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.

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Star Trek Discovery “Will You Take My Hand?” Review

A wonderful season ending on a high note

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.  Continue reading “Star Trek Discovery “Will You Take My Hand?” Review”

Editorial: The Future of Star Wars

I was in a discussion on Facebook today regarding a Polygon article about the future of Star Wars. It turned out quite lengthy so I thought I might as well share here.

The story on Polygon

My response:

I don’t see the Star Was fatigue setting in till the next trilogy of main films. Star Wars has been omnipresent in our societies since ’77, be it with or without movie on the way.

The fact that we didn’t have a Han Solo trailer till last week was actually refreshing because the echo hype chamber on Facebook was quiet for so long. Outside of, you know, clammering for the trailer like a bunch of sycophants.

Star Wars is also in a slightly more problematic position than Marvel and Pixar because it’s a singular property rather than an ‘idea factory’. Star Wars is Star Wars, it’s lightsabers, blasters, TIE fighters, force powers. Marvel is Spider-Man, Iron-Man, Hulk, Thor, etc. You can at least con people into thinking its something different. Doctor Strange was essentially a remake of the first Iron Man movie from 2008 yet a slightly different theme made the story feel fresh again. We forget that blockbusters are not about actually having new things in them with every franchise iteration. They are about making you think that there are new elements to it.  Continue reading “Editorial: The Future of Star Wars”

Review: “Artemis” by Andy Weir

Since I’m reading so much anyway lately, never mind the fact that I’m an aspiring writer, I should actually look at some books (the Shadow review also went over well so here goes nothing).

In the near future, Earth has colonized the moon with the city of Artemis, a sort of research base turned tourist trap for rich idiots. Our protagonist, Jazz Bashara, is a small time smuggler tasked with industrial sabotage for a big payout. Then things go sideways…

People who know me or have read my output know that I am a massive fan of Andy Weir’s first novel The Martian. It was a brilliant hard-scifi book that combined meticulous research with a beautiful characterization for Watney and humanity as a whole. The plot was throwaway, another version of Robinson Crusoe/Castaway like we’ve seen many times before.

Artemis is a fun hard-scifi book combining meticulous research with cheesy capers and a plot that might as well star the crew of the Ocean’s Eleven movies. Come to think of it, a Chinese acrobat flipping through a security system in 0.16G would be awesome.

But you already see that Andy Weir has a type of story he likes. And that is fine. There is currently no other popular science fiction author who does well-researched near-future scifi as well as he does. If all he does for the next few years is to write more books in this vain I won’t complain. Though you can see why some people might have been disappointed by the book.  Continue reading “Review: “Artemis” by Andy Weir”

Star Trek Discovery “The War Without, The War Within”: Kindness and Optimism

There won’t be a full review this week as Jessica and I will be focussing on writing a longer editorial for next week. But there is one scene in this week’s episode that needed to be highlighted.

Unbenannt.png

The mess hall scene will likely go down in Star Trek history and is probably the last scene necessary for pretty much everyone to realize the importance of Tilly to the show. The second half of the season very much felt like a mirror (hahahaha) of the first and this moment is exactly that. Recall Michael Burnham’s position on Discovery after the Battle of the Binary Stars. That moment in Context is for Kings when Detmar recognizes Michael and Detmar flees, leaving Michael alone. This scene is its counterpart and this time the crew reacts very differently, shaped by a season’s worth of material. Tilly represents the best that Star Trek, and Starfleet, has to offer. Naivity, this season says, screams quite loudly, is just the cynic’s way of classifying optimism, compassion, kindness.

People have said that Discovery is a bastardization of Star Trek. No, it’s Star Trek boiled down to its essence. Without shadows there is no light of hope. Discovery managed to be more Trek in one season than some of the shows in their entire run. This scene here is the final building block with which you recognize it and, if necessary, bash someone over the head who still whines about it.

Bring on the final episode.

Pariah Company (Part 5)

Here’s the last-ish version of Pariah Company Le Reject Version. Thank you for sticking with me this far. Yes, it’s pretty much a reject version and it ends on a cliffhanger. I’ll post what I managed to get into the second part after this and basically my cliffnotes on how it will end.

This is still the basic concept for the real version of Pariah Company, which will come out some time this year, mostly likely Q3 2018. Enjoy.

5

“Alright, let’s saddle up.” Charles Alberic moved up from around the house as he buttoned up his trousers, feeling much lighter than when he had woken up with a splitting headache just an hour ago. Nobody liked rising at first light, whether it was the farmer attending his fields or the military man gearing up for battle. Then again that comparison broke down once a drinking buddy like Achilleos came into play. Once you decide to join a man like that in toasting fallen or absent friends, family, foes, old horses, ships, monsters you have slain, and the weapons you have slain them with, there was no turning back for a peaceful night’s rest.

The others had already turned out in full force. Achilleos had actually found time to gear up in his best adventurer gear. Being a hero from antiquity this apparently involved a skirt and lots of butter. The big sword and shield he carried on his back above his green cloak make somewhat up for that. Alberic had to admit that it was a strange yet magnificent sight. Wherever the Greek hero seemed to go the wind always found a way to sweep up his hair dramatically.  

“We’ve been waiting for a while,” Catelin remarked. When Achilleos had finally come out in his gear she had quickly warped her simple jacket and trousers from yesterday’s prison break into something more ostentatious.

“I’d be ready within five minutes of getting up as well if I could transform my clothes,” Alberic replied. He was quite happy that Ahmed was still wearing his bulky, unbecoming robes. Even in his best work clothes, the green tunic and feathered cap, Alberic looked woefully underdressed when compared to Catelin and the Greek. “Ahmed, have you lost something?”

The young Muselmann was sitting on the carpet, his outstretched arms pointing west as they touched the floor and he mumbled something. No answer. Maybe he hadn’t understood Alberic. That was probably it. As good as his German was, there naturally had to still be simple communication troubles. So Alberic restated his question, this time louder and slower: “Ahmed. Have. You. Lost. Something?”

“I think he’s praying. Leave him be,” Catelin noted.

Achilleos noted. “Yes, it is a peculiar thing these Arabs. Five times a day they pray west to their holy city.”

“Five times? I hope we won’t have to stop underway,” Alberic mumbled. The journey would be annoying enough without having to stop for prayers four more times. “Also, how do you know this stuff?”

“I read,” Catelin offered with a sharp glance in his direction, “It’s called the information age.”

“I don’t trust books. Mass production can’t be good for quality,” Alberic said, half joking. Reading and writing was something for contract negotiation.

Alberic and Catelin spared with each other non-verbally for another minute when Ahmed stood up, his prayer concluded. “I’m sorry for the delay, we should go now.”

“No worries, friend,” Achilleos laughed jovially as he got on the carpet, taking a seat, “your god is quite sensible enough. My Gods require the sacrifice of a young goat and other gory gestures, so I must admit in the practicality of your rites.”

Ahmed looked at Catelin as if for guidance but the fairy simply shrugged and placed herself on the carpet as well, only looking back to see what Alberic was doing.

Alberic, meanwhile, was stuck at the edge of the carpet, unwilling to get back on after yesterday. Catelin first looked surprised, then mockingly. “It is quite alright, you know?”

Alberic did not answer.

“You have been on this thing before. Yesterday in fact.”

Alberic did not answer.  

“Oh you have to be kidding me. You have stared down demons and gods from above and below, stared down mechanical men from the future, and fought a metal chariot, but you are afraid of an oriental rug?” She paused for a moment, considering her words. “This isn’t still because of the Aerial Screw, is it?” She sighed, already exhausted. “Look, if push comes to shove I’ll turn into a giant eagle and I’ll save you first. Deal?”

Alberic did not answer. Yet slowly, tentatively, he stepped on the rug, sitting down as far as his stiff legs allowed. “Thanks,” he managed to muster.

He almost caught a flicker in Catelin’s face, almost as if she was about to utter another of her snide remarks. Yet she hesitated and, finally, mentally stepped away from it. She placed her hand gently on Ahmed’s shoulder instead. The youth flinched for a moment, recovering quickly though, or at least quicker than yesterday. “We can go now. Slowly though if you please.”

Ahmed nodded as he manipulated the carpet with his hands, speaking to it in Arabianic or whatever the language he spoke was called. Alberic barely noticed the rug taking off. Just like yesterday they were high in the air before he had even noticed it. Catelin was right: this was much more comfortable than the Aero Screw. Probably because, unlike Leonardo, Ahmed was not a drunk while driving. He decided to breath again as his ears started to pop.

“Which direction?” Ahmed tried to keep the carpet steady, but it was obvious that it wanted to finally move, not unlike an anxious horse.

“Three hundred miles north-east is where we have to go. Just keep flying in the general direction and eventually I’ll give you exact coordinates.” Still disgruntled, Alberic pulled out a map from his jacket and slowly unfolded it along with a sextant and spyglass.

Ahmed nodded and with that the carpet set off, flying at an insane speed when looking down, but completely still from the relative point of view of the travelers. A modern marvel to behold, except probably an old one for the citizens of Arabia where they originated. Alberic imagined as much, though it wouldn’t do to ask. He needed to seem knowledgeable about these things in order to appear like the veteran adventurer and mercenary he was. Until Ahmed decided to volunteer these informations around a campfire he would have to make due with speculations. Shaking off the distraction, Alberic went back to studying the map and the landscape.

Catelin raised an eyebrow as she saw the map in his hands. It was a nice one too, all wrapped in leather and worn from constant use. “I didn’t realize you kept it.”

“I try not to throw a gift away,” Alberic replied with little enthusiasm. He was too busy checking the route. “Besides, it’s a good map.” That was an understatement and Alberic knew it as much as Catelin. Being enchanted the map would show you what you wanted to see, enhance it. Every detail, every street. It was a few years out of date now since Alberic couldn’t afford the services of a high-level sorcerer anymore.

Catelin looked over his shoulder, curious. “What are you looking for?”

“It isn’t so much what I’m looking for but what isn’t on the map.”

“Anything you want is on that map.”

Alberic looked up and smiled, happy to have a leg up on her for once. “Not if it was hidden by magic.” Catelin simply raised an eyebrow while Alberic smiled at her with a supreme sense of superiority. It wasn’t something he could always do so he might savor the moment. After a while, finally, he decided to say the magic word. “Yes. We’re going to Bielefeld.”

While Ahmed was still trying to keep the carpet under control and thus unable to participate in the conversation much, Achilleos was not and gladly did at this point. “What is this Bielefeld?”

“It’s a mythological city,” Catelin said, rolling her eyes as hard as humanly, or rather humanoidly, possible. “We’ve been trying to get there for a mission before, but gave up after a couple of weeks of searching. There persists this rumor that about, what,” she glanced at the map Alberic was graciously spreading out on the carpet now, “three hundred miles north-east from here is this city that appears every couple of years out of nowhere and then disappears again. In these lands it’s known as Bielefeld.”

Alberic smiled. “While you may not be familiar with our lands, you probably know it by different names. Back before the rise of the oceans you see…” Continue reading “Pariah Company (Part 5)”

Star Trek Discovery “What’s Past is Prologue” Review

So to do things a little differently this time, I (Jessica) will write the main review.

So I find myself in a very familiar position this week of being in the minority position. The reaction to this episode is overwhelmingly positive, and I have very mixed feelings.

Was this episode thrilling and action packed? Absolutely. Was it a satisfying conclusion to the mirror universe arc? Maybe?

I couldn’t help but feel that, despite all of the explosions and slow mo asskicking, that this episode was a bit anti-climactic. After all the build-up to Mirror Stamets, he’s killed almost immediately. I had horrible flashbacks to the Mirror Universe on DS9 (which I’ve already mentioned were among the weakest parts of DS9) where everybody died for the shock value of it and it never mattered. After an entire season of building up Lorca he’s … a fairly run-of-the-mill evil Terran. Well. That’s okay I guess. He goes out really dramatically, yet it somehow didn’t feel earned. Probably because we saw him being an interesting morally ambiguous character for most of the season, then as a baddie bad baddie who deserved to die in such a way for a mere episode. There are comparisons to be made to the death of Gul Dukat on DS9. While many people were also disappointed in that ending, at least it felt earned. We’d watched Dukat being a monster, albeit a complex one, for seven seasons, with one of the best performances in Trek history given by the magnificent Marc Alaimo. While Jason Isaacs is also a wonderful actor and gave it his all as Lorca, he kind of got kneecapped in this episode by the hard left turn into stereotypical baddie the script took his character. A similar thing happened to Dukat as well, but even that was not THAT hard of a turn and felt more slowly built to. And considering I am one of the people who thought Dukat should have died in Waltz and was a way less interesting character afterwards, the fact I’m making this comparison is a bad, bad sign. Discovery so far has been really rich and intricate and it feels like that got tossed aside for some good ole ‘splosions and martial arts.

With all that said, Jason Isaacs did a wonderful job as Lorca, and I’m very sorry to see him go (assuming of course we won’t see Lorca return in some way). He took what could have been a thankless asshole captain part and made an interesting character, a very welcome addition to the franchise. I’m very sorry to see him go. Continue reading “Star Trek Discovery “What’s Past is Prologue” Review”