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What’s the problem with Star Trek Discovery?

I finally managed to finish season 2 of Star Trek Discovery and by “managed” I mean I finally managed to bring myself to finish season 2. Like the issue was more emotional rather than the usual time-based issue: I had plenty of time, I just didn’t want to see the stuff. As you know I’m not a […]

I finally managed to finish season 2 of Star Trek Discovery and by “managed” I mean I finally managed to bring myself to finish season 2. Like the issue was more emotional rather than the usual time-based issue: I had plenty of time, I just didn’t want to see the stuff.

As you know I’m not a trekker but I enjoy the occasional movie or episode and, as one who’s very fond of science fiction, I was overall glad to see that a new series was being produced. I watched through all season 1, enjoyed Jason Isaac as I usually do and I had to agree with lots of the faults people were finding in the series. I honestly don’t care much about the inconsistencies lots of fans are ranting about: even if I appreciate when the detailing gets done right, I think you can get down to discussing the details after you’re done with everything else and season 1 had real issues with everything else as well. Bad writing. Some impossibly shallow characters, including the lead. Klingon sex. And the political subtext, which is something we’re entitled to expect from a Star Trek show, was laughable.

So ok, we bravely stepped into season 2 carrying all these faults and no Jason Isaacs’ Captain Lorca. It was bound to be tricky.

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In a clear move of desperation, the ending of season 1 introduced the Enterprise and Anson Mount as Captain Christopher Pike, something I was really glad to see after he had to endure playing Black Bolt in that frankly awful Inhumans show. It also hinted at the fact that we would have some brother-sister interaction and see Spock, something I was a lot less glad of.

The show started off trying to build some hype with four things called Short Treks: 15 minutes episodes focusing mostly on one character or one aspect. Three of them come together nicely, one is just a divertissment but an enjoyable one:

  • Runaway, focuses on Tilly (the red-headed and most insufferable character of Discovery until fer fungus comes along) and her findings of a stowaway alien queen;
  • Calypso is the beautiful story of a random guy who finds Discovery with no crew and lost in space, and has a love story with her computer who has now grown into a fully-sentient artificial intelligence;
  • The Brightest Star focuses on Saru before he joined Starfleet, on his stupid-ass culture and on how he came to be in contact with no other than Captain Georgiu;
  • Escape Artist is a story of Harry Mudd being Harry Mudd.

Moving its steps from these, some parts of the story of the main season are not completely awful and you have to appreciate how some of it come together in the ending. Some other parts indeed are awful and I would rather start with those.

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1. The Fungus. Every time I’m starting to take Discovery seriously the have to remind me that the damn ship is running on mushrooms like my Amsterdam construction site from few years ago. Season 2 takes this to a brand new level and introduces a whole story-line in which Tilly (which is insufferable to begin with) catches a sentient fungus and starts hallucinating. Of course the fungus is equally insufferable. I know people who caught fungus in swimming pools and those were less annoying than this. Also, the whole thing doesn’t come together in the slightest, if not as an excuse to bring back Wilson Cruz‘s dr. Hugh Culber and some more heartbreak for Anthony Rapp‘s Paul Stamets, our personal mushroom navigator. And no tardigrade either, which is a shame because the guy was both cute and lethal: how often do you get that?

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2. Let’s kill off a random character. We’re not talking red shirts, here: the show goes to great extents in presenting a character just to kill her off in the very same episode. I’m talking about Sara Mitich‘s Ariam, who was interesting enough from an aesthetic point of view and gets her own episode: they tell us she’s not a cyborg, she’s an android, she had an accident, she has a complex memory-management system and everything is good and fine if not for the fact that we are told all of those things just for us to care when she gets flung out of an airlock by an equally non explored character. Geez. I can forgive bad writing, but this is just being lazy.

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3. Michael. There’s no other way of saying it: everything about this character is awful. She’s so badly written I can’t even bring myself to fully blame Sonequa Martin-Green for her acting, which is frankly beyond horrible (she wasn’t better in Once Upon a Time but hey, there the character was bad as well).
Her character wasn’t supposed to be easy and I get it: the whole half-human half-Vulcan thing has been tough on better actors, except this time she could play the advantage of having a fully human metabolism. We could have explored topics like education over blood, the impact of the environment you grow in, the importance of family beyond genetics. Except, we explored the exact opposite: we got a mum who’s apparently important just because she’s genetically related and Michael gets to be the savior of the galaxy for the exact same reasons.

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4. Pike’s death. I loved the way Pike was portrayed, overall his introduction in the show was feeble in writing but a good gamble and it worked: he kept me watching even through the fungus episodes and that’s saying something. I even appreciated the hints at the original series. What I did not appreciate was how the show flung his fate into our face with a bare one minute of story-line a no consequence at all. You would imagine that a guy who just saw himself being crisped and paralyzed by an accident on the bridge would… I don’t know… consider doing anything else if not being on the bridge during a battle.


The show also gets something right, starting from few new characters. Pike is the first one, as I was saying, and although there was a high risk they would ruin him I think they did him justice.

Another good character, strong and safely played, is Tig Notario‘s Jett Reno: she comes straight out from the ’70s and that’s why it works.
To get out of the jam, also the trick they pulled with Doug Jones‘ Saru: you can’t have a scared guy running around and worrying all the time but you can have a semi-ruthless almost cold-blooded guy taking care of things. They didn’t go all the way with him, which is a shame, but still it’s something.

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At a certain point, even Yadira Guevara-Prip‘s queen of quantum physics starts to work, at a certain point in the story, but it’s mostly due to another thing that works and it’s the way the main plot comes together at the end. Sure, there are gigantic holes and it mostly doesn’t make any logical sense but I liked seeing allies coming together for a final battle: it felt like… well it felt like Star Trek.

I don’t know where they will go with season 3 (apparently it’s confirmed), but I might keep watching, out of boredom.

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