Star Trek fans have either been mourning or celebrating the recent announcement that the Paramount + streaming series, Star Trek: Discovery, will end when its upcoming fifth season concludes.
Ever since Star Trek: Discovery was first announced back in 2016 and debuted on CBS All Access the series was mired in controversey and alienated many fans. Instead of there being a mutual celebration that Star Trek finally returned to TV, fandom was bitterly divided over the TV show.
Even though Star Trek has always been forward thinking, progressive and pushed social envelopes, Star Trek: Discovery is overtly and even aggressive with its progressiveness. It has a Black woman as the main character, it features a homosexual couple and even a non-binary character. This made many fans uncomfortable, especially those who are more socially conservative, and they were quick to deride the show.
However, while it may be easy for these fans to dismiss Star Trek: Discovery for its so-called “wokeness”, the show had many problems that did not have to do with the racial or sexual nature of its characters.
Basically, Star Trek: Discovery departed too far from what worked with Star Trek, which was presenting engaging characters, well-written and provocative storylines, and an interesting premise. It did have its moments, especially in its second season, and it ushered in a new era for Star Trek, but from its pilot episode “The Vulcan Hello” it was apparent it had its faults.
To start, by setting the show just a few short years before the original Star Trek it wrecked the complex Trek continuity that is cherished by fans. Being that it was a modern show with access to the best special effects technology available, the look of the show was vastly different from the primitive production design of the original Star Trek. Of course, we viewers were supposed to ignore that but it was a nagging stickler for continuity’s sake.
There was little attempt to at least try to copy the look of the orginal Star Trek, as with the distinctive gold, blue and red uniforms, the Klingons received an ugly redesign that no one asked for, and the starship Discovery had technology that was so advanced compared to what we saw in other Star Trek shows and films. For example, why didn’t the ships in the other Star Trek shows have this revolutionary spore drive that allowed the Discovery to travel anywhere in the galaxy? It seemed as if the showrunners had little regard for what worked before and for what fans wanted. A full-scale war with Klingons that no one talked about in the other shows? Klingons that eat humans? The showrunners even botched the Mirror Universe and let their actors chew the scenes to the point that it was comical but not in a good way. The show departed from previous Treks in that it was no longer episodic and followed a season-long arc (the Klingon War with a visit to the Mirror Universe). While this echoed what modern TV shows do, when Star Trek: Discovery tried it the execution was poor. Becoming an arc-oriented TV show somehow robbed it of a key premise of Star Trek, which was exploring new worlds and civilizations.
Seeing the negative reactions to Star Trek: Discovery, the showrunners hastily tried to course correct for the remainder of the show’s run with mixed results. In the second season, Captain Christopher Pike and Spock were added to the cast and they were the best things on the show thanks to the acting chops of Anson Mount and Ethan Peck. The stories revolving around them captivated viewers and were the highlights of the second season, but frankly this took time away from the regular characters. This was another issue with the show in that the recurring and guest characters were more interesting or had more screen time than the regular cast. Aside from Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), Saru (Doug Jones), Paul Stemets (Anthony Rapp), and Sylivia Tilly (Mary Wiseman), we barely knew anything about the bridge crew. We see them all the time saying “Aye sir” and spouting technobabble, but most viewers would be hard-pressed to even know their names. Instead, lots of bandwidth was spent on Pike, Spock, Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) and most recently with the intergalactic courier Cleveland Booker (David Ajala). The show is supposed to be about the starship Discovery and its crew.
Anyway, at the start of the third season, the show made a radical change in its setting and stranded the ship and its crew in the 32nd century. In this time, the United Federation of Planets had largely shrunk in its size and influence as core worlds like Earth left the intersterllar union and the galaxy descended into anarchy. What caused this was an event called The Burn where most of the dilithium (the power source for starships) was destroyed along with most of Starfleet. This was an interesting setting and a chance to start anew for the show since it was not burdened with continuity, but in the end it was a waste. Burnham and the Discovery seemed to settle in a bit too easily in the far future, which was unusual given everything about them was out of date. No fish-out-of water stories here! They reunited with the Federation too quickly and what was worse was the explanation for The Burn. It turned out this catastrophic event was caused by an alien that was somehow psychically linked to dilithium and his childhood trauma caused the dilithium throughout most of the galaxy to explode. Huh? Sorry, that is just dumb. Couldn’t the writers come up with a better reason for the fall of the Federation? The premise of the third season should have been about the Discovery trying to find or rebuild the Federation, not finding out what caused The Burn. Or at least come up with a better explanation. It should have concluded with Burnham and her people establishing contact with the Federation and used the fourth season to rebuild the Federation.
By the time Star Trek: Discovery entered its fourth season, it had lost many Star Trek fans for good as better Star Trek shows premiered. The storyline for the fourth season dealt with this destructive anomaly that threatened the galaxy and the Discovery’s efforts to stop it. As usual, the show focused too much on its guest stars and soon it became the Booker show, complete with a glorified cameo by would-be governor Stacey Abrams as the President of Earth (!). To be honest, I stopped watching Star Trek: Discovery at this point. Some fans who still stuck around lauded the season as the show returned to its Star Trek roots and dealt with encountering new life forms. But it was too late. As noted above, other Star Trek shows came along that evoked traditional Trek, but modernized. It was as if the current people behind the shows used Star Trek: Discovery to see what worked and did not work and applied their lessons with the newer TV shows.
Ending Star Trek: Discovery in its fifth season seems appropriate as it has largely told the stories it needed to. Burnham’s personal redemption arc (one of the few highlights of the show) has been completed as were most of the lingering subplots. Besides, it must have become very expensive to produce the show given rising salary costs and such. It is better to use the resources to improve other current Trek shows or produce a better one.
Despite its many faults, Star Trek: Discovery had its merits. The special effects and production design were mind blowing, the acting was topnotch, and more than a few episodes were great. It provided the launchpad for other modern Star Trek shows including its direct spinoff, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, which is one of the best Star Trek shows. More importantly, Star Trek: Discovery ushered in a new era for Star Trek and that will be its lasting legacy.
Hard to disagree with much about what you said. I was never bothered by the pushing of social boundaries as that is exactly what the original Star Trek did, but Discovery has been very ham-fisted about it.
And they tried to make the Klingons into a much more horrifying enemy and probably over-did it. There is not longer anything likable about the re-imagined Klingons. I think that Strange New Worlds did that with the Gorn a bit too, but the Gorn are a minor alien in Star Trek history.
The season long plots have mostly fallen flat I think, but season two stands out as decent at least. I have had more than enough of Booker.
Have had high hopes for season three of Picard, but some of the acting in the first few episodes has been kind of terrible.
I have a wait and see attitude with the third season of Picard since I’m still getting over how disappointing the second season turned out. Even so, Picard is so much better than Discovery.
That’s funny. I really hated the Romulan wonder twins in the first season and was relieved to not see them again.
I think the main problem is that Star Trek works best as an episodic show should stop trying to be so heavily serialized
That’s one of the reasons why Strange New Worlds works so well, since it is more episodic.
YES to everything you said! I reread my blog reviews of S1 & S2 and I mentioned most of what you mentioned, with me giving up on the show early into S3. I hated the redesigned Klingons, they kept on throwing in new characters while ignoring the bridge crew, and I didn’t like how earnest Burnham was (and how only she could save all of humanity). But I will always be grateful that S2 led to Strange New Worlds, which I adore.
Ugh I forgot to mention Burnham and her Mary Sue problem. That is probably what drove me off the show,, especially with the way they had that only she could get the Vulcans to rejoin the Federation.
They ruined the Klingons so badly they haven’t been seen anywhere since (Worf aside). I hope Strange New Worlds can salvage them.
I laugh to think that I thought Enterprise was bad before Discovery- now it has gone up in my esteem since Discovery is so remarkably bad. I did like Tilly in S1 but her character started to go downhill, and then she left in S4 (tho I wasn’t watching by then). I heard she will be in S5, and it is rumored there will be a Starfleet Academy spinoff that might include her. I like your idea that they experimented with what would work and didn’t work, so they could improve the other Trek shows.
OMG what the heck happened to Tilly? She was fun in small doses but then became the 23rd century version of Felicity Smoak before disappearing!
As for the Academy idea, that has been teased fir so long and I’m dubious about it if the same people behind Discovery run it. If anyone wants to see a worthwhile Trek show about youngsters trying to be Starfleet officers then check out Star Trek: Prodigy which was a pleasant surprise.
Discovery was a trial for me, despite a very few appealing elements. But I gave up on it at some point after its first season. Yet still occasionally, I checked out a few clips from later episodes. It was appreciable that both Strange New Worlds and Axanar were able to paint the pre-Kirk era of the 23rd century in a better light.
Paramount should just give in and make Axanar part of official Trek, it did a far better job of giving us a modernized yet faithful recreation of the original Trek than Discovery did.