Its Trek, Jim, but not as we know it….

…which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’ve been watching the second season of Star Trek: Discovery, and I’ve been enjoying it more than the first season; on the whole I’d say its much improved. I’ll withhold my final thoughts until I’ve seen the whole thing -I’m at the midpoint now, having watched the first six episodes- but clearly there’s good and bad. Funnily enough, mind, when I’ve been thinking back on these episodes I’ve watched, some of the best and worst moments has surprised me.

stOne of my criticisms of season one was simply that, like the film reboots, it didn’t really feel like Star Trek. One caveat here- when I refer to ‘Star Trek’ I’m talking about the original 1960s show, for me that’s always Star Trek and what I’ll always compare later stuff to, whether it be ST:TNG, DS9, Wrath of Khan or whatever. Anyway, the first season of Star Trek: Discovery surprised me by being, for the most part, not a complete disaster. But it didn’t really earn the title ‘Star Trek’ simply because, as a prequel to the original show, it fell into the familiar trap of not feeling authentic- by being so modern and flash and sophisticated it lost a lot of the simple charm of the original. It seemed, like the Disney Star Wars films in a way, to be appropriating the franchise ‘objects’ like Klingons, Vulcans, Starships etc from Star Trek but, in making it of its own it lost the authenticity, in just the same way as the ‘hot rod’ Enterprise of the Star Trek film reboots in no way looks or feels like the original Enterprise. It feels alien, an inferior subsitute.

The funny thing is, the second season possibly succeeds best when it fails to be ‘Star Trek’ and fails worst when it slips into the nightmare technobabble deux machina plots that the writers solve with technobabble in just the same way as Dr Who always fixes everything with that bloody sonic screwdriver- lazy writing basically. Are we supposed to be excited when three characters in engineering excitedly discuss theoretical solutions for their current predicament and come up with some handy gizmo and theory just in time, some  scheme so outlandish it might as well be sorcery? At least in the original Star Trek it was usually Kirks wits or Spock’s logic or just plain fisticuffs or photon torpedoes that saved the day- I didn’t have to stomach two minutes of meaningless techno jargon to somehow explain away something. In this respect, it seems the showrunners are too enamored with ST:TNG and those tv incarnations of that era. On the whole I just think its lazy writing, setting up problems/predicaments and then writing yourself out of it with a solution based on magic and sorcery, something out of left-field and excused by it being a story set in the future.  You know, that whole Arthur C Clarke thing about some sufficiently advanced alien technology being indistinguishable from magic misappropriated in a Star Trek writer’s series bible.

One thing I will say- it looks gorgeous. The sets, costumes, visual effects looking very feature-film quality (to stretch that Arthur C Clarke thing a bit further- television of sufficiently advanced visual quality being indistinguishable from theatrical productions, (ha ha, shoot me now while I go get my coat)). Its got a wonderful widescreen presentation and the Dolby Vision HDR really kicks, which really makes it all the more frustrating when the technobabble gets to spoil everything. While the Star Trek milieu should be really something to treasure it feels strange to report that it also handicaps it. I wish they’d use this quality and effort in a more retro fashion, really evoke the ‘period’ of the 1960s Star Trek than this odd ultra-2001/Avatar hybrid that feels more an approximation- I’m sure the showrunners would argue its what Gene Roddenberry would have intended to do with 1960s Star Trek if only he had the toybox they have now, but that’s not really true. Roddenberry wasn’t really interested in Klingons (that was Gene Coon’s baby) and neither did he really investigate Spock’s Vulcan heritage beyond his alien-ness, so all modern Trek’s fascination with Klingon and Vulcan cultures and languages is all LOTR Elvish to me. Sure it’s fun if you can spin some worthwhile plot from it but it shouldn’t be everything or bog down the adventure. Some of this stuff, well, maybe hardcore Trekkies (who can speak Klingon, God bless their nerdish hearts) lap it up.

Oh well, I’ll see where it goes, but it is pretty good so far. Its the best TV Trek since the original show I think I’ve ever seen, to be sure. It comes so frustratingly close to being brilliant, but maybe the second season saves its best till last….

One thought on “Its Trek, Jim, but not as we know it….

  1. Matthew McKinnon

    So, you’re halfway through? OK, stick with it, because it does actually go somewhere.

    I liked this a lot more than the first season, mainly because the new show-runners seemed to have realised that going dark and brutal and generally unpleasant makes for grim, offputting viewing. And that’s not really Star Trek.

    With Pike aboard, you get a strong backbone of honour and integrity. He seems to act as a lightning rod for all the best characteristics of the supporting crew-members. Hey, a Captain we can actually like and admire! I think this Pike might be my favourite Captain after Kirk.

    I agree completely about the writing: and it’s such a shame because every other aspect of this series is great! It looks great, the VFX are top-notch [there’s an incredible space battle coming up at the end of the season], I like the characters [though I wish Burnham would lighten up a bit: she really is a drag], it’s often really inventively directed.

    But the writing is uniformly terrible at all times. It’s the uphill struggle everyone working on the show has to endure.

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