Star Trek Discovery Season 1 Retrospective

A Series of Essays by Daniel Young, Christopher Fewell, and Jessica Stone

Star Trek Discovery’s first season was a big surprise for all of us. To pass review, here are three pieces by friends/acquaintances/cellmates of mine.

Daniel Young: Serialization and You – A Guide

I am of the personal opinion that an entire season of Ash Tyler gambling across Qo’nos would be both the most entertaining thing to come across in the franchise and the type of levity the world needs right now.

For the non-trek follower, let us get a few things straight. You do not need a lifetime of nerd baggage to approach this. You can follow this, and appreciate the story happening. To the Trekkies, if you care more about fitting this into a perfect concept of canon than simply letting the story unfold you will probably find fault here. To everyone, if Michael Burnham grates on you as a character from the get go, this series is not going to give up on her, and you may do best to wait for the Tarantino film to jump back on to the franchise.

That tangent aside this season finale did exactly what was set out to do from a narrative perspective. It was a bookend that required our dear Michael to perform a mutiny one more time for the sake of federation principles over survival showing the full breadth of her arc. As an entire season it sells it was sold as the full Klingon Federation war before the cold war that would develop during TOS era and ultimately end in Undiscovered Country, but as a war season it kept the POV incredibly tight. Among the 15 episodes, 4 focused on the Mirror Universe Arc and 2 were bottle episodes that avoided the Klingon plot almost entirely. If I were any other type of nerd, I would complain about this 40% distraction from the main plot, but Discovery is much less about the threat of the Klingons but the path of redemption one must find. Discovery is at its best a character study, and for the fandom that can become grating for when some come to watch excuses to see prop departments drop a few thousand dollars on cgi-explosions each episode. Science fiction at its core is a window dressing for fiction, and Discovery used its time to focus on broken people. Instead of a just a series of one hurt person rediscovering their destiny in life like DS9, we have a minimum of four named characters all battling personal trauma from introduction to various points across the timeline with Ash Tyler being the one who never reaches a natural conclusion for how he deals with it, but in all due fairness his is a complex conglomeration of identity, trans-speciesism, racism, torture, abuse, and general the-world-hates-Voqism.

I would title Season 1 of Discovery “Self.” This is the core focus of the show as it explores self-discovery for every character that gets more than two lines per episode. Season 2 is the promise of a different type of Discovery, and they made that abundantly clear with how they chose to cliff hang this season.  And thus to Discovery, I challenge you: Go Boldly.

Christopher Fewell: The Adorkable Cadet

“Been my experience that what I lack in athletic ability, I more than make up for in intelligence, and personality. We may want to focus on those attributes.”

The standout element of Discovery for me was Cadet Sylvia Tilly by a country mile.

Played by Mary Wiseman, the redheaded Tilly immediately makes an impression on the viewer within mere moments, nervously but chirpily introducing herself to the sullen Michael Burnham, words falling out of her mouth very much at warp speed.

Her social awkwardness is well evident from the start, which if anything makes us love her even more. No matter what the scene or mood Tilly always makes me smile in some way. Most of her interactions are with her new roommate Burham, the two of them coming out of their shells and forming a very sisterly bond over the course of the season. Burnham takes Tilly under her wing, helping her train to hopefully get into the command program, while the cadet does her level best to keep up with the punishing training, and always fights Michael’s corner, never failing to show faith in her friend and giving her that little push whenever needed.

Working alongside Stamets on the revolutionary spore drive, Tilly’s skill at her job is very high indeed, having been fast-tracked through Starfleet Academy, and confidently rating herself as the best theoretical engineer there. She also has the most amusing honour of dropping the first onscreen F-bomb in Star Trek history when she says in regards to getting the spore drive working: “You guys this is so fucking cool!”

Despite her occasional shyness or lack of confidence, Tilly shows she can still party like the best of them, readily informing Burnham about her “Thing for soldiers” or  “Guys in bands”, and being the one who initially steers Michael toward a possible relationship with Lieutenant Ash Tyler.

There are no shortage of serious moments for the young cadet though, in particular when she is placed under pressure to keep the secret of Stamets deteriorating condition from spore drive operation unknown to the rest of the crew. Upon entry into the mirror universe, she has to put herself front and centre to impersonate her counterpart, known throughout the empire as the brutal and sadistic conqueror ‘Captain Killy’. Tilly is terrified at the nature of her other self, describing her as “A twisted version of everything I aspire to be”, and struggles to embrace the cruelty and confidence required to masquerade as her to the Terrans.

Alas we do not get to see the real Captain Tilly in the show, as she and the I.S.S. Discovery are destroyed offscreen in a battle with the Klingons shortly after entering the prime universe. Somewhat of a shame as it would have been most rewarding indeed to see the two very different women confront each other.

Despite never thinking she would see all the death the Federation/Klingon war brings, Tilly always manages to step up to the plate and perform her duty to the very best of her abilities, showing the the key to beating her fears is being afraid, but doing what she has to do anyway.

As the first season comes to a close and the war ends, Tilly receives a well-earned promotion to Ensign thanks to her many impressive accomplishments during her tenure aboard Discovery, bringing Stamets out of his coma being a particular highlight for me.

Bright, brilliant, perky, and always doing her best to look on the bright side in any situation (Yes I do proudly have a crush on her), Sylvia Tilly is the very definition of adorkable, and a wonderful addition to the Star Trek franchise.

So fucking cool indeed.


Jessica Stone: Wishes for the Future

I went into Discovery expecting to not like it. There had been so much news about behind the scenes drama, and I wasn’t thrilled that CBS shoved it behind a paywall. The opening two-parter, on of which aired on television and one of which most people saw under a free trial on CBS All-Access, was a fine episode but didn’t make me feel like the show was worth paying a separate subscription service for. Thankfully, when the season premiered, I was visiting my mom and didn’t have great Internet access so I didn’t start my trial until a week later and got to see “Context is for Kings,” and I decided to keep the subscription for a month. I’m so glad I did.

I really enjoyed the season, even though I can’t help but feel it failed to stick the landing and lost steam I the last three episodes. But as I was reminded this weekend at a gymnastics tournament, sticking the landing is the hardest part. I have some nerdy reservations about things like the difficulties lining things up with TOS – probably my biggest issue being the fact that Michael is Spock’s heretofore unmentioned foster sister. But this, despite all the whining about Gene’s Vision™ being violated, this is Star Trek through and through. We meet Michael after she makes the worst mistake of her life, and she spends the rest of the season trying to atone for it. The characters, save Lorca who turns out to be from the Mirror Universe, are principled, ingenuitive, and courageous. The mycelial network is a fascinating if improbable sci-fi concept, the Mirror Universe is finally put to good use, and the war with the Klingons is ended in the Trekkiest way possible. It had a wonderful exploration of redemption, the importance of holding to ideals, and, of course, what it means to be human. It also had fun references to other series, especially TOS – but I’m still mad that Lorca’s tribble never paid off.

Many people don’t like the characters and … to each their own but this kind of baffles me. Yes they’re flawed, but all good characters are. Stamets is a lovable curmudgeon, Michael is amazing and Tilly … I will actually fight you if you say anything bad about Tilly. She started out as a character I was really worried would be annoying, but she grew on me so quickly. And yes, the fact that they are diverse is a plus for me. Star Trek has always been diverse, I have no idea what the haters are whining about, and I think that’s good. A little black girl has as much right to see someone who looks like herself be a hero as a young white boy does, and I can’t imagine how much a positive, non-stereotypical autistic character must mean to the autistic community who usually just sees the same tired, harmful stereotype over and over. And Star Trek was wildly, wildly overdue for its first major gay characters. It’s not diversity for diversity’s sake as many claim – it’s characters who are diverse, but also great characters.

It’s not perfect, but this show has made me so happy. I made a routine of getting back from Choir practice, making hot chocolate, and sitting down to watch the show. It’s not lighthearted and doesn’t have simple morality, but that’s not what we need from every show. Sometimes we need more complexity, both emotionally and intellectually. Life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, and I don’t think it’s a bad thing if our media isn’t either, and I reject the notion that only perfectly light-hearted goofy works can be escapist. Sometimes we need something grim but ultimately optimistic, as this show is, to remind us that things can get better, that we can overcome the darkness.

I’m looking forward to next season. I wonder who their new captain is – Prime Lorca? Who knows. What did that spore that landed on Tilly mean? I don’t know, and without more evidence I don’t really want to speculate. Anthony Rapp indicates that we may see Culber again – Stamets isn’t going to give up on finding Culber again if there’s any chance at all. And that cliffhanger … I don’t know how they’re going to handle the classic characters, but I’m excited to find out, and hearing the TOS theme was such a nostalgia rush.

My big hope is not only that season 2 will be as good, but that we’ll get more Trek series. If they’re smart, the creators will make shows that have a wide variety of tones, content, and texture – but still up to this level of quality. It would be nice to have a more family friendly show running alongside Discovery – I definitely don’t mind DSC being for mature audiences, but it would be nice if there was also something contemporary to introduce Trek to a new generation. I am still holding out hope for a sequel series while most of the actors are still alive to reprise roles or cameo, though I’m not sure what they’ll do to make it accessible to newcomers given the large amount of continuity built up by DS9 and Voyager to a lesser extent. But I have sincere hope for that, for the first time in a while. Even if I never get a sequel series though, I’m happy to just enjoy the ride with DSC.


Star Trek Discovery “The Wolf Inside” Review 

All hail the Empire

Discovery brings us an episode in which stuff happens and Reddit looks down at the unwashed masses like us with an upturned nose and a sense of superiority. In other words: Monday.

A few weeks ago I read a Reddit post that, for once, didn’t analyze a weekly show that was written and plotted in one go, essentially telegraphing certain elements of story that won’t be as noticeable during a binge. In that post, a fan complained about Discovery airing on CBS All Access, essentially removing it from the cultural discussion entirely outside of a few people. What I have to say to that is: hahaha, now you know how we feel, American pleb!

In all fairness though, it is a valid concern, yet one that, for once, I cannot share. Discovery has been the first time ever that I am able to experience a Trek show as it airs and talk about it with friends and other “people” from around the globe. As a viewing experience it’s second to none and most definitely an experience that would have been lost on us by dumping an entire season on us three months ago. Our feelings on Discovery change and evolve as the first season is still airing, while the people behind the show prepare for season 2, and while events outside of nerddom influence our opinions.

In regards to Discovery, this most recent Mirror Universe episode has proven one thing to me if nothing else: Discovery doesn’t follow very much in the footsteps of DS9. DS9’s storytelling was very deliberate (that’s a nice word for slow), it’s a couple of episodes that advance the ongoing story, then a bunch of stand-alones that build on the premise and build character to influence the next series of events. That is not the storytelling of Discovery at all. This show does very much feel like a continuing serial. It takes a lot of the high concept storylines from the TOS era and gives them some time to breath. Nowhere is this more apparent than in this series of episodes. There is a consistent theme and we are given time to appreciate it. In many ways it’s an approach to storytelling that Enterprise showrunner Manny Coto pioneered. And like with most new approaches it took a while to get it right. Discovery has. Continue reading “Star Trek Discovery “The Wolf Inside” Review “

The New Viewer Fallacy of TV

Short remarks:

I think you know this problem: there is this show that’s been going on for a while now and your friends tell you to watch it. You give it a shot, maybe even several episodes, but it is not for you. So you give up on it. It’s simply a bad show.

Then something dreadful happens. No, the show does not get cancelled and reduces your friends who stuck with it to tears. No, the show starts getting good, or at least your friends tell you it has gotten good.

If we are talking about network television this will mean a show that has gotten good in its second season will have 20-26 episodes in the can so far, 20-26 hours of storyline. Even if it is not completely serialized as a cable show with 13 episodes. In many ways a cable show that you are told to watch because it’s gotten really good is even worse, because those are literally 13 episodes of story you need to catch up on.

This is why there are still so many shows out there that are not completely serialized, at most lightly serialized, or have maybe 10 out of 26 episodes that are story related. This allows us to catch up. But is it really worth it? From a viewer perspective, should I need to sit through a season or two to catch up to the storyline and drag myself through all the bad stuff? Sure, you can read a summary on Wikipedia but we all know that this doesn’t give you the emotional connection necessary for the inevitable highs your friends keep telling you about. And from the perspective of a fan or showrunner? Continue reading “The New Viewer Fallacy of TV”

Star Trek Discovery: “Lethe” Review

An episode is recapped and The Angriest Fangirl rants about something long overdue

By Jessica Stone and Alexander Reineke

This time on Star Trek Discovery: everybody was kung fu fighting. Also Sarek’s officially the worst dad ever.

This week, I completely enjoyed myself and didn’t notice until I was 30 minutes in that only a couple of minutes were left. I never really noticed I was “missing” the theatrical nature of old Star Trek, the way words had to compensate for a lack of visuals and cinematic storytelling. For a visual medium, Trek has always been rather wordy, and so is this episode. But is a sort of hybrid creature of the approaches. It’s a personal episode focusing on the relationships between Sarek and Burnham and Lorca and Cornwall respectively. And yet, the visual and serialized nature of the show imbues Trek’s tired storytelling with new life. Characters like Tilly and Ash Tyler, Saru, Stamets, they blend into the background a bit, they get their moments to shine, they add to the material. And because we see this growth in the relationships over the course of several episodes, it is much more organic. The crew of Discovery is already more comfortable with each other than the Enterprise-D or Voyager crews were after 7 seasons, or at least I buy it much more easily so. Point is, the show isn’t forcing itself to speechifying relationships. When we see Lorca get the news of Cornwall’s abduction, he doesn’t say anything, we don’t get an evil smile. We see the phaser tugged inside his trousers, non-verbally calling back to earlier in the episode, to Cornwall saying “I don’t know you anymore”. It is left ambiguous what his motives are. And that’s good. That’s called good storytelling. It is what television is evolving into and has done so for the last two decades. We are better off for it.

So much for me. This week though, I shall give the rest of the review over to Jessica “The Angriest Fangirl There Is” and her take on Discovery and fandom:


So I really enjoyed this episode. I am not 100% sure I am on board with the way Michael’s past has been retconned into Spock’s family, but it does make logical sense – it always struck me as odd that a Vulcan who married a human and served as an ambassador for Starfleet was so pissed off his son chose Starfleet over the Vulcan expeditionary force. But I can’t shake the feeling it seems like something I would read in a fanfic – though I suppose at this point all of Star Trek is basically fanfic, like all longrunning franchises.

Also I’ve completely gotten over my hatred for James Frain left over from when he played Theo Gallavan on Gotham. He does a wonderful job as Sarek, though not quite clearing the very high bar set by the magnificent Mark Leonard. Vulcan acting is very difficult and I’m impressed that he’s done it so well.

Tilly continues to grow on me. She irritated me at first but now I like her quite a bit, and by the end of the season I expect I’ll be ready to fight anyone that messes with her.

I am very onboard with the Ash Tyler = Voq fan theory. It’s too weird that Voq has just disappeared from the story, and that we’ve established more than once that Lorca has a pet tribble. I’m almost worried the set-up is too obvious.

I would like to say more about the episode, but something else has been weighing on my mind for a while, and today it was really boiling up in me.

I am … insanely disappointed in my fellow Trekkies. To put it very mildly.

In the extraordinarily unlikely event any cast members read this post, I am so sorry. I am enjoying Discovery so far, and even if I weren’t it wouldn’t be your fault. You’re all doing a wonderful job. Sonequa Martin-Green, thank you for your wonderfully nuanced portrayal of Michael, and I’m sorry that assholes, utter assholes, have heaped racist and sexist abuse on you, or at “best” hated you because your character had the audacity to start off making a big mistake that set her on a redemption arc and because your performance is subtle. Like, how dare you convey the character’s internal conflicts through facial reactions instead of long speeches? Even though that’s probably also down to how it was written? I don’t understand people. Jason Isaacs, God bless you sir for not only doing a wonderful job as the enigmatic and probably evil, at the very least very underhanded Lorca but daring to engage with the Twitter trolls most of us would understandably ignore and being absolutely hilarious about doing this. I gather from these Tweets that Trek has been important to you since you were smol (like many of us) and you are just as exhausted and fed up with these people as I am, probably moreso since I’m just a fan and you actually worked on it. I am so sorry that you have to deal with assholes saying you’re just in it for the money and calling you ugly names constantly.

Joe Menosky, sir, I am so sorry that a bunch of Trekkies are splooging over Brannon Bragga and other Trek writers contributing to Orville but ignoring your contributions to this show. Your episodes of nineties-era Trek were some of the most interesting, thought-provoking, and wonderfully weird, and your hand is very evident in this show. I’m fascinated to see where it’s going and have enjoyed the ride so far.

Eugene Roddenberry, I am so sorry that a bunch of entitled, myopic idiots think that they knew what your dad would have wanted more than you.

And now that I’m done being nice and starting with the apologies to all the innocent parties involved in this, I am just going to say I am mad as fuck. And yeah I’m going to say “fuck” a lot, and some other choice swears. Fuck fuck fuck fuck. Get over it. It is simply mind blowing to see the same people who gleefully announced they were watching a show that opened with an alien ejaculating on a woman with their children clutching their pearls over two soft f-bombs. I have heard of Americans having weird priorities about what is offensive before, but this takes the fucking cake.

I take back everything nice I have ever said about Trekkies as a fandom. I have seen the most mind-bogglingly hateful behavior over this show. Not just on the part of those who hate it, but it sure seems skewed in that direction (then again I’m not an unbiased observer of this conflict). We are making the collective Star Wars fan bawl fest over how George Lucas raped their childhood look good.

To be clear I am not saying you have to like the show. If you know anything about me, you know I am the last person to ever say you have to like something just because it has an official stamp on it. Sometimes the official product is crap. It’s fine to say that. Criticism is good. Even though I am enjoying Discovery my contributions to these recaps, you will notice, are not entirely positive.

But for the love of God. Stop being a jerk about it.

I’ve been told I don’t really like Star Trek if I like this show. Well shit, guess I should just delete the two novel-length Star Trek fanfics I’ve already written almost a hundred pages for combined and throw out the cute Star Trek plushies my mom got me for Christmas then. I got banned from a Star Trek discussion group … well I deserved it because I was an ass, but in my defense I was standing up for a guy who was going to be banned just because he shared links indicating that Discovery is doing well in streaming numbers. The admin called him a liar when he said that it was, then threatened to ban him when he posted a link proving it and asked for counter-proof if the admin had it. Incidentally, this admin got really mad at me for saying “fuck” while pushing Orville on us (the guy who he was arguing with likes both shows but that didn’t even sink in for this dingus), in case you thought I was making it up about people’s weird hypocrisy about those shows. A previously popular Trek reviewer had people unsubscribe from him and call him an asshole just because he likes Discovery, and probably the most famous Trek reviewer of all, Chuck Sonnenburg, hasn’t stated anything about Discovery on his Twitter or anywhere else probably for fear of a similar backlash whether he loves it, hates it, or probably especially if he finds it “okay.” That is sad as fuck that probably the biggest Trekkie ever can’t state his opinions on a show for fear of backlash.

If this was just happening in neutral spaces, like general discussion groups and channels, that would be fine, but the people who dislike it are actively seeking out any mention of the show online to complain about it. The pro-Discovery fan groups on Facebook are harder to get into than Yale presumably in response to trolling. Even at my most virulent hatred of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  I didn’t do that. That’s insane, and I haven’t seen that level of stupidity and hate boner-having since Twilight was out, and at least Twilight actually was omnipresent and being pushed at teens by their peers and sometimes even by teachers. It was in the school library and teachers would play the movies in class. Discovery is as easy to avoid as not subscribing to CBS All-Access and not pirating it – I haven’t even seen it advertised that much and I’m someone who’s actively watching it. Then again I use ad-blocker, maybe it’s on a lot of rolling ads? Even if it is, Jesus Christ this is so much. And it’s not just the location and the volume of the complaints, it’s the tone and the virulence. If you like it, you’re a fake fan and never loved Star Trek. It’s ruining the franchise that was dormant for twenty years. It’s “SJW bullshit” (because the fact the main character is a black woman has been important all of zero times, but she exists therefore SJW bullshit). It’s shitting on the actors who didn’t even take part in the direction of the script and anyone who likes it.

I wonder how lifelong Trekkie and more specifically Niner Seth MacFarlane feels about so many of his fans using his show to shit on actual Star Trek? I have no idea, as I’ve never been a fan, but I know I would feel really shitty about that. Especially since a lot of these complaints echo the bitching people did about DS9 (it’s too dark, it’s too cynical, it goes against Gene’s vision that we apparently know better than his own flesh and blood) and since Seth likes DS9 I doubt very seriously he shares those complaints. Idk, maybe he hates  Discovery and this is an amazing ego boost. I do know that constantly having Orville shoved in my face by assholes has killed any meager interest I might have ever had in it. Pro tip: Nothing makes someone want to watch a thing less than having it forced down their throat until they have to gag it out to avoid choking to death.

And I don’t want to spend too much time on this because it’s not the opinions themselves that bother me but the aggression with which they are expressed, but a lot of the complaints are incredibly unfounded. “Weak characters?” We’ve already had more character development than TNG did in its first two seasons. “It’s too dark.” They said that about DS9, dark =/= bad or even cynical. I do not believe Discovery is cynical – I believe it is very optimistic despite the tone. Michael and other Starfleet officers except Lorca are very principled, compassionate, and ingenuitive. They just have the misfortune of serving under one of the asshole captains we ran into all the damn time on the other shows but were never a challenge to Gene’s vision until they were a regular cast member, even if nothing about how he is portrayed indicates he’s anything else.. A lot of people are saying they’ll give up on the show if Lorca isn’t Section 31, and there’s a strong possibility he is but I’m gonna just bastardize a Harry Potter quote (that’s what it’s come to) here: The galaxy isn’t divided into good people and Section 31.  “It’s against Gene’s vision.” Again, they said that about DS9, and his son is an executive producer, and Gene was not solely responsible for everything we love about Star Trek as much as we try to boil the franchise’s legacy down to one man. But if you think I’m full of shit and the show still sucks, that’s fucking fine. But don’t you dare pull this gate keeping bullying shit.

I just … am so tired. I am exhausted. I am disappointed. And I am angry. I finally have something geeky to be excited about and the open hostility and divisiveness around it has put such a damper on it. If I have ever been rude to you about something you like, if I ever rained on your parade, and I know that I have, and I haven’t already apologized, just tell me, and I will personally. Because I am – I am sorry if I have ever been a tenth of the asshole these people are.

I am tired of the entitlement and bullying and the gatekeeping and close-mindedness. I am very tired of geek culture in general.Just because we were bullied as kids doesn’t mean we have the right to turn around and be hateful to each other. We don’t get to decide who’s a “real fan” and I hate that term whether it’s someone saying only true fans like Discovery or only fake fans would like it. And for the love of God, we have to acknowledge that these franchises need to breathe, they need to change and grow or else they will die. That doesn’t mean you have to like everything that is done with a franchise, sometimes it really will be an awful decision, but there’s no use crying over the very fact it’s changing!

Sometimes, I wish I was like my dad and didn’t know a Millennium Falcon from an Enterprise, because I’d probably be happier that way. Which I’m pretty sure is the opposite of the way fiction is supposed to make you feel, but it’s where I am today and I can’t put into words how much that saddens me. Especially since, once upon a time, Trek was what made me remember how much I loved being a geek. Man, fuck me for believing in this fandom, I ought to know better by now.      

Robert Hewitt Wolfe and the Secret of Game of Thrones

This might be a shocker, but I really like Game of Thrones these days again. There was a time there between the first two seasons and me devouring the books in the interim that I was losing more and more patience with the tv series. This came to ahead in seasons 4 and 5, which started a severe break from the narrative of the books, while at the same time retaining the drum solo that was the entire experience of A Dance with Dragons and A Feast for Crows. But something curious happened by the time season 6 came about. I started to like the show again.

For all the grandeur and quality of the book series, the ability to communicate grander and less mainstream ideas, combined with an infinite budget and more deliberate pacing, a book is in many ways a superior form of storytelling to a tv show constrained by budget, time, and sheer possibility and legality sometimes. Yet seasons 6 and 7 of Game of Thrones drew me in once more. Why is that?

Robert Hewitt Wolfe is a former staff writer for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and was the showrunner for Andromeda when it was a show with potential. In an interview he once gave, he put a succinct point into what makes television, as a medium, unique from more standalone fair. To quote the essence of his words: “In movies and books it doesn’t matter how unlikable for irredeemable your characters are. In television it’s not so simple, you need a reason to invite these characters into your home every week after all.” Continue reading “Robert Hewitt Wolfe and the Secret of Game of Thrones”

Historical Accuracy and Authenticity & When They Apply

A look at the interplay of historical accuracy and authenticity with the realities of today.

I’m in one of those moods ever since I saw Wonder Woman last week and did two posts on it, so we might as well talk about historicity in films again while I’m on a role.

When it comes to film making (and art in general), historical accuracy is often fighting an uphill battle against the workings of the narrative. I’m actually quite glad that I have degrees in both History and English as historical films often fight an inner battle over my enjoyment of the craft and the implications of sacrificing truth on the alter of the three-act structure.

I admit that I have muddled the terms in the past, especially when talking to people without getting my thoughts sorted at first, but historical accuracy and historical authenticity are really two different things that apply in different situations. Getting them right might help both critics looking at these films and general audiences in what to look for in a film. Pretentious to think this will have any influence on anything, sure, but self-deprecation aside:

Historical accuracy is a term that I prefer to use, when I remember to order my thoughts first of course, on films that are directly based on a true story or depict historical events. In a film that generally means that the story is presented as it happened, that the people behave correctly, and so on. Something that is very much fact based and can be proven by historical records. If your movie (or any form of media in that regard) gets this wrong, you immediately fail because you are perpetuating lies or spreading them. Portraying “the truth” is a tricky business as well, as there really is no such thing as a singular truth, only different narratives of which a majority of people agree in their interpretation and framing of. In regards to how far you can bend the truth to service the bigger picture and narrative cohesion in service of, I’m more forgiving of this than others, I often find (shocking, I know) because I believe this applies to the big picture much more than the small one. Tora! Tora! Tora! is a good example of a film so accurate to history that it becomes a slog to sit through for a casual audience. It’s a great piece of art, but I can see where it may overreach for a general audience. Of course, in the case of the small picture this can often lead to a snowballing effect where the historicity suffers a death of a thousand cuts. Best is to let reality speak for itself and make minimal changes.   Depending on the story you wish to tell, I will often prefer to fictionalize the story as is. This perfectly leads into:

Historical authenticity is something that will go hand-in-hand with historical accuracy when you are portraying the actual history on film and are trying to be as faithful to the truth as you can. When working with a fictionalized story, it is of the utmost importance to at least get the framing right. This is something that makes, for instance, The Last Samurai very interesting to look at. Based on real events, it does fail to portray the actual history, but at the same time manages to immerse you in the world and the end of an era that the samurai represent when the last of them die out. This is not accurate to actual history, but will at least convey the feelings and values of the era. Had the film fictionalized more events and tightened its focus a bit more, I believe there would be less to criticize. Authenticity can range from portraying the values of the era, to general politics and events happening in the background which inform the actual events. It’s what differentiates history from historical fiction.  Continue reading “Historical Accuracy and Authenticity & When They Apply”

Why I’m Happier Since I Stopped Binge Watching Netflix

Discussions, if they are meaningful, will be there ready to be had once you are done.

This is going to be a short one, so call me a fraud for this not being a diatribe.

It’s been a few weeks now, probably longer, that I started mentioning to people the kinds of shows I watch at the moment. Shows like Taboo, Girlboss, and a handful of other shows that air weekly like Designated Survivor and American Gods.

Ever since Netflix came into existence with the idea of binging, only enhanced by their original programming, we have had a cultural love-hate relationship with the concept of binge watching a television show. I often thought it would be a good thing, watching a show in a day or two, then being completely caught up and able to converse about it.

As I get older and have more things to do in my life, I started realizing that I didn’t watch the shows for the sake of experiencing a good show or being entertained, I simply did it to get it over with. I didn’t enjoy the stories anymore.

I think the love-hate relationship part comes in when you realize that there are many shows that are designed to be watched as a big serial, usually miniseries, shorter seasons, usually cable shows, and shows that are not designed to be watched like this. The latter are purely episodic shows and those with a myth arc packaged in self-contained stories. A show like Deadwood, The Wire, or Breaking Bad is designed to be binged. They feature shorter seasonal lengths and are often designed as the chapters of a book. A recent show I have been watching that is like this are Taboo and American Gods, two great shows, but I haven’t binged on them yet either. It’s an experiment.

The other concept is that of a more traditional television show with a season arc, something that weaves and weans throughout the season without ever having precedent. Recent shows I’ve been talking about on here that are like it include Girlboss, and Arrow, the notorious Friday night hate and shame hook-up of my existence. While they tell a full story over the course of 13 or 23 episodes, they do also tell stand-alone stories or at least ones that can be watched independently. Continue reading “Why I’m Happier Since I Stopped Binge Watching Netflix”