Trust the Mystery of “Star Trek: Discovery”

In Praise of Season Two

Apr 22, 2019 By Steve King Web Exclusive
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[SCARY COMPUTER VOICE: Control advises a spoiler disclaimer... But you'll keep reading anyway. Struggle is useless.]

Star Trek: Discovery has just wrapped up its second season. It was better than the first. Nearly every week's episode of Discovery was better than the last, and it already had the best first season of any Star Trek series. At least once per episode there was a galaxy brain moment that intentionally shattered the audience's minds. The show took its time a bit more than the first season; you could call it a course correction, but the raw material was already embedded in Discovery.

We could do a normal season review, but an appreciation might be more appropriate. While the first season dealt with alternate realities and making the universe great again, the second was all about faith. Trekkies have a special relationship with Gene Roddenberry. He's our L. Ron Hubbard, but cool. He was a hippie shaman traveling at light speed through our lives. If Star Trek ever stopped telling good stories, we'd all give up and move on, but more than 50 years since its launch, the franchise and Alpha Quadrant have evolved and embraced change. That's worth having faith in.

Considering the showrunner drama, you would think that Discovery was a cursed production, but with Alex Kurtzman firmly in charge, it turned a corner. The changes the show has gone through are subtle but revolutionary, and it's even more of the most forward-leaning and inclusive storytelling the already progressive franchise has ever made. Deep Space Nine is the gold standard, but Discovery had a much stronger start.

With episodes like "New Eden," "An Obal for Charon," "The Sound of Thunder," "If Memory Serves," "Perpetual Infinity," "Through The Valley Of Shadows," and "Such Sweet Sorrow Parts, 1 and 2," there are not only bold nods to The Original Series, The Next Generation (Armus was a Ba'ul!), but also Deep Space Nine (Spock wrote on insane asylum walls, you guys!) and Enterprise. Discovery mastered a sustained level of suspense that no Trek before it has. Sometimes while watching you forget to breathe. Also, since Discovery had the best pilot and the best first season, and the second season was even better... just curious, what do you call that? It's not there yet, but we're getting closer.

Discovery is smart, if not always overly cerebral. It's the most like The Original Series in that way. The opening credit sequence literally starts with a blueprint, and it's added texture and color to things we have already heard about but never seen. We've been shown nano-probes in blood streams, an epic Klingon fight, more Number One, turbolifts moving through the ship, the inside of a replicator, the function of long range sensors. They showed the first communicator badges, which belonged to Section 31, of course. There's a Saurian crewmember! And he's awesome!

Yes, the show cuts a few corners like it's already in its last season, but this is America in 2019. There's no time left for corners. It's already taking seventh season risks.

This isn't retconning; it's filling in the blanks. It's retrofitting. The supporting bridge crewmembers were fleshed out. And let's not even talk about the Captain Pike's character development! Oh my God. Anson Mount is the best Pike ever. And Living Goddess Michelle Yeoh! Holy shit! She is so fucking cool it's almost painful. Georgiou is the wildest Trek character since Seven of Nine.

Discovery gets to a level of new retro that Enterprise never quite pulled off. Yes, the camera is always moving, the lens flares would give J.J. Abrams a seizure, the finales haven't been perfect (as compared to the rest of the series), and the show is always going a little too fast to linger on one concept before introducing another. Sure, it sometimes feels like a fanfiction version of Trek, but that's only because it hasn't been around long enough for the stylistic changes to set in on the audience yet. It achieved with this season what had only been attempted in Enterprise's "A Mirror Darkly Parts, 1 and 2," and Deep Space Nine's "Trials and Tribble-ations."  

Discovery requires active viewing. It's not the kind of Trek that you can just let wash over you. It's not like the old days, people. Aside from the mycelial network, there's time travel, inter-dimensional excursions, and even a "multiverse" mention. This is the first Trek that's hooked on mathematics and woke as fuck. Woke Trek. Star Woke. It's like sucking on a psychedelic slurpee through an electric straw. Discovery is the deepest Trek. It's so tense and highbrow it makes Deep Space Nine look like CBS This Morning. Wait... I LOVE CBS. CBS IS A FINE AND GENEROUS COMPANY. 

With the Kelvin Timeline film series in production limbo and the Tarantino Trek movie only existing in the fevered dreams of the most insane fans, Discovery is on the cutting edge and pushing boundaries in a way the franchise has never experienced. It's already launched multiple new additions to the Trek universe with the amazing Short Treks ("Calypso" is one of the best episodes of all time and the furthest ever in the Prime Timeline's future), the untitled Picard show debuting later this year, and the Section 31 show coming in 2020. Discovery and CBS All Access, along with the rest of the Trek catalogue, have essentially launched an online Star Trek channel. As long as Patrick Stewart isn't allowed to go nuts like in Logan and Blunt Talk, the Picard show will be fine.

Let me pause for a moment of nerd whining: the Discovery needed more Jett Reno. She's like a human Q, keeping it real and dropping knowledge. Trek needs more Qish characters. Is Mirror Georgiou an Emperor, captain, commander, agent? Get the nomenclature straight, you guys. Still no T'Pol cameo. Spock is the easy one, but come on. And why wasn't he in uniform once he was back on a Starfleet ship! Fuuuuuck! Oh, who cares? This show is just so damn much fun! I mean, the ship did a barrel roll!

Discovery's greatest success isn't the awesome technobabble or reverence for math and science, but its full embrace of liberalism. Issues of race, gender, and progressivism go hand in hand with sci-fi and have existed since Star Trek's inception. Martin Luther King himself told Nichelle Nichols she had to be in the show, for christ sake. 

This kind of content is what has always made Star Trek, in all its iterations, remain culturally relevant. With Discovery, it feels like Trek has finally become what we were waiting for our whole lives. Sci-fi lends itself so much to racial issues because it's a perfect metaphor. It has to do with the unknowable, alien, other, and outsider.

But there's a reason the series with black or female protagonists have taken the most heat from fans. It's the toxic rigidity of sci-fi/fantasy nerd culture. These are the same guys who harrassed Kelly Marie Tran until she left social media following the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. And they somehow have the balls to say what's canon and what isn't, as if the story they've been watching belongs to them. Rather than accepting and appreciating existing reality, they decide what's real and what isn't. Turns out, it was never your story, bros, and not wanting things to change in pop culture is just another version of conservatism. Conservatism has no place in Trek. It's the ultimate motivated reasoning or sunk cost fallacy. I mean, Star Trek survived the abomination of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, and that was like 40 years ago. That movie was a crime against nature. And I proudly love Nemesis and Enterprise! But that's Trek. You have to love it even when you don't like it. Especially when it's not as good as the it could be. Having faith means keeping it even when you don't want to.

Enough said. There will always be complaints about ship design and continuity, but give it a rest and adapt. I'm so sick of the continuity complaints. It's sci-fi, guys. There's always an explanation, no matter how far fetched. That's the point. Use your goddamn imaginations. If you want the illusion of continuity, read a fucking history book. Yeah, some stuff bothers me but, again, it's sci-fi. It'll all come out in the wash. Hell, I'm ok with the whole show being set in another possible timeline. Social and political commentary has always worked best when in a science fiction format. Humans embracing change and bettering themselves is evidence of evolution. That's what Trek is all about. So sit back, smoke a bob, chill out a little, and enjoy the story like you have for the last half century. Do whatever you have to do, but get the fuck over yourselves.

Sonequa Martin-Green is magic. She glows. She's so expressive and full of life that she exudes raw human power. She is a star sent from the heavens meant to go supernova across our imaginations. She is so talented you have to wonder how long this show can go on, because in a short period of time Martin-Green will be very expensive. She has single-handedly opened up Star Trek to a new and even broader audience. Discovery, and Deep Space Nine before it, have leaned hard into their diversity. The subject of race has made its characters nuanced and richer as a result. It's part of their identities. Michael Burnham is the first really real Trek lead. She's not stylized or occasionally corny; she's genuine and fully formed. For all the complexities of other captains and leads, she's on point, rich, flawed, and subtle. She deserves an Emmy. Trek is finally practicing what it preaches: Infinite diversity in infinite combinations.

Discovery has triumphed over toxic scifi nerd culture because of its differences with the rest of Trek. It has laid the groundwork for a half dozen other iterations, reshaped the franchise, and pushed it forward into a future that we previously couldn't imagine. Discovery is a dazzling readjustment akin to the beginning of The Next Generation. It will spawn a new generation of Trek storytelling. They will be similar but still able to do their own thing. Discovery is the new standard by which the others will be judged. It's a Trek that has learned from itself and hit warp speed on its values. Star Trek has never been about escapism or nostalgia. It's about progress. It's about the future. Captain Kirk once said that "Some people think the future means the end of history." It's not. It's about the positive anticipation of uncertainty and things not yet seen. As fans, our duty is to expand our horizons, not maintain them. That's kind of what the Federation is all about. Does anyone else remember "All Good Things?"

The path to Bajoran Enlightenment requires three things: charity, humility, and faith. Star Trek has never given us a reason to lose faith. It's about the power of positivity across time periods that haven't even happened yet. Trek isn't about looking backwards. It's about expecting and demanding more from the future. It requires an abiding, patient faith in positivity. That's the thing that has crossed all cultures and made it the most successful cross-platform American story ever told. Just like the second season of Star Trek: Discovery, it requires the viewer to take a leap of faith... Faith of the heart.

LLAP.

www.cbs.com/shows/star-trek-discovery/

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Mike M.
April 22nd 2019
2:08pm

THANK YOU!!! That was perfectly stated. I too am sooooo sick and tired of the fanboys whining and crying about every little thing that’s “not canon.” I agree, ST: Discovery is the BEST Trek ever (and I’ve watched them all.) My only hope and dream is that (a) it outlives the 7-year lifespan of previous ST shows (10-15 would be nice, or round up to 20 seasons, lol) and that it can spin off numerous other ST shows (and movies) just as good as Discovery, even better (if that’s possible?) My only complaint of the show? The seasons are too short!!

Randy
April 23rd 2019
5:16am

I was with you (even though the article was a *little* over the top with gushing) until you dismissed SF genre as a whole and Star Trek in particular as being intellectually weak.  You said:  “I’m so sick of the continuity complaints. It’s sci-fi, guys. There’s always an explanation, no matter how far fetched.”

By saying that continuity doesn’t matter when the genre is science fiction you are dismissing it, Trek included, as being so unimportant that it is asking too much of it to be consistent.  You are essentially putting it in the same intellectual bucket as fairy tales.

I find that insulting to Trek, insulting to SF, and insulting to the people who enjoy consistency within and between stories that are supposed to be a series.  So you might have said interesting things after that statement but I’ll never know.  I stopped reading at that point.

Mike K
April 23rd 2019
4:50pm

Absolutely bang on point! Nuff said.

Richard Lucas
April 23rd 2019
6:42pm

No, the showrunners specifically said any resemblance between Armus and the Ba’ul is coincidental.

Newton
April 24th 2019
5:43am

Well, couldn’t disagree more. Maybe, that’s the beauty of it.

Dela
April 24th 2019
8:05am

Well put, right to the point, couldn’t agree more!

Rima Sen
May 31st 2019
7:03pm

This is a very good post .Thanks for letting us know some good tips . I
like your many articles it will help not only me and also many newbie