In episode two of the third season of Star Trek: Discovery, one scene in particular has really unsettled fans of the classic science fiction franchise. A janitor named “Gene” is picking up a mess of blood and gore on the ground while the characters from the show dismiss him as irrelevant. The joke isn’t hard to spot and it is a cruel one.
Gene Roddenberry was the legendary creator of Star Trek and based the series on his personal philosophy as a liberal secular humanist and a futurist. His vision was optimistic, intelligent and idealistic. It might’ve been unrealistic but it was a lovely vision. Naming a throwaway character after him as a joke stinks of disrespect for the lineage and artistic intent of the franchise.
That said, I’ve never hated Star Trek Discovery. I have plenty of criticisms for it but I don’t find it unbearable and bleak as some of the worst low points of the franchise like Star Trek: Nemesis. I’d happily watch this show than some of the worst films or TV episodes of Star Trek any day.
I do have plenty of criticisms for both seasons of Discovery and the first season of Picard though. I haven’t seen Lower Decks yet but I’m sure my thoughts would be much the same (what’s the logic In making a Rick and Morty style comedy show set in Star Trek?).
In my reviews for Legal Insurrection, Hollywood in Toto and Geeks Under Grace, I sited the new series’s bleakness, violence, coarse language and far-left posturing at times. I’ve also been very critical of how these shows are written. The actual plots of these stories tend to be season line exercises in wheel-spinning and convoluted setups. Individual episodes or concepts have nothing to do with the story resolution and stakes. Nothing builds to a logical endpoint.
The series lead Michael Burnham is interesting in theory: a science officer for the main lead with connections to the lead of the original franchise. In practice, she’s written like a fan fiction character. Her bizarrely masculine first name is a weird jab at modern gender politics. Her pretense to being a half Vulcan is undermined by how emotional her character is. At times she comes off as a tumblr fan fiction character who is both incredibly moral, intelligent and upstanding to the point where those traits are her only weaknesses as a character. Somehow she’s also about to break every rule of Starfleet like the reboot Kirk and still manages to be proven right.
Just the fact that they decided to make her Spock’s canonical long lost sister is unbearably stupidity…
While I can appreciate why fans would love a black female lead, in a series that is as forward thinking as Star Trek that’s hardly much of a stepping stone when it’s consistently pushed ahead of the curve on casting black and female characters. Deep Space Nine and Voyager already hit those milestones 20 years ago!
Alas, all of the characters and actors around her find more interesting things to do with their characters.
On the plus side of things, most of the other performances are fun! I love Saru and Tilly has grown on me as a character. Stamets is a really fun character that reminds me to of Wash from Firefly! I wish Jason Isaac’s character in the first season had been given more time AND hadn’t turned out to be an evil space Nazi from an alternate dimension because he plays one of the most interesting takes on a Star Fleet captain I’ve seen. Most of all, I absolutely loved Anson Mount’s portrayal of Captain Christopher Pike. He gave the best performance of any character in the second season and actually managed to look and act like the classic, swashbuckling, cool headed captains of old like Kirk.
What I’m saying is that Star Trek: Discovery is a series I love in bits and pieces. I love some of its filler episodes. I love some of its weird digressions and world-building concepts. That said, the overall structure of the series is exhausting in its construction. I don’t blame fans who despise the series and everything it represents.
Season 3 has interested me in so far as it’s been a season that isn’t weighted down by the limits of continuity. The previous two seasons, being set a decade before Star Trek: The Original Series, carried a lot of continuity responsibility that fans disliked. I actually appreciate that they just decided to neatly write the series out of that timeline and transplant them 900 years into the future. The series no longer has a tension that they’re going to royally botch the canon in some way by blasting Spock into the future or causing some other weird lore discretion.
I spent the last month using my free CBS All Access subscription to finally catchup with the series and form my opinion on the state of the show as it rounds out its third season. Without further ado, I’ll get to the point. Having blasted through the season over the last few weeks, here are my episode to episode thoughts:
Season 3 – Episode 1
I’m not sure how much sense it makes to split up the crew of the Discovery up from the beginning of the season but at the very least it does create a few mysteries for these characters to solve without the benefit of teamwork.
Michael crash-lands on an unknown world with a strange man in a cargo ship who thinks she’s trying to steal his unknown cargo. Once the two talk things out, he takes her to an Andorian base nearby and learns that the Federation fell apart when the majority of the universe’s starship fuel supply imploded more than a century before.
If nothing else, this episode does a decent job establishing the setup for this season’s story. These characters are all going to have to figure out what the status quo of the universe is and figure out how they fit into it. I immediately want to see how these characters figure out a way to find each other and start working out what the details of what the future holds.
Season 3 – Episode 2
I’m glad they didn’t hold off on getting us back into the chair of the Discovery. I’d rather the season worked through the Michael-Discovey search relatively fast.
On its own, this was a fine episode. Half the crew stays on board the ship repairing it and the other half make first contact with a local alien outpost where they get up to speed on their situation.
I can’t say I necessarily cares about the threat of evil parasitic ice and the gang of hostile aliens in this episode. It mostly gets dispatched without much tension or drama.
I don’t think the ending of the episode works though. I don’t like how easy Michael finding the ship seems to have been. It feels like a great opportunity for crafting tension and creating opportunities for problem solving. I would’ve loved to see a story arc about Michael and the Discovery slowly working out where they are, what the state of the galaxy is and what kinds of threats are standing between them. There’s so much drama to be mined in seeding massive ongoing conflicts and holding off their reunion till the end of the season.
I guess wherever this is going is more important than that journey…?
Season 3 – Episode 3
And we’re already heading to Earth! Alrighty then! This series doesn’t want to hold back.
This episode is probably the best episode so far. It’s a simple episode. As we find out, Earth is now a fortress world defended by an extremely militaristic faction of surviving humans. The planet is constantly under attack by hostile aliens who want to raid the planet’s supply of starship fuel and the crew of the Enterprise tries its best to mediate the two sides and resolve the conflict.
It’s a decent homage to the kinds of stories we saw in the original series. The only real revelation in the episode is that the star fleet admiral they’ve been trying to track down is dead and that his memories are implanted in a young earthling girl.
Season 3 – Episode 4
Following meeting the young girl, The crew visits the trill home world to learn about her past. As it turns out, their new young genius is connected to a symbiod that can contain the information of its former hosts. Also Tilly is researching a new means of warp drive propulsion using dark matter.
(This plot point goes nowhere)
There’s not much to say about this episode. There’s a cute romance subplot but it’s not much to write home about. I guess now that they’ve unlocked the memories of the admiral, they now have the ability to find the remainder of Star fleet.
A Long Digression on Progressive Disintegrationism, Androgyny and Upending Hierarchies
On a quick side note, it’s weird just how the central romance on this episode is framed. The girl with the trill symbiod is depicted as an extreme tomboy, which is fine, but her boyfriend is an extremely effemininant teenage boy. The show went miles out of its way to flip the gender roles for these two characters.
I guess that the writers are trying to deconstruct gender roles and reinforce the idea that the future is going to be a pansexual libertine paradise but in my experience that doesn’t jive with how human sexuality works en masse. Maybe the future is just SUPER androgynous to the point where heterosexual men would dress like that but I just don’t but that a character like her would be into him.
Nowadays, a person THIS effeminent would come out as gay or trans and yet hes in a heterosexual relationship with a masculine tomboy…?
It’s just an odd characterization that stinks of pandering to a certain kind of alienated social progressive who thinks all gender roles are arbitrary and don’t correlate with anything.
I actually like most of the gay and lesbian characters in the cast for the most part. They feel like real people. The lesbian trucker character in engineering feels realistic and she adds energy to her scenes! Ive considered Stammets to be one of the best character in the entire show and his chemistry with his boyfriend (husband) is the best relationship in the show.
Point being, I could care less who fictional space characters are banging who. I just think such a characterization expresses a pattern of troubling progressive virtue ethics running in the subtext of the show.
Combine the sexual androgyny with all the allusions to collectivism, the deconstruction of the concept of alienation and the persistent theme of trusting the other while criticizing the familiar and Star Trek: Discovery might qualify as the most openly progressive show on television. I get that Star Trek was always left of center but this level of noxious political posturing pushes into occasionally creepy territory.
Season 1 literally ended with an ethical debate about whether it was right to destroy the home-world of the Klingons who were clear standins for nationalist Trump supporters. This is the subtextual equivalent of president Biden deliberating the morality of nuking Red States. There is being open minded and then there’s being reflexively psychopathic…
I get that the left really loves the idea of liberating society from its social constructs and arbitary oppressions but the fact that they think a society this open would function is just… do I need to drudge up Chesteron’s fence to make my point?
This society is so open minded, it’s brain is about to fall out. This is defending near hedonism, self loathing and hatred as virtues (so long as they’re directed at the RIGHT people).
This doesn’t reflect a society that’s grown into maturity past it’s ethical issues into a stronger state of virtue and enlightenment prestige. This is the society we live in now where virtue ethics are flipped on their head. This is a world were violence is tolerated in the name of piece, transgression is held up as virtuous and destruction is seen as the highest virtue.
Progressive culture is deeply obsessed with the notion of the dissolution of traditional hierarchies. I understand why. Hierarchies of power feel arbitrary and oppressive if you’re on the bottom of them. They feed power upwards to a group of people who are chosen for reasons they feel arbitrary to you.
That said, Star Trek had never necessarily been anti-hierarchal. Starships are run like military vessels with a clear chain of command and set of moral priorities that outrank the invidious crewman screwing in bolts and cleaning hallways.
Star Trek: Discovery can’t seem to decide if the moral vision of Starfleet is a worthy hierarchy to follow or now. Michael Burnham CONSTANTLY breaks the rules because of her greater vision of justice and her selfish motives that always SOMEHOW manages to be the right decision, even when it puts others in danger and starts wars. Starfleet is right up until it questions it’s unquestionable heroine. For good measure, she usually ends up failing upward and gaining more influence aboard her ship.
This is morally incoherent virtue ethics. The ideals of enlightenment reason and social justice are actively at war with one another in the subtext of the show. The show may pretend it’s pro-institutional structures but it’s heart lays with the young radicals who hate institutions and just want to watch the hierarchies burn. Our hero can perform a mutiny against the orders of Starfleet and get promoted for her decisions.
This isn’t progressive, it’s tribal and reactionary. This is the kind of dissolutionist fantasy junk that dissolves societal institutions, destroys virtue and causes civil wars.
Do I care that these teenagers are all pansexual? No, I’m a libertarian. Do I see that Star Trek Discovery can’t resolve enlightenment virtue ethics with radical progressive libertinism and tribalism? Yes.
Season 3 – Episode 5
Okay I’m not gonna lie. The shipyard filled with all of the federation ships was cool to look at. I’m not sure why the USS Voyager was there but whatever…
Not much of a reaction to this one though. The crew of the Discovery merely has to prove to Starfleet that their ship can be useful so they go rogue and resolve a bizarre situation on their own successfully.
Wasn’t too invested in this space mystery but they got their goal done. The point is that the Discovery proves its value to Star Fleet! Mission accomplished!
Season 3 – Episode 6
So it turns out the dude who Michael fell in love with at the beginning of the season has a surviving black box from one of the starships that was destroyed during “the burn”. If they can get it, Starfleet can triangulate them source of what caused the galaxy’s supply of starship fuel to explode.
In order to do this, Michael goes rogue against orders to find the world where he was last seen and discovers a scavenger world run but slavers where she is forced to find a way to save him.
This is another episode where Michael feel particularly unwieldy as a character. She’s chaotic, disobedient and reckless but she’s also unabashedly adored by the show and adored for her ultimate decisions. Even when she breaks the rules, Michael makes the world better. There isn’t much tension or indecision.
Season 3 – Episode 7
I actually appreciated that this episode went ahead and addressed Michael’s bad decision in the last episode head on. I just wish it had done more with it.
After going rogue, she lost her First Officer status but was also chosen as the most viable candidate to go on a diplomatic mission to the planet formally known as Vulcan because of her heritage.
Season 3 – Episode 8
And the tomboy is non-binary now. Alrighty then!
I’m not gonna lie. I’m losing the plot on this show very quickly. I guess they’re searching for the source of the burn now but they’re also picking fights with the lady who runs the interstellar slavers…? Am I missing something? Usually I’m better at keeping track of detail oriented shows like this but I can’t quite make myself care enough to follow.
Having read the summary on the Wikipedia page, the slavers are a group called “Emerald Chain” run by the remnants of the Andorrians and Orions. I guess this is important because they’ll become the villains for the finale.
Season 3 – Episode 9 and 10
I don’t know why they decided to write of Georgiou’s character but the ongoing subplot of her dissolving because of her incompatibility to survive in this dimension finally built to its conclusion.
I actually kind of get where the show is going with this idea. The show is using her atomic dissolution as a metaphor for her discomfort with Star Fleet’s attitudes of tolerance and humanism. She’s a former tyrant. She only understands conflict and he’s metaphorically dissociating the more time she spends with the crew of the Discovery.
It’s interesting then that her character arc ends with her being blasted back to the mirror dimension where she tries to reintegrate with that society. She realizes too late that she’s been changed by Star Fleet and comes to reject the values of her original fascist society.
This episode actually does do a good job exploring this character’s subtle growth. I’m not sure if the journey makes this payoff work but it felt like a good note to end her character journey on.
Season 3 – Episode 11, 12 and 13
I’m gonna go ahead and bunch up these episodes again because I’m tired of talking about this show. Thankfully there’s president for doing so. The final three episodes of the season reveal the origin of
As it turns out, “the burn” that destroyed the federation’s supply of starship fuel wasn’t caused by a science experiment gone wrong or a sinister conspiracy. It was a lot more simple and tragic then that.
They discover an alien or Saru’s species living on a lost starship in a radioactive nebula filled with starship fuel. As it turns out, the alien has resonated with the dilithium because he grew up surrounded by the radiation. When he was beset by tragedy, his emotional distress radiated out into the universe and destroyed all of the active dilithium crystals. Millions died because of an accident.
At the same time as this, Emerald Chain’s plan comes into action. They kidnap the Discovery and use it as a bargaining chip to open negotiations with the federation. As it turns out, they’ve actually come to the table in earnest and want to build an alliance between the self described “capitalists” and the highly idealistic Starfleet.
This actually does end up being an interesting ethical debate. Should Starfleet relax it’s beliefs and open up negotiations with a reformed mercantile guild to gain its resources? Together they could rebuild the galaxy!
Sadly, this doesn’t go anywhere. Negotiations breakdown and there’s a final battle between the crew of Discovery and the Emerald Chain forces. Michael Burnham does her best Die Hard impression and takes the ship by room by room.
Everything more or less works out they way you’d imagine it would from this point on. Also Michael Burnham becomes the new captain of the Discovery despite the fact that she should be in prison for all of the other crap she pulled this season.
I can only imagine how tired I sound. It took me WEEKS to finish all 13 episodes of this season because I kept getting tired of the show. Beyond its moral incoherency and knee-jerk Tumblr pandering, I just didn’t care to know what this season had to offer. A post-apocalyptic Star Trek season isn’t very interesting once you’ve gotten past the point where you’re just describing the new status quo. The moral dilemmas are heavy handed and simplistic. The interesting characters all orbit the less interesting characters.
I could complain and say I hate it because it’s “woke trash “ but that’s not true. There are plenty of progressive shows and movies I like! Diversity and humanism don’t offend me when they’re communicated amicably and intelligently by filmmakers who understand what they’re doing.
Star Trek Discovery is merely tedious. It’s not nearly as infuriating as previous iterations of modern Trek but tha all I can say for it. It didn’t make me frustrated like Picard or the previous seasons of Discovery. It’s merely a non-presence.
It says nothing new. It accomplishes nothing new. It’s boring.
In my book, that’s sometimes worse than being terrible. Star Trek V and Star Trek: Nemesis are terrible and they make my blood boil when I’m not bored watching them. Star Trek Discovery’s worst crime is just that it’s a waste of resources. We could be getting much better content right now if it weren’t for the fact that this is our current iteration of the franchise..a