As I’m prone to do, today’s post is all about a bit of sci-fi. Got some things to discuss, you see.
I’ll start with the return of Star Trek: Discovery. As I did with the first half of the season, I’ll do a big assessment blog when the rest of the season has aired, giving me time to fully process it. I wasn’t planning to write about it until then, but Sunday’s mid-season return gave me a bit of hope. That is to say, the characters are in a very bad place, they know it, and suddenly “real” Star Trek looks good to them.
As they’ve been foreshadowing since pretty much the beginning, the Discovery has quantum-jumped into the mirror universe, first established by TOS. In fact, they’re going for broke. The scenes for next week show Sarek with a goatee. *head/desk* But I get ahead of myself. Lorca, being the military survivalist that he is, outfits the entire crew and the ship with the uniforms and insignia of the Terran Empire, and crew manifests tell everyone who’s still alive, what rank they have, etc. I won’t get into all the details, but it’s actually kind of fun to watch them go through this. Pay no attention to the fact that when Kirk and his crew went over, their uniforms automatically changed. Or maybe they changed into them thanks to the transporter beam. It’s easy enough to technobabble your way through that if you want it badly enough. Whatever the case, it appears they changed places with the ISS Discovery. And from the sounds of it, Captain Tilly (yeah…) is quite the terrifying badass in the mirror universe. Which also stands to reason given how mousy our cadet is. I won’t deny, I had a lot of fun watching them bluff their way through the exchanges with other ships. And it’s got an interesting double message when you consider the Tilly character is kind of the stand-in for us fans, the one we sort of identify with.
Remember I said the current fan theory is that Tyler is Voq? Well, they pretty much left us one half-step away from the reveal. It can’t be anything else. The whole Manchurian Candidate thing really plays up in perfect counterpoint to the mirror universe. Everyone else’s job is to remember who they are while faking being the enemy; Tyler is now afraid he might actually be the enemy.
From the looks of it, they’re going to be spending the remainder of this season in the mirror universe. As they put it, we’ve seen a prologue and chapter one, this is chapter two. Next season will be all about faith vs. science and the possibility of redemption, or so it said in some of the interviews I’ve been reading. I like the sound of that. If they do this right, and I have higher hopes based on this first episode, Discovery may find its footing early in terms of becoming bona fide Star Trek as I understand it. Time will tell. The idea of the mirror universe means that everything will be even more brutal than we’re used to seeing in Trek, and there’s a whole Game of Thrones vibe going on since anyone’s number could be up at any time. We’ve already lost one crewmember. More on that in a moment. So I guess what I’m saying is, this show right now is tiptoeing one foot in Star Trek while pushing the envelope forward into the kind of TV that ratings have proven that people seem to want right now. In short, Trek is still losing her identity. Or maybe she’s just wrestling with it, trying on new clothes before she steps out and says, “Turns out I had it right all along.” I want to believe. I really want to believe.
The lost crewmember I mentioned? This needs some discussion, I think. Trek is embracing the LGBT with its first gay characters, portraying them as this is no big deal. Pretty much the idea that everyone gets representation in Trek. Been that way from the beginning, and it keeps going forward. Anyway, I’m learning that there’s some backlash on social media (I don’t follow social media, so that’s why I’m only just learning this) regarding this death as it deals with Dr. Culber, one of the gay characters. The actor, Wilson Cruz, has apparently come forward in interviews saying that he will be seen again at some point (probably his mirror universe counterpart). Kind of spoilery (like this whole blog), but at the same time, it kind of helps to tamp down this backlash. I haven’t really noticed the pattern before now, mostly due to not watching much TV, but apparently TV likes to separate gay relationships by killing off one of the couple. If this is legitimately a pattern, then I can understand the backlash, so that means the actor is basically doing damage control. In the current world, these things are volatile anyway. On Star Trek, certain progresses are designed to be part of the system, so outrage would be more natural. So, good on Cruz for damage control here. Let’s see how it unfolds.
Also, this notion that they’re playing in the Prime timeline is officially out the window so far as I’m concerned, and the way they’ve determined this for me, I’m completely ok with it. It’s close to the Prime timeline, but it allows for some wiggle room for when they fuck something up (as they’ve been doing left, right, and center with all their winks and nods). I’ve previously discussed this, where there’s a splinter timeline caused by the Borg in First Contact, which resulted in us seeing Borg on the moon during season one of Enterprise. Towards the end of Enterprise, there was a two-part mirror universe episode, “In a Mirror, Darkly,” where it was discovered the USS Defiant from the TOS episode “The Tholian Web” actually went back in time 150 years and crossed into the mirror universe. That Constitution-class starship kicked ass and took names when it was unleashed, ultimately becoming the instrument by which Empress Hoshi Sato assumed her throne. They mentioned Defiant, and based on what I’m seeing in the holo-file, they’ve added some weaponry to her, so I’m guessing she’s still the flagship of the Emperor. Or rather, Empress. I think they’re going to ultimately reveal the Terran Empire to be run by Phillipa Georgiou based on the hint I heard somewhere they might bring her back for something special. Either way, Lorca believes that Defiant has the technology to take the crew back home, so we’re going to see that ship in action at some point. Be still, my beating heart. I do so love seeing the old Constitution-classes in action.
So let’s say they get Defiant, use the tech to get back home, etc. Even if they do, I’m no longer worried this will line up exactly with the Prime timeline for the reasons as stated above. I always said that if they were going to reboot, using Enterprise as the on-ramp was the best way to go about it. So help me, somebody listened. Now it’s a question of how well I’ll be able to embrace what they do. After all, in the end this still needs to be both good television and good Star Trek. We know it can be done, but like so many things lately, it’s like the whiff of nostalgia is all anyone understands anymore.
Also… when did quantum scanning become a thing? Apparently Discovery can read the quantum signatures of ships, know which universe they’re from, and match their signature to the universe they’re in. *cough* Plotonium! *cough* This is the kind of tech Voyager brought back with them in the series finale. We’re more than a bit early for this sort of thing.
I will say, this first episode, for all of its not-quite-rightness, it felt more like Trek. Might have something to do with the fact that Jonathan Frakes directed it. If anyone gets it, it’s him. Still could use less lens flare though.
Speaking of Trek… Netflix’s Black Mirror opened season four with a Star Trek themed episode. I don’t watch the show because I do try to limit my level of dystopic intake (ironic, given the nature of Trek right now, I know). I saw the first couple of episodes, and while I can’t say they weren’t well done — they were — they were also the kind of thing I’ll never be able to un-see. *shudder* Anyway, I’ve got some mixed feelings about this particular episode, given the nature of the beast, how they dressed it up, and the message it sent to the general public about Star Trek, fandom, and the cross-section of the two: Star Trek fans.
The premise is that the lead character is a stereotypical, tech-minded, socially awkward, lonely geek. It’s almost impossible for me not to identify with this guy right out of the gate and sympathize with him. And that’s, of course, the hook of the show because this series is all about the worst case scenario. Imagine if TNG‘s Reginald Barclay (remember him?) was a sadistic asshole in his holodeck off hours. Not just sexually repressed and awkward, but a megalomaniacal torturer type who thought the technology made him a god. Wait… they actually touched a little on the tech-god thing in TNG as well. But this is worse. So he clones the people in his real life and puts these people through the nightmare scenario of living out his Trek fantasies his way, even when he knows they’re looking to escape. You see where this is going.
On one hand, I get what they’re doing. The current social push is to make fandom all-inclusive and safe so everyone can enjoy their fandom immersion their own way. It’s very Kumbaya, and anyone who ever looks at Star Trek from the inside out already knows that’s the message of Trek from the very beginning: Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combination. From the outside, it looks weird, as anything does from the outside.
On the other hand, I feel like because everyone pretty much has an idea of Trek due to its longevity and status within pop culture, they used it to represent all fandom, and the lead character became a sadistic version of that uber-fan that can’t tell the difference between reality and fantasy anymore, the “rules lawyer” who takes the fun out of it for everyone else. Ironically, I’ve been accused of being that person, usually from those who clearly don’t have the first clue what they’re talking about. For myself, I’ve always argued two points about every fandom out there: accuracy of character and spirit of intent. Everything else is world building, which is what makes or breaks the illusion. The lead character in this is the person I’ve been wrongly accused of being: the one who sees only the world building and forgets the message at the heart of it all, which twists their version of Star Trek into a dystopian hell. Suffice it to say, while I get what they were trying to do, and I even appreciate the message they were sending, I think they might have been more successful if they’d gone with virtually any other fandom. In using Star Trek as their universal example, they basically put all the general public back on high alert, pointing fingers at the Trekkies (I’m old school, deal with it) and pinning the “kick me” sign on our backs. Thanks, Black Mirror. You’ve set back all social progress on the fan front about 30 years. Remember how it took Michael Keaton to break the public misperception of Adam West no matter how hard the comics tried to push forward, where the absurd became the public perception of the normal? It’s a lot like that. Star Trek is at the absolute forefront of geekdom. Those who share in it will get what’s being accomplished on some level, but some will understandably recoil from this as a kind of blackface for nerds, if you’ll forgive the unfortunate analogy. Those who don’t share in it… well, this plays right in to all the negative stereotypes we’re trying to break. I feel like this might have gone better had it been Star Wars or superheroes they were operating with. Actually, I think superheroes might be the best way to go, given how ubiquitous those are right now. Or maybe I’m just being too sensitive. Hard to say. Trek has always had a heightened level of sensitivity and awareness. It sort of rubs off on you after a while.
Now just to really drive this point home, go back and read the above comments regarding Discovery‘s Tilly. That character, the fandom avatar, is having to play an in-universe sadist of a captain. Odd how that comes together, isn’t it?
A coworker of mine pointed out something in The Last Jedi that I didn’t notice, what with my mind swimming with so many other things at the time. When Luke becomes one with the Force, his mechanical hand disappears with him instead of clunking to the ground. I didn’t read this, but my coworker told me that the production staff came forward and said this was “a mistake.” This is the second time someone has come forward to acknowledge a mistake, the first being when Abrams apologized for that missed hug between Leia and Chewie following Han’s death in The Force Awakens. Is this where things are now, that we rush through the storytelling and apologize for missed details after the fact instead of catching them up front? Both Yoda and Obi-Wan took their inner robes with them, Obi-Wan’s outer cloak famously falling to the deck when he met his end. So if they can do that, who’s to say Luke’s hand can’t come with him? Then again, why would he want it? Can’t he just Force project a new one? I don’t recall Anakin’s Force ghost showing up with any Vader prosthetics. I’m not going to get my undies in a bunch over this one. There are “mistakes” in every Star Wars movie if you know where to look. In the grand scheme of the sheer pile of Bantha poodoo that The Last Jedi managed to spread around, Luke’s hand really is the least of my gripes.