Thursday, February 15, 2018

'Star Trek: Discovery' Is Entertaining and Spectacular, but Making It a Prequel Was a Bad Idea

Star Trek: Discovery upset a lot of Trekkies for being so radically and fundamentally different from the time-honored notion and values of a Trek show.  Right from the start, it has always been about subverting Star Trek.  This was clear even during its promotion prior its debut.  But Trekkies were probably not expecting or were not prepared for how utterly subversive it turned out being.

Instead of having an optimistic, thoughtful tone and the effort to be hard sci-fi – which the old-school Star Trek shows had been – Discovery has the noticeable focus on spectacle and action like Abrams’ nu-Trek movies (which Trekkies also generally abhor).  But, unlike Abrams’ nu-Trek movies, it consciously avoids the route of being a light-hearted action-adventure, and thus, lacks the sense of fun inherent from it.  Rather, it has the seriousness, structure, and essence of a show that desires to fit right in the TV environment now, in which shows like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead have thrived.

So, in a way, in its attempt to be unlike what Star Trek is known for, it somewhat decides to conform to popular TV.  Ironically, in the current TV environment, a show like old-school Star Trek would have stood out, as there was no ongoing show offering what old-school Trek offered.
And that’s why The Orville turned out being the more attractive product, despite what critics say.  It’s a homage to old-school Trek and, due to being released at the same time, becomes the anti-thesis to everything Discovery represents.  Thus, it has won the hearts of Trekkies.

It really amuses me that a show that was originally thought of as a Star Trek parody is much preferred by most fans over the actual Star Trek show currently running.

I myself think The Orville is more distinctive and enjoyable than Star Trek: Discovery.  But since I’m not really a die-hard Star Trek fan – my fandom is actually just limited to Deep Space Nine and the movies – I wasn’t bugged by how audaciously different Discovery is from the old-school Trek paradigm.  Thus, I was generally entertained by the 15-episode debut season.
The excellent visual effects and high production value are probably the biggest assets of this show.  It has a lot of visually pleasing sequences.  I’m especially fond of moments containing space battles, and whenever U.S.S. Discovery utilizes its spore drive.  If nothing else, it succeeds in impressing through spectacles.  It’s a beautiful show to look at.  Its only major flaw as far as aesthetics are concerned is the character design for the Klingons; compared to their old-school look, Discovery’s interpretation is horrendously ugly.

The writing is more solid than it is not, resulting to the majority of the episodes being incredibly intriguing.  However, I do find it somewhat fluctuating.  Sometimes, I feel the storytelling is pretty strong, taking it to directions I don’t expect.  Sometimes, I feel the storytelling is pretentious, relying too much on plot twists and convenient developments to project a seemingly rewarding narrative.

Moreover, though the characters are occasionally interesting and have reasonably riveting personalities, they don’t resonate as individuals or as an ensemble.  And though their arcs aren’t bad, there’s this nagging sense of deficiency in them that I can’t shake off.  Except for Captain Lorca’s.  Everything satisfyingly clicked in place with his arc.  However, Saru is probably my most favorite Discovery character, and I would have loved it if the season ended with him permanently in the captain’s chair.
Lastly, I don’t think that it’s a good idea to make Discovery a prequel.  For as a result of being such, there are narrative constraints from the established worldbuilding and lore that lie ahead of it.  There’s the constant burden to make it connect to that.  And by introducing new technologies and conveniences that look more advanced than what was shown in the original Star Trek show, it would look like that its civilization is downgrading rather than upgrading as it progresses.  Also, by introducing such characters like Michael Burnham, irritating questions like “Why a notable fact like Spock having an infamous sister haven’t been mentioned before?” will rise.  It’ll be more susceptible to continuity errors.  Whereas, if it’s a sequel, it can truly expand on the Star Trek universe without being concerned on what it should expand into, and the story moves forward without being restricted by where it should arrive.  An alternate timeline/universe will also work.

In fact, setting Discovery in an alternate universe will probably pacify – even please – Trekkies, as they can dismiss it as not part of their revered Prime universe canon.  And the elements that unfold differently here will finally be rationalized and enjoyed.

In the end, Star Trek: Discovery is quite imperfect, but it inspires excitement and engagement for the most part.  That said, though being optimistic for it is still possible, one can’t help but worry about the obvious problems that it still carries moving forward.

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