It seems that everyone wants the Star Trek that they most remember. Star Trek Discovery is no different. The fans have spoken, and many are pretty upset. Some of the bigest arguments I’ve read on Facebook and Twitter are: that the story is disjointed; that the main character Michael Burnham, is immature and incompetent; that the show lacks the vision of the original Star Trek; that the show is set in the Star Trek Kelvin universe of the movies (named after the starship that was destroyed by the Romulan vessel and thus creating an alternate universe); and that it does not respect the previous conventions of Trek especially in the way the series depicts Klingons. I will attempt to address all these concerns one-by-one:
- Disjointed Story– Actually, if you look at the way modern story telling is done, the series has left the regular episodic method which has already been somewhat previously abandoned by the series Enterprise during the multiple chapter story of the Xindi, and the series Deep Space Nine in a lesser means during the Dominion Wars. Even The Next Generation, had two-parter episodes such as Chain of Command and The Best of Both Worlds. The first two-part episode came from the original Star Trek series as the studio split the first pilot- The Cage– into The Menagerie for budgetary savings and the reuse of clips. Perhaps the first use of the continuing storyline in the Star Trek cinematic canon originated in the first movie trilogy Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek: The Search for Spock, and Star Trek: The Voyage Home. These plot departures from the original “fire and forget” episodic format which allowed stories to be aired out of order isn’t really in vogue today. In a world of Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Crunchyroll and other similar online binge watching, viewers are much more comfortable with continuous storylines and character arcs. Discovery’s plot is less “disjointed” as it is designed to build chapter by chapter- and speaking of character arcs.
- Michael Burnham– Despite the unusually masculine name of “Michael”, she is the first human to ever attend the Vulcan Learning and Science Academies, and is the adopted sister of Spock. Sarek adopted Michael after a tragedy in her youth. Suggesting that Michael is incompetent with such a pedigree would be silly enough, but discovering that she rose to the ranks of Number aboard the starship Shenzhou under Captain Philippa Georgiou, the charge becomes ludicrous. Starfleet is no different than any other institution, and certainly someone who is incompetent could possibly raise through the ranks. However, Captain Georgiou sets the audience’s expectations about Burnham in the first scene of the pilot, The Vulcan Hello, by expressing her desire to see Michael command her own ship. Georgiou repeats this as once being her fervent wish after Michael commits mutiny. Despite what some might think, mutinous actions are not new in Starfleet. Spock commits mutiny on several occasions including breaking General Order 7- the only death penalty still on the books. Spock had been identified as the best first officer in the Fleet in the Amok Time episode. Since this occurs 12 years in the future from Discovery, one would think that the Federation is used to officers disobeying orders. In fact, the more you look at it’s, disobeying orders isn’t really all that unusual at all. The entire bridge crew stole the Enterprise (Star Trek: The Search for Spock again) to save their companion. Michael made a command decision and although she was charged for mutiny, it still was the correct decision and had she been listened to, would possibly have avoided war. Sometimes you can choose the right path and still lose. Michael Burnham’s failure was in misjudging her ability to sway her captain, certainly nothing like incompetence.
- Vision- Star Trek certainly has a particular vision of a hopeful future. This does not remove the tension of plot or represent a lack of conflict. DS9’s Dominion Wars hardly represent a brave new future. Neither would the lackluster movie Star Trek: Beyond. The vision of Trek by Gene Roddenberry represents more of a general theme of humanity working out its problems. In fact, much of The Next Generation’s biggest (and well-founded) complaints would be it’s lack of tension between the characters. Discovery’s acknowledgement of the vision of Roddenberry’s Trek was expressed by crewman Conner who said to Michael while she was in the brig, “Why are we fighting? We’re Star Fleet. We’re explorers, not soldiers.”
- Kelvin Universe- Really, it’s too soon to identify in which universe Discovery lies. While the producers claim it is television canon and not the Kelvin Universe, we really can’t be sure yet. Other clues like pointing out differences in Starfleet uniforms would be nitpicking. Not only did the original Trek had several versions of Kirk’s uniform, the uniforms changed several times from The Motion Picture and through the rest of dozen or so Star Trek features. Every series on television has had different uniforms- including at least three different uniforms in The Next Generation alone.
- The Klingons- In this concern, there’s certainly a point. The Klingons look nothing like previously. Many fans mistakenly accredited The Next Generation for the redesigned look of the Klingons from the original show, but it was The Motion Picture that introduced the world to the new Imperial Klingons who were fleeing from Vger. Discovery has little reason to update the Klingon look now. This new version of the Klingon appears more like Babylon 5‘s aliens, the Drazi. Such bizarre decisions by the makeup team for Discovery will require, once again, either, a different timeline or a discovery of a different race on the homeworld of Klinzhai (or Kronos or Qo’noS depending upon which reference you go by). Another Klingon hominid race would be unlikely as Klingons are extremely xenophobic and would have eradicated any competing being before you could say: “Neanderthal Man”.
The pearl-clutching fans of Star Trek best take note from history and draw a breath. The reviews for The Next Generation were awful too. Star Trek is dear to everyone’s hearts, but it would be good to apply the Vulcan IDIC – Infinite Diversity in Infinite Number of Combinations. As the story of King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table has been forged and remade for new generations, the universe of Star Trek- like Camelot– is built on music. It changes with the singer. Give Discovery time and join the song. And if you’re looking for sentimentality- go watch The Orville.