Boldly Going, Going Boldly

Star Trek Discovery isn’t perfect, but I’m not sure any television show, movie, or comic book franchise will ever be perfect in the eyes of its fans. There’s a passion in fandom that’s tied to nostalgia, to the version of a franchise we first fell in love with.

I grew up on reruns of Star Trek the Original Series. Every day at 6pm on Channel 34 in Oklahoma I visited strange worlds and came to think that people should be judged on more than skin color or by ethnic or national background. When the Next Generation came along, I went happily back to the stars.

I love Star Wars too, but for very different reasons. Star Trek was always about the principles for me—that humanity could grow beyond petty squabbles and conflicts over religion or resources to do something bigger. We could spread out, explore. We could forgo economics, hunger, and internal armed conflict.

For some people, Discovery will be a letdown because while it focuses on the Federation/Klingon war, that’s not what it’s about. It’s about explorers and scientists in wartime. The Discovery is a science vessel. That she’s a science vessel whose research into finding a “better way to fly” must be repurposed for war provides a perfect setting for the show’s primary theme: can the Federation’s ideals survive in a time of war?

Some characters easily resent this, and they run the risk of helping the Klingons win. Other characters pivot to the other extreme, that winning the war is worth any cost. The interesting ones, as always, are conflicted and walk a line down the middle, pulled apart by their principles. The main character in Discovery, Michael Bernam, is a walking example of this: a human orphaned by the Klingons then raised by Vulcans, and now back among humans.

My largest problem with the recent Trek movies is that they failed to understand what Star Trek is truly about. The principles that drove the original series seemed entirely lacking, the scientific curiosity thrown over for a shoot first ask questions later mentality. The writers seemed determined to plumb the depths of the Federation’s dark side and offer up villains whose motivations, while sympathetic, were outright betrayals or rejections of the original series’ principles. “This isn’t your father’s Star Trek” so many reviewers said, and they weren’t wrong. The main issue I had was that it wasn’t my Star Trek either.

I love Discovery. I loved the first two episodes, a prologue to the main event. I loved episode four the most, where the shoot first character blunders into their death because that mentality has put them on too extreme of a vector.

I’m more than excited to see where the series goes. It’s not the original series. It’s not the Next Generation, but it feels far closer to Star Trek: wonder, exploration, and guiding principles, albeit tested against the backdrop of war.

I can’t end this review without mentioning CBS All Access or the controversy around it. Like so many, I hate the subscription service. It’s a lot of money for one show (and for me, there is no other CBS show I’m interested in after they booted Supergirl). For now, I’ll pay the fee to see Discovery, but I would absolutely hate to see it fail because of a short sighted attempt to launch the subscription service. I’d much prefer to buy the season on Amazon and watch the episodes a day later commercial free (like I do the Expanse or Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency).

Subscription aside, I hope Discovery succeeds. It’s the Star Trek I’ve waited a long time for.

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