Discovery’s first season has come to a close. And while Jessica’s overall thoughts on the season will be shared in another post on Wednesday, along with everyone else interested in chiming in, I thought I’d give my thoughts on the episode right here.
I went into this episode with a lot of trepidation and worry over the course of last week. I had been skeptic about doing a new Star Trek show before the show released and, despite of some growing pains, the first season ended up surprising me and many other people judging by the reaction online. And so did this episode tug at the two heartstrings I have left.
The episode managed to do in barely 45 minutes what I thought impossible: wrap up the Klingon War arc, Michael’s character arc, the dangling threads of L’Rell, Tyler, Mirror!Georgiou, and give some great moments to our main bridge crew. And while it’s hard to talk about the episode as a standalone given its connection as the conclusion to a 15 episode arc, it absolutely succeeds in pulling you into the world like barely an episode has done before. The visuals of Qo’nos and Sol System, the Orion trader outpost, the variety of aliens in the background (there was even a Trill!) it all managed to do what visuals are meant to do: pull you in and non-verbally show you the stakes.
Now that we had an entire season with these characters, I can say wholeheartedly that no other crew has grown on me this quickly. It would be unfair to judge them against the crew of Deep Space Nine, the main trio of TOS, or TNG highlights like Picard and… Picard. But no other crew has grown on me so quickly. Burnham, Saru, Tilly, Stamets, Tyler, even supporting players like the bridge bunnies, Admiral Cornwell, L’Rell, Lorca, a new interpretation of Sarek and Harry Mudd. This season was brilliant for its characters. They all had moments of sorrow and triumph. The fact that the death of Doctor Culper affected so many people is surprising considering his small part, but it is strong evidence for the great chemistry of the cast and the support by the writers to flesh them all out. They all mattered.
But this season excelled at three characters especially: Michael Burnham, Saru, and Sylvia Tilly. Burnham’s arc was the obvious one, one of forgiveness, atonement, and learning from your mistakes, and standing up for your principles, not bending them when the going gets tough. I cannot understate the importance of Sonequa Martin-Green to the role, who manages to portray Burnham at her lowest lows only to then rise higher than ever before. She did it all this season and this last episode was a tour de force of everything she could do. Sorrowness, humor, love, determination, forcefulness, she did it all, often in the same scene.
Saru’s changes were so subtle you only only noticed them until the last episode of the Mirror Universe arc and his “We are Starfleet” speech. Saru went from an unsure, bitter, bickering, angsty science officer to a moral leader able to inspire others. Doug Jones deserves massive props for bringing the most alien main character in franchise history yet not only to life but also effortlessly integrated him into the franchise like he always belonged. The moral core of the season though is Tilly.
I think everyone got a big surprise with Tilly. Introduced as the awkward roommate from hell you wanted to shoot, she kinda drifted through the first half of the season, always there in the background, but present enough to serve as the moral core. It’s a trope older than time, the naive newcomer, the stary-eyed idealist, yet Tilly manages to be the first time in franchise history where that kind of character actually feels right. It’s probably her role on the ship as the newbie, but regardless: throughout the season she developed into the embodiment of Starfleet ideals and rubbed off on everyone. She was the comic relief and the moral center and the one that kept all the different characters centered. When you were unsure what every plotline and character moment had to do with the overall themes of the season you only had to look and find her in the scenes. This is Mary Wiseman’s first big gig and she lived up to it beautifully. The stand-out moment of the season, last episode’s mess hall scene, will go down as not only her greatest moment but also one of the show’s.
This brings me to the overall reception of the season and I am so happy that the majority of people have enjoyed the season as much as I have. I think we were all antsy at the beginning, unsure what to get after the disappointment of Enterprise (even for apologists like me) and the Abrams movies, but with the one-two punch of Beyond and Discovery, it seems like the franchise might just have a second half-century ahead of itself yet. The reception and buzz has been so positive since September that it feels almost tacky to bring up the nay-sayers, yet their behavior gives me no other choice. There are those disliking the show who wanted hour-long morality plays, discussions about philosophy, and courtroom dramas about the rights of an AI, the ones opposed to a big war arc with morally ambigious characters. Many of these people have been won over after the second half of the season pulled the rug out from under them and showed a show willing to re-affirm the principles always given lip service in previous shows and showcase them wholesale. I was very happy when I heard many people realizing that the show ‘got them’. Others still dislike the show’s approach to Star Trek, from its liberal interpretation of canon to the visuals, and storytelling tropes. I understand it and I feel for you. You want the Star Trek of old back. But I’m sorry: that will never come back. Star Trek has been hugely influential but it would be a disservice to the franchise to remain stuck in the past and do another series of one-hour episodes with morality plays and holodeck malfunctions, and so on. That had gotten old by the time TNG was on its last leg and murdered by VOY, if it had existed at all. For all of our love for the best episodes of Trek being deep think pieces, there were five more episodes about anomalies of the week and stupid aliens. Of 170 TNG episodes maybe 20 fit the bill of what you wanted. So now that the cat is out of the bag in regards to Discovery and its love letter to ‘Roddenberry’s ideals’, why not give it another chance?
Sadly the negative reception to Discovery was marred by a bunch of idiots using genuine subjective problems with the show as dog-whistle against the show’s progressive politics and casting choices. For every Trekkie aghast by Lorca’s evil deeds and Burnham’s mutinous behavior (as they were right to be, turns out) there were five people angry at a black woman fronting a Trek show. In a season that essentially started with T’Kuvma wearing a ‘Make Qo’nos Great Again!’ hat, the dog-whistling of racists and entitled basement dwellers could sometimes really sour the mood. The biggest collataral damage to this was fellow scifi show The Orville, Seth McFarlane’s love letter to the TNG beige IKEA catalogue… I mean 90s scifi. The show is not my cup of tea, but I am happy for those who enjoy it. Bringing up the show as a dog-whistle against Discovery at every opportunity though made them a target of anger it did not deserve to be. I include myself in that ire. Hopefully this will change next season when something else with progressive politics comes along to trigger the alt-right.
Overall, I had great fun with Discovery this season. The serialization aspect of the season kept it in my mind and public discourse for much longer and is most definitely the way forward. I enjoyed waking up on Mondays and watching a new episode, and, if nothing else, Discovery made me, for the first time in over 20 years of being a Trekkie, really believe in the Roddenberry ideals that Starfleet stands for.