Monthly Archives: October 2017

STD: “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry”

I’m starting to hate most aspects of this show. Last Sunday’s episode revealed that the USS Discovery is propelled by a ‘Spore drive’, a sort of instantaneous jump system fueled by the spores of magic mushrooms. Unfortunately the crew hasn’t yet figured out how to chart a course with this system, so they rely on the alien creature from the previous episode, which is put into a nipple clamped electro-shocking bondage chamber, and ingests the spores until it gets high enough to guide the ship safely to its destination. No, I did not make that up, and yes, it’s ripped off from ‘Dune’.

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‘Discovery’ suggests there’s an energy field that surrounds us, and penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together. It sounds like a familiar concept. I can’t quite remember where I’ve heard it before. Once upon a time Star Trek’s fictional science was attached, albeit flimsily in many cases, to our modern understanding of physics, astronomy, and quantum mechanics. Writers on TNG corresponded with people doing actual scientific work at JPL, NASA, and other labs, in order to ground their stories in some degree of plausibility. No longer. STD is just another action adventure show filled with ‘space magic’ and JJ Abrams-style MacGuffins: ‘Red Matter’, ‘Augment Blood’, ‘The Abronath’. It’s the same boring playbook.

Sticking with the ship’s ‘spore drive’, what is going on with the spinning saucer section? That part of the ship has windows, so we assume there are people in it. Do Starfleet ships now have such fine grained control over gravity and acceleration that individual parts of the ship feel no effects from the movement of others? The torque necessary to spin such a huge object so quickly must be insane. Aside from those nitpicks, the concept itself implies that Discovery, and her Sister ship, the Glenn, were built around Spore Drive technology. It’s what they’re designed to do, and yet, the crews have no idea how to get it working properly. So Starfleet designed and built two massive Starships around an experimental technology that they’ve yet to figure out? Come on!

Still worse is the behaviour of the characters. The catty sarcasm and veiled insults are dialed up in this episode, to the point that one officer walks out on their Captain giving them an order, and Michael spends an entire scene giving the silent treatment to someone talking directly to her. Almost every line spoken by a person on this ship is so unprofessional that it would get them pulled into the HR office of any modern workplace. Captain Lorca has to replay the transmissions of Humans dying under Klingon attack just to convince his crew they should help. These are Starfleet officers? Disgusting.

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The Klingons continue to be an absolute chore. The actors are clearly struggling to perform in costume and makeup, their body language and facial expressions lacking any sort of the intensity and pride one would expect. It must take all of their effort just to remember their lines, and it shows. There’s a laughable scene full of romantic subtext between two of the main Klingon characters. It was written as if they’re two office workers flirting by the water cooler.  Klingons do not flirt. They do not hint at desires. They conquer.

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All of this leads to a battle near the end of the episode, where the Discovery ‘jumps’ in to defend a Human colony from Klingon attack. The scene is a confusing mess of directionless animation and rapid fire editing, never letting us figure out exactly where things are or what’s happening. I’m not sure if it was a deliberate choice, to show the chaos of battle, or plain old incompetence. Neither worked for me. The sequence ends with the ship jumping away from the area, a little girl looking up and asking ‘who saved us?’, in a laugh-out-loud moment straight out of a parody of a Michael Bay film. Apparently this crew is content to stop the attack, but leave the remaining civilians defenseless, certainly injured, and possibly dying.

This show has the emotional intelligence of a teenager, and just as much subtlety.

STD: ‘Context Is For Kings’

Well, after the first proper episode of this new series, I still don’t like it, though things are getting more interesting. Most of my issues still revolve around tone and characterization, but there’s one other thing that bugged me after seeing the USS Discovery for the first time: that damn ‘Aztec panels’ texture!

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Look, the VFX in this series are competently executed, but many of the aesthetic choices are truly awful. The glossy, shiny surfacing paired with over-saturated lighting and high contrast texture maps bring to mind the early days of 3D fan art, not physically real objects. Nothing about the above image convinces me I’m looking at a starship. It’s just a 3D model inside the computer of a person who’s never heard the word ‘subtlety’. Interior sets and props are much the same. Various shades of smooth grey metal or plastic, punctuated by a strip of blown out LED lights. Starfleet expects people to live and work in that environment for months or years at a time? I don’t even want to look at it for a couple of hours, and I’m at home on my couch!

Things don’t feel much better when it comes to the people inhabiting this monstrosity. So far, nearly everyone on Discovery has behaved more like a high-school ‘mean girl’ than an officer in a professional organization. Attitude, sarcasm, selfishness, insults and disrespect ooze out of every character as we meet them for the first time. Not just toward Burnham, who seems content to stick with the silent treatment through most of it, but to each other. Even Michael’s new bunk mate is an annoying, embarrassing stereotype of the ‘nerdy loser’, who literally uses the ‘this seat is taken’ trope as if they’re in grade school. Only Captain Lorca seems remotely interesting, and despite his questionable motives, joins Saru as the only other character who seems to behave as a mature, intelligent adult. Everyone’s lines are written in the very best colloquial English 2017 has to offer. This show is going to seem dated in record time.

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The ‘haunted space ship’ rears its head in this episode, because that’s something we haven’t seen before. I did appreciate the mangled crew members, though. Star Trek has always been far too tame when depicting the horrible things that might happen to people in its universe, and I’m glad to see that starting to change. I could have done without the Klingon warrior ‘shushing’ the away team. Not only is he from an alien culture, but the show just spent its entire premiere trying to establish these guys as bad ass, and yet the very next time we see one, he’s the punchline of a joke. Dramatically and emotionally tone deaf. Are we sure JJ Abrams isn’t on the writing team?

So Captain Lorca and the Discovery are working on a way to travel without Warp drive. Too bad this is pre-TOS or, the ‘biology of space’ aside, it might have been a cool idea. Since Warp drive is still in use far into the future of both established timelines, we’re only left to wonder in what interesting and dramatic way they’ll fail. Oh, and probably secret way, too, since Picard and co. are still legitimately astonished by the Iconian gateways.

Prequels. Sigh.

The show is just interesting enough that I’m curious to find out what happens next, but that’s all. I still don’t like most of these characters. I don’t want to hang out with them. I don’t want to be where they are. I haven’t seen a future worth looking forward to, and in my mind, if you don’t have that, you’re not Star Trek.