The following contains basically continuous spoilers for the first four episodes of Star Trek: Discovery.
I really wanted to like Star Trek: Discovery, even after the pilot two-parter left me really flat with the bad writing. So I thought, well, as many venerable commenters have pointed out, these shows take time to find their footing. Star Trek pilots tend to be weak compared to the shows that they grow into. Hell, this franchise is legendary for almost unwatchable first seasons.
Remember how bad Star Trek: The Next Generation was before Riker grew a beard?
Remember how bad Deep Space Nine was before Sisko grew a beard?
Remember how bad Voyager was before it was cancelled?
I won’t bother asking if anyone remembers Enterprise, I choose to believe it was just a bad acid trip at the end of Quantum Leap.
So maybe Discovery just needs time to grow into itself. But episodes three and four, that “aired” on CBS’ All Access (now with almost as many NCIS episodes as Netflix!) made it feel like that wait could be quite, um, the wait. Sloppy writing and plot holes in a pilot are one thing, but the next two episodes are case studies in plot being driven by caricatures acting like idiots.
The Klingons are simply not working. They’ve got these actors with faces so plastered with prosthetics that it is physically impossible for them to actually act. Every scene drags the entire episode to a halt so that we can listen to interminable monosyllabic grunts that do not have any bearing on any of the plot of the episode. I kind of get that they’re trying to show that the Klingons are a rich and interesting people also, and not just one-dimensional bad guys. But it’s just not working at all because there is a complete and utter disconnect between the Klingon Game of Thrones show going down inside the Battlestar Federation premise.
Jason Isaacs’ Captain Lorca should be a huge asset for the show. And he is trying really hard to channel Olmos’ Adama and be gruff and hard because goddamnit there’s a war on. Instead he’s just coming across as a low rent Ahab who terrifies his entire crew. He practically yells “you might not like my methods, but goddamnit I get results” in every scene, after which his crew gets partial results despite him rather than because of him.
And that’s before getting into the baffling sorts of idiocy that seems commonplace throughout the ensemble cast. The peak of which is of course Rekha Sharma’s Commander Landry (aka the Cylon who no one cared about) who manages to commit suicide by idiocy faster than you could yell “Leeeeeeeeeeeroy”!
Burnham: “This alien beast monster is immune to phasers, can rip through starship hulls, and just killed an entire squad of Klingons. My utterly not based on any empirical evidence but totes scientific conclusion is that it is a harmless herbivore.”
Commander Deady: “OMFG you’ve been studying it for 10 whole minutes I am so bored. Computer drop the shields so I can shoot this fucker.”
And that’s how she died.
Say what you want about Kirk’s tendency to irrationally jump in head first, he would have made sweet love to that Tardigrade and learned the secrets of its shroom based interstellar teleportation and still had time to make fun of McCoy before murdering the entire Klingon navy.
For those of you not watching at home, and just bathing here in the spoilers, you might have noticed that I said “shroom based interstellar teleportation.”
Sweet baby Bajor, did I ever.
So the Discovery is a science ship working on super secret war winning technology that’s been co-opted into military research because of the big war with the Klingons. Makes sense. Until you get the dramatic reveal of what that secret technology is that they’re working on. Instead of warp, i.e. flying from one point in space to another*, they’re working on just jumping instantly from one point to another. To use the sci-fi terms that they don’t want to use even as they eye-rollingly drop Elon Musk’s name into the list of pioneers, it’s a space fold drive (or a wrinkle in time, to use L’Engle’s more poetic terminology). On the one hand, this is problematic because Discovery takes place before the original series, and so we know for a fact that this technology doesn’t pan out since none of the subsequent Enterprises don’t use warp drives. But on the other hand, that’s the least of the problems.
See, the way it works is by intergalactic mushrooms. Yes, there are clouds of mushroom spores that have spread through the entire universe and they’re all like interconnected man, and this gentle giant of an alien can like transport the entire starship anywhere there’s shrooms, man. But this makes him cry, so it’s really harshing Burnham’s vibe. And I cannot fucking believe that I am describing the critical plot point of a Star Trek series and not a joke from Austin Powers 4: Groovy Space Cowboy.
All that said, I’m all in if Burnham pulls a Sisko/Riker and becomes a badass by growing a beard.
* Yes, I know that warp drives work by creating a bubble of subspace around the vessel in question, allowing it to travel faster than light because it has dropped temporarily into a dimension where the speed of light is different. I studied the Star Trek Technical Manual for hours as a kid, too.
Dr. Steven Lloyd Wilson is a hopeless romantic and the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. His novel, ramblings, and assorted fictions coalesce at www.burningviolin.com. You can email him here.