Star Trek: Discovery’s Canon Problem

A major complaint about Star Trek: Discovery is that for a prequel set before the original Star Trek it violates so much of what was established in the original series that it should be thought of as a straight up remake. Everyone always brings up the fact the for a prequel the world shown in Star Trek: Discovery is too advanced when compared to Star Trek or that it violates the established canon of this franchise.

There is legitimate cause to feel this way and the coy remarks by the show’s powers that be do not help matters, they promise us that the show is set in the Prime Universe of Star Trek.  But this has not satisfied many who then online negative posts and videos and proclaim the show is not true Star Trek.

Of course, a lot of the criticisms about Star Trek: Discovery are valid, but we should be careful about using the show’s look and canon problems as a reason to dismiss it as something that doesn’t belong with Star Trek.

One thing to consider is that throughout its 50-plus years Star Trek and its films and spinoffs have many continuity problems. For instance, in the early episodes of Star Trek there wasn’t a United Federation of Planets. Instead there was a United Earth Space Probe Agency, then it was never clear as to when it took place. Remember the infamous misspelling of James Kirk’s name in the second pilot “Where No Man Has Gone Before”? The good captain’s middle initial was shown to be R. instead of T.

Then there are the Klingons. In the original show they were basically swarthy humans with actors in brownface portraying them. In the first film and onwards, the aliens were revamped and looked more alien thanks to ridges now showing on their foreheads. This perplexed fans until Star Trek: Enterprise offered an onscreen explanation as to why the Klingons looked so different.

And while people love to complain about Michael Burnham being Spock’s unspoken of foster sister, what about his renegade half-brother Sybok? Until the film where Sybok first appeared (Star Trek V: The Final Frontier), Spock’s best friend Kirk didn’t know Sybok existed. It stands to reason Spock never bothered mentioning Burnham. He is a rather private person.

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Star Trek: Discovery – A First Season Review

Ordinarily, when reviewing TV shows, I would watch 4 to 6 episodes to get a good feel for the program. With Star Trek: Discovery, I decided to wait until it concluded its first season before doing a review because I honestly could not decide how I felt about it. This latest Star Trek spinoff has been the most difficult to form an opinion about. It has many commendable features, yet there are so many aspects about it that misfires so badly, that we have to wonder if the creators behind this spinoff understand Star Trek at all. Major spoilers will follow.

Star Trek: Discovery takes place in the 2250s, which makes it a prequel to the original Star Trek. Then again it does not feel like a prequel but more like a remake. Naturally, it does not recreate the mood and production of the original because it would have been laughed off and this is part of the reason why it is so controversial with fans. Overall, this show has to be accepted as a remake rather than a reboot because there are many attempts to stick to canon and some elements established in the original Prime timeline, such as numerous Easter eggs, references and sound effects. On the other hand, they’re not always consistent with sticking to canon, which can be irritating. But once you put aside these feelings about this latest Star Trek spinoff, it becomes easier to watch.

Star Trek: Discovery is updated to today’s standards in terms of special effects, set design and writing. The entire show is beautifully executed and each episode feels more like a feature-length film than a TV show. While this is welcome, at times the creators went too far in reimagining Gene Roddenberry’s futuristic universe. A case in point is the unnecessary re-do of the Klingons, the show’s main enemy race. The poor actors portraying the Klingons seem to be drowning under all the heavy makeup and wardrobe and we have to wonder why the showrunners thought this was an improvement over the perfected Klingon look seen in the other spinoffs and films. Be that as it may, the subtle updating of other alien races like the Andorians and the Tellarites are executed well.

The Star Trek spinoff follows the story of Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), a former first officer who mutinied against her captain and was jailed. Her actions helped spark a war between the Klingons and the United Federation of Planets and most of the first season is devoted to this storyline and her redemption. Burnham is freed by the captain of the U.S.S. Discovery, Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs), and enlists her to his crew for some ulterior motive. He assigns her to aid the ship’s science officer Lt. Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and find a way to utilize an experimental spore drive being tested on the Discovery to win the war against the Klingons. Eventually this results in Stamets using himself as a conduit for the spore drive, which allows the ship to instantaneously travel anywhere.Even though Burnham is the main protagonist, Lorca has emerged as the most fascinating character thanks in part to Isaacs’ exemplary acting and the way he is written. Lorca was introduced as a mysterious, and unusually brutal commander who was obsessed with winning the war. He was not above tossing aside ethics to get the job done, and pushing people beyond their limit, yet he was a capable commander. But in the second half of the season, the Discovery wound up in the Mirror Universe where humans are evil and it was revealed that Lorca himself came from this reality. This confirmed many suspicions that fans had but in the end, this development was a disservice to Lorca who became a moustache-twirling villain and unremarkable. Hopefully, some way can be found to return some version of Lorca in the second season.Therein lies the fault and strength of Star Trek: Discovery and this is typical of its conflicting nature. Some characters are compelling and well developed like First Officer Saru (Doug Jones), a lanky and fastidious alien, Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman), a bubbly young cadet, and Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif), a Starfleet officer who is actually a Klingon that was surgically altered into a human in order to infiltrate Starfleet. While others are interesting background bridge crewmembers  that  the show largely ignores. I’m not even sure what their names are, I just know them as the cyborg lady, or the woman with the metal implant on her skull. They barely have any dialogue and are begging to be examined more closely.

The stories themselves are also just as uneven. Some episodes are genuine classics and belong up there with the great Star Trek episodes. These include “The Wolf Inside”, “Despite Yourself” (two fantastic Mirror Universe tales), “Lethe”, “Choose Your Pain”, and “Into the Forest I Go”. As great as those were, Star Trek: Discovery is also weighed down with some downright clunkers that are poorly plotted and clumsily executed. One example is the first episode that aired for free on CBS, “The Vulcan Hello”, which needed to be great to entice people to subscribe to the CBS All Access app that streamed the rest of the episodes. Unfortunately, the season also ended on a less-than-thrilling note with a two-episode storyline that ended the war too quickly and unsatisfactory. However, the final shot of the last episode “Will You Take My Hand?” brought a thrill when a sparkling and graceful Enterprise appeared on the screen.Despite these faults, I have to admit that I genuinely enjoy Star Trek: Discovery. As far as first season Star Trek shows go, this is the best one since the original Star Trek. Unlike some other Star Trek spinoffs that first started out, this show is rarely dull and takes some genuine risks, even if they do not pay off. Of course, the criticism is valid that unlike its predecessors there isn’t any exploring done. This is something that is a vital essence of Star Trek, but it does push the envelope, chiefly with its characters and focus. The captain is not the main hero but a broken and disgraced former officer. Many of the characters are out to prove themselves and most of them do, which is why they are so easy to watch and root for.Another thing to note is that putting aside all the action and eye-popping visuals (seeing the Discovery spin its saucer while it goes into spore drive never gets dull), certain elemental truths about Star Trek are still there. We just have to recognize them: accepting diversity, seeking diplomatic solutions, and bettering yourself. As Alexander Courage’s iconic theme played during the end credits of the season finale, I found myself eagerly waiting to see more from Star Trek: Discovery, and for that reason the show is a success.

José Soto

 

 

KINO: Klingons In Name Only

klingon in name only

Whether fans love or hate or fall somewhere in between Star Trek: Discovery, one thing that nearly everyone agrees with is that the re-imagined Klingons are a bad misfire. In fact, many consider them to be the show’s biggest flaw. As the main villains in the latest Star Trek TV show, these Klingons bear little resemblance to the traditional mighty Klingons seen in previous Star Trek TV shows. They deviate so much that they can only be considered Klingons In Name Only (KINO) and this is a problem since they are the main adversaries in Star Trek: Discovery.

From Cold Warriors To Gruff Allies 

Klingons have had a long history with Star Trek going back to the first season of the original show. When they were first introduced, they were supposed to be a mix of Nazis and Soviets and their conflict with the peaceful Federation represented the Cold War going on at the time. Due to limited budgets, the makeup of the Klingons was simplistic: swarthy, greasy complexions with arched eyebrows and goatees. Needless to say, they could pass for humans.

kor and kirk

Later when Star Trek became a film series, increased budgets allowed for the aliens’ look to be enhanced. They were sported browed ridges on their foreheads and wore durable and elaborate body armor. They were bulky, formidable warriors that were more than a match for any human opponent. As the films progressed and new TV shows premiered, the Klingons were better developed until they became a rich alien culture with their own distinct language. This gruff, heavy handed tongue became so popular with fans that it is now the most spoken fictional language in the world today.

The alien race had evolved from simplistic Cold War stand-ins and became a complex civilization with a fascinating back story. They even became allies of the Federation, though the culture clashes remained. Of course, there was the continuity issue of how the classic Klingons looked more alien than the human-like ones from the original show. This was solved in the prequel series Star Trek: Enterprise where it was shown that the Klingon race contracted a virus that mutated them into having a more human appearance. It was outlandish, but it worked.

classic klingons

By this point, the Klingons were perfected. Yet, for some reason when it came time to reboot Star Trek the iconic Klingon look was changed. In their only full appearance to date, Star Trek Into Darkness, they didn’t have any hair and looked more alien. They still came off as savage, bloodthirsty warriors, but weren’t as hefty or burly as classic Klingons. The reaction to them was mixed, but everyone knew the reboots took place in an alternate reality, so the new look could be overlooked by some.

One of the most enticing details about Star Trek: Discovery was that the show would take place in the Prime Star Trek Timeline. This excited many fans who felt alienated by the action-oriented reboots. Then images and clips started appearing which discouraged fans. In addition to the advanced technology and contradictory plot details, the Klingons received yet another unwanted makeover.

Meet The KINOs

Everything about them looks different except for the browed ridges that now  are more prominent since they are hairless. Their skin tone is either purple, black or white with super flared nostrils. The KINOs wear ugly uniforms that looked more like bony dresses than armor and aren’t as formidable as real Klingons. What is worse is that brusque and clipped Klingon tongue sounds different, more unnatural. Maybe it is the makeup but now the Klingons sound like they have something in their mouths and it is difficult to listen to them. At no point in the episodes shown have we heard their famous battle cry “Qapla!”, meaning “Success!” Instead we get long, drawn out speeches that is hard on the ears and ponderous to read with all the subtitles.

It can be argued that these could be another unseen-til-now faction of Klingons or something along that line. But this is a needless revision. There wasn’t anything wrong with the classic Klingon look. Why did the showrunners feel the need to meddle with not only the look, but the complex culture of the beloved aliens? If the argument is to be different and update their look then why stop there? Why not update the Vulcans? As aliens go, they are not remarkable in this day; pointed ears and arched eyebrows. Not the most exciting look, but to try to change it would be blasphemy at this point.

klingon burial

What is probably worse for the KINOs is the way they are portrayed in Star Trek: Discovery. They do not seem very bright for vaunted military types. In the episode “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not For The Lamb’s Cry” the Klingons led by Voq are stranded near an abandoned Federation starship for six months. Voq boards the enemy starship to scavenge for parts, but if they were marooned for six months why didn’t he and the other Klingons scavenge the starship sooner? Then the way they perceive death is radically different than with classic Klingons. Both do the death cry when one of their own dies to warn the afterlife of a coming Klingon soul. However, once a Klingon is dead the corpse is casually discarded because the body is just a husk. These KINOs instead put their dead into elaborate sarcophagi and transfer them onto a special funeral ship. Huh?  Even their ships and weapons bear little resemblance to the iconic Klingon battle cruisers, birds-of-prey and bat’leths.

For a Star Trek show that is allegedly set in the Prime Timeline these Klingons are the best argument that this is not so. But debating about timelines and canon is pointless and would not be so heated if the Klingons were better realized. Frankly, whenever these KINOs appear onscreen the pace of the episodes comes to a screeching halt. There is an interesting subplot about uniting their separate clans to become a major power again. But that gets lost in the slow pace of their poorly written scenes. They simply are not as intimidating as classic Klingons. One attempt to make them frightening is to have them eat dead humans, which comes off as sickening.

Star-Trek-Discovery-Klingon-Kol

Even more distressing is that the showrunners are blind to the negative reception to their version of Klingons and are intent on doubling down on them throughout the season. Maybe this is not the final word on the Klingons, we can only hope that something is done about these KINOs. Until then the best we can do is either re-watch previous Star Trek shows to get our classic Klingons or fastforward Star Trek: Discovery whenever they appear or at the very least stuff cotton into our ears when they open their mouths to talk.

José Soto

 

 

Star Trek: Discovery Launches Trek’s Return To TV

For one night only, Star Trek returned to TV. On CBS, Star Trek: Discovery premiered, but for one episode only. Want to see the rest? Then you have to subscribe to CBS’ streaming service CBS All Acess, which will leave many frustrated, especially with the way the first episode ended.

Sonequa-Martin-Green-Star-Trek-Discovery-screen-grab

Titled “The Vulcan Hello”, the first episode of Star Trek: Discovery introduced viewers to a new slate of characters starting with Commander Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), the first officer of the Federation starship Shenzhou (the starship Discovery does not appear in the first two episodes). As the main character, she is rather mysterious and has an interesting back story that was only partly revealed in the first episode. After her parents were killed by Klingons, the Federation’s arch rivals, Burnham was raised by Sarek (James Frain) in the logic-oriented Vulcan culture. Now a grown woman, Burnham is having trouble balancing her human and Vulcan upbringing. By the way, yes, this is the same Sarek that is Spock’s father.

In the pilot, the Shenzou comes across an ancient-looking artifact on the edge of Federation space and Burnham volunteers to investigate it. Her curiosity quickly escalates a tense situation that brings the Federation to the brink of war. What is worse is that her actions afterwards are what make war more and more likely.On the whole, this was a solid and enjoyable episode. There were many issues with it, but most open-minded fans will be pleased with Star Trek: Discovery. What’s good to great about it? First of all, unlike the J.J. Abrams reboot films (except Star Trek Beyond), this feels like Star Trek, only modernized. There are many references and adherences to Star Trek lore that should satisfy hardcore fans.

Time is taken to explore characters and themes. The driving one in this episode is about how cultural misconceptions can be disastrous. This has been explored in other Treks, but this issue is still relevant given today’s fragile political climate.

The production values and special effects are absolutely stunning and rivals what you see in theaters. Yes, that includes the Star Trek reboot films. Every dollar spent is up there on the screen. The show is just beautifully filmed.

“The Vulcan Hello”, which was directed by David Semel, does a good job of building a sense of unease and tension thanks to liberal usages of Dutch angles and editing. You truly feel that this crew on the Shenzou is out there on their own. This creates a barely concealed uneasy feeling among them and us. The character that best expressed this anxiousness was Lt. Commander Saru (Doug Jones), a lanky and cowardly alien who is the first one to recommend that the Shenzou hightails it out of harm’s way.

Star Trek: Discovery takes place in the original Star Trek universe and is a prequel to the very first show. But being a prequel presents the show with many problems that comes with being a prequel. While the technology is stunning eye candy, it looks more advanced than even the later Star Trek shows so how can this be a prequel to the original Star Trek with its clunky sets and limited technology? This gives critics a good argument that it doesn’t take place in the Prime Universe and is more at home with the Abrams reboots. But that is just nitpicking.

The bigger flaws with Star Trek: Discovery lie with its script and some execution. The dialogue is often stiff and clunky, unlike the show’s new rival, The Orville. Most of the time, when characters speak, their speech comes off as wordy and does not feel natural. This is a problem because it sometimes brings the show’s pace to a grinding halt and it happens whenever the Klingons appear.

psuedo klingon

Scenes with the alien race are probably the biggest stumble for Star Trek: Discovery. All their dialogue is spoken in a clumsy tongue with tiring subtitles. Honestly, they are nothing like the violent and popular Klingons of previous Treks. Even their look is different and downright ugly, and not in a good way. Previous Klingons appeared imposing and hulking with their brow ridges and fur-covered armor. These new Klingons lack hair and wear hideous, bony tunics that Liberace would have loved. They look more like the poorly received Abrams version of Klingons, which were also disappointing. It makes you wonder why producers keep insisting on changing the classic look of the Klingons. They were perfect, why mess with the look?

Issues aside, “The Vulcan Hello” heralds an auspicious beginning for the latest incarnation of Trek. For too long, we waited for new Star Trek and now we have it. But there is a big catch.

In order to keep watching Star Trek: Discovery it will literally cost you since it’s on a streaming service. Outside of North America it is streaming on Netflix, so if you have not subscribed to the service then it is worth doing so to continue watching the adventures of Commander Burnham.

But in the U.S. fans are being forced to subscribe to CBS’ own streaming service. This begs the question, is this show worth a subscription? Sadly, the answer would have to be no. As good as “The Vulcan Hello” was, it did not hit it out of the ballpark. Plus, the cliffhanger ending, which forces viewers to subscribe to find out how the story ends, will infuriate fans. Sure, some will say just spend the six to ten dollars a month. But for just one show? Seeing the commercials for the other programming on CBS All Access is enough to convince me it is not worth the money. Frankly, I have no interest in watching CSI: Insert an American City or Survivor. Not only that but it usually takes three to five episodes of a series for me to decide if it warrants continued watching. One episode simply is not enough to convince me to subscribe to another streaming service. If you are that much of a hardcore Star Trek fan and have to get your fix, then go ahead and subscribe to CBS All Access. I can wait to see the entire show on a later date. After all, I have the other Star Trek show to watch, The Orville, and I do not have to spend extra money to do so.

José Soto

 

Star Trek: Discovery Teaser Trailer Beams Aboard

 

First officer michael Burnham

This may be the month of the start of the movie blockbuster season and the 40th anniversary of Star Wars, but today all attention is on TV. Or rather the CBS All Access streaming service. That’s because the first teaser trailer for this fall’s Star Trek: Discovery has been released.

First impressions: The Star Trek: Discovery trailer is actually good. It grabs our attention and makes us want to find out more about its premise. There are some quibbles which will be covered in a bit, but the overall look is impressive though it is a bit too reminiscent of J.J. Abrams’ version of Star Trek and less like the retro look of the original Star Trek. But these days, TV shows have to impress with out-of-this world special effects and production values. So though, we love the rubber alien suits and cardboard sets of the original Star Trek, to make it these days, Trek had to upgrade and even outdo the shows from The Next Generation era. The result is a cinema-quality look to the show.

Speaking of those versions of Star Trek, the start of the trailer calls to mind Star Trek: Enterprise with its announcement that Star Trek: Discovery takes place ten years before the original Star Trek. But thankfully, the Star Trek: Discovery trailer switches gears and introduces us to brave new worlds and beautifully rendered space shots. More importantly we’re introduced to the show’s main character, First Officer Michael Burnham, played by former cast member of The Walking Dead, Sonequa Martin-Green. She looks terrific in her blue Starfleet uniform and she gives the impression that she is a Starfleet officer. Then again by the trailer’s tone we have to wonder if that is her true identity. This trailer gave her a mysterious presence, there were even times when we have to wonder if she has some Vulcan heritage though that’s unlikely.

From the bits and pieces revealed, the Discovery ship itself looks much better than in that cheap-looking teaser released last year. It must be pointed out that the full shot we see of a starship early in the trailer is probably a different ship. The aliens look cool except for the Klingons. Their redesign lacks the fearsome and imposing quality of the original Klingons with their ridged foreheads and body armor. This was a perfect look for the Klingons that was ageless. Why mess with perfection? Hopefully the other alien races won’t be as butchered in their designs.

But nitpicking aside, it is beyond great that Star Trek is back on TV, er, home media where it belongs with episodes to truly explore themes, characters and the infinite worlds and races of Star Trek. Now as to whether or not Star Trek: Discovery will be worth spending extra money on to stream is another question.

Waldermann Rivera