Star Trek: Discovery Finds Its Space Legs In Its Second Season

 

*Warning: Major spoilers will follow, do not read until you have seen season two of Star Trek: Discovery.

The sophomore season of Star Trek: Discovery just concluded with its epic two-part episode “Such Sweet Sorrow” and what a way to cap off a successful season!

The episode concluded the season-long “Red Angel” arc where it was revealed that Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) was the mysterious Red Angel that appeared throughout the galaxy during pivotal moments in recent history. In “Such Sweet Sorrow”, Burnham used the Red Angel suit to time travel into the past to mark her appearances in the second season and to lead the starship Discovery and the show into its bold new direction for season three.

The second season of Star Trek: Discovery was a marked improvement over the first one with compelling stories, strong characters and a respectful acknowledgment of the original canon established in previous Trek shows. Due to the many stylistic changes done to the show, even though it’s a prequel to the original Star Trek, the setting looked too advanced and didn’t gel with the original. This was unavoidable given the original show is over fifty years old, and Hollywood magic advanced considerably since then.

This led many outraged fans to dismiss Star Trek: Discovery as not a real Trek show, even though the showrunners insisted it was set in the prime timeline. The episode “If Memory Serves” reiterated this point by having an episode recap from the very first Star Trek pilot, “The Cage”, which proved once and for this show is set in the original Star Trek universe. People had to either accept the visual changes and move on or reject the show altogether. Those that accepted the show were rewarded with a well-crafted season.

At the start of the season with premier episode “Brother”, Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount), the original Enterprise captain beamed aboard the Discovery and took command. His mission was to investigate unknown red signals that appeared throughout the galaxy. It turned out the signals coincided with appearances of the enigmatic Red Angel. This figure would show up at a pivotal moment that aided the crew of the Discovery. Pike and Burnham realize that the Angel is tied in to the disappearance of his science officer Spock (Ethan Peck), who apparently went insane and murdered people. For the first half of the season, they track him, and this quest culminated with the now-classic “If Memory Serves” which took Pike and Spock back to the planet Talos IV. It turned out that Spock was framed by the secretive Section 31 organization and that Section 31 was taken over by Starfleet’s AI, Control.

The AI wanted to get access to ancient alien knowledge recently stored in the Discovery to gain sentience and Burnham received warnings that Control would eventually destroy all life in the future. This plot propelled the second half of the season and led to the truly monumental “Such Sweet Sorrow” where Control took the Section 31 fleet against the Discovery and the Enterprise. The only way to keep this knowledge away from Control was to send Discovery into the future. This led to a busy, crowded and spectacular starship battle that was simply brutal and dizzying at times. The battle sequences looked like they could have been lifted out of a modern Star Trek film that involved drones, refitted shuttles as fighters, zero-g fist fights, Klingons (who are now thankfully more in line with the traditional Klingons), and even repair droids (!).

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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 Vs. The Orville, Part Two

Let’s continue comparing two television shows that are similar to each other on the surface—Star Trek: Discovery and The Orville. In Part One, we explained how The Orville is an homage to the traditional Star Trek TV show with its set up and characters. Now its time to look at Star Trek: Discovery, which some feel is Star Trek in name only.

When Star Trek returned to the small screen in September 2017 with Star Trek: Discovery, many fans were bitterly disappointed with what they saw. While some criticized the 6th live-action Star Trek show for its flaws, others zeroed in on the fact that this Trek show is not a traditional Star Trek show. They point out that though it’s well done it lacks the essence of what made Star Trek so special. To be honest, they are justified for feeling that way; yes, we all miss the good ol’ fashioned Star Trek with a heroic starship captain (usually a white, male human) and his diverse bridge crew going from planet to planet and solving problems by the episode’s end.

Breaking the Mold of Traditional Trek

While these vocal critics are justified with their objections about Star Trek: Discovery, we must to keep this in mind. Star Trek had to do something different to stand out. By the time the last Trek show, Star Trek: Enterprise, finished its run, Star Trek had run its creative course and fell out of favor with fans who wanted something new and exciting.

During the long hiatus between shows, the return of Star Trek to the small screen was a difficult process as many different ideas were pitched to resurrect the franchise. For a time, Bryan Fuller, a veteran of the previous Trek shows, was the showrunner for Star Trek: Discovery, but ultimately left before it first aired. He did leave his mark with the direction and look of the show which broke the mold of a traditional Star Trek program. On the surface it seems familiar: the adventures of the crew of a starship called Discovery, which takes place a few years before the very first show. But it’s not what fans expected as they found out the newest Star Trek show is a definite contrast to what we think of as Star Trek.

The franchise is known for having an optimistic view of humanity and the future. Discovery instead has a darker, more cynical tone, even more than Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which for its time was derided for being too pessimistic. This perception is also reflected in the way the show looks. The sets, despite their futuristic look, appear gloomy and cramped. Not the kind of place we’d want to be assigned to if we were at Starfleet. Dutch angles, lens flares and dim lighting accentuate the overall flashy, but depressing look of the Discovery. While all this makes show seem edgy it comes at a cost to the warmer and more inviting look of standard Trek.

Naturally, being that this is a modern show with state-of-the-art special effects and production values, the show looks more futuristic than even the Star Trek spinoffs from its 1990s golden age. Holograms are everywhere and the show’s technology is incredibly high tech. The special effects are just breathtaking and are movie quality. It’s as if mini-theatrical films are being streamed for us. Being that this is a prequel to the original show from the 1960s, this ultra-futuristic look violently clashes with what was established in Star Trek and adds to the argument that the show is not part of the proper Prime Universe.

This is an unfortunate and unavoidable due to time, advances in special effects and larger budgets. While recapturing the exact retro look of the old show works for fan films it would not for a modern show trying to attract more viewers. Still, the perception remains that this incarnation of Star Trek is so dissimilar to the Trek we know that it is hard to believe that it takes place in the prime timeline; not to mention the contradictory background information that some have spotted.

battle of binary stars

The running arc of the first season of Star Trek: Discovery was of a war between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. The way the enemy race of the Federation was reconceptualized was simply terrible. While the new makeup and ship designs made the Klingons appear more alien and fiercer, it robbed them of the bravado and spunk they were famous for.

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The Orville Vs. Star Trek: Discovery, Part One

The biggest rivalry going on right now on TV is between Star Trek: Discovery and The Orville. Technically, that is not entirely accurate since Star Trek: Discovery is only available on the CBS All-Access streaming service while The Orville is broadcast on the Fox network. Still the competition between the two and the fandom generated, especially with The Orville, is quite fierce.

What is fueling the intense rivalry among fans is how similar both shows are to each other, at least when comparing The Orville to general Star Trek, not necessarily Star Trek: Discovery. In fact, The Orville perfectly captures the look and feel of Star Trek circa the 1990s. Meanwhile Star Trek: Discovery has a decidedly different tone than past Trek shows, which has proven to be controversial among fans.

With distinct differences and similarities, it’s an interesting exercise to compare both shows.

The Orville: Bawdry Expectations

When it debuted in 2017, The Orville was one of those programs that suddenly appeared in everyone’s radar. It was first marketed as a flat-out comedy that promised to spoof Star Trek and other sci-fi programs and films and their tropes. But viewers quickly learned that was not the case with The Orville. This could be why the show did not appeal to critics who were expecting bawdry, outrageous comedy in the vein of Family Guy. After all, this show’s creator and star is Seth MacFarlane, the creator of Family Guy.

Unlike its early trailers, The Orville’s humor is much gentler and dryer. Although at times it tries to be edgy with its comedy and it doesn’t always work. In fact, at times its attempts at humor feels forced and ill-timed, which throws off the tone of some scenes. Honestly, The Orville cannot be considered a comedy and it doesn’t really spoof Star Trek. Coming off more as an homage, the program’s smart scripts examines relevant social issues and sci-fi concepts like a classic Star Trek show. It’s why the show has resonated with fans yearning for traditional Star Trek and are disappointed by Star Trek: Discovery and the recent films. But it also turned off those tuning in to expect the next Family Guy or at least something along the lines of Galaxy Quest.

While MacFarlane is famous for delivering raunchy and over-the-top humor with Family Guy and his film Ted, many didn’t realize that he is a big Star Trek fan. In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter in 2011, he confessed that his dream was to pitch a Star Trek TV show. In the interview when the subject of Star Trek came up, Seth MacFarlane said, “But I’d love to see that franchise revived for television in the way that it was in the 1990s: very thoughtful, smartly written stories that transcend the science fiction audience.” Well, he clearly has his chance to do a Star Trek show with The Orville.

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What’s Next For The Star Trek Kelvinverse?

The J.J. Abrams Star Trek reboot warped out of the drydock and reinvigorated the franchise nine years ago. For a while it seemed as if Star Trek was back in the public eye, though it was radically changed. But it didn’t have any staying power as seen with the collective meh from the general public over the last Star Trek film and the downright hostility from old-time Star Trek fans who correctly charge that the Star Trek films strayed too far from the core essence of Trek.

There are many reasons for the indifference towards the Star Trek reboot but it gained more notoriety with the recent news that Chris Pine, who played Captain Kirk, the center of the Star Trek films, has walked away from the planned fourth film, along with Chris Hemsworth, who briefly played Kirk’s father.

The two actors left the project over money since Paramount Pictures wanted both of them to take a pay cut. In the end, this is a negotiating tactic, and the actors have a just cause since they have contracts guaranteeing a certain rate. But this latest news illustrates the tenuous state of the Star Trek films.

Ever since Star Trek Beyond underperformed two years ago, and Star Trek returned to TV, the Star Trek reboot films, aka the Star Trek Kelvinverse, has lost its luster. They were intended to attract non-Trek fans and make the franchise more exciting. Unfortunately, the Kelvinverse films pandered too much to adrenaline junkies who would never appreciate the thoughtful nature of Star Trek. Plus, Paramount was convinced that making Star Trek more like Star Wars would increase ticket sales. After all, the previous Star Trek films before the reboot were disappointments. This attitude, unfortunately led to poorly conceived marketing that catered to The Fast and the Furious crowd which alienated fans and didn’t end up bringing in the demographics that Paramount wanted. Just look at this horrendous first trailer for Star Trek Beyond that helped doom the film, which is unfortunate because it turned out to be a good Star Trek film.

After Star Trek Beyond, no one knew if there would be another Trek film, at least one set in the Kelvinverse. This question came up after the ambiguous announcement late last year that Quentin Tarantino wanted to do a Star Trek film and that his vision would be even more radical than Abrams’. Around the time that Star Trek Beyond premiered, it was announced that the fourth film would feature a time travel story and have Kirk meet his father. The added bonus is that Kirk’s father was Hemsworth, who is famous for his Thor performances, and he actually excelled in his brief role in Star Trek.

george kirk

The big question is what if Pine and Hemsworth don’t return? What then? Should the roles be recast? Should the characters be written out or should the project be scrapped altogether? The bottom line is that Star Trek Kelvinverse films are expensive to make and are not the big moneymakers that Paramount hoped for, which is why they wanted the two actors to take the pay cut. In order for the films to be viable the budgets have to be pared down which is tricky but not impossible. The next film could use stock footage, it worked for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, which is still considered the best Star Trek film.  A lower budget would force the director and writer to focus on characters and plot, not flashy visuals.

Honestly, Star Trek can survive without Chris Hemsworth. The role can be easily recast or the story can be tossed out in favor of  new one. But can Trek survive without Pine? Sure it can, one thing the Star Trek TV spinoffs proved is that Star Trek is much more than James T. Kirk and Spock and McCoy. It is possible to have Spock as the lead character, maybe do a role reversal of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and have the Enterprise crew searching instead for Kirk. In the end, Pine may wind up reprising his role one more time and the film will be another hurrah for the Kelvinverse Enterprise crew, which is fine since the reboot films have their merits.

Or Paramount can be even bolder and go with a new set of characters or jump ahead into the future and feature the Kelvinverse version of the Next Generation or DS9 crews. Frankly, it is probably time to take a new approach to the Star Trek films and the current cast will get more expensive, have a higher profile these days and may want to move onto other venues. While recasting the Enterprise crew may be an easy out for the film studio, what would generate more interest and maybe bring back disenchanted fans might be to go with a new set of characters and situations. After all, the Star Trek universe is infinite and true fans would welcome this approach if done correctly.