle with. I sadly include Saru amongst the rest, because despite his illusionary prominence, the Kelpian’s arc seemed to exist solely as a proxy for Mick and Spock’s relationship and to advance the Red Angel plot.

Not only did Paradise underline all this in her first contribution to the show, but went further, introducing sci-fi elements from other franchises – Robocop, Terminator – that only serve to remind Trekkies how incongruous Discovery’s influences are compared to past Treks. Couldn’t these fuckers take their cue from Shakespeare and other classic literature like the good old days? And what’s next, a season inspired by the Transformers movies?

Anomalous Readings

  • So what are we to make of Project Daedalus? Is this to imply that the heart of the Red Angel mystery lies with the inventor of Section 31’s Control computer – the Miles Dyson of the Star Trek universe? (Mick’s real parents perhaps?) Could their daughter, Mick, be the Angel, travelling back in time to prevent Control’s takeover of the galaxy? If so, perhaps we can assume that Spock’s involvement was to ploy to guarantee Mick’s, with the circular logic of time travel, and that improbably, our very own walking disaster area and dullard, holds the key to saving all life everywhere, while engaging in an attempt to redeem herself for past war crimes and personal indiscretions. Given the show’s insistence on keeping Mick prominent and assigning her huge mythological importance, it’s just awful enough to be true.
  • Ethan Peck’s Spock continues to intrigue if not fully justify his existence by channelling the audience’s irritation and antipathy toward Mick. In this episode he neatly, with a Vulcan’s penetrating cold logic, exposed character fault lines long known to the audience – arrogance, presumption, ignorance, hubris and self-importance. It made you think that with the real Spock on board, his wannabe sister, whom he reminded us was NOT a blood relation, could safely fuck off into the future.
  • Watching Airiam’s death, the thought occurred that Paradise might have been minded to develop the character further but was probably overruled. Why? Because the more you democratise the characters on this show, the more exposed Mick becomes as the show’s dead centre – a woman lest interesting and amenable that one we knew for three quarters of an hour.
  • Paradise’s dialogue will need a polish in future. “These mines will slice the hull like cheese!” Like a knife through cheese, surely? Cheese is sliced, it does not slice.
  • Mick was once again the luckiest woman in Starfleet, managing not to be crushed by falling frozen corpses.
  • If Section 31 has inadvertently endangered all life in the galaxy, it makes you wonder why they’re still trusted to handle covert ops over a century hence.

Mick’s Second Crack at the Galaxy

The Maiden Voyage 

Foreboding

Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 2.8

Critic’s log, supplemental.

What is it that sets Star Trek apart from other franchises? Well, until ten years ago it was the decision, in 1979, to relaunch the series with the old cast. Star Trek: The Motion Picture was a real oddity – and I’m not talking about intergenerational relationship advocate Stephen Collins. Here was a multi-million dollar film stocked with TV actors – a continuation, not a reimagining of the classic series. The aesthetics and production values were updated of course, but not Shatner, Nimoy et al. This set a precedent that continued until Enterprise was decommissioned in 2005. Star Trek would continue with different casts in different scenarios, but, as the DS9 episode “Trials and Tribble-ations” and Enterprise’s “In a Mirror, Darkly” made clear, what you’d already seen was canon; you could bank it; and consequently you could invest in a long line of stories that spanned two hundred odd years of unbroken continuity.

Whether it’s a condition of a split licence, following CBS’s breakaway from Paramount, or simply creative imbecility, things are different now. Post-JJ Abrams, Star Trek has been in traditional update territory, in which the audience, having enjoyed the aforementioned joined-up universe, has been asked to intuitively accept the old model of recasting and updating the old – the contemporary overlay.

The so-called Kelvin timeline movies got away with this by existing in a new continuity. Okay, the prologue set in the old continuity wasn’t congruous with the TV series, but we’d rather you didn’t think about that and just enjoyed yourselves. But the decision by Secret Hideout, the television spinoff production company of Bad Robot, to make Star Trek: Discovery a prequel to the original series yet congruous with the new movies’ patented and therefore monetizable aesthetic, has resoundingly closed that loophole and traded on-screen explanation for an open and some would say desperate plea for suspension of disbelief.

Here you have the tension between Star Trek as seen by its fans and the show as conceived by the mountebanks now picked off the street to make it. In their minds, again assuming the decision to diverge is not forced on them by their corporate masters, it must be absurd that the audience can’t accept that Discovery, a show made in 2019, would have a different look and style from, say, the original series pilot “The Cage”, transmitted in 1964. Okay, they could have simply got round this by setting their series further in the future, as the fandom begged them to do, but that monumental act of hubris and cultural vandalism aside, one wonders if they’re even aware of the debate raging about which universe Discovery’s set in, or if these Trek dilettantes actually give a fuck at all.

Actually, scrap that thought. We know they’re conscious of it because Discovery is a show that’s been playing fast and loose with this question since its inception. As discussed in this log, Kurtzman’s cabal have been careful not to make definitive on screen pronouncements, like a revised Enterprise bridge for example, that would end their game of creative ambiguity and alert the Trekkies, pop culture’s original fanboys and girls, to their duplicity, and indifference to the franchise that was.

This is why the ‘…previously on Star Trek’ opener to “If Memory Serves” was a bit of a shock – a recap of “The Cage” from old footage, that definitively bolted the events of this story to those of the canonical episode. Okay, it was done in a tongue in cheek way, with comic transitions to signal the producers metacommentary on the whole canon debate – something like a wry grin, but here was a hard cut from Jeffrey Hunter to Anson Mount. ‘You see?’ said Kurtzman, using the awesome power of montage, ‘it’s the same character in the same continuity and despite the redesign of the Talosians, everything you’re about to see is simply an updated representation of said continuity. Okay? Yes, I know that’s not how it worked in the past but can we stop talking about canon now? Please?’

Well no, Alex, we can’t (see previous 800 words) because to do so would be to validate your unforced decision to bait worried Trekkies with reimagined bits of their treasured iconography and the stories they love. “If Memory Serves” was ontologically perfect in that respect, as it relied entirely on fans’ memories of “The Cage” to achieve its emotional effects.

Everything mesmerising about Mick and Spock’s trip to Talos IV was built on the uncanny re-rendering of the classic episode, including the character of Vina whom Pike, post-bleep chair, will get to enjoy forever and a day, thanks to the Talosian’s powers of altering perception; a power she showcased, foreshadowing the happy ending of “The Menagerie”. There were classic sound effects and Vina’s ‘60s hairstyle – and the faint pang of recognition that gladdens the fanboy heart but also signals creative bankruptcy from the regurgitation merchants behind the scenes.

“In Memory Serves” was an oddball episode in which everything interesting, the Talosians, Vina and Pike’s relationship, was borrowed from the classic series, while the rotten parts – Section 31, the Red Angel’s window on a future in which life in the galaxy is wiped out, and Mick’s duff relationship with Spock, were very much reminiscent of the dumb movie series on which Discovery’s modelled. The clumsy attempts at humour aside, what really struck the viewer watching this set up for the remainder of the season, was how incongruous the two eras were. When mashed together, they produced an episode that had both cerebral intrigue and blockbuster movie bullshit.

By episode’s end, Spock had exonerated himself for those triple murders (it’s now clear Section 31 did the deed), the Vulcan had foretold of an apocalypse, and the Discovery, having acquired the fugitive and, sadly, Mick – became a rogue ship, warping off to solve the mystery. Wherever the trial takes them, please God let it be nowhere near any original series’ planets.

Anomalous Readings

  • It just wasn’t Clem Fandango’s week on the good ship Discovery. Culber, reconstituted, but still a dull non-entity, which should have given him solace as it meant he was essentially unchanged, attacked our man in the mess hall demanding he “bring out” Voq. What if Voq was also slang for penis? One can’t be too careful. Later, he was framed by Ensign Robot, or whatever her name is, as a saboteur. Robot, possessed by the Angel, or something, is presumably trying to get Section 31 out of the way so the Discovery can save the future unencumbered. In that respect she’s an audience proxy and we should be rooting for her.
  • That said we now know the Red Angel saved Mick from an early death on Vulcan. What kind of a bastard would do this? “A human, nothing more”, Spock told us. But nothing less than a sadist.
  • Who, we wondered, could want to literally destroy the Discovery universe and bring this timeline to an end? So many millions of suspects…
  • Spock referred to “our current timeline”. Oh, you are a tease.
  • Ethan Peck’s portrayal of Spock, Bad Robot licenced beard notwithstanding, is better than Zachary Quinto’s. Peck, at least, has adopted a little of Nimoy’s growl and with it some of the heft he instilled in the character. But his version also credits Mick with making him the man he is today, so it’s hard to know how to feel about him.
  • So, we finally learned that Mick’s great act of estrangement, that allowed Spock to develop without her unwanted influence, was to call him a “weird little half-breed”. That’s the best Discovery’s hacks could come up with? Not even a Michael Jackson-style act of molestation? Are we really supposed to believe this one argument resulted in a lifelong schism between these two characters? On this show, yes.

Mick’s Second Crack at the Galaxy

The Maiden Voyage 

Foreboding

Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 2.7

Critic’s log, supplemental.

Well kids, we’re at the half way mark in Discovery’s second season – a pair of showrunners have been beamed into the centre of an asteroid and our necks are now being squeezed by the safest pair of hands in the business, namely Alex Kurtzman’s. What’s that? You can’t breathe? Relax, all episodes henceforth shall be indicative of the creative recalibration behind the scenes. You noted Michelle Paradise’s name in the opening credits for the first time? Well she’s the producer whose sci-fi credentials were affirmed in shows like, er, Exes and Ohs(?), who’ll be co-showrunner in the now confirmed Season 3 and will bring, according to Alex, a new character centred approach to the show.

Yet it would be spoiling us to make those changes straight away, so instead “Light and Shadows” gave us a story that put the mystery of the Red Angel (remember that?) front and centre, dividing the sleuthing between pairs of characters. Clem Fandango and Pike flew into a temporal rift to find out where the Red Angel went, Mick travelled to Vulcan, ominously styled on the designs of the 2009 movie – you know, the one where the planet was fucking destroyed to give Trek its Alderaan, and Tilly and Stamets did their impish science bit, with the former continuing to talk like a YouTuber who’d accidently crossed over into the world of the show, and the latter acting like her tolerant uncle.

As this was an episode primarily concerned with the overarching plot, your interest was contingent on how invested you were in the Angel’s origins and intent. What might have helped us was a clear and evidenced understanding of where the breadcrumb trail began.

Last week Tyler and Pike were only prepared to say that the Angel was a time traveller and had technology “beyond present Federation capabilities”. But by the time we re-joined the conversation, this had been upgraded to the Angel being verifiably from the future. How did Pike et al. know this? Surely the TNG episode “A Matter of Time” was in the archives. Had they watched it they’d know that time travel allows people from the past to acquire future technology, thereby passing themselves off as futuristic. It’s implicit in the science. If I invent a time machine in 2019, I can use it to travel to 2519 and steal all sorts of shit that will make me look like a God to the backward space farers of the 22nd century. And who’s to say that advanced technology’s from the future anyway? Couldn’t it just be the product of a brilliant but hitherto unknown alien civilisation, or the invention of a genius?

But no, the Red Angel was definitely from the future and that’s all there is to it. We were left wondering whether the Discovery crew were intellectually lazy or if the hacks responsible for retrofitting these words onto a thinly sketched outline, just couldn’t be bothered to technobabble it convincingly.

I confess, I got a little lost when Tyler and Pike entered the rift and got attacked by a version of their probe that had been modified with aggressive technology from five hundred years hence. This was designed to reinforce the idea the Angel was from the future, though this hadn’t been credibly established in the first place, but instead it made for a frenzied piece of action schlock in the middle of what was ostensibly a character-centred episode. I don’t know why, but I found the image of Tyler hammering the embedded tendril of a Matrix-style robot, stuck in the shuttle’s command console, absurdly comic. I laughed out loud. I can’t explain it.

If the point was to forge a bond between Tyler and Pike in adversity it half-worked – the two make for an interesting pair, but an investigative payoff would have worked better still – perhaps the revelation that the modified probe had an identifiable power signature or a planetary point of origin, but that’s the problem with serials – it’s always jam tomorrow.

Mick’s trip to Vulcan was more promising but ended in the ignominious threat of a canon violation and yet more questions about where Discovery sits in the Trek multiverse. Whether intended or not, Mick’s decision to visit Amanda and Sarek in search of one absent son, only highlighted the absence of another. Where, in flashbacks to misspent youth, or allusions to lost children, was Sybok? The Final Frontier didn’t establish the precise date of his banishment, but surely he would have been present in the household when Spock was a boy?

Memory Alpha, the Trek online encyclopaedia is clear that Sybok was raised alongside Spock as his half-brother, so where the fuck is he? And why, when Sarek mentioned the possibility of losing both his children in one hit, should Mick and Spock be captured and the former arrested for aiding and abetting the latter, did Amanda not jump in and say, “aren’t we forgetting someone? There’s Sybok. He’s out there somewhere. Probably looking for God or whatnot. Boy, could we use him right now as we attempt to solve this Red Angel mystery – this is right up his street.” Instead, we were left to contemplate that this might be a clear and unequivocal acknowledgement that Discovery exists in a different timeline to the Original Series. That, or the idiots in charge have never seen Star Trek V and have no idea who Sybok is.

In Discovery’s universe the Vulcan struggling with emotion and spiritual questions is Spock and in this episode, finally, tragically, we caught up with him. Turns out he was hiding on Vulcan all along – the last place anyone would look for the planet’s favourite son.

This latest incarnation of the character didn’t say much – just scratched a sequence of numbers on a wall and chanted passages from Alice in Wonderland. The show then gave him space dyslexia to facilitate an in-episode plot twist, that saw Mick save her step brother from Section 31, who wanted to wipe his brain or something, and crack the code.

Turns out we’re all heading to Talos IV, setting of original Star Trek pilot, “The Cage” and TOS two-partner “The Menagerie”. Should this worry the purists? Well, Spock never mentioned going there after the events in “The Cage” to Pike when he was in his bleep chair, and it will be interesting to see what allusion to that first story, if any, is made – but here’s Kurtzman and co. indulging their destructive instinct to flirt with and change the most hallowed and well-established elements of original continuity that once violated cannot be unfucked.

If we could, we’d tell him to stay a million light years away from this stuff, and resist the allure of momentary fan elation, in favour of creating a vibrant and enduring mythology of his own, but that’s a lot of work for Alex, Michelle and their band of miserable scribes. Still, it’s good to know another season has been commissioned, and with it the possibility of further retrospective damage to one of TV’s greatest and most beloved shows.

Anomalous Readings

  • I love Tilly, but if she doesn’t start talking like an officer soon I’m going to have to put my libido to one side and lobby for her early death.
  • Tyler: “One thing’s for sure, we’re in a fight for the future.” What single fact do you have that supports that conclusion, Ash? Can we have a bit of evidence?
  • Section 31’s Leland is apparently responsible for the death of Mick’s parents. Ho-hum. Wait, weren’t they raped by Klingons? Does this mean that Mick started the war for nothing? Anyway, it’s good to know the idealistic, moral Federation of yore is now an organisation that both engineers conflicts and badly manages their aftermath.
  • No Culber this week. It’s great the show has the confidence to set up an arc for a character then ignore him in the next episode.
  • I’m no expert on coordinates, but are they always fixed or are they relative to one’s position? The way Wesley Crusher explained it in “Datalore”, you work out where the planet is from your present position in space, then input so many degrees on the X axis (saying mark to signal the shift to the other axis) by so many on the Y, and that’s how you get to where you’re going. But Talos IV’s coordinates were recognised by the computer from the figures Spock gave, so they’re fixed apparently.

Mick’s Second Crack at the Galaxy

The Maiden Voyage 

Foreboding

Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 2.6

Critic’s log, supplemental.

“The Sounds of Thunder” (is there more than one?) gave us a story about Saru trying to find his true purpose and vanquish his ancestral demons. Watching it, it was possible to believe the writers of this struggling series were attempting a similar sort of emergence – one that would allow them to finally get a grip on their material, allowing it to evolve and reach its full potential. On this evidence, as Chancellor Gorkon once intoned, we have a long way to go.

On paper this should have been a treat for Discovery fans – a character focused episode in the vein of The Next Generation et al. Saru’s one of the show’s more interesting inhabitants, the classic outsider in the Spock, Data, Odo mould, and his recent near death experience suggested he was primed for a long and fascinating philosophical journey in which he’d be forced to interrogate his belief system and the plight of his servile people; a race the Prime Directive decreed he could not revisit and educate.

Well, fuck – we should have known that this potential arc of self-discovery, in a show lacking the confidence to play the long game, enslaved as it is to plot twists and Dan Brown-like story complications, was just the set up for a future episode; one in which the character that really interests the show’s beleaguered hacks, the Red Angel, would ultimately take centre stage. Everything’s subservient to the overarching serial plot in this show, and few stories, if any, can break its bonds and stand alone.

“The Sounds of Thunder” gave us a show written backwards in which the Discovery saved the Kelpians from a threat that only existed because they’d been brought there in the first place. The ship warped to Kaminar, home of Saru, on the back of a red signal sighting, only for the marker to vanish, forcing the crew to instead look into the Kelpians relationship with their unseen overlords, the technologically advanced, slaughter-happy Ba’ul (pronounced “bowel” by some crew members).

Naturally, the Ba’ul were both furious and threatened by the return of Saru, whose emergence from his species’ illness – the traditional time to submit to the cull, suggested, even to Pike, usually dead to the world, an agenda on the aggressive aliens’ part. What was it? To prevent the Kelpians learning they were rare in nature – a race of prey that mid-life cycle become the dominant species. Imagine a mouse going into a chrysalis and emerging as a bear and you get the idea. And not just any predators, but ones that hunted the Ba’ul in times gone by, before the scientifically savvy tar monsters got on the front foot and wiped out the adults, making ignorant servile, God fearing folk of the remaining infant population. Could they have apologised and suggested a life of peaceful coexistence instead, informed by better education and shared access to resources? We’ll never know. But we did know the background thanks to the gift of the alien sphere archive from “An Obol from Charon”, that will now conveniently supply the backstory for every wrong the pied piper red signals send Discovery to right.

Wait a minute – someone sent to right historic wrongs backed by a sentient and historically literate database and a character, in this case Mick, whose job it is to ask questions and vomit exposition? Has Disc – has Discovery been transformed under cover of darkness…into Quantum Leap?

This may not be an absurd as it sounds, after all we now know the Red Angel is most likely a time travelling do-gooder, who despite the ability to apparently effect change on a planetary scale singlehanded – whether it’s transplanting colonists across the galaxy so they can live in polytheistic harmony (and ignorance), or disabling a global network of alien beacons to destroy an oppressors’ ability to tyrannise another species (emancipating them from ignorance), the alien needs Discovery to bear witness and in some cases, facilitate these pre-determined outcomes.

The fact the Discovery is significant in this respect suggests, with all the subtlety of a fisting, that members of the ship’s crew must have a link to the mysterious interloper.

Last season we learned that if a twist was signposted and obvious on this show it was almost certainly what the hacks had in mind – after all these are Trek dilettantes gifted a prestige budget. So when we suspect, in part because of the show’s recent singling out of Saru as a being of untapped potential, lit with a red hue, and unduly concerned that Mick and Spock need should be brought back together, that future Saru is the angel, should we worry? After all, that would at least mean his mythic journey wasn’t wrapped up in 45 minutes and the season had a design. And I suppose a Star Trek character being the answer to a season long mystery is an interesting idea, though one featured across an entire series if you remember DS9 already exists. The question, as ever, will be, what does Discovery do with this idea?

Did the Angel appear to Spock to guarantee the Discovery’s involvement, and if so is this really all about bringing Mick into the equation and ultimately reuniting her with her (step)brother, and if so what great insight are the two supposed to bring to these mysteries? And why is the Angel obsessed with testing existing faiths and installing itself as a new idol? Is this an alien with a God complex that decided it should be styled thus? I suppose the writers must know the answers. I just have a horrible feeling I’m going to hate them.

Anomalous Readings

  • Other Red Angel suspects, i.e. Discovery characters with a God complex that might one day be interested in becoming a celestial saviour. Mick…
  • Culber struggled with his new body this week, echoing Saru’s battle with his new self. He lost a life defining scar, and with it a key signifier of his past. “Perhaps you’re on your way to becoming who you’re meant to be,” offered Saru. Wait a minute, a Doctor – a saviour, who’s returned from the dead? Could he… no, no it’s too ridiculous.
  • Mick’s wisdom of the week: “thousands of years of conditioning will take time to undo.” No shit, but in the end the first stage took about 5 minutes, and the Kelpians were already sceptics by episode’s end. But I suppose everything’s faster in the future.
  • Saru was the character lumbered with an introspective voiceover this week. I hope this isn’t the start of a trend.
  • Lots of fluid camerawork, fancy transitions and lens flare in this episode, but don’t imagine the show’s an adjunct to the JJ Abrams’ movies.

Mick’s Second Crack at the Galaxy

The Maiden Voyage 

Foreboding

Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 2.4

This week on the good ship Discovery, in an episode entitled “An Oboe for Ariel Sharon” (note to self: check title before publishing), it’s if as the writers suddenly bolted upright in bed, saturated in sweat and urine, and cried, “we’re losing our audience, we better do something like a traditional Star Trek episode!” One imagines a hastily arranged screening of a random selection followed.

Thus, an instalment was crafted using dynamics that would have been very familiar to fans of Trek’s previous incarnations. Discovery, warping its way to find Spock’s stolen shuttle (he’s a madman on the loose, you’ll recall), with Mick absolutely insistent that she wouldn’t be the one to deal with him when they caught up (because she’d forced him to masturbate in front of her) encountered a sphere in space and all hell broke loose.

The alien transmitted a virus that overloaded the universal translator (hint, hint) and triggered an actual biological transformation in Saru – a species specific illness that signalled to his servile people that it was their time to give up and die. The ship’s momentary breakdown also meant a crisis for Tilly, as the fungal blob from last week broke out and attached itself to her arm, leaving Stamets and Reno, who’s apparently been on board all the time, to loosely debate the virtues of Spore technology.

The intent here was clearly to deepen and develop the relationships between clusters of characters, a tacit admission that this crucial aspect of the show had been hitherto neglected. On Treks of yore the writers might have picked a couple to concentrate on, conscious that they’d have many future episodes to do the others. But Discovery is a plot driven series, not a character-focused one like its modern predecessors, and consequently, with one eye on the whiteboard reminding them there was an awful lot to get through in just ten episodes, “An Obol for Charon” acted like a pause, with not one but two pairs of characters hurriedly attended to.

This worked reasonably well when it came to Tilly and Stamets, as their relationship has, in a cursory way, interested Discovery’s hacks for some time. One could even be touched by the engineer’s attempts to save his ditzy friend using, er, trepanning, while having to put up with the wry cynicism of Reno the interloper.

Irritant though Reno is, her presence did allow the focus to switch back to the Spore Drive and how dangerous it is. Yes, we’d thought the hacks had abandoned this crucial subplot, but Tilly’s parasite problem facilitated a discussion in which the mycelial network was likened to clean, renewable technology and dilthium to fossil fuel. What then is the fatal flaw in Spore? Turns out the network is a fully-fledged ecosystem for life and jumping around in a starship destroys such life. Tilly’s parasite, “May”, was revealed to be a vengeful alien with a political agenda to take the fight to unwanted Federation tourists. At episode’s end, it consumed our favourite redhead entirely, so expect it to be a lot less cogent next week.

Marking the Spore Drive as an engine of ecological disaster isn’t a bad idea – because its use has to end, though it’s one borrowed from the TNG episode “Force of Nature” in which warp was discovered to harm space, necessitating speed limits. At the time, this eco-story was considered a terrible mistake, as it effectively curtailed the use of one of the franchise’s prime technologies, but repurposed here in a bid to kill some tech that must be killed, it just might work.

Would a threat to our universe have been more interesting? Possibly. But at least now Discovery’s characters will have a moral dilemma on their hands as they debate whether the Prime Directive extends to a hidden network incubating a myriad of below the radar species. Personally I’d say fuck ‘em for the chance to teleport anywhere instantly, but this being a prequel, and one that could even be retconned as canon one day, there’s little choice.

Great as it was to see Tilly on a magic mushroom bender, the episode’s primary focus was on Saru and Mick, reprising the relationship that turned sour in the pilot but apparently blossomed in extremis thereafter, when Saru had to defer to the woman who’d lost her rank and started an interstellar war.

These are two characters who we’ve always been told have a close bond, without the show doing the donkey work of actually presenting it to us in meaningful moments. Perhaps I’d forgotten, but I couldn’t think of any significant Mick and Saru scenes, bar the episode when he went insane and attacked her on the planet with an interstellar communications array. Yet here was a story that relied on our identification with the friendship for its emotional impact.

For many, however, this would have been the first evidence the two had such a deep and meaningful relationship. This, and I’m sorry to harp on, is collateral damage from the show’s plot-driven, serialised approach. When every episode is about pushing the story forward, not building stories around characters, often the cast are too involved in the action to speak to each other in anything but an expository way.

Still, Doug (autocorrects to Duncan) Jones, who we like, and who appears to be the only refugee from a real Star Trek series, did good work as the dying alien, trying to solve the mystery of the sphere while getting his affairs in order. The scenario also brought out Mick’s human side – that untapped reservoir of emotion that might make her seem less of a pious know-it-all. Ultimately, with the mystery of the sphere’s attack solved as the attempt of a dying alien to impart its epoch spanning knowledge, in the best Star Trek tradition, Saru had a lie down and prepared to do the same, only to learn that everything he knew was wrong.

Here, for the first time, Discovery made a call with a character that was potentially intriguing. Saru survived the illness that would usually prompt his people to sacrifice themselves for food, and in doing so learned that his fellow Kelpians were fucking idiots.

Saru had to go back and tell them, he said, though the Prime Directive forbade it, and we were left to reflect, with the newly empowered alien attempting to make sense of an enlightened world – like a priest who’d learned there was no God – how incredible it was that not a single Kelpian had ever ridden out the delirium and acute mania on the off-chance it might pass, and with it their fear of death and acceptance of their place in the food chain. Speaking of food, anyone for salt and pepper squid?

Anomalous readings:

  • We finally met the Enterprise’s No.1 and learned she likes cheeseburgers. Pike’s instruction to her, that the ship’s holographic interfaces should be ripped out, as they were ghost-like, will be read as a one-line attempt at further reconciling Discovery’s incongruous tech with that seen in the Original Series, but the suspicion remains (not least because of the seldom discussed rights issues) that the show is set in its own timeline and that consequently, any definitive, cast-iron identifiers, that would finally, irrefutably make it impossible for anyone but the most deluded fan to deny it – both to themselves and others – will be kept off screen.
  • Tilly’s favourite song is David Bowie’s Space Oddity. Well of course it is.
  • “I love you, Saru”. Nice try, Discovery hacks, but this is the first substantial conservation Mick’s had with Saru for ages, maybe ever. I’m sure they’ve enjoyed a lot of great moments together off screen which they’ve never spoken about with a camera running.
  • This attempt at adding substance to Mick and Saru’s relationship was further sullied when it became apparent it was a proxy for that other great unseen kinship, Mick and Spock. Mick’s arc for the episode was to face losing her on-ship brother, thereby reminding her of the importance of reconciling with the real thing. Two pivotal, character defining bonds for Mick then, for which only anecdotal evidence exists.

Mick’s Second Crack at the Galaxy

The Maiden Voyage 

Foreboding