Star Trekkin’ across the universe,
On the Starship Enterprise under Captain Kirk.
Star Trekkin’ across the universe,
Only going forward, and things are getting worse!
— “Star Trekkin'”, Dr. Demento
I *really* like Star Trek. As a kid I watched the original series in endless syndication, went to all the movies when they first came out in the theater. Best memory from that: during “The Undiscovered Country” when Spock made a reference to “his ancestor” and then quoted Sherlock Holmes, at which point a VERY ANGRY fan near me shouted “BUT SHERLOCK HOLMES IS A FICTIONAL CHARACTER!!!”
I have some favorites (TNG: “Chains of Command”, “The Inner Light”, ENT: the Surak/Syrannite story arc, almost any random episode of DS9) and some not so much (the first season of TNG, very little of TOS holds up in retrospect, almost the entirety of VOY) but it’s safe enough to say I have enough fanboy credentials that I just wrote the previous paragraph using three letter acronyms for every incarnation of the series without explaining a thing. So, yeah.
I watched the new Star Trek (with the tremendously unfortunate acronym STD) last night. It was… pretty good! I liked it. There were parts where I cringed (mainly the unfortunate new Klingon revamp – it wasn’t necessary, it seemed like change for the sake of change) and parts where I cheered (where the fish-out-of-water first officer raised on Vulcan told the mansplaining Admiral Hologram “hi, race does not imply culture, thank you drive through” and I’m pretty sure every geek of color threw their fist up at that exact moment) but overall… it was Star Trek. Admittedly it was DARK Star Trek. Like, 4th season Deep Space Nine, not happy-go-lucky traipsing-around-the-universe TNG or TOS Trek. This is where Shit Is Going Down And People Are Gonna Die Star Trek. Which is part of the mythos – Star Trek has MULTIPLE wars in its canon. And this explains the beginning of one of the most crucial… the Federation-Klingon war.
Ironically, up until now, the best depiction of that was fan-created – a fan film which CBS (for now very obvious reasons) shut down. It’s worth a look, especially if you’re a Trek fan – it’s done with love for the mythos and the culture, and it fits in the timeline. And watching the first two episodes of Discovery… you can see where it fits in.
(Yes.. that is a fan film. You can see VERY quickly why CBS sued them into not making a full film. It would have been competition with the series.)
But, yes, Discovery, at least for what we’ve seen so far, isn’t “let’s go across the universe and fight crimes and eat sushi” adventures. It’s war and death and consequences. It’s serious. It’s currently on a cliffhanger where it could plausibly just end right there and we’d be… well, yep. Everything is horrible. (I presume it will look up shortly, if for no other reason than that there are about 5 more episodes left in the season.)
But it’s a product of our time. And that is what, I think, offends a lot of people.
First off, it’s not going to be your expectation of a science fiction series. It began with two leads who were women and not white, and apparently that disturbed people. It didn’t disturb actual Trek fans, because in the age of Star Trek we got past judging people based on skin color or orientation or gender or ethnic grouping because FULLY AUTOMATED GAY SPACE COMMUNISM, but hey, clearly in 2017 it apparently still matters. But it shouldn’t, because you had a really strong actress who is going to be the linchpin of the series who is by NO means Gene Roddenberry approved (hint: by the second episode she’s serving a life sentence for mutiny) and you also had Michelle Fucking Yeoh who is, well, Michelle Fucking Yeoh. If you need someone’s arse kicked, she’s there for you, and she was there in this case as well, as someone who really did not WANT to be a warrior but if you’re going to do this, well then, let’s go.
If you are wondering what this has to do with gender or race or anything else, you’re right there with me, because I was just enjoying the show. And it was a good one. Despite the Klingon revamp visually (which I still hate… what can be more fearsome than late-TNG Worf? COME ON, PEOPLE) what I adored and loved was the world-building about the Klingon society and why they went to war with the Federation. I won’t spoil the beats, because there are some good ones and you’ll see them and go “…oh. OK.”. It’s worth watching for that.
The one thing I WILL spoil is that this series makes the Klingons unapologetically 100% straight up blood and soil ethnic purity racist. That… that has consequence. That has resonance. Given the current climate, it plants a clear stake. CBS has tried to back away from it, but the story stands for itself. T’kuvmah’s chant is “
Make Q’onos Great Again Remain Klingon”. They specifically condemn the Federation for race-mixing. The Klingons are straight-up no-shit unapologetic Space Nazis. And in today’s environment… that is a hell of a statement. It’s not one you can disavow. It has consequences.
This is science fiction at its most relevant. At its most ballsy (to use an unfortunately gendered term). It is taking risks.
And, online, it’s suffering for it.
the main protagonist couldn’t be more unlikable if they had her kill a baby in her first scene
I just want a star trek show about exploration. Is that too much to ask?
I also hate how grim dark the Klingons turned out to be. Yes, they are a scary warrior race, but they also knew how to party.
Here you have a captain who is not in control of an unstable first officer, let alone the ship. Both of whom leave the bridge during a face-off with a known hostile alien race to discuss orders the captain received from Starfleet. That’s not the way it works and it has a terrible impact on a crew.
And the one online comment that set me off and made me literally log off the internet for a day:
Too bad about “Star Trek:Estrogen” though
REALLY. You call yourself a Trek fan, and you’re upset because the leads don’t have a penis. Well, OK then. I’m sure Seth McFarlane has a TV series queued up… oh wait! He does, actually! And… it’s trying to be a serious Trek successor? OK then.
So here’s where I give you a mea culpa. I haven’t actually watched “The Orville”, for the same reason you may not have watched “Star Trek: Discovery”. Specifically, I don’t want to watch the bro-approved Star Trek imitation, which from everything I’m reading is the target audience. I might have tuned in if it was played strictly as a comedy.. but for some crazy reason it isn’t! Apparently McFarlane literally wants to be a Star Trek star, so, well, he is now. There you go. And they’re going to do serious examinations of social issues along with the occasional joke about breasts.
I’m sure I’ll watch an episode or two eventually; people whose opinion I trust in such things have the reaction “it… doesn’t completely suck! My expectations were exceeded!” But I’ll have to get past the MANOSPHERE which fills up every comment thread on the internet about the new Star Trek series with nitpicking to ludicrous extremes to hide the fact that they don’t actually like a black woman being the new Captain Kirk, and ending always with the coda “the REAL new Star Trek is “The Orville”.”
That’s a hell of a thing to make up for. Even without Seth McFarlane.