It’s dead, Jim

michaelbThe Michael Burnham Show aka Star Trek: Discovery completed its third season this past week and I’m still rather speechless. I don’t know what kind of deranged minds are behind this show but frack me it must surely be the worst sci fi show I have ever seen (at least until season four arrives next year). I suppose I should commend them for having the audacity to make a show about a psychopath with a God Complex infecting the galaxy with her psychosis.  Its pure Philip K Dick really, and quite fitting for our times: an Insanity Pandemic infecting the universe, 3188: A Messianic Odyssey in fact. 

How else to explain anything that happens in this show? I have no idea how many or how few are actually watching it, but I’m sure it has its fans: I’m sure its endless fascination with Wish Fulfilment is just wonderful for them: its all something of a Dream. We all like to think we are special, and the fantasy of The Chosen One is quite seductive; part of the appeal of the Matrix movies is the idea of being Neo, of being The One. Of being the subject of prophecy. The Michael Burnham Show is that fantasy writ large, in the guise of what we fans used to call Star Trek.

But Star Trek is dead. Its been dead for awhile, but if that wasn’t confirmed by the reboot movies from JJ Abrams or by last year’s Star Trek: Picard, then it surely is now. In fact, The Michael Burnham Show has surely kicked its corpse into the gutter. Maybe Star Wars got away lightly after all.

Michael Burnham is never wrong, and even when she is, it turns out she’s right in the end. When she ignores protocol or even direct orders, when she abandons her post to go off on one of her own far more important errands, and when she is subsequently demoted for such, its only a purely token gesture. Her voice and opinion will always still be desired, and when the push comes to shove, the Command Chair will always be vacated for her to take over and save the day. Its obvious everybody, even the head of Star Fleet, and certainly her fellow crew of the Discovery, are vastly inferior to her and will always defer to her. 

Just to underline the fact, none of the Discovery crew have any opportunity to compete with her on any level. Most of them don’t even have names, or at least names that matter or are memorable, and they surely don’t have any lines to speak, or any personality to inject into the proceedings. Arguably the co-star of the show, Ensign Tully -sorry, Tilly (the characters are so bland that even the nominal co-star has a name I find hard to remember)- is a prime example of a non-achiever, more suited perhaps to operating the sick-bay radio channel or the canteen, she is inexplicably promoted to be Number One in Burnham’s stead, if only to prove how most excellent Burnham was in comparison: I think its within thirty minutes of taking the Comm that Tilly manages to lose the Discovery to an alien aggressor (the Green Woman and her Motorbike Helmet goons) who board and take control of the ship and imprison the crew. Tilly can bluff and bluster like a ginger Boris Johnson- but typical of the show, there’s no substance to her, and after she escapes from confinement her attempt to retake the ship ends with her and her team asphyxiating in a corridor. Never mind Tilly, Michael’s here to save the day/save the galaxy/save the universe.

Its all fairly obnoxious and really insulting. I’ve never witnessed such stupidity in writing. The writers inject some 3188 tech – personal transporters in the uniform lapel badges- which, when they are tapped by the wearer’s fingers instantly teleports them anywhere they want to be. No coordinates, no voice commands, just tap the badge and this magic shit reads your mind or something. Now, you give all the crew this magic badge and hey presto, you’ll have empty corridors from then on because everyone just teleports everywhere, right? Canteen? The loo? Who even needs doors anymore? Tap the button and in a flash you’re there. And yet, and yet, in each subsequent episode we still see crew walking around pretending to look busy. I mean, they even have a gag in the episode in which they have the new tech in which an alien crewmember keeps on teleporting into scenes by mistake, and yet next episode nobody’s using them. These writers can’t even manage their own internal logic, even in the very same episode- in the finale the crew set off a bomb to wreck one of the nacelles and pull the ship out of warp, and then scarcely fifteen minutes later its magically all fixed and the ship is whole again and fully operational. I mean, wtf? 

I could go on. I think when I realised that Burnham’s God Complex psychosis is infecting everyone around her was when the show started to make sense to me, as regards how stupid it was and how crazy every character was behaving. It certainly explains how the show can shit all over established canon by suggesting Spock had a half-sister never mentioned in all the decades of the various incarnations of the franchise. Its obvious now that Spock never had a sister until she appeared, like one of Lovecraft’s Elder Gods from some deep sleep, her psychosis infecting Spock into accepting her, her sudden existence affecting the fabric of reality and the mythology of the show. I half-expect the psychosis to infect our own reality, so that people will start re-reading their Star Trek paperbacks from the 1980s and 1990s and suddenly be reading, indeed, of Spock having a half-sister called Michael. Its fiction infecting reality like in John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness. God help us all. 

Never mind. Michael will save us.

9 thoughts on “It’s dead, Jim

  1. I read your critique of Star Trek: Discovery, and have to admit, this not the first critique I have read about this Show but it is with doubt the best one I have read to date.

    Maybe it is the Actor in me. I actually like the Show and I actually like Michael Burnham. It is not lost on me that after three seasons, I still don’t know all the names of the main characters and supporting characters. I wonder why that is?

    The problem I always felt was setting in the Prime Timeline before the original series. The producers were asking fans to take a fantastic leap of faith and they didn’t which when Season Two made everything plausible.

    But do bear in mind people like Jonathan Frakes has directed episodes ST:D, as well as others. We have to ask what and why the writing and characters aren’t more fleshed out?

    Picard wasn’t really Trek as it just went off on a tangent somewhere. JJ Abrams Star Trek told us what happened to the Romulan Empire but Picard hardly addressed that. Here was a story that needed telling but instead we….Don’t know what we got but it wasn’t Trek.

    Looking forward to Season Four of ST:D

    1. You raise an interesting issue, and maybe you’ll be able to help with it? You may rightly deduce as I write this blog I’m something of a frustrated writer -I’ve a novel in me, somewhere, and I’d love a crack at being a script doctor or something- which is why I get so angered by bad and lazy writing. As an actor though, given a role, do you accept the script, dialogue etc as is written, without any critical eye? And if you watch a movie, do you watch it more as a critique of the acting, or seeing what they do with the material? For instance, I might be raging at a lousy plot twist or clunky dialogue, and you might be appreciating what the actor does with it, trying to ‘sell’ it.

      I appreciate in the Real World a critical eye is possibly a luxury one can ill afford in making a career as an actor, every gig is a paycheck and pays the mortgage etc and its a professional thing, performing it- but I do often wonder, do actors have the luxury at all of critiquing a script, and how do they feel if its clearly something pretty poor. I suppose nobody actually aims to make a bad movie or a bad television series, but what it must be like to be stuck in one, is something I often wonder about.

      I just wonder how it feels. Or if actors just develop a thick skin and treat it as a bit of a roll of the dice, take the job, hope for the best, you know? I’m often amused by EPKs on DVDs etc with actors praising up, ‘selling’ a film they are in, wondering what they REALLY think (sometimes we do find out, of course, and I recall Sylvester Stallone when his Judge Dredd movie came out really working the media, praising the film and the director etc, and then years later bad-mouthing it all something rotten). Not everybody can afford to burn bridges like Stallone can, of course!

      1. Hi,
        I missed this totally. When I was truly fired up as an Actor, watched TV and Films wit a critical eye. These days I find actually living a life is the best research one can have. I still watch Film snd TV but not so critically now.

        As to scripts. I am just glad to be hired to receive the script and never ever posed changes to the way the character behaves.

  2. Matthew McKinnon

    You watched it all the way through? I really have to ask again… why?!

    I mean, from the very beginning you haven’t liked a single aspect of this show – not one. But you’ve spent around 14 hours of your life watching season 3? What’s that all about?

    I liked your pointed analysis of the ‘saviour complex’ that a lot of SF seems to have going on, and you’re right – it does seem even more insane in Discovery, mainly because the central character is so uninteresting and there are so many other possibilities for the show. It’s odd: I can’t fault Sonequa Martin-Green’s performance, but there’s no reason whatsoever to invest in the character as much as the plot wants you to. And as you say, the writers’ insistence that she’s always right, always to be deferred to is so exhausting as the seasons progress that it’s hard to care when she finally gets the captain’s chair. I just breathed a sigh of relief – ‘right, great, maybe she can finally lighten up’.

    I honestly think the pre-classic-Trek setting was terrible mistake, and the show’s known that and been trying to right itself ever since. The whole Vulcan backstory was completely redundant. It was a flawed setup that became more and more untenable as the second season progress, so they eventually had to jettison it all.

    However, I disagree about a few things…

    I also watched this season all the way through, mainly out of habit and because I occasionally needed something to watch that my wife wasn’t invested in as well. Though I did have to fast-forward through some episodes towards the end which is something I never normally do, but I felt my sanity was at risk so I made an exception: all the stuff with the child in the nebula towards the end I skimmed. And I actually gave up on a few episodes: Book’s mission to go do something or other, Georgio’s final story arc that made no sense whatsoever but at least got rid of her [Michelle Yeoh’s performance as Bad Georgio was atrocious, it was agonising to watch week after week].

    The fault was always, always with the writing. The basic concepts here were interesting: how would you cope if you were suddenly flung almost 1000 years into the future? There seemed to be a glimmer of that here and there, when Lt Detmer was having some stress issues, and Star Fleet turned out to be kind of stuck-up. But those plot threads sort of went nowhere. And the stories were muddled garbage. Visually it’s kind of great, and the directors do try to keep things interesting, but it’s an uphill struggle.

    There are other things I like – I absolutely love the way it’s so aggressively diverse and inclusive. It’s actually fun the way it’s apparently trolling the more conservative SF viewer for whom diversity seems to be some sort of barrier to acceptance. Which is ironic, given that Original Trek is a show that made a big deal of its inclusivity. Perhaps we’re just living in crappy times, but when someone says ‘oh, this or that franchise is spending too much time trying to be politically correct and it’s affecting the writing’, I kind of die inside a little bit. BAD WRITERS are affecting writing, not the colour of a character or cast member’s skin or their gender.

    But my main point of contention is when you say the characters themselves are unmemorable.
    I agree, the writing doesn’t give them any opportunity to shine whatsoever but I’d argue they’re still more interesting and fully rounded than, dare I say it, the original series supporting cast.

    You take the piss out of Tilly, but I find her immensely appealing as she’s a] a nice person and actually solves a lot of problems, b] has a normal appearance, i.e isn’t buff and toned and straight out of Central Casting, and c] actually is a fully rounded character who the show spends time with.
    She got promoted to number one because she’s been a brilliant problem-solver in the show previously. Yes, it’s shitty and lazy that the show then has her fail immediately, but that’s down to the whole Burnham fixation and the writers’ ineptitude.

    Apart from engineer Stamets the other crew members don’t get as much attention, and that’s a serious writing problem: in season 2 when the show started doing flashbacks to the past of Arium, the cyborg crew member, I knew she was going to die [because why else would this show hastily fill in a backstory if it weren’t going to kill that person off immediately afterwards? These are writers for whom planning ahead is not a strong point].

    But I still actually know more about this crew than any of the supporting crew of the original Enterprise. What can you tell me about Sulu or Chekhov or even Uhura and Scotty apart from their being of different nationalities? Beyond the fact that they’re just kind of there? Who else can you name in the Enterprise crew who actually had what you could call a character? I’m not a massive fan of the original Star Trek, so maybe my memories are hazy and I don’t have 50 years of accumulated supplementary input, but I don’t recall it being particularly hot on character. There were striking archetypes at the core, but not much else of anything.

    I can’t honestly say whether or not I’ll come back for a fourth season. I mean, I didn’t finish off Picard, but I think that was significantly worse than this show. I have NO idea what was going on there.

    As to whether Star Trek is dead, well…. it’s not really. That’s because Star Trek is an IP that’s been chugging away for 50 years and shows no signs of stopping; and to be fair there’s nothing wrong with trying to appeal to a different crowd as the decades pass. This isn’t ‘your’ Star Trek, nor is it mine. But that’s because ‘my’ Star Trek is basically the first three movies, and then the fourth and sixth I can take or leave. These things move on without us.

    1. I watched the third season because I’m some kind of idiot endlessly curious about what is being done to that old franchise I used to love. Bit like watching a new Star Wars film (although I’ve never caught any of The Mandalorian, other than THAT ending of Season Two).

      That being said, I’m really done with Star Trek: Discovery, and in the unlikely event we ever do get a season four, I really won’t be watching it. Where could it go now other than Michael Burnham abandoning the Federation all together and creating her own Federation/Star Empire with her invincible Discovery that can travel anywhere, instantly? Maybe she’ll do another 180 and rescue the Klingon Empire. She could do ANYTHING and she’d be right in the end. Her ultimate fate is likely to go back in time to the very beginning and realise that she’s Eve, the mother of the whole human race (cue end-card: “The Human Adventure Has Just Begun” Christ they need me in that writing room, lol).

      I understand your view that the TOS crew were basic characters with no development, but that was how tv was back then, so its a bit unfair to compare, although I’d maintain they are still more identifiable, more clearly defined than the silent crew of the Discovery bridge. A fairer/better comparison would probably be the ST: TNG crew and they would still come up trumps better than Discovery’s lot.

      I actually used to like Tilly. I thought she was refreshingly normal and down to Earth (sic) in the first season and I’d hoped for great things but really, her character went nowhere and when she did ‘develop’, none of it was earned. It was just written in. I’d hazard a guess that ST:D is possibly one of the worst-written and badly plotted series on television and that’s the root of all its problems. Often I couldn’t work out in any of the seasons if the actors were really terrible or it was just the scripts, but I concede its likely the latter. Going back to Tilly again, how refreshing it would have been, and interesting too, had Tilly been instantly at odds with Burnham from the start, always suspicious and aghast at how Burnham behaved as the show went on, questioning Burnham’s actions and motives especially whenever it went against Star Fleet protocols. If she’s fresh out of the Academy, you’d think she’d be horrified at what Burnham used to get away with.

      Ultimately though, as you say, its further proof that prequels really don’t work and the creative forces failed to really fix the dead-end they started from. I seem to remember that when Fuller was originally involved, he intended to make an anthology series similar perhaps to Fargo (different settings/characters each season in the same universe). They seemed to struggle to get that to work. But if it had, then at least then each season would have offered CBS opportunity to really stretch the franchise. A season at the Academy, a season akin to Lower Decks focusing on the uniforms usually just walking aimlessly in the background, a season out in Deep Space doing the ‘where no-one has gone before’ but with Pyke’s crew… If one of the seasons struck gold, hey, instant spin-off.

      1. Matthew McKinnon

        I’d still totally watch a series with Pike’s Enterprise featuring the Pike from Discovery.

        Ideally made by a different creative team though…

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